Sunday, 31 October 2010

Green Outcomes in the Real World

My book that came out this month is based on ideas that go back to 2004. I was meeting with a group of people in one of the leading business schools. I initiated a discussion about the nature of how we run society. I floated some questions around why we do what we do. I do not now remember the detail but it was around two themes: whether we need a throw-away society and how to make the transition beyond oil. I was hoping for a debate or a discussion. My hopes were short lived. The reaction was: oil is not running out and we already do recycling – let’s get onto something more important.

I remember the interchange well, not because of the detail of what was said, but because of the force with which the group expressed their opinion. The general thrust was that these issues are not of interest to us and do not belong to us. We are busy people with companies to run; leave these discussions to others.

In 2010 the debate has at least begun. The financial crisis has helped to illustrate that the system we have is not perfect. We are reluctant to look closer and see that the system is flawed. Covering over the cracks is all that has happened so far but the fault lines are still there.

My book goes far further than anyone on the faculty of a business school has dared to go. Some of the thoughts have appeared in the green thinking community but not connected into a real-world context. Take this book out of the library and find out if these issues are of interest to you and ask the question, does it matter to me?

Modern civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries human ingenuity built the greatest civilization of all time. Our technology is advancing at such a pace that it seems there is nothing we cannot achieve. One of the secrets of our success has been the development of economic theory to provide a sound basis for organizing society and allocating resources efficiently. The particular idea that has accelerated progress and brought such wealth and material improvement in human lives over the last three decades is economic globalization, but the time has come to consider a new direction for society.

Preface to:
Green Outcomes in the Real World:
Global Forces, Local Circumstances and Sustainable Solutions

Monday, 18 October 2010

Biodiversity – The Elephant in the Room

At least the elephant is so large and well known that special effort will be made to keep this species – if only in zoos and places in the world where it is used as a working animal. For many other species there is no future. Experts warn that the planet is now in the grip of its sixth mass extinction phase - the first that is man-made.

The 193 members of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity are gathering in Japan today aiming to tackle how to curb the world's rapid loss of animal and plant species and the habitats they live in. This is a more important debate than climate change but does not gather the level of support it deserves. I will be watching closely over the next 12 days for any sign of real progress. I am sure that there will be progress in recording which species are at risk. There will be renewed effort into trying to find and indentify species that are so far unknown to us but may be extinct before we have had the chance to catalogue them. Whether we do more than watch more closely, as the mass extinction proceeds will be the test of progress towards stopping it.

Meanwhile, an issue that filled airtime last week, reported on the BBC, is research into the colour of wind turbines. Apparently, insects are attracted more or less to different colours. White or grey is commonly used to help the turbine meld into the sky and be less intrusive for human view; but these colours have the opposite effect on insects. Insects are attracted to it; and birds are attracted to the tasty meal of a nice plump insect. A white revolving turbine blade covered in insects and a flock of hungry birds; the consequences from a bird lover’s perspective are not good.

There is a solution. The research found that insects are attracted least to the colour purple. We could therefore paint all wind turbines purple. A purple revolving turbine blade (shown in pictures to accompany a planning application) and a group of local residents; the consequences for wind turbine applications are not good. If we put this problem to a UN convention we could end up with a compromise: white and purple stripes. That would both attract the insects (and therefore the birds) as well as raising the ire of local residents.

I hope that the UN conference on global biodiversity has rather more success than such gatherings normally achieve. The world needs to be woken up from distracting arguments over the colour of wind turbines to the discussion of real-world solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Unlock a new Level of Climate Action

Listening to press conferences after each of the climate talks over recent years is to listen to well crafted positive gloss of officials trying to present abject failure as progress. UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, speaking at the closing press conference on Saturday after last week’s climate talks in Tianjin, China, said:

“I told you at the press briefing at the beginning of this week that governments this week had to address together what is doable in Cancun, and what may have to be left until after Cancun. They have actually done that.”

The bickering between China and the West has left very little in the ‘doable’ category. Even so, the fact that parties have some sort of agreement over what it might be possible, to agree upon in the Cancun climate talks in December, is seen as progress. In a sense it is progress. Discussions about discussions are better than no discussions about discussions. I agree with Ms Figueres as she went on to explain the critical importance of “turning dry texts into a set of keys that unlock a new level of climate action - among rich and poor, business and consumers, governments and citizens.”

We can expect a lot more positive gloss and well crafted words in the lead up to the Cancun climate talks. I have a view on whether the world leaders will ‘unlock a new level of climate action’ but I will keep that to myself for now. Let us give them every encouragement and then hold them to account for the outcome.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Looking Forward to Sochi

Russia uses over three times more energy than the European average. As a major producer of gas and oil, it can afford such extravagance. Fortunately there are people in Russia working to shift the country to a greener future. The new national energy strategy until 2030, approved by the Russian government in November 2009, aims to reduce Russia's energy dependence by boosting faster growth in sectors consuming less energy and investing in energy saving technology.

In the nearer term, Russia aims to showcase its new capability to be green at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014. Russia wants to use the winter games to be a model for sustainable development for the whole of Russia. Sochi also may act as a future concept for "Green Games".

The city of Sochi has set some tough targets to be carbon neutral and zero-waste. People involved in sustainability know that these are achievable targets but we also understand the enormous difficulty in matching action to aspirations.

The Media Village will be one of the highest profile venues. It is to be built with environmentally-friendly building materials and will incorporate energy- and resource-saving technology. After the 2014 Winter Games, the village will become one of the centres of sporting and cultural life in the surrounding holiday resort of Sochi.

In January 2010, Theodore Oben, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) representative expressed his satisfaction with the steps taken by the Organizing Committee.

As the calendar switches into another winter, I wish the Sochi team well. Over the next four years, I hope they can deliver what they promise and set a benchmark for the rest of Russia, and Europe, to follow at the Winter Olympics 2014.