Climate Week in Aberdeen recently shone a vivid light on some issues lurking in the shadows. The clarity this provided is relevant for us all.
Let's start with Climate Change and films.
Climate Change is here, and as the UN conference in Paris (COP-21) showed "everyone" agrees that staying below 1.5 or 2 degrees rise is essential and things need to change. By "everyone" I mean governments, carbon and other industries, relevant scientists and informed people. I exclude a mass of deliberately incorrectly informed people who still express their doubts loudly. And I now do this in part because of what I learned during the week, some from the 5 films I saw.
"Ice and the Sky" follows the life of Claude Lorius, a scientist instrumental in discovering the historical temperature, CO2 and CH4 record, going back 400,000 years. The film clearly shows how scientists work, in difficult circumstances driven by getting it right. This was how I always knew and imagined but it is brought out beautifully, and it's all very matter-of-fact shocking. This differentiates the film from "Chasing Ice" where James Balog's photography and personal drive to capture rapidly receding glaciers is truly impressive, but in which I found a few fact slides the most disconcerting part of the film. Of course much of this was new when that film came out only a few years ago. There's no 2 ways about it:
Climate Change facts are explicitly clear.
The film "Merchants of Doubt" showed how the group of "climate change deniers" ended up so large, by illustrating how they were conned, how people have been conned before, and how they may be again. And while I've always found the size of the group of deniers disconcerting... no more.
The deniers have been expertly conned into believing lies.
"Bikes vs. Cars" illustrated the influence of moneyed car and construction powers, the certain crash their strategy is headed for with traffic congestion and unliveable city layout, and the speed at which changes can be forced through against the odds (in both directions). The cycle-path (pun intended) makes irrefutable sense and that's a powerful side to stand on. But the other social-insight film, "This Changes Everything", added something more. It demonstrated the global scale of protest and anger against the wholesale destruction and sell-out of land, environment and all that is important to people.
A revolution has begun in many places, and is still mostly peaceful - but probably not for long.
Then finally the excellent talk by Climate Reality speaker Jess Pepper which, while intended as hope giving, also illustrates extremely vividly the urgency of the matter by means of current climate change disasters.
Action is necessary today, tomorrow is too late.
What to do with this new found knowledge? On to politics.
This past week I was invited to a "Climate Change Partnership" meeting where I learned about the tortuous path of political change. A powerful group working with relevant yet strangely disconnected projects, and a big picture remaining undiscussed. I think it's good to persuade people to cycle by distributing cycle maps, but the issue is: we must get folks on their bikes, in buses and out of cars, so we must convert infrastructure now whether there are cyclists or bus passengers or not. We cannot afford the time to go for "market pull": we need "push". But political organisations, city councils, and partnerships can rarely take truly strategic steps by consensus. While many good things are being actively pursued, they'll be too late because consensus requires extensive study first, even with proven technologies; so while political processes play an essential facilitation role, they're not a solution.
The choice available appears to be: martial law, or educating every voter about climate change before the elections.
Could that mean Industrial Revolution might have something going for it? It got us in this mess: could it get us out of it quickly and effectively as well? Since it could easily take us from the frying pan into the fire, specifying boundary conditions -as with any engineering project- is critical, yet how do you protect a living environment and societies and people when we've just spent 30 years convincing ourselves that business is best, nature to be exploited and societies to be individualised to get better consumers -and consumption is king of course? And what if the established industries, precisely the ones we do not want, have the strongest voice?
The conclusion can only be that we need a social industrial revolution. New startups with skills, a conscience, big dreams and a lot of energy, working on all fronts. Do what can be done, wherever it can be done, and trust that the boundary conditions will follow to make it all work; if they don't at least we tried. The only alternative is a real revolution, and though that may be less lethal than Climate Change, it will be unpleasant and violent.
Erik is a physicist, ocean sailor, petroleum engineer, climate change student, and public speaker and writer.