The summer school was a great experience overall. I learnt a lot and met a lot of great people with wonderful visions for transition for the future. It was so nice to be with a group of people who all have a similar hope for moving towards a low carbon society and are basing their careers and all their energy on trying to do that.
Transition requires all sectors of society to be on board. Why? Because it is an example of a ‘wicked problem’. A wicked problem is a problem that is not understood until the solution is formulated, is essentially novel and unique and therefore it is difficult to learn from other experiences. It has no given alternative solutions, and it can be explained as a symptom of another problem and can be explained in numerous ways.
This means that were dealing with something quite tricky and complex. How to tackle transition is subject to debate and requires a great number of people to change their mindsets.
How can we do this? I don’t know but community initiatives are a pretty good start. Many people back the idea of transition but it’s making it happen that is the difficult part. Banks want to be involved in transition but there is no business case; some members of the public want to but there are certain barriers that prevent green behaviour, for example city planning in some places like Aberdeen (where the bus system is not very good and there are hardly any cycle lanes!) make it much more appealing to buy a car and drive everywhere; councils want to be involved but have competing demands and do not have the funding; businesses want to but again making a profit is difficult. A systematic approach is required that considers all these barriers. This was a central idea of the summer school, and it confirmed my beliefs in the need for systems analysis, to understand a problem from multiple levels and perspectives and disciplines.
What is interesting in the debate is how far should we aim to make profit from transition, because after all, it is our narrow focused desire for profit maximisation with no consideration of environmental and social impacts that has got us to where we are today. I think I have become a little more cynical since the summer school in the ability of our society to completely transform to get transition and change the underlying beliefs of economic growth and development. Now what I see is the importance of making a business case to get banks and investors on board with transition. This is an area that we have to focus energy on – how to encourage them to invest in it but even more important – green business models that include a greater distribution of benefits and have a positive impact towards transition. I’m not talking about green washing but real investment in green technologies and things that bring about transition.
I’m not suggesting that everything has to be led by profit but at the same time I am confronted with the stark reality that without the private sector on board, transition simply wont happen.
Transition towards low carbon society is one of the biggest challenges our society is facing. As the Stern report said ‘climate change is the result of one of the greatest market failures that the world has seen’. The main problem is that those who emit greenhouse gasses generally do not pay. The problem is that this is something that impacts each and every one of us in the whole world and responses must be global.
Although we need a global response, each one of us has a role to play, including the communities that we live in, which invoke change and encourage people to think about things a little differently and change how they go about their everyday life, are invaluable.
Researchers have spent years trying to quantify the so called ‘spill over’ or green activities for example if you are involved in car sharing scheme will you think twice before driving to the shop? Or will you just justify it saying – I car shared today so I can drive to the shop?
Whatever the outcome of that research, I personally feel that when people get together in a community and share and idea and make it happen, and if this activity has some green and social motives, then this does make an impact, and does spill over positively into other areas of their life. Experience is key to change; when we experience things we can sometimes begin to think in a different way and reflect the things that we do without thinking and that we take for granted each day.
A few years ago I went to El Salvador for a work programme that had a focus of climate change. One of the activities was to live in the houses of some families and go about their daily lives with them. My family were peanut pickers. We got up at 3am and collected peanuts from peanut bushes until the sun got too hot at about 11 when we would dry them and then try to sell them. We made a few USD (about 3 I think) a day after selling the nuts. The family told me that flooding had become much worse in recent years and that their plants were often destroyed because of heavy rains. That experienced changed me, now every single time I see a nut I think about my El Salvadorian family. My point here is that this is one of the problems with climate change is that we don’t act until we see – when it doesn’t impact us we have a tendency to think ‘oh well, its not me’. But when we actually experience something whether it be the impacts of climate change or actually are involved in something that can contribute towards transition we begin to think a bit and say ‘hold on a minute…’.
At a local level, the role of community based initiatives is key. I believe in transformative power of ideas. Once some people start doing something, others come along and see what’s happening and maybe join in. It’s at this point, when we experience and join in something and feel it, that we can really experience it and change how we think.