This month’s Seeding Our Future webinar has started an important exploration of how our local food system can adapt to the coming challenges of climate change, just as the recent pressures of Covid-19 are revealing how adeptly the Bridport area’s independent food and drink producers and suppliers can innovate during exceptional times.
Short supply chains are crucial to the food security issues described by Elise Wach’s Growing Through Climate Change report and have always been essential to these enterprises – never more so than during lockdown as bespoke box schemes and delivery systems were established by food shops like Washingpool and Fruits of the Earth, while cafes and pubs like The Red Brick and The Ilchester Arms offered takeaways and deliveries. This extraordinary period has deepened our gratitude for people working with food – they have become valued as key workers as well as farmers or cooks or shopkeepers. Tapping into this appreciation and the expansion of buying direct could give scope for enlisting support for a future specialist box scheme of climate adaptive produce.
The Bridport Food Festival 2020 was planning a special focus on food and climate – a dedicated space to ‘Taste The Future’ – to act as a platform for introducing the local community to new ideas and produce alongside the annual displays by over 60 of the Bridport area’s brilliant food and drink producers. We’ll be looking now to Bridport Food Festival 2021 as an opportunity for growing the interest and new markets needed to support the Seeding Our Future project. There will be talks, displays and hands-on food for thought through opportunities to cook and eat the produce being discussed.
Bridport Food Festival is particularly passionate about getting younger people interested in food – entry is free for under 17s and there are free cooking sessions with chefs for them all day too. These will be alongside the climate area so that children and teens can engage with the debate as well and contribute their ideas and cooking, which will be done with entirely local ingredients. We have assembled the ‘Bridport Community Cooking Kit’ for use in these sessions and all year round by school or community groups that want to engage people of any age with cooking, produce food or fundraise.
Bridport Local Food Group is looking forward to reinstating the festival that’s at the heart of its support for local food and drink enterprises, but its immediate focus is their survival. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis BLFG Chair Kathy Dare has been compiling and promoting a definitive guide to continued sourcing from Bridport’s food and drink suppliers despite social distancing or isolating. Please find and share at www.tiny.cc/bridport to help ensure they will all be there at next year’s food festival alongside ‘Taste the Future’. To access the Bridport Community Cooking Kit email email@example.com.
As the pressures on all of us keep rising, we can see mounting discord about best priorities and solutions. One of the few topics on which almost everyone agrees is that increasing the resilience of local communities is getting ever more vital. This has been a focus of my work since 2012, so I’m offering an overview of some of my insights.
As part of a project called Facing the 2020s, in 2012 I commissioned a substantial piece of action research on UK community resilience by Reos Partners, which included over thirty diagnostic interviews, extensive desk research, and exploratory workshops in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff with potential stakeholders, including national and local government, NGOs and community organisations. The main focus of this blog is the insights I gained from this research.
The terms community and resilience are so heavily used that a short explanation of what I mean by community resilience may be wise: the collective capacity of a group of people to handle and grow through crises and challenges. I’ve set out below some of the main aspects of resilience in this context: part of this capacity could come from organisations, including local authority, public services and non-profit groups.
Material: some capacity to respond locally to interruptions in food, energy supplies, especially for elderly and vulnerable people.
Environmental: response to ecosystem damage, eg habitat loss, pollution and to extreme weather, eg floods, droughts.
Wellbeing: for everyone’s emotional needs, especially those who have mental health or isolation issues.
Inspirational: maintaining and renewing a sense of vision, cohesion and purpose in the community in the face of a crisis.
Connective: good communication within the group, including the skills of hearing, voicing, reconciling strong differences in opinions and values.
Reproducibility: On most aspects of community resilience, there are successful exemplar projects somewhere in the UK. For a concise, inspiring range of examples, see the book The New Road, by Alf and Ewan Young. Why have these not been widely reproduced? One reason is that many good community resilience initiatives have depended on a few superhuman people, who just kept going against impossible difficulties. How can such interventions be systematised so that regular humans could implement them in a bigger number of communities? Recording what was done in an accessible toolkit form would help a lot.
Sustainable funding: Many good initiatives have also depended on funding that was not reproducible, e.g. a slab of one-off grant funding as part of a pilot programme by an NGO. Sustainable funding sources could include raising capital from local communities themselves, (eg crowdfunding), or a social enterprise model, or a couple of larger foundations offering a grant scheme plus support to use it.
Professional services: Many community initiatives struggle to find professional support geared to their particular needs, in finance, legal, property, HR and other areas. The emergence of specialists for this sector would greatly assist reproductivity.
Systemic catalysts: In my dream of raising UK community resilience, a focal role would be played by trained advocate-facilitators, who would go into a community to understand its needs and dynamics, help gather support and a project team and could provide access to reproducible role models, sustainable funding, professional services and more.
Working with minority groups and communities of identity: Some communities will be more vulnerable to shocks than others, and history tells us that unresolved social tensions bubble up at times of stress. Resilient societies and communities rely heavily on social cohesion. The benefits of working on community resilience now include the opportunity to pre-empt more severe ruptures to social cohesion which are likely to arise from the major stresses ahead. It is important to involve minority communities in the resilience journey, and communities of identity such as LGBT, instead of focussing solely on geographic communities.
Wider participation: Many places don’t have a strong sense of community, and in most of those that do, only a tiny percentage of people participate actively in community matters. How could larger numbers of communities, and larger numbers of people, have a motivation to participate in community resilience, including ethnic and low-income communities? This is a crucial issue, which will become more acute amid the pressures ahead: it would be great to see a couple of enlightened large NGOs fund pilot projects and gathering of best practice to move this forward.
Engaging local authorities: As funding for services has moved from central government to local authorities, many local authorities have worked to further devolve decision-making and budgetary decisions to local communities. This means that in some parts of the country, local communities are strongly engaged with the local authority, and structures exist to support these partnerships. This move towards greater local control highlights the exciting potential to tackle many priorities (environmental, public service reform, etc.) by adopting a resilience approach and involving local people in community action and resilience building. In recent years, some local authorities have become real innovators in new forms of service delivery, partnership working and more. The replication issue applies here too. Is there currently an easy way to access best practice and role models in this area?
Building national resilience: Most approaches towards community resilience take place at a geographic community level. However, examples from UK history and from other countries indicate real benefits in national-level approaches towards resilience. Some of the countries that are considered the most resilient, such as Japan, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, have a strong national resilience policy. If the UK had this too, it would make local initiatives more effective.
Online resilience services: A massive opportunity for innovation! If I continue to dream, I imagine social entrepreneurs and progressive NGOs helping to create new apps and web services, alongside businesses.
The research I’ve summarised above has prompted me to keep exploring community resilience, currently in my Seeding our Future project (see www.futurescanning.org). My work is on the scale of local pilot programmes and proof of concept. There’s a far bigger need and opportunity which I hope a few larger non-profit organisations will grasp soon.
Future Conversations is a series of guided conversations to enable people to explore their hopes, fears and needs for the next 5-20 years. We will explore facts and feelings, and provide processes and information to grow the confidence and skills to shape the future positively. The conversations at Belville were held over 3 months during Spring and Summer 2019.
I was delighted to find out there was a group near me who wanted to embark on Future Conversations. Belville Community Garden Trust is based in Greenock.
From the Belville website: Residents in the Belville area of Greenock campaigned for years to prevent an area of derelict land they live near becoming an unwelcoming place and eyesore despite the stunning location with views across the Clyde. They formed an action group to source funding in order to transform the derelict area, previously congested with high flats to turn it into a community garden.
The community’s vision became a reality in 2014 when the garden was built and they formed a registered charity to ensure the area and activities were sustainable in the long term. The garden is managed by a Trustee board made up of local people with a vested interest in the regeneration of the area. Belville Community Garden is now a thriving and lively place with many local people visiting the area. Belville Community Garden coordinates local schools biodiversity and environmental projects including John Muir Awards, community arts and health projects as well as connecting similar third sector organisations across Inverclyde.
From the time I met Geri Sinclair, Volunteer Coordinator at Belville, at the January 2019 London facilitator training I knew that we could work well together and could help to create a cohesive FC group.
We started on a Wednesday afternoon in March – everyone was a bit uncertain about how it would go, including Geri and myself and another facilitator who had volunteered to help, Trisha Orr. We met in the dining area of Belville’s large catering kitchen where the project’s chef creates tasty and nutritious meals using food from Fareshare. The project also distributes fresh and frozen food from Fareshare to its community.
In a lively atmosphere where people from other projects walked through the area we were working in and sometimes stopped to chat, we worked through the first session.
At the end of one session, under the smiley face request for feedback one person commented: “It is good to hear people care. I am used to people rolling their eyes everytime I open my mouth. The conversation needs to be had, no matter how hard it is.” And another: “Getting to know and feel comfortable with all of the individuals in the group and the topic.” Under the unhappy face: “Concerned about what is happening in the world right now,” and “Would be nice to spend time outdoors in fresh air..”
We did indeed spend time outdoors in almost every subsequent session, taking advantage of the space at Belville to
have a slow silent walk at least twice,
visit the raised beds and butterfly gardens,
just stop and look at the amazing view to the hills across the Clyde,
reflect on how a tree’s structure can be used to investigate our own well-being, and
see some fox cubs playing in the sunshine!
We also spent time outdoors for paired and group discussions and in setting up a planter for this group to experiment with their big idea arising from the Future Conversations sessions: grow vegetables especially for making soup, providing a soup kit to people to go home and make their own soup from fresh locally grown ingredients. The group hope to further develop this idea to provide veg boxes in the next year and to hold gardening training sessions with intergenerational groups.
The group loved the idea of the Joanna Macy Work That Reconnects spiral (which Trisha drew beautifully as a ‘blown’ dandelion), and spent some time reminiscing about dandelion memories and embraced the steps in the process. In the honouring our pain section of the spiral, people said they felt able to express their fears for the future whilst at the same time being supported and buoyed up by the others in their group of three.
We had an amazing synergistic feedback session after Joanna Macy’s “over the hedge” exercise where participants envision the future and report back. The reporting back yielded overlapping visions, with people starting their feedback with “My story builds on yours by ….”
We also had time to create a collage of ideas about what community means and what Belville could look like in the near future.
And after several meetings, discussions, revisions and delivering train the trainer training, finally the day had come.
I had not idea about what might happen in the slightest, yet I remained excited about what could be. As I arrived in the meeting room at High Trees Community Development Trust I was greeted by a lovely lady… “hello Miss, are you our teacher?” Feeling a bit like I was in school I answered, “I’m here to work with you through this programme yes”. With the gentle smile she offered she then welcomed me “nice to have you”. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, our names and where we lived, there were around 10 participants and another member of staff. We included the memory game, trying to remember everyone’s names as we went along which everyone seemed to enjoy. Off to a good start I thought, and I soon noticed who that characters where around the room.
Now the part that I was apprehensive about… How do I explain this programme to ESOL learners, a programme that may be completely detached to what they feel important, what if they may feel is of no relevance to their lives? What if the language barrier stops them from being able to participate?
After setting aside my what if’s and realising that that was in fact happening, I took a deep breath and began to explain “Future Conversations”. A programme developed to look at our hopes and fears for the future, for our lives and our planet and to learn tools on how to become more resilient and be more connected as a community. We talked through the current situation of our planet and the evidence we see caused by climate change, and right at that moment I began to see how engaged the participants were. Not only where they engaged, but they had lots to say about it! One mentioned “this big business is what is causing a lot of the problems”. And “back home there is not enough water to grow the crops, or there is flooding”
I realised that my assumptions were just that, and this group was being offered something they felt was important to them. It did mean going at a slower pace and allowing time to fully understand certain words. But, at the end of the 1st session they showed a huge amount of gratitude some said “I really like this, it’s different, it’s making me think”. I left feeling hopeful for the coming weeks ahead.
As we progressed through the sessions, I noticed that participants particularly enjoyed thinking about what made them stronger using the tree analogy. For many of them it was the first time they were able to reflect and understand what their root systems were, and what they needed more of to be able to do what they wanted and needed to do effectively. They also began to realise how they could support each other, one lady mentioned “we shouldn’t just wait to be asked for something, but we should check to see if there is a need” which I thought was remarkable. I always learn so much from others when facilitating.
When going through the Joanna Macy’s the work that reconnects the group were able acknowledge their pain for injustice and what we’re doing to our planet. They were able to relate around their inability to find good work because of language barriers, as well as acknowledging that if we do not do something soon, there will be no jobs and not planet in fact for our children. When they envisioned their ideal futures many of them shared, love, joy, happiness, connected communities of sharing, and family. They began to think about what was possible, they began to believe that they could make a difference and that regardless of how big or small it was, it was still important to do something.
They planned to do an event where they would make posters to bring awareness about climate change and our environment. They brought their own materials and balloons to celebrate the completion of the course. During on presentation a participant said “we want people to be aware of what we are doing to our planet” and as they reflected on the programme they shared “we loved this programme, we have made new friends, learnt new things and we want to make a difference”. I was very moved by these words. This meant that everything we had done, all of the hard work we had put in without knowing what would happen as a result, was all worth it.
My absolute joy is to see people empowered for positive change, and this programme does exactly that, about real issues that will inevitably affect us all. I was grateful to have been on that journey with them, and anticipated out “what’s next?”.
We feel things are changing faster than usual, both outside in the beautiful world, and inside ourselves and our communities. What a year ago would have looked impossible is happening right now. Awareness of the impact of plastic and fossil fuels is no longer a well kept secret. We have the information; we have the power to take action.
So with winds of change and hope we brought climate change and climate justice conversations to everyday communities, where people think locally, just about day to day basic needs, or at least, that is what we thought.
After setting aside my what if’s, I took a deep breath and began to explain “Future Conversations,” a programme developed to look at our hopes and fears for the future, for our lives and our planet and to learn tools to help us to become more resilient and to be more connected as a community. We talked through the current situation of our planet and the evidence of impacts we see caused by climate change, and right at that moment I began to see how engaged the participants were. Not only were they engaged, but they had lots to say about it! One mentioned “this big business is what is causing a lot of the problems.” And “back home there is not enough water to grow the crops, or there is flooding.” I realised that my assumptions were just that, and this group was being offered something they felt was important to them.
Facilitators from the Future Conversations core team supported three pilots: HighTrees Community Development Trust in London, Sneinton Community in Nottingham and Belville Community Garden Development Trust in Greenock.
In the first few sessions, we aimed at creating a safe container for the group to merge, for people to build trust and explore what it means to be part of a group, to be part of something bigger than yourself. Later on, we brought in the resilience tools, using nature as our collaborator and inviting people to sense our relationship to our planet, the connections and the dependency that we have with all that is around us. Then, with the group having built their resilience, we brought in the hard scientific data about the state of the world, shook things up but held the group with nature connection tools. We finished with sessions oriented to acknowledge our power and creativity to bring projects forward to create a more beautiful community.
“It is good to hear people care. I am used to people rolling their eyes everytime I open my mouth. The conversation needs to be had, no matter how hard it is.”
We have created a conversation that threads through people and their stories, a link that brings hope to communities and makes people realise their potential. We have built groups and activated community spaces, with all of this energy and enthusiasm of a few local people. These are some of the projects that people were passionate about:
A community growing and cooking project which welcomes everyone, no matter their capabilities, and finds a role suited to each.
A project to help young people understand why destroying things, especially in parks and wild spaces, is harmful
The group committing to helping one member with a personal difficulty
Market ability stall to support people with diverse functionalities
The outcomes for the pilot groups clearly show the value of this process as a way to surface awareness about people’s power, their capacity to act together and the potential that such organised action has on local communities. Another outcome is a clearer understanding on hopes and concerns for the future, enabling further self-awareness and community awareness. In addition, we have seen participants build individual and group-work skills to cope with impacts, adding an element of resilience.Our absolute joy is to see people empowered for positive change, and this programme does exactly that, about real issues that will inevitably affect us all. I was grateful to have been on that journey with them, and anticipated out “what’s next?”
When we open ourselves to the world we start acknowledging the possibilities and abundance that surround us. Suddenly we are not alone anymore, we are not deprived and we can feel the support of walking together, hand by hand, heart by heart, head by head.
We are starting to see the groups in Greenock & Nottingham evolving and transforming through their group dynamics each day, becoming little by little a new being ready to emerge in this complex world.
And so it happened. On the last session in Nottingham while we were introducing each other, a spontaneous participant hugged another saying “I welcome you today”. We were all softened by the kindness and many of us stood and up and started hugging each other, welcoming each other into our space.
The Future Conversations programme continues to be inspired by many, either everyday participants or long-term activists, all bringing the collective wisdom through the process.
Up in Greenock, while “Honouring our pain”, people said they felt able to express their fears for the future whilst at the same time being supported and buoyed up by the others in their groups. We are stepping into the collective creation of a new emergent culture, so a poem by Looby Mcnamara about cultural emergence was shared. Below, just a fragment:
The Tulse Hill group in London started recently to gather and experience the joy of sharing feelings of fear and hope about the future ahead. They are a group of ESOL students that normally would focus on grammar, vocabulary and phrasal verbs; now they are learning English by exploring the topics that matter to them in life, bringing their passion to learn a new language with their life passions together. No wonder they are loving the session even more now.
And these are some of the actions that are emerging along the country:
● a garden in a concrete area in a church yard where nothing is going on
● a conversation with a church that is in decline to use their space for community actions
● a community growing and cooking project which welcomes everyone, no matter their capabilities, and finds a role to suit each member
● a project to help young people understand why destroying things, especially in parks and wild spaces, is harmful (this from a former “yout”)
● the group committing to helping one member with a personal difficulty
Some final words from Future Conversations participants about the sessions…
“ It was beautiful! “
“ It is who turns up and what they bring that make it..these sessions are at a different level to other community sessions that I have been part of….”
Charles Eisenstein is a charismatic American writer and speaker, who has a devoted following. I’m not such a fan, but I do recommend his new book, and I was impressed by his session at the Findhorn climate change conference (see my blog on this here).
In this book, he wisely highlights the risk that those most passionate about addressing climate change could alienate many potential allies. If we reduce all the issues in the world to one, and declare that nothing else matters, this is a fundamentalist view which doesn’t engage those concerned about other issues which are related, such as the loss of species and habitats, and many more.
He also points up the risks of focussing solely on climate change, carbon emissions, and technology. It’s quite possible to envisage a ‘sustainable future’ in which the ecosystems and other species have died, and humans live in air conditioned bubbles, on food grown hydroponically.
He comments, “We are in fact facing a very serious climate crisis. However, the main threat is not warming per se; it is what we might call “climate derangement”… caused primarily by the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.” Hence his top action priorities are about the health of ecosystems, ahead of emission reductions.
His distinction between complicated and complex systems is illuminating: “Modern reductionistic methods are well adapted to dealing with complicated systems”, i.e. which can be subdivided, have predictable responses etc. Whereas, “Bodies, ecosystems, … societies, and the planet are complex systems” – where “variables are dependent, causal relationships are nonlinear…”
The chapter on Regenerative Agriculture cites some impressive projects with remarkable results, such as Brown’s Ranch in North Dakota, and Ernst Gotsch’s Syntropic Agriculture work in Brazil. He comments on why regenerative agriculture is still marginal: hard to measure because multiple variables, hard to implement because it requires a lot of expertise, labour, tailoring to local conditions.
This book is well-researched, and gives a convincing critique of the blind spots in ‘climate science’. As he says, one of these is underrating factors which are hard to measure. In particular, carbon sequestration below ground, and by regenerative agriculture, could be a major contributor to progress, but is very hard to monitor.
This is not an easy book, for various reasons, not just the arduous nature of the topic. Charles repeatedly challenges readers to look for the blind spots and prejudice in their thinking. His writing style has a subtle whiff of superiority about it – you can imagine him as a university lecturer intimidating his adoring students.
This book valuably highlights our confused attitude to Earth’s ecosystems and other life forms: for example, in putting a monetary value on them, we continue to treat them as merely resources for human use. “If we are to preserve the things on this planet that are beyond price, we cannot rely on math to do it.”
Like many books on this topic, we’re not left with a convincing scenario for how change is going to happen. But I like Charles’ comment that “Without a bridge from the realm of metaphysics to the world of policy, we risk making the Story of Interbeing into a mere philosophy.” In his concluding chapter, he highlights 17 policy changes which he sees as priorities, here are the first four of them:
Promote land regeneration as a major new category of philanthropy: fund demonstration projects, connect young farmers to land, and help farms transition to regenerative practices. Provide public funding and government support for this transition as well by shifting agricultural subsidies away from conventional crops.
Institute a global moratorium on logging, mining, drilling, and development of all remaining primary forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems.
Expand the land protected in wildlife refuges and other reserves. When possible, enlist local and indigenous people in protection efforts to align their livelihood with ecological health.
Establish new ocean marine reserves and expand existing ones, with the goal of placing a third to half of all oceans, estuaires, and coastline into no-take/no-drill/no-develop sanctuaries.
How might all this happen? He doesn’t offer specific ideas, but believes more like Thomas Berry that a radical shift in consciousness can produce astonishing material changes. Let’s hope and pray that this happens soon.
I try to follow the climate change debate closely, and there seems too little well-considered exploration of how the business world can best respond to the current crisis. One reason may be that this looks like an impossible issue. There are massive vested interests, and many companies seem to depend on business models which are at odds with the systemic changes that the climate crisis needs.
Having spent thirty years in the world of big business, I have glimmers of hope that corporates can understand and respond to this fundamental threat to their business model: this is what I want to explore in this blog.
To make this more vivid, let’s put ourselves in the posh designer shoes of Steve Strong, Chief Executive of Flabster plc, a UK-based conglomerate in the food business. We join him on a Wednesday afternoon, but he’s wishing it was Friday evening. He’s being pestered for a “positive response on climate change”, by a large institutional shareholder, by a Guardian journalist, and by his daughter, who’s heavily involved with Extinction Rebellion.
Let’s use the elastic rules of fiction to imagine that somehow Steve calls me in as a consultant for advice. Here are the main issues I’d explore with him.
1.It’s not just about carbon
Steve, I know that the simpler the issue, the easier you can respond. But most worthwhile experts will tell you that the rapidly mounting crisis is not just about carbon emissions. It’s about the related collapse of ecosystems, and global food failures related to both.
What you can do: accept publicly that this is a crisis, and set a three-month deadline to assess the risks holistically and propose a strategy. Do this with a mix of your own best people and outside consultants. This commitment puts Flabster on the line, but will play well with your critics. As part of this assessment, see if there are existing networks, codes and initiatives which can guide you, speed progress, and give you credibility: for example, check out www.sciencebasedtargets.org and www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org .
Whilst I don’t know the details of your business, Steve, I can at least give you a few guesses on some of the main issues your team will need to consider:
Get current information on ways climate change could directly impact your business within the next few years. Check out the views of Jem Bendell on Deep Adaptation, including climate change impacts on food supplies. Get someone to read the latest IPCC reports. Check out reliable websites like www.carbonbrief.org and www.aldersgategroup.org.uk
Minimising carbon emissions at every stage of your production process, including raw material supplies and transport, right through to your deliveries to customers. Where carbon emissions can’t be eliminated, setting up offsetting or sequestration, with the aim of making your business zero emissions within a few years.
Understanding and rectifying both present and past environmental impacts from your products, e.g. palm oil supply, investing in projects which restore or replace ecosystems you have damaged.
Either eliminating raw materials with a clear record of environmental damage, such as palm oil, or only using suppliers who can be verified as environmentally sustainable. Understanding how production of your raw materials may impact on the food supplies and livelihoods of the population of those countries. If your production does impact them, providing demonstrable support for their food security, e.g. by regenerative agriculture.
The lonely view from Steve’s office
2. It’s not just about developed countries
It’s evident that those who did least to create climate change are already suffering most, and that will continue. You will be held to account globally: you can’t ‘solve’ your problem in Europe by offshoring it to developing countries.
What you can do: As part of your three-month review, truly understand your current impacts globally: partly by dialogue with NGO’s you might see as hostile, such as Greenpeace or WWF. Ask your review team to understand the principles of regenerative agriculture. Talk to your major suppliers (e.g. for sugar, palm oil) about their potential responses to climate change, and how you could support them.
Realise that there can be business benefits in being the progressive pioneer in your sector. Unilever is a good example in several food sectors. Committing to a regenerative supplier code within, say, two years may well have a cost impact, but could gain you market share with consumers, and support from some investors, e.g. the growing ethical sector.
3.There’s a lot of understandable scepticism towards business
Steve, you and I know that there’s been a lot of greenwashing, smokescreening, and even deliberate deceit from parts of the business world around these issues, for decades. As an example of the current scepticism towards big business, see this blog from Professor Jem Bendell, a leading advisor to Extinction Rebellion.
What you can do:Understand the concerns in Extinction Rebellion and other activist groups about the business world. Be honest about past shortcomings. Make tangible commitments, and invite activists to hold you to account for them. This needs bravery, but there are potential payoffs in market share and future credibility.
4. These changes will need support from your stakeholders
Most of your stakeholders will already realise that this is a time of massive turmoil and uncertainty: they are probably worried and confused, and you may find a variety of different preferences and responses when you consult them. For example, some may already be advocating radical change as the best business response, whilst others may cling to a view that you can just do what you already do, only harder.
What you can do: Firstly, find your own sincere passion for this radical change. If that’s hard, talk more to your daughter, watch the Attenborough documentary,go and visit deforestation sites. Second, seek support from your top team and all your staff: you’ll almost certainly find this is readily available. Third, explain your strategy fully and positively to ethical funds. Highlight to current shareholders that your strategy should enhance share value by widening demand for shares, and protecting longer term profitability.
5.This will affect profits
It’s likely that the extra costs of a progressive strategy will kick in before the potential benefits. What you can do: Be upfront about this with shareholders. Explain that it’s the least bad option given the scale of the crisis. And realise that this is what will give you credibility with the climate activists and keep them somewhat off your back.
6. You need to face the emotional impact for you and your staff
The climate crisis and its implications are so big that it’s understandable for anyone to feel alarmed and even overwhelmed by them. This is one reason, why, even now, so many businesses are not facing the issues. The wisest experts on this topic such as Jem Bendell, highlight the emotional impacts of the situation, and the need to come to terms with these somehow before we can respond coherently and constructively. This is pretty certainly true for all of your staff, and all of your families.
What you can do: As a leader, you can do great service to your people and your business by being honest about your own emotions in this situation, and enabling your managers and all your staff to do the same. No doubt your Company already has a variety of support systems in place for its people: you need to get members of your team to understand the specific issues and processes which are relevant here, and make them available throughout the organisation. Also recognise that your own need for support is a valid one.
7. Governments may be too weak to hold a level playing field
Over the years, Steve, I’ve read many books on how to ‘solve’ the climate crisis. A common idea is that when things get bad enough governments will step in and put the economy on a wartime footing. If all businesses have a fair regulatory context imposed on them it could help. But do you think that’s likely when most governments these days are weak or right-wing?
What you can do:Don’t wait for government, don’t depend on industry agreements. Be bold enough to take the initiative, with support and using existing frameworks and networks as discussed earlier.
8. It may get worse before it gets better
I realise that Flabster plc is only just starting to feel pressure about climate change: do you think this will escalate or go away? My view is that the huge rise in public awareness in recent months and the success of a grassroots movement in catalysing this, will soon move on to a desire for action.You may soon find some businesses targeted by protest groups, and product boycotts being declared. Often these will choose their issues based on limited knowledge, and the choice of target companies can be arbitrary.
What you can do:As part of the three-month review, look at your vulnerabilities, i.e. which issues might activists target you for? As you start to put a constructive strategy in place, on the lines above, invite the activist groups to talk to you. This alone is likely to reduce the risk that you’re targeted.
An offer to businesses
If any business leaders read this, I’m offering an exploratory conversation free of charge. I have a Harvard MBA, twenty successful years as a manager and director of large businesses, and ten as a consultant. I also have an excellent network of individuals and organisations equally experienced in the corporate world. I can offer a catalytic setting for strategy retreats at Hazel Hill Wood, the 70-acre, off-grid woodland centre near Salisbury: see www.hazelhill.org.uk. Feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org, or look at my website: www.futurescanning.org
The rapid rise in awareness of the climate change crisis since summer 2019 has been remarkable, and so are the causes. The Swedish teenager Greta Thonberg has been an extraordinary catalyst, leading to the school strikes. And grassroots movements like Extinction Rebellion from the UK and Sunrise in the US have had remarkable impact.
Awareness is a great start, but what action is needed, from who? I’ve just returned from a major international conference at Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, so this blog is sharing what I learned there. People from 50 countries attended; we had expert views from Jonathon Porritt, Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, and the late Polly Higgins. We also had the moving presence of several indigenous elders from across the world, speaking of their people and land in turmoil.
So far, the average global temperature rise is only about 1OC, but the impacts of this have been far more severe than most scientists predicted. We’re now seeing exponential not linear deterioration and knock-on effects such as methane release from under melting ice. To non-scientists, the difference between 1.5OC and 2.0OC of temperature rise might not seem significant, but it is, and probably even more so than we can foresee. One example is impacts on food and water supplies: this needs more assessment in light of recent climate data, but you can see an overview of current info here.
You can see the urgency of this crisis in the recent David Attenborough documentary for BBC TV, which predicted that on present trends, the global rise will be 3OC to 6OC by 2050. And at Findhorn we heard that if all the ambitious pledges at the Paris 2015 climate summit were fulfilled, we’d still have a 3.5OC rise.
There is a clear consensus among experts that the situation is desperately grave, and that we have little time left to redeem it: at best ten years. Some elements of the solution are clear, especially cuts in carbon emissions. However, there are varying views on priorities, and how change is achieved.
Charles Eisenstein’s take
To keep this blog coherent, I’ll focus largely on the views of one Findhorn keynote speaker, Charles Eisenstein. He’s a youngish American who calls himself a social philosopher, but he has a fair grasp of the science too. His latest book is Climate: a new story.
Charles challenges the obvious question, ‘How do we humans survive?’, and prefers the question, ‘What kind of earth do we want to survive on?’ He sees a high risk of a techno-fix future, where the ecosystems have died, and a few billion privileged humans live in air conditioned bubbles with hydroponic food and carbon extraction machines.
In his keynote at Findhorn, Charles listed his top four action priorities as:
Protect any ecosystem which is still largely intact, and the people native to it, e.g. the Amazon, Congo basin.
Repair damaged ecosystems, especially through reforestation and regenerative agriculture.
Stop the creation of toxic waste (insecticides and much more).
Major reduction in carbon emissions.
I support his priorities, because recent experiences tell me that the forests are crucial in this crisis. The most shocking, surprising part of the Attenborough programme for me was the continuing scale of deforestation globally, and his statement that 30% of all emissions are caused by this (presumably including forest fires).
One of the important points in Charles’ new book is the risk of climate activists falling into a fundamentalist, single-issue mindset which is likely to alienate many in the mainstream. I agree with his view that it’s better to start form the concerns people already have, and gently show how these relate to climate change.
The Forests are Crucial
Meeting Haru, a young tribal leader from the Amazon rainforest, brought this crisis vividly to life, and left me both deeply upset and deeply determined to do what I can for the forests. This is the focus of another new blog, which you can see here.
As I expected, one benefit of the Findhorn conference was clarifying the differences of opinion about the climate crisis. One of these is about levers of change: I’d sum this up in the scenarios below:
Grassroots movements like Extinction Rebellion will grow in scale and militancy, and will actually lead the changes needed.
Governments will move to a ‘wartime’ approach, take charge and manage the change.
Large sections of the business world will recognise the dangers and initiate a radically new approach.
Please pause for a minute, take a few breaths: ask yourself which of these scenarios feels plausible to you? We need wholescale, systemic, disruptive change which will be hard for all of us. You can see why some experts believe it’s already too late, and we should prepare to adapt to system collapse: for more on this, see my blog on Jem Bendell.
My sanguine view on the three scenarios is that none looks likely: it will take an abundance of miracles and it needs to involve all three of the categories above. The capacity of governments to lead is what depresses me most. As Jonathon Porritt says, we’re afflicted with despots or dithering just when we need powerful visionaries.
I led two workshop sessions at the conference. One was on my Future Conversations project: this offers resilience skills plus information on climate change and other issues to disadvantaged communities. And I led a session on the importance of vision and consciousness alongside tangible action, including the work of Thomas Berry. For a 3-minute video interview with me from the conference click here.
One of the heated issues in the climate movement is whether to seek dialogue with the business sector, or ignore and override it. Neither approach looks promising. The systemic changes we need will fundamentally threaten the profits of many large, powerful businesses, who can fight back ferociously. One of my commitments from Findhorn is to explore dialogue with corporates. As Paul Hawken wrote years ago in The Ecology of Commerce, the issues are so big that we need the power of business to address them.
Another juicy topic of debate at Findhorn was the relative priority of practical action versus vision and beliefs. I’m a strong believer that both are vital, and I like Charles Eisenstein’s call for “a bridge from the realm of metaphysics to the world of policy.” When I hit despair about the future, as I often do, I turn to Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth and other books. He writes movingly about change needing to start at the level of dream, vision, myth, and how humans need to see themselves as “a species among species”, part of the living, feeling Earth. For my blog about Thomas Berry, click here.
An issue which was vividly highlighted at Findhorn is how those who’ve done least to cause climate change are already suffering most, and this will continue: not only humans, but all the other life in their ravaged ecosystems. Hearing direct from indigenous leaders was gut-wrenching.
I was especially moved to hear Mugove Nyika from Zambia talk of the terrible combination of long drought plus cyclonic storms which has caused total crop failure in large areas of Southern and Eastern Africa. To help his project, go to www.seedingschools.org
If you’re wondering what you can do, I suggest you go beyond what’s easy or obvious. What Greta and XR show us is that individuals and grassroots movements can have a big effect. And alongside action, try picturing frequently a verdant, loving world where all forms of life flourish together, and pray for this to whatever you believe in.
As the days become longer and our eyes start to open, we are getting ready to embrace spring. We have been preparing the soil for Future Conversations programmes to be delivered in England in Tulse Hill and Grenfell (London), Nottingham and in Scotland in Greenock, aiming at building local resilience to respond to future challenges.
A few months ago, back in January, a group of 12 participants from different sides of the country were trained to facilitate conversations about what is important to us, to our communities and to our planet earth, our mother. We created a safe space for people to bring their fears, to express their hopes and to explore together how the relationships that we have with ourselves, with each other and with the ecosystem we are part of are crucial to determine our capacity to adapt to changes.
We acknowledged the difficulties of starting conversations about the future of the planet while people’s self-interest might be focused on employment, health or education. This is the story of separation of our times, where we have stopped seeing our relational existence with every tree, river and bird, and see life as an individual journey where if ‘I provide for myself, I will be alright.’
Our friends in Greenock & Nottingham have already started experiencing the programme:
The four groups will continue to work through the sessions over the next few months when we will have the opportunity to learn how this process is influencing people’s beliefs and capacity to act in their communities for a better future.