Ecocultures Festival of Environmental Research, Policy and Practice

I took part in a panel on ‘Routes for collaborative research and activism in Scottish policy-making’ at the Ecocultures Festival of Environmental Research, Policy and Practice at the Pearce Institute, Govan on Oct 17th 2015. This festival, a one day event, was delivered by colleagues from the University of Glasgow and the Centre for Human Ecology, funded by Glasgow University’s Collaborative Research fund.

Also on the panel were Patrick Harvie, MSP for the Scottish Green Party; Penny Cole of Assemblies for Democracy and anti-fracking activist; and Helen Greene, researcher in Geology at the University of Glasgow.

Penny’s notes from the panel:

Knowledge Exchange blog on the event, with a mention of the panel:

Below are my rough notes from a partly extemporaneous talk.

My talk at the event was framed with the COP21 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Paris which began at the end of 2015, the first such negotiation to be held in Europe since COP15 in Denmark, during which I was one of the demonstrators outside the Bella Centre while delegates inside failed. I was not hopeful for a meaningful deal at Paris and although I was surprised by the emergence of a consensus to act, this was not accompanied by enforceable targets that would keep us within the carrying capacity of our common home.

Why? Simply put: most negotiators on behalf of member states at global multilateral negotiations of this kind take as their basic assumption that growth-based capitalism is only viable economic model, and that the purpose of negotiations is to simply take out the fossil-fuel powered battery that’s powering that system, and replace it with a low-carbon one- a kind of technoutopianism.

We in the minority world- meaning, the rich countries in the global ‘West’- can only sustain our way of life as we know it because we are effectively land pirates: we maintain our way of life on a violent extractive economy that dominates not only the more-than-human world that sustains us, but also on the backs of, internationally, the majority world which consists of low and middle income countries for whom there are not enough resources on the planet to emulate our lifestyles, while domestically in the UK austerity economics devastates the lives of the poor.

The emerging Natural Capital discourse which attempts to apply market values to the biosphere is the latest attempt of the system to correct itself: the same system that has resulted in the global economic downturn and European sovereign debt crisis- another symptom of a culture that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate a 97% likelihood that that 2015 will be globally the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous hottest year on record, which was 2014.

Domestic policy in Scotland: well, we have fairly good Climate Change act, but we’ve consistently missed those emissions targets for four years in a row, which is still better than UK performance, in which David Cameron’s promise of a Green Revolution if you ‘vote blue to get green’ has been replaced with an austerity ideology of ‘get rid of all the green crap’. Slashing of solar subsidies don’t help. And here again, we start to come up against the fact that there’s no mechanism within the nation state to handle global issues and I’ve already mentioned the challenges of multilateral negotiations.

Research is vital not simply for carbon emission reduction, although essential, but for increased efficiency and decreased cost of solar photovoltaic, but research and development into economic systems that both allow us to live within our global carrying capacity but allow everyone to lead decent lives of dignified sufficiency- this might include ideas of the circular economy in which there neither resources nor people are seen as throw-away- there there is no ‘away’.

Transitioning away from a growth economy to a steady-state one, and developing bioregional economics, being aware of where our resources come from and where our waste goes.

Vital to this process is cultural change: the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and what matters in life.