Climate Change: A multi-lateral conversation - RSA

Climate Change: A multi-lateral conversation

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  • Climate change

Tonight I have the privilege of chairing an ambitious RSA public event on Climate Change, with a panel of seven experts speaking to the different aspects of climate change and how they intersect. 

It is a daunting task, but I’m keeping myself cheery with the thought that it should be easier than handling seven politicians scrambling for votes in a national televised debate.

Our panellists bring enormous breadth of experience as well as depth of expertise, and will no doubt say whatever they want to say, but we have typecast them within our Seven Dimensions Framework as follows:

  • Science: Chris Rapley CBE, Professor of climate science at UCL

  • Technology: Jeremy Leggett, green-energy entrepreneur and founder of Solarcentury

  • Law: Jake White. Environmental lawyer, Friends of the Earth

  • Economy: Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of LSE’s Grantham Research Institute

  • Democracy: Baroness Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the London Assembly

  • Culture: Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder, Futerra

  • Behaviour: Rosemary Randall, psychoanalytic psychotherapist

To honour the Question Time tradition we will be answering submitted questions from the audience, and given the size of the panel, there will be minimal time for impromptu audience involvement. So what are we hoping to achieve exactly?

Beyond a brief summary of the Scientific picture in response to an early question, hopefully by Chris Rapley, the event is *not* about debating the current state of Science underlying the physical phenomena of climate change. This decision may infuriate those who feel the entire conversation is based on shaky premises, but frankly, they are almost certainly wrong, and that discussion is for another time and place.

In A New Agenda on Climate Change and The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change, no time was wasted on making the Scientific case, which has been made consistently, authoritatively and decisively elsewhere. There are some open questions, including on the degree of climate sensitivity to carbon, but they are questions about degrees of risk not whether there is a major issue of planetary importance that we have to confront together. So, tonight at least, we start there.

Before our first event in this series – RSA Climate Comedy Night which led these two wonderful video highlights by Radio 4’s Steve Punt and Marcus Brigstocke - I introduced our introductory report (co-written with Dr Adam Corner of COIN) on The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change as follows:

“We need to reimagine the world’s toughest problem. This means seeing the full range of opportunities and constraints on climate change, holistically and systemically, and working on multiple fronts simultaneously, while communicating clearly and intelligently. An ambitious goal! But perhaps the reason climate change seems so hard is that we don’t realise just how hard it really is.”

I feel that more than ever. Sometimes things are hard because we treat them as if they weren’t hard; and they become easier when we see them for what they are. It can be such a relief to realise that there is a good reason you’re not making much progress; those moments of epiphany when you remain determined to make fruit juice, but stop trying to squeeze an apple with your hands.

The purpose of viewing climate change as a seven dimensional problem is too see it with the right balance of authentic difficulty and insight you can act on. To unpack that, the purpose of this reframing is to:

1. Highlight the systemic nature of the challenge, and the range of possible solutions.

2. Allow people who might otherwise be disengaged from the challenge to see themselves in it, and identify their scope for action within that domain, rather than be daunted by ‘climate change’ as a whole.

3. Encourage necessary conversations between individuals and groups across these dimensions, with an emphasis on moving beyond unilateral (e.g. Science alone) or bi-lateral (e.g. Economy to Democracy) connections. Climate change must move from being a scientific to a social fact before any significant progress can be made, which requires a multi-lateral approach.

4. To differentiate it from broader environmental concerns, but also to clarify what it really means – for people, business and governments – to ‘act’ on climate change with conviction.

The structure of tonight’s event speaks to number one, we will know whether we’ve achieved number two through audience and participant feedback throughout the project, and my role tonight is to ensure we begin to illustrate what 3 and 4 might look like.

The event is live streamed and a full replay will be available very soon after the event, with an edited version a bit later. There is a break out room with video link for those who want to come to building but can’t fit in The Great Room!


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  • I attended this event Jonathan. I appreciate all the hard work that went into considering the panel and facilitating the event. However for such a vital topic it was too rushed, way too compressed and 'safe', and I felt some very important conversations were quickly neglected by the panel. I felt the choice of Futrrra as a representative for culture and society quite insulting as Solitaire failed to really grasp much of the breadth and depth of cultural response and also dismissed what is a real dimension of consideration - the question of a deeper ethical moral and even spiritual question behind the discussion of climate change, which to me in fact underlies the foundation of how we cope and transition to a new paradigm. Just trying to be positive and creative together hardly grapples with the underlying systemic and philosophical breakdown we face nor does it lead to any real and relevant change but rather perpetuates a cultural belief system that keeps is rooted in a disasterous loop. As you suggested you are a fan of Einstein then we require a new form of thinking to get us out of this pickle.

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