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You want to hear a call to arms that rings with real urgency and passion? Last Wednesday at the Sustainable Development Commission Breakthrough Ideas for the 21st Century meeting in London Tim Smit stood and complained that what he was hearing was "hippy shit".

You want to hear a call to arms that rings with real urgency and passion? Last Wednesday at the Sustainable Development Commission Breakthrough Ideas for the 21st Century meeting in London Tim Smit stood and complained that what he was hearing was "hippy shit".

It was a comment that injected an abrupt note of dischord a day that would include  encouraging speeches from Jonathan Porritt, David Dimbleby, Prince Charles, Ed Miliband and Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson. But for listeners disappointed that the the day - up to Smit's intervention - had lacked the sense of urgency that the situation demanded, and who were concerned that the notion of "sustainability" remains a frustratingly parochial concern,  it was a breath of air in a stuffy room.

But Smit made his remark as an intervention from the floor. What did he really mean by it? I emailed the Eden Project founder on Wednesday night asking if he'd be interested in the chance to explain it a little further. This is his reply:

I was trying to say a simple thing and that is this;

"The next forty years will see us needing to cut our carbon footprint by 80% and if that is what we believe now the lessons of the last few years would imply that even this timescale is conservative as humans seem to have no intrinsic understanding of exponential change, only linear change. This means that every child in school today will live through changes that will be as major as imagining a leap from pre-industrial society into the middle of it. These changes cannot be assimilated to even contemplated as the sum of billions of small individual events of a 'lifestyle choice' variety. While it is true that the cultural changes which will see us recycle, insulate, travel less embrace renewable energy solutions and so on, will make a difference, these are actions based on the individual and our self perception as individual actors with choice as our right and consumption as our economic driver. It is in building community resilience and awareness that the future lies and to succeed in this we need a new narrative, one that describes the sunny uplands our society is striving to reach and the reason why adopting a philosophy which sees us recognising out part in and responsibility to the natural world will see us working with the grain of nature and not against it. My comment about 'hippy shit' was in no way meant to decry the efforts of those who are encouraging the first steps in community action through various mediums such as growing your own and so on, merely that we have been here before many times and the danger of becoming over impressed with such steps is that it drowns out the scream from the future that a truly radical shift in philosophy and leadership is required - one that questions the fundamentals of the way we do business, measure growth and take on responsibilities as citizens as opposed to just being aware of our rights. I feel awkward because I do not wish to be anything but supportive to the committed, but I believe we are entering, or maybe have already entered a period that future generations may come to regard as important as the start of the renaissance. For this to be true we need to be collectively far angrier, intellectually more incisive and offer realistic alternative routes to the future which take on board the realities of the size and complexity of the global population and don't retreat into intellectual masturbation about ideals that just are undeliverable.The tragedy of our generation could well be that our institutions, both private and public are based on military or mechanistic hierarchies which have many things to commend them but adaptability isn't one of them. I have spoken frequently to top civil servants both here and in Europe and they voice private despair at the structural and decision making prisons they have built for themselves and an accountability that is more often based on 'audit' than human outcomes. Their outlook is bleak because of the almost total lack of real leadership. A revolution is necessary and it cannot be achieved by a simple democratic process - were it so the world would still be flat. I hold to the view that Mark Twain famously noted, 'If it is true that reasonable men bend themselves to the ways of the world, then only the unreasonable can change it.' This is very good and in our terms today should maybe be translated as 'if it ain't broke - smash it' (as someone has obviously got a vested interest in it!)."

So... sorry for the long reply, but "Hippy Shit" can appear like a cheap shot from the sidelines and does disservice to "Hippies" as we both know that many ex-hippies run the monster organisations that have become household names - you had to be lateral and brave to be a real hippy, but hippy shit is the unthinking touchy feely language of togetherness and harmony without a roadmap or a narrative.

The arguments that we need change have all been won: it's exhausting hearing them rehearsed again and again. To actually activate people, to enbolden them to be able to grapple with what needs to be done, we eloquent, furious voices like this.


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