We need to talk about sustainability: the IPCC report

  • by helga
  • 21/04/2014

Sustainability - the IPCC reportsThis is the first of a series of posts.

Paraphrasing the film title We need to talk about Kevin, it could start by introducing an implicit danger or menace and then gradually building up the tension to achieve greater impact. Except that no one would feel scared or threatened, of course – it’s not as if yet another American teenager is about to become a psychopath murderer.

The fact is, the word “sustainability” and the serious environmental and social threats to the world as we know it don’t tend to raise a deep emotional response with us moviegoers. This is because the way we perceive danger and risk is connected to fairly short-sighted, individual experiences. For example, it’s well known that low crime statistics have little impact on the feeling of an individual’s personal security if that individual has actually seen from close – or been a victim of – one of the rare crimes mentioned in statistics. Same goes for airplane, train and ferry crashes – much more visible and reported in the media than the slow, steady toll of casualties in our roads, and the result is that we get somehow more scared when we’re in a plane than when we’re in a car. This is purely emotional – it’s hard to rationalise against it.

There are too few visible, directly accountable consequences of unsustainable business practices for people to feel truly scared about them. Yes, sustainability is indeed what brings me to write again, folks.

It’s been a while since I wrote my last post here and mostly for good reasons – new work, new leads, new clients, new challenges. I have, however, been collecting notes about the latest news on sustainability, and over Easter I finally had a moment to put them down on paper. Please bear with me while I drip-feed them to the cyberspace (does cyberspace even exist anymore or is it a terribly dated term?).

The first post is about…  

The IPCC report

Starting with the main news, which is of course the three latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports: The Physical Evidence Basis, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Mitigation of Climate Change. I suppose you have heard about them? Probably read about it or seen in it the news? (Update: some of the links above are not working properly but it’s not my fault – the links are broken on IPCC’s website)

I urge you to stop everything you’re doing right now and download the 2-page summary on the physical evidence at least, if you haven’t yet. It’s free, easy to access from IPCC’s website, and only two pages long as I said. There is nothing in there we haven’t heard about before – but it’s such a neat, well formed, highly condensed piece of evidence about what’s happening to our planet (as the old joke goes: “just a bad case of humans”), that it would be a shame if it’s not read by everyone who knows how to read.

What surprised me the most about the report and the press releases around it was its seemingly upbeat, positive can-do tone. I’m assuming this tone has been carefully studied, planned and rehearsed before public release. Humans don’t live of gloom and doom – when we’re sad and depressed we tend to go into our little comfort cocoons and sod the rest of it. No, there needs to be willingness and hope, a belief that what we do actually matters, no matter how small or insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

The report is upbeat, and it says yes!, it is within our reach. The financial consequences of generating and distributing clean energy is well within reach of our resources and R&D capacity in the developed world, for example. We need brave political decisions and a few massive technology developments but we can avert the direction where we’re headed right now. It won’t stop the temperature from rising a couple of degrees by the end of the century (compared to pre-industrial levels) but it can mitigate the damage and prevent it from going up 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 degrees. Good news indeed!

Therefore, reading the Mitigation report left me truly energised and thinking about a thousand and one business ideas to solve the problems ahead.

Yes, I do believe business has a key role to play in solving these problems. Quick promises of accumulating capital for a handful of private shareholders and investors over a short timeframe are not the only drive to business success – there are plenty of well documented alternatives to this model, enabled by well functioning, supportive institutions for raising capital, providing infrastructure, and investing for much beyond our own lifespan. There is no reason why it wouldn’t work on a larger scale.

So cheers to the new IPCC report and may it inspire good change.

(She says while enjoying the big, morning sun on Easter Monday. Don’t ask her again in the evening.)

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