2020 is the year when most of us seesawed between utter despair and a sense of hopefulness. Despair as we are all impacted by the infectious Covid-19 on top of other human-induced threats and crises. And hopefulness as we paused to question what is important in life and saw the mobilization of people helping their neighbours and advocating for environmental and social justice. Protests that erupted in 2019 continued virtually and signaled critical shifts in how citizens, business, and governments relate with environmental movements – Stop Ecocide, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, 360.org, Possible and the Vatican’s action to join in the global call for Fossil Fuel Divestments – and social protests as millions of citizens reached their breaking point and took to the streets worldwide to raise their voices against inequality, corruption and bad governance, demanding reforms and regime change.
2020 ends on a deeply introspective note as we reach a hellish crossroad after decades of indifference and abuse of nature, biodiversity and marginalized vulnerable people worldwide and a growing crisis of trust. It must be NOW that people join forces and choose to fight for a more compassionate, just, sustainable and resilient world, where there is wellbeing for every person, every community and the whole ecosystem, and an equal opportunity to live a good life.
NOW founding members met Sir Jonathon Porritt in 2019, a down-to-earth British environmentalist, a ‘veteran campaigner’ and eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development who preferred to simply be called Jonathon. He is the Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, the UK’s leading sustainable development charity, was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth and co-chair of the Green Party. It was Environment Day, an apt day for a meaningful exchange about the travel industry and the huge gap between what science tells us needs to be done and what politicians and organisations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council are doing and failing to do.
We connected again last month with Jonathon about his latest book Hope in Hell – A Decade to Confront The Climate Emergency. Of all the books he has written, he tells us that this one has been the hardest and personally very painful – simply because we’ve left everything so late. Hope in Hell is a powerful ‘call to action’ and eloquently sets out the reality of the hell ahead and the compelling grounds for hope IF we can change course fast enough.
Jonathan’s personal message to all communities is urgent and purposeful, emphasizing “It must be NOW that we make the break, that we leave behind the cruel and destructive economic system the world and its people have suffered under for more than 40 years, passed through the portal that Covid-19 offers us, and embrace the kind of just, compassionate and genuinely sustainable world that so many are now yearning for.”
During media interviews about his book, Jonathon shared why he wrote HOPE IN HELL, why 2021 is the decisive year, why we have to commit to more radical action, the impact of coronavirus on activism and travel, how to deal with the blues and the need to help young people in the climate campaigning space.
Jonathon started researching his book HOPE IN HELL in July 2019 when the arctic was on fire with temperatures at 32°C, against an average of around 18°C; and it was published a year later when the arctic was at 38°C. He was keen to write this book about his encounter with climate activists in May 2019 who were incensed and full of betrayal and rage to be told that it is too late to do anything about it. Emphatically he explained, “If you are a young person today when every single day for the rest of your life will be affected, what does the phrase ‘too late’ mean? It is used liberally. It will never be too late to stop a lot of terrible things from happening because of accelerating climate change and system collapse. Things are truly dreadful. It is already too late to stop a lot of what is happening. Is it too late to stop runaway climate change? We have set off such a train of events and consequences, feedback loops in the complex natural systems like the arctic, the antarctic and the Amazon and even if we wanted to pull it back, it is too late. We have gone over the dreaded tipping points. It is possible to look at a sequence of events in the next few years which would mean that we can avoid the complete meltdown that awaits us.”
Timing is critical. Jonathon warned, ”2021 is the decisive year. Getting it right means the 10 trillion dollars recovery programme worldwide will go towards getting economies back on their feet, restoring purchasing power and creating jobs as we simultaneously address the climate emergency, collapsing ecosystems, and deficits on social justice and racial equalities. Getting it right means that 2030 will be relatively hopeful for a stable future for humankind. If we get it wrong, the consequences for humankind are almost unspeakable.”
We need more radical action. Jonathan pointed out, “On the one hand, we have the science that tells us that everything is getting worse everywhere faster than anyone imagined possible according to an imminent scientist in IPPC. On the other hand, there is a solutions agenda that is getting more powerful and more significant in terms of providing solutions to the world’s worst problems today. In the middle sits the politicians who can narrow the gap between the science and the deployment available to us. The judgement call is what the politicians will do. It is difficult to move these systems unless there is a shock to the system. Governments did not really understand what it takes to get to a carbon neutral environment. It is now possible to have a 100% renewable electricity world by 2030. We have to commit to more radical action including civil disobedience. There is so much that we can do.”
Jonathon described the coronavirus as an unprecedented and unrepeatable opportunity for climate action that leaves him brimful of hope. “The prospects of us doing what we need to do are greater because of the coronavirus crisis than without it. It is an utterly traumatic shock to the lives of everybody across the planet. It means that people have accepted that sometimes things just totally have to be rethought, that when the government wants to, governments can. There is a power to transform a way of life. I do genuinely believe that some of the changes that have happened during the crisis, that we won’t go back to previous behaviours.”
On travel post Covid-19, he anticipates drastic changes. “I don’t think that aviation will recover as before. Many companies are looking into parking the notion of business travel or reducing business travel by 50% permanently. Leisure travel will continue but we will not see the 7 to 8% rates of growth of previous years. Commuting will not be the same again and we will have hybrid work lives working at home and the office. There is not a single company now who is not thinking of implications on the amount of work space needed. The bit that I am hoping for, now that people have a chance to reconnect with the natural world, is that we would not be indifferent again.”
For people who occasionally feel blue about the gloomy prospect we are facing, Jonathon shared that it is important to build up a way of accessing what is positive and energise other people, and find things that are uplifting and upbeat about the future. Being out and about in nature also sustains him and as a lover of trees, he understands that hugging a tree makes us feel better and calmer, grounded and more connected to Mother Nature, and it reminds us of the interconnectedness of life.
The real heart of his hopefulness is the sense of what the young people were able to achieve in 2019 – a phenomenon that started in late 2018 with Greta Thunberg and grew to a global movement that got over 7 million young people to the streets in just over a year. He declared, “What happens when millions of young people need to break the law in order to get their voice heard?” I am hugely interested in what this means, this shift in the political center is critical. We will see more young people coming to the fore again after Covid-19. They will say to politicians that you are condemning us to a life of total disruption and devastation and we will not put up with this. Older people must think of positive ways to work with that energy. Young people cannot do this entirely with their forceful vigour and energy. It needs to shift the political encumbrance that has a stranglehold around what needs to be done. Their passion and anger and concern has to be focused politically.”
Through limitless disappointments, Jonathan remains profoundly optimistic about the state of the planet and the young people who are living in it. He explained ”I am still absolutely convinced that human nature is in essence good and that given half a chance and good education, good grounding, the right environment, the right opportunities for people from the youngest point in their lives, that people will grow up and be proud of doing the right thing for their families, for their communities, for the planet. Unless you veere on that side of human nature, as in essentially good rather than essentially bad, it’s very hard to track out a future for humankind.”
Our wellbeing and the health of our planet are intricately intertwined and this must be our priority imperative at the heart of every strategy, every plan and every choice we make. There is hope if we join forces to make this decade of transition the Force for Good 20s, and nothing, not even a pandemic, must divert us from acting NOW to get it right.
WE MUST DO MORE than transform to a conscious and sustainable lifestyle. WE MUST DO MORE than change diets, drive an electric car, reduce-reuse & recycle waste, refrain from flying, shop with our values in mind, and choose investments that do not harm the planet. WE MUST demand that global budgets for recovery programs are allocated to do the right thing, get to carbon zero, speak to those who want everything cheap about the abuse and cruelty in the supply chain, and tell companies that greenwash or claim to be sustainable without accountability and transparency that they are losing our support.
As we end 2020 and start 2021, let us celebrate the intergenerational solidarity that is emerging as more people worldwide finally realise that fighting for environmental and social justice and systemic change, battling the accelerating climate emergency, demanding accountability and transparency, and being more compassionate, just, sustainable and resilient means securing a safer and livable world.
It must be NOW!
Purchase Jonathon Porritt’s latest book Hope in Hell, a Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency … HERE