18.03.2015, Marc Hudson
Tags: Green transformation, STEPS

Green transformations, Leonard Cohen and the elephant


This is a re-post. The original and more extended blog can be found here.


A lively debate about the near and long-term future of western civilisation took place yesterday in central London, at the launch of the book “The Politics of Green Transformations”.  The edited volume based on work of the STEPS centre, was the centrepiece of an event at the National Liberal Club, and provoked a conversation about the nature of social change, economic interests, culture and the thorny question of what can (and cannot) be expected from the climate negotiations to be held in Paris at the end of the year. [Update 26th Feb – see this on Paris. And this well-curated storify, which includes a nice comment about the blog post you are reading!].


Despite following the traditional format of speakers followed by a Q and A, the launch nonetheless managed to create space for an exchange of ideas and perspectives. Michael Jacobs (former advisor on climate to Gordon Brown) spoke compellingly of the need for rapid and transformative action, and the need for governments to be pushed to act. Mariana Mazzacuto (Professor in the Economics of Innovation at the Science Policy research Unit at the University of Sussex author of well-received “The Entrepreneurial State”) challenged the use of terms like “the market” and green “deals” while pointing to the need for directed and directive investment in new technologies. Camilla Toulmin of the International Institute for Environment and Development emphasised the need to avoid high carbon lock-in for developing countries, and Andrew Simms (former New Economics Foundation lead) spoke on the efforts of groups seeking different ways of organising economies and sustainability.


Ultimately, despite differences over the advisability/possibility of growth, all speakers agreed that fundamental and very rapid change was necessary,for which an ‘enabling state’ would be necessary but not sufficient. And – ominously – none could see which “social actors” – business, government, ‘social movements’ or coalitions of subsets of these – was able to deliver this change in the extremely limited, and rapidly closing, window of opportunity that still remains to avoid a very much hotter planet. Michael Jacobs perhaps summed matters up best with his concluding comment that – “Not to be optimistic is to slip into fatalism, and fatalism is fatal. Pessimism is never a political strategy.

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