A record of change

There are many books and articles written on the management of change.  I myself have had to participate in and to lead change in organisations.  It is never easy.  The most commonly heard phrase is “that fellow over there really needs to change, me, I’m ok.”  Since biblical times it has always been easier to remove the mote from one’s neighbour’s eye than remove the beam from my own shoulder.

History is a study in and a record of change.

I don’t believe that I have ever read or heard about an epoch that needs to change more than the current one.  The change we talk about is not simply one that the person has to make.  There is no doubt the need for personal change, but communities, tribes, nations, states and power blocks all need to change more or less in harmony.  

We have talked about why this change has to happen often in the past.  Let us however do a brief reprise for the sake of completeness.  In two separate experiments carried out in the UK and in California, a hypothesis was proposed that burning the equivalent of 246 million barrells of oil equivilant each day intensified the greenhouse gas effect that incidentally makes life on this planet possible.  Both teams made a series of calculations, and postulated that there should be a definite rise in the temperature of the atmosphere.  They carried out all this research independent of one another.  It is hard to measure atmospheric temperature because of the difficulty of getting a representative measurement of temperature.  So they measured the sea temperature and went down into the sea to authenticate their readings.  Their predictions were similar to one another, as it subsequently emerged.  They also bore “a scary accuracy to the observed readings in nature”.

I myself had bought into the greenhouse effect in 1989, mainly because I was selling horticultural peat to the Dutch glasshouse industry at the time.  The glass house owners routed the CO2 from the gas burning heaters into the glass houses to create an enhanced greenhouse effect and so reduce heating bills.

Global warming, created by humans has already heated up the atmosphere.  If it’s not abated, then it has all the potential to destroy life on the planet.

There is a second reason why we need to change.  We are at or near the peak of oil, and gas.  The markets have spoken and with the world in full growth, oil reached $147 per barrel.  The great old oilfields are in decline and we are discovering new commercial reserves at a rate of one third to one quarter of our consumption rate.

Prior to this recession/depression the last three recessions were caused by oil price hikes.

These two powerful reasons have colluded to make the necessity for change really urgent.  It is life threatening to the poorest of our populations, and it will be life threatening to the rest of the world in the next 50 years. 

Nothing can now save the Maldives.  Can China survive?  It’s three great river systems originate in the Himalayas.  Anything that could interfere with these givers of life would render life in China impossible.  Reduced irrigation for crops, reduced water to drink, reduced water to industry and domestic activity could spell the end of China as a viable unit.  60% of China is already desert, and the leaders there must have observed the fact that Nepal on the other side of the Himalayas is suffering unprecedented drought because of the thinning of the glaciers on the mountains.

So what has to change?


Every nation is or will soon be on a once off transition to sustainability.  Here are examples of what has to happen

By the middle part of this century, fossil fuels will have to have stopped making our electricity, powering our motor vehicles, heating our factories and homes and even propelling our aeroplanes.  The world has to increase the efficiency of the heat we use, the houses have all to be redesigned and rebuilt.  We are entering what could be termed the enhanced electricity age.  New electricity grids have to be built, some using Direct Current, and distribution grids have to be able to behave interactively with the power generation, so that the electricity in motor batteries can be used during the days when the renewable sources of electricity dip in generation.

Fresh water has to be, as the world’s scarcest resource, charged for, rationed, made in great quantities from sea water, and transported to remote centers of population in arid regions.

The CO2 with which we are bombarding the atmosphere has to be mopped up with plants, trees and shrubs which can grow with the aid of seawater.  The ridiculous experiment or carbon capture and storage is not the way to lock up CO2.  We have to find natural ways to do this. 

Science research has got to be directed towards sustainability.  It is not a given that the human species is able to go on reproducing at the explosive rate it has been at for the past 2 centuries.  Energy, food water, metals, oxygen are under pressure.  As a collective species the problems need to be addressed.

So profound is the need for change that the organs of democracy must be included in the change process.  There seemed to be a suggestion during the Copenhagen process that because a mere 25% of the citizens of the United States believed that humans were causing (greenhouse gas induced) global warming that there was no need to respond democratically to the crisis.

Global warming is not a popularity contest.  It doesn’t go away if enough people vote against doing anything.  Just as those who run governments across the globe have to be aware of and take into account the science of market economics, now it is incumbent on each government to take the destruction of the biosphere into account when making every decision.

I see an analogy here with the drive to safety improvement in companies.  Companies, particularly those who build things, have elevated safety to the first position on the Board and every management meeting agenda.  By and large this has stopped people being killed or maimed in the building process.  In a similar manner every law that is enacted, every regulation that is made, and every budgetary proposal emanating from Government, has to be first filtered through an environmental fiche. 

I saw a very interesting example of this recently while visiting the US.  Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency declared greenhouse gases a danger to humanity, and proposed that the EPA  be empowered to take the necessary action to deal with them.  There was an immediate response from the oil and gas people to the simple effect……..”this will cause unemployment of two million people.”  Such reactions are to be expected of course, but they are shallow and short term.  If the world is to make the transition to sustainability then how many millions of jobs will be created in the process.  The US has “offshored” tens of millions of industrial jobs in the interests of (among other things)company profitability, so clearly employment for its own sake was never the goal of policy. 

This is an example of the kind of argument that must be met as we enter the new economy of complete sustainability. 

Our political toolkit of words and concepts, of constructs and hypotheses, has to put the survival of the species at the centre of every new proposal.

3 Responses to A record of change

  1. Kevin Butler January 7, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    Never before in human history has there been such an urgency to think beyond our own generation, and take action in the present to determine the world of the future. The reaction against the nuclear arms race of the 20th Century involved some of this thinking but that was also driven by the fear of our own demise – the idea that at any moment a button could be pressed that would change the world forever. Faced with Global Warming and fossil fuel shortages the potential for global environmental and social disaster, and the suffering and hardship that would follow, is real. The natural default position is to ignore a problem and hope it will go away – to carry on regardless and see what happens. Maybe we are the last generation that can take this attitude. Maybe this time its not a button waiting to be pressed but a lit fuse. Do we watch it burn, taking a chance on the future, or do something now to put it out?

  2. Finbarr Coghlan January 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    The ‘balance’ between environmental ethics and creating new energy economies is one which we must get right from the outset as it has implications on the global environment and also the livelihoods of many people. Thus far, my brief experience within offshore wind has exposed me to some interesting projects. One project comes to mind were the project was obviously delivered in a state of ‘imbalance’. It was heavily swayed towards jobs and employment and as one colleague put it ‘contracts for the boys’. The project in detail used concrete gravity base foundations (each using 1000Te of steel and circa 5000Te of concrete). The alternative in this situation would have been to use 1000Te steel jackets or tripods which would have considerably reduced the CO2 emissions of the project. I find it almost hypocritical of a renewable energy development company to allow such a contract to go through.

    My point is this, should there be an ethical ombudsman, given the power to intervene in such situations where the CO2 emissions can be dramatically reduced through simple design change?

  3. Mash March 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    The challenge of stopping Climate change as Eddie highlights is a huge one. My concern is that dealing with it will mean us doing something never done before. Working togther to agree things globally, the failure at Copenhagen highlights how massive a challenge this is and how political, economical, corporate influences and short termism make this even more difficult.
    My personal feeling is that we will do too little far too late to stop this. Globally we are currently doing very little different to how we used to and tinkering with insignificant things. Ask yourself (or anyone) what you do differently today to last year, the best they will probably tell you is re-use my shopping bags and recycle a little more than I used to.
    Ask yourself seriously; have you made a real effort to radically reduce your carbon footprint, do you think about the environmental impacts of ALL your purchases are you happy to pay much more taxes to pay for sustainability programmes, happy to pay much more for fuel, energy, food and anything that creates CO2.

    The countries of the Western World are too greedy and comfortable to seriously change away from their capitalist economies and cosy lifestyles. Money and materialism rules.
    Emerging Economies are far too eager to duplicate what the western economies have achieved.
    This all amounts to even more carbon dependancy, emissions, exploitation of natural resources, waste with the result of even more environmental damage.
    Look at the facts oil coal and gas being consumed, air miles travelled, cars on the road, construction, food consumption etc. Nothing but nothing is reducing, more over they continue to increase year on year.

    Governments, Companies and People like to suggest they have changed or are changing but in nearly all cases this amounts to nothing more than greenwash, vote winning, popularity or feeling better about what you are actually doing.

    I truely hope I am wrong on all this but I just don’t see the evidence of it.

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