Environmentalist Edward Davey’s new book, Given Half a Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World shows how little it would take to set a rapid transition in motion. Here, he puts all his years of experience of the international green movement into practical, hopeful steps that could turn the climate crisis around.
There is always hope, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. On a recent visit to Washington DC, I was reminded of the immense power of Martin Luther King’s vision, recalled in a series of inspiring quotes set against the cherry blossom near his statue in West Potomac Park: ‘We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.’ He was optimistic because he believed, ‘We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ and clear in his tactics, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ Ultimately he had faith that awareness of our mutual interest would triumph: ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny: whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’
The Rapid Transition Alliance has also captured people’s imaginations, both in its reminder of the pace and audacity of past historical transformations and because of the positive vision it sets out of a better future within our grasp.
In its own way, the Alliance embodies another, equally vital dream for our times – the dream of a peaceful future in an inhabitable environment.
In times of desperation, distrust and division, people need hope. The prevailing mood in much of the world at present appears to be anxiety, anger and hopelessness. It is powerful to be reminded that another future is possible, and within our grasp.
This is not to say that people do not need to be shocked out of their complacency and presented with the hard facts. David Wallace-Wells’ astonishing recent book on climate change, The Uninhabitable Earth, does that brilliantly, drawing in depth on the climate science but also on a carefully observed, acute assessment of human nature and the impediments to change.
So too, in her own way, has the remarkably intelligent, sincere and clear-sighted young environmental activist Greta Thunberg also got us to pay attention to our environmental predicament with a new clarity.
Indeed, the way the school climate strike movement has grown in recent months – now reaching dozens of countries and millions of students – has given many of us more hope than we have had for years (or at least since the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 in my case).
Greta tells it like it is, is consistent in thought and deed, and has sent a powerful moral pulse through the world. She is bright, consistent and won’t take no for an answer: one can only hope that her voice will be heard loud and clear across the world, and that it will lead to the decisive action for which she so compellingly calls.
The new Netflix series Our Planet, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, released in recent days, follows a related narrative arc. Yes, humanity is having a hugely negative impact on the natural world, almost everywhere you care to look. But so too has it discovered, at the eleventh hour, how to live in harmony with it – and now these approaches must be urgently brought to scale.
In a short book – ‘Given Half a Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World’ – I have also tried to set out a vision of a rapid transition and ten paths to a hopeful future. The first path is renewable energy and an urgent shift away from fossil fuels. The second and third are to do with the protection and restoration of the world’s soils and forests. Path Four concerns the urgent need to manage the world’s finite fresh water; Path Five, the conservation of the world’s biodiversity writ large.
My sixth, seventh and eighth paths are action on the ocean, cities and the circular economy; the ninth, a concerted push on the interlinked issues of reproductive rights and education, diet and consumption. The tenth and final path makes the case for a ‘global environmental Marshall Plan’ for our times: encompassing political, economic and legal action on a scale never before seen, buttressed by support from the world’s faiths, the media, technological innovation and by ensuring people’s access to education and nature.
Above all, the book sets out a personal vision – indeed, a dream – that I have of ‘a restored earth’: an earth in which we, humanity, have truly found a way to live in harmony with the natural world upon which we depend.
I believe such a future is attainable. We know with abundant clarity what needs to be done. And we know the immense benefits of doing it. We need to continue relentlessly to make the argument that a rapid transition to a better future is both feasible and desirable – and to devote the bulk of our time to setting out how in detail such a transition will be achieved, and then doing it. There is not a moment to lose.
Edward Davey works for the World Resources Institute, and writes here in a personal capacity. His book ‘Given Half a Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World’ is published by Unbound on 18th April 2019.