Climate change ignites fear and distress - but climate action is empowering

| 22nd December 2017
Woman playing piano

Climatekeys launched in London in October this year, with concerts now being held around the world. 

JONATHON PORRITT was the key speaker at the official launch of ClimateKeys during the at Markson Pianos Concert Series in London during October this year. The concert was a call to action on climate change. This is the speech he gave, edited for The Ecologist.

Every time we put a match to the next bit of fossil fuel, we emitted CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. And we know now what the consequences of that look like.

Lola took her inspiration for the title of her piece from a quote from Chris Rapley, one of the world’s most eminent climatologists. Ironically, we wouldn’t be here this evening – celebrating the work of these wonderful musicians, the genius of Lola herself, and all those who’ve helped to bring ClimateKeys to fruition – unless we’d been burning things and making fire for millennia.

Because right from the start of humankind’s ascent to the dominant position of the human species today, we’ve been burning things with huge enthusiasm, starting with fire from trees, and moving on to fossil fuels: coal, then oil, and then gas.

Until 1980, burning fossil fuels was seen as a wonderful boon to humankind, making life better for hundreds of millions of people on this planet. Since 1980, we’ve had to recalibrate our thoughts about fossil fuels.

Deeply moved

We’ve realised that they didn’t come cost-free for us or the planet. Every time we put a match to the next bit of fossil fuel, we emitted CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. And we know now what the consequences of that look like.

We understand that, if we continue to burn things with the same astonishing enthusiasm and abundance, the future for humankind looks very grim indeed.

So we have to stop burning things. It’s as simple as that. We have to stop burning fossil fuels in our power stations, cars and cement kilns.  We have to make it possible for people throughout developing and emerging countries to stop burning kerosene for lighting and cooking, which kills millions of people every year. We even have to stop burning wood in our wood-burning stoves! 

So this is about gradually becoming aware of one of the most important aspects of human civilisation: the use we’ve made of fossil fuels to get us to where we are now. And it’s also about the imperative of not continuing to use those fossil fuels in the way that we have, if we’re to go anywhere sustainable from here. 

The big picture is quite scary, but that big picture translates, of course, into thousands, millions of smaller pictures, each of which has real significance. I suspect we’ve all been deeply moved by hearing Nicole talk about the Truth About Zane campaign. 

Solar revolution

And every time you hear about one of these climate-induced disasters, somewhere in the coverage there’ll be a death count attached: people killed in Californian fires, hurricanes in the Caribbean, or floods in Bangladesh. Of course people don’t just die in the disasters themselves. They die, too, as a consequence of being made homeless, and trauma from the loss that they feel. 

I’ve had the privilege of looking through synopses of the talks of all 31 speakers at the different ClimateKeys concerts over the next few weeks. They’re all immensely powerful testimonies to what we as human beings already feel, deep in our hearts, about the impact of climate change.

Every time we put a match to the next bit of fossil fuel, we emitted CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. And we know now what the consequences of that look like.

Inevitably, there’s anger, grief, fear. But each testimony is balanced by the sense of empowerment that we now see springing up everywhere, finding some line between hope and despair. Two of the pieces performed at this concert illustrate this: Debussy’s ‘Église Engloutie’ (‘Sunken Cathedral’), and Karen Tanaka’s ‘Wind Energy’.

All the testimonies stress the importance of empowerment, and talk about hope in the ways in which solutions to so many of today’s most pressing sustainability challenges are now proliferating around the world.

Here’s a tiny example: a SunnyMoney solar lantern. It symbolises what’s happening in the world today – a solar revolution, which is going to drive the next epoch in humankind’s history. A revolution which is already happening!

Full potentiality

There’s a kind of cosmological elegance to this. Fossil fuels are nothing more than stored sunshine, which we then extract from the earth. The amazing thing about this revolution is that we can stop burning stored sunlight and start using real-time sunlight, along with a whole array of technologies that go with that.

We can start using the earth itself more intelligently, through better use of our land, better farming, better use of natural resources all round. And people are actually getting incredibly excited about energy efficiency!

These solutions are what makes a good, sustainable, compassionate future for the whole of humankind possible. And this is how we can generate hope. We have to stop burning things that we take out of the earth, but we ourselves have to burn, with a much more fiery spirit than perhaps we’ve felt able to until now. Stoking up those fires is what I love about ClimateKeys, and why I’ve been so happy to play even a tiny part in it.

And I would add our spiritual resources to that list of solutions for a sustainable future, because in the end what we face is not just a challenge of technology; humankind also faces a deep, deep spiritual challenge. So that’s the energy we have to burn, inside ourselves and working with other people.

We have to call on the full potentiality of each individual human being on this planet to be part of this transformation, part of this solutions story. That story is actually all around us, if you want to see it for what it is.

To do that, we have to call on all our resources: intellectual, practical, artistic and spiritual. I call it the genius of the human spirit, which has been part and parcel of the ascent of humankind for as long as our habit of burning things has been. And now we have a chance to see that genius create an astonishing transformation which I think will surprise everybody on this planet over the course of the next few years.” 

This Author

Jonathon Porritt is an environmentalist and author.

More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.