A week, it seems, is a long time in climate politics. On the streets, in parliament and on the airwaves, the clarion call of ‘climate emergency’ is beginning to penetrate.
Even the grumpiness of John Humphrys - recently defending his ‘right’ to fly to his place in the sun on the Today programme - could not drown out Ed Miliband’s (and the cross-party Climate Justice Commission from IPPR) call for the country to put itself on a war footing to fight climate change.
However, a decade is a short time in policy development and as the IPCC has pointed out, ten years is all we have to turn the world’s financial, economic and technological resources to the task of avoiding irreversible climate change.
People are scared. The impacts are present and real, whether written in the growing roll call of names of violent storms or in the voids carved by retreating glaciers and shrinking ice sheets.
We need policies that can convert our individual will into collective action in terms of society, economy and finance.
The world’s economy has been stagnant since the financial crisis (itself just over a decade ago) with the predictable consequences that pessimism about the future brings. As economists know, economies are fuelled by sentiment, and the rise in nationalistic politics is fuelled by a negative view of the future.
Fearful of such effects, the world’s central banks mobilised trillions of dollars of capital to maintain the sense of wellbeing that comes from buoyant stock markets (aka. quantitative easing).
John Humphrys’ riposte that somehow responding to climate change might spoil his fun is not so different from those who talk about the response to climate change in terms of potential losses and costs.
When the world is on the up we are willing to take risks, make investments and hope for a share of a growing pie.
When the world is on a down, we fear losing what we have and cut our costs with the inevitable consequence that we are all worse off (what Keynes called the paradox of thrift – hoarding a quantity of money undermines its value as money).
But responding to climate change is not the end of fun. Or holidays. It is about the need to create a financial and economic system that stays within the planet’s boundaries delivering progress that benefits the greater good without costing the next generation’s future.
Optimism fuels invention. Optimism fuels change. Optimism finds ways to solve problems. Climate change is a cause that needs optimism.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Those same people at the world’s central banks who bailed out the financial system also see a low-carbon transition as generating net positive long-term returns in growth and economic activity.
Optimism and pessimism
There will always be winners and losers. That is just economics. But we can make sure that this transition has a positive transformative effect on our society, focusing on the things that matter, and moving away from only seeing wealth in terms of the value we extract from the world.
As I’ve said before, we make the markets and economies we deserve and right now they are not fit for purpose.
It isn’t ideology to want a better future for your planet, although ideology can blind you to the solutions that could realise it.
The politics of climate change are not a question of right or left but about optimism and pessimism, the desire for or denial of the need for change. So maybe Ed Miliband really will save our bacon.
Bruce Davis is managing director of Abundance Investment, which advertises with The Ecologist.
Image: Ed Milliband, Flickr.