Personal Leadership Opportunities

Regarding my personal challenge I have been reflecting and realised that I have been stuck. Maybe more of a slump – no movement nothing!

However, this reflection has made me really contemplate what it really entails to be a change maker and to achieve – however small – a sustainability change.

I have realised that sadly or perhaps in a more realistic manner that for change to be achieved a whole range of different events must be aligned. And as I thought of this my reading of Malcolm Gladwell and John Decker’s book Tipping Point sprang to mind.

What do they suggest can achieve this ‘tipping point’?

They suggest that to achieve any tipping point three agents of change must be aligned. These are:

  1. The Law of the Few or the 80:20 (Pareto Rule) rule in which 80% of the work to achieve this tipping point is carried out by 20%. This 20% is made up of:
  2. Connectors, who are the people in the community who know large number of people and how have the ‘ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy’.
  3. Mavens who are information specialists who make others want to agree with them.
  4. Salesmen who are persuaders, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills.
  • Stickiness Factor in which the specific content of the message renders its impact memorable.
  • Power of Context, human behaviour is super sensitive to and highly influenced by its environment.

But how to become one of 20%? My personal challenge has revealed that to achieve this one must have determination, bags of enthusiasm, conviction of the message and finally the ability to keep going in the face of even mild adversity. However, even with these, success is certainly not guaranteed!! But  Greta Thunberg has achieved it now we need to!

Reflections on personal sustainability challenge

What have I realised? Has anything changed or improved?

Well what I have realised is how difficult it is to achieve anything! Constraints of time and most importantly money are always cited. The elections achieved nothing and were a waste time from my perspective – trying to get hold of local councilors bluntly very difficult. The hours for the local tip no changes, indeed the local village tip has now become a recycling tip only, so if one has normal rubbish that cannot be recycled one has to drive quite a considerable way. My personal observation is that fly tipping has increased but I stress that is only my personal observation! The recycle bins in the village are still there, still full and appear to be emptied on a random basis – again a very personal observation! So achievements zero, no change at all, a complete waste of time!

And yet some small glimmers of hope and light. There has been a petition in the village demanding changes in the recycling for the village and even in Surrey there has been a village meeting for Extinction Rebellion!! Perhaps the public perception is changing? The talk is great from the local authority – as detailed in my earlier blog but action I would argue is limited – again constraints of money always cited – so perhaps with the petition and the meeting the public awareness is changing. One hopes so, time will tell !!!!

The need for a transition to a low or no carbon economy

The Earth is warming because CO2 and other greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere altering and shifting the balance of energy arriving from the sun and what is sent back into space. The catastrophic effects of this warming producing a very hostile climate are clear to see.   

As this week’s Economist remarked it is 25 years ago that the first global climate change treaty was passed – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The world’s response to global warming has been to set targets for reducing emissions and hoping that this and new technology will achieve the desired effect. Unfortunately, the concentration of CO2 has risen by 15% since this treaty was passed.

Yet as Irwin Stelzer wrote in today’s Sunday Times few if any of the signatories to the 2015 Paris agreement are meeting their emissions reduction targets and sadly the economics and politics of energy markets are difficult in the extreme. For example, one of the logical solutions to reducing emissions is a carbon tax, but for many countries this is politically a nonstarter as voters have ejected governments from countries such as Australia and Canada who proposed such taxes.

And for the USA, it has a President that when asked about climate change suggested it is not only a hoax but simply a scam for certain businesses to make more money. Even the Democrats who could have easily supported Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal were conspicuous by their absence.

Returning to the Economist, for the world to have a good chance of stopping global temperatures (by 2030) rising more than 1.5%C relative to pre-industrial norms annual greenhouse gas emissions must fall by approximately half relative to levels in 2010. For this to be achieved developed countries must cut emissions faster than Germany (who was the best in 2017) for decades. For developing countries, they must either grow without fossil fuels or quite simply not grow at all. For India which is heavily dependent on coal fired plants the need to provide power to nearly 19,000 villages (approximately 31 million homes) and reduce the problems with inadequate power supply this is both economically and politically not viable.

Further problems are that cuts today will only produce benefits in the future (not a great political selling point), the benefits of such cuts will be global but the costs – new power plants, job losses etc. are all local – again not a great political selling point! But the major problem is as the Economist rightly points out is the incentive to ‘free – ride’ – you as country A continue to use polluting fuels whilst hoping that countries B and C reduction efforts will cause emissions to fall globally.

It is very easy to become disheartened about this problem and the enormous transformation that will need to be achieved. Yet according to Chang, economic history proves that national economies have always changed, sometimes dramatically in response to external shocks and sometimes in anticipation of changes in global trends and or technology.

Indeed, for many including Goldman Sachs believe that this transitioning to a low – carbon economy presents not only an enormous challenge but a ‘significant opportunity’. For this group of investors, they see vast opportunities in the commercialisation of clean energy technologies for example. But to achieve any successful transformation from a world largely based on fossil fuel will need significant capital investment, close coordination between this capital investment, government policy and technology and finally a strong partnership between the public and private sector. Examples of where this needs to be achieved can be seen in the need – according to Goldman Sachs – for governments to co-operate and establish a price on carbon so establishing a market signal that will prompt companies to factor the costs of greenhouse gas emissions into their investment and operating decisions. This in turn could be the catalyst for further innovation. But for stimulating innovation especially in new breakthrough technologies (with the very high risks especially in the early stages of the technology) will be the need for more partnerships between the private sector and government institutions to provide funding and coordination over research and development.

But what about those industries, regions and workers who will without doubt lose out in the application of this transition to a low carbon economy? What do local and central governments need to do?

 I would suggest there are a whole range of measures, and this list is by no means exhaustive: –

  1. Education is vital, to aid in job retraining and learning new skills.
  2. Support schemes and or infrastructure projects especially in those areas most devastated by the move to a low carbon economy. These could be either on an individual basis or in the form of regional support schemes which be especially relevant when whole swathes of the region are dramatically affected by this transition.
  3. Financial compensation for those workers most affected by this transition – either in the form of early retirement or to help in the process of re training or in re location costs.
  4. Governments both nationally and local need to provide forums for stakeholder participation and dialogue.
  5. To combine the elements at the right time and with enough support. For example, not simply a one – off redundancy payment but structured long-term support for the workers and their community.

To conclude the need to move to a low carbon economy is a necessity and while there will be winners there will be without doubt whole regions and businesses that will lose. This transition will be difficult and challenging but the key is coordination of all aspects. To return to the Economist new technologies – for example geoengineering – are a possibility to offset the greenhouse effect immediately but these are not a solution to climate change. As the Economist correctly states new technologies do not relieve humanity of the necessity to co operate globally.

‘Having embarked on the great experiment of industrialisation, countries must either work together or burn together’.    

Personal sustainability Challenge

Without doubt the world is sinking under a deluge of waste. Media concern appears to be focused – now anyway – on plastic in the oceans. While this is very admirable and certainly needs to be addressed and sorted out other problems with waste are sadly ignored or consigned to the back pages! Indeed, there is very little discussion – if any – about how to reduce this waste mountain and certainly nothing about improving recycling levels.

Sadly, the incidence of fly-tipping mountains is getting bigger as is the cost of clearing them up. According to data released by the Department for Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs (Defra) the discovery of waste piles that are bigger than one lorry load increased by approximately 40% over the last year (14,430 from 10,120).  To clear these waste piles has cost local authorities £12.2million up from £9.9milion the previous year.

Additionally, Defra also claim that there has been an increase in organised criminal gangs involved in the large-scale dumping of household waste.

This is not surprising as local councils are withdrawing recycling services due to budgetary constraints and as some types of plastic are becoming too expensive to process thus leading to more excess household waste being illegally dumped.

The Chancellor promised £10million in his latest budget to help councils pay for the clearance of waste mountains, including fly-tipping sites and recycling waste tips. Though this is a substantial sum the costs to reduce waste tips are considerable. For example, the UK’s largest recycling mountain – on a disused airfield in North Killingholme, near Grimsby will cost North Lincolnshire Council an estimated £6.3million to clear. This was caused by the private recycling company going bankrupt six years ago.

 Approximately 50% of all UK household waste is recycled which is obviously a start but could more be done? 

The village I live in – in the rolling Surrey countryside – has on the face of it tried to aid and help people recycle. From the recycle bins collected on a two-weekly basis – paper, cans, glass food etc. – to providing in the two main car parks in the village a selection of recycle containers for waste that cannot be put into the personal household recycle bins, for example, blankets, cardboard, clothes and shoes. Finally, the council has provided a village refuse site (just outside the village) to collect other types of refuse for example electrical goods, batteries, wood, metal and garden waste.

On the face of it a sensible and welcome set of policy initiatives. And yet further inspection proves that these policies could certainly and quite easily be improved upon.

A closer inspection reveals that for example the containers in both car parks are not only regularly full, but the village population often must leave plastic bags full of potential recyclable items left by the side of the containers. Indeed, over the last couple of months as I have been walking, shopping in the village I have spoken to the various people trying – often unsuccessfully – to put their potential recyclable waste in these containers. Whilst appreciating this is a very ad hoc qualitative survey it has become very apparent that while people are very keen to recycle, they are becoming disillusioned with trying to recycle. An often-heard comment was ‘why bother’. A further problem is that the village refuse tip is now only open on the weekend.

Quite simply though Councils have legal targets concerning recycling – some of which require each council to collect at least two types of recyclable waste and to push for recycling rates of at least 50% my local Parish Council and the relevant County Council are struggling to develop anything above the bare minimum.

My personal sustainability challenge is to try and change this.

I am suggesting that the recycle bins in the village car parks be emptied on a regular basis and that the village refuse tip be opened at least one day during the week as well as during the weekend.

This will not be easy to achieve I completely accept!!!

I have a couple of strategies:

  1. To locate and email/speak to our village councillors to put pressure to try and change the current scenario.
  2. To utilise the village bulletin web page to ascertain if other villagers are concerned and interested over this current status and perhaps be willing to email/speak to local councillors to try and change the current situation.
  3. Finally, with local elections coming soon (2nd May) help the potential councillors who put recycling on their political agendas.

In conclusion, my fear is that the current local councillors will agree that matters need to change and that the various local councils are doing the bare minimum but will cite and I suspect hide behind the ‘lack of financial resources’. Indeed, an initial conversation with a local councillor produced exactly that response and reminded me that only recently the Central Government had to bail out Surrey County Council after it threatened to raise local rates substantially or make draconian cuts in local services. The omens are not good! Time will tell!

Sustainable campaign

This is a tale of one person’s stand against a large multi- national corporation. In this case an international banking group – Barclays.

Why would anybody want to start a campaign against Barclays? After all this is the bank that has a large array of green finance products – was the first UK banking institution to offer a range of dedicated loans, deposits, asset finance, and innovation finance to support green investment. Barclays’ launched its own green bond (£500m) in 2017 with the express aim for it to be used to finance and re finance homes in England and Wales ‘based on the carbon intensity of the underlying residential properties’. However other eligible projects have been included and these have been focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy, green transport, sustainable food and agriculture, waste management and sustainable water. On the face of it, Barclays are making a concerted effort to embrace and aid/help sustainable finance and projects.

So, returning to the original question why would anybody want to campaign against this?

The answer lies in the person concerned – the great guitarist, singer and song writer Neil Young.

He is a committed environmentalist with a very keen interest in the on- going climate crisis. Indeed, during the recent wild fires in California Neil Young lost his home to these fires.

Reading his website and his recent blogs, ‘I believe in science, I worry about the climate crisis and I am deeply concerned about its global ramifications’.

On 12 July 2019 Neil Young is playing a concert with Bob Dylan in Hyde Park. Barclaycard is sponsoring the whole series of summer concerts. But Neil Young strongly objected to Barclaycard sponsorship – why? Barclays even with their sustainable efforts received a D+ rating in a 2018 report by the non-profit group Banking on Climate Change which listed the bank as a major funder of fossil fuel extraction. Neil Young agreed, and on his website (NYA) called Barclays a ‘fossil fuel entity’ and ‘that doesn’t work for me’. He asked his fans not to buy tickets until the issue was resolved. On 12th December Barclays pulled the sponsorship – Neil Young wrote ‘we are so overjoyed. So happy to be playing the show’. So, success then? Yet fans continued to buy tickets for the concert even while this saga was ongoing. The press coverage was minimal – only two reports both in the Guardian (December 2018) and one of these was written by the Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. Any person keenly interested in environmental and sustainability issues is likely to read the Guardian and be interested in what Green MEP’s say. So why did Barclays agree to pull the sponsorship? An easy option I suspect, as the rest of the summer concerts will still be sponsored by them.

So, I conclude, success by Neil Young to remove Barclays but in increasing awareness of the banking industry involvement in funding fossil fuel extraction truthfully not so sure. A pyrrhic victory perhaps?