After Glasgow? Facing a harsh climate with wisdom, hope and courage

John Wiseman, author of Hope and Courage in the Climate Crisis, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021

Hands up everyone who’s confident the Glasgow Climate Conference (COP 26) will finally set a clear course for keeping global warming below 1.5C? OK, as I suspected many of you share my hunch that Glasgow is unlikely to be a panacea – which means the climate emergency is going to be with us for some time yet.

There are some promising signs that the transition to a zero-carbon economy is now well underway. Governments in Europe, the US and China are beginning to demonstrate some understanding of the scale of climate action now required. Investors are beginning to shift trillions of dollars from fossil fuels to renewables. Legal actions requiring governments and business to address the full extent of climate risk are having growing impact. And the huge health co-benefits and job creation potential of a climate resilient, clean energy economy are now more widely understood.

None of these actions are however happening at the necessary speed. Scientific evidence about global warming trends already locked in is now crystal clear. We are now on a journey into an increasingly challenging harsh climate future.

The distress which this awareness causes so many friends and colleagues passionately committed to decisive climate action was the trigger leading me to write Hope and Courage in the Climate Crisis, exploring the question: What ideas and learning can help us face a harsh climate future with hope and courage?

Hope misunderstood as wishful thinking is worse than useless. The hope I’m looking for is realistic, defiant and courageous. Finding the strength to continue opening pathways to restoring a safe climate future while fully understanding the increasing difficulty of this task.

There are times, when I imagine all those whose ideas and voices, I have gathered together in respectful and intense debate. The conversations spark and crackle with fierce, urgent energy.

I turn first to my friends and colleagues from Indigenous and First Nation communities. We might usefully begin, they note by deepening our understanding of the legacies of colonialism, resistance and dispossession which have led us to this time and place. Climate justice is therefore the first proposition we should bring to the table.

For the principle of climate justice to be more than hollow words we need substantive actions fully addressing the sources and consequences of violence and injustice. Principles of care and respect for country and for all the creatures with whom we share this world will also be foundational.

My colleagues from the world of science and technology approach the question from another direction, highlighting the power of scientific evidence and the game changing force of ingenuity, creativity and innovation.

My climate activist friends seem less convinced by the promised power of reason and innovation. Listen to the science and accelerate technological innovation. Of course. But how do we deploy evidence and ingenuity with the speed required to accelerate just and inclusive emission reductions while avoiding the delusional hubris that there are always technical solutions to every human problem?

The historical examples which my activist colleagues turn to most of all for inspiration are stories of solidarity and fellowship where ethically informed collective action has achieved transformational change. The anti-slavery movement, the Suffragettes, the overthrow of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall. More recently School Strike 4 Climate,, Pacific Climate Warriors, Beyond Zero Emissions, The Sunrise Movement….Black Lives Matter.

I am joined then by teachers and scholars from an array of spiritual and faith-based traditions. The first, foundational steps they suggest in times of despair are thankfulness and gratitude. Celebrating the astonishing, complex beauty of life on earth is an abiding source of strength and inspiration.

Awareness of the fragility of our dew drop world is also a constant reminder of our shared responsibility to keep paying attention; to hold the line and keep nurturing relationships and practices of kindness and compassion; justice, love and care.

I turn finally to the writers, artists and film makers; farmers, designers and engineers who can help us imagine and create the ecologically informed paradigms and practices of resilience we need to navigate the wild landscapes of the long emergency. Thoughtful guides who can help us learn the art of living well in dangerous, uncertain times, remembering that the world is always full of surprises and the future is never entirely settled.

What sources of wisdom can strengthen our capacity to take courageous and effective action to live meaningful lives in a world of rapidly accelerating climatic and ecological risks? Emergency speed, science based collective action. Respect and reciprocity. Reason, technology and ingenuity. Thankfulness, kindness, and compassion. Creativity and imagination.

And lastly, these abiding gifts: the laughter of children; the comfort of old friends; sunlight on the water; the wind in the trees; the silence of mountains; the roar of the ocean.