We need to change – but to what? and how fast?

“cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

We are living in a time of cognitive dissonance – on the one hand, many people (particularly in business) now realise that the economy can’t go on the way it is – with increasing climate changing emissions, pressure on resources and biodiversity – while at the same time taking the view that it’s not politically practical to do anything about it.

The most glaring example of this at the moment is the ‘carbon bubble’ – the markets are valuing companies based on large oil, gas, coal reserves, yet any sensible person knows that these reserves can’t be burnt without devastating our climate – for more read this in the Guardian, covering work by Carbon Tracker.

The parallels with the start of the financial crisis are very strong – people were going around selling sub-prime mortgages to poor Americans, when it was obvious that they were not going to be able to pay them back. This seemed to be working – until the (obvious!) failures of this approach came out of the woodwork.

It’s clear that we need to make a transition to a resource efficient, low carbon society – but this is not straightforward…

It’s not only quite challenging to work out how to make this transition (what tools, policies etc), but there will also be considerable opposition to any substantial changes.

Change is always going to worry those who are doing well out of the current situation – it may  worry even more those who aren’t doing so well, thinking that it could get worse (just look at Europe’s unemployment statistics). These concerns can be alleviated, for example though government support for training & new businesses – but this requires action from Governments, European Commission – and maybe  other businesses too.

The complexity of these issues – and the need to create solutions that are widely supported – led the European Commission to create the European Resource Efficiency Platform (EREP) – web site here – which brings together people from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, government ministers, Unions and environmental NGOs like Friends of the Earth.

The panel members are ‘high level’, including the CEO of Unilever, the Danish & German Environment Ministers, the EU Commissioners for Environment, Climate & Industry and the Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation. It’s chaired by John Bruton, former Irish Prime Minister.

Each of the ‘high level’ members of the panel is backed up by a sherpa (‘sherpas prepare the summit‘) – and I’m the Friends of the Earth Europe Sherpa, with Magda Stoczkiewicz, Director of Friends of the Earth Europe, as the panel member.

The panel has already produced a short ‘Manifesto‘ in December, and now we are preparing a declaration which will be finalised at a meeting of the panel on 17th June.

We sherpas are doing the background technical work, and it’s constantly challenging, trying to establish what we can call for, what will have sufficient impact, where is there sufficient agreement?

Coming back to the cognitive dissonance point – as the Manifesto acknowledges:

In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy

So we all agree on what the outcome needs to be… but can we get our recommendations to be consistent with the scale of this task?

The declaration on Monday 17th of June will be the first test of this – so stay tuned to:

  • my twitter account – @mwarhurst
  • the Resource Efficiency Platform twitter account – @ec_orep
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