“I have a nightmare” was the theme of the first presentation, by Dr Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute. Global overheating, with all its negative consequences, is irreversible: too much carbon has gone into the atmosphere already, and, even if we reduce emissions, more is inevitable. Much more radical cuts in consumption and travel than individuals or governments will undertake are needed, alongside an end to energy-intensive economic growth ~ but even about two-thirds of those at the conference, well informed and concerned as they presumably were, were not prepared to pledge never to fly again. “Contraction and Convergence” (see http://www.gci.org.uk) are necessary, but seem unlikely.
Next, Dr Rupert Read, philosopher and Green Party activist (see http://www.rupertread.net), gave a slightly more up-beat talk. He anticipated the demise of denialism (hastened perhaps by this winter’s floods) and analysed some of the language of discussions on climate chaos (his preferred term) and the connections between libertarianism, free market ideology and denialism: libertarian free-marketers having such an extreme view of freedom that they see themselves as free to construct their own reality, a perspective shared by few others. Dr Read urged “precautious” policies and, to bring out the reality of our ties to future generations, argued that if you ask people what is most important to them, a great many will reply “My children” ~ and those children will in their turn say that the most important thing in their lives is their children, and so on. He proposed appointing by lot “guardians for future people”, whose task it would be to represent the currently neglected interests of future generations.
In the afternoon, Dr Vicky Pope from the Met Office Hadley Centre gave an excellent overview of the latest data from the IPCC report, relating it to extreme weather events here and elsewhere, happening now and likely in the future. You can read the latest IPCC reports, in full and in summary, at http://www.ipcc.ch.
The writer and activist Saci Lloyd, author of Carbon Diaries, which imagines a world in which everyone carries carbon rationing cards, ended the day on a rather more cheerful note, albeit a largely fictional one. The trajectory of the day was from despair to hope ~ Saci Lloyd’s books are an encouraging example of how it is possible to convey the urgency of our predicament, especially to young people, and inspire them to act.
If you feel inspired to act, please have a look at H4BW’s current actions at https://humanism.org.uk/about/h4bw/news, and/or browse https://humanism.org.uk/about/h4bw/useful-info and https://humanism.org.uk/about/h4bw/links .
A recording of the conference will appear on the CFI website, http://centreforinquiry.org.uk, where you can also find out more about the CFI and upcoming CFI events.