This is a photo taken by Patrick Corbett, one of the four poets from the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics (the others were Leela Soma and the founder of the Centre, Norman Bissell, and we also brought two musicians, Rory McLeod and Ada Francis) who read at an event called Greening the Blue Chips run by RSK. This stands for Responsible, Sustainable, Knowledgeable, and they help engineering projects become more (genuinely) eco-friendly. While I remain unhappy about the concept of sustainable growth, I pretty soon realised that this is a serious and idealistic group, genuinely challenging the green-washing and short-term narrow focus of much of industry. If you thought this was a done deal, in the light of what came out of the event, there was a survey discussed by a representative from Nature Positive of the attitudes of the companies in the FTSE100, which revealed that only 65% of companies are thinking about net zero and biodiversity issues at all, and only three are actively planning for their Scope 3 emissions (click here for a short definition of what those are). But these people are all about a serious wakeup call to their colleagues, which was very refreshing.
Many of the representative at this conference were already trying harder than that, and were seriously interested in trying to do more. Here are some of the things I learned:
- every single reservoir in Scotland is at unusually low levels (England’s are even worse). I thought the speaker didn’t remember 1975 and 76, but those were acute seasons of crisis, whereas what we are looking at is something more chronic It’s not so much that we’ve had good summers, but that we’ve had a run of dry winters and springs. We can no longer be frivolous about our dreich weather, and complacent that we will never have to worry about water. And even those of us who have known our landscape and climate for years have to admit that we don’t know as much as we thought. Things are really changing.
- Only 1% of the batteries for electric cars are currently recycled, and they are deemed to be too depleted for proper functioning when their capacity is below 80%. Clearly there needs to be some serious work done here.
- There is no longer a debate in industry about climate change. Everyone has acknowledged there is a problem, though you can’t always guarantee they are handling it the same way. One of the most dynamic speakers of the day had worked in fashion, and becoming aware of how disastrous fast fasion is, had worked to cut the waste, energy consumption, pollution and water usage in her factory. The response of her head office was to get rid of her, and she founded To Be Frank. She is very vocal about transparency, all along the supply chain, and points out that an industry that can afford to pay for the waste they produce, can afford not to. This went down pretty well, in that room!
- There is as much passion within some parts of big industries as there is in the smaller indy outfits. There was a general awareness in the room that there isn’t a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis and a water crisis – there is one crisis, and a lot of people are trying to find holistic solutions. Big business may be behind the curve, but there’s a lot of shoving and heavy lifting going on. Issues like exploitative labour markets are seen as much as part of the problem as dirty energy or degraded landscape, and this has got to be positive.
Is all this good enough? I very much doubt it. It’s slower and smaller than we need. There is still too much emphasis on initiatives for consumers and investors, and not as citizens or neighbours. There is too much emphasis on small moves by individuals, and not enough on structural change. And there was no mention at all of the axis of evil that is the disruption from the inordinately wealthy and powerful who are simply looking after their own interests and be damned to the rest of us. But I am hoping that if you punch enough holes in a dyke, the water behind will demolish the whole rotten thing. I don’t see me losing my anti-capitalist principles any time soon, and you can bet I am going to keep on pushing, but I am no longer convinced that all is lost because we haven’t won yet.