Opinion: The vision and pragmatism of Stephen Tindale must not die with him

Stephen Tindale

Stephen Tindale. Photo credit: Climate Answers.

By Anders Lorenzen

The environmentalist Stephen Tindale passed away last week after a long battle with severe depression. The former director of Greenpeace UK had long divided environmentalists with his support for nuclear energy, fracking and GMO crops. But in my opinion, his greatest strength lay in his visionary thinking and pragmatism.

I was lucky enough to have met him on a few occasions.

He was also a vocal voice in defending the need to stay in the EU for environmental and climate change reasons. Too many pro-EU advocates did not strongly enough factor in the climate change and environmental reasons for staying in the EU. In this article  published earlier on A greener life, a greener world, he argued for just that. And last year, prior to the UK Brexit vote, he took part in a Google Hangout debate which I facilitated, on what an EU exit would mean for environmental and climate change policies in the UK.

Too often the climate debate lacks pragmatism, but Stephen Tindale was ready to offer that. The movement has become so politicised and entrenched in left vs right that progress has been difficult. He had urged the movement to make compromises in order to actually achieve progress. Too often many had argued that we can’t tackle climate change if we do not oppose nuclear power and fracking. Stephen argued that we can only tackle it if we embrace such technologies.

And I tend mainly to agree with him, though I’m still hesitant to endorse a full-scale fracking revolution. Some production would surely be a good thing. Even though renewable energy production is increasing in the UK year by year, we are still likely to need gas for decades to come, to power our gas-dependant heating networks, and to provide backup power plants for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. At the moment we are importing vast amounts of gas, and even some fracked gas. If we were to produce more gas ourselves the associated greenhouse gasses would be greatly reduced.

Mr Tindale was an advisor to the Blair / Brown government and remained a Labour activist. He is believed to be the architect behind the climate policies enacted during the Blair / Brown government, particularly the signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

He was a man without ego or arrogance. He chaired a Labour debate on the environment just ahead of the 2015 general election, which was where I first met him. Perhaps he saw my dissatisfied facial expression when Labour MP, Maria Eagle, didn’t really answer my question. Or perhaps he was indeed himself disappointed with the answer given. Anyway, he came up to me afterwards and said “you never really did get an answer to what you had asked, did you? “

One thing that I have always been dismayed about with political party politics is that they’re just so afraid of praising other parties when they do something good. This is especially true inside the political activist base. In Labour meetings and discussions at gatherings where I have been present if I even considered praising another political party, it is almost as if I would be considered a traitor.

But Stephen was not like that. In a Twitter interaction I had with him, he did not agree with my criticism of then energy minister, the Lib Dem Ed Davey. I later looked back at that exchange and wonder if I criticised just for the sake of it, or if my opinion had any substance. That characteristic of Stephen`s is so important, especially now when more than ever, there is a need to reach out to people on the other side of the table, and at least listen to what the other party has to say.

I later met Stephen in Paris during the U.N. climate negotiations in 2015 which were to end up with the first global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement.

The last time I saw Stephen was during a roundtable discussion on nuclear energy which he chaired, organised by The Alwin Weinberg Foundation, which he headed. Afterwards, I enjoyed a good discussion with him over a pint, and I remembered my feeling of relief that we shared many of the same beliefs. I remembered feeling that he spoke so much sense, and it was encouraging to hear, that some of the issues I had long expressed frustration over, were shared by him.

Without a doubt, and with many others, I felt a wave of sadness for human and emotional reasons when I heard about Stephen’s death. But I was also immensely sad that the climate change and environmental movement had lost a real asset. He was somebody who was prepared to speak up when the movement did not take the right direction, knowing full well that he would be lambasted. But by doing so he did an immense favour to the movement in broadening it and thus earning widespread respect.

We must hold on to Stephen’s pragmatism and vision. It could be just what this movement needs.

Rest in peace Stephen, you will be sorely missed. That’s a fact!


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