HUB Eco Series

We’re proud to be a media partner of the London based ‘HUB Eco Series’ which is an environmental debate series based in London, UK. On this page you will find the upcoming events and blogs about the events.

Envisioning “The World We Made” in 2050 – Jonathon Porritt at the HUB Eco Series

Photo credit: The HUB Eco Series
By Friederike Hanisch


Tuesday last week I had the opportunity to listen to Jonathon Porritt and Ali Freeman, talking about the thoughts and research that went into Jonathon’s new book “The World We Made”. It was a great launch event, hosted by the fantastic HUB Eco Series.

The book is written from the perspective of Alex McKay, who’s looking back at “The World We Made”. It’s 2050 and the world is still not perfect (mmph) but it’s a much more sustainable place to be. Alex tells the sustainability story of the past 35 years, which include key events and importantly key technological breakthroughs such as – as I haven’t read the book yet I’m in no risk of giving away too much – artificial photosynthesis and great new ways of capturing and storing renewable energy. The best thing is that in “The World We Made” technology is not just enhancing rich people’s lives but importantly that it serves all, thinking of a solar energy revolution in Africa for example and other widely spread community-owned renewable energy generation.

The aim of the book is to inspire a new environmental vision. To leave behind the doom and gloom and techno-scepticism, and get people excited about creating a world we do want to live in. As it becomes clear, Jonathon sees a key role for technology to achieve this. He particularly points to the “Makers Revolution” – as Chris Anderson calls a new movement of small-scale inventors and entrepreneurs – which may help overcome our “failure of imagination” of how things could work differently. Working at Project Dirt I couldn’t agree more, as the network is all about making sustainability empowering, positive, tangible, exciting and finding new ways of doing things.

A real barrier for making technology work for all and in sustainable ways is incumbency in Jonathon’s view. His suggestion to the younger generation is to protest. Being one of the younger generation I am not sure I am completely satisfied with that proposal. Protesting is immensely important, I completely agree. But turning to the younger generation and asking them to demand change – is this approach letting those ones that have accumulated too much wealth and bad practice over many decades off the hook too easily? Surely the “polluter pays” principle should apply, letting those creating the harm also pay for it and take the lead in doing do. (As most of them don’t appear to do so Jonathon is possibly right… protesting is one of our best bets in trying to influence them). My other concern is that many of the younger ones still directly benefit from incumbency of their families and circles and simply sit too comfortably to seek to challenge the system.

One of the key points Jonathon makes is that empathy and solidarity is needed in order to make technological innovation work for fair and sustainable change. The pessimist in me says, never mind all these technological fantasies, universal empathy is the real (unrealistic) utopia. But then I look around and see thousands of projects (many great ones on Project Dirt!) in the UK and beyond, which do work incredibly hard to re-engage people with their local communities and natural environment.*** And I am more hopeful again. Many of these initiatives work with children, as well as with many other community members, and they do make a real contribution towards turning us into more sensitive and empathetic beings.

If you are intrigued, you can find out more about the book here.

HUB Eco Series regularly hold fascinating talks on an array of sustainability topics. You can join their project page here (http://www.projectdirt.com/project/10155/) to not miss the next one.

***Read up on the “Trout in the Classroom” project by the Wandle Trust for example, or Project Wild Thing, 10:10’s Solar Schools, Empty Classroom Day by the London Sustainable Schools Forum… To name just a few inspiring projects.

Friederike is a Projects Manager at Project Dirt.

The HUB Eco Series – The World We Made: Visions of a Sustainable Future   




By Ali Freeman, The HUB Eco Series


In 1990, amidst an extraordinary surge in public concern for environmental problems, Jonathon Porritt wrote an unashamedly optimistic book and accompanying BBC television series.  Where on Earth are we going?was a pragmatic picture of what a range of sectors could look like if we took a sustainable path.  While not shying away from the difficult place that we were starting from, he awakened a sense of excitement and ambition for what “could be” in the months leading up to the first Earth Summit.
Over twenty years later I was humbled to find myself sitting opposite Jonathon while he asked for my help to once again rekindle public imagination around sustainability.  Considering biodiversity like coral reefs has plummeted since 1990, billions have been displaced by environmental catastrophes such as typhoon Haiyan, we are several leaps further towards runaway climate change, and (at the time) a watered down talk shop of an Earth Summitt II was being billed, I was impressed by Jonathon’s stamina.


I also saw immediately the importance and potential of the project Jonathon was proposing.  The World We Made, showcases some of the most exciting, innovative and desirable trends that are shaping our world right now.  It then wraps them up in a voice from the future, the voice of Alex in 2050 whose life is shaped by our decisions today, and who is able to make the dry idea of sustainability into something personal.
I have felt for the last few years that the environmental movement has been in a bit of post-Copenhagen Summit hangover (the big global conference where we were supposed to solve climate change, but didn’t).  I have also felt that many of the old tricks of the environmental movement such as catastrophism and righteousness have been exhausted.  A new kind of environmental populism is called for: one that’s vibrant, techno-savvy and go-getting.
I have been delighted since then to help Jonathon dredge up the facts, trends and signals of how a sustainable world could unfold as the book’s researcher.  Getting lost exploring topics like robotics, biotech, miracle cures, religion, personal manufacturing, new travel modes, geoengineering, designer brains and social mobilisation from a sustainability perspective has been fascinating.  And like Jonathon, it has left me with a wide-ranging awe and optimism for our ingenuity.
It is an honour therefore to start a conversation with Jonathon and have him present on The World We Made at our next HUB Eco-Series on the 26th of November.  This event will culminate a fantastic first year for the Eco-Series, having already had experts in community energy, London cycling, future energy mix and tackling climate scepticism.  We hope you will join us to explore the book’s big dream, and steps we could take realise it.

Ali is a sustainability consultant, working with nef consulting (New Economics Foundation) and with particular expertise in organisational strategy, impact assessment and stakeholder engagement.

Climate Blood Sport

By guest contributor Ed Gillespie, Creative Director and Owner of Futerra
HUB Eco Series: Scrutinising how to engage sceptics

Last Thursday I was invited to Chair a great session at the HUB, Islington in London, UK, as part of their HUB Eco Series of environmental dialogues, discussions and debates. Entitled ‘Weapons Down! Tackling scepticism; How can we most effectively communicate climate change?’ the event sought to take the rambunctious and righteous rage out of the climate debate and seek more empathic, nuanced ways of engaging sceptics. It was an intriguing evening…

I kicked things off with a bit of context-setting, sharing some insights from Futerra’s near decade-long track record in communicating climate change, from The Rules of the Game, to New Rules, New Game and Sizzle, emphasising Futerra’s framing of climate change solutions as positive opportunities, our need to tackle the challenge as humanity’s rite of passage, our growing pains.
Public acceptance of climate change and concern about it remains high, but the priority and severity of the threat, the perception that it happens to ‘someone else, somewhere else, tomorrow’ or the powerlessness of the individual in the face of it ‘too big, too ugly, too scary, too late’, are still problematic in galvanising real action.
We collectively listed different types of climate scepticism we’d encountered (see image). There was an entertaining range:
  • The ‘Pig-headed’ or those of unshakeable conviction – i.e. those whom when asked the question ‘What evidence would you need to make you change your mind?’ have no answer i.e. their minds are made up. (Interestingly this question could also be used on climate activists!)
  • The ‘Make-believers’ or ‘Fantasists’ who rely on heresy, pseudo-science or outright wackery to bolster their case.
  • The ‘Naturalists’ who maintain the Earth is in a ‘warm period’.
  • The ‘Economists’ who argue that business priorities come first, that the cost of action is too high, and whom discount the risks.
  • The ‘Guilty’ i.e. those for whom the cognitive dissonance of high carbon lifestyles and the reality of climate change is too much, so they disregard climate change. Exemplified by the slightly self-conscious binge-flyers in the room.
  • The ‘Powerless’ and ‘Insignificant’ who believe they can’t make a difference.
  • The ‘So What?’‘Techno-fixers’ and ‘Singularitarians’ who believe we’ll find a way through, innovate and cyborg our way out of this mess.
  • The ‘Lawson-esque’ ridiculers and innuendo insinuators who dismiss climate concern with a snide remark, or a sarcastic sneer.
  • The ‘Western/Developed World Conspiracy Theorists’ in India who believe climate change is a ruse to arrest their development.
  • The ‘Chindians’ or ‘Populists’ who deride action in the face of Chinese and Indian carbon emissions or identify population growth as the real problem.
  • The ‘Apocalypse Myth-ers’ who think climate change, like nuclear Armageddon, is our generation’s cultural Doomsday myth.
  • The ‘Realists’ who believe that if climate change was REALLY, really important then we’d already be doing something about it, right?
  • The ‘Cultists’…does exactly what is says on the tin. It’s a cult!
  • The ‘Contradictorians’ who feel the mix of conflicting and incoherent scientific stories proves the uncertainty.
…to name but a few! I’m sure we could have come up with more as well, but we had three brilliant panelists to hear from too, so I had to move things on:
Philosopher Marianne Talbot, with 4M+ podcast views to her name, suggested that whilst both business and government had huge potential to make a difference, neither would so without public pressure or the threat of lost votes and custom. She identified scientists, whom the public generally believe and trust (the ‘white coat’ effect), had failed to get their ‘hands dirty’. They need to engage people as humans not just as scientists, offer opinions as well as facts and walk the talk by video-conferencing, not flying and lobbying government, business and institutions with action plans not just information.
Guinness World Record Holder sociologist Dr Alice Bell from Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit followed by urging us to ramp up the conversation around climate change and action, especially around a sense of hope, solutions and prioritisation. Alice warned that ‘lukewarmist’ sceptics were no longer challenging the science but were unraveling policy responses to it. She also urged us not to stereotype sceptics as somehow always in hoc to ‘Big Oil, suggesting many were from the grassroots and recommended we all personally reflect about the complexity of the climate change challenge and our own individual roles in it.
This theme was continued by our final speaker UCL Professor of Climate Science and deadly sharp-shooter Chris Rapley, who argued we’re all culpable in contributing carbon to climate change from every morsel we eat to every flight we take. Therefore we need collective humility not sabre-rattling and blame-gaming. Unlike the emotionally neutral Higgs Boson, science communication around climate change raises strong, automatic and often unconscious emotional reactions in people’s minds. These are often very powerful including fear, guilt, despair, hopelessness or loss as we start to perceive our modern world as a stranded asset in an environment no longer fit for it.
Chris’s best point for me was around our ‘Mark One’ brains, the relatively limiting processing of our grey matter that leads climate activists and sceptics to digest the same information and come to startlingly different conclusions. Our personal assimilation and confirmation biases, subsequent cognitive reasoning and concluding convictions mean that once established our beliefs are repeatedly self-justified and consolidated. Neither side in the climate debate is necessarily ‘sad, mad or bad’, although that is how both sides often pigeon-hole each other, but we are in disagreement.
A very lively debate then ensued around the extent to which climate change is simply an inherent part of an inexorable capitalist system or if it’s actually about a, correctable, market failure within it. It was also noted that once the science argument is ‘won’, another simply replaces it – around cost, benefits, priorities etc. For me this is precisely the point and summed up the mood of the whole evening. Whilst both sides continue to seek to ‘win’ we are left with the frothing, feisty impasse we’re still in.
However as the broad thrust of the science and all its potentially catastrophic implications irresistibly embeds itself into our collective consciousness, THAT is where the real debate begins. How we respond to the challenge, at what scale and pace, which technologies or behavioural changes and adaptations we deploy and it is in this territory that the elites and ideologues are now grappling. We, as climate activists, need to continue to put more and better policy options and solutions on the table.
The invaluable fine art destroyed in bonded warehouses in New York by the superstorm surge of Sandy has apparently galvanised Manhattan’s elite and driven Mayor Bloomberg’s massive climate change action and adaptation plan. Similarly ‘Climate Hawks’ in the Senate and the Pentagon are pushing for national energy security in the context of oil geo-politics, fuel efficiency and renewable energy potential.
In this sense the reality on the ground is rapidly overtaking the quibbling over scientific projections. Practically, psychologically and philosophically what we do as individuals still matters. We need to personify the positive changes we are all making in leading better low carbon lives, re-emotionalising the solutions around behaviours such as slow travel or community renewable energy not hyper-emotionalising the very real threat of the problem. I’ve always maintained we’ll subvert the dominant paradigm by having more fun than they are…and letting them know while we’re doing it.
As Chris Rapley concluded it’s time for ‘dark optimism, not active fatalism’. The fact is we’re already dealing with the accelerating impacts of climate change whether you ‘believe’ the science or not. Tackling the causes of climate change also solves other problems, around air quality, green jobs, liveable cities, clean energy, etc whether it’s a hoax, wildly exaggerated or not. So let’s have a richer debate around ‘what next?’ rather than ‘why?’. By listening to each other across the climate debate, the better world that from our different perspectives we hopefully believe we’re all striving for, becomes a little more likely…

SO WHY ARE WE FAILING TO SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE?

By Andy Hix, Event Facilitator and Director of HixMedia
You might think that increasing renewable energy capacity and energy efficiency are good ways to tackle climate change. Not so, according to Duncan Clark, speaker at our third HUB Eco Series event. What we actually need to do is commit to leaving a large proportion of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and allow energy solutions to flow from that decision.
Clark’s talk was based on his recently published book, The Burning Questionwhich clearly and concisely explains why our current approach to climate change isn’t working, and what we should be doing instead.
On a warm, light, June evening, Duncan explained that despite everything that’s currently being done to tackle climate change, global carbon emissions are still growing at the same rate they have been for the last 150 years, that is to say, exponentially.
New renewable energy capacity is being dramatically out-stripped by new reserves of coal, oil and gas. Saving energy merely moves where that energy is burned from one part of the economy to another. The rate of population growth has fallen dramatically since the 1950s, but has had no discernable impact in slowing global emissions. So what can we do?
Clark suggests that we should turn the problem on its head. Instead of focusing on efficiency and clean energy in order to reduce fossil fuel use, we should constrain fossil fuel use in order to catalyse the development of alternatives. Ultimately this means agreeing something that has proved elusive for the last twenty years of negotiations: a global cap on how much carbon we are prepared to burn.
So given the failure of the nations of the world to agree on such a thing thus far, how does Clark suggest we achieve that? He believes that developing carbon capture and storage technology would persuade coal-rich nations and companies to become more cooperative in taking action. He floated the idea that oil companies should have to commit to sequestering an ever-increasing proportion of their emissions. He suggested the financial regulation of fossil fuels and trade laws to squeeze oil production. Developing ways of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere could also be an option.
How do we achieve all of the above? In his view it requires a dramatic increase in public concern for the issue of climate. Again, this is something that has been attempted for the last twenty years at least. The real Burning Question, it seems, is how to make tackling climate change a global priority. Perhaps a topic for a future HUB Eco Series event…
Read the post event blog of HUB Eco Series stalwart and climate change photographer Colin Cafferty here.

The Burning Question: Why are we failing to tackle climate change?
By the HUB Eco Series

Why is it that despite year after year of positive stories about renewable energy and energy efficiency, we are barely any closer to dealing with rising carbon emissions and climate change?

In the last year alone, renewable energy records have been broken in Germany, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Japan and India to just mention a few, however despite this, renewables are failing to cut carbon emissions; CO2 levels have never risen faster than they are currently doing at 3% a year. We are investing more than ever in renewables, adding greater capacity than ever before, but CO2 levels in the atmosphere are also increasing more than ever before; why is that? Having been told for years that renewables were the answer, could there possibly be another approach we have not thought about? 

These are the questions that authors Duncan Clark and Mike Berners-Lee attempt to answer in their new book ‘The Burning Question’, and we are delighted that Duncan Clark will be joining us for a discussion at our upcoming HUB Eco Series event at HUB Islington on the 25th of June: The Burning Question: Why are we failing to tackle climate change?


The issue is complex and the authors explore and evaluate everything from behaviour change to economic growth and fossil fuel investments, in which the world’s richest countries are gambling with the livelihoods of billions of people. Bill McKibben, activist and founder of 350.org, suggests in his Foreword to the book (also featured in a recent Rolling Stone Magazine article) that the climate problem can be narrowed down to three significant numbers: two degrees, the number agreed on by 191 of the world’s countries, that we must limit warming to, to have a chance of avoiding runaway climate change; 575 gigatons, the amount of carbon we can continue to pour into the atmosphere to stay below two degrees of warming; and finally the last and most terrifying number of all, 2795 gigatons, the amount of proven fossil fuel reserves which are now being traded on international markets and of which we can only burn a fifth, if we are to stay below two degrees.


Our HUB Eco Series conversation event will examine the debate in the book surrounding what it will actually take to tackle climate change; below, Duncan Clark gives us a few clues what the solutions could be. We hope you will join us for this debate, discussing surely the most important question of the decade. Book your tickets here.




Event review: A brighter, cleaner, community owned energy future IS possible

The Panel. Photo: Simon Scarfe.
 By Anders Lorenzen
To anyone who regularly follows this blog it can come to no big surprise that I see great economic, social and environmental benefits in decentralised and community energy and the potential it holds. I have proactively followed and written about the first two community energy projects of Brixton Energy.

Tuesday 29th of January saw the launch of the HUB Eco Series, an event series hosted by HUB Islington in London, with the intention of creating positive debate around the key national and international environmental issues of our time. The Eco Series is a collaborative initiative between myself and green campaigner Kirstie Wielandt.

Tuesday’s launch event was devoted to the subject of community energy, and featured a distinguished speaker panel consisting of Agamemnon Otero, Founder of Repowering South London and Co-Director of Brixton Energy, Howard Johns, Founder of Ovesco and Southern Solar, Clare Hierons, CEO of Carbon Leapfrog and Nigel Farren, Founder of Energise Barnet.

The HUB Islington venue, on the fourth floor of an atmospheric converted Victorian warehouse behind Angel Islington tube station, was packed to the rafters with 70 guests from across the HUB’s London networks, local transition town groups, industry experts and environmental activists.
Agamemnon Otero of Repowering South London, masterfully opened the discussion with an overview of the success story of Repowering South London and Brixton Energy, two pioneering initiatives that have firmly placed community energy on the map of London. Agamemnon was keen to highlight that, apart from the obvious environmental benefits of saved carbon emissions, green energy co-ops have a massive social impact; Brixton Energy is installed on the rooftops on one of London’s most deprived council estates and has created a popular ‘energy efficiency fund’ which has helped local people become more energy efficient and save money on bills.
Agamemnon Otero & Howard Johns. Photo Simon Scarfe.
 
Howard Johns of Southern Solar (also Brixton Energy’s installer), highlighted that Germany has over 600 energy co-ops (over 50% of Germany’s renewable energy is community owned) compared to only 23 such initiatives in the UK. He said that, in terms of required capital it was far easier to get a solar project of the ground and reiterated that community energy initiatives were absolutely central to creating the energy revolution we so badly need.  

Clare Hierons of Carbon Leapfrog, praised the success of all panelists and posed the question whether there were simply more people interested in energy co-ops in Germany or whether there was some UK ‘blockage’ of sorts. She feels we need to reach out beyond our established green networks and engage more people in discussions around the issue. She appealed to anyone who is interested in even exploring the concept, to contact Carbon Leapfrog so they could jointly explore how many of them can actually we make happen.
Clare Hierons & Nigel Farren. Photo: Simon Scarfe.
 
Nigel Farren of Energise Barnet, who also sits on the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) community energy board, explained how he set up Energise Barnet as he felt his local council was not doing enough to improve energy efficiency. He believes a community energy group or co-op needs to be run with a business mentality as all kinds of skilled people will need to be involved. He feels that a major challenge is that initiatives are often started by volunteers who will actually need to work on the project as full time staff in the long term, and that its important to bear this in mind right from the start.

After the discussion, people mobilised and mingled in local groups to discuss how to enable local energy group start ups; we greatly look forward to hearing what comes of these initiatives. The evening’s discussions reiterated that decentralised energy is a key to a more open and competitive energy market, wrestling some of the power away from the ‘Big Six’, and that there is a hunger and growing need for a rapid deployment of community energy in the UK. Pioneering projects such as Brixton Energy have lead the way and shown what is possible; the more community energy initiatives that sprout up, the easier it will be for other newcomers to follow.

We’re thrilled with the launch of The Hub Eco Series; Tuesday’s event showed that there is a strong passion for tackling the variety of environmental issues we are facing and we look forward to the next event in due course.
Kirstie Wielandt contributed and subedited this article.
Photos by Simon Scarfe.
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