2017’s Christmas Gift

Before the showing of ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ at the Depot Cinema in August this year, there was a half-hour live interview with director Al Gore. He ended by quoting an old economist who had said, ‘It takes much longer than you expect for things to change, but when they change, it happens much faster than you expect.’

Jim Yong Kim   And so it is proving. Changes which many despaired of ever happening are taking place with astonishing speed. On December 12th at the Climate Summit in Paris the President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim (left) announced that the World Bank will divest from oil and gas in 2019 (they have already divested from coal), not for moral or alarmist reasons but because it no longer makes financial sense —renewable generation has become so cheap and the technology is improving all the time Read the transcribed speech here...

At the Paris summit were representatives from many US states, counties and cities, despite Trump’s recent all-American apostasy.

On December 19th the New York City state pension fund, worth $390 billion, announced its divestment from coal, oil and gas. This is a breakthrough move, particularly because it comes from a world financial centre. It’s another powerful message to the conventional fuel industry that fossil fuel exploitation no longer makes financial sense, and to fund managers that they will soon be in possession of stranded assets: investments in shrinking and unprofitable companies.

Right: Zambia is set to triple solar generation in two years

  Zanbian solar

One of the most powerful ways to get people to do something is to suggest that it’s the popular thing to do. ‘People will always do what everyone else is doing,’ says psychologist Robert Cialdini. The vast majority of people obey this rule. The mystery is how something gets from minority to majority behaviour. I’ve mentioned in a previous article how, in the Butler Cox model of consumer behaviour, the minority ‘inner-directed’ community sets the standard for the majority ‘outer-directed’ community to follow. But where do they get their ideas in the first place?

According to J.G. Bennett’s spiritual psychology, based on Gurdjieff’s ideas, real change is only possible through the participation of higher levels of energy, which are under fewer laws than the material world which is ‘fixed, inert, uncreative and predictable.’ It is possible through resonance for people who are more established in the freer creative and visionary worlds to influence those who are to a greater extent under the laws of the material world, i.e. politicians, bankers and industrialists, and through them to influence events.

Rwandan ban on plastic bags  

This is what is now happening. The creative visions of Al Gore, Bill McKibben, George Monbiot, Vandana Shiva, Satish Kumar, Bill Mollison, Rob Hopkins, David Attenborough and numerous others have caused even the vast Leviathans of political and financial institution to change course — much faster than anyone could have predicted.

Left: The Rwandan government has passed legislation making plastic bags illegal

On December 5th the Daily Mail launched its ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ campaign, alerting its readership to the severe crisis of pollution caused to our environment by plastic. This wonderful modern material, so light, strong, cheap, versatile, impermeable, indissoluble and ubiquitous, is accumulating along our roads, heaping up on our beaches, choking the life out of the oceans and wiping out seabird populations.

It is almost dreamlike to see these right wing opinion-formers speaking in a single voice with Friends of the Earth. Something new is going on, faster than we thought possible. Convergences are happening not only here but all across the world. In Lewes the local Greens, Lib Dems and Transition Town Lewes all simultaneously and independently decided to act on plastic waste. After a showing of the film Plastic Ocean at the Depot on December 13th all three committed to working together as Plastic Free Lewes to reduce unnecessary plastic use in our town - a process that will start with two Plastic Action Workshops on 13th and 31st January to which everyone is invited to participate. 

Concurrently, another new group, Litter Free Lewes, has met for several litter-picks in different parts of Lewes and plans education initiatives in our schools and colleges and action in concert with our local authorities to make all us aware of the waste and rubbish we unconsciously create everyday.

Though the financial argument for action on climate change is convincing the big players, action on plastic currently relies on what distresses us. A New Yorker article points out that ‘psychologists have studied the dynamics of what advertisers call “fear appeals,” and they have found that while fear is very good at getting our attention, it’s not very good at keeping it. For that, the scary stuff must be followed by solutions that are small enough to be practical but large enough to be meaningful.’ (New Yorker, July 29 2017).

And there is the pattern that Butler Cox identified: a minority in society pioneers the trends, tastes and aspirations of the majority and through them, inevitably, the behaviour of the money men. In a gold rush the ones who make the most money aren’t the prospectors but the people who sell the spades. When general attention shifts to something else, business follows suit.

The plastics industry, like the fossil fuel industry, relies at present on the argument for business as usual: economic growth and jobs for the workers. To turn this around there will have to be more than a Daily Mail campaign or a 5p charge per plastic bag. The change will start with those making the moral argument: plastic waste is killing our planet. As this realization filters through into general consciousness, consumer patterns will alter to the point where the money men see the writing on the wall, and things will start changing — amazingly fast.

Dirk Campbell