The Herd of Elephants in the Room


The progress being made in the development of innovative new technologies, such as electric cars, renewable energy and building efficiency is impressive. In many cases these technologies are receiving increasing investment as the potential profits become clearer to see. These technologies are clearly an important component of combating both the causes and impacts of climate change. However, we (the authors) believe that potential solutions to climate change achieved through innovations in how society is organised, and its collective mindsets, is the elephant in the room. There are some maybe radical, but also perhaps necessary, changes to society that are too often put in the “too difficult to discuss” box.

A few of the potential options are introduced below. Some of these would be extremely difficult and controversial to implement. In some cases they also would cause many other knock on challenges of their own, but perhaps we are reaching the stage where radical new ideas, however inconvenient, need to at least be discussed!

  • Population Growth: This is a complex issue, including many moral and ethical aspects, but shouldn’t there be more debate about the rate of population growth and its implications for climate change?
  • Ration carbon on an individual basis: Materialism around the world leads to ever greater demands on resource extraction and manufacturing. Resources should be preserved for the things that matter like housing the poor and feeding the hungry. Resources used to build and run private jets and £100k cars aren’t helping anyone.
  • Abandon unsustainable cities: Cities have been built in hostile environments that were never intended to support large volumes of people; difficult decisions about their long term viability need to be made. This would be even more successful if the world worried less about national borders, and more what is best for everyone.
  • Geo/Climate-engineering: If we can’t curb emissions then more extreme engineering solutions may be worth considering. Ideas range from carefully positioned satellites to reflect back the sun’s rays, to seeding the oceans to form algae blooms to absorb the CO2 we emit.

COP21 certainly won’t be the place where any of these ideas will feature in the agreed text, and there won’t be a lot of discussion on innovation in society, rather than innovation in technology. However, there is a growing body of people out there who want to see them discussed.

Can we rely upon governments and heads of state to actually discuss this great herd of elephants in the room?

Can we rely on individuals to make the changes needed to reduce emissions or do we need to be forced to change our behaviour?

Do we need to persuade decision makers to consider that now could be the time for drastic action by demonstrating the financial rewards that innovation in society could bring or are the impacts of climate change convincing enough by themselves?


Mike Pantling & Bram Miller

One Reply to “The Herd of Elephants in the Room”

  1. Hello Can ‘o’ worms! Agree agree agree but are we going to opt for global authoritarianism ? My own take on this is ‘education’ – change in society has to come from change in our collective approach to education in / on / about sustainable planetary management / coexistence (depending where you place humans – above outside or within the natural realm). This isn’t easy either. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

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