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

Climate Justice – Resilience for All

Sadly, those least responsible for climate change often suffer the consequences of it and equally, measures to be resilient to the impacts of climate change normally only occur after a disaster, if it all, as is the case for many poor or developing nations. Another dilemma is that sometimes a move to become resilient in some form in one location, adversely impacts the resilience of another location. I am curious to see how far COP21 goes in achieving climate resilience and justice for all!


The Oxford dictionary defines ‘Resilience’ as “recoiling, springing back and resuming its original shape after bending”. The latin origin of the word is resilire which has, naturally, a similar definition although one that stands out: “withdraw from a course of action”. In the context of climate change resilience is: “capacity to absorb change, achieved by adapting and preparing for the future impacts of climate change”. So, similar, however, one cannot help thinking it’s a fairly negative and reactive viewpoint. Then again, when we see the evidence of climate change and the catastrophic effect it is having around the world, perhaps adaptation is now more important to many than mitigation.

Too late to turn?

It is curious that resilience could be seen as withdrawing from a course of action, something that perhaps many countries have been unable to do as the shouts for economic progress and increase in quality of life often drown out those, for example, appealing for decarbonisation. Is it possible, or even reasonable to withdraw from a programme of coal extraction to provide socially deprived communities power, and subsequently prosperity, without impacting our fragile climate? Taking this a step further, is it indeed possible following exploitation of natural resources to “resume the original shape”, or to return to pre-industrial levels of CO2? Doubtful.   The alternative, therefore, is to become resilient in the sense of recoiling from the shock and prepare for the inevitable.


A good example of adaptation in order to provide resilience to flooding in cities is the case of Copenhagen, following significant flooding in 2011. The approach taken by the Municipality, assisted by Ramboll, was to mimic the hydrological cycle, allowing water to pass through the city without damaging property and life. This has not only made the city resilient against future events, but has increased value in numerous ways: reduced risk means higher property prices and low insurance premiums; increased amenity has resulted in increased liveability, health benefits and biodiversity. A great example of adaptation and resilience, but it was in response to a disaster. Must we wait for a disaster before we act?


Of course, underlying this issue is; what is fair? Reducing emissions and increasing spending on resilience is all well and good for so called rich countries. But what about developing countries?

Central to climate justice is recognising and addressing the fact that those least responsible for climate change generally are victims to its greatest impacts. Communities with no power, water or sanitation often inhabit areas where famine, disease and floods occur in the extreme, events exacerbated by climate change whilst so called rich nations continue to exploit natural resources thus increasing the effects. And here’s another dilemma. To remove people from poverty, the solution is to provide power and water and…..yes, increase carbon emissions. How do you balance the argument where 300 million Indian households are without access to power but where there are enormous reserves of coal, with that of Kirbati, a small island nation that has called for a global ban on new coal mines to avoid having to evacuate its entire population of 100,000 people as a result of rising sea levels? Whose ‘climate justice’ takes priority? Can there ever be a win-win situation?

Is carbon neutral sustainable development for developing and industrialising nations the solution? President Modi of India on Monday launched the solar alliance, saying that renewable energy must be brought into the reach of all. Yet India, and other countries are still investing in coal, seen as essential in the short term to combat poverty and provide electricity to those that don’t have it. Decision makers need to consider the implications that investing in coal has on the resilience of other nations.

A lot is happening to advance use of clean technologies, but perhaps we should be looking more to clean technology solutions on a smaller decentralised scale. I believe there is a key opportunity for sustainable, liveable, clean energy communities in developing countries to help to truly catalyse the green energy market and drive investment into renewable technology.

So, will world leaders in COP21 deliver a framework that will see resilience and climate justice for all? Your views? As my colleague Luke said in an earlier blog, national and international frameworks are necessary vehicles to drive change but we cannot sit back and wait for the UN or our Governments to reach agreement, we can all take action.


Stuart Divall and Michael Pantling