Spent a profitable and stimulating day at the RESOLVE conference in London yesterday. RESOLVE is (or perhaps now was) a 5-year interdisciplinary research programme under the direction of Tim Jackson at the University of Surrey on Lifestyles, Values and the Environment, doing a combination of academic research and providing policy guidance to all who would hear.
Very hard to summarise such a rich day in one post, and some of the issues deserve further thought before comment, so here are a few thoughts and highlights.
As in some other events of this type, there was a massive spread of levels of optimism, with some real good news in places contrasting with real gloom, notably a session looking at forecasts for consumption and carbon emissions over the next 20 years.
Perhaps underlying this is a sense that while a small minority is doing great things for sustainability, as exemplified by Rob Hopkins’ Transition talk, the majority seems either reluctant or unwilling to make changes. However, if, as argued, it’s the case that a lot of these are either confused about the issue or prevented due to structural issues in society, there’s at least some hope. The greatest encouragement along these lines, and the talk I found the most inspiring, was from Bronwyn Hayward, who argued that the youth of the world are taking these issues much more seriously, or would if enabled, knowing that it is their future which will be impacted by both economic and climate issues.
Her conclusion was that we need to engage them in the political process, and indeed to bring sustainability issues more into the mainstream agenda. It seems to me that this applies just as much to the wider population. If we’re going to get anywhere they need to be reached with a clear message as to the likely consequences of carrying on in the way we are.
Slightly ironic was the juxtaposition of comments on lack of engagement with Juliet Schor’s keynote in which she argued that a reduction in the number of hours worked is fundamental to any sort of sustainable future. One of the excuses that a lot of people make for avoiding sustainable behaviour is that they’re already time-pressured enough, of course!
Overall, though, I think Tim Jackson was spot on with his summary. Although part of the task of the research is to instil a sense of realism of what where we are going is not going to succeed, we also need to provide a bridge to a society and economics which can. That vision is beginning to emerge, but we need to get it out there into public discourse. We have many seeds of hope, but plenty of work yet to do.