Prof Kevin Anderson on “The Climate Clock is Ticking. Normal isn’t Working. What Will You Do differently?”

Below is Professor Kevin Anderson’s submission for the recent “Climate Clock is Ticking” series.  The Guardian don’t appear to have used it in either their print edition or online.  Below his submission we have posted our response to the same invitation.

The request for the piece from the New Economics Foundation was:

‘The Climate Clock is Ticking. Normal isn’t Working. What Will You Do Differently?’

We would like to use your answer in a feature of collected insights to mark the half-
way point of the 100 months climate countdown that began in August 2008, and to
highlight what can be done differently in the next 50 months.


My day job is to translate the science of climate change into the everyday language
we use to understand our lives. To chaperon policy-makers in the transition towards
a low-carbon UK, and to help companies and civil society understand the mitigation
challenge we all face. But this is not just a job – I’m as much a part of the problem
as the solution. Many of my colleagues disagree with me on this – but as I work in
the area I cannot excuse my profligate emissions through lack of knowledge. Surely
it’s incumbent on me to reduce my emissions to levels I’m both asking of others
and proposing the government regulate for? This will not be easy, either for me or
collectively for society, and we should not pretend otherwise. There are some win-
win opportunities and occasional green-growth niches – but despite all the rhetoric
we, the wealthy West, have left it far too late to grow ourselves out of the climate
change problem.

In 2011, a year of economic upheaval for many industrialised nations, global carbon
dioxide emissions rose by 3.2% on the 2010 figure, which itself was up almost 6%
on 2009. Despite this reckless growth in emissions, we continue to respond as ill-
behaved children quarrelling in the playground. The West points to the Chinese,
the Chinese cry we didn’t start it, the aviation sector claims it’s victimised whilst the
shipping industry dismisses flying as a luxury, disguising its own 4-fold emissions
increase as a reduction. Wind farms are hounded for killing birds, the new Defra boss
is endorsed by climate sceptic Nigel Lawson – and meanwhile persistent lobbying
by VW and others have rendered the EU’s flagship car-efficiency standards as

But the future does not have to be so bleak. Whereas to the orthodox mind a steady
state (no-growth) future can only ever be a land of torpor and desolation – those with
a more enlightened and creative outlook could yet see a low carbon Phoenix emerge
from the fossil-fuelled flames. Uncomfortable as it may be, what we desperately need

are top-down standards initiating an immediate transition to low-carbon practices –
through radically more efficient demand-technologies (fridges, cars, etc.) and major
changes in our lifestyle. But alongside and just as importantly, we need civil society
to complement the top-down framing of our low-carbon future. When politicians falter,
civil society needs to step in and offer support – and when civil society doesn’t deliver
its our politicians’ job to provide the right legislation and facilitate a can-do mentality.

So returning to the question what does this mean for me. Undoubtedly I’m one of the
few per cent of the 7 billion that is responsible for the lion’s share of emissions. Living
a low-carbon lifestyle is what most people around the planet do, including many in
the UK. The high emitters are a small and elite group – they are my friends, family,
those reading this and listening to Radio 4 – and of course my colleagues and I.
Climate change is not a population issue – it is a consumption issue – it’s about what
we can do between now and around 2020. Consequently, the poor, even as they
strive to buy fridges and drive cars, are not to blame. It is those already leading high-
carbon lifestyles that need to instigate or be coerced into a radical transition to a low
carbon future. This is the real challenge –Turkeys (high emitters) are going to have to
vote for a low-carbon Christmas.

So what will I do differently? I haven’t flown for almost eight years – and that will
have to continue. I have halved the distance I drive each year and have significantly
changed how I drive. I’ve done without a fridge for 12 years, but recently relented
and joined the very small proportion of the world’s population that has a fridge – this I
may have to reverse! I’ve cut back on washing and showering – but only to levels that
were the norm just a few years back. All this is a start but it is not enough. Certainly,
if those of us working on climate change are a bellwether of society’s response, the
future looks bleak. Nevertheless until those intimately engaged in climate change,
including the scientists, journalists, NGOs and ministers, put their own houses in
order, I think it unlikely others will take our analysis seriously. As we pass the bus
stop to jump in a taxi from the airport to another air-conditioned hotel room in Bali,
Cancun or Rio – what message are we disseminating?

And the MCFly response (drafted by Marc, agreed with Arwa).

Manchester Climate Monthly is a magazine and website that exists to
“inform, inspire and connect.” And to cajole! It started in October
2011. Its editors think the two degrees target is no longer
achievable. We’re burning too much carbon, and taking no real steps to
cut down.  Renewables simply won’t kick in quick enough.

As we enter the age of consequences, we will need more people and
organisations growing more food, learning to solve more problems and
work together.

The culture of the “Left,” – the unions, the ngos, the think-tanks,
etc – actually churns and burns potential new members by using them as
“ego-fodder” for the big names at the front of the room.

What we will do differently:

Use the Freedom of Information Act more frequently to get Manchester
City Council and other public bodies being honest about what they are
– and are not – doing on climate change

Use social media more effectively to engage and discuss the breadth of
the problems that we face; environmentally, politically, culturally,

Encourage more people to become involved – at whatever level their
time, energy, motivation allow – in ‘green projects’, especially ones
that increase community-based resilience.

Advocate more effectively for the creation of a Steady-State economy
in Manchester (

Help build the capacity of environmental and social justice movements
through the “Activist Skills and Knowledge” project

Encourage more people to become “transruptive” – disruptively
transformative – in their dealings with bureaucracies and their own
activist sub-cultures

Get more groups in Manchester to adopt the “meetings charter”, which
starts out There is a dangerous gap between the importance of our
mission and the level of our results so far. Coping with climate
change will demand bottom-up solutions as well top-down technocratic

People attend meetings for information, but also in the hope of being
inspired and connecting with their fellow citizens. Our current
methods of organising and holding meetings – which we have used for
decades –  have not succeeded in creating the vibrant social movement,
full of inspired and networked people, that we aspire to. Many people
attend one or two of our meetings and are then never seen again. We
have to acknowledge this if we are ever going to improve and we ought
to think carefully about why this is happening, and what we can all do
to improve it.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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2 Responses to Prof Kevin Anderson on “The Climate Clock is Ticking. Normal isn’t Working. What Will You Do differently?”

  1. I totally agree with Kevin Anderson and he repeats something I have said for some time. It is the affluent middle-class who contribute most to climate-change. And yet they try and demonise those on low-incomes and benefits.

  2. Reblogged this on patricktsudlow and commented:
    I totally agree with Kevin Anderson and he repeats something I have said for some time. It is the affluent middle-class who contribute most to climate-change. And yet they try and demonise those on low-incomes and benefits.
    This is particurly true of certain members of Manchester Green Party, who make token gesture, like showing up at meetings holding a bicycle. Though they are motorists, who cannot live without their cars. One person in particular, I do not think has never used public transport in her entire life. Others are quite happy to jump on a jet for short journeys, such as to Ireland. Then they dismss those who live in social housing as being uneducated and do not care about climate change. They do care, but why, when the are struggling to warm their homes, should they listen to some clown, from an affulent background, who is living quite well?

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