Food systems as perpetrators, victims and solutions


A short post to nudge you to read Jason Hickel’s latest article. He explores how climate breakdown could cause a global food crisis and how the very food we eat is part of the problem (and potentially the solution).

Here are a few stand out quotes, starting with something we are dealing with directly at TGT:

Half of Asia’s population depends on water that flows from Himalayan glaciers—not only for drinking and other household needs but, more importantly, for agriculture. For thousands of years, the runoff from those glaciers has been replenished each year by ice buildup in the mountains. But right now they’re melting at a much faster rate than they are being replaced. On our present trajectory, if our governments fail to accomplish radical emissions reductions, most of those glaciers will be gone within a single human lifetime. This will rip the heart out of the region’s food system, leaving 800 million people in crisis.

Next up, the irony. Food systems are both perpetrators and victims of climate breakdown:

There is a troubling irony here. Climate change is undermining global food systems, but at the same time our food systems are a major cause of climate breakdown. According to the IPCC, agriculture contributes nearly a quarter of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

What this of course means is that we don’t need to look too far for a way to ease the climate crisis. It involves a rapid and determined effort to change the way we grow, process and eat food.

In addition to dietary changes and cutting food waste, the IPCC finds that a rapid shift away from conventional industrial farming methods toward regenerative techniques—agroforestry, polyculture, no-till farming, and organic approaches—would go a long way toward restoring soils, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, improving long-term yields, and making crops more resilient to climate change.

In Nepal, by enabling organic agro-forestry we are helping in both mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Please support our work, so that we can do more of this for more Himalayan families. Without your support their food systems are going to collapse.

A monthly donation of £10 will enable us to train 30 farmers in organic agro-forestry. Thank you.

Measuring success in Adaptation


As we design and deliver climate change adaptation projects with our partner organisations in Nepal, we have to monitor how successful our work is. Working out what to measure is not as simple as it seems. And in figuring it out, we must always keep in mind that what we choose to measure has an significant impact on what the project does.

Success is judged in different ways, by different people. TGT makes its own judgements; but given that we also receive funding from other grant giving bodies, their expectations about success need to be taken into account too. The degree to which funding bodies decide what is important and what success looks like effects project design, delivery and ultimately outcomes.

Our approach has always been to keep our thoughts on what matters in the background and we are fortunate to work with funders who largely feel the same way. What matters to us is that the projects are having a positive impact on what matters to the people we work with in the villages in Nepal. In short, we keep our egos in check and allow project design to be led bottom-up from the people to us via our local partner NGOs in Nepal.

Not all small NGOs are as fortunate, many are effectively forced to design projects that have easily measurable performance indicators that tick the boxes of large foundations and grant giving bodies. However, as adaptation comes ever more sharply into focus, this problem may become more acute for us and others as funders and delivery organisations are scrutinised more widely for their adaptation work.

With more attention, comes more anxiety as we all want to be able to prove that we are being successful; a salve to this would be the emergence of a universal way to judge whether an adaptation project has been a success. That way we can do what is globally accepted as the ‘right thing’ on adaptation and report on our successes (in comparrison to others). Partly driven by this and partly driven by a habit of doing things the way we’ve always done things, a quest is underway to establish universal ways to judge adaptation success. It might be a grave error.

Lisa Dilling, University of Colorado, and colleagues from around the globe (including Farid Ahmad from ICIMOD, Nepal) recently posed an important question: ‘Is adaptation success a flawed concept?’ They explored this important question in a two page comment article in Nature Climate Change (Vol 9, 570-574). According to the authors, a universal way of measuring adaptation success remains elusive. Seeking it at all might be unwise.

The desire to find universally applicable measures is also driven by the dominant role the UNFCCC (UN Climate Change) continues to play and the habits we have got into in our technocratic, managerial times. Understandably, much emphasis to date at the UNFCCC has been on driving and measuring mitigation efforts; it is only since the realization that we can’t now prevent dangerous climate change and the recognition of this in the Paris Agreement in 2015, that adaptation has truly come into focus. But what works for mitigation measurement, may not work for adaptation.

Member parties have grown used to comparing themselves against each other on mitigation measures. They, for example, can measure the rate at which they are reducing carbon emissions and report on how well they are doing compared to other countries of comparable size and economic fortune (something the UK Government has become very fond of doing in recent years). This works when data is relatively easy to collect and report, which it is for emissions reduction efforts. There is an appetite to be able to do the same for adaptation over the coming decades so that politicians can boast of the progress they have made on adaptation compared to other countries (or opposition parties), in same way as they currently do for mitigation and scores of other issues - education, health, crime, social care, etc, etc.

Trying to apply this approach to climate change adaptation - attempting to define and measure universally applicable measures of adaptation - is proving difficult; it is a square pegs, round holes scenario. As Dilling et. al., point out ‘most adaptation projects are implemented at the local level and start from wildly differing baseline conditions.’ Furthermore, there is great variation in the nature of adaptations needed, their scale and the time it takes for adaptation measures to take effect.

Seeking universal success measures for adaptation to fit the political paradigm of tangible, measurable and reportable outcomes, isn’t easy because adaptation is such a difficult thing to quantify and compare across different contexts. And yet we try, which leads to us having to simplify (likely oversimplify), what success looks like. We therefore risk falling into the age old trap of designing projects that can be measured, rather than projects that are truly effective.

If we are to stick with this pursuit of finding universal measures of adaptation success (and it is questionable whether we should) an alternative approach is needed. Dilling and her colleagues propose one in their comment piece. They suggest we measure the ‘capabilities of households and governments to pursue a range of adaptation futures’. This fits with an argument that says it is more important to measure the adaptive capacity of a person (or community, or nation) than it is to measure whether they have adapted to the climate change effects they are currently experiencing. More on this later.

To highlight what is meant by ‘capabilities’ it is worth quote Dilling and her colleagues at length:

Capabilities critical to effectively respond to climate change may include access to increased education, which is necessary to build diversified livelihoods; access to healthcare, necessary to respond to new health risks; access to technology, increasingly necessary for communication and information access; strengthened social support, necessary to prepare for and respond to shocks; and good governance, necessary to ensure services are delivered. Capabilities can directly support adaptation: for example, according to Striessnig et al., female education may be the single most important socio-economic factor associated with reduced vulnerability to disasters. Some processes and international agreements have already outlined metrics of success that may support the building of these capabilities (for example the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework and the Convention on Biological Diversity), which in turn lay the foundation needed to support adaptation efforts as climate change unfolds.

We have met many farmers who, thanks to the income they have been able to generate from the sale of agricultural produce, have been able to better support the education of their children and grandchildren. These children are thus developing the capabilities they need to adapt effectively to climate change as it unfolds in whichever context they find themselves in the future, be that on the family farm, or in any other environment they might find themselves living in in the future.

So, whilst TGT’s project might be about enabling farmers to grow crops that are more resilient to the changes being felt as a result of climate breakdown, the outcomes farmers are interested in and most value relate to impact income from tomato sales is having on their children’s education.

When we were writing the script to our short film ‘Coffee. Climate. Community.’ we included a line, to emphasize how that as well as the direct environmental and ecological benefits of agro-forestry for Deusa in Solukhumbu, there is a direct benefit that relates to this idea of developing ‘capabilities’:

NARRATOR: “There is an obvious benefit too. Increased wealth, even when it is modest, makes other things possible. The income generated [from selling coffee] can be invested in other climate change adaptation projects like water harvesting, insect control, polytunnels and landslide prevention.”     

Dilling, sum up their piece with a conclusion and recommendation for what we should be focusing our efforts on when it comes to project evaluation:

Efforts of the scientific and international communities would be better spent understanding how to build, support and measure capabilities of communities, and how those capabilities in turn enable adaptive capacity for climate change, rather than trying to develop a universal definition of adaptation success.

For TGT, in seeking to measure how successful our projects are, we must try not to get too hung up on counting beans. Adaptation is an ongoing process in the same way that climate change is ongoing. We are never going to run a project where at the end of it we can say to ourselves and our funders: ‘right; that village has now adapted to climate change’; but what we can hope to do is say ‘we have enabled the people in that village to develop capabilities that improve their adaptive capacity.’

Importantly, Dilling et. al., emphasize the agency that should be given to households and governments, so that they play a central role in determining the capabilities that are to be developed by an initiative. Not only is this important from a moral and power balance perspective, it is also important to ensuring projecs actually work. By empowering local people to create metrics that matter to them, local aspirations are built into project design, which should then have a positive effect on how engaged and invested people are in the initiative they are involved in.

To do this effectively, it is up to us, our NGO partners and ultimately our funders, to feel comfortable inviting people to define which ‘capabilities’ they want to enhance. Once we understand this, we can grasp better what the project needs to do. By introducing agro-forestry to a remote mountain village, we not only make agriculture in that village more resilient to the climate change impacts already being felt, we also enable farmers to raise income that makes them more capable of dealing with climate change long term. We must keep an eye on both these things, measuring the success of the agro-forestry work in the here and now, but also keep a close eye on measurements relating to the ‘capabilities’ that matter in the community.

Locally then, in any context, we are players in a broader effort to improve access to education, infrastructure, healthcare, social welfare and so on. These are the metrics that matter in the end, because without basic services people won’t have the foundations they need to continue to adapt to climate change as it evolves and worsens.

7.5 billion ways to be radical

Guest post: Imagine, there are 7.5 billion ways to be radical in response to the nature crisis

By Stephen Woroniecki

We are in a world wracked by crisis. The headlines arrive day by day. Species extinction. Plastic pollution. Climate breakdown. Economic inequality. What can one person do amidst such world-changing loss and damage?

The first reaction is to bury one’s head in the sand and carry on as if nothing was amiss. This is a fairly logical reaction to my mind. It allows one to carry on. There are of course usually a thousand more pressing concerns and head burying feels easy if you live in an echo chamber in which such fears are downplayed or denied. It feels even easier if the crises are talked about in abstract ways – distanced from real people and places, through widespread use of numerical estimates to gauge change.

The second reaction is to assume that everything will work itself out. This is often motivated through historical examples of how technology has enabled people to reach beyond limits that were otherwise considered insurmountable. However, people are starting to see through such a tech-fix mentality, since it is not producing the kind of transformative changes that we need across the board.

‘Trees display canopy shyness when they meet. Can we see this as a metaphor for how we grow together under one sky? Let’s make space for each other to breathe and come to terms with the way we see our worlds changing.’

‘Trees display canopy shyness when they meet. Can we see this as a metaphor for how we grow together under one sky? Let’s make space for each other to breathe and come to terms with the way we see our worlds changing.’

The next reaction is to proclaim the world has already ended. That there is nothing we can do, except embark on some kind of managed retreat, like the Elves in Lord of the Rings. The ‘shut down’ response to global environmental problems is no accident either. It is a hallmark of some of the discourse emanating from prominent Deep Adaptation authors like Jem Bendell and Roy Scranton. Young people are being told that there will soon be nothing left; in 20 years the world will be smouldering hell hole, along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Such powerlessness in the face of terrifying change is also encouraged by the dominant scientific approaches. According to some climate change models for instance, human beings are just predictable variables in a computer model. Our behaviour as human beings – the sum total of our capabilities and creativity – is often reduced to a simple coefficient; the Kaya identity, which says essentially that we boil down to nothing more than our consumption of energy.

What room within such tremendously huge issues and reductive storytelling, is there for human agency? What space is there for us to use that which marks us as uniquely human? We have the opportunity to devote time to exploring the limits of our minds. This gives us, in turn, the ability to understand our behaviour, to learn, and to communicate what we have learned and why and how we could change.

Prescriptions of denial or doom, or the anticipation of a tech-fix, close down the options we have to respond to the nature crisis. In fact we might look at these as symptoms of a crisis of imagination, which could then be seen as a key barrier to widespread and meaningful behaviour change. Even the ways of being ‘radical’ can be reduced to just a few straightforward pathways of action, such as joining a political party or changing consumer spending patterns; “Vote with your wallet”. Can we really say that such straightforward prescriptions for action bring forward the best in us? Do they unleash the potential that we all have to think and act differently; to diverge from the business as usual?

Donna Meadows famously used the metaphor of Leverage Points to describe the relative power of intervening at different points of a system. She left behind a legacy of intuitive wisdom to understand how one might approach the elements of a system one is part of, in order to change it.

Project Drawdown is a good example of how redrawing the possibilities of action enables a broader number of people to recognise themselves and their potential for action within transformative solutions to the nature crisis. The one hundred solutions to the climate crisis described in that project are just the tip of the iceberg, others exist too. Inspired by Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation work, and driven by Bendell himself, a ‘Positive Deep Adaptation’ movement is emerging. It seeks to nurture compassionate and collaborative, not competitive and conflictual, responses to climate change driven social collapse. It encourages us to imagine what a world freed from fossil fuels might look like, so that that world might materialise. By stepping forward into action, we change the game, and new vantage points become visible from which to act again.

Not all forms of action are created equal. What works in one place won’t work in another. The trick, wherever you are in the world, is to listen to what is going on around you and respond to that accordingly. Trust in the hearts of those around you. Listen to what worries them, and expect the same respect. Then, as best you can, practice the future you imagine together, all 7.5 billion of you.

Stephen Woroniecki is a Doctoral Candidate in Sustainability Science at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. He is studying for a PhD in Climate Change Adaptation. His recent Guardian article on the intersections between social justice and tree planting was well received across the sector. You can follow Stephen on Twitter at @StephenWorniec.

The Glacier Trust is a UK registered charity (no. 1124955). We enable climate change adaptation in rural Nepal and work with Tribhuvan University (Kathmandu) to help develop the next generation of climate change adaptation professionals. You can support our vital work by following the link below.

First line of defence against climate hazards


Long time collaborator, supporter and friend of TGT, Dinanath Bhandari (pictured above with TGT in Nawalparasi), has just had a fantastic piece published on Spotlight Nepal.

In the article he warns against practices of ‘mal-development’, pointing out how many developers and many involved in climate change adaptation fail to give adequate attention to the collateral damage their interventions can cause.

In their rush to ‘solve’ one problem, they cause another; and it is often the natural ecosystems that we all depend on that suffer and deteriorate. TGT is fully committed to mindful adaptation to climate change; it is by working with experienced practitioners like Dinanath that we make good on that commitment.

We encourage you to read the full article, but have drawn out some key paragraphs to give you a taster [emphasis added in bold]:

The stress of climate change manifested by erratic precipitation works in tandem with deteriorating natural ecosystem. Disruptive development practices have scoured hill slopes which when exposed to intense rains aggravate soil erosion, landslides and flash floods. Improper land use, inappropriate settlement expansion, deforestation, construction non-engineered and agricultural practices involving excessive use of commercial fertilizers damages the ecosystems. In many places, the balance between rainfall and landscape has been disturbed.

Consequently, the capacity of natural ecosystem to absorb environmental stresses has weakened. Even a low intensity rainfall is likely to lead to devastating floods that have higher cost to society and infrastructure. Deteriorated watershed cannot buffer abnormal rainfall. Recent floods are the combined consequences of neglected disaster risk, faulty development practise, poor governance and intense rainfall. If this nexus prevails the cost is going to increase manifold in the future.

Improving the relationship between development activities and the health of natural ecosystems:

Development activities should be undertaken by keeping natural ecosystem healthy so that it acts as the first line of defence against climatic hazards. When natural ecosystems are robust enough to absorb intense rainfall, buffering weather induced hazards like floods is possible. A healthy watershed may not totally avoid landslides and floods when our mountainous landscape is saturated, but if ecosystem is healthy, recovery is quicker.

Shifting our approach and working with communities:

The recent windstorms, typhoons and rainfalls are indications of what the future may look like. These events seem to indicate changing weather events spawned by climate change. It is necessary to work with people to help them understand these changes and the benefits of investing in preparedness and avoid mal-development. Behavioural changes are needed so that development and livelihood practices are harmonised with nature.

Developing a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation:

Currently disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation actions are poorly linked. They exist in isolation. In the context of growing climatic risks, this must change if actions of risk reduction are to bring desirable results. Nepal’s national, provincial and local governments must integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as part of a holistic development approach.

This last piece of advice applies to NGOs (of all sizes) too; we can’t pursue our objectives in isolation; no cause is an island.

Dinanath Bhandari has been working on community centered approaches to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation for many years. During his time at Practical Action Nepal he was instrumental in the design, delivery and monitoring of our project work in Nawalparasi. He remains heavily involved and often accompanies us on monitoring visits.

Expressing our climate reality

by Meleah Moore (TGT volunteer)

The last thing I read about climate change was in a book of nonfiction. That sentence seems obvious, and even further, it seems like the only way it can be. Other than in some works of the science fiction genre, serious contemporary literature does not easily, or normally, deal with the largest environmental shift of our lifetimes.

This seems strange when I think about the role of art to reflect shifts in culture – when modern problems are frequently the catalyst of expression that leads to great work. As artists and writers so often pull from their own, and our collective experiences, to bring a story to life, shouldn’t the recurring extreme weather events and life-altering temperature shifts play a role? As we are increasingly aware of extinctions, plastic shorelines and rising rivers, it seems that contemporary fiction can’t adequately show up to talk about it.

This is the trend that Amitav Ghosh noticed and meditated on in his book The Great Derangement, Climate Change and the Unthinkable, published in 2016. It is a book I just read with fresh eyes to the present moment, a book that made me rethink how we communicate climate change. It accentuated the need for more vernacular language on a topic so often seeped in scientific terminology.


As I now know from Ghosh’s work, the modern novel is a work of plausibility and discontinuities. Climate change is a problem of improbability and continuity. The novel likes to narrow down the scene, to create boundaries in space and time that allow a reader to connect. Climate change is of an unthinkable scale, global and interconnected. These misalignments don’t mean the two are incompatible, it means we need to shift how we write and read. As Ghosh writes, “- for let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.”

In a recent conversation at the RSA in London, Ghosh gave an example: Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York City, a hub of creative output, and yet he has read no novels that deal with the event. I am not convinced this is for lack of authors interested in the topic, but more for the intonations that climate change places on any spoken or written work– an expansion from a single storm into something much more unruly and unsolvable.  

I noticed this trend in recent news articles about the extreme flooding in the Midwest this spring. As the Mississippi River poured over retention walls, farms were submerged in Wisconsin and levees were broken in Missouri, public officials and citizens spoke about creating more permanent barriers and 50-year plans. They did not frequently or actively speak about the role of climate change in the region, and the shifts that will uniquely impact them in the years to come. It reminds me that we have a disposition to protect ourselves from the next flood, not to talk about the last one. As these extreme weather events occur more frequently and with more force, not talking about their relation to climate change is becoming more notably an avoidance. And in the realm of the novel, why would artists of the region be keen to take on the topic, to have a conversation, that society isn’t?

I think this lines up well with Ghosh’s argument for creating a vernacular language of climate change. Instead of talking about climate change as something far beyond our front door, we need to talk like it is, in fact, right outside it. There is an urgency to broaden and accept the numerous ways we can talk about climate change – at times without political implications, at times without scientific data, but at all times in acknowledgement that it is changing our planet at this present moment.

Ghosh’s book was satisfying in its meandering reflections that by the end laid clear the urgent necessity to embed climate change in all forms of art and literature. By not overcoming the hurdles that climate change poses to the contemporary novel, a major form of expression is not advancing understanding, adaptations or solutions. And in this way, Ghosh’s ideas ultimately expand the responsibility of artist of the Anthropocene.

Ghosh argues we don’t need novels about climate change; we don’t need a new genre. We just need novels about the world we live in.

If net zero by 2030 is not possible, funding for adaptation is a must

by Morgan Phillips (TGT Co-Director UK)

Yesterday in the UK, Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced her intention to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Today in India, crops are failing, livestock are dying and entire villages are left abandoned by families fleeing a prolonged drought and devastating heatwave.

The Government’s announcement has been met with a mixed reaction. Some, fearing what this means for their jobs, their cars, their city breaks and their beefburgers, got angry that we are trying to tackle climate change at all; at the other end of the spectrum, we saw full on fawning and mutual back-slapping about how wonderful it is that Britain is ‘leading’ on this. Then somewhere in between disgust and delight, we got a sort of slow clap congratulations that didn’t dismiss the significance, but pointed out that it will likely be too little, too late.

The reality of it is that even if (and it is a big if) the world’s major polluters all fall in behind the UK and enshrine net zero by 2050 in law, it is unlikely to prevent warming from exceeding 1.5C or even 2C above pre-industrial levels. It is telling that the official statement from Number 10 made no reference to 1.5C or 2C; it leaves us questioning if deep down they know that their commitment is inconsistent with those targets. They probably do, so better not to mention them….

Our take at The Glacier Trust, is that net zero by 2050 isn’t sufficient, but we still just about welcome it because, as we said last week, the right thing to do is the right thing to do; and because doing nothing at all is unthinkable and morally wrong.

To be clear though, we are not jumping for joy over what amounts to crumbs of bread thrown down from the big table. The environmental movement should not allow itself to be patronised in this way, we need to double down on our campaign efforts and persuade all political parties to legislate for net zero by 2030.

We need to persuade our political leaders to do something else though too, something arguably more pressing. Right now, in Rajasthan, India; 1,000km west of our project work in Nepal, temperatures are hitting 50C in the shade. It is a heatwave at the tail end of a long drought; people are dying from exposure to the sun, wild and domesticated animals are perishing from a lack of water, communities are pouring precious water on the road to stop the tarmac from melting — just so water tankers and other vital supplies can reach them. We have even learned how some water tankers require police protection such is the scramble.

It is a humanitarian crisis, but it mightn’t be. The sort of devastation being experienced today in India will happen again and again over the coming decades as the climate crisis intensifies. In response, aid agencies like the UK’s DEC will spring into action — at great expense — to save lives as each crisis reaches critical levels of emergency.

It doesn’t have to be this way; not if we start recognising both what is in store and what can be done. Sam Relph’s excellent report from India makes this point well, he says:

Scientists predict that as temperatures continue to rise with global heating and populations grow, the region will experience harsher water shortages – and will need to find clever solutions to ensure there is enough water for all.

Finding solutions to water shortages during times of drought is possible; it is what we have been doing in Nawalparasi with HICODEF over the last few years. It takes careful planning, project management and money. This is climate change adaptation and we need to persuade world leaders to ramp it up significantly. We simply can’t let regions like Rajasthan suffer drought after drought; over 4,700 farmers have committed suicide in India over the last five years; this has to end.

If politicians aren’t prepared to set the target date for net zero emissions at 2030 or earlier, to prevent catastrophic global heating, we need to persuade them that they have a moral responsibility to fund climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and compensation for the losses and damage caused by the climate breakdown our fossil fuel addiction is fueling.

Given the UK’s historical exploitation of India, the moral case for investing heavily in adaptation programmes there and in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan is extremely strong. We urge all political parties to consider making these commitments. At a time when foreign aid budgets are once again under scrutiny, we need to call for an increase, not a decrease.

Being angry with all the Philip Hammond’s

by Morgan Phillips (TGT Co-Director UK)

Yesterday Philip Hammond – UK chancellor of exchequer – reportedly cautioned against a 2050 target for net zero emissions on the grounds that it would damage the economy and leave the Government with less money for public spending on schools, hospitals and everything else. Cue outrage and the re-trotting out of the 2006 Stern Review. Doesn’t Hammond know that the economic damage of inaction will be significantly higher than the cost of action?!

I’d wager that he does recognise this, but he also knows that if the UK was to unilaterally ‘take action’ on climate change there would be no guarantee whatsoever that other countries would do the same. And if the majority of other countries (especially the bigger ones) don’t take action, the UK, in taking action, will bear the cost of taking action and the cost of climate chaos. The UK is not going to be spared rising sea levels just because it was one of the countries that took action. In short, we can’t stop climate change on our own; we are a small player in this.

So, even if we started a rapid ‘Project Drawdown’ and succeeded in reaching net zero by 2050 (or preferably much earlier), it would all be for nothing because the relative inaction of the major polluters would push temperatures above 2°C or 3°C anyway.

Now, some folk, in a nod to this first-mover problem, will pooh pooh this sort of defeatist thinking, by indulging in some classic British exceptionalism. They will say things like: ‘The UK is in an enormously powerful position to take leadership, with its strengths in research and development, in innovation, in finance in the City, with our skills in city planning – there is enormous potential here.’ (Lord Stern, quoted by Fiona Harvey). To which the simple response is: yes we can lead, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to follow. We’re not as powerful, or influential as some like to think we are. Why, for example, would any of neighbours follow our lead? After all we’re the ones currently embarked on the catastrophically misguided project of leaving the European Union.

In fact, I can think of more than one national leader who will observe the UK making life hard for a heavy industry like steel manufacturing and rub their hands in glee as they invite said company to set up business in their country instead.  

This is not to say I agree with Philip Hammond, I categorically don’t, I too am angry with Philip Hammond. I think we should take action even if it comes at a cost (as we keep getting told, we are the fifth, or maybe ninth, richest economy in the world, either way we can afford it).

But, I’m not just angry with Philip Hammond. He is acting just like every other Finance Director of every country or company the world over. I am angry with all the Philip Hammond’s. Even though every Philip Hammond probably knows that Lord Stern is right - action now to prevent chaos later is the economically prudent thing to do - they also know that all the other Philip Hammond’s have an incentive to cheat (not take action) and free ride off the benefits of everyone else’s action. Philip Hammond doesn’t trust the other Philip Hammond’s; he thinks most of them will cheat so decides to cheat too. All the other Philip Hammond’s feel the same, hence almost total inaction on climate change.

What then is the case for the UK Government committing itself to a target of net zero by 2050 (or indeed 2030)? The thinking I fall back on time and again is the simple premise I once heard Dr Rowan Williams say about environmental behaviour change: the right thing to do, is the right thing to do. Whether or not we succeed, we should still try, because in trying and being willing to give up something of ourselves for the sake of others, we can show those who are suffering and those who are most vulnerable, that we care about them. Not acting, despite knowing we need to, looks callous and selfish.

Finally, we should also do everything we can to enable people to cope and adapt to climate change and its intensifying impacts. It doesn’t look like the free-rider problem is going to go away anytime soon. In recognition of that enabling adaptation, compensation for loss and damages and support for climate refugees may in fact turn out to be the most urgent form of action.  

They don't have to die


There is an extraordinary article doing the rounds on social media at the moment by Dr. James Dyke from Exeter University. It is a personal piece about his awakening to just how severe the future looks as our climate and wildlife systems breakdown. More than that it is about the ‘technosphere’ and how it has us trapped on a path to climate and ecological catastrophe. It is worth a read, but please brace yourself.

I’m drawing your attention to this because of a passage that opens the article. Dyke is recalling the moment when the severity of the situation first truly dawned on him; it was a conversation he had with a senior member of the IPCC in 2011 which concluded like this:

“But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?”

He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”

This is why The Glacier Trust does what it does. We know the path we are on is leading us to catastrophe, but we aren’t prepared to just let it play out. The damage climate change will do isn’t fixed, we can slow it down a bit with policy and behaviour change, but we can also adapt to it, so that the ‘abrupt changes in weather’ don’t surprise and disrupt us as much as they might. Yes people will die (they already have), but we can prevent millions of premature deaths if we commit ourselves now to the urgent task of enabling adaptation.

TGT has spent ten years enabling thousands of farmers and their families to adapt to climate change in rural Nepal. As temperatures continue to increase the challenge is going to get harder, but over the next few decades, if we go on developing and scaling our project work, we can save the livelihoods and therefore lives of tens of thousands more people. But, we need your support to make that possible.

As Dyke and plenty of others point out, the future does look scary, let’s make it less scary for those suffering abrupt changes in weather right now - they don’t have to die, it is not inevitable, we have proven that and want to go on proving it.

We are calling on you to commit to making regular monthly donations to The Glacier Trust. Please consider doing this today; every donation makes a difference.

Without funding for adaptation work, people will be left to fend for themselves , we can’t let that happen.

Please make a donation to save lives in Nepal.

Obvious to you, but invisible to me

by Elizabeth Sawin, Climate Interactive, April 2019

We spotted a great Twitter thread* a couple of weeks back, by Dr. Beth Sawin (@bethsawin), she was exploring how we sometimes find it very difficult to recognise what to others are really obvious signs that something isn’t quite right (e.g. with the climate). We wrote to Beth to ask her if we could reproduce her thread as a blog post. She kindly agreed, so here it is:  

Gary Larson - Farside

  1. A thread about sea level rise, paradigms, and systems thinking or about why so many people might look less panicked than you might feel.

  2. I just read "Heaven or High Water" about shopping for real estate in Miami. How is it that, with streets already flooding on sunny days, people are building, buying and selling pricey real estate that will be unlikely to live out its lifetime high and dry?

  3. Here's what struck me about the people described in the article: they weren't 'just' in denial. It was almost as though, even dressed up in their fancy realtor outfits, but with rubber boots to slog across the flooded sidewalks, they almost weren't seeing the rising water at all.

  4. They reminded me of myself, of all the times where I couldn't see something because my mental model made no room for it to exist.

  5. Like the time we were lost driving on back roads (I was the navigator). I kept saying things like, 'hmm, that lake on the map isn't here anymore, must have been a beaver dam was removed.'

  6. Or the time I wondered, “why are there urinals in this women's room?” You can guess where that ended....

  7. Or, like one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons, the pilot to the co-pilot in the cockpit: “Say, what's that mountain goat doing way up here in a cloud bank?”

  8. Say what's all this water pooling at my feet, in a city of glamor, glitter, progress, and luxury?

  9. The Far Side cartoons and embarrassing personal stories of cognitive dissonance are amusing, but is there more here? Might we be collectively driving along by a map that doesn't actually fit the territory, with increasingly dangerous results, but not quite able to recognize it?

  10. You can't work on sustainability for years without wondering about these things, and my colleagues and I sometimes turn to Thomas Kuhn's work on the Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a framework to think about them.

  11. In Kuhn's observations (about the history of scientific theories) high confidence in a theory of how the world works (he called that a paradigm), limits people's ability to see the ways in which the paradigm doesn't explain the data (evidence from instruments or observations).

  12. That's me, so sure I'm on one road that I literally can't see that I am traveling another road altogether.

  13. The more deeply a group of people believe something – “market forces, engineers, the government, will fix it”, “we live in the best possible way today”, “economies always move towards progress” - the less likely they are to be able to take in evidence to the contrary.

  14. Conversely, the weaker the confidence in a paradigm becomes, the easier it is to detect the things that don't fit. Kuhn called these contradictions, these things that wouldn't be happening if the paradigm full matched reality, anomalies.

  15. The missing beaver pond, the urinals in the women's room, the goats in the cloud bank, the need for rubber boats to show property to prospective buyers, these are all anomalies.

  16. The weaker the confidence in the paradigm, the easier to see the anomalies, which decreases confidence even more. Which in turn allows more anomalies to be perceived, which further weakens confidence, and so on.

  17. You can see how this process, once started, can snowball. Once the chinks appear in the dominant beliefs about how things work, the process builds on itself. The fall of in confidence can happen fast.

  18. If you are looking for - working for - transformation, processes like these, that feed on themselves, are interesting, aren't they? Especially the part about them happening fast, near the end of the period of high confidence in a paradigm.

  19. The dying of a paradigm is a collective process, but people move along it at different speeds. You may be able to take in anomalies your partner, your boss, your best friend cannot, at least not yet.

  20. Understanding this offers a source of compassion and understanding. Not everyone can see what you can.

  21. It also offers a reason for humility. Some people will surely see anomalies that you can't, at least not yet.

  22. That's why the advice to center the leadership of marginalized groups in our movements is good systems thinking to my mind. Anomalies are more pervasive if you are part of a marginalized group and people who experience anomalies see more than others can.

  23. Anomalies are showing up bigger, stronger, harsher than ever, with every tenth of a degree of increase in global temperatures. They are easier to see than ever before, but still not always comfortable to name.

  24. It takes courage. It takes the decision to trust the truth of your own experience, even if you see/feel/understand something most everyone around you does not.

  25. But it's worth it to name them. Just doing that changes you, allows you see more, and more clearly. And every anomaly called out is a little seed crystal of self-reinforcing change, helping us all see more clearly.

 You can find the original Twitter thread here.

What is particularly interesting for The Glacier Trust, is Beth’s advice to ‘center the leadership of marginalized groups in our movements’ because they are better positioned to recognise the anomalies of a system. In the context of Nepal and climate change, the anomaly is that the economic system that promises to alleviate poverty through GDP growth, might in fact be the system that is creating poverty through inequality and climate change.

 *For those unfamiliar with Twitter: Twitter used to be somewhere where people made a quick point or observation using 140 characters or less, this is a ‘tweet’. This limit has now been doubled to 280 characters, because people wanted to say more. What we’re seeing a lot more of now are entire ‘threads’ of tweets. A thread is a succession of tweets on the same subject. These are sometimes ten or fifteen tweets long and give a longer take on the issue of the day/hour/moment. Every now and then a brilliant thread pops up. Trouble is, unless you have an awesome archiving system, it is soon lost to ages. You also might miss it completely if you’re not on Twitter that day!

Dr. Elizabeth Sawin is Co-Director of Climate Interactive. Her work focuses on helping leaders find ways to protect the climate for the long-term that also improve people’s lives today. You can follow her on Twitter (@bethsawin) and to learn more about multisolving you can watch her TEDx talk.