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.

Why are we fighting climate change?

This is a slightly deeper question and we’ll tackle it in more than just this blogpost. But, if you observe the environmental movement, it it pretty clear that we’re fighting climate change to preserve the status quo. This is despite so many of us being so tired of the status quo and all the injustices, ugliness and boredom it produces. And the reason we want to preserve the status quo is because there are so few stories about different and better futures.

In a long interview with The Economist, Adam Curtis explores this problem. We’ve screen grabbed an excerpt about climate change:


We are currently writing a long piece on ‘successor civilisations’ that responds to this and hopefully tackles the way we relate to climate change.

Until then, we recommend reading Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and watching Adam Curtis’ film Hypernormalisation.

David Molden interview

You may have read this week about the impacts of climate change on the Himalaya Hindu Kush mountains. For a while on Monday it was the lead story on the Guardian website.

ICIMOD, who published the 627 page report, are based in Kathmandu. Their Director General, David Moldon, was interviewed this week by the Nepali Times.

Moldon makes some very interesting points. Relevant to us are his comments on the agricultural strategies mountain communities can adopt to adapt to climate change. He recommends growing high value cash crops, something we are enabling in Nawalparasi, Solukhumbu and now Kavre.

We need to talk about adaptation


New report finds that only 0.76% of articles written by the UK’s leading environmental organisations focus on climate change adaptation

Report title: We need to talk about adaptation
Authors: The Glacier Trust; Morgan Phillips (Co-Director); Asha Bridewell (Volunteer); Carys Richards (Volunteer)
Foreword by: Asher Minns, Executive Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research


Research by UK charity, The Glacier Trust, reveals the extent of climate change adaptation reporting by five of the UK’s leading environmental organisations. Included in the study are: Friends of the Earth UK; World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF UK); Greenpeace UK; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); The Green Party of England and Wales.

The Glacier Trust analysed news and blog posts over a period of 18 months in 2017/18. Of the 1,579 articles studied, the majority (1,051) covered environmental, social and political issues, but made no mention of climate change. A total 528 articles did cover climate change, of which 83 referenced or mentioned adaptation or loss and damages. Only 12 articles (0.76%) were specifically focused on climate change adaptation.

The pattern was similar across all five organisations studied. Climate change made up around a third of all articles studied, but within this category the vast majority of stories were focused on mitigation strategies, campaigns, or on accounts of the problem itself.

Morgan Phillips, The Glacier Trust’s UK Co-Director and lead author of the report said:

Adaptation is the poor cousin of mitigation in conversations about climate change. This lack of attention is translated into the huge disparity between the money made available to enable adaptation compared to mitigation around the world. Things are moving in the right direction, but we know that less than 7% of climate finance is currently going to adaptation projects (less than $30bn US / yr). Our report shows that environmental organisations can and do talk about adaptation, it is part of their remit, we hope they will talk about more in 2019.

 Writing in the foreword to the report, Asher Minns (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) said:

We Need to Talk about Adaptation detects a trend of overlooking adaptation… [A] strength of the adaptation narrative is that it has people at front and centre… Adaptation is the compelling story about people to be told to people so that they triumph over adversity. This narrative is even more relevant to environmental charities who rely on engaging and increasing members and donations.

 By telling the story of adaptation environmentalists can do two key things:

  1. Put adaptation on the agenda; doing this increases the chances that the adaptation needs of those suffering the impacts of climate change are heard.

  2. Raise awareness of good practice in adaptation, helping it to spread and reducing the risk of widespread maladaptation.

For more information, please contact Morgan Phillips:
Phone: 0044 7967 828 063
Twitter: @theglaciertrust

About The Glacier Trust:

The Glacier Trust is a UK charity (no. 1124955). Working with University and NGO partners, The Glacier Trust enables climate change adaptation in the remote mountain communities of Nepal. In the UK, the trust aims to increase awareness and support for climate change adaptation.

This is a political struggle

The search for the perfect way to talk about climate change might be a fruitless one because we’re not prepared to engage in what is really needed - a political struggle. In this article we explore the search for a silver bullet and analyse the growing phenomenon of Greta Thunberg.

Within the environmental movement there is a desperate desire to find the way to communicate on climate change. Much energy is spent trying to come up with a game-changing way of framing and discussing the issue; a way that will move politicians, businesses and individuals to adopt radical new policies, processes and behaviours.

This manifests itself in debates over:

  • Whether to call it climate breakdown or climate collapse, rather than the more tame climate change.

  • Or, in questions about whether to be positive or negative in opening the conversation.

  • Or, whether it is better to appeal to ration and science or emotion and instinct.

  • We argue too about which values to appeal to, and therefore activate and reinforce.

We even debate whether to talk about climate change at all:

Robert Russell Sassor and Beth Strachan from social change experts, Metropolitan Group argue that traditional climate change communications are having a limited effect:

The [environmental] movement typically relays that we are in crisis mode, and must act immediately to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. But while all these arguments are true, they have largely failed to inspire individual action or widespread change in the United States.

They make the case for a putting a stronger emphasis on air pollution as opposed to climate change as a way to stimulate the desired policies and behaviours.

Their case rests on evidence that narratives relating to personal physical health resonate more strongly in the general population that those relating to the health of the planet or other people. Sassor and Strachan aren’t the first to suggest this approach, whether they are right remains to be seen. What is clear is that we don’t seem to be any closer to finding the silver bullet.

We are failing. Or are we?

Two things are worth asking here:

Firstly, why do we think we are going to succeed? What is it about climate campaigners that makes us think that we can make the breakthrough? Why do we think that a silver bullet does in fact exist? We’ll leave those questions open for now.

Secondly, what if the messages are actually working? Is it possible that there is an upper limit to what can be achieved through messaging alone? It is quite possible that there is and we may already be there.

We would argue that the narrative around climate change is having limited success not because we’re getting the message wrong, but because of the milieu into which it is being communicated.

The reason for this is that while we hear messages about climate change (or air pollution) and say we want things to be done, we also hear thousands more messages that make us want to buy or do other things. Our concern for the environment is therefore crowded out by our concern for other things; we want hospitals, armed forces, schools, police, social services, transport infrastructure, shopping centres, entertainment, etc, etc, on a societal level and no end of clothes, gadgets, foods, drinks, furniture, crockery, etc, etc, on a personal level. The wealthier we get, as individuals and as a society, the more we gain and the more defensive of the status quo we become.

For a long time it was assumed (or hoped) that dangerous climate change could be avoided without having to temper our desire for all the trappings of 21st century living in the developed world. There were, and still are, plenty of environmentalists who would spread this comforting message. Many I’m sure knew it was an illusion, but for one reason or another felt compelled to tell us that we can have our cake and eat it.

The truth is, we have economic and political systems that are dependent on the manufacturing and satisfaction of a desire for endless consumption. While this remains the case, we are going to obliterate more and more wildlife and pollute more and more air. It doesn’t matter how ‘green’ we make ‘green capitalism’ and how skillfully we construct our climate change messages, we’ll do no more than slightly delay the inevitable.

On BBC Newsnight this week, George Monbiot said this:

This is only going to change with a political struggle, it can’t change by just asking nicely, or asking better, or by framing it in a different way, we have to confront those powers that are destroying humanity.

In other words, climate change communications are only going to take us so far, we have to go further.

The ‘powers’ George is talking about are those on display in Davos this week. Above all else, the World Economic Forum focused on perpetuating the existing economic and political system. Why do they want it to perpetuate? If we’re being kind it is because they believe in it’s power to do good; if we’re feeling more skeptical, it is because they will remain powerful so long as there are no dramatic changes.

But, as inequality, climate change and other system failures become apparent, it is becoming harder to sustain the status quo and cling on to power. The Davos elite don’t want to be, but now are, deeply engaged in a political struggle. The great young climate activist Greta Thunberg spelled it out to them in Switzerland:

‘we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.’

That is a rallying cry and we hope climate change communicators are interpreting it correctly, she is saying that it is not possible to prevent dangerous climate change from within the current economic and political system. This is why her quote is so powerful; it has an air of threat about it. It tells the powerful that they can no longer be trusted to deliver for humanity; Greta is not turning to them for help, she is turning away from them because they have let her down.

Greta is vulnerable in all this as are the prospects for the political struggle itself. World leaders will attempt to make Greta their darling; she will be enticed to be the figurehead for all sorts of questionable green growth ‘solutions’ and UN initiatives. They will want to allow her to have a voice, so long as that voice is not overly critical of our current economic paradigm. So many environmentalists and environmental NGOs have fallen into this trap over the years. I hope Greta is being well advised.

Another vulnerability will be pointed out to Greta and to those engaged in the struggle. It is a very real one, for it is not just environmental and social justice campaigners who are seeking to take power away from Neoliberal democracy; others are too. As power slips away from those currently at Davos it is unclear where it will come to rest. Populist leaders will seek any bedfellow to gain the power they crave; Greta et. al., must take great care. Neoliberal democracy may turn out to be a lesser evil.

But our fears must be overcome, we have to find a way to shift power away from the mega rich beneficiaries of Neoliberalism and away from the darkness of the populist right.

As comfortable as it might be in our privileged Western homes, we cannot continue to wallow in the comforts of a broken system that seems incapable of reform.

Footnote for NGOs….

In his book ‘Why we lie about aid’, Pablo Yanguas, explains how genuine change involves backing brave public servants involved in difficult political struggles. Actors in these struggles are navigating messy political systems and ultimately changing them. With enough determination and enough support, it is possible to create lasting systemic change. Corrupt systems can be cleaned up, reform of parliamentary proceedings can be achieved.

Development NGOs like The Glacier Trust have to choose whether to focus only on micro level interventions that enable change in one village at a time. Or, whether to work at macro levels too by supporting campaigners and public servants involved in political struggles. If they can do the latter as well as the former, they have the potential to unlock systemic change that is needed.

Yanguas’ book highlights how it is possible to get involved in the ‘messy politics of development’ while retaining political neutrality as a charity. We are studying it carefully here at TGT as we develop our strategy to enabling climate change adaptation in Nepal.

Watch this space.