EARTHtalks: Dare to be great!

On Thursday May, 16th, the annual EARTHtalks brought together renowned speakers and many (especially young) people interested in climate change and the environment in Vienna’s imperial Hofburg. In her introductory remarks, Freda Meissner-Blau chose “We want a lively planet” as the theme for this inspirational event which is organized by NEONGREEN Network as an “Initiative for the civil society by the civil society”, as can be seen in the outstanding contributions by many volunteers whose tremendous support made this event possible.

As the first speaker of the evening, Prof. Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey spoke on “Economics for a finite planet” and constructed a vision of a different kind of economy that works in a resource-constrained world. But first he had to analyze our current economic system and how it exploits our planet’s resources:

According to Prof. Jackson, our current economy is characterized by creative destruction by firms and status competition by people. A lot of credit simply flows into gambling in commodities, property and derivatives as well as real investments that are short-term-ist, rent-seeking, chasing productivity bubbles, depleting resources and de-grading environments. By adding consumer indebtedness, this results in the kind of casino capitalism that resulted in the recent global financial crisis.

“We have to rethink our economy and to think about ourselves as engaged in our common endeavour. People and the planet can live in a better quality world and create structures which will articulate who we are as people in a better and fairer way.” (Tim Jackson)

But there are also good news on our way to an economy for a finite planet: We don’t have to change human nature at the end of the day, instead it’s about freeing us from the current economic and social constraints, it’s about beeing who we are. In this economy, firms are engaged in resource light economic activities that provide the capabilities for people to flourish as they deliver quality of life, provide decent, satisfying employment and are integrated into the community.

Investments for a finite planet are focused on green technologies (renewables, energy efficiency, resource productivity), infrastructure (public transport, low-carbon buildings, community spaces), ecological protection and services. It’s about investment in people, for people, in relation to the planet and against current austerity policies in Europe. And the financial system is characterized by cooperative small-scale investments in communities, good governance by institutional investors and financial regulation, transactions taxes and green quantitative easing in the macro economy.

After an emotional and inspirational talk by dream developer Harald Katzenschläger, Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, gave a resource-efficient virtual talk via Skype. Climate change has come much faster and on a much larger scale than we would have thought 25 years ago and we’re losing this fight, according to Mr. McKibben.

But resistance to the fossil fuel industry also happens everywhere around the world: On the one hand, much comes from industry, like Germans generating much of their electricity from renewable sources. On the other hand, more and more citizens are getting engaged, for instance because of Bill McKibben’s widespread article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in the Rolling Stone magazine last year.

His terrifying calculation: In order to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees, we can only put 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere. The trouble is that the fossil fuel industry has coal, gas and oil reserves equal to 2,795 gigatons of CO2 and is willing to burn these for profit as these reserves are already part of today’s revenue estimates and share prices. But it is clear that we have to leave these reserves under the ground!

“We have to solve this problem if we ever want to solve any of the other problems. And we can only prevail if we dramatically increase the size and the commitment of people to make change.” (Bill McKibben)

So, we have to act! We have to demand that organizations take their money out of the fossil fuel industry and to invest into green solutions, like so many US universities are currently doing because of their students’ pressure. Around the world, one of the most important tasks is to also stand out against the tar sands industry in Canada which are most harmful to the climate and the environment. And we have to work together to overcome the feeling that a single person is too small for this huge problem of climate change.

It will be decided in the next few years if we can win the battle against man-made climate change. Around the world, more and more people are ready to fight! Join us in our common endeavour!

Alexander Egit, CEO of Greenpeace CEE, then demanded an active environmental foreign policy of Austria, as a small country like Austria could make a difference by being an international forerunner. But: “This would require politicians of stature but we only have Niki Berlakovich”, which pretty much sums up the widespread criticism that Austria’s Minister for the environment faced this evening. So, which are the areas where Austria can lead?

“This would require politicians of stature but we only have Niki Berlakovich.” (Alexander Egit)

First of all, there’s the issue of saving the Arctic which lost three quarters of its ice during the last 30 years. Here, Austria could build alliances and stop export subsidies for projects that cause environmental damages. Another area would be climate change where Austria – despite its low international credibility – should become part of an active forerunner community for climate protection on the European level where it should take a stand for ambitious CO2 targets, a reform of the European emission trading system, a new climate treaty and a ban on oil from Canadian tar sands.

Austria actually has much more credibility when it comes to nuclear power and should use this credibility so that there won’t be a nuclear renaissance as a climate protection measure. Biodiversity and fishing would be two more issues where Austria could foster organic agriculture, sustainable small-scale fishing and a reform of European fishing policies. And finally, Egit demanded that Austria should be the first country to support a global law against ecocide.

Speaking of ecocide, Polly Higgins became famous overnight because of her European citizens initiative against ecocide. Ecocide is “the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” It is the missing fifth crime against peace which was only avoided when Austria stood up and said that ecocide is not necessarily a crime of intent.

Higgins wants to establish international law to disrupt the cycle of resource depletion, conflict, war and damage/destruction. Because law is a powerful instrument, as can be seen from the abolition of slavery where economic interests also had to be overcome. For this to happen, we need leadership and a change in values of governments and ourselves.

“I ask everyone: Dare to be great! This is about stepping out of our comfort zone. Leave your comfort zone and go beyond where the magic happens!” (Polly Higgins)

Everyone can stand up against ecocide, to raise his or her voice and demand from our government that Austria becomes the first country to demand a global law against ecocide. Because ecocide is not only a crime against nature but also a crime against humanity, future generations and peace. We can do this together, let’s raise our vioces!

This year’s EARTHtalks were once again a great evening with inspiring, upsetting and exciting talks which will hopefully also reach many people that couldn’t attend this event. In this regard, I am happy that as in previous years all talks should be available on the EARTHtalks website soon. Finally, some interesting impressions and statements can also be found in my #EARTHtalks Storify.

Posted on May 17, 2013 in Climate Change

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out Vienncouver.com and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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