Professor Wangari Maathai’s Third Memorial Lecture

What’s needed for the triumph of good, is enough decent people to stand up,” – Kumi Naidoo

The panel discussion chaired by Nick Robins, UNEP’s Co-Director, Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System

On June 16 2015, Green Belt Movement International (GBMI) Europe hosted the Third Annual Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture in St James Church Piccadilly. More than 200 people joined us for an evening with Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International as he shared his thoughts on Professor Maathai’s life, legacy and the climate change injustices she fought for, punctuated by stories from Kumi’s own life of campaigning and advocacy.

In addition, the audience was treated to Cellist Michael Fitzpatrick’s beautiful and reflective pieces as he performed within the dramatic and historic venue. The event culminated with a panel discussion chaired by Nick Robins, UNEP’s Co-Director, Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System.  Wanjira Mathai, Chair of the Green Belt Movement, Aisha Karanja, Executive Director of the Green Belt Movement and Kumi Naidoo all took part in an informal and informative discussion and gave their insights to questions provided by the audience.

Guests arrived at 6:30pm for a drinks and canapés reception in which representatives in the conservation, human rights, political, academic, and journalism sectors came together to meet and share their own experiences. The beautiful backdrop of the 17th century Christopher Wren designed church in the heart of central London was a unique location for our audience to come together. St James Piccadilly’s commitment to welcoming a diverse congregation and visitors as well as its on-going commitment to supporting human rights made the venue an ideal place to discuss the life and legacy of Wangari Maathai.

Kumi delivered an impassioned and humorous speech but communicated a very serious message calling for courage and collective action against climate change. The light tone of his address turned to reflection on Wangari Maathai’s ardent fight against injustice, “Wangari showed courage daring to make the connection between the simple, but honourable act of planting trees and improving the environment. And in improving women’s rights and position in society, not only in Kenya, but as a whole.” And quoting Professor Maathai herself on how, “our political systems today, killed creativity, nurtured corruption and produced people that were afraid of their leaders,” Kumi drew parallels with political leaders finding ever more secluded places to discuss world issues, referring to the recent G7 summit, away from civil thought and opinion.

Response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive with many guests commenting on their renewed sense of commitment to their own acts of courage and desire to see change

The keynote speech was sandwiched by two performances from Michael Fitzpatrick. It was a great honour to hear Michael play in an intimate setting; a man that has performed for Government leaders, royalty and religious figures. Kumi’s call to action against grave climate injustices and Michael’s melodious performances were in some ways starkly contrasting, yet both yielded the complete captivation of every mind along every pew.

The evening finale was a panel discussion, which tied together Kumi’s speech about courage to the courage shown by Wangari herself. UNEP’s Nick Robins asked Wangari’s daughter Wanjira, about her thoughts on her mother’s courage throughout her life and how she instilled this in others. Wanjira spoke of how Wangari “was in many ways a simple woman and at the same time very complex.” About how she analysed issues profoundly and systematically; the ability to bring “what seems so complex” to hone in on the “root cause” and simplify the problem. Key to motivating others was providing a vision of how large systemic issues can be overcome. The Green Belt Movement Executive Director Aisha Karanja told us how the community groups have retained this courage and are sustainable entities in their own right.

Wanjira Mathai, GBM Chair and Aisha Karanja Executive Director present a gift to Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director

Response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive with many guests commenting on their renewed sense of commitment to their own acts of courage and desire to see change. Guests coming from sectors outside of conservation and human rights commented on how accessible Kumi, Wanjira, Aisha, and Nick’s words were and how much it resonated with their own interest in identifying how they could become activists in their own right.

Professor Maathai’s work continues through the Green Belt Movement, a truly sustainable legacy.

Wanjira Mathai, Chair of the Green Belt Movement makes her remarks Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International gives his keynote address
The venue, St James Church Piccadilly
Cellist Michael Fitzpatrick treats the audience with his beautiful and reflective pieces

Originally posted here.


Richmond upon Thames Within a Truly Global Issue

Climate Change is firmly embedded in the list of issues facing our planet in the 21st Century. A defining issue of our time. A quick detail however – the term ‘climate change’ refers to any fluctuation in climate, whether as a result of human or natural causes and has been going on for a while – scales I struggle comprehending. Humans are a mere second on the clock face of the Earth’s history – climate change has happened for hours and hours. Natural factors include the changes in the Earth’s orbit, tilt of the Earth’s axis, volcanism and solar activity to name a few exciting ones. However, there is strong agreement in the scientific community that natural factors alone can not account for what is happening to our climate at the moment. A lot is changing very quickly.

A few stats…

Atmospheric carbon dioxide currently rests just below the looming threshold of 400 parts per million at 398.5 ppm, measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. In 1960, this was just below 320 ppm.

Sea level is set to rise by a third of a metre by the end of the century, currently rising at 3.17 mm per year. The first official instance of forced migration due to sea level rise is reported to have been in 2009, the Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea.

The global average temperature has already risen by 0.8°C. 2°C is considered to be the temperature threshold at which the global environment will suffer irreversible damage. This threshold is predicted to be surpassed by the end of this century, and if we carry on blowing our carbon budget at the current rates, the threshold could be reached within just two to three decades. We are changing our ways and learning a lot, so this fairly unlikely, but our efforts are not yet adequate so far. Another little point – the observed ‘hiatus’ or pause in the increasing global temperature was the result of insufficient measuring at the Poles. The MET Office have now found that when the rapid Arctic warming is factored in, the world on average has continued to get warmer.

The Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change

The 2013 Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated human emissions are a direct cause of global warming, which causes the changes in the global climate. It is important to note that whilst confusingly interrelated, climate change, the greenhouse effect and global warming are not all the same; the phenomena of ‘global warming’ is a result of the changes in composition of ‘greenhouse gases,’ which actually act like a blanket, rather than a greenhouse, but the name has stuck. And just to clarify climate change can be caused by many different things – at the moment it is the ‘blanket gasses’ that make the world warmer i.e. Global Warming. This is not used so much now as although the average global temperature is warming, in some specific regions, temperatures are likely to fall. Confusing, but it does make sense.

The responsibility for dealing with this blanket, rests uncomfortably on the shoulders of every human on the planet, be they world leaders, or CEOs of the top FTSE-100, or Ban Ki-Moon, or Ben van Beurden, or any and every individual living in Richmond upon Thames. The future may not be as uncomfortable as it is often framed. A world of sustainable living will probably be a lot cleaner, brighter and healthier. Humans finest hours are often in adversity – a lot of people are doing great things, go be great.

How does Richmond upon Thames fit into the global issue of climate change?

In early 2008, Richmond upon Thames Council signed the 2006 Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change. Later that year the council adopted the Climate Change Strategy. In short, this provides an approach to understand energy use and greenhouse emitters within Richmond as well as the impact that climate change is having on the borough now and in the future. The council expresses its commitment to leading by example, as should be expected, and wishes to have its green credentials aspired to.

The council is targeting energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. Priority is given to low carbon projects and pay back given to projects that are successful in encouraging ‘green’ behaviour.

The council offers free or discounted loft and cavity wall insulation. The cost of parking is now related to CO2 emissions and a ‘Go Green’ online service has been launched in order to educate residents, business and schools on how they can make their efforts count.

The Schools Environment Forum has been setup to engage children in climate change. Efforts are being made to support businesses and schools to encourage their employees and pupils to travel smarter with the Green Travel Plan. To find out more visit the Go Green Richmond website.

International Panel for Climate Change (
NASA Global Climate Change (

Originally posted here.

A Delve into the Psychology of Climate Change

Why does Climate Change not feel dangerous?

You may be thinking that climate change does feel dangerous, but in reality, it is taking a long time to stir us into adequate action. We are beginning to make real strives forward and momentum is definitely building, but we have a long way to go before humanity can be deemed sustainable. Logically, when we think about it, many of us do realise that climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced. The question this article is trying to answer however, is whether climate change feels dangerous? This is a good time for a story.

A few years ago a mobile phone mast was granted planning permission to be installed on the side of a pub in Oxford. The pub was in a residential area, near a school. The surrounding area was inhabited by young liberal professionals. Within a few weeks the concerned locals had spurred into action with petitions and meetings and I’m sure you get the picture…some individuals adamant on stopping the installation van by lying across the road.

There are apparent similarities between this telephone mast silently emitting radiation and climate change; firstly the impacts are fairly uncertain and secondly, the effects are drawn out long into the future.The most significant difference may in fact be that scientific research on telephone masts has evidenced them to be relatively harmless – seventy thousand masts would be required to cause any real damage to our health. Unfortunately science does not say the same for our indulgence in fossil fuels. Despite the scientific consensus, climate change has in many ways failed to stir a significant emotional response. If does feel as though the tide is changing however – the worldwide climate protests in September, 2014 were an incredible statement of intent and togetherness. Naturally though, with anything on a global scale, changing the inertia takes a long time. The way we affect our climate is so multi-faceted – the problem is made of so many compounding problems – a true meta-problem.

Why do we not wake up to the threat?

One way of answering this question is looking at evolutionary research. Our evolutionary journey has equipped us with a toolkit for interpreting threat, which we use to counteract the danger we are faced with. However, climate change has undoubtedly poor characteristics to evoke a significant response.

As said before, climate change is a slow-moving process, incremental and on a scale that is hard to imagine. Investment is needed now for uncertain gains in the future – something I have said previously in the other articles, but this seems to have a large dampening effect on our threat radar. This problem is compounded by the typical ‘future’ framing of climate change. Politicians almost always frame the issue in the future. Not that climate change isn’t a problem for the future, but it is without doubt a problem for now too. We seem to be waiting for a big flashpoint, or the moment climate change really kicks in – climate change is incremental and for some around the world it really has kicked in. Whilst on politics, it seems a good time to ask a question…are the UK’s 2050 climate targets conveniently far away in the future, so we can go on extracting the last drops in the North Sea and then deal with climate change after?

As well as the framing of the problem, it is also hard to grasp the scale of it. There is a climatic zone called the coffee belt, which as expected produces the world’s coffee beans. Climate change is currently altering this climatic zone. Firstly, notice how framing the coffee belt issue as a problem occurring now can elicit a far more immediate emotional response. But moving on, it is extremely hard to predict exactly how this belt is being altered, but if this climatic zone shifts elsewhere the coffee industry may collapse. This is one example of many changes that we are noticing all over the world.

Why can’t international politics take the reins?

Negotiations are making slow, but definite progress. The solutions under debate and solutions that will be brought to the table in the future will undoubtedly require collective action, a shared responsibility, and a fair divvying up of emission allowances if we go forward with carbon trading. There is a concept of ‘ecological debt’ that the developed nations owe to the developing nations as they have gorged on fossil fuels, reaping the rewards, but have steered the Earth into this predicament. How the ‘ecological debt’ is repaid, only time and plenty more arguments will tell. Who is entitled to what and how will it be paid? A political minefield…I’m sure you get the picture. In addition, us humans are incredibly good at keeping track of debts and arrears – fairness is a big deal to us, but we are very prone to bias, which together is causing friction at the global climate talks.

The psychology behind climate change is incredibly layered?

The psychology behind climate change is incredibly layered and obstacles arise almost everywhere. An oddity that psychologists have identified about parents, a group that should logically care about this problem seem to take less notice. Our desire to protect against immediate threats increases when we have children and we seem to generally pay less attention to far off issues. Research points to individuals having a ‘finite pool of worry.’ Additionally, a way of life we associate with the comfort and the protection of our families and one we all typically aspire to is now classed as the menace. 

What can I do?

It is widely recognised that our actions thus far have not been adequate to mitigate some pretty big changes to our world, some argue even the the hopeful 2°C threshold is playing Russian Roulette – it will probably condemn Africa to desert for starters. There is definitely growing energy, which should be undoubtedly celebrated. Efforts are taking effect towards a low-carbon system. However, to tackle a problem on this scale requires a huge mobilisation of resource, innovation and most importantly activity. We naturally follow the jury of our peers and we need leaders to step up. This vacuum of leaders needs to be filled by all of us. The cogs are turning and we are on the path. Corporations, investors and political figureheads undeniably have very important roles, but teachers, children, you and me, have to take the reins. Our individual choices have ripples…we are sardines pushing against a runaway oil tanker – everyone has to push!

George Marshall’s ‘Don’t Even Think About It!’
Mike Burners-Lee & Duncan Clark‘s ‘A Burning Question.’