Saturday 26 June 2010

Zero Carbon to Copenhagen

I was in a state of despair about climate change. All the science said we needed an extremely rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to avoid it spiralling out of control in a runaway greenhouse effect. We have never made such a fundamental transition in society before.

Or have we? War! That is the key. America made its first tank seven months after Pearl Harbour. We can do the same again, only making wind turbines instead of weapons. Nothing stops us from making the transition except lack of political will.

The first edition of the Zero Carbon Britain report detailing how we could go zero carbon in 20 years was published by the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2007, and that year, at their members' weekend, I asked Zero Carbon Britain project director Paul Allen if we could do it quicker than 20 years. His reply - yes we could, but the public wouldn't accept it 'because climate change isn't as visible a threat as Hitler'.

So, how do we make it visible, and how do we get across the idea that we need a new world war, a war on climate change? Then I heard a report on the evacuation from Dunkirk on the radio - the flotilla of little ships which crossed the North Sea and picked up the British army from the > beaches of Belgium in the darkest days of the second world war, a war we eventually went on to win. It's the sort of inspiration we need (though it might not exactly enthuse peace campaigners, and, as the German Green MEP Sven Giegold said when I explained it to him "This will not go down well in Germany!").

So, the idea of the zero carbon caravan was born - groups of people would travel to the Copenhagen climate summit - our last chance to prevent runaway climate change - without using any fossil fuels, cycling on land, and sailing in a flotilla reminiscent of Dunkirk over the sea to Europe. Tall ships would bring people from all over the world, from America, Australia, New Zealand. Thousands of cyclists from all over Europe would converge on Copenhagen. On the way they would collect information on how to go zero carbon to present to the delegates at the climate summit. Worldwide media coverage would have the delegates trembling, millions of people the world over would be demanding they sign a treaty which would save the world from climate catastrophe ...

Well, we all know what happened. Copenhagen was a disaster. But I did make it there, (starting in Wales on August 14th, finishing in Copenhagen on December 5th) though not with the army of people I had imagined, and I didn't get nearly as much media coverage as I hoped for. But I did get on TV three times, and had a few radio interviews, and got in lots of local papers. And I visited some really interesting and inspiring examples of the things people can do to get closer to the > zero carbon living which is both possible and preferable. And I did manage to collect these examples together and put them on a couple of datasticks, one of which I presented to Ingrid Nestle, the German Green Party MPs' spokesperson on energy economics, and the other to Colin Challen, who was at the time an MP and chair of the All Party > Parliamentary Climate Change Group (sadly, he didn't stand at the last general election, because the constituency boundaries in Leeds were redrawn and they lost a constituency, and he lost out to Ed Balls in the Labour Party selection for the seat).

Lastly, I met a truly amazing person called Kim Nguyen, who made my > journey from Wales look insignificant, as he cycled all the way from Australia Not only that, he managed to organise rides all over the world just before the climate summit. And this year we are working together, organising rides all over the world, finishing with zero carbon concerts, to show both people and politicians that, not only is a zero carbon world possible, it's also much more fun - the people stopping it are those with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry, and it's time we took them on.

We're also working with 350 are campaigning for an > eventual carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm maximum) and 10:10 (who made The Age of Stupid, and are now campaigning to get people to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010), joining in the Global Work Party carrying out practical actions to cut carbon emissions by starting preparations for the zero carbon concert events, doing things like building bicycle generators. So, if anyone from Transition Norwich wants to join in, please get in touch by visiting And spread the word to everyone you know. Because maybe, just maybe, we can still rescue the world from runaway climate change, and it isn't too late after all.

Chris Keene

En route to Copenhagen: Klimahaus at night and with students, 6 November 2009.

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