“Don’t Even Think About It” – Questions

Our next meeting is this Thursday (2nd March) to discuss “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change” by George Marshall. In order to whet your appetite, or in case you can’t make it to the meeting, these are a few of the questions we will discuss:

  1. What do climate change skeptics and climate change campaigners have in common?
  2. Daniel Kahneman (respected psychologist and the author of our last book) said that he is “thoroughly pessimistic about climate change” – discuss
  3. Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger about climate change? What was the result?
  4. Do you think that labelling Carbon Dioxide as a pollutant is helpful in aiding people’s understanding of the impact of the gas?
  5. Have you watched Leonadaro DiCaprio’s films ‘The 11th Hour’ or ‘Before the Flood’? Do you think that apocalyptic imagery is helpful in getting the message of climate change across to the average person?
  6. Do you think that Marshall is right to dismiss the optimism of groups like ‘Sustainia‘ so readily?
  7. International agreements on climate change would be more effective if they focused on the extraction of fossil fuels rather than GHG emissions (the subject of ‘The Burning Question’ by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark) – discuss
  8. Were you surprised that Marshall reports that people with children are on average less concerned about climate change than people without children?
  9. Have you ever read a book about climate change on an aeroplane?! – Why is there such a large gap between what we know about the subject and what we do?
  10. Do you agree that the climate change movement could learn useful lessons on communication and conviction from religious groups?

Sustainable Energy – Newcastle Meeting Discussion (Jan 2016)

Hot Air ImageGreen Thinkers Newcastle convened for the first meeting of 2016 in a new venue, and with some new members attending. The meeting was chaired by Marek who led an engaging and fascinating discussion exploring some key questions prompted by the text (Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air). The overriding view expressed was that the book opened up a wide range of topics and points for discussion in this vitally important area of future environmental planning. Whilst it was accepted that the analysis and data used in the book had perhaps dated somewhat, this did not detract from the wealth of detail it shone on the opportunities and challenges of developing sustainable energy solutions for the future.

In discussing the book it was particularly appreciated just how complex the issues surrounding sustainable energy are, and the significant point of importance of the need for carefully planned mix of solutions, with no one energy type able to provide all or enough of our needs moving forward. At the same time, it impressed upon the group the degree to which many sustainable energy solutions impact in terms of available land, and competing land uses. The specific challenges of space per head of energy consumption was well illustrated by the exercise the group completed using maps from the book exploring  the sheer scale of the sustainable energy footprint on the UK land surface.

A point that raised a good degree of discussion was that whilst the book may have some flaws in areas it perhaps does not cover in detail, or excludes, or where technical progress since it’s publication has moved the debate on, on the whole the significance and importance of developing a detailed plan of action – a task it was felt government should now be addressing – was something that was of value, and touched on what can be done to encourage government to drive policy forward.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of nuclear power came up, not least because the book (perhaps controversially) includes it within the sustainable energy models it explores, and the feeling of the group generally tended towards concern over nuclear as an option we might want to pursue. This was however measured against a clear understanding that there are significant energy security risks (and possible ethical issues) with some elements of sustainable energy provisions from non-UK sources for UK consumption.

The group felt ultimately that the meeting had been a very interesting exploration of some of the key ideas, but that this is such a significant area that perhaps could be explored in more detail at future sessions. Certainly everyone felt that a huge amount of detail had been raised in a very positive and interesting meeting.

Sustainable Cities – Newcastle Meeting Discussion (May 2015)

Green Thinkers met for the second discussion of 2015 at a new venue of Newcastle’s Jazz Cafe. Once again, the group of 10 got their teeth well into the topic.

The meeting opened with initial comments on the theme from members, with including recalling that Newcastle was voted the UK’s most sustainable city two years in a row – a crown that has now been taken by Bristol. Stress was placed on the role of positive leadership to drive such change, and that the wider public must be engaged in wanting the change delivered. Conversely, concern was expressed with the perceived lack of sustainable thinking in the recent development of councils local plans, and that it was essentially a developer-led process.

It was acknowledged that sustainable cities is a broad subject, many different terms are in use which have different implications (eg smart cities, eco cities, data cities). It was also thought that some the ideas discussed in the texts would be difficult to “retrofit” to older city without slash and burn development

After the opening, the discussion began to focus in on some key areas, the first question was: ‘are cities, in themselves, good or bad for local and global sustainability?’. There was a strong feeling that in demonstrating an economy of scale of provision, cities were a more efficient way to plan and deliver services, and in particular services which can contribute to a more environmentally sustainable outcome, such as mass transit and energy share solutions. Both in cost and practicality terms, it was felt that there needs to be a certain density present for infrastructure to be viable.

We then turned to how to define sustainability, and to illustrate this, what factor more than any other was relevant in judging the merits of a city’s sustainability. This raised a range of views including:

  • energy efficiency
  • the level of happiness of residents
  • access to good quality green space
  • the need for basic economic means – employment within city which is sustainable economically

An interesting discussion of the actual factors which Newcastle was scored against when winning the sustainable city award put some concrete detail onto the difficult process of pinning down how sustainability can be measured and valued, as well as exploring some of the tools which a sustainable city may be able to deploy.

The question was then asked: ‘does technology assist in making cities more or less sustainable?‘. At this stage, there was some concern expressed as to whether the “smart city” approach has inherent energy intensity risks which the city may struggle to overcome, meaning that whilst the city in and of itself may become more sustainable, it’s wider impacts (city hinterland and beyond) may be detracting from more wider sustainable targets. On the other hand, emerging technologies that make using a city more sustainable were also considered including: oyster card style public transport payment systems; provision of real-time information to allow planning of use of public transport; benefits of home-working arrangements; intelligent adaptive traffic flow management systems; and opportunities for high efficiency traffic movement from driverless route optimised vehicles.

The meeting closed with agreement that the discussion had only scratched the surface of this wide-ranging and highly interesting topic. Members felt that a return to this topic at a later stage would be beneficial at a future meeting. Unlike previous Green Thinkers meetings, there was a strong sense that the discussion was one which could be rooted in very local, and therefore, experiential concerns which brought an angle of interest and engagement to the discussion that stressed how vital this area can be as we move forward.

by Richard Clarke

Sustainable Cities: 21st May 2015

I am excited about our next Green-Thinkers discussion on 21st May 2015: Sustainable Cities (see booking details below*). It is a topic that directly affects us all in our day to day lives – whether that is in Sunderland, Newcastle or elsewhere.

In the UK most cities have recently put forward transformational housing development plans to meet projected population growth targets, but do you feel that these plans incorporated a spacial vision for green infrastructure, nature, and health and wellbeing?

We will be asking questions such as:

  • What makes a city sustainable?
  • Does the green-belt as it is support, or hinder, sustainable cities?
  • Which city would you most want to live in and why?

Continue reading

How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place? (Green Thinkers – 13th Nov 2014)

How to Spend...This month we are going all out to avoid confirmation bias, and reading the newly released 2nd edition of “How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place” by Bjorn Lomborg. No doubt a worthy question to ask, but will you agree with Lomborg’s analysis? If not, come and tell us how you would spend the cash. All opinions welcome.

You can purchase the kindle edition for £3.28, or paperback from £8.99 on Amazon. The seller is the Copenhagen Consensus Center, USA.

Join us at on 13th November 2014 at the fantastic Bridge Hotel, Newcastle.

Entry to our meeting will be £5, or £3 concessions, and include chips and sandwiches. Food from 6.30pm, and discussion from 7pm.

Feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who might be interested in joining our discussion.

Email marek@green-thinkers.org to book a place.

‘Prosperity without Growth’ by Tim Jackson – Bookclub debate on 6th June 2013

Prosperity without Growth

Green-Thinkers is reading is the bold and provocative ‘Prosperity without Growth‘ by Tim Jackson this spring.

You are invited to our second bookclub that will take place at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1RQ on 6th June 2013 at 6.30pm. To book email marek@green-thinkers.org by 29th May, and pay £5 on the door which includes room hire, chips and a sandwich (£3 for concessions).

This book will be an interesting contrast to our previous read by Mark Lynas. Jackson begins with the same premise that we are living beyond ecological limits but he goes on to say that ‘a world in which things simply go on (growing) as usual is inconceivable’ and that to achieve necessary carbon reduction targets the carbon content of each dollar has to be 130 times lower by 2050 than the average today. He also argues that beyond a certain point continued economic growth doesn’t advance human happiness, and that we are locked into an ‘iron cage’ of consumerism that is hell-bent on disaster. Later in the book he to proposes various ideas for what more sustainable economic structures might look like.

Do you agree with Jackson that the current economic structures are unsustainable and need reform? or do you side with George Osborne that the environment is a barrier to growth and there should be greater deregulation? What would a global economy look like that valued people as well as GDP? Would it be liberal or domineering? What does this mean to your community or organisation?

If these questions interest you then pick up a copy of Jackson’s book and join our next stimulating debate. As a taster you can watch Jackson’s TED Talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZsp_EdO2Xk

Prof Jackson was also at Newcastle in Nov 2011 to give public lecture on the book, so this is a great opportunity to follow up on that stimulating event. See Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) website here.

Please also forward this invitation onto anyone you know who may be interested.

Boundaries, Biodiversity, and Beer!

An account of the inaugural Green-Thinkers Bookclub

I thoroughly enjoyed our first Green-Thinkers debate and the little grey cells were certainly stimulated. Having selected a contemporary book ‘The God Species’ by Mark Lynas that challenges some ‘scared green cows’  there was plenty to discuss taking us past the official going home time, and then afterwards downstairs in the bar for a more informal chat. Perhaps it was the beer and chips that stimulated the thinking! Continue reading