Leap of Faith

There are tall trees just outside my window – Silver Birch, a Ginko, Copper Beech, Oak and the tallest of all is a Cypress. One of the trees has been the summer residence of a tawny owl family. There were three babies to begin with, but then came a sad story concerning lots of white fluff and feathers. Leaving two. By early summer the new guys were looking like this.

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At around this time flying and hunting lessons began in earnest. Owls are renowned for flying silently. This is not the case when young tawnys are learning to fly. The sessions started at about 3.00 a.m. in the morning with a vocal warm up ~  lots of screeching and calling to each other, a few low hoots.

Different World

I was regularly woken up in the early hours to the sound of these flying lessons and hunting expeditions. The main flight path took the apprentices from a tree quite near the bedroom window to a tree on the far side of the house. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of a youngster,  skimming the roof of our house, against the night sky.  By August the owls were flitting backwards and forwards over the roof of our house proficiently. Nevertheless, training sessions continued long into September.

You could say humans have constructed, within the real world, an entirely different world. It’s a world that is complex and ambitious and compelling and to an extent it has taken over. Like a golem. So we don’t live free in the sense that the owl does, defined by nature. Instead we have financial choices … career opportunities and shopping trips etc … dotted along the hunting path of the capitalist economy.

Litmus Test

Into this situation, comes climate change. And if ever there was a litmus test… a measure of how the capitalist system is doing in the greater scheme of things … it’s climate change. The existence of climate change, as Naomi Klein describes so eloquently in her new book, changes everything.

2015 marks 23 years since the first climate treaty was signed at the Rio Earth Summit. The UK was the first country to set statutory targets for climate emissions in 2008. Now, 66 countries have climate legislation in place. But these last 23 years also reveal a globalised system struggling with its own demons. We haven’t seen a strong enough shift away from fossil fuels or any serious commitment to leave it in the ground, and correspondingly we haven’t seen enough support for sustainable activity and solutions. In these circumstances, it’s hard NOT to criticise the corporates and financial institutions and politicians … or to have a go at the overly wealthy machines of climate denial.

Paris 2015

2015, is regarded amongst many as a watershed year for climate change, with a particular focus on the Climate Summit to be held in Paris in December. Some say that the signs point at last to an effective and workable new global climate agreement. But don’t hold your breath, because this will be a battle, no doubt about that, and the odds are not stacked well.

A strong agreement at the Paris climate summit could transform action on the ground in every country. All the people working hard in their communities and in business to develop climate solutions to scale really do deserve this support from decision makers. Right now many great projects are having to compete against each other for often just tiny investment opportunities … barely enough finance to pay wages,  research and design etc. A tiny drop in the ocean. Some wonderful initiatives that could have scaled up are folding and it’s a waste. But with an international agreement, market confidence could start to shift from coal and oil and gas to both emergent and established clean technologies, energy efficiency and a host of local and zero carbon solutions.

On the other hand, failure to agree a strong course of action at the Paris summit would be starting to look a lot like systemic failure. A UN report out this week makes it clear that climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on human society and nature. Time is running out for leaders to agree, plan and implement change in a way that is fundamental to the survival of the human race.

The way forward will depend upon a shift – a leap of faith – which is why I’m watching the owls learning to fly.




First published in BroadSheep Magazine


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