“We are so heading for trouble in the short-term future,” argues Mike Berners-Lee, in this latest Pure Planet Sustainability Conversation. “But at the same time,” says the author, activist, business consultant and professor of sustainability at Lancaster University, “I’ve been more optimistic with some things than I have for years.”
In this discussion with Pure Planet co-founder, Steven Day, Mike talks about the carbon footprints of everything… there’s good news, ours are falling. We’re currently emitting about 13 tonnes of CO2 each a year on average, and we need to get down to around 5 tonnes within the decade.
He insists, though, just dealing with carbon emissions isn’t going to be enough to head off the colossal crisis we find ourselves in “not just with climate, but with biodiversity, pollution, diseases…”
Mike calls for a fundamental shift in our moral and ethical values, too.
We must treat each other with equal respect; we must respect all other species; and we must hold truth as a value, regardless of how convenient or inconvenient it is.
Although not party political, he argues that truth applies to all, especially our leaders. We need to be able to trust politicians as the environmental and societal problems we face are complex, he says.
“It’s increasingly easy for politicians to mislead or lie,” he says. “To counter that, we should absolutely scream against it.” He says politicians who deliberately mislead ought to be automatically catapulted out of politics and should be on their knees begging for forgiveness.
“We need this change right now.”
His optimism is grounded in the view that humans are waking up: “Before the virus hit, kids were taking to the streets… Extinction Rebellion… the style of conversation within business was really changing… the politicians were starting to feel as though they had more space… this intractable system was beginning to show that it might move.”
The virus, though very bad, has unlocked the situation, he points out. “It’s shown us we can change. We are ready to take the very big steps we need to take. Incredible change is possible. I hope we come out of lockdown in a good way, where everything is put through a deep green lens.”
He acknowledges living sustainably can be hard: “We all need to forgive ourselves, otherwise we’d beat ourselves up and do nothing. But equally humanity is living in a really harmful way.
“Now is the moment for all of us to live differently. Overall, the low carbon world can be better than the high carbon world,” he says. Mike calls on us to think differently about our diets, the energy we buy for our homes, the stuff we buy, and how we travel.
“It’s also about what we stand for; it matters just as much,” he says. “There are situations now where it’s important not to stay quiet.” Mike Berners-Lee’s latest book There’s No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years and his soon-to be-released, revised and updated, How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything are available in good bookshops.