I pulled out the latest issue of Green Futures for a bit of light relief. It instantly lifted my mood as it reminded me just… how exciting sustainability issues can be.
"Tropical forests”, Andrew Mitchell of the Global Canopy Programme tells me, “constitute about 40% of the potential solution to climate change between now and 2030. And do you know how many out of the last 100 Green Futures briefings have been about forests?” Not precisely, no.“Well, I’ll tell you. Precisely none. And you claim to be a magazine about solutions…”
Ouch. He’s right of course. So why so little on forests – particularly when there’s so much debate around the fascinating, if complex, new financial mechanisms which could ensure their future? Perhaps because it’s always easier, at a superficial level, to get people excited about new things, rather than new ideas. A solar plane, a smarter meter, a window which generates power…the very stuff of GF Briefings.
Few of us, after all, live in rainforests. But that doesn’t make them any less interesting. As ‘Forest Futures’ [p26] makes clear, they are fast emerging as our last, best hope of curbing runaway climate change – and doing so at a profit,too. Which makes them very interesting indeed, in both senses of the word.
If forests are tomorrow’s green gold, today’s is still renewable energy. Even if you completely ignore climate change – or if you think the sceptics are right and it’s not really happening – the economic logic of renewables is still overwhelming, thanks to the looming ‘energy crunch’ and fears around security of supply. It’s a logic which seems to be impressing corporate America [‘Sunrise over the new frontier’, p18], and with an Administration onside, there’s every chance the States will pull ahead.
Staying ahead, of course, means being smart, being innovative. Which, let’s face it, can feel like an overused word these days. So I’m grateful to Chris Sherwin, head of Forum’s Innovation Team, for translating it into English. “Innovation”, he says, “just means new ideas
that work.” Suddenly, it’s a lot more straightforward. It’s also the title of one of two special supplements which you’ll find included with this edition (making it, incidentally, our largest ever issue). New ideas that work brings together some of the brightest young sparks in
British design, who are literally reshaping how we see some classic green dilemmas. Imagine a beautiful virtual tree on your wall, whose green leaves shimmer with health when you save power, but wilt if you waste it. How’s that for making energy efficiency interesting?
And just as we need workable new ideas to save forests in Brazil or save energy in Britain, so we need them too to ensure the basic essentials of daily life – like clean water, or decent shelter. That’s a recurring theme in the second of this issue’s supplements, the latest in our international series, which focuses on South Africa. (It’s being distributed there with every copy of the Financial Mail.)
Its title, Ubuntu!, sums up another ‘shining truth’ of sustainable development: it’s something we can only achieve together, not alone. ‘Ubuntu’ is an ancient word present in many southern African languages, whose meaning has been captured by Archbishop
Desmond Tutu. “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas [in reality] we are connected and what each of us does affects the whole world,” he says. “When we do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
Today we call it social capital. It’s an old idea, but it still works.