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Carbon Literacy ‘Rallying Call’ to Academics

September 2016 by Phil Korbel

The Carbon Literacy Project, in the shape of its co-Director Phi Korbel, was privileged to be invited to address a stakeholder meeting of the Tyndall Centre Assembly in Manchester yesterday. The brief was to provoke the audience on the subject of ‘Post Paris’ and where the COP21 agreement leave us now. Phil’s address seemed to go down well, with the acclaimed climate scientist Prof Kevin Anderson tweeting that

@philkorbel delivers a rallying call to arms of those judging climate change a serious issue but remain silent & sometimes aloof #postparis

Manchester Tyndall Director Prof Alice Larkin said

Does success in Paris demotivate? #postparis Phil Korbel You in the Hope or Doom camp?

and her colleague Dr Carly McLachlan said

#postparis academics have to ‘get stuck in’ to save the planet says Phil Korbel

Hillbreak’s Jon Lovell thought

Q posed by @philkorbel: are we (in this room) doomsayers or hope-givers? On basis of Qs back to panel, my money’s on doom

Skanska’s Chris Hayes said

Great analogy from @philkorbel Carbon is like biting people, don’t do it, It hurts!

And Red Co-operative’s Charlie Baker was surprised:

blimey @philkorbel just quoted Marx. #change is in the air

We thought that you might like to read what Phil said to provoke all that comment.  The text below is what he took with him to the podium and bears some resemblance to what he said…  It is not intended to be disrespectful of the excellent work done by the Tyndall team or other climate academics, merely suggesting that the less vocal among them pump up the volume.

“Thank you Tyndall Centre for inviting me here

These amazing surroundings – deeply relevant – built from the proceeds of my fair city starting the Industrial Revolution – Nice one Manchester.

And this group – the crème de la crème of the climate research establishment and many of my Manchester climate colleagues in all your many fields.  I was wondering what the collective noun for this group might be –  a Doom of climate people or maybe a Hope…  More of which in a second.

This city will be the world’s first Carbon Literate City –  a place where everyone has been given the chance to devise their own action on climate – and to be supported to do that – wherever they live, work or study. 

That’s what The Carbon Literacy Project is doing with a huge range of partners…

Before you ask – this is what Carbon Literacy is defined as

“An awareness of the carbon costs and impacts of everyday activities and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis.”

There’s loads to say about that but there isn’t time – other than the fact that it’s based around a day’s-worth of relevant action-based learning customised for your workplace, school, university or community.

As examples of some of the stuff coming up…

  • The first Carbon Literate Organisations awards will be on the set of a well known TV soap at the end of November,
  • Employers can find out how the big companies such as those at Media City have delivered Carbon Literacy, at the BBC on October 25th.
  • On 14th November members of faith communities across the city region will gather for a day in Manchester Cathedral to start their Carbon Literacy project focussed their buildings.

Ask me for details of any of these and more later…

We were at COP21, invited as part of  ICLEI’s Transformative Action Programme to tell the world about our work. 

Thanks to the Low Carbon Hub, Manchester Metropolitan University and Westford Mill for sponsoring us to go there, and to Tony Lloyd for joining us to represent Manchester at the awards.

We had hoped to meet similar projects, but after 11 days and nights in Paris we still couldn’t find any.  The project remains unique.

Paris was hopeful – even an aspiration of 1.5 degrees has to be hopeful –

and the Chinese, the Chinese, the Chinese [!} – their participation and action has knocked the legs out from under every old reactionary who used to use them as an excuse for their own inaction.

But here’s a provocation – does good news like that from Paris actually de-motivate individuals and organisations to get involved?

‘It’s OK, there’s that historical agreement- the politicians will sort it out, big business will sort it out,  the hippies will to sort it out,   … the scientists will sort it out for us’

And hot on the heels of Paris we get Brexit – two fingers to the very notion of international collaboration – and a marked correlation between areas that voted for Brexit and the denial of man-made climate change.  Will climate denial experience a resurgence on a par with racism…?  Discuss.

And to compound the bad news – the Goddard Institute tell us that the 1.5 degrees target is receding in the rear view mirror…

As we talk daily to the huge range of would-be Carbon Literacy partners –

yes – the subject is increasingly mainstream but the connection between the message and the action required is still hopelessly inadequate

So where does that leave you – do you belong to the  ‘Doom’, or ‘Hope’, of climate people?  And what I’m about to say may not apply to you but…

Our ask is that you drop your facade of professional disinterest and get stuck in.  Challenge every piece of false balance and ignorance you see or hear.  Use your authority to directly propel  action in those around you. 

The theme of your assembly is Time – there simply isn’t time for the trickle-down theory of research to work – you cannot wait for the revolutionary application of your findings to slash the planet’s carbon footprint. 

Paris has given us no more time to act – but perhaps more permission to do so…

Be vocal, be active.  It’s not enough to write a paper – you have to wave it in people’s faces…  and get them to act on it.

There are already great examples of academics who do this – and if you don’t already do this, I’m sure that you have the motivation to emulate them,

but I’d ask your institutions to encourage and empower you to do this, and more… You’re not like other academics – you’ve got a planet to save. 

Do it and we’ll be right there alongside you.

Let me finish with a quote from a major thinker and occasional Mancunian

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
Karl Marx, inscribed upon his grave               Thank you…”


(Phil would like to thank his colleagues Dave, Virginia and Parisa for priceless contributions to this speech.)

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