Note: This piece was written in July 7, and left unfinished until yesterday.
In case there are Mancunians reading this entry, you must have aware that there is a festival going on in the city – Manchester International Festival, of which further info can be found here . I grabbed its finely-designed booklet months ago, and was attracted to this particular event : The Manchester Report, instead of a bunch other stage performances. Let me remind you – I have had enough visual entertainment that I don’t think I can watch any films as intensive as during the earlier phase of my holiday.
I did not imagine that the event – the conference if I were to be precise, was of that scale. Instead of a small conference-like discussion session, I found myself drowning in fantastic ideas on how to fight climate change (now you know why I was so excited about this one), with experts coming from other countries – the US and some other European countries (and don’t start babbling about the carbon footprint of bringing these people to Manchester).
Well, after quite a long break from using my brain to think on scientific stuff, I was glad I spent my two days in the Town Hall. The event was a collaboration between MIF and Guardian newspaper, each presenter was given 15 minutes to present her idea and another fifteen minutes were given to the panel – whose backgrounds are equally interesting too, you can check them out here – and the panel would ask questions regarding the idea presented.
Passion and Love
The presenters, mostly scientists working in industry and also academia, alongside activists with parallel alternatives to contribute towards both remedying the current situation as well as providing route for better and sustainable future, were indeed marvellous. Honestly, I am amazed by the passion these people have on what they are doing. Some are indeed standing for ideas that have never been tested, some are tirelessly lobbying for funds for their projects, putting enormous effort, believing that theirs, along with others’, can be a solution for the problem we have in hand. I don’t know really what is their motivation. Money may be one thing – but if you do love what you are doing, and know that your brainchild can contribute towards building a better world, I believe that is big enough a push. Even if you have failed for six years selling your ideas (like one of them), even it seems rather unworldly – after all, failures love to show up en-route to success.
And here is what I think: passionate people, regardless of the fields they are in, and inspirational, and the passion is contagious, at least to me. I don’t watch Animal Planet much, but I love seeing the passion of the late Steve Irwin – recall how he described how ‘ beautiful’ a snake he was holding (though I could not really find anything beautiful about that reptile) or how excited he was explaining about a crocodile to the audience – I think that made him a success, his love in what he did.
I was watching BBC documentary on Science and Islam, when I was struck by the phrase used by the narrator to describe the al-Ma’mun, the Abbasid Caliph who started the translation movement – whose ‘insatiable quest for knowledge’ made possible many of the technologies we are taking for granted and using today. I do feel that we somehow have lost that – at least I do.
The eagerness for knowledge does not seem to be a common phenomenon here among the students sent abroad, at least those around me. Whether it is the essential religious knowledge delivered by scholars, or more academic courses, they do not sound very appealing, and have never been promoted widely in the community . Well, money can be one reason (everything costs you money), but then, is not it an investment? Check all financial management advice and you will find that investing in yourself is the most profitable thing to do. The greed and eagerness for knowledge, just the way the Prophet s.a.w described it (Muslims should grab knowledge wherever they find them), which should have been the drive, is not there.
Many of the scholars during the Medieval era were not only an expert in one area, instead they had the mastery in many different fields. I could not remember who exactly suggested this, but that person said it is good that we have one interest to be developed properly outside our core area of studies/work. I do believe that is a good tips, and being in the UK opens up a lot of opportunities to do so.
The Essential Triangle
I do believe that moving towards more sustainable needs more than just the right technology. It is a triangle of technology, policy and individual (or personal) effort too. Unfortunately, the barrier, as explained by one of the speakers, are not so much of technology. It is the society, it is the people who are reluctant to accept changes. And one effort to tackle this, was suggested by Rosemary Randall, who set up a group called Carbon Conversation in Cambridge. This group is not aimed to tackle just the awareness, but to touch people’s emotions regarding global warming, and do something about it. Here’s how Guardian described this idea:
One of the most quietly inspiring presentations came from Rosemary Randall, a Cambridge psychotherapist who had been puzzled by the ability of people at the same time to acknowledge the threat of climate change and in no way change their high carbon lifestyle. Randall designed a series of “carbon conversations” in which she encourages people to explore their attitude to consumption, identity and status. People who have been on her course of six meetings typically reduce their emissions by a tonne immediately and then plan to cut in half within two to five years.
I love this idea very much – because there is a fact known to every one of us – awareness does not necessarily breed action. It is more than just technology, it is more than just policy. It is more than just knowing and acknowledging the problem. Most know (tahu) that climate change is here, but not everyone wants (mahu) to make an action, and within the subset of those who know and want, there are a few who really have the ability (mampu) to do so. And the reason I love this idea very much is because it addresses the fact that most of us are not concern with : changes aren’t about the ‘dry’ things like policy and science – the intellect, but also the more mysterious and complex human emotion and this effort is set out to touch that forgotten bits in order to fight climate change.
To watch Randall presenting her the summary of her effort, you can proceed here.
The Difficult Road Ahead
One speaker, whose name I totally forgot, mentioned about change, and this is, the fight against climate change – and no matter how difficult and hard it is and seems to be, is more or less the same path walked by those before us – those fighting against slavery, women’s right, for equality – hence it is just a matter of time, just like the cliché we love to hear – sunnah orang berjuang sentiasa ditentang, it is true in this case too. The resistance towards change is there and will always be there.
Jonathon Porritt in his book mentioned about the typical mindset of environmental groups and activists when it comes to persuading the mass about global warming and the actions that should be taken. He pointed out that the problem with the way this problem is presented to the general public – by instilling the fear of what will happen if we do not do our part; trying to put the fear as a motivation for change. Why not all of us, who called themselves reformers or agents of change try to influence people into taking action by giving a clear picture of the kind of quality life we are going to have if we make all the changes required, highlighting the positive sides of it ?
After all, he said, quoting Schellenberger and Norhous, the speech by Martin Luther King, ‘I Have a Dream’ is not going to be that famous if it was not positioned to be that positive:
Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an ‘I Have a Nightmare’ speech instead. In the absence of a bold vision and a reconsideration of the problem, environmental leaders are effectively giving the ‘I Have a Nightmare’ speech, not just in our interviews but also in the way we make our proposals. The world’s most effective leaders are not issue identified, but rather vision and value identified. These leaders distinguished themselves by inspiring hope against fear, love against justice and power against powerlessness. A positive transformation doesn’t just inspire, it also creates the cognitive space for assumptions to be challenged and new ideas to surface.
This concept is very much applicable to our approach in reforming the society in general. Admit it, none of us probably changed our lifestyle just because we watch ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ . How many percent of us quit smoking for fear of the health effect, regardless of how many posters with horrendous pictures we have come across. How many of us started recycling right after we saw the poster depicting a woman and her child sitting on a bench with a mountain of rubbish and waste behind them? I would not even control my diet if it is just for the fear of getting fat (well, who cares?) if it is not for the promise of fitness and energy.
One is Powerful Enough
It is amazing indeed what one person with determination can do. Environmental problems affect so many lives more than what we imagine, and surely the solutions to these problems ease the lives of many unfortunate souls. Trust me when I say that global warming i.e. Climate change affects the poor, marginalised people more than the wealthy, though ironically it is the effluent of the affluent that contributes to the problem.
Take the idea of BioChar and efficient cooking stove presented in the conference:
Peter Scott made the case for simple, super-efficient cooking stoves. Burning wood (and other biomass) for cooking, largely in the developing world, was responsible for 10-20% of global emissions he told the panel. His stoves could cut the annual CO2 emissions of a household by 1-3 tonnes. The only downside, he noted ruefully, was that a local manufacturer in Malawi had been so successful that he had splashed out on a fleet of SUVs. “I haven’t worked out the CO2 implications of that yet.”
A simple but efficient “rocket” stove can be produced for as little as £4 ($7) and can save the equivalent of 1–3 tonnes of CO2 per year. This makes it one of the least expensive ways to tackle global warming, even before you consider the social benefits.
Biochar is made largely of carbon, which the crops or trees previously sucked out of the air in the form of CO2. Unlike crop wastes and wood, it’s an extremely stable substance, which if mixed into soil will safely lock up its carbon content for hundreds or even thousands of years – a biological form of carbon capture and storage.
Biochar advocate Laurens Rademakers arrived in Manchester directly from Cameroon, where his experiments have demonstrated quite how effectively biochar can increase crop yields. In his photos, wheat grown with biochar-enriched soils is almost twice as tall as the same wheat grown in the adjacent plot without biochar.
These sounds like simple ideas, but they did make lives less torturous for some of us. And offering solutions to these problems mean that you are easing the lives of thousands of people, at the same time saving the earth. Who said that environmental issues are just about the environment. Yes, we may not be holding on to the same philosophy as the ingenious people, that nature and environment are inseparable parts of ourselves i.e. not a different entity standing by itself, but there is an inevitable economic loss due to the degradation of environment which will affect us eventually. People do get poorer because of climate change and people do get ill due to the warming of the earth. Hence when I talk about environmental issues, I am not being just a nerdy tree-hugger but I am also discussing about people.
I have to say that those two days were well-spent hours. And in those two days I was injected, again, with the spirit that is not contradicting with what Einstein said earlier :
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
And the conclusion?
Make your life worthwhile.
You can make the change you want to see in the world.