Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory.  If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen.

To understand this incredible potential we first have to step back and understand the unique structure of this social change movement, which may rank among the most influential in history.  It is simplistic to characterise it as an alliance of grass roots organisations and activists pitched against a rich and well connected adversary. While that is part of the story, it is more accurately understood as an idea whose tentacles reach into every tier of government, the world’s largest companies and financial institutions, and throughout the academic and science communities.

Because of this, it is winning the battle from within: Its core arguments and ideas are clearly right; being endorsed by the world’s top science bodies and any significant organisation that has examined them.

Far from being at society’s margins it has the support, to various degrees, of virtually all governments, and many of the world’s most powerful political leaders, including the heads of state of the USA, China and other leading economies. It counts the CEO’s of many global companies and many of the world’s wealthiest people as active supporters – who between them direct hundreds of billions of dollars of capital every year towards practical climate action. And of course, this comes on top of one of the most global, best funded, broadly based and bottom up community campaigns we have ever seen.

That is the reality of the climate movement – it is massive, global, powerful, and on the right side of history.

So why, many ask, has it so far not succeeded in its objective of reducing CO2 emissions? Much has been written on this topic but most of it is wrong. It is simply an incredibly big job to turn on its head the global economy’s underpinning energy system. And so it has taken a while. Considering how long other great social movements took to have an impact – such as equality for women or the end of slavery and civil rights movements – then what’s surprising is not that the climate movement hasn’t yet succeeded. What’s surprising is how far its come and how deeply it has become embedded in such a short time.

And now is the moment when it’s greatest success might be about to be realised – and just in time.

We are at the most important moment in this movement’s history – in the midst of two simultaneous tipping points that create the opportunity, if we respond correctly, to win – eliminating net CO2 emissions from the economy and securing a stable climate, though still a changed one.

I have come to this conclusion after reflecting on a year when an avalanche of new knowledge and indicators made both tipping points clear. The first and perhaps the best understood is the rapid acceleration in climate impacts, reinforcing the view many hold that the scientific consensus on climate has badly underestimated the timing and scale of climate impacts. The melting of the Arctic Sea Ice, decades before expected, was the poster child of this but extreme weather and temperature records across the world, notably in the USA, suggested this Arctic melting is a symptom of accelerating system change.

It also became clear that this was literally just the “warm up” act – that we are currently heading for a global temperature increase of 4°C or more, double the agreed target.

In response came a series of increasingly dire warnings from conservative bodies like the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps most colourfully, the IMF chief and former conservative French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said that without strong action “future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”. The World Bank was similarly blunt about the economic consequences of our current path: “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

These and other reports laid out the evidence that the only option was transformational economic change because the alternative was simply unmanageable. Action was no longer a preferred outcome but an essential one. As the World Bank said “the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur”.  Even the IEA, historically a kind of advocate in chief for the fossil fuel industry, came on board, pointing out that a stable climate and economy requires the majority of the global reserves of fossil fuels to never be burnt.

It is an extraordinary turn around when key mainstream economic institutions lay out the case for dismantling what is arguably the world’s most powerful business sector.

Of particular note in all this, observing both the message and the messengers, is that what was predominantly an ecological question is now primarily an economic one. This is a profoundly important shift, as economic risk is something society’s elites take very seriously.  It also unleashes another major potential tipping point which we have seen signs of, but is not yet in full flight. When non-fossil fuel companies understand the broad economic risk posed by the lack of climate action, they will become genuine and strong advocates demanding climate action – in their own self-interest. This is one to watch carefully as it will see a major shift in the politics when it comes.

The second tipping point in 2012 was the clear evidence that a disruptive economic shift is already underway in the global energy market. There are two indicators of this, with the first being the much noted acceleration in the size of the renewable energy market with dramatic price reductions and the arrival of cost competitive solar and wind. It is hard to overstate the significance of this as it changes the game completely, as various recent reports have shown.

Rooftop solar for example has grown so fast it is now eroding the profitability of major utilities by taking away their high margin income – peak pricing – and reducing demand. This is already seeing major economic disruption to companies and national economic infrastructure as this report from UBS on developments in Europe shows, with major shutdowns of coal plants now inevitable.

Of equal importance, and partly triggered by these market shifts, is the awakening of the sleeping giant of carbon risk, with open discussion in mainstream financial circles of the increasing dangers in financial exposure to fossil fuels. This has been coming for several years because of the financial risk inherent in the carbon bubble. As Phil Preston and I argued in a paper in 2010 and I further elaborated in The Great Disruption, the contradiction between what the science says is essential and the growth assumptions made by the fossil fuel industry is so large it represents a systemic global financial risk. This has been well articulated and more deeply explored by groups like Carbon Tracker who have been taking the argument to the mainstream finance sector.

In 2012 this hit home, with significant economic and financial players like the IEA, HSBC and S&P talking about the concept of unburnable carbon and the financial risks in both investing in fossil fuels and in lending to coal, oil and gas projects. HSBC forecast a market value loss of 40 – 60% for oil and gas majors if the world acted to keep below 2 degrees. The IEA forecast the revenue loss in that scenario for the global coal industry would be  $1 trillion every year by 2035.

Combined, these two tipping points present the opportunity for the broad climate movement to achieve success, if they are understood and responded to appropriately by the activist, policy and business communities. But first they must be seen for what they are  – indications we are poised on the edge of a truly historic economic transformation – the end of fossil fuels and the building of a huge new industry sector.

  • To summarise:
  • - The science shows how we are not just failing to slow down climate change, but are in fact accelerating towards the cliff.
  • - In response, mainstream organisations focused on the global economy are becoming increasingly desperate in their calls for action, fearing the economic consequences if we don’t.  They are arguing that the only way the world can avoid the risk of breakdown is to transform the economy urgently and dramatically.
  • - Our capacity to do so is now real and practical, with the technologies required already being deployed at very large scale and at competitive cost. The size of the business opportunity now on offer is truly breathtaking.
  • - In response, the financial markets are waking up to the transformation logic – if the future is based in renewables and these are price competitive without subsidy, or soon will be, the transformation could sweep the economy relatively suddenly, even without further government leadership.
  • - This then puts in place an enormous and systemic financial risk – in particular investments in, or debt exposure to, the multi-trillion $ fossil fuel industry.
  • - This risk is steadily being increased by activist campaigns against fossil fuel projects (worsening each projects’ financial risk) and arguing for fossil fuel divestment (putting investors reputation in play as well).
  • - In response investors and lenders will reduce their exposure to fossil fuels and hedge their risk by shifting their money to high growth renewables.
  • - This will then reinforce and manifest the very trend they are hedging against.
  • - Thus it’s game on.

Is that it? Can we now sit back and expect the market deal with this?

Most definitely not.  It is probably true that the market would sort this out by itself if we had 60 years for it to do so. But we don’t. The science is clear that we have less than 20  - and this is where the opportunity for the climate movement emerges and why the choice of focus and strategy is now is so important. The task at hand is clear for policy makers, for business and investors as well as for the activist community.  It’s acceleration of existing momentum – to slow down fossil fuels and speed up clean energy. To make the 60 year process, a 20 year one.

It is now realistic to imagine removing the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy in less than 20 years.  Doing so is required if we are to have an 80% or greater likelihood of preventing the climate warming past 2 degrees C, a point past where the system could spin out of control.

What we are now hearing from major international economic institutions is that this is a binary choice. Either this happens or we head for social and economic breakdown. As the World Bank argues, the latter “must not be allowed to occur”.

Timing is the key shift the world needs to make in its thinking – this is no longer about the future, it’s about now. We don’t have 20 years to decide to act; we have 20 years to complete the task. If we follow the science, then in 20 years we must have removed the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy and replaced them.  It’s simple, it’s urgent and perhaps most importantly, it’s now achievable.

History gives us many examples of dramatic economic shifts – like the arrival of the computer chip and with it, the internet, the emergence of communications technologies and other facilitators of globalisation. We also have many examples of “whoops” moments – points when we realise after the event something was a very bad idea. Like tobacco, asbestos, lead in fuels and paint, ozone depleting CFCs and various other chemicals. Collectively, this tells us something very important. While each case is different, we are capable of transformational economic change and while it’s often disruptive and always fiercely resisted, we regularly do it.  This is much larger in scale but the same processes apply.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that this kind of economic transition is OK. That’s how markets works and while it will be challenging and require huge effort, it will work out. Yes, huge amounts of wealth will be lost and gained in the process, industries, countries and cities will face massive economic and practical restructuring challenges and many people will suffer in the process. But that’s how market shifts happen.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe this process and to explain why it’s the underpinning strength of capitalism, calling it:  ”A process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

But while we can be comfortable that this process will deliver the required outcome, it’s not going to be smooth or pleasant for many participants. It will rather be messy, highly controversial and see huge amounts of value and employment both destroyed and created as the economy restructures around the necessary reality of a post fossil fuel economy.  I’m neither relaxed about this nor naïve about the scale of the challenge.  I just accept that it’s now inevitable. I also know we can do it and that we simply have no choice.

Of course, the losers will fight all the way to the end, using every argument, manoeuvre and delay they can think of. We should expect nothing else of them and, realistically, most of us would do likewise faced with similar circumstances. But they will still lose.

I do not however think we should demonise the fossil fuel industry or the people involved in it. The job to remove this industry has to be done – the future of civilisation literally depends on it – but we can do this firmly and clearly without making it personal.  As I’ve said in recent speeches on this topic – with some humour but a serious message – “we have to remove the coal, oil and gas industries from the economy with love and compassion.” This is the tough love of responsible parenting – the kids don’t like it but it’s still the right thing to do.

So with some surprise, this is where we find ourselves. It still won’t happen without focused and determined effort, but for the first time, we can envisage victory in the decades long fight on climate change. The science is clear, the technology is ready, significant sections of the elite are on side and the financial momentum is with us.

And this time, the economics is playing on the same side as the environment. Just in time.

99 Responses to Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?
  1. Richard Fuller

    Go Paul!
    I’ve been leading my own little cheering section for your message on my website. We are having trouble with the entering-&-passing-through-dispair part.
    I’m delighted to see this post, even though it sounds suspiciously optimistic.
    Hope? Yes! Optimism? Well… Still, a suspicious optimism in the service of hope, I approve! I think you are right that this is the time to give it everything we’ve got. You’ve got even this old Quaker talking “war!”

  2. Ken Robinson

    This is a well written and balanced article lets have more.
    I am 79 and worry about the planet I am leaving behind.

  3. Ellen Heath

    So glad to hear from you again. I kept checking, and I was getting worried.

    This is a very hopeful perspective, and I embrace it. And FYI, I’m an investor in a startup, Bluenergy Solarwind. It’s been a struggle, but after the hurricane hit New York last fall, some Fortune 100 companies are getting interested in protecting against downed utilities. Fingers crossed, and glad you’re back. Loved your book.


  4. John Irvin

    I admire your persistent optimism Paul , & wish I shared it . You keep saying that we will succeed in avoiding ‘dangerous’ warming (>2deg) because we have no other choice & it must be avoided . You may be right – I just cant at present see the evidence for imminent dramatic action / changes , particularly here in Australia given the probable Govt changes approaching .

  5. Joseph Woodhouse

    I am convinced that nothing ever wins out over the mindless corporate drive for short term profit.

    Could this mindless destroyer of the habitability of our planet be turned on its head to restore rather than destroy the habitability of our planet?

    This would represent a human awakening of epic proportions.

  6. Winfried

    Thank you Paul for a well informed message of optimism. The sum of the efforts are paying off, lets just hope that the Australian government wakes up to the fact that today’s news about coal job losses are the best news Australia and the world could wish for, and that it is just the start. The idea of tipping points and exponential change is something most people have difficulty grasping.

  7. Tom Athanasiou

    Thx for this Paul. It is a clear statement of a position that I‘ve been hearing from some friends in the solar business. You’ve laid it out much more convincingly.

    That said, and while I think you are substantially correct, I don’t think you are there yet. The dynamics that you describe are, it seems to me, necessary but not sufficient.

    I wish I had an elegant term for what I believe you are missing, but I’m just going to have to go with an awkward one and call it “just transition support.” Basically, I think that the transition, as you describe it, will hurt so many people that blocking coalitions will form, and it will be substantially slowed.

    The question we need to ask is what the enabling conditions for maximizing the speed of the transition would be. In terms of a global social safety net, if you will. This would be true without your scenario, and will still be true, if you want to get to 20 years.

    Or so it seems to me, and I would love to heard your response.

    Still, and in any case, well done.

  8. Nathan Handley

    Thanks Paul for a very interesting read.

    About six months ago I saw you at a talk with Jorgen Randers, who was giving a lecture on his most recent book ‘2052 – A Global Forecast for the next 40 years’. To be honest I didn’t really want to attend the lecture, as I knew it would confirm the conclusions that I had been building over the last few years with regard to all things ‘climate’. And it did.

    I can appreciate what you are saying with regard to the movement whose tentacles are now reaching through all areas of society and governance. I can see it happening. I have tried to do my best in amongst my friends and family as I’m sure have many others.

    But I also agree with many of the comments before me; that the power of corporations who have interests in destructive industries such as fossil fuel, may do such a good job at slowing this process, even though it is shear insanity, that run away climate change is inevitable. The shady line of big business and government too, only reaffirms this.

    The other factor in my mind is how much guaranteed change is already wound up in the system, which won’t be revealed for years to come.

    Change in 20 years, although unprecedented in human history, needs to be faster.

    Still this is the most positive bit of news that I have heard in a long time, and I thank you for it.

  9. Janet Rice

    Thanks Paul. A great read. As this messy contested transition occurs I reckon critical things that society needs clarity about is which businesses are committed to the transition and which aren’t; and that the role of government is, with love and compassion, to regulate, legislate, and support the transition in every way it can – and provide the safety nets and the transitional structures and support for the people tossed up on the beach by the swirling maelstrom.

  10. Toni Scoble

    This is a great piece, Paul – one of your best. I think it’s because, as you said in your intro email, you had to pause, step back and make sense of what was happening over the last 12 months.

    It’s good also to hear you so hopeful.

  11. Andrew Watson

    Great to here your positive voice again. A great example of government helping the less advantaged in society can be seen in the work that Sustainable Living Tasmania is doing for the Tasmanian government in upgrades and education for Housing Tasmania tenants.
    Providing people with the ability to live in a low energy economy is vital, and Climate Change and Housing Minister Cassie O,Connor is to be congratulated for assisting those who struggle with increasing energy costs. It is happening, one light bulb at a time.

  12. Mik Aidt

    Thank you, Paul, for sharing this insight. If distributed and shared further, this is the kind of optimism which I believe has the potential of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    That’s great!

    Out of personal frustration over the situation with global warming, I started collecting a little ‘scrapbook’ of what I could find of good news:

    My own research into the matter (I’m a newbie who only opened my eyes to this topic a couple of months ago) has convinced me that the only way we can avoid a climate catastrophe is if we start with ourselves. One by one, family by family.
    Like Terry in Florida who’s made the 100-percent-renewables jump: living “Off the Grid”, completely independent of fossil fuels. She’s the real “carbon hero” of 2013, leading by example.

    • First step is awareness-raising: what’s going on. Clicktivism. Sharing.

    • Second step is action on the home front, and when you shop. Local and private activism. A goal should be to cut energy consumption with at least five percent every year.

    • The third step – political action to stop carbon emissions and swop over to clean energy – will then follow automatically – that is, if our clicktivism and activism is making it clear to everyone that we are a force to be reckoned with.

    So it is time to stop talking about it, get started with transforming our own lives, individually, investing time and money into it, and in that way become participants in a global and peaceful revolution for climate safety.

    Here are some more ideas, open for sharing and exchanging:

  13. Stuart Barry

    My summary, scary, exciting and optimistic, thanks Paul

  14. Graham Palmer

    Thanks Paul,
    Inspirational stuff! Like others, I believe this is the message of hope we have been looking for.

  15. Warwick Rowell

    Well done. I have been working hard for 25 years on getting people locally to reduce their footprint. See “The first 50% is easy” on my site. The next step is for the insurers and shareholders and super fund managers to assert the immense pressure they can bring to bear on the corporates. People are starting NOT to buy land off conventional subdivisions; Some go to the other end, and establish ecovillages.

  16. Kris

    Thanks Paul, thanks so much . Action combined with optimistic outlook that’s what we need to deal with the challenge …so glad there’s people like yourself to remind us.

  17. Roel Beekman

    Has somebody thought to send this article and its comments to Alan Jones in Sydney?

    Thanks for a very positive note in the whole debate.

  18. Sören Andersson

    Think you Paul,
    As always, a very good summary of the present situation, and a fairly optimistic one.
    I agree with you that there has been huge steps taken towards a better future, and as you say “the losers” are really using everything they have got to argue their point. One of the challenges right now is to combine a very harsh reality with all the new opportunities for business and development that are at hand – but this is also picking up speed….

    Keep up the good work! / Sören

  19. Simon

    Plenty of talk Paul but talk is cheap even from these institutions. I had thought that you we resigned to us hitting the wall and unless we have natural disasters hitting the US and China in a major way I still see business as usual. Anyway we shall see.

  20. Dominique

    A great article thank you, we know what we need to do we now just have to do it. We have to be able to imagine how to do it. Something we have been missing to date is an engaging and inspirational narrative to help us imagine a different future. Thank you for helping us glimpse this potential. Once we are down this path I wonder if we will feel empowered to leave a positive legacy in other areas?

  21. Leanne Hanvey

    Wonderful to hear from you again Paul. Such an uplifting and insightful article!

    I am involved in setting up community owned renewable energy in my local area and have read with interest the IEA reports on the rapid, growing investment in the renewable energy sector. It appears renewables and fossil fuel investments have almost changed places in the past five years with renewables greatly outpacing fossil fuel investments. Business is changing – and faster than we realise.

    Thanks again for giving us the bigger picture.

  22. Peter Valentine

    Thoughtful as ever, good summary of the situation. When the popular press presents this material we may have a better chance of an equitable transition, but if I was one of the vulnerable I might be in some despair about who would be working for my interests. There is no sign that the very people supposed to do that have the will or the wit to do so. Of course, as you have previously written about, this is a trigger for change and with good will and intelligence that could be change for the better in a meaningful way, and I don’t mean how we get our energy supplies. Keep up the good work.

  23. Helmut Lubbers

    Great optimism but little sense of realities.

    Remove fossil fuels from society and we’re back to the stone age, albeit less the abundance of nature of those past times but plus the enormous overpopulation of modern time.

    “The science is clear, the technology is ready, significant sections of the elite are on side and the financial momentum is with us.”
    That is nonsense in all three points.

    But it doesn’t really matter. It’s all part of BAU – which is unavoidable because our daily lives depend on it.

    The dramatic changes, i.e.scaling down, required to reduce our horrific overshoot of the earth’s carrying capacity, cannot conceivably happen in an ordered way. The people in power are still pushing for growth and population growth is a taboo, as if the world were flat and resources infinite.

    We’re stuck in modernity’s ghetto. Finally, resource scarcities will lead to civil unrest, wars and the collapse of modernity.

    No technology will be able to replenish depleted resource stocks, repair environmental damage or revive extinct species.

    Sorry Paul. Sell your illusions to others, not to me.

  24. John Saint-Smith

    Hi Paul,
    Like many others, I’m please to hear from you again. I was beginning to think you had been swallowed up by depression.
    Reviewing the evidence pointing towards a catastrophic collapse of most of the systems that sustain us within the next 50 years, you make a bold and very optimistic prediction based on the reduction in price of solar PV and wind power, due in part to a glut in PV panels, a situation that would be quickly reversed if there was a renewal of the kind of demand that would see the world powered by solar PV and wind turbines. Solar thermal with storage, which is the big hope for baseload renewable power, is still quite expensive compared with coal or gas. Expect a spirited price war. The second factor is the belated ‘discovery’ of global climate change by the mainstream media after cyclone Sandy and several other major weather events, alarming politicians with the prospect of a serious ecological crisis, even a ‘financial’ crisis, which you correctly identify as the only thing that Wall Street, and the man in the High street really understand or care about. Nothing like a down turn in the prospects for coal oil and gas stocks to make people pay attention. But are they really that concerned? A quiet weather year will allay their fears. Meanwhile China is still growing and still burning ever more coal – even American coal left over from the coal to gas substitution program has found its way to new markets in East Asia. The Koch Bros live again! Given the critical 20 year timetable for the completion of the removal of fossil fuels from most of the global economy in order to avoid >4 degrees of man-made warming, the process must begin in real earnest, at an average of 5% per year throughout the developed and developing world (read China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.) With their emissions currently rising at an average of 5 – 10% p/a expect no net reductions for ten years or more.The developed nations will have to do the heavy lifting, reducing their emissions by more than 10% per annum just to hold the line! Australia, with the highest per capita emissions of any comparable country, a sound economy, and some of the best renewable power prospects in the world, ought to be leading the way to total decarbonization, But by September Australia will have elected a Liberal Government dedicated to the overturning of all pro-environmental legislation passed by the present timid Labor Government, which was only elected because it promised not to have a carbon tax. The US is awash with nationalistic enthusiasm for the return of energy independence through the exploitation of ‘tight oil’, shale oil and fracked shale gas. Congress is still reluctant to declare CO2 a dangerous pollutant, let alone one which will almost certainly cause 4 degrees of man made warming and unimaginable disruption of our already tenuous food supply. When this is combined with global population heading towards 9 billion, severe degradation of soil fertility, water supply, including increased evaporation, melting of glaciers, sea level rise and ocean acidification, the prospects of dodging the bullet of serious disruption grow more tenuous with every passing year of inaction.
    My prediction is a little less sanguine. I think we will not stabilize emissions until 2030 at the earliest and they may fall to zero carbon, of necessity, somewhere beyond 2050 or 60, virtually locking in 4-5 degrees of climate change.

  25. John Collee

    Good stuff, Paul.
    My own current philosophy is roughly similar though a bit more fatalistic: “The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world”
    That’s a hard idea for all of us to encompass because every generation thinks the destruction of the known and familiar is necessarily a bad thing. Quite often they’re right. But sometimes they’re wholly or partially wrong. And life goes on anyway… Well, it has in the past, so fingers crossed.

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  27. jay

    “Economics is playing on the same side as the environment”…who would of thought. Thank you for keeping this stuff user friendly!!

  28. Rolf Wüstenhagen

    Thank you for this interesting piece of analysis. It is inspiring to think about what the climate puzzle looks like if we put some of the positive pieces together. Perhaps people in this forum might also enjoy watching our 6 min animated video on YouTube about the transition to renewable energies:

  29. Dakota Butterfield

    “Just in time…”

    Or not.

  30. Michelle McClintock

    Thanks Paul for what you write, for putting your energy and expertise into raising awareness about the issues, the consequences and the possibilities. I agree, we have the opportunity to come together as a global community and effect significant global change, without vilifying those in unsustainable industries, It’s time to just get on with the job of transformation that is at hand.

  31. Robin Wilson

    Let’s swap Climate Action Strategies

    WV350 Reversing Climate Change is working on the following.

    • Policy change

    - Transition planning for coal, oil, and gas – “Creative Destruction” doesn’t build allies. This is important in our coal and gas dependent state of West Virginia, USA.
    - Work to institute a carbon fee and dividend system. This would benefit most people as the rich would pay more and the majority middle and low-income energy users and consumers would benefit more from their per capita dividend.
    - Restore Democracy
    - Get big money out of elections & lobbying
    - Get big money out of our media
    - Win Elections
    - Move military spending and fossil fuel subsidies into climate saving expenditures

    • Education and Outreach

    - We need to be out proselytizing / winning hearts and minds for reversing climate change – Students and the general public are more open to hearing the message after the Derecho and Sandy Storms last year left people without power for days to weeks here in the Eastern USA.
    - We need to use all resources like The Energy Revolution YouTube linked in this blog. Plus
    personal action – people across the spectrum are attracted to renewable energy, saving money, and leaving a better world for future generations.

    • Building Models of the world we want

    - Frugality
    - Community over Consumption
    - Energy Efficient
    - Renewable energy
    - Using dividends from simple living. We are funding a young climate activist one day a week on the money we save by living simply – building our own house, living on land trust land, growing half of our own food, using passive solar heat, and creating a surplus of solar PV power.

  32. wendy Spencer

    Thank you, Paul, for your positive reflection on climate action to date.
    We all struggle with staying motivated amidst the challenges posed by climate change, and it is important to take stock and appreciate how far things have come.
    The transformations ahead are daunting and the enormity of these changes should never be underestimated, but there is every opportunity to create a safe climate future. And the time to act on these opportunities is now!

  33. Thomas Simon

    Paul, now you can add Pope Francis I to the list of influential voices calling attention to the moral imperative to address climate issues. I agree with you that the arguments now against us are sounding more and more hallow.

  34. Brian Harrisson

    Hi Paul,
    I earnestly hope that the two tipping points you refer to will continue driving the transformational logic that is taking place in the finance sector and that this will result in reduced support for investment in fossil fuels and more for high growth renewables as you outlined.

    How this will translate into removing coal, oil and gas from the economy in less than 20 years is another matter. The two elephants in the global warming room are USA and China. China is the largest polluter. It is a developing economy that aims to achieve western living standards and although it has extensive renewables projects it is doubtful whether it can achieve that aim with renewables. The USA is the second largest polluter and is about to become energy independent based of fossil fuels, its people are addicted to carbon fuels and the carbon lobby is powerful so a reliance on renewables is unlikely in the short term. There does not appear to be anything in the pipeline that can match the efficiency of carbon fuels in the areas of defence and transport for either country. The signs are not encouraging at the political level.

    A recent book by Kalle Lasn, “Meme Wars” (2012) Penguin books, blames the economic system for many of the problems that confront the world including, global warming and prospective climate change. The author puts forward a strategy which is to recruit economics students to encourage their teachers to teach better economics and herein lays the key. There are many groups throughout the world who are all doing their bit to spread the idea of a better world. The “power of one” is a powerful concept. Why don’t you give Kalle Lasn a call and see if you can do some brainstorming together. Perhaps the 20 year time frame may be possible after all.

    Keep up the good work,

    Brian Harrisson

  35. Richard Turnock

    What if both happen at the same time?
    “…Either this happens or we head for social and economic breakdown.”
    America and others shift away from fossil fuel but there is social and economic breakdown in other countries that cause world war three.

  36. Jan van der Schalk

    Paul –good to have you back! A year of thinking has dimmed none of your clarity and insight……..and I think you are right, viewed from within corporate life and the investment community the “green message” is very much hitting home and (slowly) being incorporated in the daily grind?

  37. Sage Rad

    I like the optimism, but i don’t see the nuts and bolts. I don’t see how the author believes the transition will occur. I also cannot agree with letting the fossil energy industry off the hook for coopting governments for their own personal enrichment at the expense of the planet.

    The article does not mention a carbon tax, nor how one would be passed, nor what mechanism other than simple reduction in cost of renewable energy sources would lead to this transformation.

    What is the reasoning, Paul? I missed it.

    We need a carbon tax to make fossil energy more expensive, to encourage conservation as well as renewable energy harvesting.

    To do that, we *do* need to show the ugly influence of fossil energy on governance, and dismantle it.

  38. Tim Havel

    Does the fact that come Sep. 14 (if not sooner) Tony Abbot will repeal Australia’s carbon tax not put a slight damper on your optimism?

  39. [...] Author Paul Gilding (who I very much admire) has written an interesting post, claiming that victory is a...
  40. David K

    An excellent article, well done!

    I think many of the commentators are reading it in a purely Australian context, fair enough. But, I would say that Australian politicians are merely afraid to take the issue seriously and, after the first Rudd debacle, the gear lever has been in the “neutral” position. Australian politicians will wake up the opportunities when it’s expedient for them to do so. This will occur when we can’t drag our feet anymore as fossil fuel based industries come under tremendous competitive pressure and international credibility will demand Australia gets up to speed.

    I’m sure nobody has it 100% right in terms of how it will all pan out but I know we will not be leading the charge, sadly!

  41. Leif Knutsen

    Good to see you weigh in Paul. We have been busy as best we can out here in the trenches for the last few years. The struggle has be arduous and for the most part rather disheartening. It is uplifting to see your current take and I sure hope you are correct and humanity can indeed have a chance at a future.
    Two Palms Up, Leif

  42. Graeme McLeay

    Love your optimism Paul! Yet as a comfortably off 68yo I worry how do we persuade the electorate/politicians that the future of our grandchildren is more important than the growth as usual model? The leadership vacuum in Australia at this time does not give me cause for optimism.

  43. Gregory Taffe

    Thankyou for insperational chronical ,
    we will be purchasing a Holden Volt that we will be powering with solar energy . We are also setting up a free Solar Fuel station so people can relate to transport for charging electric cars at our business.As a renewable energy provider we know we have to show the way forward for a life without fossil fuels.
    Gregory Taffe (Director ) Go Green Generation.

  44. Richard

    I believe in everything you have said, and I don’t believe that there is a snowballs chance in Hell of the changes required being made. I’ve been on this Climate Change bandwagon for over 20 years and for many years naively believed that all that needed to happen was for people to be told and have it all explained to them, and then it would be all hands to the pump, go go go to bring about the exciting changes. I was a total Dreamer. The only way I see the sort of change that you want, and are hopeful of seeing is a Sandy every year from now on and I have come to the conclusion that that is what I earnestly have to hope for! Then the US might just change it’s tune and Australia will immediately run along behind. Australia is by far the most conservative country I have ever lived in worst luck, there is no way it will take drastic measures off it’s own bat. And I no longer believe in being warm and cuddly to the oil and coal companies, we didn’t cut the cancer of the tobacco industries out of our society by being warm and friendly, we tried that and it didn’t work, the only thing that worked was to get mean and nasty and regrettably I’m absolutely sure that is the only way to deal with the fossil fuel companies, a really hard punch on the nose is the only message they understand.

  45. Guy Pearse

    Paul, I agree with many of your sentiments and on the need to reduce a likely 60 year timeframe to 20 years or less. However, I could hardly disagree more with your ‘victory is at hand’ assessment of where things are currently at. And I think many of the people you define as enthusiastic members of the climate movement are in truth committed to letting the market fix it (with whatever timeframe that involves). Thus, to my mind, this is classic ‘brightsiding’– the sort of thing that impresses corporates looking for a pet sustainability guru, or a keynote speaker for their next conference. It also risks feeding complacency and delusion.
    Let’s focus a bit more on what people are doing than on what they might be saying. The World Bank might be saying 4 degrees mustn’t be allowed to occur but they are merrily financing dozens of new coal fired power stations around the world. The IEA might be saying that we’d need 2/3rds of remaining fossil fuels to remain in the ground to stay under +2 degrees, but they’re certainly not saying they expect that to happen. On the contrary—their projections confirm we’re on a very different path. And the IEA statement comes with the caveat that the carbon is unburnable unless carbon capture and storage is deployed on a large scale – something the IEA still champions. Ask the IEA what they expect and it’s not a rapid exit for fossil fuel, but responses like: ‘by 2050, we’ll still be relying on fossil fuels for 75% of our energy’
    HSBC might ‘talk’ about unburnable carbon, but they hold the largest share of Rio Tinto Ltd, in recent years they abandoned their own carbon neutrality pledge, and since 2005 they’ve been among the world’s top 20 banks financing coal fired electricity and coal mining. Another with that dubious honour is UBS, which you suggest is warning us of coal’s imminent demise. Sure, UBS might expect shutdowns in some coal-fired power in the EU – perhaps this explains their focus on China (where among banks UBS has been the biggest non-Chinese financier of coal fired power companies). In truth, the coal industry and its financiers have long been resigned to stagnant developed country markets—they’re busy enjoying the coal boom happening elsewhere.
    If we were at the tipping point you claim, you’d be able to point to lots of corporations credibly saying the overall carbon footprint of the products being sold under their brand is shrinking, or will soon. Researching Greenwash, I scoured the world for such climate-friendly heroes – there are next to none. On the contrary, like western governments looking to outsource their emission reductions by importing carbon credits, most multinationals are overwhelmingly disowning a rapidly growing carbon footprint, largely by offshoring ‘non-operational emissions’ to the developing world.
    If we were at the tipping point you suggest, we’d have leading politicians from the two major parties and senior business leaders demanding a halt to the expansion in coal exports – can you name one? Ministers would be amending environmental laws to take the emissions impact of new coal mega-mines into account, not just the impact on water resources. Australia wouldn’t be about to elect a government committed to dismantling a pitifully modest emissions mitigation effort. China wouldn’t still be building a new 1GW coal-fired power station or so each week, global coal use wouldn’t be rising at 5 ½ per cent annually, and emissions wouldn’t be growing at breakneck pace.
    I agree with your assessment that we face a 60 year transition if this is left to the market, and that this timeframe needs to be dramatically reduced. But to suggest that we’re turning the corner on emission reduction—that victory may be at hand—when in reality we’re still galloping down the adaptation path because emissions reduction is too hard politically, seems a bit unfair on your readers.

  46. [...] advisor and advocate for action on climate change and sustainability. He recently published Victory at ...
  47. [...] Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement? - Paul Gilding - Independent writer & advisor on susta... ...
  48. Helmut Lubbers

    When I read all those “congratulations, Paul” I feel obliged to join. Because pessimism doesn’t get us anywhere.

    There is still room for billions of people, and future GMO food for the 9.5 billion projected to live by 2050.

    We can safely believe the green economy models that tell us that higher material efficiencies will continue to compensate for GDP growth, so that ultimately we will live on such a low level of material thoughput that it will hardly have any impact on the natural world. Dematerialised growth is the key word.

    Technology will enhance environmental quality and we will continue to replace natural capital for man-made industrial capital. Green growth will replace brown growth, for the mutual benefit of humanity and nature.

    Resources can be recovered by new technologies. Humanity has always found a way out of the problems. We will colonise the antarctic and cook our meals with the methane that is bubbling up in the arctic.

    The future is bright, ecological victory is nigh.

    A requiem for the pessimists:

  49. Michael Rynn

    We are still consuming 1.5 earths, and still politicians publicly worship economic growth. Climate change victory can only be declared when atmosphere CO2 stops rising. It will take centuries to fall. Battle success is measured by serious and drastic change in whole of corporate and government integrated energy and carbon emissions policy. It is measured by shutting down coal burning power stations all over the globe.
    Actions mean much more than words. As Paul says here, some are actions happening, and starting to happen, and some are being thought about, so everyone please push harder. Each gain of momentum is precious.
    Partial collapse of civilization everywhere is impossible to avoid. Maybe our survivors will have adopted better ways.

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