“Our biggest enemy is apathy.” Northern Soul talks to environmentalist Angus Forbes
As I write this, Australia is on fire while the South of England struggles with another bout of severe flooding. In 2020, temperatures in the UK are predicted to deliver the warmest year on record – for the sixth year in a row.
Despite overwhelming evidence, the throwaway response from many is ‘that’s just global warming’. The term is bandied about in such a matter-of-fact fashion that its meaning has become severely diluted. To some, it just means getting more use out of their factor 30 bottle. But this doesn’t just affect ice caps thousands of miles away, it’s also on our own doorstep.
Angus Forbes, a former City banker turned environmentalist, has a plan to save the planet. His book Global Planet Authority suggests that now five billion of us are connected via the internet and mobile phones, we can create an authority through our first act of global self-determination to deliver global biophysical integrity for the long-term. That sounds complicated but essentially it’s about people coming together to maintain the health of the planet.
It’s a lot to take in, but Forbes believes that the message is filtering through.
“The facts are bandied about a lot and I think if you’re just going about your daily life you can get statistic overload, but people are getting it. In China, Blue Planet 2 had over 80 million viewers. The bushfires that have been raging are also on the daily news making people aware. People in the West are changing their ways, but we rely on our nation state to lead in the decarbonisation process.”
Can’t be bothered reducing your plastic bag usage? Is it too much of a trek to the recycling plant? Then read on because Forbes has some worrying facts to stir you from your stupor.
“It has been written that Armageddon is coming in terms of climate change,” he says. “The living planet index of the World Wildlife Fund [a statistical measurement started in 1970] has just gone to 0.4. That’s a density measure of 3,000 animal samples so, basically, we’re just wiping out species. If we look to the next 30 years, there’s even a chance we will have the first ice-free day in the Arctic, not to mention severe water stress for three billion people.”
It has been said that we can’t undo the damage already done but merely prevent it from getting any worse. As sobering a thought as that is, it’s often felt there’s little an individual can do to make a difference. According to Forbes, this attitude is one of the greatest threats.
“Our biggest enemy is apathy. We shouldn’t just adjust to these changes, we need to rail against them. This is not going away unless we do something. What we know, via our scientists, is that if we downsize pollution and reduce our carbon footprints, we’re still going to heat up for the next 30 or 40 years. If we stop tonight, oceans will still rise for the next 200 years but, once it gets worse every year, the observation of the degradation will hit home and action will take place.”
He adds: ‘If you’re not depressed, you don’t understand the data. But if you’re not hopeful, you don’t understand humanity.”
More than ever, the divide between generations seems vast. Hardly a week goes by without teen campaigner Greta Thunberg imploring the older generation to think about their actions. Politically, the UK election result would have been very different had it just been based on the votes of 18 to 24-year-olds. Environmentally, are the older population less engaged due to their age and lifespan? Forbes believe that there is more of a feeling among older people about what sort of mess they’re leaving behind.
“We have to pass to our children a positive mind set. Helpfully, a lot of school systems have embedded the awareness message calmly. It’s understandable that the youth is rising up and pointing the finger at the older generation, but the fact of the matter is that most corporations are created to provide a social service. I understand the finger-pointing, but I think most of the decisions for the last three or four generations have been typically for the benefit of society.”
Global Planet Authority advocates global self-determination. If that feels like a hard concept to get your head around, Forbes’ belief in the idea is infectious enough to help the reader digest the theory behind it.
“An act of self-determination is a group of people coming together and allocating their personal sovereignty en masse. This is something that the current generation haven’t experienced much, but our forebears were most certainly party to it having reproduced 180 new countries between 1776 and 1989. By 2022, thanks to the internet, four billion of us will be together as one. We have capacity for the first time ever to follow our forebears allocating personal sovereignty en masse in order to go and form a new semi-permanent human organisational structure. An act of global self-determination where we create an authority designed to do one specific job for us. It’s inherent in the human psyche to do this.”
Forbes’ conviction that humanity will ultimately do the right thing is commendable.
“Woodrow Wilson [former US President] gave a famous speech in 1919, after World War One. He said self-determination was a God-given right and we should go forth and create countries with a judicial apex. That didn’t come about, but now we have an ever-growing global commonality equal to a world war. The difference is we are now far more alive and connected and we can use that commonality. Archimedes said, ‘give me the lever and the fulcrum point and I can move the world’. I’m convinced that’s what humanity is going to do.”
Australian-born Forbes lives in London with his wife Dame Darcey Bussell, a retired ballerina and former Strictly Come Dancing judge, and their two daughters. With a passion for the environment, Forbes was the first director of the Rainforests Project set up by Prince Charles and the founder of the not-for-profit Bankers Without Boundaries.
“It was quite a gradual development. There wasn’t a particular awareness point, I just had such a sense of the fact that we were losing this battle. I felt there had to be a much better way to do our absolute optimal to run a biosphere and protect it for future generations and species living on this planet.’
It is a sobering topic, but Forbes leaves me with an upbeat observation. “What’s encouraging is that, after I’ve given a talk to people, I ask who would allocate their personal sovereignty to global governance. Ninety per cent of hands go up.”
1.5 minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9wNI2O1UV4&feature=youtu.be
The book is available here: https://amzn.to/32d0msw
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