Claire Hazelgrove is a second year politics student at York University, she is also the Labour candidate for Skipton and Ripon. In her response to Sir Crispin’s lecture she discusses the need for optimism and political pressure, to combat the stark reality of the future facing us.
A brief look at his notable career of advisory positions and political posts soon shows that Sir Crispin has been, and continues to be, a force to be reckoned with ‘behind the scenes’ for over 30 years to date. A keen mind within the fields of environmental, foreign and international development policy, he has served as Permanent Secretary of the Official Development Assistance, Ambassador to Mexico and Chef de Cabinet to the President of the European Commission, just to mention a few posts on an intimidating CV. In recent years, Sir Crispin has been noted as somewhat of an authority on climate change and the issues facing us as the New Generation. His experience and insights led me to the NGS Kennedy lecture with intrigue – can a man who has been within this field for so long really still provide the right answers to the contemporary questions that we are asking? I aim here to look at the issues raised by Sir Crispin, which he feels pose a real threat and challenge to our generation and ask whether his suggested solutions are really the right ones.
Sir Crispin lays out five key threats facing us in the 21st century: climate change; a lack of land, resources and efficient waste disposal; water; population increase and damage to the diversity of life. Sir Crispin warned of Al Gore’s so called ‘‘Planetary Emergency’’ and emphasised Lord Reece’s belief that the human race only has a 50% chance of survival beyond the end of this century. Clearly he feels as if the problems facing us are not only severe, but severely imminent – and if we don’t act now it may well be too late. This has also been echoed by Hugh Bayley MP in a recent lecture to York students. He explained how the melting ice caps will cause a major flood and then drought as the water supply relied upon by around 50% of the world’s population will have been demolished; all as a result of careless human action.
Having been involved with many bodies which influence government policy, such as the ‘Government Panel on Sustainable Development’, Sir Crispin’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly – however, it should be noted that he does not claim to have a scientific background and many a critic has levelled this against him. Nevertheless, Sir Crispin’s expertise remains highly valued. It has even successfully transcended party line: not only has he been involved in this Labour government’s policy forums, but he also helped in the writing of Thatcher’s speech on climate change.
Despite focussing on the pivotal issues facing us, there was, however, some optimism about the future in Sir Crispin’s lecture. Although many paint the future in rather a bleak way, he believes that we can work towards finding solutions to some of these issues and these ‘worst case scenario’ options need not become realities. In terms of the future, Sir Crispin believes that as things stand the world will become increasingly globalised – a wired up semi-matrix planet where satellites make communication even easier than today. We will live longer, agriculture will become more localised, energy decentralised, and active gene selection in humans is all but inevitable as technology steadily improves.
However, the alternative he provides to the bleak environmental future appears to allow for a bleak moral future where we will be able to ‘create’ our children and grandchildren just as easily as we pick and choose the features of characters on ‘The Sims’. Is this the future we really want? Technological advancements are inevitable and many are necessary, as are those in terms of global press and communication, but we need to be aware of a potential world with blurred moral boundaries, where medical advancement is not the only situation where gene manipulation is acceptable.
Population increase is another key concern raised by Sir Crispin, as he feels the lack of available land, housing and basic resources including clean water will lead to major famine – a more widespread version of what has been seen in parts of Africa. But then what to do? We can hardly promote population limiting policies such as those seen in China, and fines and incentives for family size can only go so far. Sir Crispin believes that if the situation does continue to worsen then ‘‘the grim reaper’’ will ensure that survival of the fittest will reinstate itself. Again, not such a rosy and necessarily practical picture of the future of humanity – mass flooding, drout, famine and fight for survival in an age of major advancement, over dependency on technology and gene manipulation?
Clearly these issues raised by Sir Crispin need to be taken very seriously. But what about governance, policy and leadership? We are in an era of evergrowing communication. Sir Crispin feels, in what sounds like a somewhat dissilusioned message, that politics will carry on along in the same vein that it has done for years, in that issues of transparency and accountability will still be major concerns and that ‘‘most things fail’’. Overall, he doesn’t believe that political rhetoric will change much.
Now, if we’ve learnt anything throughout history, regardless of the fact that human experience could well just be a minor episode in the Earth’s history, it’s that without the drive and pressure for change we won’t achieve anything. If such negativity is allowed to prevail unchallenged then it is a bleak image of the world that we will inevitably end up with – and deservedly so. We need to put political pressure on our leaders to act directly, swiftly and firmly if we wish to avoid this possible future of ours. I believe that it is only through a change in political rhetoric, particularly on the part of the next administration in the USA, that change can be made and the future secured for all of us. We can change politics if we put pressure on our leaders.
Sir Crispin Tickell is a strong authority on many of these matters, and does provide an interesting and stark voice of experience. However, as he notes, the future falls to the New Generation and if we want a secure future without famine, drought and a return to the primitive ‘survival of the fittest’, then it is down to us to act. The key thing, it seems, to be taken away from Sir Crispin’s lecture is that it is only through direct action that we can make the changes happen that we need and must see.