There is increasing awareness albeit sadly in some part acceptance that the climate around us is crumbling and that we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. We have and continue to take more than the planet has to offer and seemingly are intent on doing so until there is nothing left to take. The alternative is to adopt a more sustainable (I wish we’d talk about regenerative, sadly we’re not there yet) way of living.
Whilst few still challenge the existence of anthropogenic climate change, perhaps the bigger problem are those that recognise the need for change, but aren’t prepared to adjust their way of life to support that transition.
We need to confront the prevailing culture of “not in my backyard” such that local communities not just welcome investment into green infrastructure but even campaign for it, demanding “PLEASE CHOOSE MY BACK YARD”.
NIMBYism – NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Upgrading Our Power Grids: Transitioning away from fossil fuels requires significant investment in our power networks. The shift toward electric vehicles and technology integration puts a strain on our aging infrastructure. Yet, when it comes to constructing new pylons, substations, and connections, objections often arise due to the potential visual impacts on local landscapes.
The solution lies in open dialogue and creative problem-solving. Let’s encourage communities to actively participate in discussions about renewable energy opportunities. Rather than merely opposing developments, we should incentivize hosting these projects and celebrate them as significant contributions to our shared sustainability goals.
Embracing Renewable Energy: Renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, holds immense promise in combatting climate change. Unfortunately, the current planning system, which seeks consensus from local communities, sometimes hampers progress. Consensus is wonderful in theory but in practice, it results in inertia and maintaining the status quo which ironically, often no one wants either.
To overcome this obstacle, we should prioritise engagement – by increasing awareness about the broader benefits of renewable energy, communities might be more willing to accept developments. We should also offer communities a meaningful stake in energy projects including but not limited to free energy for life to the properties most impacted, providing a longer-term, environmentally regenerative incentive.
In the absence of agreement, compulsory development orders should be used to ensure we make the progress to net zero we all require. Obviously, absolute climate breakdown doesn’t do wonders for your view or your amenity either!
Investing in Water Infrastructure: A growing population and a changing climate alongside the cynical over-abstraction and underinvestment of that water companies has meant a regular cycle of drought and flood is now inevitable. We therefore are desperately in need of the creation of new reservoirs and significant upgrades to the existing water infrastructure.
However, the resistance to sacrificing rural landscapes (including farming land and maybe even villages) for such developments is a huge barrier to progress. It’s almost certain all will recognise the need and increasingly demand that additional investment is made in infrastructure development, but equally assure that it can’t possibly happen where they live.
Individual villages, communities, and landowners will be disproportionally affected as a result but, the alternative is that everyone is affected. Finding a consensus simply won’t be possible, instead, we need appropriate leadership (wherever that best suits) to push progress forward and for those affected to be generously incentivised and rewarded for prioritising the greater good – compensation isn’t enough.
Building Affordable Homes: People are being forced to move away from family and friends from a lack of homes and worse still affordable homes, especially in rural communities – the problem is worsening year after year as house targets continue to be missed.
I’m yet to meet or speak to anyone who doesn’t support the building of more affordable homes nor anyone who thinks young people shouldn’t have an opportunity to buy or rent their own homes in the communities where they were born and raised. But opposition to new developments in their own neighbourhoods prevails leaving the next generation destined to become a type of socio-economic nomads.
We can tackle this issue by prioritising inclusive community planning with a mandate to deliver the necessary homes within the local area. If agreement cannot be reached, a local market mechanism should be used to incentivise land to be presented for development. We need leadership, investment in green infrastructure, and activity – not inactivity in the pursuit of consensus.
Preserving Nature’s Space: The state of nature in the UK is significant worst than it has been in living memory, you only need to look at the devastating decline in farmland birds or any other indicator species you might choose to consider. There is increasing acceptance that if we do not find more space for nature then we will be the last generation to see the vast majority of the UK’s wildlife, the result of which will be the collapse of our ecosystem and ultimately life on earth.
Therefore, a growing number of people are openly campaigning and more still recognising the need for more space for nature including the planting of new woodlands as well as the restoration of peatland and other precious habitats.
Many rural communities are pushing back saying of course, but not here, we don’t want change, the way the land is managed (and looks) is part of our culture and just too precious.
This is perhaps the best example of where we need everyone to move beyond self-interest and prioritise the greater good; recognise that we need more space for nature and embrace those seeking to make positive environmental improvements.
This is also where we’re already seeing market mechanisms begin to have a positive impact. Land is being bought for nature restoration, potentially in the face of localised criticism / frustration but delivering the change we need for the climate and for biodiversity. This change is being fuelled by the potential of natural capital markets offering a financial return for interventions that will benefit us all, especially the generations to come.
Perhaps this also explains the start-up culture of the companies leading the way in this growing natural capital economy…
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Sadly, we are dealing with parallel problems that act (ironically) like pouring water on an oil fire – it become explosive. We have an entitled self-interested government, and aging local communities that are not prepared to accept disruption to their way of life, and a planning system that requires these exact people to all agree to changes that will only benefit the next generation…. It’s hardly surprising we’re failing, and failing dramatically, to achieve any form of meaningful change.
A WAY FORWARD?
I have a principle that you can’t just bring criticism if you’re not prepared to at least offer ideas or try and find a solution, so here are mine.
To address these challenges, we must foster a sense of collective responsibility and prioritise collaboration over individual interests.
Listen – We need to continue listening to local communities but also to experts and campaigners who are trying to help us have a future on this planet, not just for ourselves but for the next generations. This consultation needs to be faster, more meaningful, and must seek to improve the proposed development, not stop it.
Moreover, we should prioritise the voices of young people over my generation and the one before because it’s their future that will be most impacted by the decisions made today. We should lower the voting age to 16 (following Scotland’s example) and insist on politics amongst many other real-life skills being taught in school. These skills should replace the archaic memory tests and the joined-up hand writing my seven and four years olds are being taught.
Leadership – Consensus is a lovely concept but in reality, only achieves mediocracy or worst still, inaction. We don’t have time for consensus, we need action, and we need it now. We need leadership from everywhere but especially businesses. The existing political system centrally and locally is not fit for purpose, and is too bureaucratic, self-serving and ineffective to deliver any meaningful change. Businesses, community groups, and individuals need to lead the way forward – we’re trying to do just that with Oxygen Conservation and our hope is to inspire so many more leaders working in and around the natural capital economy – please do reach out if we can help in any way.
Taxation – Having shared my thoughts on the ineffectiveness of government, and you can add regulation to that too, I’d ask that what is left of a “functioning” civil services focuses its attention on creating the taxation measure to ensure businesses pay the true cost of the environmental impact of their work meaning all businesses must have a positive impact for people and the environment. We must then ensure this taxation is invested in the green infrastructure improvements we need to see delivered by the private sector, not the public sector.
Incentivise – We must ensure all local communities, are not just involved in discussions about where and how green infrastructure projects are delivered but also generously incentivise those most directly affected such that communities begin campaigning to provide a home for these projects much like hosting the Olympics or becoming the next city of culture…
If we put a combination of these measures and likely many more in place, we could one day have a world where people are saying please pick my backyard, we want the investment and opportunities change will bring.
If we don’t then I’d like to be the first to apologise to my children and grandchildren for the fact that we refused to let our lifestyle (and let’s not forget views!) be disrupted to give them a chance of a life at all!