Lord Deben: “Covid Has Been Useful”

Exploring the origins of the bronze [“Couler un bronze” in French, besides its normal meaning of casting a bronze statue, also refers to a common excretory function] statue of Greta, I came across a video celebrating the organisation of which the statue’s Maecenas is a co-chair, namely the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education.

At 14 minutes and 50 seconds into the video, we have an interview from November 2020 with Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, and the man who is charged with the greatest fiscal responsibility in the history of the planet, since the UK is the only country in the world which has given the decision of how many trillions of pounds to spend on saving the planet to an unaccountable committee presided by a gaga religious maniac who was last seen in public feeding a hamburger to his granddaughter in order to demonstrate that novel viruses aren’t dangerous at all.

In the following talk, seen by 92 people on Youtube (not including me) Lord Deben states that Covid “has been very useful.” I have so much to say about the opinions of the most powerful man in the UK, but my transcription of the interview is long enough already. Read it, or better, watch it, to appreciate the depths to which the country has sunk, when a senile lunatic giving an impression of Chairman Mao reciting Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day” can get away with reciting this batshit threnody. And note how his ramblings confirm many of Cliscep’s intuitions: It’s not about the climate. There’s not a word of science in the whole discourse. It’s all about Brexit, Trump, religious mania, and Orwellian Groupthink.

***

It’s now my great pleasure to introduce the right Honourable the Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, I’m sure well known to all of those attending this morning’s event. Now Lord Deben spoke at our launch event this time last year, and one of the many comments he made really resonated with me. He said: “Reaching net zero emissions is essential, it is feasible, and as a sector dedicated knowledge and thought leadership it is rightfully expected.” [???] There was the challenge thrown down to this combined sector, and I’m delighted that Lord Deben is able to join us today and to comment on the work thus far of the Commission and also the enormity of the challenge that we face even though it is essential and feasible. Lord Deben, thank you very much. Over to you.

Lord Deben:

I’m very pleased to be here and thank you very much for inviting me, and I liked the opportunity to hear what some of your students reflected on in their year of work.

I suppose the first thing one really wants to say is that there is a huge challenge for the centres of education and enlightenment. We’re seeing the American election play itself out, and what we’re seeing there is the clash between science and knowledge, intellectual understanding and respect, and those who just don’t want to know. And it’s a very serious worry that here in the 21st century we should be fighting the sort of battle which we might have thought had been left behind in history, certainly since the Enlightenment or indeed since the 12th century Renaissance. It’s a very tough thing for those of us who’ve been brought up to respect the rationality that comes from research and understanding, to be faced with those who find that of no importance. For what matters is what they feel, and what they would like to be true.

So we have I think an even more acute sense of the role of students at universities and colleges all round the country, and their future role because of the training that has taken place. And it has been a very difficult year for them. Lockdown has worked perhaps even less well for them than for many other people. And now we come into another lockdown. The concentration of people upon Covid and upon its reactions and results can lead them away from the other great challenge. But interestingly, what Covid has done much more widely – and I can say that from the work that I do on sustainability – is to make more and more people recognise that these big systemic risks, of which climate change is the greatest, do have to be faced. I mean, we’ve always known that there could be a pandemic. It’s been on anybody’s risk register. But people have not really taking it seriously. It’s one of those things that you have to account for, you have to think for, but actually it isn’t the thing that you’re thinking about as you work towards your first quarter’s results. Well now it is. And with it has come an understanding of environment, social governance issues, which people have forgotten, or pushed to the back.

Investors are asking questions about the companies in which they invest much more than they were before, and demanding those companies have sustainability progress. So for students, and you working in this battle, you’ve come in at a time in which there is a readier, a readier audience than perhaps you’ve had before. And when the Climate Change Committee produces its 6th carbon budget which will be very tough, will need a great deal to achieve it, but is feasible, and is financiable, and is absolutely necessary if we are to ward off the worst of climate change –

[this is not an ellipsis. Deben had a Biden moment and forgot to finish his sentence]

And so I hope that if I am setting the big role for students it’s to help us make the 6th carbon budget the guiding light of every activity in the country. And of course the first of those activities is the way in which universities operate, in which student bodies operate, and in which students themselves operate. And I do want to have a go at you on that because it really is a question of starting with yourselves. I don’t believe that you can help others to walk the walk unless you’re walking the walk yourself, and therefore there are all sorts of questions that we have to ask about students, and which they’ll want to ask, answer. Nearly 90% of students have a deal with Amazon. I wonder how many of them actually say to themselves: “Is it environmentally sensible to insist that a product that I don’t need tomorrow comes tomorrow?” “What am I doing about ensuring that my purchasing activities are as carbon neutral as they can be?” That’s another thing to add to the not letting the water run when you’re cleaning your teeth, or not boiling too much water when you want a cup of coffee. They’re tiny things. Each one in its own right does very little. But if the whole student body did it, and convinced others to do it, then those mundane unimportant things could mean that we could make a huge difference to the emissions that we have without in any way interfering with the sort of life that we want to lead. 

And that’s the second thing really. We need as young people – I say “we,” I’m not young, but you need as young people – to ensure that this whole campaign is serious, but it is not miserable. One thing that will not convince the world is a whole lot of Misery Martins claiming doom and gloom. What we have to do is point to people that it’ll be hard, but it can be done. It can be done within 2% of the Gross National Product. Now I don’t much like the GNP as a measurement of the wealth of the nation, but it’s a useful one here. So we know we can do it, and we can do it, and we can do it and still have the sort of life which it is reasonably, reasonably grown up to expect. We don’t need to be cold in the winter. We don’t need not to have hot water. We don’t need to find ourselves living on lentils. What we have to do is to live more reasonably in relationship to the planet which we’ve been given. 

There’s a very important insight in the Pope’s encyclical on Laudato Si – it’s called “Laudato Si.” And in it he says you must look at climate change as the – [phone rings] that’s the thing that always happens when you do this, that’s the telephone which shouldn’t be on – it is, you have to look at climate change as a, em, symptom of what we’ve done to the world. It’s the way we’ve used our resources. It’s the way that we have reduced the fertility of our soil. It’s the way that we have put people into poverty whom we could have brought out of poverty. It’s the way that the rich have been greedy and caused the pollution which itself has become climate change. We must look at the disease and not at the symptoms, and that means very very considerable change, because it’s not just a transition to the new world, it’s actually a transition to a world which is very different. Covid has been useful for that. More and more people realise that you’re not going to go back to where you were, and that’s very exciting for students, because you’re going to build a nation and a world which will be, right from the beginning, clearly, very, very different. And most generations don’t have that chance. It is a very unusual thing for a revolutionary change to take place without the bloodshed or the war which normally precedes it. Or succeeds it. [sic. Sic Sic Sic] We have a real chance to change the world. And it is your generation that is going to make my generation and younger people recognise just how much has to be done.

Now I want really to say just two more things. I am very impressed with what students are doing. Some of the most important moves in the country are happening in universities, not just the students but with people who are teaching and who are administering universities. What Leeds is doing and Cambridge, what Bristol and the West of England and a whole host of others, is really exciting, and will make a huge difference. But it needs to be done together with the rest of the community. Students need to be the harbingers of all this for the whole of their generation, because being included is absolutely necessary if we are to win the battle. Inclusiveness is part of the whole question of justice. And justice too is the second point. Most students, like most English people actually, have a natural sense of fairness, and the present situation is not fair. Climate change is affecting the poorest most. It’s affecting the oldest, the least able to defend themselves. It’s affecting the countries which have least, and now they have less. We rich countries that have made our wealth out of pollution, have got to pay that cost. And I’m afraid it’s your generation that’s going to have to pay a very large amount of that cost. 

But when we hear people suggesting that it’s necessary to pay recompense for slavery and for all sorts of other things, I think the recompense which we have to pay, because it’s one that will actually change the world, is we’re paying the recompense for the wealth which we have created through polluting the world and for bringing our planet close to extinction. That’s why the radical view of fighting climate is so important. This is not just a rearrangement of the chairs on the deck. This is actually realising that we’ve got to live differently, individually, as student communities, as university communities, and as the community as a whole both nationally and internationally. We’ve recently made that more difficult, by leaving the European Union. We’ve lost one of the very best ways which we had of influencing the world and taking leadership, but we’re going to have to find ways of making up for that really ridiculous mistake. 

One of those will be to show that in COP26, which begins as you know in Glasgow at the end of next year, that in COP26 Britain is going to be a leader, and to do that, we have very soon, to offer an even bigger, er, change than we’ve offered so far. We must lead the world in how much we are prepared to do. ‘Cos after all we invented the industrial revolution and so bear a bigger responsibility perhaps than any other nation, and it’s a good thing that we’re having this crucial COP in our country, in Scotland, when we can make amends. And so far the government has shown itself willing to do those things. I’m known not to be the biggest fan of the particular nature and policies of this government, but that makes it easier for me to be able to say that on climate change there is a real consensus, and the government has committed itself to do the right things. The problem now is it’s got to do ’em, and keep on doing them, and the public has got to support it, and that’s where once again you come in. You can make all the difference. A student body committed to achieving these ends, to supporting even people they disagree with if what they are doing is what needs to be done to fight climate change. Determination to make this revolutionary but just, radical but understanding, and above all, intellectually sensible, showing that we’re doing it because it’s true, because the threat is real, because we know.

And that’s the final thing we as educated people have got to say. Graduates and undergraduate students of all kinds. Knowledge implies responsibility. When you read the first chapter of Genesis and there was the myth of Eve eating the apple, the key story is that once she knew, she was responsible. When she knew, she had to take measures,and react, and do the right thing. Knowledge is the creator of responsibility. We didn’t know why the Black Death was spreading and we couldn’t fight it or take responsibility for it. We do know about climate change, we do know how it’s caused, and because we know, we have to fight it. And because you are professionally in the know as students, you should be at the forefront, and I thank you for all that you are doing to take on your responsibility. 


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April 3, 2021 at 08:19PM

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