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Is there hope for us in the climate and ecological emergency?

Rowan Tilly before her arrest at Oxford Circus in the October 2019 Extinction Rebellion

It’s an awkward time for me. I’ve written a Buddhist response to the climate and ecological emergency and it’s not yet published. The excitement and exhaustion of finishing in time for it to be published before COP26 in November has left me. Spurred on by what I discovered in writing the book, I feel a sense of urgency to protect the earth and all its inhabitants, both now and in the future.

How will my book will be received when it comes out in August? What will be the political climate? In recent weeks there have been some hopeful signs. On 26 May, a Dutch court ordered the oil company Shell to align itself with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and cut its carbon emissions, including from the products it sells, by 45 per cent by 2030. On the same day, activist investors voted to make US oil firm Chevron responsible for reducing the emissions from customers burning its products, and a small hedge fund forced ExxonMobil to accept two pro-environment members on its board. The Paris accord represents the aspiration of 196 nations to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5°C. Fossil fuel companies can enjoy no exemption from this. In fact, they are among the few institutions on the planet that have the research capacity and resources to tackle the problem.

The previous week my friend Rowan Tilly was given a rare absolute discharge by a City of London judge for obstruction of the highway during the October 2019 Extinction Rebellion. Rowan is a life-long peace and environmental activist and full-time de-escalation trainer, which is where I met her. In giving her an absolute discharge, the judge cited a number of historical examples – the US and South African civil rights movements, the Suffragrettes, the anti-nuclear testing protests – all of which had been unlawful, and all of which had achieved change. Instead of imposing a punishment, the judge praised Rowan as ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’ and her deeds as ‘noble’.

On top of all this, in a landmark report last month, the International Energy Agency, often seen as an apologist for the fossil fuel industry, declared that investment in new fossil fuel projects must stop now if we are to hit ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.

What can all this mean? The political climate is also a marketplace. This means that there may be periods of relative stability, punctuated by sudden shifts in opinion. I believe that we are living through one such shift. Around the world, except apparently in China, it’s becoming more and more difficult to justify, fund and insure new fossil fuel projects.

Is there hope for us? As I say in the book, if you’re not treating it as an emergency, there’s no hope for us. On the other hand, if you are treating it as an emergency, then there’s hope!