The Bigger Picture

When we look to the myriad social and environmental problems we face, and we think about the root causes, we find that there are several points at which these intersect – climate change, social injustices, biodiversity loss, and human rights abuses can be traced back to the same systemic, structural points.

An understanding of values reveals one of these major underlying connections. The propensity to act on environmental issues is likely to be coupled with a concern about social injustice. And at the national or cultural level, we can see how these values both shape and are shaped by our education, the media, and social and economic policies. Values are engaged and strengthened by our experiences – and we are all a part of each other’s experience, whether we like it or not.

It is therefore important to ask what values are embedded in our institutions, our organisations, and our social practices. Systemic change is necessary to build and maintain a sustainable and fair society.

The work in this area is therefore in recognition that while it is outside of PIRC’s current remit, the pulls on one corner of our social fabric tend to tug the rest of it too.

PIRC goes flat: Twelve steps to organisational structural change 2

“It has been a bit of rollercoaster, albeit it one with no height restrictions and an office-based theme. During the process I have fluctuated between hopeful, frustrated, excited, bored, interested, determined, happy, grumpy, thankful and something that could only really be captured in a facial expression.”—Ralph

Two years ago, PIRC transitioned from a slightly dysfunctional, hierarchical organisation with a lone director to something more systematised, functional, and non-hierarchical. It’s been a proper rollercoaster. And it’s an ongoing process of experimenting and iterating.

Let me outline our experience of the twelve steps (sorry) to organisational structural change: Read more

From single issues towards systemic change: Tearfund’s ‘Project Doughnut’

Guest blog by Lara Kirch and Micha Narberhaus at Smart CSOs.

As we have experienced in the Smart CSOs community over the last two years, changing an organisation to work on system change is far from an easy task. Most civil society organisations are deeply entrenched in the current system. We might irritate partners and constituencies if we don’t fulfil their expectations and we have a reputation and trust to lose. Most available funding schemes are far from supporting the type of uncertain work needed for long-term system change. But the most difficult part is to change the organisation’s culture, its structure and way of doing things. It requires a change in mindsets and developing the right capacities.

Maybe it is not a surprise that recently some church and faith-based organisations have been among the most progressive pioneers in starting to promote and communicate an alternative vision for a socially and environmentally sustainable global society that is based on sufficiency, solidarity and community. They are grounded on exactly these values.

The advocacy department of Tearfund, a UK Christian relief and development agency founded in 1968, has recently embarked on a change process aimed at aligning its strategic focus and internal structures with a vision of an economy that works for people and the planet. Sarah Anthony and Tom Baker from Tearfund’s advocacy team have told us how they have approached this challenge and what they have learned so far. Read more

Smart CSOs – Searching for new cultural stories in civil society

In October the Smart CSOs Lab hosted a conference in Germany attended by over 80 activists and researchers from 14 different countries. This video was produced at the conference and shows voices of activists from different parts of the world and different sectors of civil society talking about their frustrations, motivations and inspirations to join the growing movement for systemic change.

Smart CSOs is an initiative inspiring people to start searching for new civil society stories to overcome the frustrations many of us are feeling by working in our issue silos and by fighting the symptoms while knowing that we need to tackle the root causes of the multiple crises of our times.

Go check them out: Smart CSOs

What have the immigrants ever done for us? Five reasons why the economic argument for immigration is destined to fail

“Immigration is like trade. It makes us rich.” – The Times, May 27th 2013

“Immigrants: don’t you just love ‘em? They travel to Britain from far-flung lands, coming here to toil away in our shops and offices and homes, paying their taxes and generally making us all better off.” – The Telegraph, June 13th 2013.

On the Australian campaign website, Kick a Migrant, you’re encouraged to chuck an immigrant into the sea (“as far as you can”). I’ve just hurled Kumar into the shark-infested sea, screaming. As soon as he hits the water, I’m confronted by a box condemning what I’ve done: Kumar was a scout-leading, local employment-improving, community man. But totally overshadowing this is a big, bold, red dollar sign and a large negative number: what I’ve cost the Australian economy by kicking Kumar out. Subversive, I think.

Immigration is a regular hot potato. It’s surrounded by economic myths: immigrants cost the health service millions, “they” are taking “our” jobs, they’re claiming loads of benefits and taking “taxpayers’ money”. But recent figures from the OECD show that – much like the Australian campaign – immigration has provided net economic gain for the UK. Great. I guess we can all stop arguing about it, and Nigel Farage will go away and leave us in peace? Sadly, I think there are five reasons why not. Read more

Values and the Sharing Economy

Rajesh Makwana came to one of our workshops in January and kindly allowed us to repost this article, originally published at Shareable.

We are all painfully familiar with the plethora of statistics that illustrate how unsustainable modern lifestyles have become and how humanity is already consuming natural resources far faster than the planet can produce or renew them. In a bid to reverse these trends, increasing numbers of people are attempting to consume less, reduce waste and recycle more regularly.  The rapid growth of the sharing economy over recent years reflects this growing environmental awareness and commitment to changing unsustainable patterns of consumption. The possibilities for sharing are already endless in many parts of the world, in everything from cars and drills to skills and knowledge. The sharing economy is undeniably taking off – and rightly so.

But can sharing the things we own as individuals really address the environmental threats facing Planet Earth? To some extent the answer is likely to depend on which resources are being shared and how many people are sharing them. However, given the urgent sustainability challenges we face – from climate change to deforestation and resource depletion – it seems unlikely that even well-developed systems of collaborative consumption will, on their own, constitute a sufficient response.

Share, Unite, Cooperate from Share The World’s Resources on Vimeo. Read more

A response to Tony Juniper

There are two questions I would like to put to the proponents of Values Modes or Cultural Dynamics (CD).

Firstly, is systemic change necessary? In other words: in order to minimise the speed and impact of climate change, do we need to alter any of the fundamental workings of the institutions and machinery of our society so that they, collectively, produce markedly different environmental outcomes? If your answer is no, that things are basically fine and some of the outputs just need tweaking, then we can stop right here as we’ve found the point of real and absolute difference with the Common Cause approach that supersedes everything below. I’d suggest people use this difference to judge which of the two more suits them.

If, however, we do think systemic change is necessary, then that requires us to examine certain facts. Firstly, that the global political economy is built in large part around corporate consumerist values of wealth, status and power. As opposed to, say, beauty, equality or caring for loved ones. Countries must acquire ever more material wealth (or GDP growth); individuals are encouraged hundreds or thousands of times every day to dress in a certain way to be attractive, watch TV to be entertained, look younger, drive better cars, go on foreign holidays, and so on. We must look at the fact that to drive these behaviours, consumers – as we’ve become known – must actually want them; that demand is required. To create demand, peoples’ desire for (that is, the degree to which they value) their own wealth, power and status are commonly appealed to. We must circle back round to the fact that to satisfy the demand that they have spent large budgets and endless amounts of human creativity to stimulate, the vast majority of economic actors – what can credibly be called the bulk of the system – use methods of production and distribution that are directly and significantly implicated in changing the climate. Which brings us irrevocably back round to the intense focus we place on the values that drive this type of economic activity. And finally, we must accept that the intensity and self-perpetuating nature of that focus, must, at some level, be addressed if we are interested in anything but treating symptoms.

Read more

Why the doubters are wrong about green jobs in Scotland 1

This is a guest post from Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Energy Campaigner, Beth Stratford.

The Scotsman printed a two page spread in the lead up to the Scottish election warning that the SNP’s target for 100% renewable electricity by 2020 would ‘wreak significant damage on the Scottish Labour market’, citing as evidence a report called ‘Worth The Candle?’ by Verso Economics, which concluded that for every job created in the renewable sector, 3.7 are destroyed elsewhere in the economy.

But this head-line grabbing statistic, which has been picked up at full tilt by nimbies and climate sceptics, deserves some closer scrutiny.

Read more

Great Johan Rockström presentation on planetary boundaries concept 4

Johan Rockström recently appeared on TED to present the ‘planetary boundaries’ approach, published in Nature last year. It’s a great presentation well worth the time. (You can get the paper the approach is based on, or read Nature’s special feature.)

I’ve heard a few scientists complaining about what they see as arbitrary boundary choices, or the false confidence such an approach can arouse.

Nature’s editorial acknowledges:

[E]ven if the science is preliminary, this is a creditable attempt to quantify the limitations of our existence on Earth, and provides a good basis for discussion and future refinement. To facilitate that discussion, Nature is simultaneously publishing seven commentaries from leading experts that can be freely accessed at Nature Reports Climate Change (see http://tinyurl.com/planetboundaries).

Defining the limits to our growth and existence on this planet is not only a grand intellectual challenge, it is also a potential source of badly needed information for policy-makers. Such numerical values, however, should not be seen as targets. If the history of environmental negotiations has taught us anything, it is that targets are there to be broken. Setting limits that are well within the bounds of linear behaviour might therefore be a wiser, if somewhat less dramatic, approach. That would still give policy-makers a clear indication of the magnitude and direction of change, without risking the possibility that boundaries will be used to justify prolonged degradation of the environment up to the point of no return. Read more

IPCC reform? We need PCC reform first 3

As the ‘Climategate’ news cycle creaks on, pundits are busily delivering advice on how scientists can do their jobs better. “It is time for the IPCC to be disbanded,” declares Ann Widdecombe in the Express, “and replaced by a group of open-minded, fact-orientated, cautious scientists who are interested in truth, however inconvenient.” “Scientists, you are fallible,” proclaims Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Climatologists “are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even journalists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity.”

These are strange statements, given that climatologists have meanwhile willingly acknowledged and corrected genuine errors, and offered suggestions on improving IPCC processes. The journal Nature published a series of suggestions from five prominent climate scientists on ways forward for the IPCC. The Guardian ran a similar story full of scientists suggesting reforms. Climate modeller William Connolley critiqued the thoroughness of IPCC Working Group II, while defending its use of “grey” literature. Other scientists suggested separating the IPCC’s Working Groups. The evidence suggests the scientific profession puts reflection, doubt and criticism at the heart of its practice.

By contrast, the media’s reluctance to address its own failings is stark. Recent weeks have seen a deluge of “inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” in climate change reporting – precisely the kind of material it is the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC’s) stated role to guard against. But, as its exoneration of Jan Moir’s falsehoods over Stephen Gately’s death has highlighted, this “self-regulatory” industry body remains toothless. Read more