Below is a transcription of the speech given by Adam Woodhall at the Climate Justice Demo in front of the Tate Modern museum. You can watch it here.
"This is a really important day in taking climate action in the world, but I’m going to start off with something that might surprise you a little bit in what I’m saying because fossil fuels are great. And no, I’m not a fan of the Donald.
The reason why I say that is because actually if it wasn’t for fossil fuels we wouldn’t have the society that we have at the moment. This phone that I’m holding in my hand, the Boris bike that I cycled today, the kettle that was powered by the energies from fossil fuels mainly, all of them due to fossil fuels.
So they are really important. They have been crucial to getting us to this point that we are now. But they’re not right for our future. We’ve got to go on a transition and today what I’m going to talk to you about is how maybe we take that transition from disproportionate use of fossil fuels to a low carbon future.
I like the society I live in. This phone’s pretty cool. Cycling around on the Boris bike’s great. Being able to go into that fabulous museum behind you is brilliant. So it’s how do we keep that and also have much less fossil fuels because that magnificent building behind you was actually obviously a power station. It was fuelled by oil. In fact, at its peak it would use 16,000 tonnes of oil a day and it was going for over 100 years nearly.
"So, fossil fuel has an amazing ability because it provides so much energy to so many people so quickly, which wasn’t possible before it. So for me, burning fossil fuels is not actually the problem. The problem is the amount of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases that are being burnt.
Now, my first message to you is that rather than making fossil fuel the bad guy, it’s about doing something different, because by making fossil fuels a bad guy it’s created a very oppositional process. So we’ve created something which I can term ‘the carbon right’ and it’s given those people an opportunity to unite around. which I think we can do something different. We need to be a lot cleverer than the carbon rights have been.
There are three narratives that I think we can use to move this narrative on, to make a transition to a low carbon economy which is going to flow much more easily than we have been having.
The first is fossil fuel divestment. This is something we all can take action on. If you have an investment fund and you haven’t looked at where that money is being invested, it’s likely actually that your pension is actually invested in some part in fossil fuels.
So first of all, you can look at where your pension is being invested and make sure you change it if it’s not in the right place. Then the second thing, even if you don’t have a pension or a similar significant investment, you can lobby your employer or your local council or the government even in how they can move on from being investing in fossil fuels. And this is something that is happening at an increasing pace. By 2017 there was 800 institutions with six trillion dollars of investment which have moved away from fossil fuels. Those organisations have realised that we have to leave the majority of fossil fuels which we’ve now discovered in the ground.
So I am a big fan of divestment. However, divestment in itself isn’t necessarily going to make the rapid changes that we need because we have to move very fast.
So, the second point is actually how do we make game out of this? We can gamify the transition? Make it maybe a little bit of fun. So in this game you win if you use less greenhouse gases and you lose if you create pollution and of course that pollution is the greenhouse gas. This is called a carbon tax. Now, this carbon tax would be the tax on the pollution.
Now many people have a bit of an issue with the idea of a tax. So what we need to do is work on the politics of it, but that’s actually quite possible. Part of the reason why the game can be so powerful is because if we get the messaging right, it can appeal not only to the left, but also to the right wing of our political spectrum.
If you’re on the left it can appeal because poor people generally use less fossil fuels than rich people. So if you’re taxing less, the poor people because of their less use, that can help, be a positive way of redistributing wealth.
The interesting thing is the right can make a difference because rather than us taxing the good stuff which is the income that we make, we can tax the stuff that we want less of, ie the pollution. The right wing do love reducing income tax, so here’s a ready-made solution for reducing income tax and this isn’t something that’s just in some form of pie in the sky. There are over 50 countries with some form of carbon tax. Some of the standout ones is British Columbia in Canada who have had success.
The UK also does have a form of carbon tax but it’s not that great, hasn’t driven that much change and it’s not wide and deep enough. The economists have crunched the numbers though – good for them. They’ve found that a tax, £80 a tonne of carbon would create a significant impetus towards the change that we need and also raise £50 billion a year in tax which means that we could then reduce the income tax.
Not only does having a carbon tax discourage the use of fossil fuels, it also encourages clever people to come up with the alternatives. Fossil fuels are only a problem because they’re so good at providing that energy that we just use far too much of it.
How many people here are aware that renewables are going through a revolution?
That doesn’t sound like everybody. So for those who don’t know, renewable technology is going through an absolute revolution. Up to five years ago, even two or three years ago, renewables were globally quite a lot more expensive than fossil fuels. Now they’re cheaper, most of the time in most countries. And this has happened because business people have realised that the transition to the low carbon economy can make them money.
I’m sad about this in some ways because entrepreneurs are not doing it because they’ve got our values. My value is that we should take care of our planet and that’s a good thing to do in itself. Most of these entrepreneurs who’ve driven the renewables revolution are doing it because they can make great money out of it. But I’m happy because it’s happening. To be honest, I don’t care why it’s happening. It is happening, and that’s the important thing - that the renewable revolution is happening, but we can’t just rely on the renewables revolution because there are many other areas where we need to reduce greenhouse gases.
This takes me on to my final point which is that we need a rapid inspiration of our society and economy. My opinion is and my experience is this will not happen if we leave it to large corporations and the large organisations such as governments. It won’t happen.
What we need is people such as you guys and then also – and some of you might be clever entrepreneurs coming up with clever ideas. Now this is the other area that I work in personally. I work with sustainable start-ups, helping them tell their stories more powerfully because the research is that there’s a 12 trillion dollar global opportunity to deliver sustainability – and that’s been calculated by some very sober suited management consultants who aren’t in it for the change needs.
For ten years I tried to move the dial working with large organisations and I’ll be honest – I failed, because basically they’re super tankers and it’s really difficult to change the large organisations from the steering wheel unless you’re the Chief Executive. Now there are some honourable executives of organisations that have changed, but there’s not many.
My suggestion is, is that we should focus on the nimble speedboats, those ones that can make the change and then what happens is the large super tankers start to follow them. And this is being demonstrated by what happened with the renewables revolution. There was a lot of small nimble speedboats which would start to create the renewables revolution and then actually we now have some super tankers which have got on board with that.
What’s really nice is not only are we standing in front of a relic of the fossil fuel age which is directly behind you, Bankside Power Station, but also pretty much a stone’s throw away from here, about 100 metres that way, is the largest concentration of sustainable start-ups in Europe. It’s a place called ‘Sustainable Bankside,’ and if anybody here is interested in being in a start-up or around this narrative, then come and talk to me and I can arrange a tour of Sustainable Bankside. It’s truly inspiring. There’s about 50 start-ups there doing all sorts of things which are around climate change and other good environmental sustainability actions.
In summary, what I’d say is we don’t need to hate fossil fuels. We just need to move on from fossil fuels because it’s so last year.
The three topics I suggested were – divest, do it yourself, lobby those that you can to do it.
Whether you’re a red socialist, deep green or even true blue, work with your political representatives to bring in a carbon tax and then finally – and I don’t feel that comfortable saying this – but follow the money. Follow the money, help, create, work with sustainable start-ups which can make transformational differences to our world and help us get to that low carbon economy that we all here are so passionate about.
In addition to helping clients communicate, connect and change, I love highlighting stories from the front line of inspiring sustainability.