Last month Jonathon Porritt was in Birmingham to deliver a free lecture to the Lunar society and other guests who applied to attend. As he’d been director of Friends of the Earth in the 1980s (as well as holding many other high-ranking posts within the environmental sector) I was obviously very interested to go along and hear what he had to say. The following post is adapted from notes taken by one of our volunteers.

He has a reputation for being quite a provocative speaker but on this occasion he was determined to deliver quite a positive message – maybe that’s because he now heads an organisation called “Forum for the Future”, so needs to promote a brighter picture of the future. Jonathan said that we are on the brink of a Green Industrial Revolution here in the West Midlands. He would not have said that even one year ago and that although it has been announced regularly over the last 25 years, he sees signs that it could now be arriving at last.

The reasons he sees for this are the following:

  • There is a consensus on climate change. Our knowledge of climate science has been unfolding over the last 100 years and recent wobbles are not significant.
  • Acceptance that oil is finite and a price crunch is coming that will make it unaffordable for most purposes. The end of the era of cheap hydrocarbons.
  • Investment in renewable energy has become an industrial sector in its own right. The sense of a tipping point on energy supply.
  • UK government has finally got its act together on renewables. The Technology strategy Board is to invest £1bn in the renewable supply chain.

The trouble is that we’re not jumping up and down and saying how great this is, because the media paints such a negative picture of climate change and the consequences and NGOs aren’t getting their messaging right either.

He asked a question that is crucial in this areaand one that we need to look at to ensure the chance isn’t wasted – What is stopping us from seeing and seizing the crucial moment?

1. No price on carbon. This is a major distortion in market behaviour. It requires a corrective mechanism, wrongly called subsidies to clean energy generation when it is just reflecting the cost that should be inherent with high-carbon activity.

2. Slowness in diffusion of technologies. Lighting has gone from incandescent bulbs, to compact florescent, to LED and now new methods such as high efficiency plasma. But it is too slow in implementation in most cases.

3. Incumbency