Articles by Peter Madden
Peter Madden is the chief executive of Forum for the Future.
Are we too obsessed by climate change? Over here, climate change is coming to completely dominate the sustainability agenda. This is true in politics, business, the media, and civil society.
I was talking to our new secretary of state for the environment, Hilary Benn, the other day, about his department's strategy. He argued that all the other issues -- such as air quality, waste, water, and so on -- could all be dealt with under the climate change umbrella; government action on climate change would deliver for the other issues, and vice versa.
When we talk to companies or public authorities, it is the same. All they want is advice on going low-carbon. And since this is where the money and political attention are going, the NGO activity seems to follow, reinforcing the trend.
Of course, this is a good thing in many ways. Climate change is the major challenge we face. Sir David King, the U.K. Government's chief scientific advisor, was right when he reminded his government colleagues that "climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism."
For those of us who want to see green thinking integrated into other areas of life, climate change works well. It can't be thought of as peripheral. It will affect everything, including how we run the economy and how we live our lives.
We have a problem, we greens. It has to do with the way that we talk about the future. We do need to have a more plausible account of what the kind of world we are recommending would be like.
However, our main narrative about the future talks of apocalypse and doom and gloom: the earth is dying; species are disappearing; the planet is overheating.
If people want to do something about it, too often they're told they'll have to lead a life of sacrifice and constraint. And if they won't, we'll guilt-trip and scare them 'til they repent.
And even if they do as we say, they also worry that it probably won't make much difference anyway because the Chinese, Indians, and North Americans are all busy ignoring the issues.
Brown is viewed as solid and dependable, if a little dour. He is slightly to the left of Blair on most issues, though he has also pushed through a lot of business-friendly policies.
Gordon Brown is notoriously difficult to read; he gives very little of himself away. So what can we expect on the environment from a Brown premiership?
Can a bag of potato chips point the way to saving the planet?
In the U.K., we have started down the path of putting "carbon labels" on products. Tesco, our biggest supermarket chain, has said they will label every product they sell. The Carbon Trust, a government agency, has already produced a prototype label and is trying it out on shampoo, a fruit juice, and a bag of potato chips.
Clearly we do need to measure and manage carbon. A lot has been done to calculate and reduce the direct climate impacts of companies. Now attention is shifting to the wider climate-change footprint; businesses are looking up and down the supply chain.
Labeling is a great idea in principle. We have seen labels like fair-trade, organic, energy-rating, and marine stewardship engage consumers, change production, and move markets. And on climate change, consumers tell us they want simple, straightforward choices that are guaranteed to make a difference.