Articles by Peter Madden
Peter Madden is the chief executive of Forum for the Future.
What are the most important environmental books? At Forum for the Future, we polled 100 staff and colleagues from around the U.K. for the green books that had most influenced us, and came up with our top 10. The list spans the last 50 years, and contains the usual suspects -- as well as a few surprises.
Small Is Beautiful and Silent Spring are the runaway winners, and the top 10 also contains one novel, one children's book, and one autobiography. While a couple of titles on the list are peculiarly British, others have had a global impact.
It's interesting to see what didn't get the votes. There are no wildlife or wilderness classics, and no overt spirituality. Would that be different if this were an American list, I wonder?
And there's no place for a number of classic reference texts -- no Limits to Growth, Our Common Future, or State of the World. This might have something to do with the fact that great sources of information are not always the most riveting of reads.
Here's the top 10 in full:
While the U.S. was absorbed in the midterm elections, a major report on the economics of climate change was launched in the U.K. The weighty "Stern Review" -- 700 pages in all -- was the work of Sir Nicholas Stern, ex-chief economist at the World Bank. Produced at the behest of the chancellor, Gordon Brown, it has had a profound impact on political and business attitudes in this country.
This is not surprising when the headline message of the report is that climate change could shrink the global economy by a fifth, equivalent to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Stern's analysis shows that taking action now will cost an average of 1 percent of global GDP a year over the coming decades, whilst not acting will cost between 5 and 20 percent of GDP a year over the same time frame.
This is the second installment of a monthly column on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe, from Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, Britain's leading sustainable development charity. Read the first column here.
We have gone offset-crazy in the U.K. Open any newspaper or magazine at the moment and you'll see full-page advertisements from oil giant BP offering the chance to "neutralize the impact of your car's CO2 emissions."
Buy a new Range Rover, book a holiday with First Choice, or pay for a flight with British Airways and you are given the chance to offset. Even this year's World Cup declared itself "carbon neutral."
Government has got in on the act too, with a clutch of departments promising to offset their impacts.
For some environmentalists, though, this is all a dangerous distraction from the need to reduce emissions at source. Kevin Anderson, a climate-change scientist, argues, "Offsetting is a dangerous delaying tactic because it helps us to avoid tackling that task. It helps us to sleep well at night when we shouldn't sleep well at night."
Charles Liesenberg, an offset provider, argues the opposite: that because climate change is a global problem, "it doesn't matter where you reduce emissions, as long as you do it."
This is the first installment of a new monthly column on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe, from Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, Britain's leading sustainable development charity.
Something strange and wonderful is happening in British politics. American readers, prepare to be envious: both of our main political parties are actively competing to be seen as the greenest. What is perhaps even more interesting is that it's the Conservatives (a traditionally right-wing, pro-business, and tax-cutting party more or less equivalent to your Republicans) who are currently winning.
In a recent opinion poll, people were asked, "From what you have seen or heard, which of these three politicians as prime minister would do most to protect the environment?" Only a quarter opted for Tony Blair, and 18 percent for his likely successor as head of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, while 33 percent chose David Cameron , the Conservative leader. It is difficult to imagine a comparable result in the United States.
The change is mainly down to the 39-year-old Cameron himself (pictured at right). Dave, as he prefers to be called, is a slick, approachable, and media-friendly politician. Indeed, he has many of the qualities -- of freshness, of being in touch with ordinary people's aspirations -- that made Tony Blair so popular a decade ago.
Cameron has already shown a strong personal commitment to environmental issues. He rides a bicycle to the House of Commons, he grows organic carrots, and he is fitting a wind turbine to his house.