Challenges, Opportunities and Threats

Until recently climate change was the major issue of the age, but in the last few months there has been a significant change in the media. In fact certain sections of the media have become downright hostile to the whole notion. This change has been in large part due to the inept way that many members of the scientific community have presented their case, using data that at best were flawed and at worst are erroneous. Added to the mix has been the harsh winter that we have suffered and some are even claiming that climate change is not in actual fact happening.

From my perspective I think the evidence for climate change is irrefutable, albeit we don’t actually know what the true implications are. For the U.K. there may be some benefits, although here again the evidence is inconclusive with received wisdom suggesting that our climate may be becoming increasingly unpredictable.  Even if the U.K. benefits there are going to be some real problems on a global scale, particularly for the poorest countries. As usual the poor will suffer whilst the rich prosper. Nobody actually knows the full implications of the large amount of carbon dioxide we are throwing into the atmosphere. In addition we cannot go on depleting the world’s resources at the current rate.

The Impact on Communities

However, if for the moment we ignore climate change and focus slightly less globally and concentrate on our immediate communities there is another question we need to answer, which is how we are going to build our communities and involve our young people in the development of these communities. This sounds like a motherhood and apple pie issue. Yet it is a real issue and has implications for all factors from health, education, environment, crime, housing, jobs and even work life balance. In sum, the debate is about the quality of life.

I have talked in previous pieces about these issues, but feel very strongly that there is a need to change the focus of our economy and the direction of social policy. Within the current climate we have a time to reflect and explore new ways of development. The focus needs to be on the local, something that all political parties say they are signed up to.

The economy in the last decades has emphasised size as the great god of economic development, with the financial sector being seen as the machine that will keep the economy afloat. There is little left of manufacturing industry in the U.K., with much of it owned by large companies whose understanding of the local community is limited. We only have to look to my home area of Teesside and the recent announced closure of the Redcar steel plant and the consequences that this can bring to the local population.  This is not a dig at foreign-owned companies but an acknowledgment that local people have very limited control over their fate in these situations. For evidence we have to look no further than the recent goings on at Cadbury’s.

A Chance to Go Local

We have a huge opportunity to engage people in the development of their local communities. We need to start in our primary schools and involve our children and young people in things like gardening, giving them insights into how food is grown and thereby improve the quality of our environment. We need to encourage creativity amongst our young people, who will then become the people who will develop the industries of the future.

This will be the way that will encourage people to see that they have an investment in their community’s future. It is also a broadly preventative strategy that will improve the quality of people’s health, potentially reduce anti-social behaviour and in the long term have financial benefit for all and reduce the amount of our commuting. Communities should not be just places where we live but should also be the places where we work. As the late great E.F. Schumacher argued in his seminal book Small is Beautiful, we need to adopt an approach to economics which ensures ‘People Matter’, rather than focus on a very privileged few.

We need to move from a macro to a micro focus, seeing communities as the driving force of our economy, an inclusive approach that doesn’t just leave the most vulnerable within our communities to a life of unemployment, poor housing, education and health.

It is the young that are open to new ideas and it is they who are willing to change, and it is they that hold the key to the future. If we don’t change, we will accentuate existing inequalities and have communities which are populated by people who have never worked, are poorly educated, suffer from poor health and who have no hope.

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