I attended a lecture this week by John Ashton, who spoke about political challenges in addressing climate change. He gave a quote I had not heard before and then asked how many of the attendees agreed… do you:
“Conceived of as an intellectual challenge for humankind, the increasing threat arising from self-induced global warming clearly seems to exceed the present cognitive and emotional abilities of our species. This is the first truly global crisis, experienced by all human beings at the same time and in a single media space, and as we watch it unfold, it will also gradually change our image of ourselves, the conception humankind has of itself as a whole. I predict that during the next decades, we will increasingly experience ourselves as failing beings.”
I put my hand up – I thought I did agree – I am certainly prone to pessimism on occasion. But I rose my hand with little enthusiasm or conviction and couldn’t quite work out why.
It got me thinking back to a recent visit to the Eden project where I had strange mixed emotions, on the one hand feeling inspired by the vision, determination and drive which had created it, yet on the other wondering if in the grand scheme of the environmental problems we face, could even such a grand vision really make much difference.
I was still thinking about this whilst listening to Professor John Fa from the Durrell institute speak about how we decide conservation priorities. I began skeptical about the approach of Durrell, the focus on such isolated and endangered species again to me felt it suffered from a lack of ‘bang for buck’ and in a way the same nag which bothered me at the Eden project – is this the best use of energy, vision and money – will it really make a difference in the grand scheme of things. However, his argument was convincing; if we accept that, as well as large, ecosystem scale conservation, part of the problem is to stop things going extinct – then it makes logical sense to focus on those closest to doing so. It is not the whole problem, quite possibly not even the most important problem. But it is one that Durrell are uniquely set up and skilled to do – this is their brick in the wall. They should focus on doing that and doing it as well as they can, freely admitting that this in itself is far from a perfect science.
And I had a epiphany (or at least a mini-one). I often fear, and many in my generation and the younger one are often accused of this, that I am apathetic. I am not, and in fact very few people I know are. They do care, and think about these issues a lot. What I think they are is overwhelmed by hopelessness and perhaps even more than that, they are afraid of doing the wrong thing, of failing.
Yet failure is at the very heart of all entrepreneurship, or at least the ability to see failure not as failure, but as progress, as lessons learnt. I understood why I wasn’t sure whether to raise my hand – I think we may begin to experience increasing failure – but if so, it could be first step towards a more entrepeneurial approach to finding solutions. The sooner we are commit to trying things, to making mistakes and learning from them, the sooner we will move forwards. The brick in the wall theory is far from new, but, not for the first time I resolved to set aside skepticism and fear of failure – to spend less time wondering if it is the right brick, or if I am going to do it wrong – and get on with building the wall.