Squaring up to Climate Change

Glasgow’s Climate Change event – the 26th “Conference of the Parties” that convened earlier this month to advance humanity’s response to the crisis facing our environment – has come and gone. Arising from the occasion, before and after, the consensus reaction boiled down to two key convictions: before, that it would fall significantly short of what needed to be achieved; and afterwards, that indeed it had fallen short.

COP26 did register one small but promising success, however. It provided Cradle of English with an opportunity to reframe one of its two podcast series to tackle one of the great buzzwords of our time. As a feelgood term denoting forward thinking and implying positive disruption to the tired old ways of doing things, the innovation buzzword is a banner that can be seen flying all over the world, intoned in business school curricula and wafting up on the warm air generated by earnest marketing departments everywhere.

As to what it means in a Real Life context, however, Fleet Street has been a showcase for its best practice over five centuries, back at least to the days when The Mitre Tavern was throwing off creative sparks in all directions. And with its Mitre Nights podcasts, Cradle of English is nourishing that flame. In focusing on the concept of “innovation”, it is providing a forum for the businesses, banks, legal firms, and universities of central London to engage as a community in doing what the delegations to Glasgow could not do: get stuck in seriously to saving the planet.

Whether reviewing climate change and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals or reflecting on the devices by which immersive technologies will create the digital environments of the future, Mitre Nights will invoke the lively spirit of tavern discussions with a growing community of marketing specialists, academic and technology experts. With COP26 at the top of the global agenda in early November, the rejuvenated Mitre Nights kicked off with a brace of podcasts that previewed and reviewed the Glasgow proceedings, along the way examining the very definition of “innovation” in the context of meeting the challenges of our time.

A sense emerged across our two panel discussions that squaring up to climate change will involve more than just first, political will, driving regulations; much more than second, the technology worship of gadgets; and certainly more than third, the “financial instruments” that spread the incentives around without appreciably addressing the problem. All these have a role to play but are likely to generate a series of COP-outs without a fourth significant player: community engagement.

By community is meant far more just citizen activism, vital though that is.  We are going to see an increasing commitment of corporate will in the enlistment of worker communities backed by the big brands who increasingly understand the value to them of being good corporate citizens, making common cause with the growing proportion of humanity who understand that, important as money will always be, there is no sustainable wealth but life itself.

Thoughts for COP26 from Wordsworth, Simon & Garfunkel

It’s not often that one of our tweets is a celebration of the contemplative life. Such was the thrust – or let’s say the drift – of a Guardian editorial commenting on an English Heritage promotion of the virtues of silence. “There’s a lot to be said,” it said, “for . . . a peaceful hour at the end of the day, surrounded by the ravaged splendour of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire.”

Sometimes lucky timing and serendipity lend a hand in joining up dots. So it was with reading The Guardian’s editorial in the week that Cradle of English was considering how best to welcome the Glasgow Climate Summit. What do the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals have to inspire us in terms of the sustainability of our urban spaces and the preservation of our legacies for future generations? And how might those inspirations play out in Fleet Street?

In this same week of much research and a little contemplation, I came across some of the better-known lines of William Wordsworth, who might have provided a keynote quatrain for COP26, with:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! . . . “

Useful in the context of its message, and a lot of red meat there for the bare bones of those SDGs.

But while the consequences of all that getting and spending are clear enough given the depredations of the Anthropocene age, a question remains. What is the mood, the mindspace within which we address the challenges arising from all this busy doing at the expense of being, and the consequent laying waste of powers? Surely England’s greatest Nature Poet had something to say in a more contemplative vein?

A line from Simon & Garfunkel drifted by as the Wordsworthian wisdoms flowed: “Slow down, you move too fast, You got to make the morning last . . .” There was certainly a sense of the morning lasting in one of Wordsworth’s more famous poems:

“ . . . Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill; Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

If only Westminster Bridge had been at Blackfriars, and this dawn savouring could just glide into a Cradle of English blog. And then came the blissful serendipity in the discovery of a Wordsworth poem I had not read. It is right up our street and echoes the collective wisdom of several poets: of Pope’s “innocence, which most does please, with meditation,” and Blake’s “world in a grain of sand . . . and eternity in an hour.” Take Dr Johnson’s walk down Fleet Street, and end here:

“ . . . beyond And high above this winding length of street, This moveless and unpeopled avenue, Pure, silent, solemn, beautiful, was seen The huge majestic Temple of St Paul In awful sequestration, through a veil, Through its own sacred veil of falling snow.”