£1 Million For A Bright Idea

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By new contributor Justus Rollin. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) launched a new competition called the Big Green Challenge, which carries a £1 million prize, calling for groups and organisations to “develop and implement new approaches that will lead towards a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions” in their communties. Those ideas “could be either brand new or a fresh way of applying existing solutions”.

This initiative follows a survey done by NESTA in London. It found out that “8 out of 10 Londoners are concerned about effects of global warming in their communities” and one third think that time is running out. Two thirds are convinced that it is “everybody’s responsibility to take action” and one third of Londoners “are willing to work together to combat climate change”.

NESTA states, in its recent policy paper about climate change, that in responding effectively to global warming, “no single solution will suffice”, but it “will require economic, social and political transformation as well as technological change”.

Since the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) stated that we have, at most, 10 years to start a “major change” in order to tackle climate change, it must be asked how we are going to achieve this change.

There are probably three paradigms to tackle climate change. The mainstream are carbon trade, offsetting, adaptation and mitigation. Shiny prizes are part of spurring innovation. New ideas, new technology, and new ways to creatively implement old ideas. Certainly, this might be one way. Moreover, it surely cannot be totally wrong, since so many people are convinced that this is the way to “make a major change” – and deal with climate change.

The climate skeptics think that the problem is not as urgent as it is made out to be by the majority of the scientific community, politicians and civil society. Therefore, they argue, we should focus on other problems, such as alleviation of poverty, and spurring economic growth.

The radical point of view calls for a social change. According to these people, climate change is one of many major environmental, as well as humanitarian, problems that can only be solved if we question market society, privately owned property and the present-day bureaucratic nation-state.

Getting organized, bringing people together, new ideas and implementation of many local projects in order to improve well-being and environmental health are certainly crucial tools in order to trigger social change and thus, as a by-product, tackle climate change.

However, regarding “The Big Green Challenge” competition, there are a few serious questions to be asked. Is competition the tool to protect the climate? Is a “shiny” prize the right incentive to get “the innovation, creativity and enthusiasm of the groups that shape our local environment”?

According to Social Ecology it is essential to question the foundation of the human-made world in which we live, a world based on domination and hierarchy, in order to tackle climate change, as well as other environmental challenges such as loss of biodiversity, decrease in environmental services, an increase in the global ecological footprint, and to solve inequity, poverty, hunger and other urgent social crisis’.

However great this new competition might look, it will not be a major key for a fundamental change. All groups participating must prove “that their ideas worked in involving and engaging their community”. But how can any fundamental change work – not only in technology, not only on personal behavioral change, not only on a local level – but on a local to global scale, including our whole society, if the present circumstances seem to prevent it or, by definition, hinder it?


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