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Nick Breeze: Are the world’s faith communities primarily responsible for the world’s poorest and worst affected, or will the global impacts represent a threat to all global citizens?

Martin Rees: One feature of the worlds religions is a concern with the world’s poor and the realisation that their lives are as valuable as those in the more developed regions of the world like Europe and North America. Therefore they can help to persuade us that we ought, if necessary, to be prepared to make sacrifices in order for the developed world to avoid the downside of climate change. There is a certain self-interest in this obviously as we want to feel the rest of the world is developing as well and we don’t want to have uncontrolled migration driven by desperation which will make already crowded parts of the world even more crowded.

Is it likely that our generation will be held to account for the decisions we take that will impact our children and future generations?

Nick Breeze: Do we need to evolve away from our “hunter gatherer” ancestors to become custodians of life on earth?

"...we are going to be in a world where there’s going to be 9 billion people by the middle of the century... It is not possible for 9 billion to live like present day Americans and have a sustainable world."

Martin Rees: We have already moved over the course of evolution to a very interconnected society where we depend, in any country, on imports and many interactions with many others…we depend on global networks. So we are all on this interconnected world together and we need to guard its future. We also need to realise that if we want to have greater equality in the world, and we are going to be in a world where there’s going to be 9 billion people by the middle of the century, then this constrains the kind of lifestyle people can adopt. It is not possible for 9 billion to live like present day Americans and have a sustainable world. But that is not necessarily bad news because advances in technology are not always detrimental to natural resources. For instance, if we replace travel by IT and other communications, we can improve quality of life without exhausting more resources. So economic growth in a sense of improvement in quality of life can be achieved without increasing consumption of raw materials. We can reduce energy intensification of the economy.

So it is not absurd to aim for a society by midcentury where there are 9 billion people who all enjoy a better quality of life that we do in the west today but without consuming nearly as much energy as we now do and consuming that energy in a form that doesn’t emit CO2 and doesn’t have long-term consequences for the environment.

So I think we can be technological optimists and hope that technology will be able to provide a infrastructure to enable all of us, the developing world as well as the developed world, to live a better life style by 2050. But what we need is the political will and the long-term thinking, that is prepared to plan more than 50 years ahead in terms of energy and natural resources.

Nick Breeze: How can politicians and faith based communities work together to implement SDG’s that are currently being discussed?

Martin Rees: None of the developments which are needed in order to implement the UN goals will happen without the support of the political leaders because they control the environment and the regulatory framework, etcetera. But although that is necessary it is certainly not sufficient and the political leaders, who in most countries have to be reelected, will only push forward this agenda if it has broad support.

This is a problem, because for it to have broad support, the electorate has to think long-term and also think in terms of not just benefiting itself in the short-term but the world in the long-run.

This is really rather hard and this is where I think outside bodies, including the faith groups, can make a big difference because they can make us aware that our lives will only be better in the future if the lives of everyone else in the world are better also, and we can have a less fragmented and less contentious world.

The faith groups can then help to energise the public and the public can then influence politicians, because politicians are influenced a bit by what experts tell them but they are influenced far more by what the press and the postbag, which they get from the public.

So, those of us who are trying to campaign for an accelerated transition to clean energy and for concern about the develop[ing] world, can do a better job if we don’t just talk to politicians, though we should do that when we can, but also engage with the public and with the media, so that these topics rise higher on the agenda when they would otherwise be trumped by short-term and parochial concerns.

"...sustainable development... that leaves an equally good world for future generations. That should be our touchstone.."

Nick Breeze: Is this creating a sort of public momentum in a way?

Martin Rees: and the momentum can be sustained if people really care about the world their children and grandchildren will live in, and feel some obligation to feel that the world is more stable. The world will not be more stable unless all countries have protection against the real downsides of environment change.

Nick Breeze: Is it likely that our generation will be held to account for the decisions we take that will impact our children and future generations?

Martin Rees: We need to value the lives of people who will be living in the 22nd century as much as we value our own and take precautions now… to make some sacrifices now, to remove the risks from them, and we don’t do that.

All of us know how much we depend on the heritage left by centuries past, we in this country, Britain, benefit from what the Victorians did, etcetera, up to 150 years ago or more and we ought to leave a legacy for the future, which generations to come will not curse us for but bless us for.

I am reminded of this when I go to a cathedral which was built many centuries ago by people who didn’t live to see it finished and they were living in a world when they thought the world had existed for only a few thousand years and may only exist for one thousand more.

We now live in a world where we know far more. We have horizons in space and time hugely greater than they did. It is therefore rather shameful that our horizons are not as broad in space or time as the cathedral builders and we can at least learn from them that we ought to be thinking about preserving the Earth for future generations.

Going back to the famous report produced by Brookland, then the prime minister of Norway, about what’s called sustainable development, and what was meant by that was development that leaves an equally good world for future generations. That should be our touchstone, rather than leaving a world for future generations that is denuded of many species and with a climate that many people are unable to adjust to.


View part 1 of the Interview With Lord Martin Rees Part 1


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