Try, try and try again.

Central Scotland, and in particular the area around Stirling, was the scene of many of Scotland's battles for independence during the 13th and 14th centuries. Growing up there, it was impossible not to be aware of the history and learn the stories of the great warriors and kings who fought to keep Scotland independent. One, particular, has resonance today and that it the story of Robert the Bruce. After the Scottish defeat at the battle of Falkirk, and then the terrible news of Wallace's execution (hung drawn and quartered on the site of what is now Spittalfields market: bet that would put diners off their food if it happened today!), Robert the Bruce was hiding out from English pursuers in a cave. He was exhausted from the never ending struggle, and in despair. His eye fell on a spider spinning its web. It kept trying to swing across the ceiling, over and over again, until at last it reached the other side and anchored the first strand of the web. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again" seemed to be the message this creature was giving out and Bruce adopted it as a motto. Eight years later, he finally won the significant battle that secured Scottish independence.

Today, representatives from around the world met in Cancun for the latest round of talk to try and avert disastrous climate change. This is the 16th meeting of "the parties" as the United Nations calls them and there is little sense of anticipation that much will be achieved beyond keeping the process alive and moving forward on, perhaps, a couple of issues like protecting the remaining rainforests.

Global warming and resultant climate change has many features that make it a uniquely difficult problem to solve.

On the one hand it is fairly straight forward: certain gases in the atmosphere cause it to retain heat from the sun rather than radiating that heat back into space. Increase the concentration of these gases and you increase the amount of heat retained. We have been doing just that for the past 250 years, ever since we discovered how to generate power from fossil fuels, and at increasing significant rates in the past 60 years as global population and economic activity levels have increased. The concentration levels are now higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years and are expected to bring about an increase in global temperatures of 3-4 degrees centigrade. This is enough to significantly change the climate of the planet: when temperatures were of that order cooler, ice sheets came south of London and New York so you can make your own guess as to how far north the deserts will spread. And this scenario may well be witnessed by the end of the century, which is within the lifetime of people being born now. And, yes, you can find stuff on the internet to argue that the climate changes all the time: that is true just in the same way that people die in traffic accidents all the time. However, in the same way that each specific accident will have its own causes, this particular period of warming has its own cause: human activity through burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

In the developed world, this prospect is easily ignored by the majority of the population, which is strange but understandable. Understandable because the benefits derived from burning the fuels seem so great and because the cost of using them, in terms of price paid, seems so small. And that is the crux issue. When 15th century accountants invented the method of accounting for our economic activity that we still use today, the world was a very different place. There were many fewer people on the planet, we had not discovered a use for fossil fuel and the prevailing world view was that man had dominion over all other things. The later of these still holds in terms of how we account for our economic activity: use of the Earth's resources and services is deemed to be "free".

That assumption, probably more than any other, is what has led us to where we are today. And, because economic growth has become the compulsion of virtually the entire planet, the faster we grow, the faster we destroy the future.

David Cameron at the weekend argued that Britain could be a world leader in transforming its economy to be low carbon through using the profit motive. That may be true but "profit" is a function of revenue minus cost. By recognising the cost of using the planet's resources and services there is a better chance of the profit motive producing a positive result. Unfortunately, the first attempt to do so, the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme has been opposed by Friends of the Earth and others.

For me, if human consciousness is to have any meaning we must solve the global warming issue but it will require us to step up the level of our thinking and find ways to collaborate on a scale never before imagined, never mind attempted. We are not there yet so must try, try and try again.

'How to be a Humankind Superhero; a manifesto for individuals to reclaim a safe climate'
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Harold Forbes


Try, try and try again.

Great point, Martin ,and I guess Bruce did use it as a touchstone to keep on fighting until he won the final victory. The funny thing about climate change is that the "doing" people are asking for is the bone of contention that is causing the blockage: all parties seem to want to "protect" what they have and are unwilling to be the first to commit. What I think they should be looking at is the actual rules of the game: the frame work that everybody makes their everyday decisions with. As soon as people can make money out of taking carbon from the atmosphere, protecting forests and restocking oceans, the faster it is likely to happen. 'How to be a Humankind Superhero; a manifesto for individuals to reclaim a safe climate' Read chapter summaries and order direct from the website or buy via or Try before you buy. Download the first chapter free of charge.


Martin Dewhurst


Try, try and try again.

I've had this "Try, try and try again" quote running around in my mind since I was a boy Harold. Only recently have I seen why it's language actually prolongs things from happening. I am indefatigable, anyone who knows me will testify to this, determined, committed, willing, selfless in the pursuit of a vision all of the attributes of the spider Robert the Bruce describes, however as any cunning linguist will affirm, to "TRY" is not to "DO". Therefore, to shift anything in the world, be it environmental, social or economic, the answer we're all seeking at some level or another could well be hidden in the words. Be the Change, Be the Change, Be the Change would have been Gandhi's answer to Robert the Bruce, Do, Do, Do may have been Sting's response followed by Da, Da, Da, but whatever the words, whatever the semantics are that empower us to Commit, Commit, Commit to changing things, I believe with a passion that the mantra of anyone bent on changing anything must be I will X, I will Y, I will Z until the job is done. So, in response to the message of your post Harold, here's to finding the right words to make things happen or should that be to help things to happen or allow things to happen? Whatever the words, you're right ... let's step up the level of our thinking and find ways to collaborate on a scale never before imagined. Martin