The IPCC’s “Global Warming of 1,5°C” report made us wake up and take the right path in 2018
October 7, 2030. We are overwhelmed with joy. 12 years have passed since that autumn of 2018 when the IPCC (United Nations) published the revealing special report “Global Warming of 1,5°C”, the famous SR15. In retrospect, I can hardly believe it, and yet we’ve done it. In an extraordinary change of course, in little over a decade, we’ve reached the key milestone midway: a 45% reduction in global carbon emissions, and in the best possible fashion, transforming the pillars of the social contract.
In order to bring about the “immediate, radical and unprecedented” changes claimed by scientists, we decided to profoundly transform ourselves, our priorities, values, culture, and economic system. We took the report for what it truly was: a silver bullet to the heart of globalized capitalism, and the consumerism and individualism it was rooted in. We resisted the siren songs of the fallacious “green growth” and its dangerous “techno-optimism”; we defeated the fear feeding fascism and its insane geo-engineering; and we opted for the way of hope. The hope of a new world, already emerging at the time, built on well-being, real democracy, equity, justice, the sovereignty of communities, and cooperation for the common good. We chose social change, and we won. The second half of this long walk to freedom still lies ahead (we must reach net zero emissions before 2050) but, as Mandela used to say, let’s look back and enjoy this glorious vista for a moment, and then keep marching forward.
10 years before, in November 2008, propelled by the mounting scientific evidence, I quit a PhD in Astronomy in the USA, and began my own journey as a social entrepreneur for the climate. My generation was the first one to feel the effects of climate change first hand, and the last one that could do something about it. And so we accepted the challenge, with courage and intelligence. The weeks ensuing the publication of the SR15 report were hard. Adding to a devastating summer, various studies came out during the autumn about the severity of the sixth mass extinction underway, the extra heat hidden in the oceans, or the rapid thaw of the permafrost.
But we reacted, didn’t let fear paralyze us, not even in the face of the authoritarian regimes rising those days. We sought hope outside the limelight of center stage where monsters roared for attention; in the shadows of the fringes, where the invisible revolutionaries where changing the world while nobody was looking, as the great Rebecca Solnit reminded us (“Hope in the Dark”). And we found it.
It was precisely Rebecca’s radiant hope that guided us through those dark times, defining the space for effective action as the vast uncertainty in between the deterministic optimism and pessimism. We realized that the future was not written on the wall, that we could shape it. The report itself confirmed the idea: the worst scenario (collapse of civilization) was not inevitable, we could still aspire to the best. In fact, the urgency and scale of the problem, just like the failed “patches” from the past, presented us with the biggest chance for a paradigm shift ever. And here we are today, in a world where opportunity is widespread and emissions are vanishing, all thanks to our shared vision and collective effort.
Amid the anguish, a vital finding triggered the right choice: the strong and direct correlation between climate change and socio-economic inequalities. On the one hand, sociological analyses of climate catastrophes –hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves – underscored the fact that their consequences feasted on the most vulnerable. On the other, researchers such as Danny Dorling (“The Equality Effect”) laid bare how inequalities were found at the root of all environmental degradation. In light of the undeniable facts, we assumed at last that the nature of the challenge facing us was socio-environmental, cultural indeed, and that its solutions were therefore political and economic. Consequently, we went about rethinking and reorganizing ourselves, with technology as a means, but with social change as the indisputable end.
Passionate thinkers energized the debate. Starting by Rebecca herself, who offered us the pleasure of (re)discovering change in the past, to know where we come from, and reassert our belief that it is possible. Social change, she said, is the “accumulation of imperceptible changes in a gradual transformation”. Ideas and values initially peripheral, go mainstream over time, and alter our notion of what is important. Quite like the almost-fatal axiom that growth equals progress, which we blindly held, roughly, from the 1980s to the beginning of 2019, and that Naomi Klein or Yayo Herrero masterfully unmasked. From his end, Todd Stern, a former US chief climate negotiator, brought back to life illustrative examples of evolving social norms and behaviors: from the acceptance of homosexual marriage or rejection of tobacco, all the way to broader movements like the Civil Rights or Feminism, that set us free from racial segregation, sexist violence and discrimination. This is how we made social change happen in the 2020s, by re-centering progress around holistic well-being.
Change, however, is rarely straightforward, sometimes becoming as complex as the Chaos Theory, and emanating from down-reaching foundations. Such was the case of the Spanish Revolution (“15M – Indignados” movement) in 2011, heavily influenced by the Arab Spring, which in turn took inspiration from Martin Luther King, via an Arabic comic book widely read in Egypt the months prior to Tahrir Square’s uprising. And Martin from Gandhi, and Mahatma from Tolstoi and the British female suffragists. All is linked, in time and space. Interdependence fills everything, and constitutes the very fabric across which impact travels. Journalist and researcher Anand Giridharadas, drawing from a study of his on the barriers encountered by changemakers, put forth an elegant blueprint for the journey ahead: 1. The change required is systemic and radical, addressing the root causes of all common challenges; 2. We can’t change the system without changing people’s hearts first and foremost; 3. We must act on the local level, grounding ourselves in our own communities, so as to (re)connect with our neighbors and environment. Practice added a fourth: real disruptive leadership is of collective nature.
Back to the source, two activists and humanists in the genesis of the “15M Indignados” movement, laid on the table of history the tools of collective intelligence and free-thought. Javier Toret, one of the first “techno-political” scientists and a colleague of the self-management group at the citizen-led social and cultural center “La Casa Invisible” in Malaga (Spain), made us believe in the boundless “power of connected masses”, in the rise of a new social power, decentralized, autonomous, liberated from pre-established categories and old paradigms. The acknowledgement of the capacity of social networks, not the virtual ones but those of flesh-and-bones people, to democratize the production of reality, build emotional and cognitive states, and intervene by penetrating all layers of society; boosted our confidence levels, and expanded the realms of the possible.
Eventually, Amador Fernández-Savater, a fellow member of the 15M thinking group in Madrid SOL(ution) Square, lit the fire, naturally transporting us to that ideal future, the present today, building from what was available back then -the green signs. The bridge between the two, he whispered, ought to be appealing, so that crowds would like to cross it. With Amador, Rebecca, Javier, Naomi, Todd, Yayo, and all the invisible ones, we began the definitive revolution, the Revolution of Desire.
Looking back, it was these ideas that thrust us forward. And that is why, in this letter to our alter egos of the past, we dare to extract the essence of the successful transformations that occurred to (re)define social innovation: a solution that is radical, transgressive, disruptive, oriented to action; that builds from what exists; adopts a systemic and global approach, with solid local roots; seizes opportunities arising from the uncertainty of a complex world; thrives under collective leadership; is structured around networks of people governed by effective mechanisms of horizontal democracy, and aided by technological tools at its service; joins with a diversity of groups in broad social movements; contributes to building equity and sovereignty on the local level, and shares best practices on the translocal one; in order to provide comprehensive answers to certain socio-environmental challenges faced by a specific community. When these challenges are either cause (mitigation) or effect (adaptation and resilience) of the climate crisis, then we are speaking about social innovation for the climate. From there, adding the crucial economic dimension, we get to social entrepreneurship: a social innovation that, thanks to inclusive, cooperative, and sustainable income-generating models, is able to scale up the magnitude and impact of the social change enacted, by regenerating the economy from within.
At this point, I must confess that nowadays (2030), we are stripping their last name off: innovators, entrepreneurs, and economies, they are all social now, by nature. The end was the means. Social meant environmental. We grasped it in time. In the next letter, we’ll tell you how we did it, with an emphasis on the closest circle of influence, simply because the new world we’ve built it piece by piece, a lot of small people, in many small places. We’ll tell you how we made the Revolution in my city, Malaga: in the “Lagunillas” neighborhood, via the Malaga for the Climate Network, and at the legendary Casa Invisible with its incredible superheroines.