The Hutton Series on Climate Change: Background and Overview
James Hutton was a Scottish geologist, agriculturalist, chemical manufacturer, naturalist and physician. Often referred to as the father of modern geology, he played a key role in establishing geology as a modern science. He was a frequent visitor to Panmure House and a close friend of Adam Smith's.
The Hutton Series on Climate Change took place across 2020-21 at Adam Smith’s Panmure House, a series of events bringing together a diverse cross-section of experts, business leaders, scientists, and concerned citizens in the service of one simple aim:
to identify ten key priorities, innovations & actions to mitigate the climate crisis.
The Final Report is here to view.
A headline conclusion of our Hutton debates and explorations was the need to raise ambition and confidence to face up to and address the challenges that lie ahead of us. As we glance back and look forward, this imperative remains an enduring need. The uncertain world arising from wars, energy and food shortage, political ineffectiveness and geo-political flux has presented more questions and deflected intended pathways in our lives. The well known trilemma of energy security, affordability and sustainability has become unbalanced – first the necessity of security peaked, and current thoughts centre on recalibration of affordability and coming to terms with the potential downplaying of sustainability. Let’s not pretend this is simple, as we are all learning together how we can best navigate the space.
Even prior to the global perturbations of Ukraine, governments and the public have focused and agreed on the diagnosis of climate change but largely failed to articulate pathways to achieve sustainable outcomes for their nations. The net outcome of this is that citizens and politicians are often confused, worried, and even panicked. The resultant well-intentioned wish “to do something” results in rash decisions underpinned by poor judgement, absence of factual evidence and consequently the instigation of major projects that represent acute economic wastefulness and a focus on the wrong priorities being baked-in to local and national policies. The truth is that most genuine mitigations for climate change are long term in nature and need to be presented and committed to on this basis. This is not in the bailiwick of our current national political processes, where partisan views divide and stagnate rather than corral united action and effort. On a global scale the problem is even more acute of course, as the ethics of decisions made in one country impact others.
So, one year on, as we survey the comments from our Hutton speakers in this series I believe we do see a stronger ambition and sense of pending change in all five of the perspectives to be presented in our forthcoming commentaries. From my viewpoint, three key drivers for change are gaining momentum, each important:
- Personal choice and action of intent from citizens is growing in momentum and significance. The need to drive this remains, and will be delivered by enhancing the knowledge of individuals so they can become empowered citizens. Without familiarity with principles of carbon literacy and planetary health, citizen actions are likely to be chaotic and sometimes misjudged.
- Growth and deployment of Corporate Purpose. Here it is Corporations who assume increasing responsibility for creating change through their operations and through the values they promote. Some may argue this is undemocratic, but there is growing reality that such matters are becoming a part of basic Corporate brands.
- Realisation of the need for clear presentation of pathways to sustainability. This perhaps the least advanced and most difficult area of the three drivers I have identified. Clear articulation of pathways to achieve sustainability, ethically, are needed without succumbing to the noise and confusion of disruptive activist groups. Ahead we must see also expect simpler rationalisation of framing the forward agenda, for example, through lens of ‘sustainable development goals’ and ‘planetary health’ perspectives. Universities and National Academies have some responsibilities to lean more strongly into this space.
So as we look forward from this series my greatest wish is to see the Panmure House sessions as a catalyst for igniting debate on factual scenarios to gamify real options for ethical and global sustainability. In the spirit of the Enlightenment that Hutton advocated, Scotland could be a stronger global leader in assuring what it means to have sustainable future.