Oliver Tickell

on .

("The Ecologist," Operetional Editor, http://www.theecologist.org/) 

Born as a field of study in the second half of the nineteenth, “Ecology”, over time, has triggered the establishment of several movements and has long been the subject of a strong debate between an holistic approach and a reductionist one. Now Ecology has split in two main branches: “Superficial Ecology”, whose objective is to reduce pollution and preserve the natural environment without changing the “worldview” of Western culture (anthropocentric approach) and “Deep Ecology” (term coined by Arne Næss in 1973), that proposes a radical change in Western Culture, moving definitely from an anthropocentric approach to an eco-centric one. In 1970 Edward Goldsmith, one of the most important ecologist of the past century, founded “The Ecologist”, a magazine that now is widely recognized as the leading one on environmental issues. Over time, more and more publications (not only by “The Ecologist”) have showed the incompatibility between the current lifestyle of Advanced countries and the preservation of our planet. Could Ecology be the answer to global issues like climate change and sources depletion? How much progress the science and movements of ecology has made since the 1970s? Can  movements like “Degrowth”, “Transition Town”, “Permaculture” be an answer towards a more ecological words? Are emerging countries a threat to climate change? What are the main plans of “The Ecologist” in order to break new ground in the environmental debate? Oliver Tickell, the new Editor of “the Ecologist” website at www.theecologist.org, and author of “Kyoto2” (a book setting out a blueprint for effective climate governance), answered to those and other questions.
 Oliver Tickell: Oliver Tickell is Editor of “The Ecologist” website. He is an author, journalist, economist and campaigner on environmental issues. His book,“Kyoto2” (Zed Books 2008) (http://www.kyoto2.org/), sets out a blueprint for effective global climate governance. For many years, Oliver was a friend of The Ecologist’s founder, the late Teddy Goldsmith and this led to building a website in which he has published Teddy’s entire archive of articles and interviews. Oliver’s articles have been published in all the broadsheet newspapers and numerous magazines including “New Scientist”, “New Statesman” and “The Economist”. He is also a popular speaker and experienced broadcaster on the “BBC” home and world services. He studied physics at “Oxford University” and is a founding fellow of the “Green Economics Institute”.
The Ecologist: “the Ecologist” is the world’s leading environmental affairs magazine (www.theecologist.org); it was founded in 1970 by Edward Goldsmith. The magazine quickly became a key platform for the environmental movement. The Ecologist shot to fame in 1972 for devoting an entire issue to its “Blueprint for Survival”, a radical manifesto for change that proposed the formation of a movement for survival. The Blueprint for Survival went on to sell more than 750,000 copies in paperback. In the years that followed, the magazine continued to break new ground in the environmental debate, notably by pointing to global climate change during the African droughts of the mid-1970s, and exposing the extent of the slash-and-burn operations ravaging the Amazon rainforest during the early 1980s. It went on to unveil the fallacy of plentiful nuclear energy during the era in which the technology’s future was thought to herald electricity ‘too cheap to meter’. During the last ten years The Ecologist has continued to highlight the contradictions of economic globalization, the health effects of everyday toxins, and the huge environmental cost of industrial agriculture. Its continued coverage has pushed many of these issues into the political mainstream. To reach a wider, global audience, the magazine re-launched online in 2009. It continues to provide a mix of in-depth analysis, environmental news and practical advice that appeals to a growing community of individuals committed to social and environmental change.

INTERVIEW - (December 2013)
Interview realized in December 2013 and published in January 2014 - (Original interview in English)
Subject: Ecology - The role of Ecology in our society;  The Ecologist's approach; the debate on Climate Change and the role of emerging economies

Question 1: You are the Editor of “the Ecologist” website, one of the most important ecology-based magazines in the word. What is the approach of “The Ecologist” towards Ecology, and in particular its main branches: “Deep Ecology” and “Superficial ecology”?
The term Ecology has two separate meanings: there is the science of ecology (which like other sciences is precise and scientific) and political ecology (that is how to make human society and economy conformed to ecological principles). On this view, “The Ecologist” has primarily a political ambition rather than a scientific one.
With regards to the difference between Deep Ecology (that demands radical change in the way human society live) and Superficial Ecology (that preserves an anthropocentric view; the environment must be protected for the wellness of humans), we need both approaches. That is because, Ideally, we should bring all of human society with us; focusing exclusively on Deep Ecology will catch only a small number of deep philosophical thinkers, leaving behind most people. So the articles in the Ecologist web-site try to appeal to a wide range of people, including those that may be defined as “Shallow Green”*, which are still important. For example, I have recently been working on an article on biodynamic sparkling wine; it doesn’t belong to Deep Ecology, but if people buy this kind of wine, then there will be a small progress towards a more ecological world.
* Shallow Green is a label given to green ideas that are promoted and discussed in the media without real analysis or depth understanding of the truth of the claims; without an accurate analysis of the importance of the efforts promoted; often for the purpose of selling a product or for self-promotion.
Question 2: “The Ecologist” was founded in 1970. Can you explain the progress the word “Ecology” and, more in general, ecological movements have done since then?
The ideas of Ecology have advanced enormously since 1970; this word is now generally understood and the green movement is larger and more mature than it has never been before. On the other hand, all the things we are opposed to have also become more powerful. Since the 1970s, global warming, deforestation, species extinction and resource exploitation have all advanced at a terrifying pace; at the same time the power of corporations, which greatly contribute to those problems, has increased.
“Big corporations have gained power over the political process. This is a serious challenge for the green movement, because it is fundamentally a democratic-based movement and now the democratic process is in large part in the power of corporations.”
Question 3: Edward Goldsmith, the founder of “the Ecologist”, strongly criticized “globalization” and “capitalism”. What do you think are the positive and negative sides of these two processes?
 “Teddy” (Edward Goldsmith) was a great globalist himself: he travelled a lot around the world and was one of the founders of the global green movement, grouping together organizations and movements localized in different parts of the world. So globalization is not all bad! But it also has its strong negative sides. I refer to globalization and capitalism in finance and commerce that have advanced enormously over the past decades. This kind of globalization (a “license” of corporations’ power across the world) undermines countries’ environmental protection policies: many countries have spent decades in advancing environmental protection through their laws, but, after signing “trade agreements”, they could suddenly find these laws (legislated by their national parliament) are no longer valid. Eventually, national democracy is superseded by the global corporations; that is a terrifying prospect! For this reason, “The Ecologist” has always fought against the trade negotiations, first under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), than under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and now has another rounds of trade talks under way.
Question 4: Currently some movements are emerging around the world: the movement of “Degrowth”; the “Transition Town” movement, “Permaculture” and so on. What relation there is between these movements and Ecology? Do you think can these movements represent a good step towards a more sustainable society?
Well, I think these movements contain a lot of answers to the environmental question as they face climate change in a “positive” perspective. Let’s me explain. It is in the nature of the Green Movement putting most of its energy into attacking what is wrong (campaigning against negative things). But acting only in this way (denouncing the “evil”) can make our thinking negative! So it is very important to have a vision of what you are fighting for, a vision of how the world should be, just like these movements are doing. This way of acting is necessary to improve our psychology towards a positive thinking. In conclusion, what we need “as environmentalists” is a well-balanced life in which we support these kind of solutions as well as attacking the negative problems.
Question 5: Over the past decades, countries like China and Latin America’s ones are becoming more industrialized and can represent a serious threat for the fragile equilibrium of our Planet. What is in your opinion the approach of these countries to climate change?
Clearly, emerging countries have experienced an enormous economic growth over the past decades; so their pollution, their demand for goods and materials and, more in general, their environmental impact have rocketed. Although, extremely worrying, this process was inevitably. Now, the question is: are those countries the ones to be blamed for the environmental degradation? The answer is “not totally”. Let’s consider China. Despite not being a democracy (in the western conception), it is surprisingly responsive to the democratic pressure on environmental issues: for example, it is working very hard in tackling air pollution in cities like Beijing where the quality of the air has actually become a matter of great concern for people living there. The Chinese government is desperately trying to meet the growing demand of its people for higher standards of living without increasing pollution and the environmental destruction. “China is the world’s great engine of the renewable energy revolution”, the world leading producer of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells; It has more solar thermal installation than the rest of the world put together. In that sense, China has much to teach other countries about how to make the transition towards a green economy.
What appears to be extremely worrying in the climate change debate is the presence of countries opposed to any kind of environmental progress.  These countries are called climate saboteurs: Australia, Canada, Poland, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India. Now, while the increase of CO2 emissions in Japan is largely due to the closure of nuclear power stations following the Fukushima accident, in the case of Australia and Canada, there is no excuse at all for their anti-environmental policies. These are wealthy resource countries and their policies seem to have engaged a pattern towards maximizing ecological destruction in order to achieve economic wealth. Such disruptive ecological vision is closely linked to that of the “Tea party” in the USA; fortunately, this party is not strong enough to put in place such disruptive policies as in Canada or Australia.
Question 6: In 2008 you published a book, “Kyoto2”, where you proposed a new climate agreement. Could you explain what are your book’s main proposals in order to solve climate change problems?
What climate change desperately need is a “global approach”. Until now, each country has set its own targets and/or signed obligations under the Kyoto protocol; but this individual approach doesn’t work, because in a globalised world, emissions (like production) can be delocalized.  So settling a global cap in CO2 emissions is necessary. Now the most economically efficient way to allocate the rights to produce fossil fuels is simply through an auction in which any (oil or coal) plant can participate in an equitable way. Once these permits are allocated, they should be tradable and the amount of money generated through this process (maybe a trillion dollars per year) should be used to make efficient and low-carbon energy infrastructure in developing countries. However, fossil fuel is not the only matter in climate change; we need also to tackle other sources of carbon emissions such as the destruction of forests. The most effective way of facing this problem is by paying countries that contribute to forest conservation. Also price mechanisms can be not sufficient in some sectors and should be complemented by regulation. This happens in sectors characterized by market failures, such as the car market: here, acting only on the price can be not effective in driving people in buying less polluting cars and some form of regulations are needed.
Question 7: What are the main topics “the Ecologist” is currently focusing on?
The most important topic for the Ecologist now is “Extreme Energy”. The Ecologist strongly opposes fracking for natural gas, mountain top removal for coal mining, the exploration for oil in very deep water and pristine ocean and nuclear power installations. Other big issues the Ecologist is opposed to are “Genetically Modified Organisms” and “deforestation”. In particular, we deeply oppose “irrational” deforestation, like the one made for producing bio-fuels: probably, the environmental impact of cleaning forest to give space to “palm oil” for bio-fuels production is hundred times greater than simply using mineral petroleum.
Question 8: According to the IPCC (Climate Change, 2013) and NOAA observations on CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (in May, they reached 400 parts per million), there is an urgent need to address the climate change issue. Do you think we are still in time to reverse the process of climate degradation? What are the main actions to take in place in order to face this important issue?
It is scientifically proved that, even stopping CO2 emissions from now, the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is going to drive additional warming (and with it more environmental deterioration) for a long time to come. Nevertheless, we need to cut emissions. Simply reducing the growth rate of CO2 emissions (as we are trying to do know) is not sufficient.  In my opinion, the best hope is to accelerate the progress towards renewable energies as the cost of these technologies, especially solar P.V., comes down very rapidly when deployed on a larger scale. It is important to raise the global awareness that building renewable energy infrastructure means producing energy in a cheaper, cleaner and better way than doing it with fossil fuels-based infrastructures.
Question 9: Finally, what is in your opinion the role of information in driving the change towards a more ecological world?
Well, this is the business of the Ecologist: “publishing information for change and campaigning”. But as information is important for us, it is also important for our rivals. Thanks to Edward Snowden, now we definitely know that there are surveillance operations monitoring our data and that this is often done in alliance with big corporations. These big corporations use data in order to shape people mind in the way it is better for their profit, without considering the environmental impact. So, for us, managing information means at the same time fighting against negative communications as well as make a good use of information to bring changes. Eventually, the mission of “The Ecologist” is to make information more public and widespread and use it for preserving our ecosystems. 

Interview on YouTube