Jonathon Porritt is Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, formerly Director of Friends of the Earth, and a prominent environmentalist and writer.

He talks to Safia about why it’s taken so long to ACT on the climate crisis and how the responsibility lies with oil and gas companies and governments who have hidden the truth from the public and their shareholders.

From the late 80s onwards the oil companies put hundreds of millions of dollars into so called think tanks and universities with the specific intention of obscuring the science and making people doubt what the science was already completely clear about in the late 1980s, and it was horribly effective.

Jonathon points out the legal consequences of this. “The wheels of justice turn slowly but they turn and right now in the USA there are a number of very significant class actions being brought against the biggest oil companies in particular Exon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and the nature of the court cases is that they obscured the scientific knowledge they had themselves, from their shareholders. It’s not illegal to lie in the USA, apparently its ok, but it is illegal not to share material information with your shareholders so that they they know the risks associated with their continuing investment in your company. So all of these court cases now are focusing on the fact that from the late 1970s onwards all of these companies had commissioned first class scientific work of their own into the implications of the accelerated burning of fossil fuels, they all knew what the consequences would be, so these people are out and out criminals, there’s no question about that”.

Jonathan explains how transport run on renewable energy is a viable alternative and how as renewable energy becomes cheaper fossil fuels will be left in the ground, and also why nuclear power is not a viable option in the energy mix if we are to look at “inter-generational justice” He says, “this intergenerational justice issue with nuclear is incredible, we don’t know what to do with nuclear waste…, the next generation will have to pay,.. this is so immoral”

Forum for the Future has been working with businesses for 25 years and Jonathon explains how even those companies who have invested heavily in sustainability (IKEA, Unilever and many other companies) will be unable to make a difference alone, only government can do this by setting regulation. The key is “a proper price on carbon…it’s incredibly simple….a tax of 50-60 Euros per tonne of what is used in the supply chain would create a mechanism to reduce carbon emissions…the only obstacle is the politics”.

Jonathon discusses the role of the individual in cutting carbon emissions; nothing will change without a decarbonised economy, we can think about what we eat, how we get about and how many children we have. If we can do that then that’s big and it will send the right message to business and government. More importantly, we can use our political influence and encourage young people to get involved. He particularly applauds the School Strikes, Greta Thunberg and XR in changing the nature of political debate.

Hope in Hell“, Jonathon’s new book which will be published in June 2020 outlines the impact of climate change on our lives whilst offering hope in the form of technological solutions and the power of civil action to force politicians to change and engage. He is candid about his own emotions of hope and despair and explains how his anger sustains his activity along with his vision of the future for his children. He explains how he is hopeful rather than optimistic, as “the forces of evil, who do not want to see our economy fundamentally transformed are hugely powerful.”

Safia asks Jonathon about his views on the fast fashion industry. He doesn’t mince his words “the clothing industry is a disgrace. They know what the consequences of cheap clothes really are.” Fashion companies should be pushing government for more regulation, they should say “ we need you to regulate this because if you don’t we will go on abusing people and destroying the planet. That’s the leadership we need”.

Asked about what are the characteristics of good leadership for the future, Jonathon responds “ There has been a huge increase in awareness of climate issues over the last 2 years. This has created conditions where new leaders can more readily emerge and avoid running into a wall of scorn, indifference and inertia which has confronted many leaders in the past. They will be inclusive, empathetic and broadminded to lead the transition we face”.