On climate courage

James Murray
On climate courage

James Murray's speech to the 2018 BusinessGreen Leaders Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the eighth annual BusinessGreen Leaders Awards.

An evening so inspiring, so life-affirming, so restorative of your faith in human endeavour it is almost worth missing Love Island for.


Greener than Caroline Lucas' recycling bin.

More competitive than a Cabinet-level Brexit sub-committee.

More coveted than a World Cup that isn't hosted by a morally compromised petrostate.

The BusinessGreen Leaders Awards are the must attend event for the UK's green economy.


Welcome also to London's premier impromptu sauna. Please loosen your ties, kick off your heels, and reflect on quite how bad our urban climate resilience is.

I should probably add I accept jokes about climate resilience were before there were actual fires bearing down on actual Manchester. It's like the country is just doing its own metaphors now.  


All of our finalists this evening are testament to the inspiring innovation and enduring resilience of the UK's burgeoning green industries.

It has been another remarkable year for the UK sustainability sector, driven in large part by the organisations in this room.

The green economy is growing at four times the rate of the underlying economy.

Green firms consistently outperform the market, while high carbon assets are about as popular as a plastic straw at a sustainability summit.

There are electric taxis on our streets, solar panels on our roofs, batteries in our basements, and not much coal left on our grid.

More important still, as evidenced by the Net Zero Now campaign we launched today, there is a growing understanding the era of incremental environmental progress is drawing to a close.

What is required is rapid, systemic, transformative change.

We need a net zero emission economy, and we need it as quickly as possible.

BusinessGreen's recent rebrand, our campaign, and our mission to inform, connect, and inspire the green economy - to be for green business - is driven by the realisation this step change is essential and desirable.


Many of the finalists here this evening epitomise this new way of thinking.

As one of our judges observed after one of the most competitive judging days we've ever hosted: "long gone are the days when you get awards just for having recyclable biros on reception"


This acceleration in corporate progress is of critical importance, not least because this past year has also been marred by existential challenges.

At times it has felt like living through the prologue to a Margaret Atwood novel.

We are down the rabbit hole.

Boris Johnson thinks the determining factor for whether or not Brexit is a success is the extent to which you believe it will be. 20 mile queues at Dover? It's your fault for not believing enough.

Businesses with concerns are on the receiving end of invective that would shame a football manager, let alone a Foreign Secretary.

I mean, couldn't he of at least told us what he thought of us in Latin. It's fortuna rem, Boris. But I guess you knew that. 

Meanwhile, each morning we wake up and check our phones to see how far the Trump administration will wade into the swamp of unconscionable immorality today? The answer is, it seems, we've only just reached the putting children in cages stage; there's a long way to go yet.

Perhaps worst of all, we had confirmation global greenhouse gas emissions are rising again.

For all our endeavours, encouraging recent progress has stalled.

The news hits like a freight train. A diesel-fuelled freight train the government pledged to electrify, before reneging on its promise.


Faced with these inter-locking challenges, it is easy to despair.

But despair is debilitating, dangerous, and worst of all, counterproductive.

The best piece of environmental writing this year - apart from all the pieces you read on BusinessGreen, obviously - came from climate scientist Kate Marvel.

In her essay, We need courage, not hope, to face climate change, Marvel argues that as we "burn coal and oil and gas, heedless of the consequences", the laws of physics mean we are "inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet".

Faced with this stark reality, blind optimism is insufficient.

"We need courage, not hope" she writes. "Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending."

Courage is the ability to recognise we are, in Marvel's words, "in this together… together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see."


Our finalists this evening provide inspiring evidence we have the foundations, the sticking place, to which we can screw our climate courage.

We have the tools, technologies, and techniques we need to avert environmental crisis.

You embody the breadth, depth, and ingenuity of the efforts to tackle these challenges and demonstrate green growth is the only viable path forward.

It is an honour to write about you every day and an honour to host you here this evening to celebrate your achievements.

I guess what I am saying is if it sometimes feels progress is too slow, that the journey is too daunting, then look around you, and have a little courage.

We'll get there together.

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