Ian Calvert, director of the Association for Decentralised Energy, offers a ‘Gonzo’ take on his experience of COP26 in Glasgow – aka ‘a savage journey to the heart of the Climate Dream’
(With grovelling apologies to Hunter S. Thompson…)
Strange memories on this nervous night in Glasgow. How long since the Paris COP? Five years? Six? It seems like a lifetime. Would Glasgow be able to rise to the Paris COP, or was that doomed to be a peak that never comes again? Maybe Glasgow meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…
My COP-dazed mind wandered back. Only two weeks earlier Alok Sharma, reeling from the news that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin would not be joining him, told us, his PRASEG (Parliamentary Renewable & Sustainable Energy Group) groupies, that his ambition was simply to keep talk of 1.5 degrees alive. Despite the generous amount of ultra-low carbon beer on offer at the event in Westminster Abbey, it was a sobering speech. Even more downbeat, an expert whispered that success would simply be ensuring Glasgow is not the end of the Climate process dream altogether, the last COP.
After two chaotic weeks, I didn’t think the dream had died, but it was increasingly difficult to tell, based on my absurd road trip swirling around the fringe of COP.
Did I really see Joe Biden in a monstrous multi-vehicle motorcade? Or had my view been obscured by the massed ranks of police and individual members of a herd of large inflatable cows? The cows were espousing a plant-based diet (grass presumably?) and seemed to be everywhere; I had even started to worry whether they were following me.
Another world leader sped past me through the traffic on the M8 in a convoy of Jaguar EVs, escorted by five petrol-powered police motorcycles. The countless police horses in attendance would have been too slow it seems, but in any event, they were all busy standing watching a sixteen-year-old Swedish activist who apparently some thought wanted to collapse civilisation as we know it. I watched Greta Thunberg address her followers, massed banners including ‘Christians for Independence’, and I slowly became aware that I was surrounded by people interpreting her speech through the medium of dance and song: “Can you smell the oil burning?” they cried. An inflatable cow drifted slowly past me.
A moment of clarity in the CBI hustings on the energy transition. Nuclear power in the UK is being debated, with some noting that, whatever the case, it is not a magic bullet for solving climate change. Olga Muscat, UK utilities and alternative energy lead at management consultant Bain & Co, then points out that the real question is how we are going to go about heating our homes and factories to deliver net zero by 2050. The ADE vision is increasingly shared it seems!
A quick fix of Tunnock’s caramel wafers is doled out, whilst seated under the ubiquitous COP inflatable planet. The COP26 planet looks rudely healthy, with brighter blues and more luminous greens than seen on planet Earth itself. Is this a prehistoric Earth? Or maybe it’s another planet not suffering under the one hundred million tonnes of fossil carbon dioxide we pump into our own planet’s atmosphere daily… who knows?
The dazzling police turnout involves constabulary from every corner of the UK, from every county. They are braced for superglue wielding insulationists, but when the controversial climate activists remain ardently adhered to the surface of the M25 way down south, the police instead confront and detain a huge inflatable Loch Ness Monster, which invoked its right to remain silent, merely hissing softly.
A colleague on the ADE member delegation speculates that when we all return home after two weeks in Glasgow, we might be confronted by some sort of apocalypse; a breakdown of society caused by a total lack of local policing. A troubling thought, but we are soon snapped back to learning about one of the many low-carbon heat networks in Glasgow with a demonstration of the filtration system which cleverly protects the impressive Queen’s Quay heat pumps from their key adversary – the baby barnacle. Barnacle larvae are tiny and tough and have been around since, well the Earth looked like the COP26 logo it seems. The trip continues on the crammed C26 electric bus – with an arduous crossing of the ‘squinty bridge’ on the way to the ADE ‘Flex Education’ fringe event. Two children joyously abseil off the side of the bridge, clasping a ‘Humanity is failing’ placard. The police respond. For a moment it looked like the squadrons of police and coastguards patrolling the river on jet skis would lurch into action, but no.
Safe and secure in the TV studio for Flex Ed, our breathless panellists arrived after having been confronted by activists at their previous meeting. “Down with Shell!” cried the activists as they barged in.
“We don’t work for Shell. We are advocating for smart flexibility in order to decarbonise the energy system,” replied the panellists, neatly quoting the ADE vision. The activists moved on to invade the science museum at the Green Zone, where they were arrested while disrupting an educational show for children on the evils of climate change.
Under the reassuring gaze of two police sniper units, we wrapped up our piece to camera and made yet another contribution to the hectic programme of visits and debate which surrounded COP.
It was time to leave – to get in the EV and beat it. We were somewhere around Ibrox on the edge of the Green Zone when the Irn Bru began to take hold. Maybe COP felt meaningful after all. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
Ian Calvert is director of Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE).