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Screaming into the future: The 'upbeat but scary' vision of Anthony Giddens

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Shanta Barley | 10:46 UK time, Sunday, 24 May 2009

Speaking at the Hay Festival in Wales, Lord Anthony Giddens, author of 'The Politics of Climate Change' and revered sociologist, laid out his upbeat but scary vision of the future under climate change.

Considering that Lord Giddens' book advises that 'fear is not necessarily the best motivator to get people to respond to climate change', it came as a surprise to see the lithe 71-year-old brandishing Edvard Munch's 'The Scream', a painting of a terror-stricken figure wailing against a blood red Oslofjord skyline (which is actually 'a scream echoing through the Earth', Giddens explained).

Giddens226x226.jpgA scream that the public can't hear, he went on to say. 'Because climate change isn't a tangible danger, the public is effectively sitting on its hands and doing nothing to tackle it. Yet if we wait until climate change is visible, it will be, by definition, too late'. (Adding, with an embarrassed smile, that he dubs this dilemma, the 'Giddens Paradox'.)

With the public oblivious to climate change, Giddens warns, state intervention is vital - but only in conjunction with grass roots initiatives. Indeed, he is convinced that 'the most powerful change will bubble up' (bubble is a word he likes to use) from the bottom of society.

What's for sure, he doesn't think that green campaigners will save the day. 'The greens', he said, 'have a history of being anti-political, which is at odds with today's urgent need to embed environmental awareness into our mainstream politics.' (Giddens himself refuses to use the word, 'green' in conversation unless pushed. He says he views the word as more of an albatross than a help these days.)

The answer may lie in women, however. With ever more humans on Earth, he says, emissions are spiraling out of control - and empowering women to shrink the size of their families and use contraception could be just the ticket. (Word play on the phrase 'contraction and convergence' will not only be tolerated but also commended.)

He supports nuclear power, unequivocably. Without it, 'Britain won't come anywhere near meeting its renewable energy targets in 2020. It's quite simply the only low-emissions, proven technology that's already in place.'

And the prevailing mood of the crowd attending Lord Giddens' Q&A? Here's a flavour: a question that started with, 'Wouldn't you say that carbon trading is at best a con and at worst a profit-generating...' was drowned out in uproarious applause. And it's also my duty to report that the Guardian is operating from the festival in a honest-to-goodness yurt.

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