Nick Reeves – a tough act to follow

Is it time to pause for thought?

Is it time for us all to pause for thought?

In the 20 years that I worked as a hydrogeologist, Nick Reeves was undoubtedly the most inspirational environmental professional that I never met. I am truly shocked to learn of his premature death last month. It seems to me, therefore, that the very least I can do is come out of self-imposed blogger hibernation in order to mark his passing. Those who have been subscribers to this blog the longest may well have noticed an irregular but consistent trend towards silence from me over the last few months. This is partly because I set up the blog to draw the findings of my MA research to the attention of the widest possible audience. It is also because I hoped blogging might help me pursue my new vocation as an advocate for rapid change in global energy policy. Sadly, two years later, I have said pretty much all that I set out to say; I have published my research as a book; and – although currently investigating the feasibility of developing my research in the form of a PhD – I am still unemployed. In essence, the latter is a result of my having been a bit confused about what I wanted to do after my MA – including spending a year applying for jobs I knew I did not really want to do. Although that sense of confusion is behind me now, I am still grappling with the need to find a worthwhile job or a PhD that I actually want to pursue. Such as it is, therefore, this is my excuse for being over a month late to find out about – and comment upon – the sudden death of former Executive Director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), the late Nick Reeves OBE. If, as I did, you type the words ‘Nick Reeves has died’ (i.e. without quotation marks) into a search engine, you will be presented with a great number of links to obituaries in a wide range of publications by an array of organisations and individuals. Nothing I could say or write could possibly add to the words of others. Therefore, in the hope that our politicians will soon start taking heed of them, I will instead let the words of Nick Reeves – who often seemed to me to be playing the part of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Future’ – speak for themselves. In March this year, Nick Reeves and CIWEM’s magazine editor, Erika Yarrow, kindly gave me permission to reproduce in full one of the many articles he wrote for the magazine. On my blog, then, I gave this the title The nonsense of Sustainable Growth, in which I quoted Nick as follows:

We could solve all our problems if only we were the efficient, rational human beings of standard economic theory and had politicians willing to think in the long-term interest of their people rather than their own. Perhaps later, as the crisis grows, as failing states threaten to destabilise global politics (resource pricing already played its part in the Arab spring) and China throws its increasing weight around in its correctly perceived great need for more resources, the developed world will act with resolve, as the US, the UK and others did so well in the World War II. We must hope so.

Little more than a month later, I was quoting Nick Reeves again, this time on the insanity of believing oil shale gas is, can, or should be the solution to our energy crisis:

In other words, we can only avoid devastating climate change if we keep most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground. But, is that possible? Can we deliberately forgo what many regard as our most precious energy resource – the fuels that have powered 200 years of industrialisation – for the sake of future generations? It is absolutely possible, and we must. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone… The dash for oil in the Arctic and the dash for shale gas elsewhere, shows that we are as addicted to fossil fuels as we ever were. But a low-carbon future is the one we must all fight for – our gift to the unborn.

This is the essence of our problem: Neither the environment, nor non-humans, nor future generations of humans have the right to vote in elections; and – without representation – the prospects for them having the life-chances we have had continue to be eroded by the selfishness of the minority of humans currently controlling global energy policy. I therefore feel, as did Nick Reeves in July 2011, that the Western world has much to learn from the attitude of the South American people towards their environment:

What the Bolivian government is doing is brave. It has recognised that the real value of nature is not a number that carries a dollar sign or can be measured in terms of GDP… That the country’s political leaders are prepared to put the environment above economic and financial considerations is proof-positive that politicians can be weaned off old-style economic models and are capable of environmental leadership… The draft of the new law makes interesting reading. It states: ‘She is sacred, fertile and the source for all living things in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.’ It’s hardly the language of a civil service mandarin or a politician – more like an extract from a sacred religious text… And Bolivia isn’t the only Latin American country to adopt a more spiritual approach to the stewardship of its environment. Ecuador, which also has powerful and noisy indigenous groups, has altered its constitution to give nature ‘the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution’.

There may well be people out there who take the very facile step of being critical whilst remaining anonymous but, in the meantime the evidence that they are wrong to dismiss Reeves’ arguments continues to accumulate… What will be next? A record minimum extent for Arctic sea ice next month? For his family, Nick’s sudden death is a tragedy; and I offer them my belated sympathy for their loss. For CIWEM, Nick will be a tough act to follow; and I wish Justin Taberham (Director of Policy) and all his colleagues the very best with carrying on the great work Nick did. It truly is a tough job but, for the sake of preserving a habitable planet despite the willful blindness and ideological prejudice of so many of our politicians, someone really has got to do it.


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
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