Some 20 years ago, when I was campaigning against GM seeds, a wise aunt advised me not to ‘demonise my foe’. Her words were in my ears last week as I was presented with the 18th Award for Responsible Capitalism by Princess Anne.
Previous winners include the heads of Unilever, BP, and Rio Tinto (foes?), as well as Divine Chocolate and Ecover. I believe the organisers and judges of this award genuinely share my desire for better business; however, I am less sure that they have the sense of urgency or the appetite for disruption that will be needed if we are to avoid blindly charging over the environmental and social cliffs that unbridled capitalism is leading us towards.
I used my three minutes in front of 200 ambassadors, lords and moneyed power brokers to give an angry speech about the failures of capitalism. We have created a system designed to make us behave irresponsibly, and then abdicated personal responsibility for our actions with the excuses that we are just ‘following the rules’, ‘doing what others do’, ‘being realistic’.
Capitalism has made it normal and acceptable to profit from destroying our collective future. Bizarrely, economists and policymakers present this paradigm as rationality; to me it seems pathologically delusional. On I went… And to my surprise, most people in the room seemed to agree. One woman told me that she knew climate change was real because she now had to walk 27 steps from her ski chalet to the retreating glacier.
I was told that ‘we need more people like you’, to which I should have replied: ‘no, we need more people like you, with options to change their ways and the power to set a better example.’ I may have sowed a few seeds of doubt, but I am not holding my breath. To paraphrase the phenomenal 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, hope will only come from action.
Of course, we need both change from within and challenge from without to stand any chance of passing a habitable planet on to our grandchildren. We need approval, encouragement and bravery from our peers; shaming from our children; incentives and leadership from government; and perhaps most of all, we need positive, joyous, well-publicised examples of a plausible alternative future. I believe Riverford is one.