If there is one thing that Angus Forbes wants you to take away from Vote GPA (Global Planetary Authority), it is this: the world must wake and take action right now if it is to halt and reverse the catastrophic degradation of its biosphere.
For more than an hour, the audience in The House listens intently to the passionate, probing presentation, as the City of London banker-turned environmentalist sets out the biosphere’s balance-sheet with an accountant’s eye for detail.
“It is incredibly depressing,” he says, when we sit and discuss the context behind the evolution of Vote GPA. “We’ve made 8 per cent of the planet’s animals extinct and the IUCN’s forecast is that by 2050 that figure will be 28 per cent. Between 1950 and 2010, we lost 52 per cent of the rainforest, 40 per cent of our topsoil, doubled the amount of nitrogen fixation, and we’re on track to increase the parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent in the troposphere, currently 403, to 473. There isn’t one area of the biosphere that isn’t getting materially worse, probably in a non-linear fashion.”
The son of a diplomat, and in his own words, ‘white, Western, middle-class, middle-aged and married’, Angus is very far from being an archetypal eco-warrior. But then that’s part of the sell. A graduate of global capitalism, and 20-year veteran of the trading floor, Angus’ call for radical change is grounded in historical perspective and an appreciation of the classic trade of utility.
“Everything we have created in terms of governance from the beginnings of time has been done through the allocation of a small part of one’s personal sovereignty,” Angus says. “I give the example of the 17th century village where the waste is thrown in the street. People face the risks of disease, even death. And so they get together to create an authority to deal with this problem, it forbids you from throwing waste in the street, clears up the mess, and builds a maintenance system. We pay a little price for a massive return – it’s an extremely well-trodden path."
“And nothing we have built is giving us the utility we need in terms of a sound biophysical future, abundant oceans without plastic, topsoil that is restored and improved, 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the troposphere, and no loss of species. There is not a form of organisation that can guarantee that deliverance to us, so therefore we have to go past the governments and multinationals and create one.”
Angus, who was the inaugural director of the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Project, is advocating the founding of a supranational Global Planetary Authority to oversee the governance of the biosphere, one that would have powers of taxation and regulation. In order to do that, he says, we need a global quorum of 1.5 billion people who can vote it into existence via an online free vote – and that involves tapping into the two billion or so 13-30-year-olds who are this planet’s first hyper-connected digital generation.
The mind races ahead to stumbling blocks, but Angus has heard them all before, and calls them out in his presentation. National sovereignty and socioeconomic self-interest; corruption and the challenge of computing the variables of a ‘multi-front global war’.
“A lot of these things are totally rational, I understand that,” he adds. “This is just human organisational form. Martin Luther King says ‘you do not have to see the whole staircase; take the first step’. And I believe that is what we are going to do.”Having delivered his talk across the country during 2017 and 2018, Angus has been working on the production of both an animation and a book – all part of the small foundational steps he believes that are required to take the project to the next level.
He says: “Some people have got me in a headlock at the end of the talk and said ‘I want to vote today! Angus, this isn’t ambitious enough! You should be seeing Bill Gates!’ To that I say, ‘no’. At the outset we need simple operational objectives, shallow manageable steps before we increase the curve exponentially. For there can be no doubt about this – we can’t sleep; we’ve got to go.”
Vote GPA was hosted by the Sustainable Earth Institute as part of its public engagement programme.