Interview with Jane Davidson, author of FutureGen: Lessons from a Small Country

As a former Government Minister, Jane Davidson helped Wales become the first country in the world to pass legislation to benefit future generations. She is currently Pro Vice-Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. In 2019 she published Future Gen: Lessons from a Small Country.

In a recent interview she describes what positive lessons we can draw from the pandemic.

‘A big saviour for me was nature’

I live in a small village on the west coast of Wales. From the moment the pandemic started it was quite extraordinary how our sense of community and agency grew.

Even though I’ve lived here a decade, I’d never experienced it to such an extent.

I felt really wrapped up in the community here – looked after. There was a very strong and satisfying sense of connectedness. Providing the warmth of a tribe.

The pandemic has given us a real picture of human cooperation. We should celebrate that when humans, as a social species, cooperate, they can achieve greater outcomes.

For me, a big saviour was nature. As I’m sure it’s been for many people.

We were very restricted in what we could do early on. I did every walk possible in a five mile radius around our house. And when as we were allowed more physical activity, I also swam and cycled. I became really fit.

You realize that you’re integrating yourself with the seasons. I grew more things in our small holding than I’ve ever grown before.

‘Very few meetings should be physical from now on’

Before the pandemic most of my meetings were physical. As a result, I spent much of my day in my car. Albeit an electric one. But now, we’re now all Zoom artists. We’ve become used to the idea that business can be done online.

At the same time, there’s been a net positive effect in emission reductions. Very few meetings should be physical from now on.

And in terms of international cooperation, it’s been absolutely extraordinary. In any one day I can be on at least two continents. That would never have happened before.

However, there’s a real challenge to make the platforms a lot better than they are at present.

‘People have been searching for new answers’

Publishing a book called Future Gen: Lessons from a Small Country, I didn’t expect to be on many people’s radar. I thought it would have relatively limited interest.

Whereas during the pandemic there’s been a lot of interest in what we’ve done in Wales. People have been searching for new answers.

Even now, a year and a half after the book was launched, I’m speaking at four or five events a week. I’m also working with eight governments, discussing about how they can change policy.

‘Who you work for is becoming incredibly important’

What’s been very interesting, is the number of people changing role during the pandemic. Quite often dramatic changes.

Who you work for is becoming incredibly important, particularly for young people.

They are more ethical, they care more about the impact of climate. They may want us to solve it, but they will also find their own solutions. And theirs are likely to involve much more direct action. Particularly if the politicians let them down.

There’s research indicating that students would be happy to take up to a third cut in salary in order to work for an organization where they identify with its values.

That’s really exciting. And it’s going to cause major problems for employers who do not have a good ethical agenda for the future.

‘It will spark a galvanic movement’

The ways in which government has created regulations very quickly has demonstrated that such approaches could be applied to the climate crisis.

My hope is that it will spark a galvanic movement. People need to be thinking that they can do in five years what Wales did over a decade.

Because now that we know there are new models, there will be better models. Having laws and regulations helps create a level playing field, on which everybody starts to understand the new rules.

The downside is if government infringes freedoms. That’s what we’re seeing in the UK at the moment. I have a real worry that we could end up with a very draconian, anti-libertarian, government through the back door. Once all the independent checks and balances are removed.

‘You have to be part of the solution’

One of the things I’ve realized is that I need to have a purpose. And the purpose has to go beyond the family. While I’ve felt very nicely cocooned inside my family, I needed to have a wider purpose.

I think a lot of people have found a sense of purpose during this time. In order not to be part of the problem, you must be part of the solution. And if you’re going to be part of the solution, you have to act.

Once you accept the science of climate change and see the evidence, not acting is no longer good enough.

The very process of acting, gives you agency, and that agency, gives you purpose and meaning. It becomes both a physical and a mental health issue.

I think that there will be lessons learnt from the pandemic that people can draw upon. If they’ve been given a sufficient sense of purpose they will want to fight for life. They need to do absolutely everything they can to reduce their own emissions and encourage governments to do the same. That will create a more sustainable future for us all.

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