Challenge to Change (CtC) was an international NGO, established in the UK in 2008, working primarily in Vietnam. The organisation focused on climate change issues, supporting poor communities to adapt their livelihoods to the local impacts of changing climate in Vietnam, whilst at the same time persuading those who contribute most to climate change, especially in the UK, to take responsibility for reducing global carbon emissions. The organisation has worked in Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Can Tho, Quang Tri, and Ha Giang Provinces of Vietnam, in coastal and mountainous, rural and urban areas.
In 2013 the organisation broadened its focus to sustainability issues, including climate change. It perceived two sides to the majority of global sustainability issues: on one hand, powerful elements of the global system pursuing unsustainable activities for economic gain, and on the other hand poor or disempowered communities who normally experience the first and greatest impacts of such activities within their daily lives.
Challenge to Change aimed to address both sides of each issue, and link them. It aimed to use its experience in Vietnam to inform the UK public about the impacts of CO2 emissions on distant, vulnerable communities; and to inform those vulnerable communities about the global causes of climate change. The organisation’s goal was sustainable systems, to ensure that the well-being of poor, vulnerable communities, and of future generations, was not undermined by the pursuit of short-term economic gains.
Looking for Sustainability
The modern sustainability movement may have begun in 1962 when Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’, about the effects of pesticides in the United States. At that time she wrote:
We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less travelled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
In the 1970s and 80s the voices urging action towards sustainable futures, grew in number, strength, and in the range of their influence. The Club of Rome published ‘Limits to Growth’ in 1972. E.F. Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” in 1973, which led to the Intermediate Technology movement. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were founded, and the Green political party began in Germany. James Lovelock wrote “Gaia, a New Look at Life on Earth” in 1979. International conferences were convened on issues relating to sustainability, see for example, the most inspiring speech of the Youth delegate to the UN Conference on Development and Environment in Rio de Janiero in 1982. The Brundtland Commission wrote ‘Our Common Future’ in 1987. A range of high-level international conventions, commissions and declarations followed.
But by the early 21st century, sustainability issues have become ever more urgent, and voices for change have grown to a clamour. Writers, academics, civil society groups and some politicians increasingly call for urgent attention to the rapid depletion of global natural resources. A voice typical of many, Lester Brown, in his book “Plan B 3.0”, 2008, writes:
Since 1900, the world economy has expanded 20-fold and world population has increased four-fold. But while the economy is growing exponentially, the earth’s natural capacities, such as its ability to supply fresh water, forest products and seafood, have not increased. Humanity’s collective demands probably first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980, and by 2009 global demands on natural systems exceed their sustainable yield capacity by approximately 25%. This means we are meeting current demands by consuming the earth’s natural assets, setting the stage for decline and collapse. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognise. Nature is the time keeper, but we cannot see the clock.
This is echoed in the report in 2009 by Tim Jackson for the Sustainability Commission UK, entitled “Prosperity without growth?” as follows:
Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. For the last five decades, the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent, and is totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile economy on which we depend for survival. A return to business as usual is not an option. Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society. The current economic crisis presents us with a unique opportunity. To sweep away the short-term thinking that has plagued society for decades. To replace it with considered policy capable of addressing the enormous challenge of delivering a lasting prosperity.
Challenge to Change is a non-political, non-religious, non-government, non-profit organisation.
We promote equal rights and opportunities for all. Our daily work is based on our fundamental convictions that:
- sustainability and climate change are issues which need to be urgently addressed by governments and people, by all means
- the world economy is running contrary to the world’s environment and natural resources
- equality is the most effective basis for stability, security and development
- not only the poor but we all now face a momentous challenge to change.