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Beyond the usual policy cycle 1

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I’ve been wondering what we can learn from looking back over the whole of human history - and this is the first of two blogs on the theme.

Human history is generally agreed to have begun upward of two million years ago which, I think it’s fair to say, is beyond the timescales usually considered in discussions about local government policy and practice.

I don’t advocate officers presenting papers to cabinet on our (pre-)history, but I do think that the situation we are in today makes it a good time to reflect on what we could learn.

We know that we have put ourselves in a perilous position by over-exploiting the planet’s resources since the industrial revolution.

As this has happened over several generations, it can feel like a long-term issue, as it is by all the parameters we use. But in historical terms, this has taken place over a phenomenally short space of time, and I can’t help feel that there are lessons for us.

Fundamental

One lesson is that history demonstrates how climate affects human prosperity in the most fundamental ways.

The first ‘Britons’ were here 700,000 years ago, but for 80% of the intervening period, there were no humans in what is now the UK, because the climate, due to glacial periods, was too harsh to make it habitable.

Our land has only been continually inhabited for the last 12,500 years.

At one level, it may sound dramatic to seek to learn lessons from this perspective; and, of course, my example is as long-term as long-term gets.

Electoral cycle

But I suggest that it is a useful reminder that we sometimes need to think beyond the policy waves and electoral cycle that frame decision-making in 2009.

I know how difficult this has become, and all the more so in the light of recession.

However, if dealing with climate change is the key strategic challenge of our age then, for the state, the single most important tactical challenge may be learning how to take a longer-term view in decision making.

To be continued...

LGC's national conference on the Carbon Reduction Commitment: Preparing the Public Sector takes place on 23 June.

Warren's other blogs:

Just another competing priority?

Energy and lifestyles

Local leadership on climate change

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Innovation, not reorganisation

Chase growth at your peril

Whisper it, the downturn's not all bad

Recycling stockpiles

Warren Hatter is Founder of Ripple PRD . His LGC blog is twinned with his Ripple Effect blog .

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