By Doug Allan

TWO hundred and fifty years ago, the Industrial Revolution was galvanised by the burning of coal for power, especially favouring the UK with its abundant supplies. Progress leapt forward. In the age of empire, economic evolution was supercharged and grew ever more sophisticated.

With the end of the Second World War, two economic systems faced each other. The belief that all goods are owned in common and available to all stood against the faith that products and prices are determined by competition in a free market. Communism versus capitalism.

Within 10 years, the US Journal of Retailing reported: "Our economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual and ego satisfactions in consumption…. We need things bought, worn out, discarded and replaced at an ever increasing rate."

And when it looked as if momentum might falter, we were given what we wanted by the controllers of the money supply. They took a word that had dubious connotations, and turned it into something praiseworthy. Debt became credit. Wages became irrelevant, and it ceased to matter how much a person earned when they could borrow multiples of it.

And so "development" continued apace, made possible through an exponential increase in the production of energy. Advances in science brought the exploitation of new supplies of concentrated fossilised sunshine.

Fifty years ago a few hands began to be raised in cautionary prophesy, but the politics and economics of what was now a global model for trade ensured business as usual was the mantra of the day. Relentless GDP increase was the holy grail across countries. It didn’t matter that no biological, chemical or physical system ever showed perpetual growth. Economics had to be the exception. Fed with lies and offered doubt about the science by oil companies and others with vested interests, we as consumers kept on being given what we wanted. Or rather what we were being told we wanted.

And now we face the consequences. Climate breakdown with positive feedback loops and tipping points ahead will create significant and often unstoppable changes. Take the Arctic – the more sea ice cover we lose in the warming north, the greater the area of dark sea. This absorbs more heat, the warmer water prevents ice formation, and we’re into a cycle of ever-diminishing sea ice. The Arctic Ocean utterly changed.

There’s an emphasis now on how technofixes will offer solutions – carbon capture and storage, solar radiation shielding, so-called "geoengineering". Adaptation rather than mitigation. For a few humans in a few places, perhaps. But there’s an insidious complacency to those "solutions". The natural world will suffer hugely when temperature rises 2oC and more.

Climate change requires genuine, radical actions across the spectrum of our economics and politics. We’ve developed great power. High time surely to show great responsibility. Changing our acquisitive human nature is the only way to give real nature a chance.

Doug Allan is a BAFTA and Emmy award winning film maker, conservationist and public speaker.