Dr Jane Davidson is the Pro Vice-Chancellor emeritus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. From 2000-2011, she was Minister for Education, then Minster for Environment and Sustainability in the Welsh government.
We’re looking forward to your book. What was the trigger to prompt you to write it?
I was delighted in April 2015 when Wales became the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of future generations into law; a law that also delivers on the Sustainable Development Goals. The journey to the law was hard and long, and delivery of the law will also be hard as it demands long term thinking when the norm has moved in the opposite direction. As the person who first proposed it, I was keen to track the ups and downs of the journey and to provide hope and inspiration through the 140 contributing Welsh and international voices - young and old - who want such a law to be considered in other countries across the world.
Who did you write this book for? Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?
I wrote #futuregen for anybody interested in inter-generational fairness, whether they are interested in politics, policy or action including campaigning to reframe the role of government post COVID-19. And in particular to take action on long term challenges such as climate change.
How do you plan to celebrate your book launch?
With a home-grown meal, a large glass of home-made cider and a celebratory sauna under the stars (fuelled by Good Energy).
What current environmental trends do you think are helpful (or unhelpful?)
The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act requires in law a new kind of ‘innovative productive and low carbon economy which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change)’. This is a good and necessary trend, but as I’m not aware of any other country that has enshrined these principles into law, so while urgent, it is still a lonely one. Emission reduction must continue at pace in a COVID recovery plan in all sectors to look after the interests of future generations.
Do you think that a corner has been turned yet with sustainability awareness among the grass roots population?
No. The most common definition, the Brundtland definition was written in 1987. ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' All UN countries supported it at the first Earth Summit in 1992, yet, nearly 30 years later, Wales is still the only country that has translated it into law – a generation later. My ambition is for the Act in Wales to become a ‘peoples’ act whereby citizens can hold their government and their public services to account for decisions that might negatively affect future generations.
What would you like to see happen to raise awareness of the importance of succession planning in an environmental capacity?
For other countries and organisations to adopt principles of long term thinking in law/policy-making that do not transfer wicked problems to future generations. #futuregen makes it clear that the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act is about reframing everything government does – its culture and values, how it manages the economy, how it makes laws and policies for society and the environment. The Act itself is succession planning, as it will apply to any government of any political colour in Wales.
How do you hope your book will affect the future of young people in Wales (and everywhere else!)
I’ve spent years feeling that my generation is a bad ancestor. The post-war generation wanted their children to succeed to make up for their ultimate sacrifice; for us to have lives without war, without want, with opportunity, with full employment, with decent housing. We should have been that standard-bearer, but instead what I see today is young people who are poorer, less likely to be home-owners or to have pensions than my generation.
It is government which sets the tone and the agenda in a democracy. A re-set post-COVID 19 must ensure that future generations do not pay a further price for the failings of the current one. The governments of all nations have been given a once in a life-time chance to build back better. As John Rawls, the American philosopher says, ’do unto future generations what you would have had past generations do unto you.’
How has the book launch had to change to fit with the current situation?
In many ways the subject matter is even more relevant as this book is being published at such an extraordinary time. Across much of the world, COVID-19, an invisible killer, is stalking our lives – and our way of life. The response has been global, but neither planned nor coordinated, and we are all rapidly redefining what is really important in our lives.
In the interests of future generations, when this threat is over, there will be an opportunity to capitalise on our rediscovered kindness and sense of society, to celebrate the importance of nature, to build on our increased virtual engagement to act on that other silent killer – climate change – for the benefit of current and future generations. We know now that governments can act – and quickly – when faced with an emergency that they must address. We must next encourage them to respond similarly to the existential threats of climate change and nature degradation to current and future generations. And #futuregen is one path open to them.
In the meantime, our gratitude goes out to those who have kept us safe, fed and cared for: those in emergency services, the care workers, the medical teams, the postal workers, the shelf stackers, the refuse collectors, the food producers and distributors. We salute you.
The pandemic has seen many of us rediscovering our garden or other outside space. Which long-term environmental changes would you most like to see us all make individually?
To grow food somewhere, even if you only have a windowsill – and what you can’t grow, buy locally to support a purposeful local economy, thus building soil, soul and society,
To take one action each and every year to reduce your own negative impact on the planet; it’s a great adventure and you will make lots of new friends.
How do you like to unwind? Do you have any other creative outlets as well as your writing? If not, what would you like to try?
I walk in nature – the wilder the better – either on sea cliffs or high hills/mountains and love long distance footpaths. Nature helps me think on my feet, as you never know what you will see – it is both the most intense form of personal interaction yet open to everyone.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Usually the one I’d just finished, as I was an avid library user. I had a real fondness for adventures in nature and animals and so ‘My family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell, ‘Tarka the Otter’ by Henry Williamson and ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome will all vie for first place.
What are you reading at the moment?
‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel.
Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.