|James Ellsmoor, Director of Island Innovation|
James Ellsmoor is an entrepreneur, writer, and sustainability expert who is one of the world’s leading voices on the sustainability of islands—particularly small island states. He is the founder of the Virtual Island Summit and has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur. He also contributes to Forbes on sustainability topics.
Since the Pacific Islands Forum has just ended with modest success and since the Virtual Island Summit is coming up, I thought it would be great for the On the Brink readers to learn more about James, his work, and his thoughts about sustainability through an interview.
The climate crisis we are currently experiencing means that it is common to hear the ‘doom and gloom’ stories that dominate a lot of news cycles. Especially in an environment-based sector such as sustainable development, we tend to hear much more about the negative sides than the success stories.
However, that isn’t constructive – is it? If we live by the negatives and choose to ignore the positives then we’re falling into the trap of thinking that nothing can be done to drive innovation and find solutions to our issues, which simply is not true. That being said, a mixture of negativity and positivity leads to a more constructive, realistic debate, it is all about striking a balance.
New scientific findings are constantly updating our understanding. We should strive to be more scientific, which means being realistic about the problems we face. Negativity is constructive only if paired with optimism, which in turn drives innovation - its a cycle. By sharing the positive stories – and there are many – that are happening globally we can shift the conversation away from ‘doom and gloom’ to ‘hope and optimism’.
We were able to see firsthand the impact that climate change has on islands, as well as how much positivity sustainable development and renewable energy could provide. It was a surreal and rewarding experience that has now led to several new projects.
Supporting and empowering local institutions. COP21 was a step in the right direction and has spurred a lot of change globally, but it may be time for the governments lagging behind - such as Australia and the US - to be reminded of their commitments through some form of sanction or reprimand. There needs to be consequences or there will be nothing to stop nations from flaunting their commitments. The Pacific islands contribute less than 0.03% to global carbon emissions yet they are on the frontline of climate change. Low-lying islands worldwide are faced with the same problems and they have known for several decades that climate change would be an issue they would face, yet these islands have never given up on trying to find a solution - it only seems fair that we support them and find one.
Islands are leaders in innovation and climate action, pioneering carbon-neutral electrical grids to community-based energy transitions. Using their experiences to build a blueprint for large scale sustainable development would ensure that we reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the damage from climate change. A more island-centric approach would be to invest in resilience strategies as well as research into efficient management techniques. In the past decades local institutions have already done a lot to further our understanding of the processes of climate change, identifying opportunities for innovation and sustainable development. Empowering these institutions and the communities on islands worldwide will go a long way in helping address the challenges created by the climate crisis.
James Ellsmoor is the Director of Island Innovation, a company operating worldwide to build digital bridges and connect distant islands. He is the organizer of the Virtual Island Summit which will be held in October 2019.