Will Howard: a tribute by Brian Davey

Will had his own way of learning that he had a terminal illness – he wasn’t going to give up. He was going to fight it. He was going to live as long as he could because he had campaigning to do. He continued fighting his illness so that he could keep campaigning right to the last. The last time I spoke to him he told me that the chemotherapy had not gone well – and then he asked me in a weak voice whether there were any urgent decisions to be made in our Cap and Share work.

Most of us involved involved in the Cap and Share and climate work in the UK and Ireland only knew Will for a short time. It was far too short. He came to a meeting that we organised in Machynnleth and heard about Cap and Share. It seemed obvious to him and he decided to devote the rest of his life working for it. I knew Will had prostate cancer but then so did my father and he lived many years with it. What I learned later was that Will’s cancer was more serious than that – it had spread. That did not deter him because he had campaigning skills that stemmed from his days in the movement for nuclear disarmament and he was going to use them. He flung himself into organising.

Then the blow hit him – Cap and Share seemed obvious but even some of the circle associated with Feasta had alternative approaches. What was more the climate policy agenda was a crowded field – there were lots of ideas jostling for attention and Cap and Share was one more idea among many. It was an idea that was coming late to this field and Cap and Share could barely get a hearing. This was a set back. But Will was a fighter – the challenge was bigger than he thought but he flung himself at it nevertheless. He was working on that problem till right to the end – his Climate Threads approach is a way of packaging Cap and Share with a set of other policies and responses at the cutting edge of thinking about climate responses.

Having a terminal illness is worse for your family he said to us. As far as he was concerned he was still alive and so the way to live was to get on with life as and when he could. He got on a small electric bike and rode to Brussels from Wales, narrowly missing some of the wettest weather ever in this country to go a conference on emissions trading. It was a media stunt but the media weren’t interested – he reflected to me that he ought perhaps to have played the fact that he was dying to them rather more. Once again he just kept on going – demonstrating the saying that “you can’t keep a good man down”

It was at this point that I started to work with him more closely. We would spend time on Skype having talks about what needed to be done. He was encouraged, like we all have been, by the developments in Ireland where, with the Green Party in government, Cap and Share is being considered seriously as a policy option. Using the increased credibility that this would give to Cap and Share was a major part of our discussions.

Will lived long enough to see us start to make headway – he secured the UK Cap and Share campaign funding and we met in Bristol to establish a Cap and Share campaigning organisation. He met again at Schumacher College and shortly afterwards he set up meetings in London, at Portcullis House, to try to get the Cap and Share idea deeper into the political process. I was with him at that time. He had just come from an appointment with his oncologist and the message was not good. He had been feeling better but the clinicial message was that the cancer was resurgent. Rather than letting it get him down he was immediately back into lobbying.

This was another battle for Will. The chemotherapy would be awful but afterwards there was the hope that he would bounce back and could keep on campaigning.

Will knew how serious things are for life on the planet. He drew David Wasdell and the latest climate science into our discussions – about how amplifying feedbacks in the climate system are being triggered that could bring about the sixth major extinction event. About how we only have a perilously narrow window of opportunity to do something about this. At each stage, as things kept looking worse for him, at each set back as it became clearer that the challenges were greater than he had realised, he just kept at it.

It is our job now to do the same so that his work will not be in vain.

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