Here’s a little test: when you read those two words, ‘Industrial Biotechnology’, do they resonate positively, negatively, or neutrally? Do you hear them as an unfortunate combination of the old-fashioned and clunky (the ‘industrial’ bit) with all those hints of high-tech and high-risk that come with the biotech bit? Or does it set your pulse racing at the prospect of a new source of wealth creation that genuinely meets the challenge of sustainability at the same time?
Here are some uncomfortable (but compelling) words:
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth, or the natural world will do it for us. And the natural world is doing it for us right now.”
Photo courtesy of Bianca Nongrady via Flickr (CC)
Just roll those words around in your mind for a bit – and now imagine them tripping off the tongue of:
Peter Bakker, the CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, likes to warm up his audiences by reminding them that there are still more than a thousand coal-fired power stations either in construction or formally consented. Yes, that’s right: more than a thousand, somewhere in the world.
I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind as I was strolling around the exhibition for the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago. This is now in its fifth year and is one of the most significant global events focussed (for the most part) on renewables, energy efficiency, storage, smart grids, electric vehicles and so on.
I hope everybody saw a copy of the Independent on 19th October! The front page is an exclusive about a small company called Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS) based in Stockton-on-Tees. It has succeeded in putting together a series of different processes to extract CO2 from the air, and then produce petrol from it. Not much of it so far, but a huge potential for the future.
Peace, non-violence, human rights and the environment – if only everybody saw these as the seamless whole that they are, maybe all our respective causes would be further down the road towards a better world than we seem to be today.
For the Right Livelihood Foundation, they are indeed a seamless whole – and always have been from the time the Right Livelihood Awards were first set up in 1980.
I blogged on this in May 2012.
This year’s winners have just been announced, and four more deserving winners it’s hard to imagine.
I’ve got to start with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) – not least because this was an organisation that I actively supported back in the 1970s (they were founded in 1974) and 1980s, when I was with the Green Party and Friends of the Earth.
I am seriously delighted at this photo. That’s me and Dr Nawal Al-Hosany standing by one of the 258,048 mirrors that make up the Shams1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant in Abu Dhabi. It will be the biggest CSP plant in the world, stretching out over 2.5 square kilometres, and generating 100 MW of electricity when it goes on line at the end of the year. Dr Nawal is Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, and Masdar is the driving force behind the many different initiatives going on in Abu Dhabi to promote sustainable energy.
There’s going to be a lot going on down at Hinkley Point this weekend. The Stop New Nuclear Alliance is organising a mass trespass, as well as a day of action, a double die-in and various other activities – most legal, some not. Sadly, I won’t be joining them, as I’m not in the country, but I do seriously hope that there will be many thousands taking part.
For two reasons. First, because EDF (the company that wants to build two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point) continues to behave in an unprincipled and bullying manner, on the assumption that the whole process can just be bulldozed through, regardless of local sensibilities, proper planning procedures and so on.
Second, this is absolutely the right time to be shouting from the rooftops the fact that the Coalition Government’s ambitions for a new nuclear programme are evaporating in front of our eyes.
I felt almost overwhelmed by nostalgia on a visit to Cardiff last week to meet the Welsh Environment Minister and discuss the new Sustainable Development Bill that is being brought forward by the Welsh Government.
It took me right back to many earlier visits to Cardiff as Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission over nine years between 2000 and 2009. As a UK-wide body, we trucked around from London to Cardiff to Edinburgh to Belfast – not least to be able to point out to Ministers in Whitehall just how badly they were doing in comparison to Wales and Scotland.
I love it when I end up in the middle of chunky debates where people hold starkly polarised views – and hold them ever so passionately!
On Friday last week, I was giving a talk at a conference organised by Plastics Europe on the future of the plastics industry, and there was a great debate about the role of the industry in building a more sustainable Europe.
Plastics Europe has done a great job getting its members to lift their sights. It’s campaigning for zero plastic waste to landfill by 2020; it already has a strong emphasis on progressive carbon management, and is running an important initiative on marine plastic litter. Marine litter has now reached horrendous levels, not just in terms of visible litter on the surface of the oceans, but the increasingly scary build-up of microscopic levels of pollution in the world’s oceans.
First up, “2052: A Global Forecast for the next forty years”. This is written by my good friend Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of the MIT’s “Limits to Growth” blockbuster back in 1972. So, forty years on, looking forward to the next forty years.
It provides an extraordinarily comprehensive survey of every aspect of sustainable development – economic, social, environmental and political – that you can imagine. It’s particularly strong on the economic stuff, as befits a systems modeller and life-long commentator on what he (still) sees as an all but irreconcilable disconnect between the overall shape and astonishing dynamism of consumer-driven capitalism, and the need to create wealth and improve human wellbeing within the Earth’s bio-physical limits.
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