Just back from another long trip promoting the book – and a few other things besides, including attendance at a rather wonderful symposium hosted by the Slow Life Foundation at the Soneva Kiri resort on Koh Kood island in Thailand. (Declaration of interest: I was one of those who had a hand in planning the symposium, but that wasn’t what made it wonderful!)
I took away six things from the Slow Life Symposium:
1. SHOES OFF
For some reason, doing serious brain work about the natural world seems to work a lot better if people go barefoot!
“The idea of a planet where humanity flourishes, sustainably, alongside other species, underscores everything WWF does. And perhaps the most magical quality that great architecture bestows comes in its capacity to help us flourish.”
I’ve lifted that quote out of Kevin McCloud’s celebration of WWF’s brand new Living Planet Centre in Woking, which had its official opening on Friday last week. Kevin’s a WWF Ambassador, as am I, and we’re both absolutely delighted at the sheer quality of the new HQ, which sets a real benchmark in ecologically-sound construction.
I am attending a conference on the safety of plastics in a few days and one of the questions we’ve been asked to consider is this: “how to deal with the unintended consequences of precautionism?”
So where exactly did this word “precautionism” come from?
To be honest, I haven’t done a retrospective linguistic analysis, but I can pretty much guarantee that it was first used by one of those companies or individuals who see anything to do with precaution-based research, development and regulation as being anti-growth, anti-progress and anti-science.
First, a little case study. A few days ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer added airborne pollution (essentially, high levels of particulate matter) to its list of Group 1 carcinogens – where there is “sufficient evidence” that they cause cancer in humans: “the risk of developing cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.” This came hot on the heels of data demonstrating that air pollution killed 3.2 million people in 2010, including 230,000 cancer-related deaths.
On 17th October, we launched The World We Made at Arup’s HQ in central London. There was a big emphasis on innovation and the creative genius of the human species for finding solutions in the face of adversity – which is what the book is basically all about.
The electronic version of the book isn’t out yet – it should be in a couple of weeks. For some, that will automatically be the most sustainable way of reading The World We Made – but they may not necessarily be right.
Making the printed version of the book ‘as sustainable as possible’ was a top priority for me from the moment I signed the contract with the publisher, Phaidon. That challenge got real when we selected Arjowiggins as our paper provider, and PurePrint as our printer – two companies with an outstanding record on sustainability issues (see press release).
What is it about centre-right or right-wing governments that make it so difficult for them to understand and promote the huge potential of the green economy?
I spent the last week returning to that question (with growing bafflement!) after visits to Australia and New Zealand, both of which have governments similar to the Coalition Government in the UK.
In both of those countries, some of the most eloquent advocacy for timely, strategic investment in the green economy can be heard from business leaders. In New Zealand, for instance, I met with some of the founders of an organisation called Pure Advantage, a not-for-profit organisation formed in the belief that by embracing green growth, New Zealand can realise “a greener, wealthier future”. It’s just completed a piece of macro-economic research identifying green growth opportunities that align with New Zealand’s competitive and comparative advantages.
So – back to the blog! Apart from the occasional foray (on forests or nuclear), I haven’t been blogging for more than a year – quite simply because I’ve been pre-occupied with getting my new book, The World We Made, done and dusted. And it’s being launched in Hong Kong today.
A lot of the work we do at Forum for the Future is, not surprisingly, future-focused, mobilising ours and our Partners’ combined resources to make a better world for people, both today and tomorrow.
But what will that world look like? I have been preoccupied with that simple question ever since I first become interested in environmental issues nearly four decades ago. My latest book, The World We Made (Alex McKay’s Story from 2050), evokes an image of just how good a world it could be; a world that is fair, aspirational and genuinely sustainable. But only, that is, if we get our act together NOW.
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.
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