Thursday 2 October 2008

Sustainability 2.0 @ The RSA

Emma and I attended this EarthScan sponsored event at the Royal Society of arts on Tuesday night. Earthscan publishers are celebrating 20 years of publishing and put this event on to instigate a debate into what we think sustainability is now.

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party chaired the debate and started off the discussion with a nice loose, possibly street, definition of sustainability which she and her fellow panellists had come up with in the Green room (nice pun that)! She suggested that sustainability was just about ‘sharing it around and not buggering it up.’ That is a fair summation I suppose, to throw my opinion on it I would say that sustainability is about enjoying one’s own life without compromising the enjoyment of others.

The panel were: Bill Adams, Tim Lang, Brenda Boardman, Nick Robbins and Paul Elkins. All except Robbins (Head of the climate change centre of excellence, HSBC) are prominent academic from the universities of Cambridge, City, Oxford and Kings College respectively.

The plus points of the evening for me was that there was some recognition of the need to move beyond the consumer led economy. Tim Lang, a leading professor food policy, for instance stated ‘consumerism can’t go on.’ Bill Adams posed the question of what the alternative is to our crumbling neo-liberal capitalism and Paul Elkins, at the end of his speech asked is Environmental sustainability consistent with conspicuous consumption?’

On the negative side, Brenda Boardman spent much of her talk optimistically painting a picture of a utopian sustainable society in the year 2050. She did not really offer any great strategy on how we are going to get there, apart from her championing of carbon credit cards (much to the delight of Mayer Hillman in the audience). She opened with the statement ‘because we caused it we can solve it.’ I admire her optimism but remain a bit sceptical. I am not going to talk here about my feelings on carbon credit cards, I’ll just say this – they will be made of plastic (which comes from Oil) and we will need about 60 million of them.

I waited patiently until the last round of questions (I was one of about 7 in this final round) to ask: If as Tim Lang stated ‘consumerism can’t go on’ how are we going to get the population of the world to let go of the consumerist mindset? I was pleased that 4 out of the 6 responded to this question, unfortunately they could only agree that it would be beneficial if this happened, they could not offer any ideas about how to make this happen. I continue to search for an answer to this question!

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