Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Its not about Al Gore

Recently I spoke at a UNESCO and WTA sponsored conference about future cities. I talked about how issues like climate change, water and air quality were things that will reshape the economic and social agenda of governments, organisations and I hoped scientific discovery for years to come. Like all good conference persons I wrote a paper that outlined in a more substantive way the things I covered in the key note. This I shared with a few colleagues hoping for ideas and feedback on what I thought was a pretty significant idea. Two responses in particular shocked me.

The first came from an American colleague who cautioned me not to become too political. I was, he said, sounding too much like Al Gore. Yes its true that Al Gore has talked about climate change but Al Gore didn’t invent it and as far as I know wasn’t on the recent intergovernmental panel on climate change which has said that the scientific evidence shows without doubt that negative man-made impacts were without dispute. I also doubt that Al Gore even figured in the calculations of Britain’s Chief economist when he said that if we don’t do something soon we can expect a cost from climate change of around nine trillion pounds within ten years. To further illustrate how weird this all is a recent Wall Street Journal article by Kimberly Strassel took issue with ten companies who she said were climate profiteers and by implication talking up the whole issue of climate change not out of any real concern for the crisis that is emerging but because it feathers there own nest! Given the resource use of the world’s largest and most powerful economy it strikes me that politicising a crisis that should be beyond partisan politics could potentially doom us all.

The second response that concerned me came during the conference itself. I was gently advised that while my paper was interesting it belonged in the ‘environment box’ not the ‘science box.’ This is not the first time I’ve heard this and my worry is that this misses the point. It is precisely because we have put things into different boxes like the economy box, the social box and the environment box that we have got to where we are now. I suggest that some, if not all, of the environmental and social crises that face us are so profound that they transcend boxes and that those that can think beyond the silos are those that really deserve our attention. In a way that brings us back to Al Gore. That kind of comment in my view simply puts the whole issue in a political box and allows us to more easily dismiss what will undoubtedly be a less than comfortable future if we don’t’ rethink and redesign many things soon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your arguements here. Putting such issues into boxes is just an easy way out - it means that people can play the blame game, ie, 'those people should be dealing with it.'

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reaction fits in with the Four Corners program on Monday 26 February. The program talked about the spin the President and others have put on the issue of climate change. it also discussed the issue of the "science apologists' who say that all the information is not available etc - in reality they are paid by the big oil companies.

11:15 AM  

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