Sustainable Development Commission Breakthrough Ideas

I attended a meeting of SDC delegates and guests last week on their nineteen selected breakthrough ideas to improve the sustainability of the planet. The ideas were an interesting mixture of projects that
-worked on children’s access to open space
-provided a way to grow sustainable food and fish in the same mini ecosystem
-looked at how to promote the use of biochar to sequester carbon
-investigated the best way to retrofit the existing stock
and many others. I did wonder about the number nineteen, why were there only nineteen, some of the ideas were so close to each other that they coul d have been merged into a slightly bigger idea, others clearly couldn’t exist without serious investment to get them started, like the algae for carbon sequestration.
The day featured a number of discussions in breakout groups in between speeches from luminaries.
Ed Milliband talked in the morning about how difficult it all was and how much progress there had been, and he exhorted the audience to ‘mobilise’ for Copenhagen as this is an opportunity of a lifetime. (This was slightly spoiled when Rosie Boycott pointed out that two million people had mobilised against the Iraq war and the Government had not taken a blind bit of notice.)
HRH Prince Charles talked about how difficult sustainability is and how we should not be surprised at the opposition to making the sweeping changes that a sustainable future demands. The world is not set up to be sustainable, it is set up to be selfish. One the one hand I find it difficult to accept someone in the Princes position making such a statement, but on the other hand, if he was almost anyone else on the planet, what he was saying would make perfect sense. The problem with the Prince is that he doesn’t appear to be aware of this difficulty.
Jane Davidson stood up and presented a party political broadcast on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government, which was misplaced since hardly anybody who was there is ever going to be in a position to vote for her or for it.
Jonathan Porrit talked at length about how his time at the SDC was coming to the end, and he introduced his successor Will Day, Whilst Jonathan deserves all the plaudits he got, I couldn’t help but wonder if that belonged in another time and another day, It isn’t as if the job he started at the SDC has had the impact he wanted, it has barely scratched the surface.
In the end I wondered what the day had been about, and whether it had succeeded. If its purpose was to draw attention to the nineteen ideas then it succeeded, although none of them were startlingly new.
If its purpose was to improve the level of debate about sustainability in the UK, then I think it failed. The people attending were largely the converted, and I had to listen to self appointed windbags on at least two occasions who thought that they had The Answer. As though there is An Answer.
The environmental movement needs to continue to engage, entreat, discuss and involve at all levels of society, but this doesn’t look like the way to do it.


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