So that’s it

Thanks to the Northcott, to the volunteers, to Tobit the production manager, to the speakers, and to us the team. We went down to the stage to take our bow, and I managed to fall over the scenery. Oh well! Flowers for Jeanie and Claire, the wondrous organisers.

The videos of the talks will be posted on Youtube in a couple of weeks. Of course, everyone has their own subjective experience and interpretation, but I hope this blog could be a way of reminding you about the talks in the meantime. Enjoy!

Chris Anderson talk

Chris Anderson BWCurator of TED and Jeanie’s brother, starting with a big hug – aaaah! He’s left the red spot and is shaking the hands of the front row. Staple-guns at the ready! But phew, he’s back on the spot.

He’s changed his talk from the City 2.0, and instead is looking at what he’s learnt from past TED talks about sustainability: the world in seven lenses. He firmly believes there is cause for optimism, so even though he starts with the message “we’re in trouble”…

Lens 1. The long view says that things have been getting better. Trade brought connections and drove innovation. In the past we had to work for 6 hours to afford one tallow candle. Now we work for 1 second for electric lighting. Despite what we see of the evidence, we are living in the most peaceful time in human existence. Snippet of Hans Rosling’s talk on life expectancy and family sizes.

Lens 2. Our brains are bugged, so we don’t recognise happiness and well-being. If we recognise it, we can navigate around it. Cartoon: “everything was better back when everything was worse.” Our genes are wired to want more. We need to take a moment to smell the roses.

Lens 3. Our media are fundamentally flawed, in the way they appeal to our lizard brains. We respond to drama and bad news for other people, We’re looking at shorter and shorter time periods, so we see the peaks and miss long-term trends. The actual News of the actual World should be “Global Health Shock: 1700 children saved from horrifying death”.

Lens 4. “Growth” does not have to mean “more”. Today we’ve heard about numerous ways of re-imagining the economy. Better experiences don’t have to mean more stuff, and the knowledge economy can help drive this.

Lens 5. Urbanization is humanity’s golden hope. TED speakers have changed Chris’ view of cities. The proximity of people, even in slums, drives innovation to make change. The carbon footprint per person is much lower within cities. The movement to the cities has released some pressure on the countryside. City mayors (often) can do what national governments can’t, because they can work within local communities.

Lens 5. Sustainability comes from knowledge, not just nature. Knowledge has given us a lot of tools, and choices that make our lives joyful.

Lens 6. Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble. Stewart Brand: “We are as gods, and have to get good at it”, from a position of humility not arrogance.

Lens 7. People are not hungry mouths, but creative minds, not a burden, but an asset. Half the world’s population – girls and women – hasn’t had the possibility of reaching their potential, but things are changing.

In our connected world, knowledge can spread and humanity can get wiser.

Jackie Juno performance

Jackie Juno BW… is a locally-sourced, free-range, organic poet, so can be enjoyed guilt-free. She will start with nursery rhymes, and build to a crescendo of beautifully crafted brilliance.

“Jack and Jill went up the hill, because everywhere else was flooded.”

Shout out for the organisers – Jeanie, Claire and the rest of the team. Thanks!

“Teignmouth muse, incorporating personal, societal and environmental health” rhymes ‘arses’ with ‘catharsis’, name-checks Nietzsche and mentions the gap between rich and poor, and two seagulls sitting on the roof of a van.

“The 99%” is a new poem written for today, like the “Pirates” poem she wrote in the morning and performed over lunch. Aaaarrrrr! We’re all standing up for the world. “Here is a holy place to be … and the time is exactly now”, which is enough.

Cheers for her, as for Polly earlier.

Polly Higgins talk

Polly Higgins featureWhile representing in court a man who had been badly injured, Polly looked out of the window and reflected on how we are damaging the earth, and thought a thought that changed her life: “the earth is in need of a good lawyer”. She continued considering what needs to be put in place. Humans have human rights, what if the earth had rights too? The whole body of existing environmental law isn’t working – look at the Amazon. She discovered that many people were thinking like her, including millions of indigenous people.

Homicide against people, genocide against population, we need a new language to describe what is happening against the earth – ecocide. Can we make ecocide into a crime? Three months of research later, Polly realised the answer was yes, ecocide could be the fifth crime against peace alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, geocide, and crimes of aggression. All are crimes against life and the sanctity of life. What is happening in the Congo is a sad example of the spiral of resource depletion and war. The law of ecocide should act as a disruptor to this spiral.

A definition of ecocide: “the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

There are two types of ecocide: human-caused, and naturally-caused ecocide due to events such as tsunami. The law can be framed on nations to give assistance when something like this occurs – a legal duty of care. It won’t be possible for other nations to tell the Maldives there is nothing they can do about climate change and rising sea levels. Ultimately, we are in this together.

In international law, there is a principle of superior responsibility, which places responsibility on heads of state and business leaders whose decisions affect millions of other people.

The earth could be viewed as an inert thing, and we then put a price tag on it and abuse it – the ambit of property law. The earth could also be viewed as a living being, and we would think in terms of stewardship.

There is a parallel with the fight against slavery and the slave trade 200 years ago, viewed as a necessity preventing economies from collapsing. 200 companies then said they would work it out using market forces, but instead the UK government listened to the campaigners and the changes to law were made. With a period of transition, none of the companies went out of business. Today there are 3,000 companies arguing that fossil fuels like the Athabasca tar sands are a necessity.

It is currently the law of corporations to put profits first, and maximise returns to share-holders. Ecocide is about prioritising people and planet above profit, and a recognition that we can open the door to a conflict-free world where life and innovation flourishes.

Martin Luther King once said that when our laws align themselves to equality and justice then we will have peace in our world. Ecocide as a law will allow us to align ourselves with natural justice.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talk

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall feature“It all started with a fish”, when his Dad decided that it was time for his six-year-old son to learn to fish… in west London with a length of bamboo, a piece of string, a bent nail, and a piece of Mother’s Pride as bait. He sent a bored Hugh off to look for worms, and a minute later called him back to help with a monster catch. Hugh later identified it as a mackerel – laughter – a fish largely reputed to live in the sea but according to his Dad had obviously swum up the Thames and taken a wrong turn. Ten years later, the truth of that day finally emerged – the clandestine trip to the fishmongers, the smuggling on to the nail while Hugh was off worm-hunting, the hit on the head with a stick before he realised it was already dead and gutted.

But it was still a gift, as Hugh wouldn’t otherwise be campaigning about fishing in the North Sea. He made a connection that day. The best food is food with a story, that you feel connected with in some way. That brings us to a place of eating enjoyably, healthily and sustainably.

Honey is an amazing food if you think about it, coming from so many plants around your own landscape. It’s so much nicer to eat a home-baked cake, or to buy it from a local baker who makes the food. And to buy veg from a local organic farmer such as our sponsors Shillingford Organics – there were vegetables changing hands in the Great Hall earlier!

Mackerel is the great democratic fish of the British coast, as anyone can jump on a boat for an hour and have a good chance of catching dinner. Proust had his madeleines, and Hugh has his mackerels – not at all pretentious! Mackerel, like Hugh, are fantastically broad-minded eaters. They’ve been successful, and until recently had the status of being among the most sustainable fish in the North Sea. The Marine Stewardship Council has defined a sustainable harvest equivalent to 5-6 portions per year for every person in Europe. But there have been almighty squabbles and agreements have fallen down, and because fish is big money, the quotas have been exceeded by 30-40%. So the MSC is withdrawing its sustainability mark.

So what can we do? Hugh has decided to spend one more season cooking, eating and feeding mackerel to his family, and serving line-caught mackerel in his restaurants, while keeping an eye on the situation. And us? Keep catching that fish, and raise a new generation that is connected with our food.

We’re on a continuum between plastic processed food that we have never touched and hunter-gatherers. We need to move closer towards the hunter-gatherer end, and in doing so move towards a more sustainable food future.

Rob Hopkins talk

Rob Hopkins featureAfter more Kagemusha to get my heart beat going, we transition to Rob Hopkins. Can you see what I did there?

He’s going to tell us a story, which has the potential to change, and is already changing the world. He’s a local boy, and the story is about Totnes, twinned with Narnia. Totnes has become a new age centre. Apparently there’s a new hormone called Totnesterone, where masculine and feminine come into perfect balance.

But Totnes has pockets of deprivation, and many important local businesses have shut down in the past few years. According to a local historian, the town is dying a slow death, and there is no cavalry coming to help.

He’s showing a clip from the new film Transition 2.0. Transition started with talks about Peak Oil, the second major challenge facing us, alongside climate change. Projects include the Totnes pound local currency, open eco-homes and eco-gardens, a cohousing group, a garden match scheme, among others. In surveys in the town, 75% had heard about what was going on, 33% had engaged. It has been picked up by groups around the world, and canoeists in remote areas of Canada have now heard of Totnes.

Transition Town Totnes was set up to help groups elsewhere get going, a ‘do-ocracy’ employing 1.5 people and bringing money into the town.

Two activities have really engaged people in telling the story of the town and making a difference: the Energy Descent Action Plan, and the Economic Blueprint. This maps the local economy. For example, £20m of spend on food in supermarkets goes out of the local economy. If 10% is retained in the town, that means £2m to boost the local economy.

Then there’s Transition Streets, on the premise that Transition sticks better if people work on it in communities. They may save tonnes of carbon, but people usually talk about the connections made with neighbours as the key benefits. Change happens through being contagious, viral and fun.

How can a new economy be made in the town? Other initiatives: Totnes Renewable Energy Society, sustainable homes built using local materials, a local entrepreneurs forum. The forum is looking for businesses that are: working within natural limits, bringing assets into the local community, and four other characteristics that Rob was proud to remember but I couldn’t type quickly enough. They invited the local political candidates to hustings, not for them to answer questions, but to talk to them about their ideas.

“Hippy town comes of age”, said the Western Morning News.

Rob’s best analogy for Transition is microrhizomes in a forest. Much of what Transition does is under the surface, so fruits aren’t always obvious, but results pop out unexpectedly. It has also spread like microrhizomes. There are now Transition initiatives in 34 countries, working in their own local contexts.

We don’t need the cavalry, we are already here. Cheers for Rob and his final quote from the Moomintrolls.

Andy Robertson talk

Andy Robertson BWAs well as writing about video games, ‘Geek Dad Gamer’ gets local artists and singer-songwriters to respond in unusual ways to games. He showed a video of Rebecca Mayes singing about Halo 4. Rebecca was going to sing live to us, but unfortunately has a bug today.

Video games are not just entertainment, excitement, adrenalin and a bit of violence thrown in. They also want to engage our hearts. We invest millions on technology and delivering game experiences, and in them can be found cutting-edge ways of being human. To be a games player is to be a creator. Games provide a way in to participating in the stories and owning them, while films keep us in touch with naivety and false hope.

Talk about games has become just marks out of 10 for graphics, sound and game experience, a boring and unsustainable approach. It’s time to talk in a different, more sustainable and human way about games.

We spend a lot of time keeping the wrong games out of the hands of the wrong people, rather than getting the right games into the hands of the right people.

Play a game in a family or community, and all sorts of surprising responses pop up. It opens a door to talking about dealing with violence, and choosing non-violence. The presence of dark games, like some of the difficult stories in the Bible, helps us engage with difficult subjects of darkness, violence and loss. We need to develop a priesthood of gamers.

PS. Andy has provided some links for people who want to find out more…

Firstly the community site he runs who produce the unusual reviews he was talking about:

Secondly the live theatre performance of our reviews he included in the talk:

Lily Lapenna talk

Lily Lapenna featureShe’s got us dancing to Jessie J “it’s not about the money money money”. Get over the post-lunch graveyard slot.

But in some cases it is. 90% of adults haven’t had any financial education. Personal debt is over £1.5 trillion, greater than national GDP. 15% of young people thought an ISA was an iPod accessory, and 50% an energy drink. On the other hand, 48% of 18-24 year olds say debt is their biggest fear. 26% of Britons have no savings at all.

Why do young people queue? Usually for food or for something that is free. Lily has videoed young people queuing to save money. The bankers she works with look very different from our stereotypical image.

It’s not just about behavioural change, but also about financial education. Instead of telling us about financial education, we’re going to do some exercises.

Who knows what APR is? Instead of annualised percentage return, remember that P stands for ‘pay’ – what you pay for borrowing. What about AER? E stands for ‘earn’ – what you want to earn from saving.

People that budget regularly make what level of savings per year? The answer is D, £1500. What is the favourite student meal? Pizza. Save money by buying from a shop rather than getting a takeaway.

One of the first major decisions children make around money is where to open a bank account. And they take it really seriously. One of the first questions they ask is “what is your ethical policy?” then, if that one confuses the cashier, “how is my money going to be invested to make the world a better place?” [questions to ask our banks, methinks]