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Jonathon Porritt talk

Jonathon Porritt portraitNow in a change to the programme, Jonathon Porritt, who is delighted to be here, because he wants to talk about “a brilliantly, genuinely sustainable way of life”.

He has been close to despair in the past about how to demonstrate the benefits of a sustainable life. But he has been working on what a sustainable life will look like in 2050, and how we will get there, and has come to the conclusion that a genuinely sustainable way of life in available to all – all 7 billion people today, and 9 billion people soon.

After 9 billion, all bets are off. Population is just one problem, oil is another. The price is shooting up, and we are in the middle of one of the most serious economic crises since the 1930s. Prices of commodities are shooting up too. We are in a resource crunch – food, rare earths. On top of that is the problem of accelerating climate change. 2012 was the worst year ever in terms of feedback loops. It demonstrates the necessity of profound change, but we are still on the same track. Billions of dollars are still supporting fossil fuels. But Hurricane Sandy has had a big impact on US opinion, mainly because of the price tag of $62bn.

The world is ‘in rehearsal’ for a process of radical decarbonisation. A study by WWF and Ecofys has looked at a transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear to sustainable renewable sources. (Claps for a non-nuclear future.) This transition represents trillions of dollars. It is already emerging in developing countries, partly down to one more hidden revolution – the plummeting prices of photovoltaics. We are well on the way to grid parity – equal prices with fossil fuels – and the talk in China is about how to get prices down to 50 cents per watt. We know that when countries get serious about renewables, as in Germany, we see integration of systems. That will become a lot easier through energy storage technologies – Jonathon is now showing a list of them on possibly “the most boring slide ever displayed in a TEDx talk”.

The world’s largest concentrated solar power plant in Abu Dhabi was commissioned a few weeks ago. Some people call this the third industrial revolution. If we get this right, we are on to something breath-takingly different, an energy internet of electrons. Think about 5 billion people crowd-sourcing solutions to problems we currently think of as intractable. This is why he is no longer in despair. In every field, the innovation pipeline is bulging.

For example, water purification. Big and small companies are bringing products to the market, services at a price people can afford, to rid the world of a scourge that is polluted water bringing disease and death. Imagine a straw that cleans water between contaminated glass and lips.

It is a race. There is still time. It is not too late, however many times you hear people say that. Technology lies at the heart of that potential. Jonathon found it surprising to find himself uttering those words. Over the past 40 years, he has been no great fan of technology. He has been sceptical of techno-fixing, a strategy avoiding confrontation the real issues that lie at the heart of the corrupted model of ‘progress’. The precautionary principle is still important. It’s difficult to make a case for technology, if the technology is nuclear and GM.

The $62 billion cost of Sandy is also the amount of money that Obama could claw back by cancelling the tax breaks for the rich that Bush introduced. We need a radical redistribution of wealth – a money revolution as well as a technology revolution.

And given these conditions – “a brilliantly, genuinely sustainable way of life is still possible for all of us.”

More Information

WWF/Ecofys “The Energy Report”

Jonathon’s website

Forum for the Future and the Prince of Wales’ Business and Sustainability Programme

Jonathon Porritt biography

Jonathan PorrittJonathon Porritt, Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, is an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.  Established in 1996, Forum for the Future is now the UK’s leading sustainable development charity, with 70 staff and over 100 partner organisations including some of the world’s leading companies.

In addition, he is Co-Director of The Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme which runs Seminars for senior executives around the world.  He is a Non-Executive Director of Wessex Water, and of Willmott Dixon Holdings.  He is a Trustee of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, and is involved in the work of many NGOs and charities as Patron, Chair or Special Adviser.

He was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90); co-chair of the Green Party (1980-83) of which he is still a member; chair of UNED-UK (1993-96); chair of Sustainability South West, the South West Round Table for Sustainable Development (1999-2001); a Trustee of WWF UK (1991-2005); a member of the Board of the South West Regional Development Agency (1999-2008).

He stood down as Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in July 2009 after nine years providing high-level advice to Government Ministers.

Jonathan’s books include Capitalism As If The World Matters (Earthscan, revised 2007); Globalism & Regionalism (Black Dog 2008); and Living Within Our Means (Forum for the Future 2009).

Jonathon received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection.