Scroll down the page for biographical information and news.

Video and Live blogging

Rachel McKendry talk


RachelMcKendry_portraitRachel wants us to take out our mobile phones and hold them up. Virtually everyone in the room has a phone, each of which has more power than the computers which helped to put a man on the moon. And they can help provide an early warning system for viruses.

Viruses and other infectious diseases are some of the main threats to our increasingly interconnected world. Ebola highlights the threat, and the importance of public health. Doctors protect individuals. Public health protects populations. The reality is that most countries have little public health provision, so Ebola went undetected for 3 months, until it was ready to explode.

The flu pandemic in 1918-20 killed more people than World War I. Pandemic influenza is at the top of the UK government risk register, and it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. It’s not just a question of health, but the economy and provision of essential services. Also, antimicrobial resistance is growing, which the Chief Medical Officer describes as a ticking timebomb.

If someone is infected, there is an incubation period before symptoms arise, during which there is a risk of passing it on. There are more delays before diagnosis and intervention, which has a serious effect on PH efforts to prevent the virus spreading. So we need to pick up infections at the onset of symptoms.

Rachel’s team, across many disciplines and organisations, is using reporting of symptoms on the web to form early warning systems. There are 7bn mobile subscriptions in the world. Mobiles are the most sophisticated technology in remote villages in developing countries. The first report of SARS in China was by the public.

Many of us use our mobiles to search the web about our health. Google Flu Trends, based on anonymised searches, provides information 2 weeks ahead of official sources. Tweets also provide lots of information about symptoms. Together, they are being used to create a nowcasting service.

But symptoms don’t imply the same diagnoses, so the team is also bringing diagnostic technology to the people. It uses self-swabbing kits, which are posted back to labs. And phone sensors are now being used to do the diagnosis on the ground. Further, the team has produced bio-barcodes, readable by phone cameras, which can diagnose e.g. HIV. This is all linked to the provision of interventions.

Mobile technology was used in the fight against Ebola – text alerts, communication of test results, etc. It’s still early days, though. The challenge is to develop a means of detecting Ebola and the like 3 months earlier. And the public and public education are the main tools. Together we can fight infectious diseases.

Rebecca Maze performance

Rebecca Maze 2013 portrait

Rebecca Maze 2013 portraitRebecca wrote two songs for today based on the theme of living the questions, with the help of ideas from the Twitter community. But she has changed her second song after listening to the other talks.

“What to do with all these many questions? All I wish for is happiness for me, for mine and all the rest. Dream deep, dream wide. You can take it somewhere new.”

She wrote her second song this week, about the pressing problem of rape.

“Ask your heart if it still beats in there, cos you can’t take mine. Rape is the weapon of war that continues. You lost your heart and you’re hollow inside. Enough is enough, no more.”

Really powerful. I’m looking forward to seeing the video and listening again.

More Information

Rebecca’s website and Youtube channel

Rob Hopkins talk

Rob Hopkins feature

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.