The great resource scarcity debate, but who’s listening?
I had the opportunity to go and listen to Bill Clinton speak about resource scarcity in Oxford last week. I was eager to hear what this great orator had to say on such an important subject for the future of our planet. Was this going to prove to be a landmark speech on pressing issues such as food and water supply? What did the former President of the United States and founder of the William J Clinton Foundation have to say on this important subject of debate?
A “new kind of forum”, but for whom?
The venue was the University of Oxford and the organiser was Sir David King, the UK’s former chief scientific adviser. The event was billed as a “new kind of forum” attended by “great thinkers and leaders”. And there were certainly plenty of those: Lord Mandelson, Sir Richard Attenborough, David Milliband, John Brock, chairman and ceo of Coca-Cola Enterprises, Lord Patten of Barnes, chancellor of the University of Oxford. The list goes on. The trouble is there was nobody else there. This was truly an exclusive event for the great and the good. And though select media were invited (the Guardian was doing a live blog from the event) one wondered why.
On my arrival I was promptly shuffled off to the ‘press poom’, where the actual event – just a few feet away – was being broadcast live on two giant screens. Press were allowed in the main room, but certainly weren’t encouraged; seating was consigned to the back of the room (where the view was terrible) and any questions had to be put forward before the speakers had even taken to the stage…on a piece of paper ((how spontaneous! how green!). Oh yes, and there was absolutely no recording permitted – not even audio.
Much as I’d wanted to listen to Clinton in the flesh, I opted for the broadcast version next door (trying to catch a glimpse of him through the sea of heads in front of me just didn’t appeal, on balance). And it was an impressive speech – deserving of a far bigger audience than the several dozen that got to hear it.
Public interest in climate change has waned over recent years, but the same cannot be said for food or, in light of the extraordinary weather patterns we’re experiencing, water for that matter. We need to find new ways of communicating on these subjects and engaging debate, but sometimes you just need to hear great speakers talk.
Two of the aims of Re|Source was to come up with “original, workable ideas and untapped investment opportunities”. I sincerely hope it succeeded to do these, because as a forum for debate, it fell well short.
As I left the Examination Schools of Oxford University a sentence Clinton said (I paraphrase) kept ringing in my ears: “People aren’t dumb, they need information”.