Of Kings and Princes

Another opportunity to discuss future change at the Royal Palace in Stockholm last Thursday where the King had organised a meeting of the 14 guest professors in environmental research who had been supported in visiting Swedish universities by his 50th Birthday fund.   The day was called Faith in the Future.  The King took great interest in the proceedings,  including hosting a dinner in the evening.


This was the first time that all the Guest Professors had met, and the range of expertise represented was very interesting – from palaeoecology to desertification, from environmental economics to cyanobacteria and health, from desertification to governance, and one hydrologist.     There were talks and panel discussions moderated by Swedish environmental journalists, with a few invited questions from the floor including from the Chief Executive of Erikson (who spoke of smart companies accepting the fact of climate change and  wanting to be ahead of the curve in environmental concerns); the Swedish Minister of the Environment (who talked of how 95% of lobbyists were pushing “old” technologies while scientists were mostly silent on new possibilities);  and one of the largest farmers in southern Sweden (who spoke of farmers’ interest in land management for future generations).   Interestingly Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall had also arrived in Stockholm and were staying at the Palace.  Prince Charles had been invited to the day, but apparently had other commitments…..


One of the main discussion points of the day (unsurprisingly, perhaps) was concerned with how to reform society and transform behaviour into more sustainable (and equitable) modes.   The need to move politics and science into the same domains of discourse, to create new modes of economic thought that were not hooked on growth and on carbon consumptions, and to move governance into synch with the socio-ecological coupling to deal with future change, were all raised as issues.   It was suggested that adaptive, reflective modes of governance that allowed for the uncertainties in future projections of change is necessary but is not evident in most policy making at national and international scales, although there are some good local examples.


Given the title of the day, there was some requirement not to be too pessimistic!  But in fact we cannot afford to be pessimistic – the need to deal with change in climate and population, particularly projected urban population, is too pressing.  In recognising that future projections might be uncertain, it is often forgotten that this implies that rates of change might be underestimated rather than overestimated.   Thus to do nothing is to be risk accepting, perhaps to an irresponsible degree.   The question then is how to convey this to governments with generally shorter attention spans……


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