Saturday, November 18, 2006

Asahi Blue Planet Prize

Another year, another Blue Planet Prize. The first speaker, Dr. Akira Miyawaki, is an academic ecologist who developed and implemented methods for natural forest restoration. He's 78 and still runs a small research institute - a position he only took up at an age when most people would have retired. He seemed like a pretty amazing guy. He exhorted us to plant forests wherever there was space for 3 trees - and had the results to prove it worked.

The second winner, Dr Emil Salim, had been a minister in the Indonesian government and talked enthusiastically about sustainable development. Michael Tobis would no doubt have been delighted by the way he picked apart traditional "Washington Consensus" economic theory as promoting the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor and the environment. Unfortunately, he didn't really seem to have any clear mechanism for a concrete alternative, with his goal of sustainable development apparently relying on a combination of draconian national and international govt intervention, coupled with citizens attaining personal enlightenment through Yogic flying and scientific study.

OK, I exaggerated slightly on the Yogic flying. But he did make a strong play for a spiritual basis to our sustainable development, and also appealed to "Asian values" (community, family, environment etc) as a basis for a new style of government. There is a proportion of the Japanese public who are not exactly thrilled to be reminded that they are also Asian (cf: telling the English to be "good little Europeans"), and sure enough one questioner basically asked him what exactly he thought the Japanese had in common with Indonesian Muslims. Actually I'd think that Japan would be a good place for his theory of sustainable development to take hold, having essentially a benevolent dictatorship and docile population.

It was interesting to see that the Stern report came up in the following discussion session. I was disappointed - but not overly surprised - that the interpretation (provided by a Kyoto University professor, not just some random member of the public) was that we faced the certain loss of 20% of the world economy under "business as usual" - and there was no hint of any uncertainty about this figure, which readers may recognise as the extreme upper limit Stern produced based on a whole host of unfortunate coincidences which have varying degrees of implausibility. It is possible that some of this nuance had been lost in translation (which I was listening to) but frankly I doubt it.

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