Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How to thrive in the next economy John Thackara at the Design Museum

John Thackara's quite a speaker and yesterday evening  near the end of his talk he asked people to keep the dialogue going..(so here goes)

It's fair to say that at another venue the talk this could have been some terrible plan on getting rich but at the Design Museum it was of course something altogether more worthwhile and was in fact (to my mind) a discussion of a nuanced strategy on managing the limited resources we have on planet earth.
Outside the Design Museum venue yesterday evening

John is not a designer by trade and in fact he started off by studying Philosophy (at the University of Kent according to his CV) but subsequently his career has been varied to say the least including, according to Wikipedia some time as a London bus driver and a journalist.

John didn't include any insights into Bus driving but he did speak about moving traffic away from polluting vans to two wheel distribution and the need for the so-called 'developed' countries to learn from the leaner developing world, which is a world that's less inclined to always turn to fossil fuel solutions.

The headline figure that we should have in mind according to John is that we've got to do things at 5% of what we currently do to be sustainable - so this means drastic change.

The talk was wide ranging and John  was careful to make the point that he had moved on from being a Doomer and the tone and mood he imparted was optimistic even though many of  the scenarios we need to consider appear decidedly bleak .

John (on the right) prepares himself  for the session
One of the things that apparently irritates John is the vast investment in High Speed trains - he sees this as a political device rather than a solution to a real problem and I do have some sympathy with this view - the points he made about working on trains (which many of us do happily)  and efficient busses becoming more attractive to travellers were good ones (John Whitelegg was an academic working in this area who was mentioned).

John spoke widely and mentioned the developments in thinking about human neurology as well as the fact that so many of now in the 'West' have moved from steady employment to a much more flexible and nomadic careers which is now much closer to a hand-to-mouth pattern of work - a straw poll showed only about 20-30% of those attending were in what can be described as in a traditional employee status.

On the positive side the book he told us includes many real world examples of good practice in efficiencies - like for example the fact that Cuba as a result of the US envoy relies less on medication to keep the population well (Cuba has a similar and sometimes better life expectancy than the USA), it uses prevention and low cost solutions and is fact a hub for medical training in the Caribbean territories.

John is widely travelled and resected he spoke too about how the EU's worries about elders care is not the only way of looking at population demographics in Kerala (India) he'd found that the idea of moving older people to homes was alien to most families.

The big challenge is moving away from a focus (that we're imposing worldwide too) on monetisation and profit - food could be far cheaper without the supermarkets domination of distribution - farmers get a small cut of what shoppers pay.
The message from John was that we need to be radical and for me this can be a positive approach but it does need a commitment to evangelise and use best and (often very radical) methods.

John mentioned IKEA as having good intents but felt that they were in an almost impossible position trying to be good but as a large corporation driven by expansionist goals

John's book is called    How to thrive in the next economy  and as well as being important sounds a good read.
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