adapting to change

What does this generation need to inherit the future? was the topic of a public forum hosted by the Ecological Society of Australia at ESA2007 and facilitated by Robyn Williams, ABC Science Journalist.

Panel members included:

  • Hon. Fred Chaney AO, Former Federal Minister and advocate for social justice and indigenous issues
  • Prof Paul Ehrlich, Ecologist and Author, Stanford University, USA
  • Prof Clive Spash, Economist and Author, CSIRO
  • Dr Beth Schultz, Conservationist, Western Australia
  • Dr Carmen Lawrence, Federal MP and Former Premier of Western Australia

Panel members got to speak to the topic for three minutes in front of a single projected image that they had chosen. The most interesting images were that of a tree appearing to grow out of a car fuel tank that accompanied Ehrlich’s talk, and the backdrop to Spash’s talk was a photograph of a face carved out of a mountain on one side and a goat on an unaltered mountain on the other.

A panel discussion was then held, followed by questions from the audience. The panel members then got to summarise the evening with one line.

The evening was unevenly paced with panel members speaking very quickly for their three minutes to fit in all that they wanted to say, and Robyn Williams seemingly unable to instigate and maintain a panel discussion. So it felt like it was more of a question and answer session between Williams and the panel members.

Panel members responded to audience questions and statements, but I feel that we were talking amongst ourselves or preaching to the converted.

All speakers and the audience participation generated interesting and good content for discussion, but probably the three key messages that I came away with were:

  • THE generation were the minority in the audience and there were none on stage, as one young member of the audience articulated well in her statement. Quite rightly, she restated the forum topic and said, ‘noone has asked me’. The only cause for concern is that she also said that she came along to the public forum for the answer to the question being asked.
  • Surprisingly to me anyway, the issue of communicating science was mentioned more than once. The Hon Fred Chaney mentioned in his talk that scientists need to communicate what they are doing with the public. A member of the audience pre-empted her question to the panel by stating that Prof Lyn Beasley, Chief Scientist of Western Australia, was an exemplar of science communication. But unfortunately, some of the audience didn’t get it, and suggested that science communication was happening, just the public didn’t appear to be listening and used the IPCC report as an example. When challenged, the response was, that is what an executive summary is for – all twenty pages?
  • The environment is largely ignored and in general, people are focusing only on the one issue they think they understand, i.e. climate change.

The panel member’s one line summaries were so quick, so please only think of these as a summary of ideas rather than quotes:

  • Paul Ehrlich – we need many more meetings like this
  • Carmen Lawrence – changing people’s behaviour is important
  • Hon. Fred Chaney AO – conversations, equal relationships and justice
  • Clive Spash – adjust institutions’ processes to run the economy
  • Beth Schultz – conservation begins in bed and [ineligible, i.e. my writing not her comment]

The forum was one of those events that you had to be there, and I certainly cannot do it justice here. I’m pleased that I went if only to be with people of like minds talking about environment, overpopulation, biodiversity, climate change, etc. But I did come away with a certain feeling that nothing is going to change having attended this meeting simply because there is no way to follow up. That is, have other meetings, discuss better ways to change behaviour, maintain or improve relationships, investigate current processes, and grass roots initiatives.

The underlying forum topic was the quote by Eric Hoffer:

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.”

There was talk of a podcast up on the conference web site, video up on You Tube, or transcript. If so, I will be able to at least edit the one liners.


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