According to JP Morgan, flying to 21186 miles to Melbourne and back for a clean tech conference generated 5.63 tonnes of carbon dioxide, but unlike most conferences on this subject the hot air emissions were negligible.
The Sir Mark Oliphant Cleantech: Mainstream and at the Edge conference was refreshing for the positive outlook on cleantech rather than the self flagellation that usually goes along with this kind of event. While there were a few graphs showing frightening population statistics, with dire predictions of resource and energy use, they were mostly used to illustrate how a combination of human ingenuity and technology could be used to solve problems. None of the speakers even suggested smashing the corrupt capitalist system as happens so often at green events.
From my perspective, as hopefully a purveyor or at least enabler of technology based sustainability, the advantage of this kind of event is to see what the real drivers are, the market for the technology, and then try to find the science and engineering to solve the problem. This probably explains my rapt attention to talks like Stefan Hajkowicz’s excellent overview of Megatrends (the full report is available here), which looked at the “trends, patterns of economic, social or environmental activity that will change the way people live and the science and technology products they demand.”
I wasn’t too happy about the use of data from a rather flawed WEF risk report which identified nanotechnology as a risk on a par with an asset price collapse, a slowing Chinese economy, oil and gas price spikes, extreme climate change related weather, pandemic, biodiversity loss and terrorism. We seem to keep finding echoes of the grey goo fears of ten years ago in these kind of documents, something for the science communication experts to ponder.
Also fascinating was Ellen Sandell’s talk on her work with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, a mobilisation of 50,000 young people who just couldn’t wait for Copenhagen, Davos or Canberra to reach an agreement, or for the Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace to stop politicking and decided to get things moving themselves.
So given that we know what to expect, and we have no lack of youthful enthusiasm to push us along, there’s no real excuse not to act. We should be demanding of our politicians that we develop new technologies not new taxes, and that we use our scientific knowledge of the natural world to make it a better place.
The news gets even better, as many of the speakers mentioned, in that you can make the world a better place and make money.