The Olympics

Last month there was a protest against staging the Olympic Equestrian events in Greenwich Park by NOGOE.

Like many others, I was quick to judge the protest as a classic case of Nimbyism. Through rose-tinted glasses, I saw the Olympics as a wholly positive thing for London. In the midst of recession, the regeneration of some of the most deprived areas of our city – so I thought – could only reap benefits. The ‘greenest games ever’ would bring communities together and inspire Londoners to get active.

Having seen the consequences of staging the Equestrian events in Greenwich Park up close and personal, I have softened my stance considerably. Much of the grass behind the Queen’s House is ruined and some areas of the Park are still fenced off to the public. This, despite initial assurances that disruption and damage to the Park would be minimal.

We were also told that the London Olympics would be the first ‘Sustainable Games’. According to the Olympic website:

sustainability’ is far more than being ‘green’. It’s ingrained into our thinking – from the way we plan, build and work, buy, to the way we play, socialise and travel; ultimately everything that we do.

So why then, instead of the original 20% renewable energy target, have Locog downgraded their pledge to just 9%? And why has Locog refused to commit to making the Games plastic-bag free?

I am glad to see that the Greener Upon Thames campaign group has launched an e-petition urging Locog to ban the use of plastic bags in all Olympic venues.

Here are some other suggestions that I think could make a positive impact next summer.

Continue reading “The Olympics”


Dates for the Diary

Tomorrow, Tuesday 18 May, Prof. Carlota Perez will deliver a lecture at the LSE on the “potential of information technologies, the challenges of the environment and the scope for re-specialisation in the globalised economy [to] bring about a sustainable global ‘golden age’.” Click here for full details.

On Wednesday 18 May, the Royal Academy of Engineering is hosting a seminar which will focus on “how to identify current challenges and the potential opportunities for Disaster prevention” in developing countires. Click here for full details.

For a bit of light relief, on the first Sunday of June try the Camden Green Fair.

Likely to update this post over the next couple of days as new lectures, seminars and summer events are confirmed.

"Dethroning GDP" and "Redefining Progress"

The ongoing Icelandic Volcano saga poses many questions that are fundamental to the survival of mankind. Like what happens when your local supermarket can no longer fly in box upon box of pre-sliced pineapple chunks?

It also calls into question the very basis of our economic system. Many thousands of airplane journeys have been cancelled over the past five days. Countless numbers of people are stranded in foreign lands far away from home. And many, many less cartons of pineapple chunks have been consumed. In short, the daily routine of modern capitalism has been disrupted. Household passenger-plane companies are being hit with potentially knock-out blows to their profit margins, key workers such as teachers and nurses cannot get to work and the supermarket chains are having to deliver tinned pineapple rings in place of the real thing. But the wheels haven’t fallen off yet. Profits have surely slumped and many holiday-makers have been inconvenienced. But items such as this and this remind us of some of the advantages of economic “regression”.

In late March a diverse group of academics, NGOs and representatives from different US states met to discuss some of these very issues. An article in the World Resources Institute reviewed the meeting and its efforts to replace GDP as a barometer for progress and prosperity.

This article by Christopher Doll in Our world also examines the relationship between economic growth and sustainability. Amongst other things it looks at “Decoupling”, Amartya Sen’s “capability approach” and “Survivalism”. Well worth a read.

There are two issues that always need to be considered when thinking about the growth versus sustainability conundrum: (1) if climate change is, as Gordon Brown asserted prior to the Copenhagen conference, “the greatest challenge that we face as a world” then we must act decisively, but also that (2) those in the industrial/post-industrialised world are accustomed to seeing low-priced/out-of-season perishables in almost every supermarket in the northern hemisphere. Heaven forbid any national government impose restrictions on chunky pineapple pieces or other luxury goods.

It cannot be a question of either or. There must be compromise.