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“Now for the long term” by Sir John Beddington & Lord Rees

Posted in policy

The establishment of the Oxford Martin School is an important initiative to research the greatest global challenges facing us. I attended a featured event organised by the School, ‘Now for the Long Term’ where Sir John Beddington and Lord Rees outlined some of the short-term and long-term challenges that require urgent attention from governments worldwide. I was struck by both the degree of optimism and pessimism in tackling issues such as climate change, where it seems that scientific evidence is being superseded by political agendas. Indeed it would seem to some that many politicians are more concerned about winning elections. While science and engineering are integral to finding solutions to many of the issues facing our world, they fundamentally depend upon policy decisions, which are ultimately shaped by values. People’s worldview and values will determine how they think about solving problems and how they prioritise, and that seems to be at the heart of the problem of why we seem unable to tackle issues affecting the future existence of humanity. As Lord Rees said there is no scientific impediment to achieving a sustainable world, however we still need to overcome the gap between knowledge and effective action.

There are some deeper issues, which have to be tackled of really getting to the reason of why we are not taking on these issues with the seriousness and commitment needed. We have brilliant scientists and engineers and more are needed but if the political culture and values aren’t built upon an aspiration to discover what is true, and a culture of basing decisions upon evidence, rather than desires then it makes the task of changing our world for the better that much harder. Indeed so much of our time and energy seems to be taken up having to convince people, and even when people are confronted with overwhelming evidence there is still a reluctance to take it on board, which leaves me asking the question, why?

1 Comment so far

  1. It is wonderful to have people thinking about how to tackle humanity’s challenges, and I invite you and other readers to remember that many, if not most, great human advances were achieved accidentally, by people who were much like you and I. The statement “an aspiration to discover what is true, and a culture of basing decisions upon evidence, rather than desires” presumes that “truth” is an absolute, and that humans can actually make decisions independently from their desires (desires that are often unconscious and learned before language skills were acquired).

    “Truth” is, just as energy and matter, relative. Newtonian Physics is “true” and Quantum Physics is “impossible” for most human experiences… yet both must be understood and applied for modern human endeavors. With respect to “evidence” and “desires”, politicians and marketing experts (to mention 2 professions) are highly skilled at creating, destroying, and manipulating both.

    I suggest you focus on the goal, firts, and then dwe can propose alternatives on how to get there… different people will try different approaches and — if history repeats itself — the goal will be reached by the least expected innovator.

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