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Page added on October 8, 2011

Climate experts and celebrities converge on Maldives for Slow Life Symposium

Climate experts and celebrities converge on Maldives for Slow Life Symposium thumbnail

Luxury Maldivian resort Soneva Fushi is currently hosting a three day ‘Slow Life’ symposium bringing together big names in business, climate science, film and renewable energy to come up with ways to address climate change.

Attendees at the Symposium include famous UK entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Empire; actress Daryl Hannah, star of films including ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Splash’; Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’; Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project; Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed; and an array of climate experts and scientists including Mark Lynas and Mike Mason.

Richard Branson

Branson described how six years ago former US Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore arrived at his house “and made me realise I had to make changes to the way I was doing business in the own world.”

Among other initiatives, Branson described his creation of a “Carbon War Room” funding scientific work into both climate education and the development of a renewable alternative to jet fuel.

“Ethanol was not a good idea because it freezes at 15,000 feet,” Branson noted. “So we’re investigating alternatives such as algae, isobutanol and fuel created from eucalyptus trees,” he said, adding that Virgin would be making a significant announcement on the subject next week.

Big business had the ability and prerogative to break down market barriers to the development of low carbon technologies, he said. Inefficient shipping, for instance, wasted US$70 billion a year, and led him to create a website allocating ratings to the most efficient vessels and ports, that had attracted interest from large grocery chains.

Branson also outlined his US$25 million prize for the development of a commercial technology capable of removing carbon from the atmosphere, an idea he said was inspired by the 1714 prize offered for developing a means of measuring longitude on a ship, and had attracted thousands of innovative ideas.

President Mohamed Nasheed

Speaking at the symposium on Saturday, Nasheed said it was “very clear, that regardless of whether you are rich or poor, too much carbon will kill us.”

“For us, this is not just an environmental issue. We need to become carbon neutral even if there was no such thing as climate change, simply because it is more economically viable. We spend more than 14 percent of our GDP on fossil fuel energy, which is more than our education and health budget combined.”

The most important adaptation measure, Nasheed said, “is democracy. You have to have a responsive government to discuss this issue. When I do something people do not believe in, they shout at me. But they are not doing this on this issue.”

The government had reformed its economic system and introduced new taxes “so we can fend for ourselves. We cannot endlessly rely on the international community.”

Since last year’s symposium the government had launched its renewable energy investment plan, and contracted an international firm to process waste at Thilafushi, Nasheed said, as well as introduced a feed in tariff which would make generating solar “more profitable than a corner shop.”

“If you are buying electricity at 40 cents a kilowatt hour you can sell electricity to the state at 35 cents. Soneva Fushi is going to be able to produce electricity with solar at 15 cents. We will be able to finance households as a loan to pay back from savings they are making. If you do the sums in the Maldives it is really quite possible, and I’m confident that households will see the commercial viability.”

Ed Norton

Meanwhile Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’, linked sanitation and waste management to human development, noting that more people had cell phones than toilets. As a result, Norton said, 1.7 million people died yearly of preventable diarrheal diseases – 90 percent of them under the age of five.

“The World Health Organisation estimates that for every dollar spent on sanitation, $3-34 is returned to the economy,” he observed.

Ocean dumping of sewage was standard, he noted, while septic tanks could leak and contaminate groundwater. He proposed a greater focus on using waste water for fertiliser and water recycling, rather than thinking of it simply as a matter of waste disposal.

Jonathan Porritt

UK environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future, observed that just by attending the Symposium he had contributed four tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

He referred to a colleague who was “so overwhelmingly conscious” of his carbon footprint that he weighed his attendance at such events by “the gravity of the audience, the quality of his speech and the effectiveness in lobbying and networking.”

However, he noted that travel and tourism was, overall, a “force for good in an increasingly troubled world.”

“We live in a world where governments invest US$1.4 trillion a year in war. We live in a world where US$4 trillion is invested in the war against terror, a world were fundamentalism is rampant and aggressive nationalism is all over the place. Many countries taking a lead on the issue suffer from a deep sense of exhaustion. Against that backdrop, hands-on [tourism] is a way to bridge the divide,” Porritt said.

At the same time tourism was driven by the balance sheet, and that while there was a great deal of ecotourism initiatives much of it was “marketing, with no credibility.”

“There is a focus on green rather than sustainable tourism, and no real understanding of what it means,” he said. “There is a reluctance to engage on socio-economic issues.”

“Gaps in equity are widening – and the gap between the have and the have nots is widening. Even as tourism contributes economically, because of the gaps resentment about the impact of the industry is rising – especially in a country where access to land, water, beachfront, reef and biomass is being privileged to support growth of tourism industry rather than the interests of local people.”

Tourism, Porritt said, was a microcosm of the local economy, with high end tourism such as that in the Maldives attracting the wealthiest and most influential people.

“For the one percent of the population that control more than 30 percent of the net wealth in a country such as the United States, it is very easy to insulate one’s self from real world by traveling from high security offices to gated communities to privileged, luxury resorts. It is a bubble through which the real world rarely penetrates.”

A state of low carbon with high inequality was “not a judgement anyone should be comfortable with. We should be thinking not just about the need to mitigate carbon impact, but offsetting inequality. I think what we are doing should be from the perspective of social justice as much as low carbon.”

However, he noted, it was easier to educate a few billionaires than the entire population of a country such as the US, distracted from the issue by Xboxes and cable TV.

“Billionaires have a vested interest in keeping the [planet sustainable], because they have enough money enjoy the planet,” he suggested.

Tim Smit

Founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall, Tim Smit, spoke about the need to mobilise people by capturing their imagination – and the responsibility the Maldives has as a symbol of a united effort combating climate change.

“Author CS Lewis said that while science leads to truth, only imagination leads to meaning,” Smit said.

“We are used to talking to halls of middle aged men who want to be inspired. We read the books about affecting change and they have the same language, and it is really dull: paradigm shifts, centres of excellence, leading edge thinking, cutting edge thinking, and when they are very excited, bleeding edge thinking. We don’t write books about the impact of this thinking.”

Incredible things, Smit said, were “being done by the unreasonable.”

“The Maldives has captured the imagination, and the elected political elite are showing charisma and leadership on the issue [of climate change]. The danger is that we listen to too many middle aged white people, and miss the point. I see an incredible moment when the story of Maldives becomes the story of us all – but it needs to be delivered with a pirate grin that says f*** it, we’re going to do this thing. I hate idealists. I like unreasonable people who do things.”

There was, Smit said, a danger that the Maldives would lose sight of its goal, and “lose the moment when the Maldives could become the most important place in world. The goal is open but the moment will be gone, and suddenly the bright future is no longer there, just a job – and not a job in the spotlight.”

The Maldivian people needed to be given the independence to make their own decisions, such as installing solar, and given control so that they knew the impact of flipping the light switch.

“Trust in the people of the Maldives to get excited of a picture of the Maldives reborn,” Smit suggested.

The Slow Life Symposium continues on Sunday.

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6 Comments on "Climate experts and celebrities converge on Maldives for Slow Life Symposium"

  1. Fabey on Sat, 8th Oct 2011 5:36 PM 

    “Trust in the people of the Maldives to get excited of a picture of the Maldives reborn,” Smit suggested – Bit idealist I think Mr Smit.

  2. Rooster on Sat, 8th Oct 2011 7:20 PM 

    “…scientists including Mark Lynas…”

    So Mark Lynas is a scientist?
    Since when?
    Mark Lynas is not a scientist, JJ.
    Please correct your facts.

  3. Hypocrites All on Sat, 8th Oct 2011 10:28 PM 

    This is a bit like having child sexual predators holding a symposium on protecting children. It would be hard to assemble a group that has benefitted from the plundering of Earth’s resources more than these jet setting elite hypocrites. Then these morons think offsets and using biofuels actually does anything to lower their abuse of energy. Who is still stupid enough to listen to such hypocrites?

  4. Happy Infidel on Sun, 9th Oct 2011 12:46 AM 

    All these symposiums with obscure ‘celebrities’ are pointless……….its like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Global warming is inevitable and the Maldives is doomed. Have a nice day………….

  5. b cole on Sun, 9th Oct 2011 6:17 PM 

    To learn about the fast-track commercialization of the algae production industry you may want to check out the National Algae Association.

  6. Philip Haddad on Tue, 11th Oct 2011 7:54 AM 

    Carbon dioxide is not the cause of global warming. Yes burning of fossil fuels is adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but the real cause is the heat that is generated when we burn it. Is that not why we burn it? Atomic energy and geothermal processes emit no CO2, but they emit a total of twice as much heat as their electrical output. We are adding 50x10E16 BTUs each year into an atmosphere having a mass of 5.3x10E18 kilograms. That is three times the heat necessary to match the measured average rise in temperature. Glacial melting and photosynthesis help mitigate the temperature. Efforts to remove CO2 by means other than through photosynthesis, are counterproductive, to put it kindly.


  • maumoon: The true depth of this Hero guy is very obvious,isnt it.Pray that you do not get sick,for whcih you have to go to India
  • Romeo: Yameen’s approach for economic development is just an imagination probably it will never be realized. This is another trick to dupe Maldivian to fantasize for...
  • Kashim: @Ekaloas, how dare you. Arab culture brings enlightment to Maldives, without it we would still be worshiping statues and idols of Buddha. If you love Maldives...
  • Hamdhan: @Logal Sumaari kaleyge Just because the US military is welcome in Maldives territory doesn’t mean other countries like Pakistan can do the same! Keep in...
  • Logal Sumaari kaleyge: If this is allowed without without the least oppositions, it would set a precedent for others. Next You would see Pakistani, and the Chinese...
  • general: Good ole Uncle Sam is keeping an eye on the SEZs and the Chinese. Uncle Sam knows best, for he sees things that us mortals cannot.
  • Jason: Hero on sun , just get lost with your silly remarks , Gayoom family is only second to Rajapakse family in Sri Lanka , bith are ruining countries , both are...
  • MissIndia NewDelhi: @ Zero aka Hero Maybe your government should provide you with better health and educational facilities. Then you won’t need to travel to...

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