Friday, August 05, 2005

A conversation with John Elkington

It was good yesterday to visit John Elkington, chairman of SustainAbility. As ever, he is bubbling with ideas and projects. The possibility of an open door if I come up with something useful is great.

I explained that I'm in period of uncertainty, with a mind like a cloudy pool that needs time to settle (it may be that if it does settle it will be silt all the way down!). The real challenge, as they say, is not so much to have a new idea as to stop having an old idea.

We also talked about the big picture. John mentioned the "scream, crash, boom" view of world affairs, in which the scream is a greatly increased awareness of the scale of the challenges; the crash is a big economic crash as the current world economic system proves unequal to needs and challenges; and the boom is a new economic boom - not an explosion! - as the opportunities afforded by creating a sustainable world system for ten to twelve billion people become apparent.

We agree that the chance of significant disruptions in the early part of the 21st century are high. John has thought about biotech-induced disruptions (for example, the "black" biotechnology he describes here).

I brought up the nuclear issue, mindful of Robert McNamara's comments on Newsnight the evening before in which he refered the work of Graham Allison & co, and comments from a former deputy US defence secretary who puts the odds of a full scale nuclear detonation in a major city before the end of this decade at greater then even.

I suggested that one difference between this kind of scenario and - for example - World Wars One or Two was that it was reasonably clear when those wars were over. Following a nuclear detonation by a non-state actor and the events that followed it, the situation could be much less clear; it would not necessarily be apparent when the "war" was "over" and so the relative certainty that allows for rebuilding could be postponed for quite some time.

Time to remember a line from H2G2: "Don't panic!"

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