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The Vice-Chancellor greets Clare Short at Oakfield
The Vice-Chancellor greets Clare Short at Oakfield
Clare Short addresses her audience
Clare Short addresses her audience

Internal News - 27 February 2006

Clare Short on the dangers of an economically divided world

Last week Ms Short gave a talk at the Oakfield campus as part of the Royal Society of Arts lecture series. The following is a brief summary of her talk; a podcast version will be available online soon.

Ms Short addressed the audience on the global dangers she believes we are facing, which she said were growing tension in the Middle East and destruction of international law, global warming and the depletion of the world’s non-sustainable resources.

Ms Short began by talking about the domination of the United States during this current period of great change, and her concerns that its policies had exacerbated the world’s problems.

“There has been a kind of crumbling of authority into a very small number of hands who spin to the media and exclude the thinkers and the analysts, which helps to explain some of the bad decision-making and the errors that have been made, “ she said.

“As you know, sadly, our own country is simply trotting along behind the current leadership of the States and is therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution. That’s a sad thing for our country, our universities, our thinkers and some of our traditions of independence.”

Ms Short suggested that there were lessons to learn in our past and by looking at previous periods of great change in our own history we could see the way forward to managing change for the benefit of humanity, rather than allowing it to cause destruction and division. She referred to the transformations brought about the Industrial Revolution and the fight for democracy which continued through the nineteenth century

“During this struggle there was enormous turbulence, suffering, pain and mess and a need for new ideas and new thinking and new political movements to move humanity forward and I think there are deep parallels with what we need to do now except we need to do it on a global level, but ideas and new thinking are absolutely key.

“We are living through a similar period of massive historical change and the current leadership of the world is trapped in old thinking that arises from an old order.”

Ms Short moved on to speak about the environmental issues that she believes are becoming an increasing threat to civilisation.

She said that as the world continued to deplete fish stocks and forest cover there was a very real danger that environmental resources were being destroyed at an unsustainable rate at the same time as world population is set to grow from 6 to 9 billion people by 2030-50.

She used the rapid growth of China to illustrate both the benefits and the risks of the developing world, and the limitations of the economic growth the planet can bear.

She said that according to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, a leading US environmental analyst, if growth in China continued at eight per cent a year, by 2031 China’s income per head for its 1.45 billion people would be equal to that of the US today.

Ms Short quoted him as saying: “China’s grain consumption will then be two-thirds of the current grain consumption of the entire world. If it consumes oil at the same rate as the US today, the Chinese will be consuming 99 billion barrels a day – and the whole world is currently producing 84 billion barrels a day, and will probably not produce much more.

“If it consumes paper at the same rate that we do, it will consume twice as much paper as the world is now producing. There go the world’s forests. If the Chinese then have three cars for every four people – as the US does today – they would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars compared to the current world fleet of 800 million. They would have to pave over an area equivalent to the area they have planted with rice today, just to drive and park them.”

Ms Short concluded by saying that the Western economic model could not work for developing countries. We all depended on the same oil and the same grain and we were going to have develop a new economic model to survive. Without a renewable economy civilisation would collapse.

“The old model of development, the old ‘let’s help China be like us’ has to stop before it destroys the world. It is neither desirable nor possible and the inequality of the world is unsustainable.

“If we want our civilisation to survive we have to learn to share our knowledge, technology and capital to make the world more equitable both within and between nations. This is not a moral imperative, it’s now becoming a survival imperative.”

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