OECD Forum 2011 : OECD_IdeaFactory : Greening Growth

If the typography’s anything to go by, the OECD_IdeaFactory is going to try hard to be interesting. I go into the room, and can’t see anybody. They’re all behind a row of screens, but I can hear Björk warbling away in that ethereally constipated style that’s endeared her to dozens of fans the world over.

I peek behind the screens and see row after row of IdeaFactoryWorkers looking aghast, intrigued or indifferent as facts and figures on the environment and economy emerge on a visual display. The guy next to me is reading about Lady Gaga on his iPad.  Not your typical OECD meeting then.

The idea of the IdeaFactory is to ”Reframe the understanding of a theme; comprehend the emerging possibilities about an issue or a problem ; and  identify the key questions around which leaders and policy makers should focus their work and research efforts in the future”. There are a couple of keynote speakers before and after the Workers split into small groups (we can’t report on these directly).

 The first keynote speaker is Jeremy Rifkin. He’s not going to make many friends at the OECD by saying that the climate talks at COP were “a disgrace”.  His main argument is that the financial crisis was the aftershock: the main earthquake was oil hitting $140 a barrel a few months earlier. Although there’s lots of talk about “peak oil” and when it will actually happen, for Rifkin peak per capita oil is already behind us – in 1979. Since then, the amount available for each person on Earth has decreased.

So what comes next? The third industrial revolution. For Rifkin, the great economic revolutions in history have come about with the convergence of new energy and communications regimes. And we’re witnessing that now.

The FactoryWorkers split into groups, and start discussing topics including business, finance, demography, government, against a background of insipid but loud elevator music. I’m starting to miss Björk.

The groups have to look at what might happen from now until 2030. The FactoryOwner asks them all if the group they’re talking about will be winners or losers. Mostly, they say there will be both, and that those who win will be the nimble, flexible adapters.

An interesting comment from Chandran Nair of the Global Institute for Tomorrow that we have to talk more about the constraints and be less starry-eyed about tech fixes. A speaker from Greenpeace agreed, but argued that concentrating on a bleak outlook only promotes apathy. We have to believe in hope. “Hope is not a plan” replied Nair.

We’ll see over the next two days if the OECD Green Growth Strategy can provide a plan and hope it can be applied.

Patrick Love

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