Ladies and gentlemen,
I suppose if its Friday today we must be in London! Having chugged around the country for the last week in the Royal Train, powered by biodiesel made from used cooking oil, I finally got here.
Interestingly, during the week it has been fascinating to see what intriguing initiatives there are all around this country, and that really has been half the battle I think of this particular exercise of START, to highlight the really worthwhile projects that are going on all over the place.
As you can imagine, perhaps, when we first thought of it, my original idea about four years ago was to see if we could possibly emulate the sort of things that my Great Great Great Grandfather Prince Albert had done in his 1851 exhibition, which of course was to show people then what was going on and what opportunities there were at the very height of the Industrial Revolution. It is extraordinary to think that six million people turned up at that exhibition and that was in 1851, how the hell did they get there? The railways were roughly in their infancy to say the least! So, all of you discussing Transport might find that an interesting subject. Many people came back again, twice, from what I gather. But it seems to me that if we could do something along those lines which would help people to understand what possibilities there were, and what opportunities there were in this effort to live in a more sustainable way, of creating a low carbon economy, of creating ever greater energy efficiency and so on and so forth, and reconnecting ourselves with nature once again, instead of kicking her to one side and suppressing her and saying “we are separate from nature and she is separate from us”, instead of understanding that we are actually part of her in an integral way.
The great thing I think is to enable people to see what the possibilities there are – a sort of glorified Ideal Home exhibition. Up to now, as probably some of you have known to your cost, through Business in the Community and the May Day Initiative which we started, much of the emphasis has been on a business-to-business basis which is splendid and we now have 2,600 companies that are part of the May Day Network and that is making a substantial difference as a result of the remarkable work done by many of these companies, who have started looking at many of these issues in detail, getting their clever and innovative people to investigate more carefully. And as Marks and Spencer’s have found out with their particular initiative, Plan A, it has actually saved them a huge amount of money and made money on top of it, surprise surprise.
So, much of the work has been business-to-business, what seemed to be important was to have a public-facing exercise this time where the customer, the consumer and members of the public could actually discover, to their amazement, what is possible out there. Interestingly today going round the three gardens, all sorts of people were coming up and saying “it is marvellous this, are you going to do it again?”, I said “It’s very good of you to turn up, because there might have been nobody here after all of that”.
But you never know, if it is successful at the end, then obviously we will have to look at it. Whether the sponsors find that is something worth doing I don’t know! I particularly wanted today actually, before I forget, to express warmest possible thanks to all the START partner companies, particularly of course to IBM, who have been fantastic and are now going to have another nine days of discussions and workshops and seminars, which is very encouraging. I hope that in itself will provide food for thought, enable people to network a bit more, and all sorts of integrated joined up opportunities to be examined. And all the others who have taken part, I am hugely grateful to them, and all of the people who have come along with their stands and exhibits. I was particularly insistent that the people who make woollen coffins were there, because I started a wool campaign earlier this year to try and remind people of the absolute vital importance of renewable materials like wool, because what seemed to me insane was that we were reaching a situation, can you believe this, where wool was worth nothing basically, farmers were throwing it away. When I discovered that they were now breeding a new breed of sheep called “easycare” – it is true, they don’t have to be shorn it just drops off - what is the point in this?
So rather like the lady who has started this brilliant idea called Morsbags, where she is busily sewing bits of Clarence House curtains (and probably my trousers for all I know) together to make wonderful bags, and giving them away because she got fed up of seeing plastic bags floating past her houseboat. This is exactly the same thing that made me think “enough”, this is crazy, apart from anything else it is the epitome of the way we have grown to look at the world, in fact we ignore all the amazing benefits of nature, and when you think about it, nature’s had 3.5 billion years I suppose of research and development, to produce probably the most remarkably efficient economy you can get, it doesn’t waste anything, it produces endlessly, virtuous circles.
Now we have been operating, if you think about it, for the last 200 years probably, on an emphasis which tries to do exactly the opposite, ignores nature, pushes her to the background, and tries to do everything cleverly our way. All I’m trying to say is that unless we discover the need to work in harmony with nature’s economy, processes, ingenuity, waste-free capacity, we will continue to create ever-greater chaos and dysfunction within the natural systems, the ecosystems are under threat all around the world. We can’t go on, it seems to me, putting endless pressure on ever dwindling resources.
So one of the great things I think which is so intriguing is the development now, in the form of biomimicry. This is a new development which puts nature at the heart of the way we are developing new technologies. There was a wonderful man I heard about the other day who had been fascinated for years like many of us in the way the bathwater runs out of the bath plug and finally he freeze-dried the whirlpool effect and he’s managed from that to produce a highly efficient small pump, and there are endless other stories like this, examining nature’s processes in minute detail and producing really effective technology that mimics the way nature works.
All these things I think, are of enormous importance, and this is one of the reasons I have been so keen to initiate this START process, so I’m very grateful to those who have joined in and seen the point of it. As you can imagine it has been quite a risk to set up START (it has nearly finished off poor Sir Tom Shebbeare, who was brave enough to take this on) and when you do these things you think, “is anyone going to turn up?” as I was saying.
I am told by one or two people that I take too many risks, but I am perfectly prepared to take any risk I can assure you on behalf of our children and grandchildren, and at the end of the day that is the point really, I think, about all this, is that we have to take further risks in order to develop the kind of approach to the world around us and to the way we live which can ensure that what we leave behind is durable and not just an appalling poisoned chalice, to those who come after us, which at the moment is what we are likely to do if we don’t really take these issues seriously.
So, yesterday I was asked questions by the Daybreak breakfast television programme about all this, they’ve been covering the week which is very kind of them, and they were asking me about some of the aspects of this whole campaign, but I was trying to explain that at the end of the day it is absolutely crucial that we pay attention to these issues. They were saying “What about the sceptics?” I said “Well, absolutely, but surely if you think about it, taking a precautionary, common sense view might a good thing to do.” And if you happen to visit, which I strongly recommend you do, the British Antarctic Survey Offices in Cambridge, you will see there the icicle samples that they have taken from the Antarctic, which have gone down to a depth roughly equivalent to nearly a million years. When they plot the graph of the atmospheric CO2 that is contained within the bubbles within the icicle samples going back all those years, you actually see how it was on the whole a relatively stable form of oscillation over that long period of time, until suddenly you get to the 18th century, and to the start of the Industrial Revolution, and then rivetingly it starts to rise, and then it becomes very much more exponential as you can imagine nearer to our time now.
So, the people who say there is no science in climate change, to me it seems I am not quite sure what planet they are living on. But ladies and gentlemen, the important thing is that this is the only planet at the moment that we know about that we can inhabit, it does seem pretty damn stupid to me to wreck it for the future.
So, I am enormously grateful to you all for taking an interest. After all, Britain, with her great history, her ingenuity, all her extraordinary innovative and inventive people here, many of whom if you read the history have been disregarded and accused of being idiots and eccentrics. There are an awful lot of marvellous people here who can contribute hugely to a new form of sustainability revolution and provide huge opportunities, so that is what I hope the START project will achieve in due course.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.