Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m enormously grateful for Jonathon Porritt for having acted in such a brilliant capacity in invigilating this great session here. My problem of course is that I’ve been asked to comment on an awful lot of things that have been going on without my being here, which is a situation I find myself in most of the time, I hate to tell you. Being parachuted in and expected miraculously to find out what the hell you’ve all been talking about, let alone what I’m supposed to say which can be in anyway enlightening, helpful, instructive, provocative, you never know.
So, I hope you’ll forgive me if I grope my way through a few little points because what I’ve heard has been fascinating but it is extraordinary when I see so many of you here today, and lots of familiar faces, and marvellous people that we’ve worked with for many years, supporters, incredibly generous donors without whom we could do nothing, but it takes me back to what 20 years ago or more when I first tried to start this exercise. It all began with a few summer schools, and a lot of very painful experiences; as seems to have been rather a common feature of my life, in trying to suggest all sorts of different professions, that perhaps there is a slightly different way of looking at the world, and a slightly more integrated and that overused word, holistic way of looking at things, rather than just imagining we can go on with this fragmentation in terms of the way we actually regard the world about us.
Everything’s zoned into separate areas, separate blocks, nothing seeming to connect between them. I remember the same thing I did with Healthcare, just suggested that perhaps it might be worth thinking again, that as humans we are actually made up of mind, body and spirit. This apparently was an unbelievably dangerous seditious thing to say, or even suggest. Extraordinarily really, it’s taken all my life to appreciate just how strange it is really, as if you were suggesting some appalling idea, positively evil idea. Anyway, the same thing I’ve tried to apply to agriculture, the same thing, we fragment, we zone, we push nature into the background, we try to suppress, and humiliate nature. Then perhaps wonder why at the end of the day, she tends to come back through the window if we’re not careful, and that I think is what is happening now. We have ignored and humiliated nature too much.
And what I, my Foundation has been trying to do, and what I hope may become a clear result of this sort of gathering, is that I believe for what its worth it is of crucial importance to work in harmony with nature, again. To rediscover how it’s necessary to work with the grain of nature, as it is with the grain of our own humanity. This I think, relates absolutely to the way in which we view the built environment, how we construct our settlements. Also, at the end of the day, how we sit down with local people again, how we talk to people because I’m one of those that really believes firmly that there’s so much local wisdom, local knowledge, local understanding, imaginative and innovative ways of looking at things, if you sit down with people and give them a chance to express what they feel is most important about their particular area of whatever. One of the things that I’ve felt is so wrong about today’s conventional current approach, is that things are done to people rather than with them.
So, what my Foundation has been trying to do is to work with people at the grass routes, take trouble to brain storm the issues, and this is of even greater importance I think when it comes to building a greener economy, an economy that is more in harmony with nature and recognises as Tim Jackson has said over and over again, the need for a macroeconomics for sustainability.
These obviously are huge questions, it is very difficult, very difficult as I know, to challenge and overcome current conventional ways of looking at the world. I had an interesting meeting recently with a whole lot of quite eminent economists and Tim Jackson came to it, because I thought it might be worth just seeing if we could do a little bit of challenging about what’s going to happen in the world now? Is it really a sensible thing to continue the way we’re going? Whereupon I was accused, at once, of being the enemy of the enlightenment; I was rather proud of that because I then, I said well hang on a minute the enlightenment, the enlightenment started over 200 years ago, you might think it will be time now perhaps to review it, as to whether it’s really effective in today’s conditions.
Faced as we are by all the huge challenges, all over the world. It must be apparent to people, deep down there’s something wrong. We can’t go on surely like this, can we; just imaging that the principles of the enlightenment laid down in the 18th Century still apply now; I don’t believe they do. But, if you challenge the people who hold the enlightenment as the absolute ultimate answer to everything then you do really upset them. But, the great thing is I rather hope that after an interesting exchange on this basis, one or two of these people might go away and think about it in the middle of the night and perhaps come back and talk about these issue a little bit further, because again all my life I’ve met with nothing but defensiveness on these issues. First of all you get them being incredible defensive, then they go away and think about it and then you can start talking about whether there are ways in which it might be possible to adjust and create a blending of the old and the new, in a sensible way. Bring back those timeless elements that really do help to relate us to our position within nature.
So, I don’t believe either, and this is interesting what people were saying today, that the Western model is necessarily the best model for everybody all around the world. I think this is one of the great problems that’s caused huge complications in many parts of the world, because on the whole people do not sit down with local communities; we sat down with my Foundation with the community in the slum in Kingston Jamaica after I’d been there what, 10 years ago, I went round the slum and I’m one of those hopeless people who can’t resist trying to do something about the problems I come across. So, when I came back I thought I must try and see if I can do… Anyway 10 years later, gradually bit by bit, thanks to marvellous people like Michelle Rollins and others who really do understand these issues, we have actually sat down with all these locals in this very challenged area of Kingston, in a way that’s never been done before. And, when you do you find there’s so much talent, there’s so much willingness amongst the people living there, that has never been brought out before, and by doing what the Foundation did, it has actually removed the violence amongst the gangs in that area. We have to find a way now to ensure by raising the money, that we can actually fulfil their ambitions which have been raised by what the Foundation has been doing.
Then, as again you were talking about, the whole issue of whether the materials that you’ve been discussing are relevant in today’s world with all our technological ingenuity and sophistication. I give you one example, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which I help set up in Afghanistan , after the invasion, I felt very strongly that we needed to do something about, or to make a contribution there. This marvellous man, Rory Stewart who I’d known for a long time, who was tutor to both my sons years ago, a genius, he went out on my behalf and has created something truly remarkable. But, what they’ve done amongst, the fact that they’ve also restored, and saved, the whole of the centre of old Kabul, removed seven feet of rubbish, and now about to put in the first piped water and sewage anywhere in Kabul, now full employment, training people in craft skills, everything set up, institutes of crafts and so on, also have built mud brick schools in different parts of Afghanistan costing a quarter to a half of what the American concrete schools cost, but much more resilient when it comes to climatic conditions, extremes of heat and cold, and earthquakes, using natural local materials, local labour, cutting down miles to travel etc., etc. But, people still think that’s an old material, it’s not relevant in today’s world. Why isn’t it? The oldest buildings in the world still standing are mud brick. The soldiers all tell me in Afghanistan you try blowing a hole in the side of one of them. So, we’re missing a trick I believe.
So, we must, I think work with nature. I’ll give you another example, I’ve started a wool renaissance campaign recently because I couldn’t bear it any longer that we failed to understand the true value of a natural renewable material like wool. There is no price for wool anymore, the farmer gets literally nothing. I was talking to a chap the other day who has 1,500 ewes, his wool clip, what he got for it last year was £235. And you won’t believe this, Ladies and Gentlemen, but the madness, the total lunacy of this world, means that they’ve now genetically engineered a new breed of sheep, a woolless sheep called Easy Care, because there is no value for the wool. I mean it, there are these Easy Care Sheep now, half a billion of them and increasing as we speak. So, as far as I’m concerned I’m absolutely determined to put my foot as hard as I can in the door, and of course what is interesting is that we’ve got a lot of people lined up now to help with this.
I actually said to the Chief Fire Officer the other day, talking about all this, I said what happens if we have these fires? And he had to admit of course that the manmade materials cause huge problems, toxic fumes, children wearing these manmade things, they melt into them and cause terrible problems. So, he suddenly thought this might be rather a good idea, but I don’t know why it takes me to suggest to the Chief Fire Office and the Health and Safety that perhaps it might be worth looking at this because wool, insulation, it’s not flammable, it has no chemicals, it doesn’t help to create allergies of which we have a huge epidemic in the West costing the National Health Service a fortune.
All these things I think are part of what my Foundation is trying to do. Finding an innovative solution to the problem of PV panels on roofs for instance, instead of just putting these things all over the place. I’ve been trying for a long time to find a means of making tiles that look like roof tiles, and we have found somebody but they’re very expensive at the moment, but if more people actually joined in and purchased them we might find a way through.
The great thing again Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m going to shut up soon, is, at the route of everything we try to do at the Foundation, is that old adage of do to others as you’d have them do to you, because at the end of the day most people it seems to me, would like to live in somewhere which actually does inspire your spirits rather than depress you. If I may say so, it was wonderful to hear a planner today, talking about the importance of biodiversity in towns and cities. I’ve never forgotten visiting a Bombay slum some years ago which, when I arrived, looked like an enormous rubbish tip with plastic bags and good knows what on. I don’t know how many of you visited somewhere like that but when you go in you find it is actually a miniature tiny town, little miniature streets and little houses and mixed use, everything, little shops, all laid out according to an intuitive human pattern. Yet again, it seems to me what we’ve been doing for the 20th Century, is to go against the grain of nature, within ourselves, which is a microcosm of the whole of nature if you think about it. So, the secret surely is to blend the best of the intuitive with the best of the rational and our sophisticated technology within this process of working with the grain. And again one final point really, is that as Hank mentioned Swallows and Swifts can’t nest on metal walls, they can’t nest unless there are eaves and I’m sorry but I’m going to say this, and I think it is wrong, and it is immoral not to consider those other species that share this planet with us. I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned if the Swallows and Swifts stop coming here, nesting on the buildings that I love, then there is no point to life anymore, literally. It is symbolic, like the Albatross, if that becomes extinct then I think we deserve nothing but reprobation, and we have to consider these issues, I believe. And that is another reason why I have battled so hard, in this whole area, why I’m prepared to go on despite the unbelievable abuse that I find is heaped on me every time I open my mouth. All I can hope is that when I’m dead it might just be appreciated eventually what I was actually trying to do. But at the end of the day what is the point, in all this clever technology; we can do all sorts of things can’t we, if actually at the end of the day we lose our soles, and the sole of nature, of which as I say we are a part? So, the Foundation Built Environment is all about being a part of nature, understanding the need to blend the best of the ancient with the best of the modern. The need to act locally within a globalised framework although I will say provocatively that it has within itself the seeds of it’s own destruction, globalisation, I’ve always felt this, nobody asked us if we wanted it, we were just told we were to have it because the economists told us it was the best thing to have. We weren’t asked, there wasn’t a referendum about it. Just like the fact that nobody sits down with the communities as I said at the beginning, and that’s what I intend to go on doing, and nature has most of the answers, if not all of them. And we are, Ladies and Gentlemen, a part of nature and not apart from her, and if we don’t learn that quickly I’m terribly sorry to say we are lost; I really mean that. So, thank you, all of you, for your incredible help and assistance and we have an awful lot to do, a lot of challenges to undertake and we can’t do it without your help and assistance. I hope I haven’t put you off!