The life stories of Jakob von Uexküll and Alfred Nobel are curiously intertwined, even if starkly different. Mr. Nobel was born in 1833, Mr. von Uexküll 111 years later, in 1944. While Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and an arms manufacturer, Mr. von Uexküll was a professional stamp collector and journalist – the latter profession a key link between the two men and the prizes each established. In 1888, a French newspaper, mistakenly thinking the inventor and industrialist had died, published Alfred Nobel’s obituary, headlining it “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” The obituary read: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by finding a way to kill the most people as ever before in the shortest time possible, died yesterday.” Actually, Alfred’s brother Ludvig was the one who had died. Mortified upon seeing how he would be remembered posthumously, the (younger and then still alive) Mr. Nobel reconsidered his impact on the world and decided shortly thereafter to establish the now-world-famous set of international awards.
Sunnie Toelle provides her opinion on the recent state of the financial industry in Switzerland. ZURICH, Switzerland – Peter Munk is a poor young man desperately wishing to be wealthy. Tempted by the evil ghost of the woods, he trades his warm heart for riches and a heart of stone. Even though Wilhelm Hauff penned this Black Forest parable about the neglect of ethical values in favor of uninhibited materialism in 1827, it appears today timelier than ever. In the past years, headlines of calculated, cold-hearted financial decision-makers have flooded the news.
MILAN, Italy – “I think it’s here,” Prof. Martin Seligman said as he made a blue dot only millimeters to the left of the tipping point on the diffusion of innovations graph I had sketched in my Moleskine notebook. Martin Seligman, the “father of positive psychology” had just lectured on Well-being at Work to over 500 business professionals at the Positive Business Forum in Milan. The two-day conference can be understood as the latest manifestation of a larger global phenomenon, labeled by the media as the “happiness movement” or “happiness industry”. With initiatives springing up in every sector – academic, cultural, spiritual, economic, public and private – what is the big picture? Does it matter?
“How do we create the positive energy to fuel real change?” Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome, asks to a young audience of artists, activists entrepreneurs, and representatives of international (youth) movements in his opening remarks at the Change Course Conference on December 8th, 2012. The scene in Winterthur, Switzerland was an atypical one for the Club of Rome. While traditionally, the organization’s member base consists of influential, elderly white males, the average age on that day was 25 years. Sixty young men and women from over fifty countries came together to deliberate for four days on how to “change course” towards a sustainable world. Founded in 1968 as an association of leading independent thinkers from politics, business and science, the Club of Rome is today primarily known as the think tank that published the influential “Limits to Growth” report in 1972.
Jack Sim is a funny man with a serious, yet unexpected mission: to revolutionize toilets for the base of the pyramid and to ensure worldwide sustainable sanitation. Often referred to as “Mr. Toilet” – a title he takes great pride in – he has worked tirelessly for fifteen years to make the availability of clean toilets a political priority and an economically feasible reality for the world’s ‘poor’. The need is big: 2.6 billion people currently lack access to a clean private toilet. When I met Jack Sim at a pre-WEF event at the HUB Zürich I couldn’t help but wonder about this curious man on stage. He was humming with energy, excited to share his story about the many issues concerning poop, making the audience laugh and yet providing relevant information about his cause.
“It’s better than nothing.” This was the general resigned tone of the remarks heard at the conclusion of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro on June 22nd, 2012. Others echoed a bleaker outlook, proclaiming that the past twenty years of large UN conferences had merely resulted in the pointless exercise of talking the talk without walking the walk ad infinitum. The result from the countless preparatory meeting sessions and tedious negotiations is Resolution 66/288 – The Future We Want. All UN member states adopted the resolution document which serves, amongst other things, as the foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
When I walked into pavilion 1 at the Riocentro on my first day at Rio+20, I passed a large white exhibitions space which was labelled ” The Future We Want.” I glanced at the big blue word clouds and five large TV screens — “What future do we actually want?,” I asked myself. The cynic in me felt there was no need to answer that question because even if we could agree that the future must be a more sustainable, prosperous one for all, politicians from all over the world, partially with completely different backgrounds, capabilities and ideals, representing conflicting needs and interests, won’t be able to agree upon a shared, long-term vision for the future anyway. My optimistic side countered that in the last 100 years alone humanity has overcome two world wars, ended apartheid in South Africa, escaped total nuclear destruction and developed the internet, among other things. Anything’s possible, if you work hard on it, I thought. Little did I know that just hours later I would be revisiting some of these questions about the “The Future We Want” in a conversation with the exhibition’s co-creators, Jonathan Arnold and Bill Becker. At a panel on “Sustainable Lifestyles 2050,” Bill was a panelist and spoke about the importance of a strong intergenerational relationship to help the young members of society implement their ideas for a sustainable future.
After two weeks of Rio+20, I have met many people who feel very uncertain about our environmental future. They throw their hands up in the air and ask: Why aren’t environmental issues getting the traction they deserve? In fact, I was one of them during the “Four Days of Dialogue.” When the panel for “Sustainable Energy for All” solicited questions from the floor, I stood and asked, “What took you so long? And what will you do, to ensure that it won’t take us so long again? Because if we don’t know what is preventing us from acting now, how will we be able to act faster in the future?” Five hundred fellow members of civil society heard me and applauded.
Located in the main conference venue for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the “Tree of Rio+20 Visions” wall displays a collective art initiative organized by WeCanada. Conference attendees were invited to add their own vision throughout the three-day event for “the future we want.” You can see the tree in the slideshow below.
When Severn Cullis-Suzuki stepped on stage at the plenary session of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, she knew this was her one opportunity to speak to the world’s most influential decision-makers. Just twelve years old at the time, she seized her once-in-a-lifetime chance to tell every politician, businessman and journalist at the UN: “You are what you do, not what you say… I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.”
In my first lesson of economics nine years ago, we read a tale that conveyed Adam Smith’s underlying ideas behind the “Invisible Hand.” The morale of the story, as you probably know, is that free markets can make everyone better off. At Rio+20 the story is often told differently. Markets need to be tamed, incentives need to be rectified, and policy makers need to establish legislation that internalizes the negative environmental externalities. Hence, free markets are more often regarded as the problem, rather than as the solution. So what’s the right version of the tale when it comes to saving the environment?
Excited to Wake Up! The wonderful thing about a first day is the inherent enthusiasm and curiosity you feel when you wake up in the morning. You know that something good will come from it, but what? Excitement! In this spirit, Anna, Sunserae, Nikolaj, Johannes, Ilke, Laura, Maciej and I woke up at 6.30am on June 15th, ready for our first day as student reporters at the 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.