TEDxMaastricht 2013– A spotlight on a sustainable future


After the positive evaluation of TEDxMaastricht 2013 in our last blog post, I would like to extend a bit on how the conference related to sustainability. In the face of the Anthropocene and an expected human population of 9 billion by 2050, “sustainability and sustainable development is a necessity, not a choice” (Wu 2013). Personally, I feel that sustainability widely focuses around justice, that is, equity is one key argument, both within and between generations of peopke. Other important considerations with respect to sustainability are resource allocation, governance and socio-economic complexity.

With regards to these issues, TEDx Maastricht clearly met the expectations, since many inspiring ideas were indeed delivered by the speakers. In the following I want to reflect on how these then matched the expectations considering the “9 billion and you”. It is after all one of the most ambitious challenges we currently face to harmonize the needs of so many people on this one Earth. Overall, I had the impression that the conference brought together people from many different backgrounds and thus it was truly transdisciplinary, as it clearly reached out beyond academia.

Equity is often considered as a prime goal in reaching sustainability, and TEDxMaastricht had many speakers engaging with that topic. Gaeme Maxton gave profound insights into key equity challenges right now, and outlined clear examples based on the GINI coefficient. Many countries face increasing intergenerational in-equity, and he called for radical changes to abandon many of the existing governmental structures to achieve necessary adaptations in societies. Many speakers engaged only indirectly with the topic of equity, mostly by their examples: Ed Houben with his agenda to help couples unable to have children to achieve their dream of having offspring after all using his professional help; he assisted in the creation of 96 children to date, where one might of course object, that this may not diminish population growth. Ralien Bekkers, Rebecca Vos, Stepan Laichter, Esther Crombag and Sheila Oroschin, who among other goals clearly delivered a spirited call for equal rights for a high quality education, may it be towards sustainability, adapted to gifted and others with special skills, or “simply” towards peace.

Numerous other speakers approached equity indirectly by contributing to the discussion on the food crisis – and how to solve it. Marian Peters described how insects might help us to cover protein demands in our diets. Mark Post engages in meat production out of a test-tube, creating meat in the laboratory. Joakim Gauge, whose dream of greening the desert could also lead to increased food production there, among other potential benefits, while of course these areas may have also more complex dynamics based on my experience of having worked for over a decade in drylands. Shyama V. Ramani illustrated the most profound inequity on the planet, namely the lack of proper sanitation for 40 % of the population.

Other speakers approached equity on a more meta-physical level. Bart Knols vividly described how more open communities and people could aid a better understanding between people, and cultures. Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff suggested that youth meeting Nobel Peace Laureates would spark inspiration and understanding.

Inter-generational equity was likewise mentioned, yet one got only now and then vague glimpses of how we might endanger the future of our children and grandchildren. Jorgen Randers gave clearer insights, presenting a scenario where we will have fewer grandchildren by a further decrease in fertility rates, thus actually there may never be 9 billion on this planet. While of course this is only a potential scenario, he offered an agenda of how this will lead to a sustainable future for this planet.

Resources were another factor that was often talked about, but not too many details on the overall importance were given. Yet this is perfectly understandable, since talks are rather short, thus no one can expect a deep walk through all aspects of sustainability. Food as a resource was most prominently featured (see above). However also more complex resources were discussed by Marcel Wubbolts, who proved how technology can aid sustainability, and how biotechnology may aid recycling.

Many talks suggested that severe changes in governance are needed to enable a sustainable future. While some competently suggested the need for radical changes (Graeme Maxton) and the end of old institutions (Jan Rotmans) on a global scale, others demonstrated change through their own actions (Sheila Oroschin, Ralien Bekkers), and thus rose to the challenge to become the change they want to see in the world. These were often the occasions when this event become most “TEDish”, being truly inspiring and allowing the speakers to deliver their vision to the audience.

After some reflection one might wonder however, how are we going to achieve this? “Glocalisation” was the secret motto of this event, and rightly so, since squaring the circle of globalization and our individual culture is one main challenge of our society. As Hans Rosling put it once, “culture is the most important thing, cause that’s what brings joy to live”. To me, TEDxMaastricht delivered thoughtful reflections here, crossing scales and boundaries.

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