Thank you very much. I have spent all my life at the crossroads of knowledge and society because I started as a teacher for 12year olds which is usually the best audience you can have because they are interested and you have to make things simple. Then I was a journalist until twenty years ago. I started working in knowledge companies; I spent a couple of years in a pharmaceutical chemical company, seven years within an electrotechnical company and the last four years with Shell.
So, having difficult and sometimes contentious material that you need to communicate, not only to journalists, but to the outside world, it’s something that is part of the reason I go to work, because I really like doing that.
It’s nice to be back in Brussels: I used to come here a lot when I was Reuters’ Chief correspondent in Bonn, back in the late Eighties, when Bonn was actually the West German capital, you remember. We used to come here to cover something called the Common Market and I remember sitting up late at night when people were discussing CAP, which I believe had something to do with agricultural subsidies. And it was a time when I was actually able to go to all the briefings from the different member nations except for Greece. You know, it was a small and cosy place and that was even before my own country, Sweden, joined them and I kind of like coming back here because it brings back memories.
My connection with Europe as its history has moved through fits and starts and goes back to the late 1970’s, I was with the UPI then and frequently went on reporting assignments to East Germany; I saw a Soviet tank divisions being pulled out of Württemberg in 1980, it was part of the Détente. I was in Poland in the summer of Solidarity in 1980 and went back there on the Martial Law in 1982. On February 23rd 1981 I was dispatched to Madrid to cover a coup attempt and then remained there for two years as the Chief Correspondent of UPI. That was one of the few places I have been in Europe where the story actually was positive for two years in a stretch. And I heard Reagan making his famous speech about tearing down the wall around 1988 in Berlin.
Then of course came that giant leap which began in Europe in 1989. Since I moved to PR around then, I have seen both Europe and the world through a business in society lens and since then and of course as my personal lens as a Swedish citizen. Working and learning in a personal journey like this and what and how can it be relevant to the task and mission of Atomium Culture?
First of all you can make change happen if you use knowledge and enthusiasm in the right sort of combination and make clear to people where the journey is going. But you need to be able to connect your fellow citizens, and especially how to be able to connect with the young; and if you think of Twitter and Facebook and social networks on the web, where conversation is more important than content, then there is a great, huge level of challenge for science to connect with society, because most young people don’t actually read newspapers anymore: they get their information differently, they can be extremely educated. So, if you want to do something that reaches beyond the elite, you have to find a way to catch the fish the other end and lead you back in the mainstream again.
And of course the role of my former profession is key here. But media can only play that role if those who have the knowledge agree to – and I have to tell you a little story: a seeds researcher in that Swiss company I worked for Sandoz used to call me the “vulgarizer” when I turned up and asked him to explain things to me and as he was to explain how a genetically modified sugar beet seed didn’t change the sugar beet, or the sugar or the jam, in significant enough ways for this to be labelled on the tin. That was 1993. Failure to communicate means that this sugar beet seed is still not registered in Europe, because that’s how science fails to connect to the concerns of society in those days.
And we see it now in the energy field as well and I think you as leaders in the academia and media and my friends from industry who are here, we know that we need to do something rather urgently to help this continent remain competitive and perhaps even a leader through knowledge and through finding a purpose to become more competitive and less entitlement oriented – grumpy old man speaking here. And of course energy has a role to play here. I am going to spare you the Shell propaganda bit which my speech writer put in here, but it’s a good company, ok?
But I think it’s a combination of three things that we really have to do: we have to get the policies right in society; we have to make sure that policies enable technology development, but then we have to work in that very very hard part which is behaviour. So, if I walk through this quickly and take the context of climate change, which is what we’re looking today – Copenhagen and what’s going to happen- we’ll probably have some sort of political deal and we hope it will take less long to formulate the regulations that it did to decide on the last round of the WTO – I think it was twenty-four years- or the time it took Brussels to not want to mandate the shape of bananas that is one of the good stuff that sometimes happens here.
So, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can only happen if we have the policies around that flowing out of Copenhagen. And why is that important? It’s important to have carbon capture and storage, because otherwise we are going to run out of fuel, because if we keep burning out fossils fuels the way that we burn today, the planet is in danger. So, it’s a bridging technology that has to happen.
It raises a lot of fears and concerns: we see that in the base where I live currently and work currently in Holland, where we’ve just been working with the government, the government has agreed that one old gas field, which we used to capture CO2. It has developed a new phenomenon called Numby (Not under my backyard) and it’s a real concern, you know. People live with CO2 underground all the time and they don’t know it and therefore they don’t fear it and when you want to put it back in again, it seems to be dangerous. And of course the critics use this argumentation and that fear to argue against CCS and they argue against CCS because exactly they think it’s going to prolong the hydrocarbon age.
So, again, if you want to have an informed debate about these things, the scientific knowledge, the journalistic digestion of that scientific knowledge can only be done if people are open and curious in society around us. And then we can develop the technologies that we need.
Then comes the hard bit, the really hard bit, that is: who’s going to tell people, us, that we cannot use as much energy as we have been so far? Who’s going to tell us to be less comfortable, less mobile, less productive and so on and so forth? Which government is going to try to run for re-election on a platform that says “Actually you’re going to live a colder and less comfortable and less interesting life?”
This is where I think that Atomium Culture can play an enormous role as a catalyst for change in the way that society treats knowledge and in the way that society treats science. And you know, this is something that I think we can do if we get the thing right.
So, anyway, you can print money, but you can’t print knowledge. And, as a teacher, I learned then that, unless you have patience, unless you respect your audience, your children and start with the knowledge base that they have, they’re not going to learn and they will never be able to understand the data and understand how data become information and how information becomes knowledge which, if we are lucky turns to insight, which, if we are even luckier turns into wisdom and can guide us forward.
So I think that rather than just staring at the competitiveness and you know, coming from manufacturing that we get in places like China and India, we should look at other countries and what they are doing, Japan and South Korea for example. They are two very mature economies that face many of the same issues that Europe is grappling with today and they are finding a way to bring innovation to the forefront. And they seem to be able to do that without having all the societal debates around whether the progress is a good or bad thing. So, perhaps we should look at them as well. Because if we can learn from these other countries Europe will probably be able to contribute more. And if we don’t act, those of us who have an interest or a passion for this, who on earth will? Thank you.