The world in 2050

By Iona Joy 19 August 2010

A hot night back in June at Whitechapel Gallery saw an eclectic gathering of folk worried about environmental collapse. Hedge fund managers rubbed shoulders with zoologists; conservation charities chatted to medical doctors. We were treated to superb speakers and tasty food that might still be available 40 years’ hence: chicken, yes; fish, no; strange vegetables.

The event, to consider what the world might hold in 2050, was organised by a new charity Synchronicity Earth.  Founded by a hedge fund manager and his wife, the charity has a vision of ‘a sustainable planet that values the interconnectivity and interdependence of all living things’. To achieve this it currently pursues two main activities:

• Raising funds for initiatives to help conserve the planet and make it more sustainable.

• Publishing research and disseminating solutions to the global challenge. The first activity, embedded within the hedge fund industry, holds similarities to Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) —indeed an ARK trustee sat next to me during the talks. The second activity takes much from NPC, and we are helping Synchronicity Earth by incubating its first research analyst (no jokes about hens and eggs please) in our sector research methodology and approach to charity analysis. No doubt once fledged, Synchronicity Earth will carve its own path, but in the meantime it’s a pleasure to help a funding charity think about research and analysis as a core part of its future funding strategy and knowledge sharing.

But back to the event and why it was so exciting: it drew speakers from all sorts of disciplines, not just its own conservation world. Clearly this will be a charity that thinks outside the box in finding solutions and supportive audiences for its mission.

A Rear-Admiral explained that climate change and resource depletion are national security risks—never mind the dangerous logistical headache of supplying the military with oil for its gas guzzlers in a war zone. Energy efficient technology would save lives (fewer ambushed convoys) and cut costs.

A professor of intensive care medicine warned us of the public health risks posed by future environmental collapse—more bugs and malaria. But more cheering was the reminder that green living is a healthy option: more exercise and less red meat reduces cancer, strokes, and heart trouble. And it would save the NHS a packet.

A financial guru opined that global debt was the pollutant: debt fuels over-consumption, so if you stop fuelling the economy with debt, consumption will drop to more sustainable levels. Fund managers in the audience alternately winced and nodded.

A food professor worried about what we should all eat, and fretted that food was a political minefield. I think he was thinking about rationing, but couldn’t say it.

So it was a refreshing evening. If only this type of cross-pollination took place more often among those in power and charities seeking systemic change.