For this year’s Forum we bring you six events focusing on the way we produce, supply and package the food we eat, the impacts those processes have on our planet and the ways in which the narrative is decided.
Who or what is to blame for us getting fat and ill in increasing numbers? Sugar or fat? Gut microbes or genes? Laziness or poverty? Whatever it is, it’s placing a devastating burden on our healthcare system, and scientists in every field are desperate to explain this epidemic and stave off a modern health disaster. Anthony Warner, author of The Angry Chef, lays out the best evidence available, rails against quack theories preying on the desperate, and considers whether we’re blaming our bodies for other people’s ignorance and cruelty. Kitty Corrigan is a journalist and travel writer.
The last year has seen an explosion of public outrage over plastics pollution, triggered by images of straws in turtles’ noses, whales dying after eating shopping bags, and the ugliness of a blue planet disfigured by a throwaway society. It’s sparked tougher regulation on single-use plastics and has shamed supermarkets into action. What would an end to plastic pollution mean in practice? And how do we get there?
Natalie Fee (author and campaigner, founder of City to Sea), Lucy Siegle (journalist and author) and Paula Owen (founder of Green Gumption) talk to award-winning environment journalist Martin Wright.
In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.
One in three Britons now identifies as (at least) ‘semi-vegetarian’, while the number of vegans has risen by a heady 700% in less than three years. Whether driven by concerns over health, animal welfare or – increasingly – climate change, it’s fast becoming a norm. But, like most modern dilemmas, it’s not quite that simple. Advocates of mindful meat-eating point out that cows and other livestock can play a vital role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem on our farms, and – depending on how they are grazed – they might even help the soil store more carbon. So do you have to go vegan to save the planet? Or is there a more nuanced approach? Simon Fairlie (author of Meat: A Benign Extravagance and editor of The Land magazine) and Safia Minney (vegetarian entrepreneur, People Tree and Pozu) talk to Martin Wright.
This exploration of the evolution of policy and practice related to upland farming, the role science has played and related impacts on treasured landscapes will be accompanied by poetry and prose inspired by these places and activities. Fraser is Reader at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University. Elizabeth Jardine-Godwin is a writer and teacher who was Pwllpeiran Writer in Residence in 2013.
There are few issues where public debate is conducted with so much misinformation and irrational exuberance. So now for something completely different: a dispassionate analysis of what we actually know and what we don’t yet know about climate change. David J Helfand, Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, carefully distinguishes facts from fictions and physics certainties from feedback uncertainties.
The environmentalist tells the heartbreaking story of a unique band of brilliant blue birds – who talk, fall in love, and grieve – struggling against the forces of extinction and their own desirability. By the second half of the 20th century the birds became so valuable that they drew up to $40,000 on the black markets. When, in 1990, only one was found to be living in the wild, an emergency international rescue operation was launched and an amnesty declared, allowing private collectors to come forward with their illegal birds, possible mates for the last wild Spix. In a breathtaking display of stoicism and endurance, the loneliest bird in the world had lived without a mate for fourteen years, had outwitted predators and second-guessed the poachers. But would he take to a new companion?
News about Britain’s wildlife and ecosystems tends to be grim. The Oxford economist and Natural Capital Committee chair Dieter Helm shares his radical but tangible plan for positive change. This pragmatic approach to environmentalism includes a summary of Britain’s green assets, a look towards possible futures and an achievable 25-year plan for a green and prosperous country.
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro produced a document called Agenda 21, a blueprint for saving Planet Earth. For the next two years, thousands of children and young people from almost 100 countries worked together in an extraordinary effort to design, write and illustrate a youth version of Agenda 21, called Rescue Mission Planet Earth. Twenty-five years later, we discuss the impacts, legacy and future of the actions undertaken and the key people involved. Rescue Mission editor Danijela Zunec Brandt, Global Optimism’s Marina Mansilla, local school strike organiser, Rosa Lynas and Peace Child International’s David Woollcombe talk to Andy Fryers.
Shuckburgh is a climate scientist and mathematician, and is co-author of the Ladybird book on Climate Change. She will speak about her research on modelling localised effects of climate change – from Arctic warming to flooding in Tewkesbury, from severe drought in Malawi to record-breaking temperatures in Thailand, and from the acidification of the Barrier Reef to the hurricanes battering the Caribbean.
Holding her first grandchild in her arms in 2003, Mary Robinson was struck by the uncertainty of the world he had been born into. Before his fiftieth birthday, he would share the planet with more than nine billion people – people battling for food, water and shelter in an increasingly volatile climate. As the UN’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Robinson’s mission led all over the world, from Malawi to Mongolia, and to a heartening revelation: that an irrepressible driving force in the battle for climate justice could be found at the grassroots level, mainly among women, many of them mothers and grandmothers like herself. Robinson met with ordinary people whose resilience and ingenuity had already unlocked extraordinary change. Robinson is the former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and is now a member of The Elders. This year she was awarded the prestigious Kew International Medal for her work on climate justice.
Advances in biotechnology, cybertechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence, if pursued and applied wisely, could empower us to boost the developing and developed world and overcome the threats humanity faces on earth, from climate change to nuclear war. At the same time, further advances in space science will allow humans to explore the solar system and beyond. But there is no ‘Plan B’ for Earth – no viable alternative within reach if we do not care for our home planet. Lord Rees is Astronomer Royal.
The pre-eminent primatologist offers a whirlwind tour of new ideas and findings about animal emotions, based on his renowned studies of the social and emotional lives of chimpanzees and bonobos. De Waal discusses facial expressions, animal sentience and consciousness, the emotional side of human politics, and the illusion of free will. He distinguishes between emotions and feelings, all the while emphasising the continuity between our species and other species. And he makes the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we haven’t a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions. Chaired by Rosie Boycott.
After more than a hundred years of the internal combustion engine, a new automotive technology has arrived. Cleaner, quieter and fun to drive, electric cars are here, and they are here to stay. But how do we get from 2.6% of new car sales in 2018 to the numbers we need to make a real difference to air pollution, and climate change? The Government has set ambitious targets for the uptake of electric vehicles. If we are to meet them, a change in the way people drive and think about the technology is required. Join Robert Llewellyn, TV presenter, author and electric vehicle expert, Jesse Norman, Former Future of Mobility Minister and local Hereford MP, Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Energy Electric Vehicles and Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers, as well as panellists from the motor and energy industries, to discuss this transition. Chaired by TV presenter and author Kate Humble.
The challenges and opportunities facing our woods and forests are many and varied, from climate change to rewilding, from greenbelt development to urban woods. We have to focus on increasing tree plantings but cannot ignore the threats facing our ancient woodland. “Ten thousand oaks of 100 years old are not a substitute for one 500-year-old oak” – Oliver Rackham. Tree experts George Peterken and Archie Miles discuss the state of the woodland with Natalie Buttriss, Director of Woodland Trust Wales, and Woodland Trust Ambassador Sandi Toksvig.
For the first time in recorded history viruses, bacteria and other infectious diseases are not the leading cause of death or disability in any region of the world. People are living longer, and fewer mothers are giving birth to many children in the hope that some might survive. And yet, the news is not all good. Recent reductions in infectious disease have not been accompanied by the same improvements in income, job opportunities and governance that occurred with these changes in wealthier countries decades ago. There have also been unintended consequences. Whether the peril or promise of that progress prevails, Bollyky explains, depends on what we do next. Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Chaired by Isaac Florence.
In 1909 Nancy Meyer and Clementina Black wrote The Makers of our Clothes, documenting abuses in what was described as a ‘parasite industry’. Today, gross exploitation thrives in clothing manufacture. Nevertheless, workers are not hapless victims – they fight back. This talk shines a light on workers’ struggles against the odds. Jenkins is Reader in Employment Relations at Cardiff University and is currently working on a UK government-funded Global Challenges Research Fund research project investigating the availability of access to remedy for garment workers in today’s garment supply chain.
A conversation with two outstanding nature writers. Although common, moles are mysterious: their habits are inscrutable, they are anatomically bizarre and they live completely alone. Marc Hamer has come closer to them than most, through both his long working life out in the Welsh countryside and his experiences of rural homelessness as a boy, sleeping in hedgerows. In How to Catch a Mole: And Find Yourself in Nature, Hamer tells his story and explores what moles, and a life in nature, can tell us about our own humanity and our search for contentment. Barrie’s Incredible Journeys shines a light on the astounding navigational skills of animals of every stripe. Dung beetles steer by the light of the Milky Way. Ants and bees navigate using patterns of light invisible to humans. Sea turtles, spiny lobsters and moths find their way using the Earth’s magnetic field. Salmon return to their birthplace by following their noses and birds can locate their nests on a tiny island after crisscrossing an entire ocean. Corrigan is a journalist and travel writer.
By popular demand, the author of Around the World in 80 Trees returns with a new selection of species that allows him to talk about trees and sex, defence, communication, climate change, invasive species and bizarre arborial behaviours. Drori, a trustee of The Woodland Trust and The Eden Project, uses plant science to illuminate how trees play a role in every part of human life, from the romantic to the regrettable.