Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Social responsibility

The end is nigh... A report by Oxford Research Group sums up the global threats and places them into four interrelated baskets: climate change, competition over resources, growing socio-economic divisions and global militarisation. There aren't any "news" in the report, it's just a nice summary of things most of us know are going on, and it does a good job in showing how they are all connected. The report is very anglo-american in its point of view, as it primarily aims to show that terrorism is not the number one global threat, contrary to what the news say in the UK and the US. In fact, the report claims that the global war on terrorism is not working and it is just exacerbating the real problems while failing to fix the ones it is supposed to.

But, What can scientists (or perhaps I'd better say academics) do to prevent the looming doom? Some are directly involved, as they develop cleaner energy sources, try to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, or try to solve the puzzles of global economy. How about the rest of us? Of course we all have options to act as individual citizens, through our choices as consumers, donating to organisations etc. But being in academia gives us something most others don't have. Credibility. For some reason, people think that professors and other academics are smart and when they say something it's more profound or important than when a teen-mom from Croydon says the same thing. Could it be the accent? :-)

Actually, academics often know very little about anything outside the scope of their own research and are often more ignorant about the goings-on of the "real world" than others. Regardeless, I think it's still a good idea to harness some of the brain-power of the doctorati to the good cause of saving the planet. Politicians have had ample chance to do it themselves but it doesn't look promising. Non-governmental organisations are needed as partners and people who know how to network internationally, analyse and synthesise huge amounts of information, generate theories and find solutions are needed. Sounds like jobs for scientists?

It's very rare that a scientific conference hosts a political meeting. We had one in the end of our conference in Bologna. The convenors made it very clear that we were meeting as individuals, the meeting wasn't part of the actual conference and none of the scientific societies present endorsed the meeting. ¨This reminded me of those licence agreements no one reads when installing new software.

About 10% of the participants attended, which must be considered an OK turnout considering it was the final evening of a week-long conference, and many people took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Bologna and perhaps do some shopping. It also felt a bit difficult to switch off the "conference mode" and so it was a bit "academic", and not many concrete results were obtained.

Everyone was challenged to propose actions that would take place by next conference in two years. I don't think people were ready to take that step yet, these things take a bit of time, and everyone needs to get some information first, look into options, find partners, use a bit of time to consider the best approaches and most importantly discuss the plans with their home institutions. In that way the meeting was a disappointment and I think the aims of the organisers didn't meet the expectations of the attendees too well. I was hoping to spend a bit more time on discussing how we are planning to work together for these goals. I expected some kind of a support network to be formed, some framework or structure, a website or a blog that would bring us together after the conference and help us to find more information, partners etc. I do realise that the projects we were expected to propose and commit to would be small-scale local projects and individual activism, and not institutionalised endeavours. It would be impossible to engage academic organisations for essentially political work, but I was hoping we could have set up a network, some sort of support structure and run that as a common project, without having to commit to the content of everything that goes on within that structure.

So, perhaps that could be the thing I could do? Plan, develop and propose, and then get involved in running and moderating this support structure. There are already plenty of organisations and networks of conserned scientists and artists, and if all the energy goes into running the frameworks nobody has time to do any proper work. But, we need a "homebase" within and across these organisations, and surely what needs to be done first is to raise awareness and offer tools for people who want to get involved but don't know how they could do it. The threshold for getting involved in social projects should be as low as possible.

But I guess I'd better write my thesis first.

(Pic: fragilecologies.com)

No comments: