Monday, September 30, 2013

Springtij: Sustainability Festival in Terschelling

Terschellingen harbor, the Netherlands
Over the last few days, I attended the Springtij Festival, an annual event dealing with sustainability held at the island of Terschelling in the northern Netherlands, surrounded in the north by the North Sea and in the south by the Wadden Sea. In recognition of its biological diversity, parts of the Wadden Sea have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list so this was a very appropriate location to discuss the current state of our world, from climate change and renewable energies, to the crisis in the financial system and new sustainable business innovations.

Just after my arrival with the ferry from Harlingen harbor, in the province of Friesland, to Terschelling on this small, windy, sandy but beautiful island, we went to a shipping hangar where we were welcomed by one of the hosts of Springtij, Wouter van Dieren. van Dieren, one of the founders of the Dutch environmental movement, has been involved in almost every aspect of the environment and sustainability since the late 60s, as a journalist, scientist, entrepreneur and member of many leading organisations such as the Club of Rome and currently President of IMSA Institute of Environment and Systems Analysis. He explained the importance of gathering together to discuss the state of the environment, as time is running out in many respects. He also referred to the conference's theme, i.e. the concept of tipping points: when something changes from one stable state to another stable state, and this change is irreversible, such as

when a chair is balancing on two of its legs and only a small amount of weight can cause the chair to completely tip over and fall on the ground.

Marten Scheffer,  Professor of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management of Wageningen University, was the starting key note speaker explaining this concept of tipping points in several areas such as climate, financial markets and even psychiatry. His department is doing research on how one can forecast that a tipping point is getting close.  Just imagine if the world's central bankers and government officials would have known by 2005 that our financial system was reaching a tipping point, after which we would not only experience a credit crisis but as some financial experts now acknowledge even a long-term depression. Clearly, it would have been better if we could have avoided that tipping point in 2007/2008. Also imagine, wouldn't it be better if a psychiatrist would know ahead of time that his patient is experiencing too much stress and that if he would reach a tipping point he would fall into a deep depression. And, lastly, just imagine that the world's climate scientists would know that we would only have x-number of years before we would reach a tipping point after which climate change will cause irreversible damages. In short, the science and understanding of tipping points is crucial to our well-being and even survival. I couldn't wait to hear more in the coming days, from speakers as accomplished as Club of Rome Co-President Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizs├Ącker, former President of the IUCN Ashok Khosla, world-renowned nature photographer Frans Lanting and many more.

Some background reading about tipping points and forecasts for the future by the Club of Rome and the U.S. National Intelligence Council:

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