EVENT REPORT: State of the Planet 2010, Columbia Univ, New York City

Panels and keynotes program schedule
I was told via email from someone involved in the event that a video will be posted online.I will be posting this over a the Earth Institute blog (especially since it has zero comments for the March 25 event) as a challenge to improve the overall framework of the “State of the Planet 2012”.

State of the Planet 2010 Event Report:
I attended this bi-annual event in 2008. At that time there was not a global webcast that included panelists located in other countries. At the 2010 event, there was a V.I.P. section closer to the ‘stage’ that I was not notified about. The V.I.P. section had about 3 times more people than the non V.I.P. section which was odd. Despite it being a V.I.P. section, there was never enough time given to them to ask all the questions via microphone. This is a Jeffrey Sachs event, it’s his show. He’s the main advisor to Ban Ki-Moon, and friends with the president of Mexico (who keynoted this event), so it seems to be more from his perspective and his friends. Therefore, it was a very narrow-visioned event that should not be entitled “State of the Planet”. People involved with the publication “State of the Future” for over a decade (
www.stateofthefuture.org) were never mentioned, invited, or asked to contribute. Yet, these people have worked with the United Nations for over a decade. Collective intelligence has been written and software is being developed by those involved in the “State of the Future” (Millennium Project), yet Jeffrey Sachs was attributed to the idea of “worldwide brainstorming” for “collective invention”. And unfortunately, there was an obsession at this event on ‘climate change’ and carbon. “Industrialization footprint” involves a broader range of hazards and toxins that needs more air time. More ‘fluid’ thinking was lacking while an excess of a kind of cloned groupthink was prevalent (or ‘carbon copying’ if you will, pun intended). The forum has great potential but as of 2008 & 2010, is too insulated and will not be respected as highly intelligent and strategically effective by a broad range of people (outside of Ivy League Columbia) concerned about serious global issues. On an interesting note, Zbigniew Brzezinski was once a Columbia professor (see Obama video on his Brezinski recognition).


+ Ban Ki-Moon in-person keynote. Highlighted poverty as priority & empowerment of women.
+ Sanjeev Chadha, Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo India, mentioning examples such as a region in India having a shortage of coconut cutting tools and someone invented a device to climb a tree to cut coconuts out of recycled bicycle parts. He also mentioned tests that used 20% less water to grow rice, drip irrigation, and “ramping up transcurrency”.

Needs for Improvement for 2012
+ There was no encouragement from Jeffrey Sachs or anyone else for those who attended or witnessed the event online to participate in the development of State of the Planet 2012 in the next two years.
+ Obsessive focus on “climate change” and carbon even during the panel on poverty. Not informative, too general.
+ Water not emphasized except by two panelists, both Indian. Disease not emphasized (closest was mosquito bed nets).
+ Saudi Arabia, OPEC, e-waste, plastics, etc not mentioned while going on and on about ‘climate change’
+ This is a bi-annual event. Why is it only one day and on a Friday? Not nearly enough time!
+ Too much quick talking, too general, have more INTELLIGENT DIALOGS, long keynotes by figureheads took time away from deeper discussions, be more informative instead of excessively diplomatic.
+ The name “State of the Planet” is not an accurate title for this event since the panelists were not diverse enough and the subject-matter mentioned was not broad or deep enough. To live up to that title, a much a greater inclusiveness of the world is needed, which would require more time during the event (two days or more).
+ Have less panelists that are older ‘Caucasian’ males from America and Britain.
+ Incorporate text messaging/SMS into the event, not just a small amount of semi-lame/uninformative posts from Twitter.
+ Buzzwords “sustainable/sustainability”, and “climate change” may have been mentioned 50 times each. They lost meaning and the more it was repeated the more a lack of imagination and individuality.

Main Notes

Session One (‘climate change’)
+ President of the New York Academy of Sciences stood up from the V.I.P. section, and asked through the microphone how can media “frighten” people to wake them up to the issue of ‘climate change’.
+ From panelist: “new technology is our best hope”.
+ A 78 yr old panelist said that nuclear power will have a resurgence, we are moving too slow to address the challenges in the next 40 yrs, solar power is key, and North Africa holds promise developing alternative energy.
+ Panelist said that it takes a crisis immediately and viscerally for changes to happen, and ‘experts’ can’t convey public messages well and others need to do that.
+ A woman in the V.I.P. section said at the microphone that for the next “State of the Planet 2012” more young minds should be involved in the panels.
+ An online question posted from Iran asked the panel to address the issue of hazards involved in the process of manufacturing materials for solar panels. This was not treated as a major concern.
+ The question of how will we dispose of all the batteries from electric vehicles not addressed.
+ A Columbia professor was critical of experimental ideas that address ‘climate change’ and that if we do not know what the effects will be, we should not pursue them, yet he was all for solar panel development without addressing the issue of the materials solar panels are made out of and the disposal of them.
+ Getting the “faith community” involved was promoted to get more people to adopt the ‘climate change’ campaign
+ Information Communications Technology (ICT) claimed as a “green technology” by people from Ericsson
+ Panelist mentioned cow dung and cow powered devices to generate electricity as a serious development

Keynote by Prince Albert II of Monaco (friend of Jeffrey Sachs)
(Former spymaster to Albert II, Robert Eringer won a court case in January 2010 against the Monaco gov for unpaid earnings after Albert claimed immunity from being sued since he’s a head of state).

+ Promoted his foundation and use electric cars, and his “EVER” trade show
+ Decentralize energy
+ Quotes: “Dawn of major changes”, “..usher in a new world”, “protecting the environment is the responsibility of the government”.
+ Partnered in Mali in some capacity where “success can only be through cooperation among stakeholders”.

Session Two: Poverty (too much focus on Africa and nowhere else)

+ Before the panel, the host Riz Khan made a joke that a bus full of politicians crashed, a person found them and buried them…was asked if they were all dead, and he said that some of them said they were alive but you know how politicians lie.
+ Mention of Mali and Malawi interchangeably which was confusing which country various people were talking about. I gathered that all mention of Mali was actually Malawi but this was never clear.
+ Claims that enrollment in primary schools in Sub-Sahara Africa has gone up & child mortality down 1/4
+ No improvement with hunger since 1990’s (exception is Mali growing food).
+ Water provisions key to food security
+ Wrong direction in the case of hunger, agriculture, nutrition..and a “mixed bag” when it comes to political will
+ Need for incentives for farmers
+ ACCESS TO FINANCE not mentioned in any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) said the princess Maxima of the Netherlands.
+ Electronic bank accounts at birth as birthright (India, and related to the
Unique Identification Authority of India)
+ “Mobile as extraordinarily dynamic for development”
+ Mention of Bill Gates interview where he promoted deregulations of mobile banking to the India government
+ Water: how do you make it politically animated?
+ “The Indian government works hard not to make data publicly available”.
+ * There is knowledge without action *
+ A $20Billion ‘promise’ at the G8 summit dedicated to combat poverty..9 months later, only 10% of that had been given (if nothing is legally bound, this method cannot be relied on/taken seriously). I got the sense that Millennium development goals are not legally binding/without law enforced penalties. They are more along the lines of aspirations and not concretely realized dedications where people are willing/able to sign legal agreements.
+ Mention that an anonymous donor system is needed
+ Princess Maxima said that savings is a priority and that no infrastructure is in place for savings.
+ Population will double in Africa by 2030
+ Claims 30-50% of Africa biodiversity has been lost (hard to believe this is accurate)
+ There was too much talk as though Africa is a country instead of a vast continent (we don’t call North America America and we don’t call China Asia). There should have been more specific generalities like “North African region” or “Central African region”, or mention of countries that have similar challenges and needs.
+ Statement that 80% of Africans are “not in the system” and this makes them “voiceless” yet no mention of corruption or dictatorships
+ Two different people said two different figures for how many people are in Africa (800M & 1B)
+ Africa has been the “world’s mine” (mine shaft for minerals/gold/diamonds).
+ (my note): Africa would probably have nearly twice the number of people if it was not for diseased prone water, malnutrition, aids, malaria, genocide/atrocities etc.
+ Half the people in hospital beds are from bad water
+ ‘Climate change’ somehow got into the issue of poverty and blurred the lines between pollution and bad water with the endless use of the ‘climate change’ buzzword
+ No mention of China’s synthetic drugs making its way into African countries through the Netherlands (and princess Maxima from the Netherlands was on the panel, and when someone asked about China in Africa she had nothing to say).
+ UNEP director Achim Steiner was asked about China in Africa and all he had to say was asking the question will China be a leader, will they be a role model for African relations, and provided ZERO INSIGHT which I found incredible when someone can
read this review at Amazon.com on China’s involvement in Africa and get more information and insight in less than 5 minutes.
+ “We don’t have time to mention all the lessons learned in Malawi” mentioned about their agricultural progress, use of mobile devices, improved access to seeds and fertilizer, doubling food production because the president had the political will. And again, Malawi is the place where the
Ushahidi based mobile malnutrition surveillance project took place
+ Audience member statement about the need for women to be involved
+ Need for distribution via peer to peer exchanges
+ In the next 2-3 years we will see networking of mutual support and empathy in global giving

President of Mexico/United Mexican States keynote

+ Emphasis on environmental preservation and planting of trees/reforestation
+ Mexico has the largest production of wind power in Latin America
+ His government has a national agenda on ‘climate change’ (do they have a national agenda against poverty?)
+ Poorer countries should adapt to ‘climate change’
+ Said “save the planet”
+ Mentioned a “global climate fund” and Jeffrey Sachs asked how we can get “science and the media” to make that idea happen.
+ Preventing deforestation mentioned yet what was not elaborated on was how many jobs will be lost/economic losses because of this, how to replace those losses, details on what wood is being used for and what replacements for wood are available? What are the clear incentives aside from the mindless buzz phrase “save the planet”?
+ Somehow he links poverty reduction with incentives that come with addressing ‘climate change’ without providing details
+ Jeffrey Sachs said that the president of Mexico’s keynote was “absolutely extraordinary”.

Session Three: Economic Recovery

+ Michael Jacobs said that Britain will “absolutely” have a “green recovery”.
+ Host Rizi Khan said of the events web connectivity that they were “connected to the whole world” (stupendous exaggeration)
+ PepsiCo India CEO said that if necessity is the mother of invention, then scarcity is its grandmother
+ Peter Wierenga of Phillips research said that 90% of electricity is used for lighting and if we used L.E.D. lights as replacements we would use 70% less and even less than that if there was a pervasive use of ‘smart’ lighting that came on and turned off automatically.
+ Bob McCooey of NASDAQ stated that the corporation Whole Foods was a “leading edge” company. Maintain a clear and persistent articulation of vision and investors will stick with you..don’t be “scattershot”, don’t use big words while not delivering or while doing too much.
+ Peter Wierenga: listen, understand each other better and solutions will follow.
+ Question from an audience member: how to get consumers to think beyond what’s bigger, faster, shinier, and buy what’s better for the overall environment and human condition. Response(s): PepsiCo India CEO said that when they labeled Sun Chips packaging with 100% biodegradable, sales went up. Another response from other panelists was “compelling communication”, find green markets ahead of time.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon keynote

+ (my note): He travels so much by airplane…isn’t this a contradiction to the carbon footprint obsession?
+ Ban Ki-Moon said of Jeffrey Sachs that Moon is “heavily depending on his advice” and that Sachs has been his “teacher” and “tutor” on the Millennium Development goals and on ‘climate change’
+ Poverty was mentioned as “being there all the time”.
+ Said there would be “new promises for Haiti” announced March 31.
+ Malawi mentioned again (sole example of progress mentioned a few times at this event) and school enrollment in Sub-Saharan primary schools going up.
+ Empower women and that will change society is his conviction
+ (my idea): for any future carbon taxes, apply it to micro-loans and pro bono pilots with anti-poverty goals using some of what worked in Malawi
+ What was not clearly stated is funds from the carbon taxes going to reducing poverty and empowering women and that by having more empowered people, this can lead to more overall contributions to innovations, information exchanges from them, and growth beyond that.
+ Understand what the commitments are and to hold people accountable (no mention of legally accountable with penalties or incentives).
+ Jeffrey Sachs said of Ban Ki-Moon that he “shepherds 192 countries”.

Session Four: International Systems

+ Eradication of small pox mentioned as success through the United Nations
+ Montreal protocol mentioned
+ Partial success of nuclear non proliferation
+ Columbia professor Scott Barnett: Failure has come in preventing genocide but that perhaps the greatest failure is not having prevented ‘climate change’ (!)
+ Jeffrey Sachs stated that insecticide laden bed nets have been a “breakthrough”, $4-5 each lasting 4 years and able to protect two sleeping children. UNICEF & Red Cross distributed them, George W. Bush promoted the use in 2005 along with the T.V. show American Idol.
+ A global fund for tuberculosis, aids, and malaria is short $1Billion yet Wall Street bonuses were $20Billion
+ Matthew Bishop of the Economist said that Bill Gates said that deaths from malaria will end by 2015.
+ Play on words from Mathew Bishop that the 21st century will be about the “posse” and politics of the posse-ble (possible).
+ Question from the panel moderator/host: lessons learned from the pandemic flu. Response was the government + private partnerships
+ Reducing fertilization/population with voluntary contraception was not in the Millennium Development goals (despite this being essential for empowering women).
+ The last panel was confronted with an audience member contesting the ‘climate change’ simulations…the response to him from Jeffrey Sachs was that complex systems are beyond our understanding and that the Earth Institute has not yet grasped this yet either (commendable).
+ “Bio-digestors” was mentioned by an audience member
International Nitrogen Initiative mentioned
+ In relation to technology: find, appropriate, apply/integrate into where needs are (no mention of something along the lines of a
+ Mattew Bishop asked how do we measure what really matters? He mentioned a “Global Redesign Forum” (called a global redesign initiative
) he is involved in through the World Economic Forum and the “Social Competitive Index” and that it’s a place to debate how to turn that idea into a reality.
+ Jeffrey Sachs closing remarks that “lots is said at meetings that are not known” (yet a public record system was not recommended).
+ Jeffrey Sachs said that those saying that aid is not helping in Africa is “utter nonsense!” (he did not elaborate, see this video for the opposing story from Andrew Mwenda, and this page on “dead aid” by George Yittey).
+ Earth Institute comprised of 800 scientists under the banner of “sustainable development”.

Mar 28

Comments are closed.