Lessons Learned from the Tällberg Forum 2006
We are messing with the future.
This was the strong sense among 432 leaders from 63 countries at the Tällberg Forum in Sweden this June. Such were the reflections by experts like James Hansen, lead climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, and Ashok Khosla, President of Development Alternatives, when it came to our management of climate and sustainable development. Assessments like these make it impossible to maintain our denial.
For a quarter of a century, the Tällberg Foundation has evolved a global network of learning to better manage the local and global risks emerging from evolutionary systemic changes. This learning process is continuously deepening and expanding. One business leader put it this way: “Every time I leave Tällberg I am that much further ahead of my industry’s thinking.”
The Forum asks: “How on earth can we live together?” This year the gathering of leaders from business, government, civil society, education, science and the arts explored how problems can be solved through the opportunities they create and, of course, the possibilities for solutions. Tällberg’s hallmark is to connect the local with the global.
Ours is a world of brinkmanship. “Business as usual” pushes what are growing risks into dangerous situations that quickly cascade into disasters. Current policies on the Triple-E equation of Economy–Energy–Environment exacerbate an existing disequilibrium that threatens orderly transition from our world today to the one that is emerging. This emergent world is disinterested in boundaries, and instead in one where activities of commerce and culture will be measured in emissions and migrations. It is a world where burgeoning tides of wealth and poverty can trigger tsunamis of consequences. Hurricane Katrina alone battered seven states in the U.S., at a cost of more than US$80 billion and more than 1,800 human lives. Three of the 10 strongest hurricanes ever recorded occurred in 2005. Typhoons in southern China and North Korea in July 2006 destroyed the homes of tens of millions of people and impacted 32 million hectares of arable land in China. Western Kenya has never seen such massive floods as now. Those not immediately affected by all this often believe that these changes are not connected to their lives and livelihoods. How can they not be?
We can improve on this brinkmanship and its consequences. Globalization must hold the promise of prosperity and the end of poverty. But this promise meets a daunting challenge: we must reconcile the need for economic growth with limited energy resources and environmental fragility. Surmounting this will be achieved through transparent and accountable governance at all levels—local to global governing institutions, and of course, business.
Let us not mince words. Ahead we face the greatest—and necessarily quickest—mass learning period in history. We have just 10 to 20 years to overcome our persistent arrogance and ignorance. We have less than a generation to get right with Gaia. We all live in this biosphere, and we must understand our place in the ecological system to design truly long term, generational strategies. Earth’s atmosphere is now with 385 ppm CO2., and we may soon reach 500+ ppm CO2 . It is not acceptable. We need a new cognitive base for action, and we have a window of opportunity.
The Tällberg Forum does not issue statements. Rather, we rely on a principle: if you get a new insight, you have a new responsibility. We learn from our parents: “You made the mess. You clean it up.” That moral imperative of personal responsibility to the planet and each other is precisely what’s missing. Its absence has us messing with the future. In an odd twist of fate, children are no longer the future—we are our children’s future. It is time to get serious and clean up our mess.