“Careful what we wish for?” Event report

Dr Abbe Brown, Reader, discusses her event “Careful what we wish for? Clashing laws, energy and society” as part of the Being Human Festival.

The first snow in Aberdeen this winter did not deter the audience at “Careful what we wish for” at Queens Cross Church on Friday 20 November (see advance chat about the event in my 13 November blog post).

After a musical welcome of a “human” themed playlist (thanks Steven of QX – well, it was the AHRC Being Human Festival) I set the scene for the evening (broadly, is what I do relevant? Do you care? Can the Paris climate change discussions achieve anything?) and welcomed my panel: Scott Rennie; Aylin Bahmanyar; and, in a last minute call up, Derek McDonald of Aberdeenshire Council, an expert in forestry, fishing and economic development. Each of us spoke for around 10 minutes introducing personal and professional clashes we have encountered, and how activism, laws, courts and policymaking have helped or hindered.

From these common themes, discussion was wide ranging: health and IP; climate change and technology transfer; single issue politics; democratic deficits; the impact of trade agreements such as the TPP; racial and gender equality; developments in respect of female genital mutilation in Nigeria; the contribution of activism to human rights; changes to landing and discard obligations in the EU; the impact on fishers and fishing communities; the impact of NGOs in driving debate; the positive and negative elements of corporate power and trade; and continuing positions of some that addressing climate change is marginal and distinct from trade.

A lively Q and A session followed, when my carefully planted questions were not required. This covered the rule of law, sympathy/lack of sympathy for companies when a government changes the rules, the need for more or less localisation or centralisation, the need for action against climate change or if this is unfair in developing countries seeking their industrial revolution, and the need for expertise (including from mulitnationals) and for a long term view in politics and policymaking.

A seamless request from Scott about why Aberdeen couldn’t just choose to have more Hydrogen buses (Barney, we needed you), led to the audience all being put to work on how to bring about the hypothetical sustainable dreams of an activist group, as against the needs of energy security and the employment realities of city based in oil and gas. Calls for direct action against cars and boilers, led to dreams of a benevolent dictatorship to manage the transition; a fleeting moment of managed transition quickly moved on to the greater need for energy security. Then time ran out, we only touched on the media…

For me, as well as highly enjoyable, the evening was a reminder that not only do laws clash over objectives, but that the objectives are rarely clear. Seeking to bring about a common ground might not only be a legal challenge but might not always be the desirable goal – or at least not to all. And who should decide? Courts have always been my answer – but things have to get pretty bad for that to be relevant in a particular scenario, and this model doesn’t work so well for big questions such as energy security.

So for me, it’s now back to the day job, duly inspired and challenged. The discussions which ran on after we finished (and yes, some of them in Dizzy’s, a bar over the road) suggested that lots of other brains had been stirred and connections formed. Which is what it was all about.

A podcast of the event will be added here soon.  More detail from ongoing live tweets from Malcolm (thanks) are at the @AberdeenUniLaw Twitter feed.  Thanks to all at QX (especially Elspeth, Steven, Marina) and the University of Aberdeen public engagement team (especially Julie, Heather, Jen and Jill).  A Wordle prepared by Suzi during the event, and with which we closed, is below.

Being Human Wordle


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