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Chandran NAIR, Founder of Global Institute for Tomorrow, on ‘barriers to asking the right questions’

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APPLAUSE I have a rather difficult task here. I have to kind of follow all the nice things that were said, particularly the inspiration, the positivity. But I'm going to ask some rather hard questions and I do not, for one minute, want you all to think that I'm negative. I'm an incorrigible optimist. Those who know me will know that I can never say no. And I think that everything is possible. But I do think there's industry growing around inspiration, which is quite often surrounded with hubris. Meaning that we go around saying "It's all going to be okay," I call it the "OT thing". The Oprah Thing. Let's get on a couch and pretend it's all okay, hug a few people, write a book, and we'll save the world. I think it's a bit more complex than that. I'm not an expert so I'm going to share with you some thoughts that I have and try and leave you to find the answers. My big think is that intellectual dishonesty is today one of the biggest risks that we face in the world. So many of us want to do the right thing, we want to do good, but we are scared to go into the dark room and ask the hard questions. I think intellectual dishonesty is something we need to challenge. And I often am asked at conferences I speak at, "what do you think are the greatest risks?" And if I'm with panelists from the US, etc., usually the Al-Qaeda thing comes up, it's peak oil, etc. And I usually say it's intellectual dishonesty. So, I'd like to start by asking you to bear with me. Don't think of me as a pessimist or a negative person. I'm very positive. But I do think we ought to ask ourselves some rather hard questions. As far as what I do, I'm told that you're not supposed to advertise, but if you think I'm just negative please go to my website, I do some positive things. But I want to ask you some hard questions. Okay. Some of these hard questions will be what I call Slaying Cows In front of Brahmans. So if there are any Brahmans here, please, no Jihad, no fatwa on me, okay? And the idea is to get us to really understand that if we don't ask these questions, the innovations that we so loosely talk about that horrible word, it just gets thrown about as though it's so easy. And I going to ask you to sort of think about these things a bit more in a more sort of difficult manner, and ask ourselves why is it that some of the most pressing problems in the world have been so elusive. Why has it been so difficult? So, first, intellectual dishonesty with institutional handcuffs. One of the biggest sort of troubles that we have. People come with institutional handcuffs they can never say what they think. I work with a lot of companies who talk about sustainability, who are very rarely able to speak very openly about what really the issues are. Not mentioning any companies. The other thing is I think we get all stuck in polite conversations. And it's so easy, we all want to be polite, we want to respect, but we need to move beyond polite conversations and really ask ourselves, have those discussions. I think inspiration is important but I think sometimes we need to get angry. How many of you are angry? Good! Please, be angry. But don't take that anger in a negative way and impose it on others. But I don't see how we can change anything if we are not angry. But, make it a positive thing if that's not a contradiction in terms. I want to just say that the Asian development model that we've had for the last 50 years, has been one that has been rooted in the post-industrial economic model that I believe has reached it's ceiling. If you look at what the economists are telling us today about the world we're in, it says that for the world economiy to revive, please, Asians, consume! I know the Japanese know this. You're all being told, "consume, consume, consume!" China is being told, "consume, consume, consume!" The Indians are being told, "please, consume!" It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if we, the developing world, consume, and I don't want to be divisive here, like the western world, there is just not enough to go around. There's simply not enough to go around. There are those who will tell us that technology and finance will solve all of these problems, it simply won't. So, let me get into some of the hard questions. If 500 million Chinese, today, who live on 2, 3 dollars, and the Chinese Government's aspiration is to lift them out of poverty, started to get wealthy, what do Chinese people do when they get a bit wealthier? They go and eat outside-- Sorry? --eat fish. Okay, first. So if 500 million Chinese started to eat fish, like you and me, the privileged lot, the oceans would be empty. I know a fisheries expert here would say?? The oceans would be empty. No technology, no finance will solve that problem. But who is to say to the Chinese they can't have their fish. And I'm sorry, but my dear Japanese friends, you should have kept sashimi a secret in this country. You should have never sold it to the rest of the world because we do not deserve to eat sushi because we don't appreciate how fine that taste is. So the tuna is going down because now all of us eat sushi. Even my dear Indian friends! Second, cars. India, car ownership today, ten per thousand people. Car ownership in the OECD countries? 700 per thousand. The Chinese have about 60 per thousand. We're being told now, please buy cars, and I know in America and Germany, they are saying buy one, get one free. Okay. And the Brits, who don't have a car industry, are making the same deal. So, they'll be buying Toyota. But if the Chinese and Indians have car ownership levels like the OECD, which they could reach with the current growth rate in 20, 30 years, do you know how many cars there will be in the world? Just in China and India there could be 1.5--2 billion cars. We need more cars like I need a whole in my head! 1.5--2 billion cars in China and India, according to estimates will require the entire OPEC crude oil output to be shipped to China and India just to drive the cars. This is not going to happen. There will be a disruption. How this disruption takes place, we don't know. So, third question. Carbon dioxide. Today we all demonize China as being the world's largest emitter of CO2. It's a misrepresentation of the facts. Chinese per capita emissions of CO2 are about a quarter of OECD countries'. The Indians are about a tenth. The Chinese, will not stop producing more CO2. The problem is a lot of Chinese CO2 is actually laundered CO2. We have taken out factories from the first world and put them in the third world and said, "you make it while we will accuse you of pollution and carbon dioxide." It's laundering of CO2. The reality though is, there is going to just be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Though I agree, I think the Chinese are going to take steps, and I'll come to why the Chinese can do it more than anybody else, because of the form of government. Fourth question: meat production. Today, meat production and the entire cycle of meat production, takes up about 30% of all ice-free land on the planet. 30% And it's growing, enormously. Today, the Chinese eat 50 g of meat per capita, the good Indian vegetarians eat very little, keep it that way please, the US, and I'm not picking on Americans, eat about 220 kg of meat per capita per year. If the Chinese start eating meat like Americans we will reach 50% of all ice-free land being used for meat production, which, as many of you might know, is one of the most inefficient conversions of energy. We grow more corn and other biomass to produce meat. Not to mention the impact of the intensive husbandry of meat creating pandemics, etc. Fifth question: water. Many of us think that water is out there and free. The future wars of the world will be fought for water if we do not come to understand how water is one of the most scarce properties of the world. Today, about 80% of all fresh water sources in Asia are polluted. Through industrial pollution, agricultural pollution, and through indiscriminate use by industry. This is one of the time-bombs of the 21st century. Yet we have no pricing and we think we can just talk about conservation in the most sort of mundane manner by suggesting that people behave well. I would suggest that will need draconian regulations. Am I sounding negative? No, okay. Third point would be, and this is one of my favorites. Today, we probably have more people who have access to mobile phones than sanitary toilets. I don't know about you but when I think about that I feel slightly constipated. I feel it's slightly odd that we live in a world in which some poor person in India today can have a mobile phone and not have a toilet. I've been to rural parts of India and China where people have mobile phones and they download images of Paris Hilton without clothes. They don't have toilets, the kids don't go to school, something like that. I think this is a huge disconnect. I think, and this is my idea for the day, all the companies involved in mobile phone production and providing the global infrastructure, which is massive, which most of us don't see, should be compelled to build toilets in the third world, seriously, with solar panels so that you can charge as you discharge. Solar panels, and this works, I tell you, and it's so easy to do, yet we don't seem to do that, plus my constipation. Now, I will go through a couple more things. Thousands of entrepreneurs, rural entrepreneurs today, who might need, say anything from 200 thousand dollars to 2 million to convert some great ideas that would include resource protection, creating value, some of the things that some of our speakers have spoken about earlier, have no access to capital. I don't know if you know this, but it's very easy if you want 100 dollars, some philanthropist will give you that and then there is all the micro-finance, which is again a very nice thing, but it doesn't change macro-economic conditions. I would suggest that the biggest opportunities for financial institutions who need to refurbish their reputations slightly by looking into the future would be to create an asset class of investments that would look at the half-a-million to 5 million good ideas that are out there Today, if you are an entrepreneur in India in the rural areas, and you have a great idea to make organic cotton etc., all the silk we heard about, you will not get financing. No matter how sustainable, etc. Not from anyone. And therein lies the opportunity Why don't we do this? My next two points are to do with the business schools as well. So I'm taking a whole load of issues here, and asking you to ask the hard questions. Many of us who are privileged seem to think that the ultimate education is to go to a business school. And I suggest that many of the business schools, while rethinking what they do, need to completely re-evaluate what the curriculums are. So many business schools have failed society because they preach a culture of entitlement. And all of you have read that most of those on Wall Street who are supposed to be the smart guys all went to the best business schools in the world. Imagine a business school that taught a completely different curriculum and the innovations that would create around some of the ideas we've heard today. None of them teach this. There is that little ethics class--one course, one credit. And, bye, done that. Our last two points will be to do with the internet. Again, you come to a Ted kind of forum and how dare you suggest that the internet is a medium for anti-social behavior! I would argue that as much as we all said the internet has a positive impact we should be asking the hard questions about it as well. I don't know how many of you, but the vast majority of traffic on the internet is pornography. Yeah? It's porn. Sale of illegal drugs, and then of course, distorted information. All I'm suggesting is, shouldn't we be asking those who claim to do no evil... You know who I'm talking about? That don't they have a responsibility in taking responsibility for creating the platform? If we're all so smart creating this technology, I bet we're smart enough to make sure that some of the most anti-social material that travels through the internet can be removed. And what type of governments will take action? I mean I'm very intrigued that whenever the Chinese government says hey we want to stop this, everyone says, freedom of speech, let them do this and all of that. Therein lies a huge dilema, Many governments, I think, are worried about this, but they dare not articulate the view that they need to challenge this. So my last point, which is asking the hard question, which rubs at the issue. What form of governments are we willing to accept, if we are to honestly deal with these sort of questions that I've posed? Now, I'll just end by saying, the Chinese government today, can say that if you have a car, you will drive it for 50 km a week and the rest of the days of the week you will park it, we will have the technology whereby we will stop your car, because you have no right to use that car excessively and create the congestion we have. Would that be in the interests of the planet? In the interests of the planet, absolutely. There are those who might argue that it's human rights. That very precious thing. All I'm suggesting to you is that we live in a constrained world. We need to redefine entitlements, we need to redefine what we can have as our rights. What is very clear to me is that as the population of Asia grows to perhaps 4 billion, in the next 50 years, and it's fastest growing here, we all can't have what you and I have. Someone is going to have to step in. Will it be the governments? What form of government? I always compare, and I'll finish in ten seconds, India and China. The Chinese have the ability to step in. Remember the one-child policy? The Indians with their great parliamentary democracy, might not. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but I believe this is the challenge of our times. So I want to end by saying that whilst we all need to remain positive, and I hope you are all remaining positive, I've asked the hard questions. The ultimate challenge for society going forward is not technology, it's not innovations in finance, it will be innovations in the way we order society and therefore the rules. And that will be, I think, the most important geopolitical issue for the 21st century. So thank you for your attention, welcome to the 21st century. APPLAUSE

Video Details

Duration: 16 minutes and 17 seconds
Country: Japan
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
Genre: None
Producer: Virgin Earth & Ansur Pictures
Director: Andrew Malana
Views: 500
Posted by: tedxtokyo on Feb 8, 2010

A talk given in Session 4 "How Does Today Decide Tomorrow, From Local And Global Perspectives?" of TEDxTokyo 2009, held on May 22 at National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

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