Positive Futures: Successful Applications of Ethical Science, Design and Technology

SGR Conference and AGM 2006

University of London Union; 21 October 2006

Main presentations:
'Making Peacebuilding Work' by Prof John Sloboda, Executive Director, Oxford Research Group
'Implementing Sustainable Energy at a Local Level' by Dr Philip Webber, Kirklees Metropolitan Council/ SGR

Workshops: Science and Positive Security - Tools for Change; SGR and the Trade Union Movement; Finding an Ethical Career in Science, Design and Technology

Summary by Patrick Nicholson

 

Introduction

Around 50 attendees gathered in London for this year’s conference. Dr Stuart Parkinson, the Executive Director of SGR, gave the customary welcome to start the day’s proceedings. He explained that, as the title suggested, the aim of the day was to focus on some of the ways in which scientists, architects, engineers and technologists are making positive contributions to the World.

 

Making Peacebuilding Work

The first keynote speaker was Prof. John Sloboda, Executive Director of the Oxford Research Group who tackled the issue of “Making Peacebuilding Work”. He began by talking about the characteristics of genuine peacebuilding – notably the inclusion of all parties, and listening to and addressing grievances. Sustained peace requires simultaneous and long term attention to wider factors such as economic development, infrastructure development, security guarantees, trusted police and justice systems etc. At the current time, two factors give some hope. First, international security policy of the USA and its allies are manifestly not working and this is being acknowledged at the highest levels. Secondly, changes in global communication have facilitated large shifts in public awareness and the demand for better alternatives. Peace, environmental and trade justice groups need to work closer together to achieve successful global peace building.

Questions from the floor followed. The contribution of the military to greenhouse gas emissions was mentioned, as was the observation that the military are not a monolithic whole and that many in the “defence” world are sympathetic to the need for alternative models of security. One questioner proposed that some violent groups simply have a psycho-pathological aspect (e.g. the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda) that means that they are probably not amenable to peacebuilding. Prof. Slobodan agreed, but stressed that the politically-violent cannot be branded as a single entity. In some cases parties cannot agree, but they can at least agree to disagree, and progress can be made in those areas where agreement is possible, building trust and facilitating later moves to deal with the more difficult issues.

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Implementing Sustainable Energy at a Local Level

After the coffee break, Dr Philip Webber, Head of Environment Unit at Kirklees Metropolitan Council and Chair of SGR, spoke on “Implementing Sustainable Energy at a Local Level”. Dr Webber outlined a range of projects underway in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, including district-wide energy efficiency schemes and renewable energy projects such as photo-voltaics, solar water heating, biomass boilers, wind turbines and heat pumps on homes, new apartments and council offices. A measure of the extent of the activity in Kirklees is that it represents around 5% of the UK total photovoltaic generation capacity and is about to launch the largest energy efficiency and grant scheme to combat fuel poverty in the UK (Kirklees Warm Zone). He described how the projects were funded, and what worked and what didn’t. He had several suggestions for improving the policy and funding framework to encourage renewable energy initiatives, for example simplifying the process of claiming ROC (renewable obligation certificates) for grid connected renewable electricity projects. Essentially he argued that the current funding system supporting renewables was overly complex, didn't work and should be replaced by economic incentives such as higher feed-in tariffs for renewable electrical generation.

Comments from the audience touched on the issue of energy prices simply being too cheap, and that the price increases expected in the near future will make renewable energy much more viable. Responding to this, it was noted that the poor already spend a large proportion of their income on energy, and that pricing incentives need to be carefully designed to avoid targeting the poor and vulnerable. Another point was that environmental and social policy cannot be treated separately, and the issue of wealth redistribution needs to be tackled. It was proposed that SGR needs a social policy section to complement its existing activities.

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AGM

The SGR AGM took place after lunch. Philip Webber, Chair of SGR, opened the proceedings. The minutes of last years AGM were approved subject to a couple of corrections to the attendance and apologies, and matters arising from these minutes were dealt with. Stuart Parkinson introduced the Annual Report, summarising SGR’s activity during the period from March 2005 to February 2006. Important points were the merger between SGR and AESR, the successful funding application to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust for a 3 year development grant, increases in the amount of paid staff time, and increases in output and effectiveness across a range of activities. Patrick Nicholson, SGR’s Treasurer, summarised the accounts, which showed a 16% increase in income and a 7% increase in expenditure, reflecting the growth in terms of both activity and membership. Updates on recent activity followed. SGR Marketing and Recruitment Officer Jane Wilson described how the SGR membership leaflet has been redesigned and reprinted, and distribution of this new leaflet as inserts in a number of publications is in progress. When the meeting was opened to the floor, discussion focussed on the Trident replacement issue, and very useful updates on this were given by Frank Jackson and Malcolm Savidge.

 

Workshops

Three parallel workshops then took place. Dr Chris Langley dealt with “Science and Positive Security: Tools for Change”, looking at what positive security is, and how ethical science and technology can contribute to a more positive security strategy. Chris used concrete examples, such as robotics and smart sensors, to look at what concrete steps are necessary to build upon areas that have the promise of making positive contributions to security.

Dr Martin Levy’s workshop looked at “SGR and the Trade Union Movement”, posing the provocative question “incompatible or mutually indispensable”? Martin summarised the historical context and stressed that the trade union movement is far from homogeneous. Whilst unions such as GMB, which has members at Sellafield and the BAE Systems Barrow shipyard, cannot be expected to campaign wholeheartedly for a nuclear-free future, there are still many possible areas of engagement across a range of environmental and peace issues. Many unions are opposed to the government’s military direction and have been more forthright than employers on environmental issues.

In the third workshop, Dr Stuart Parkinson looked at “Finding an Ethical Career in Science, Design and Technology”, including tips and advice for graduates as well as useful information for those contemplating a mid-career change of direction. In particular, the workshop drew on the wealth of experience gained from SGR’s ethical careers programme that has been running for 7 years.

Kate Macintosh summarised the workshops and, and together with Stuart Parkinson, brought a busy and stimulating day to a close with a vote of thanks to all those whose hard work made the conference possible, notably Kate Maloney and Jane Wilson.