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Observers Room: John Thackara

MONTHLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER: SEPTEMBER 2011


The need for edginess

My talk at next week's Mayo Clinic innovation conference is about "the coming catabolic collapse of the US health system - and what to do about it". I need an in-your-face title because my piece opens the "Community Interventions" day - and I'm well aware that the word "community' sounds worthy, but oh-so-dull, to red-blooded medical innovators.

Full marks, in that context, to Aalto University in Helsinki. They've made "wellbeing" the theme of their spearhead project in next year's World Design Capital festivities. Wellbeing, like community, is one of those words that lacks a visceral edge. It conjours up images of a well-run camp-site, or retirement community - but is not a destination to fight for. I hope Aalto can change that.

The need for an edgy challenge is an issue, too, in Iceland. The country is promoting itself as a global supplier of "clean energy" - but the main client for this energy is one of the world's dirtiest and fossil-fuel dependent industries: aluminium smelting. I'm confident Iceland could grow an alternative new economy out of hot house horticulture and agri-tourism - but those would always be small enterprises. What's missing is confidence and ambition, among the broad population, that a country-wide ecology of small producers can be a meaningful alternative to blown-up mountains, dams, and diverted rivers. My new friends in Iceland are keen to launch pilot projects to seed such an alternative - and I'm looking for support to help them do that. Let me know if you could help.

Follow me on Twitter @johnthackaravisit my blog, or subscribe to my RSS feed. Or you can unsubscribe.

NEWSLETTER ARCHIVE >>


JOHN THACKARA

World Capital of Wellbeing

Along with “sustainability,” “wellbeing” is one of those words that is worthy, but hard to sell. Few would disagree that we need more wellbeing and less wasteful consumption — but the word lacks a visceral edge. It conjours up images of a well-run camp-site, or retirement community. Good to have, but not a destination to fight for.
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JOHN THACKARA

In Praise of the Feral: Update on Xskool

Convention centres are expensive, filled with hard surfaces, and — unless you're in the convention business — somewhere else than the subjects discussed in them. Being separated from the thing itself, they tend to foster groupthink — and abstract groupthink at that.
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JOHN THACKARA

From Powerpoint to Permaculture, From Me to We

When I arrived at Angsbacka, the site in Sweden of last weekend's first Future Perfect festival, an alarming array of leaflets was on offer in the foyer:  “Shamanic De-Armouring,” “How To UpGreat Your Life” or “Reach The Temple of your Inner Beauty,” “The Journey to Bliss,” “A Cellular Dance of Oneness.”

My first reaction was: Beam me the hell back up, Scotty. My second reaction was: to give the place a chance.


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JOHN THACKARA

Lean Logic: A Dictionary For The Future and How To Survive It

I have just received a quite extraordinary 736 page book called Lean Logic: A Dictionary For The Future and How To Survive It by the English ecologist David Fleming. The publisher describes it as a "community of essays". In my words it's half encyclopedia, half commonplace book, half a secular bible, half survival guide, half ... yes, that's a lot of halves, but I hope you get the picture.

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JOHN THACKARA

Life is a Picnic in the Fertile City

If you're in Paris before July 24, a spectacular exhibition called The Fertile City: Towards An Urban Nature is well worth a visit. The show's OTT poster does not over-promise. The exhibition explores nature in the city from multiple perspectives.
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JOHN THACKARA

Edible Architecture

Today seems to be the day when, once a year in this part of France, every spider in the region spins her best possible web at the same moment.
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JOHN THACKARA: RECENT ESSAY


Iceland: Eaten Alive, or Growing to Live?

Iceland: Eaten Alive, or Growing to Live?

Exploding the myth of Iceland's "green" energy — with alternative suggestions.
READ MORE

More essays by John Thackara >>

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