He tried to keep the discussion flowing, but even when one person monopolised the microphone for a few minutes – he remained poised, charming and very patient.
I sat with a good friend and listened to environmental campaigner George Monbiot in Bristol last week. I was impressed. Although he set the evening in motion with a a ten-minute talk on Fukishima, nuclear power and the need for the UK to recognise nuclear renewal as the ‘least worst option’ as it bids to halve carbon emissions by 2030, that was the only time he held the floor on his own. He brought the audience (a few hundred) in immediately after – ending his talk “Discuss.”
And he did something entirely admirable too, he insisted that comments from the floor be based around the principle of man-woman-man-woman. This simple device is so important and so empowering for women, who all too often have their voices ignored, through lack of self-confidence. In an instance this was no longer an issue, what a great idea.
It was clear to me that Monbiot knew his facts. As point after point came from the floor, he encyclopaedically referenced studies from memory or spoke with great authority about reviews or newspaper articles that he had read that emphasised one point or other. He tried to keep the discussion flowing, but even when one person monopolised the microphone for a few minutes and seemed all set on a long rant – he remained poised, charming and very patient.
Mark Twain quotes were littering the air throughout the evening, revealing something of the ‘inner George’ as was a strong sense of self-deprication. Clearly he knew a lot about a lot of things that enabled him to keep the rapt attention of his audience, however, there was no arrogance, no unapproachability – quite the opposite in fact. He revelled in the sobrique of ‘Bristol Festival of Ideas’ and his crowdsourcing approach was a refreshing take on how it should be done! (Politicians please take note)
What was particularly refereshing was his refusal to let faux science be touted as fact. There was a so-called fact made about leukemia clusters around nuclear power stations. He cited scientific studies that had disproven this, saying there is no reliable statistical evidence – much to the annoyance of some in the audience who flatly refused to accept this.
He then disarmingly spoke about as tendency for some in the environmental movement to be less than happy to accept evidence that did not support there own strongly held beliefs, one of the nicest put downs I have ever heard… but so true. That unease at ‘faux science’ and over regulation crept back to the service during the second half of the evening in an audience driven discussion on the controversial topic of over population. He said he was immensely uneasy about “regulating on the private lives and private space of others”.
One final point, he cited a writer/thinker (the name escapes me now but he said he read these ideas back in 2001) who posited a theory on how to break up the entrenched class structures in our education system. Citing a leading researcher in the area he said pushy middle class parents were the key to success of a particular school.
Their desire to pile into an area where good schools are drives up standards, results and reputation. Monbiot said that if universities (all of them) were obliged to take the top 3-4 kids from all schools regardless of where these schools were and what the pass and exam marks where in each – in comparison with the rest of the country – it would foster better social integration; it would make pushy parent power more mobile as they hunted for schools where there little Johnny could make it into the top 2-3; it would move the social mix more towards a meritocracy and it would pull the standards up across all schools rather than a few private ones.
What a fine idea….it is just a shame a few politicians were not in the audience and listening. That would be really radical and win my support.