GE2015: Orthodoxy, economic fragility, and two kinds of ambition

By Paul Reeves

Following the Innovation and the General Election discussion, I want to raise three points.

Firstly, it was noted that in the UK general election, despite the raised profile of the Green Party, climate change has, surprisingly, played little part in the campaign. My thoughts on this are that all parties and most of business have (publicly at least) accepted the arguments of environmentalists in general, and the expected future dangers of climate change and the role of sustainability are now orthodox thinking, and have been absorbed into the mainstream. Hence, the general argument around this aspect of the environment have more or less having been ‘won’. Thus it is no surprise that it has not featured much in the election debates, and the Green Party has presented itself more of a ‘left’ alternative on social issues.

My second point is a perception around the relationship of environmental discussions and those on the economy – and especially the 2008 crash and the long shadow it has cast over recent years. Here I see a connection to how both the ‘planet’ or its environment has (since the ’60s) been seen as fragile. In more recent times it is also the global economy which is often also perceived as a fragile ‘system’. Quite why this is so is beyond the scope of this post, but I believe that the perceived ‘fragility’ of our global physical and socio-economic system has had a huge impact on the amount and types of innovations that we now experience.

This relates to what emerged as the most important topics in the discussion – that of Ambition in innovation. My take on this is that we almost have two kinds of related Ambition. One is largely one of scale: for instance the Chinese are rightly lauded for having the ambition to carry out large infrastructure projects in both road and rail. These projects are primarily based around ‘doing more’ with existing technologies. Maybe a second ‘class’ of Ambition in innovation is to develop completely new technologies (for instance the new Reaction Engines’ gas-turbine/rocket engine that allows order of magnitude reductions in the cost of lifting matter into space). Really radical and ambitious R&D leading to new technological innovations may eventually lead to completely new, unimagined industries which could actually make the future somewhere ‘worth living’, as opposed to life on a fragile planet. It will be interesting to see if any of the main political parties develop any sense of this purpose over the next 5 years.

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