Flew in from Seoul to Heathrow, picked up Elaine, and thence more or less immediately on to Oslo, for one of the most glorious sojourns of my life. On the menu, a Festschrift conference to celebrate Jørgen Randers‘ 70th birthday, and his many contributions, kicking off with Limits to Growth back in 1972, and then a more personal trip out to Arøy, the island where he has a summer home. The conference picked up our Breakthrough Decade theme. But, first, some images, to give a flavour of the thing:
This was the first Festschrift I had taken part in, but if this is what we can expect from such things, I can’t wait for the next one. Several hundred people came together at the Oslo-based business school BI, where Jørgen was president from 1981 to 1989. Having contributed to both Jørgen’s amazing book 2052 (my essay was on the future of the military out to the 2050s) and to the Festschrift book, Science Based Activism (edited by Per Espen Stoknes, also author of What We Think Of When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, and Kjell Eliassen), I was asked to help kick off the event.
What a privilege to help celebrate someone who has been one of the great presences in this field of ours since I was beginning my M.Phil. at UCL back in 1972.
At the start of my presentation, I mentioned that Elaine and I had decided to give Jørgen 2,052 eels, to be released later in the year by the Sustainable Eel Group. Just as Jørgen has spread memes around the world, the idea is that the eels will go out into the wider world and proliferate – which, given the 99% collapse in European eel populations since I had my fateful encounter in the 1950s, is devoutly to be desired. Andrew Kerr had explored for us the possibility of taking eels to Norway for release, but EU regulations (no count sensibly) make that impossible. So the release will be here.
The themes and order of the day can be found here. It was fascinating to hear both people I already knew, among them Paul Gilding and Mathis Wackernagel, and people I hadn’t yet met – not least John Sterman, who is the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management, and current director of the MIT System Dynamics Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His presentation of their interactive online platform, Climate Interactive, blew my socks off.
Later in the day, there was a memorable dinner celebrating Jørgen’s 70th birthday, where it was wonderful to hear speeches from people who have known him for many decades – including our old friend Jan-Olaf Willums. Then, as the the carriages threatened to turn into pumpkins, we caught a coach back to the Radisson Blu across the road from BI. After a night of intense dreams, at least in my case, a smaller group of us (13 of us in total) took 3 cars several hours south to the small island of Arøy, to stay a couple of days with Jørgen and his wife Marie.
On the first full day, and I really can’t say why, particularly when I knew the water was somewhere around a bone-cracking 10-11 degrees, and when you could see a fair few jellyfish floating around, I decided to go for a swim.
The truth is that if Paul (Gilding) hadn’t been there with his camera egging me on, I might have thought better of it. As it was, I plunged in and instantaneously regretted it. Still, as my blood supply struggled to find any molecules with even a modicum of anti-freeze properties, I rolled on my back and swam a little way out, as if I knew what I was doing. Then, as soon as I decently could, I swam back to shore and hauled my way up the seaweed-coated steps.
Later in the day Per Espen went in, and the following day, claiming he couldn’t be left standing by a youngster like me, Jørgen went in too. I’m pleased to have taken the plunge, but secretly thrilled that I don’t have to do it every day. On balance, I preferred sitting on the dock and watching swallows, a heron, terns, geese, oystercatchers and eider ducks doing what they do.
The island sojourn was a wonderful chance to catch up with people like Mathis (Wackernagel) and Susan (Burns) of the Global Footprint Network, whose work I have long admired, Paul and Michelle Gilding, and Jørgen and his wife Marie, alongside people I hadn’t met met face-to-face, like Per Espen. A mix of fireside conversations, walks in a form of wilderness, and leisurely meals in the open, either in the sun or, at night, wrapped in blankets under the stars. As Mathis put it, “heaven on Earth.”
Then yesterday, Sunday, Per Espen drove Elaine, Nigel (Lake) and I back to the Randers home in Oslo. Later on, Jørgen arrived back with Mathis, Susan, John and Cindy – and, critically, several bowlsful of Greenland shrimp, plus mayonnaise and slices of a round loaf, on which concoctions of immeasurable delight (and no doubt massive ecological footprints) were duly assembled. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed myself so much, though by the time we got back home, a week after leaving for Seoul, I was ready to sleep forever.