Planet Under Pressure Conference Notes: 15th March

Attending a specialist conference should be a great way for scientists to escape the tedious attacks on the profession by climate change sceptics. It’s conceivable that Planet Under Pressure 2012 may prove a disappointment on this score.

The conference has drawn attention to itself by hiring the BBC Environment Correspondent, Richard Black, as a panel discussion moderator. Black is a hate figure for the sceptics who accuse him of compromising BBC principles of impartiality in his reporting on climate change.

His movements are tracked by the organised underworld of sceptic bloggers – if Richard Black shows up at your event, you’re tainted by association.

So far, the organisers of Planet Under Pressure 2012 have escaped censure. In yesterday’s outpourings they even enjoyed a little faint praise:

they have formed a board of patrons, who include Sir John Beddington, Lord Turner and Sir Robert Watson, three men who feed heavily into UK enironmental (sic) policy thinking. So this is top table stuff, not some grubby little ecoloon group

Moving swiftly on, there’s another prominent conference speaker in the firing line of the sceptics. Professor Will Steffen is a member of the Australian government’s Climate Commission which earlier today published a report: The science behind southeast Australia’s wet, cool summer.

Try designing a more provocative title! Will Steffen may be a contributor to the original Planetary Boundaries paper and something of a hero figure in the science community but he and his two co-authors have been summarily branded as “Australia’s three most hysterical climate alarmists.”


Putting a government minister on your conference agenda is a risky business because a lot can happen in a short time in politics. The problem for the UK science minister, David Willetts, is that he is Minister for Universities and Science, the former role being the hottest potato in town on account of the rise in tuition fees.

Willetts is due to give a high-level welcome on the final day of the conference. In nation-wide protests yesterday, thousands of students called for his resignation.


The signs so far suggest a very lightweight presence of business and industry at the conference. Co-chair Mark Stafford Smith has spoken of intensive efforts to rectify this, especially on the final day which focuses on policy and vision for the future.

I’m not sure that he had in mind the Chief Sustainability Officer of Max Burgers, the Swedish fast food chain, whose participation in Planet Under Pressure 2012 was rather excitably announced by the company yesterday. The last thing the conference needs is an army of corporate social responsibility managers peddling their greenwash.

As it happens, Max Burgers is a much more interesting company than its job titles suggest. It is a partner of The Natural Step who will be presenting a session of case studies of companies undertaking its Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.

A business can’t partner The Natural Step without being serious about sustainable development and this is a chance to think afresh about burger chains.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK