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TEDxOpenUniversity: The world around us

TEDxOpenUniversity: The world around us

The world is constantly evolving, changing shape and presenting new opportunities and challenges to humankind. 

One issue that’s very much risen to the forefront is, of course, climate change. Many of us are actively changing the way we interact with the environment – whether through mindful consumption, recycling or changing our diets. Whatever it may be, there’s a growing, collective understanding that we all have a role to play in order to influence the outcome.

The theme of ‘Relationships’ was a recurring one throughout TEDxOpenUniversity, and one that manifested in various forms. Whether it’s our relationship with our environments and habitats, or the most intimate relationship we will ever have – with ourselves and others, the running theme of interconnectedness was a constant. 

Let’s first begin with the environment. Yasmin Bokhari-Friberg, a climate scientist, is currently studying the Indian Ocean. In her talk, she explained why we must look to the past in order to inform our future decision-making when it comes to the natural world:

“The rate of increase in greenhouse gases and global temperature is unprecedented and we know this because we have evidence in the geological record for millions of years. That’s why we worry. And that is why knowledge of past climate is so important.”

When it comes to climate change sceptics, she argued that: 

“Even in the countries with the highest denial rate, like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and USA, more than 80% of people believe in anthropogenic (that is human-induced) climate change.”

This implies that a large proportion of the population – including those in countries with a high denial rate – understand that they as individuals have a key role to play. But time is running out, and small adjustments to the way we live are simply not enough.  

“We are past the point of saving the world by turning the lights off. Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time; we are causing it and we need to solve it.” With that in mind, what more can be done on an individual level to save our planet? 

Senior lecturer and academic in climate and energy, Stephen Peake, asked the audience to ‘imagine net zero by 2015’. Fundamentally, he believes that system change is required, not climate change. 

He argued that a shift in focus is the next step; instead of creating more energy-efficient alternatives, we should instead look at changing our behaviour and using less: “It’s not driverless cars that we need. It’s fewer drivers and fewer cars.” 

Perhaps one of the most alarming statistics shared throughout the day, came from Stephen’s talk. He explained how the energy wasted every day – through power stations, poor design of buildings, transport and appliances – could power two whole planets. This only strengthens his argument that system change is fundamental when it comes to tackling the greatest challenge of our time: the climate emergency. 

From the environment to human relationships, a number of speakers chose to speak on matters closer to home. Anita Cassidy, writer and advocate of conscious relationships, questioned whether the romantic bonds formed between individuals are perhaps more nuanced than we are led to believe.

Societal norms, she argued, have a lot to answer for when it comes to expecting – and failing at – the ‘happily ever after’.  After a decade together, Anita and her husband agreed to end their marriage. It was this experience that led her to explore relationships in alternative forms. 

On reading MJ Barker’s ‘Rewriting the rules’ she experienced a revelation: “As I turned those pages it was as though someone was going around my brain turning on all of the lights.” It led her to believe that we need to rethink monogamy and consider other forms that are less traditional, but leave us better equipped to adapt as we grow and change.

But what does this look like in practice? “Extraordinary conscious relationships are about treasuring the present. Choosing every day to act on the value that love inspires.” 

Jayne Constantinis’ talk focused on how to safeguard communication skills in the digital era. Trainer, presenter and voice over artist, Jayne has a wealth of experience when it comes to public speaking and how to be an effective communicator. 

Language and communication will always evolve and reflect the society in which it functions. However, the rise of digitalisation means that in-person communication skills are rapidly diminishing, and this poses a real threat for younger generations: “34% of pre-school children have their own device,” she said. “[As parents] we can put our phones away, we can listen to our children.”

On social media, the platforms themselves are creating exclusive echo chambers meaning we’re often only exposed to one side of an argument. Another communication skill that we’re losing is the inability to disagree – which is further polarising.

Jayne argues that we need to be comfortable with disagreeing with each other: “There’s no room for nuance or subtlety, so instead of unpicking the ideas of someone we disagree with, it’s far easier to go straight to name-calling.” 

As our country’s future is set to take a new turn, what better opportunity than to put some of these suggestions to practice. We should embrace difference and diversity and start listening to one another, or in Jayne’s own words: “Actively listening, not waiting to speak.” And if we don’t agree, that’s fine too. 

You can catch up on the comments and discussions from the day via #TEDxOpenUniversity. 

If you missed the live event ­– it’s not too late! We’ll soon be sharing the talks on the TEDx YouTube channel! 

By Natalie Baker

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