“I first came upon 'The Great Debate' a couple of years ago when a friend
told me about an event called 'Agents of Change?: Darwinian Thought and
Theories of Human Nature'.
A fairly new arrival in the North East, I had up to this point been rather
disappointed by the excessively scientific edge to the public debates I had
attended up to this point. Science is, after all, what we do best in the
North East apparently! I was thus pleasantly surprised to find a mix of
philosophers, scientists, engineers and academics approaching the debates
from a variety of angles. I remember leaving the event with my head buzzing
and some of my more concretely held assumptions about human nature deeply
challenged. Having been to a number of other events held by 'The Great Debate'
since then, I have always been impressed by the range of topics covered
(from quantum physics to multiculturalism; from biodiversity to economic growth),
the quality of the speakers and the unfailingly warm and friendly atmosphere
that encourages audience members to contribute to the debates.”
Anthony Morgan, August 2010
‘It was fantastic to see how the students developed their argument and how
they performed under pressure, by the different questioning fired at them.
It was a good way to involve a number of students and they gained not only
knowledge about the subject area but also brilliant communication skills.’
Deborah Johnson, Lecturer at Newcastle College commenting on The Great
Debate workshop held as part of the SCENE launch, Nov 2010
‘The Great Debate is an excellent
scheme and something I feel all schools should be involved with - it's wonderful
to see the students making their cases and having to think for themselves about
their arguments and counterarguments. I think they get loads out of it and it was
something that students who participated in the workshop at the SCENE Conference
really enjoyed and talked about for days after.’
Elizabeth Lunn, former co-ordinator, Sustainable Communities and Environments North East
(SCENE), February 2011
Comments on The Great Debate Green Phoenix festival programme 2010
Virtual water and footprints: down from five to two point five
“I have been invited to speak on two occasions at the Great Debate in 2010.
Both were very lively and deeply engaged affairs. It was evident that the
ideas were new on issues which everyone has some awareness and strong opinions.
My point was to show that our awareness is almost always incomplete and not
very useful in shaping personal consumption. Everyone got the message that
the food we eat each day has a lot of water embedded in it. And that what
we eat has an impact on the consumption of water. Someone who eats a lot
of grain fed-beef has a water footprint of 5.0 cubic metres per day.
A veggie only consumes 2.5 cubic metres per day.
“It was clear that everyone was listening and this was confirmed by the questions
which more than filled the time for debate. It was good to see how the ideas –
often uncomfortable – were received.”
Tony Allan, 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate,
founder of London University's Water Issues Group
“It was indeed a great debate. My experience of the Great British Public
is that only ¼ 'buy' the climate change/sustainability paradigm (up
from less than 10% 35 years ago), but embedded in the other ¾ are 10% who
actively oppose it. It was therefore a shock to meet so many articulate
opponents, among the attenders, not just the hand-picked speakers.
Very good to be put on the spot. Each of us see ourselves as the under-dog.
They feel that steady state is the new orthodoxy, we on our side think that is
barely skin deep, and that the pro-growthers still represent the status quo.
To be continued?”
Clive Lord, Founder Member, Green Party
“Taking part in the Great Debate is always a deeply challenging personal experience.
This time was no different. I had not thought enough about issues of
freedom and choice in the past year, as one tends to do when work and life
are so full. The Great Debate offers valuable time to step out of the day-to-day
and really think about significant issues that affect our cultures and societies,
issues we often barely give a second thought. So I thank The Great Debate Team
and the sponsors and supporters, especially RCE North East, for the opportunity
to do just this.
“All the debates I attended, including the one I took part in on the
Limits to Freedom,
were stimulating, open and fair. People gave of themselves freely and
unselfishly in their opinions and their willingness to listen to those of others,
despite the essential tensions that such debates generate. It is, however, the tension
between authority and freedom that I think is the most important thing
The Great Debate allows us to discuss, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to say
a few things on the subject, as unimportant as my single voice may be.”
Alex Lockwood, University of Sunderland
“The Great Debate is a wonderful opportunity for the Renaissance man
within us all. It provides an open platform for discussion on a wide
range of subjects touching on human nature and society and on our
perception of and, indeed, our connection with the Universe we find
ourselves in. It can throw light on the power of understanding and
imagination. A friendly meeting of minds, nourished by the invited speakers,
specialists in their own fields and themselves forced by the debate to
answer to the bigger picture! Attendees cannot but help feel that they
have been given a mental workout and feeling all the more alive, stimulated
and aware because of it.”
Dr. Richard Fong, University of Durham
“A really stimulating event that asked the participants to dig deep, to question
their deepest assumptions and to think outside of the box – all in an atmosphere
of relaxed conviviality.
“Festivals of ideas are something we need more of – thanks for showing the way.”
Jonathan Dawson, story teller, Findhorn Eco-Village
“I welcome debates like the one on Limits to Economic Growth. They enable
a wide variety of people to engage in the really big issues that affect us all.
“There was clearly a wide variety of ages and a big diversity of views
represented in the audience, which can only be a good thing”
Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth
“It was a privilege to take part in the recent RCE sponsored debate
“The Legacy of Multiculturalism”. The panel invited were clearly passionate about
the issues and the debate with the audience was stimulating and challenging.
The event itself was run a professional but open manner. Such events can only
enhance the reputation of all partners and people involved. Given the current
socio-political climate these events are all the more necessary for people to
engage and debate new ideas.”
Amir Saeed, University of Sunderland
“I had great fun participating in the Great Debates both at the
European Geosciences Union in Vienna, and in Newcastle, sponsored by RCE Northeast.
The debates were lively and thought-provoking, and though I came with an intention
of persuading others, the audience caused me to think twice about a few issues.
“The debates use lots of audience participation, which helps ensure that the
trickiest issues don't get ignored. I would recommend for everyone to go along
and engage with the biggest questions for our generation.”
Niel Bowerman, co-founder and former Executive Director,
Climatico, co-founder, The Climate Justice Project
“I agreed to do this date, long in advance of knowing that it exactly coincided
with Newcastle United’s first home game of the season. The Regional Centre of
Expertise (RCE) in Education for Sustainable Development has a long and distinguished
history of establishing platforms for debating world futures in the context of
North East England. But a commitment is a commitment, even if, as I arrived,
I could hear the St. James crowd in the background minus my voice.
“But what a crowd for The Great Debate Green Phoenix Festival. Long balls from
the environmentalists, short stabs from the growth merchants, bewildered social
dreamers in the middle. A crowd that was incisive and knowing with a range of
experience that exceeded that of the formal speakers. What kind of growth?
What was the role of finance capital? Was decoupling economic growth from resource
use necessarily the road to a bleak future? The interchanges were swift and sure
and I admired again the quality of intellectual exchange that is possible in Newcastle.
“Newcastle won 6-0: RCE won by a rugby margin, 25-0.”
Phil O'Keefe, Professor
of Economic Development and Environmental Management, Northumbria University
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