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Comments on The Great Debate

"Fun is not usually a word that complements intelligent discussion, but without wishing to devalue the serious nature of the enterprise that's exactly what The Great Debates are. For more than three years I have been going to the debates on all sorts of subjects and never been disappointed. The speakers are always willing to engage with the audience even if what they have to say is a little off the wall. Attendance is usually free, which means all my poor friends can come along as well. The atmosphere is friendly and inclusive, during intervals there is the possibility of free flowing intellectual engagement."

Abdul Hamed, Sept 2010

“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

the great debate schools programme
‘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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