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Schumacher Centenary Festival, by Inga Page

The Colston Hall was an ambitious venue to host this year’s Schumacher Lectures as it’s one of the largest public spaces in Bristol. But it was packed with people who had come to celebrate the work and legacy of E.F. Schumacher. His ideas have never been more relevant than they are today, and speaker after speaker referred to the inspiration that Schumacher’s seminal book Small is Beautiful has been on their own work. The Festival was also a great day for Schumacher College: we didn’t plan it that way, but there was a steady stream of references to the important role we play within the movement to bring the human-scale back into all areas of human activity.

Satish Kumar began by talking about his relationship with Fritz Schumacher, who had inspired him to take on the editorship of Resurgence magazine. Schumacher wrote an article for every issue of Resurgence until his death several years later. Satish was followed by Polly Higgins, a lawyer who is campaigning to have ecocide – the destruction of ecosystems – recognised as an international crime against peace. Polly talked about how the time she spent at Schumacher College attending an Earth Jurisprudence course had grounded her in nature and led her to first develop the concept of ecocide. The previous week the campaign had staged a demonstration trial at the UK Supreme Court with real lawyers, judges and a public jury – www.thisisecocide.com. Those on trial were executives of fictional fossil fuel companies who had allowed an oil spill to occur in the Gulf of Mexico – and the jury found them guilty.

Bill McKibben followed Polly’s presentation with a talk exploring the fossil fuel issue which he’d recorded earlier that week whilst teaching at Schumacher College on the course Building Social Movements for Change. Bill is involved with a campaign to prevent the construction of a pipeline to bring massive deposits of oil from the tar sands in Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to tireless campaigning he and many others created one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in US history which has helped to spotlight one of the worst potential environmental disasters in US history.

We also heard from Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green MP, and from Peter Blom, CEO of Triodos Bank, who reminded us that his bank, which operates in the “old-fashioned” way of lending money to people and projects judged to have a viable business plan (and which also demonstrate a social or environmental value), has seen growth of 20-30% each year since the crash of 2008. Triodos is co-founder of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, which includes micro-finance companies in some of the poorest countries in the world as well as ethical banks in the global North, and they are working to expand responsible lending and make people aware that there are alternatives to the mainstream banks.

In the afternoon, Rob Hopkins did a wonderful “show and tell”, talking about the many different, creative ways that Transition groups around the world are raising awareness of the huge changes we need to make in order to live well in a post-oil world, and Tim Jackson reminded us of how radically different the world of economics is becoming as it gradually dawns on everyone that we are never going to return to a state of continuous growth. Without growth, everything is different – which Schumacher was of course one of the first to point out.

Diana Schumacher closed the Saturday session with her reflections on the day. Many of us had picked up on the energy permeating the crowd, the sense that things really are changing dramatically and we need to be ready with alternatives as the status quo crumbles around us. Diana pointed out that Fritz Schumacher had never had much time for lawyers, politicians or bankers, and yet his Centenary Festival featured inspiring presentations by a green lawyer, a green politician and a green banker.

Times really are changing!

Inga Page manages the short course programme at Schumacher College, as well as arranging partnership courses and external lets.