Sally Uren – fluent in bureaucratese.

Forum for the Future describes itself on its website as “a sustainability non-profit working globally with business, government and others to solve tricky challenges”. If, like me, you didn’t know that ‘non-profit’ was a noun then we’re all learning something. Thanks to Geoff Chambers I learnt that on 21 May, 2012, Sally Uren, then deputy Chief Executive of Forum for the Future, made a presentation entitled Systems to Solutions. No, I don’t know what that means either. Shall we try to find out?

What, in the name of sanity, possessed her to perform that little yawn pantomime at 0:18! Is she saying that she finds it boring? Is she saying that she expects her audience to find it boring – and wants to pre-empt that? Is she trying (unsuccessfully) to get a laugh? Self-deprecation is one thing: sticking an imbecilic downer into the first seconds of a speech is quite another. She puts me in mind slightly of Dolores Umbridge, the Harry Potter character portrayed by Imelda Staunton, simpering meekly while spouting ghastly and dangerous rubbish.

The perceptive reader might have inferred somehow that I was likely to be difficult to please with this speech. There is a reason. While I am obviously all for sustainability, the reading I have done on the subject persuades me that the empirical data supplied by history clearly show that sustainability and growth in wealth, food, and all other benefits of civilisation comes from millions of mutual accommodations made by people trading for their own benefit. What always makes things go pyriform is interference from busybody know-it-alls who manage to get enough of an administrative foothold to become surrogate decision-makers. Far from ever helping it has consistently been catastrophic. History is strewn with horrifying examples of hugely successful societies being reduced to immiseration, famine and mass-starvation through centralised decision making. Therefore sustainability happens when this sort of ‘non-profit’ is non-existent. When will they ever learn! But back to the speech.

If your interests are such that you cannot survive another minute without learning the distinction between ‘competitive’ and’ pre-competitive’, this speech will have you in orgasmic transports of ecstasy. If, on the other hand, you couldn’t give a monkey’s then go and read a good book – or even a bad one. This is fifteen minutes of wall-to-wall, faux intellectual bureaucratese – the sort of worthy-sounding guff that the producers of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 adore.

I have to admit that she is a good enough speaker to be employable in a real job – albeit after a thorough jargonectomy. Sadly though she is on a slippery slope. When she delivered this speech, her non-job at this non-profit was Deputy Chief Executive. Since then she has been demoted to Chief Executive.

2 thoughts on “Sally Uren – fluent in bureaucratese.

  1. My goodness, this is a bizarre speech. The overuse of jargon suggests that it was presented to an audience of sustainability “insiders”, but then why the awkwardness and very forced quality of the humour?

    To a normal Earth human, it’s the content of the speech that comes across as truly odd, though, emanating as it does seemingly from a different planet to the one we know. So the “food system” is unsustainable – we’re running out of food? Clearly we aren’t – it’s in short supply in some places but is generally more abundant than it’s ever been.

    “We need to reconnect with the food that we eat” (bizarre!) Dolores (sorry, I mean Sally) then talks about the “strange habits” (e.g., skydiving) of “non-greens” (normal people outside the sustainability bubble). She criticises retailers for being short-sighted and successful businesses for being “dinosaurs” – has she ever run a business? She talks of “the consumer as producer, even if it’s only waste that they’re producing”. (What?)

    “My final solution”… I looked closely at her face at that point, to try and detect any trace of irony. None, whatsoever. “Nature won’t be free forever” sounds like a threat, or maybe a promise. Basically, sustainability – in the sense that she uses the word – seems to be a code for something else entirely, as you suggest; in this context, “unsustainable” means “we bureaucrats haven’t figured out how to wrest control of and micro-manage it yet – give us time.”

    Many thanks for this – in fact, collecting (sometimes transcribing) these oddities is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. 🙂

    • Thanks Alex. This one was so weird that I hesitated for several days before posting it. Had I known how much fun you were going to have with it I would have dived in sooner. Let’s thank Geoff for bringing it to my attention in the first place.
      I would have loved some shots of the audience. Were they nodding sagely at the wisdom, or struggling to keep straight faces? As you observed, she gives every appearance of actually believing her own gibberish.

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