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.