After arriving in Rhodes, Greece, on Thursday, October 9, and settling into my hotel room (where I got a brief nap after a long overnight flight from New York), I was taken by bus with a few hundred other attendees to the historic and beautiful Grand Master's Palace.
Fancy ceremonies completed, we got down to work the next morning. We began with a plenary session in which all three co-founders of the WPF spoke, and then we broke up into several simultaneous panel sessions, each of which lasted a day and a half.
I was assigned to the Energy panel, which was subdivided into consecutive sections on Energy Security, Geo-Economics, and Nanotechnology. There were so many other interesting talks being given in other panel sessions that I was tempted to sneak away from where I was supposed to be and attend them. I didn't, but this is one of those times I really wished to be in several places at once.
My presentation, titled "From Top Down to Bottom Up -- In Technology, Economics, and Geopolitics," seemed to be well-received, but, as usual at these sort of events, it's the contacts and conversations that occur between sessions in the halls that often turn out to be the most productive and valuable. I look forward to continuing and expanding on many of the new relationships I began in Rhodes on behalf of CRN.
On the final day, Sunday, October 12, we gathered again for another plenary session. There, representatives from each of the several panel sessions gave reports on what was covered in their areas, and what plans or recommendations they may have for going forward.
These were the panels that reported:
- International Migration
- Religious Cooperation
- Economic Crisis
- Social Stability & Political Structures
I'll offer comments on reports from three of the panels:
- Social Stability & Political Structures - A striking conclusion from this group was that "no dialogue between civilizations is possible until asymmetries of socioeconomic conditions [between North and South] are corrected." To me, this seems like both a tall order and an intransigent position, but I'm sure it's important for us in the developed world to recognize how condescending we often may appear to those who are not so fortunate.
- Economic Crisis - Conclusions from this group (which included a number of leading economists from all over the world) comprised a gloomy set of best and worst case scenarios. Best case is that we will sink into the worst recession since the 1930s, with an average of 8-12% unemployment in developed countries and -3% annual GDPs. Worst case is a second great depression with unemployment approaching 20% in developed countries and -10% GDPs. Gulp.
- Energy - Among the conclusions and recommendations were these: a) future conflict prevention requires a world structure for non-fossil-fuel energy generation; b) greatly expanded research and development for sustainable alternative energy is needed under the auspices of the United Nations; and c) a cooperative international agreement for development of advanced nanotechnology should be pursued to avoid dangerous competition (read "arms race") and to identify and satisfy new market opportunities.
It probably is not surprising but should be noted that nearly all the panels reported that their discussions were heavily influenced by the current economic crisis. In general, there was much criticism of neoliberalism, and even -- from some of the Russians -- a sense of triumphalism over the apparent failure of U.S. and Western "hegemonic" capitalism. I found that attitude a bit ironic, though, considering that Russia has moved heavily toward its own unfettered version of free-market capitalism. Ah, well...
One final conclusion of my own is that there was too little attention paid to the looming disasters of global warming and climate chaos. All our dialogue over other admittedly important issues may fade into the background when we are confronted with the cataclysm we have triggered and failed to avert.
On that note, let me close with a quote from another participant, Yuri Kanner, Chairman of the European Jewish Forum:
If history teaches us anything, it is that it does not teach us anything.