With over 150 speakers from 31 countries, this year’s UWRF lineup is a literary treasure trove of discoveries. Each week in the lead up to the Festival, we’ll speak to a writer whose work you may not yet have encountered, but who could well turn out to be your Festival favorite. For the eighth installment, we spoke to historian and environmentalist Robert Crocker.
What issues and ideas are you hoping to explore during your UWRF17 sessions?
Last year I put on an exhibition of photographs, which was shown at the United Nations Centre for Regional Development forum, on waste from around the world. One of them – a blown-up scientific photo of a plankton glowing with micro-plastics – has haunted me ever since. So, I will certainly talk about the juggernaut of waste and its links to everyday consumption. But I will also argue against the individual’s responsibility for our environmental crisis, which may surprise some in the audience. I believe it is a mistake to blame individuals, and we have been doing this for far too long. In reality, our problem is a systemic, global one, and everyone, without exception, is entangled in it. Not even a hermit can now escape this.
The other thing I will draw attention to is the lack of meaningful solutions to our consumption problem. For all the talk of greater ‘efficiency’, recycling, clever technologies, none of these – at least without tackling consumerism – can fix our problems. We face a rising tide of cheap, accessible, throwaway goods that we are supposed to buy and then waste more frequently. This is fundamentally incompatible with solving our environmental problems.
Who do you hope will be in the audience?
I love Bali and Ubud, and I have been visiting the town for many years. Bali experiences the consumption and waste problem more intensely than the rest of Indonesia, since it relies almost entirely on tourism, and so the demands of consumerism and its hollow promises fall particularly heavily on the island, from plastic wastes in the rice paddies and ravines, to the overuse of water for luxury swimming pools. So, I would particularly love to be able to catch up with my Balinese friends to talk about their problems. But I am also happy to talk to anyone else!
What’s the most extraordinary place your career has taken you?
Here and now! I have been very fortunate in my life, and I have been very lucky to be able to research and teach the issues I write about. In August I spoke about these problems to the Chinese Academy of Engineers – a great privilege. The young designers I teach, even more than most other young people, really do hold the future in their hands. It’s a great privilege to be able to work with them towards a better world. There is nothing I would rather be doing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, and what’s the best you can give?
I am fortunate to have a loving family, and a number of great teachers, some of them very well known. The best advice I ever received was this: make good use of what you have and where you are, and do this while you can – however dark things may seem at the time.
What are you most looking forward to at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival?
This is my first visit to the UWRF, and so there are many things I really look forward to seeing for the first time. I work in a world of academics, who value knowledge and research, but do not always value the art of writing. So, I especially look forward to immersing myself in a world of good writing, where I can read and hear others talk about their work, and the stories they have to tell, and how they have learnt to tell them.
Robert Crocker is appearing in Stressing the Source on Day 1 of the Main Program, and will also be launching his book Somebody Else’s Problem: Consumerism, Sustainability and Design.