TED 2016: 'There must be another way' to solve world's problems

From the crushing lives of refugees to the global tragedy of infant mortality, the TED conference wrapped in Vancouver with a chorus of calls for a change of thinking on the problems facing the world.

From refugees to climate change and public health: speakers say outdated thinking will be our demise

Volunteers assist refugees and migrants fleeing the conflict in Syria; speakers at the TED Conference argued that a new approach is needed to solve the crisis. (The Associated Press)

From the crushing lives of refugees to the global tragedy of infant mortality, the TED Conference wrapped in Vancouver with a chorus of calls for a change of thinking on the world's problems.

Oxford refugee researcher Alexander Betts received a standing ovation for a twenty-minute talk in which he outlined a four-point plan to overhaul a decades-old approach to international migration.

"What are we doing? How has the situation come to this that we've adopted such an inhumane response to a humanitarian crisis?" he asked the crowd.

"I don't believe it's because people don't care ... I believe it's because our politicians lack a vision."

Small country, big dreams

Betts was one of a series of speakers in a session titled 'Wake Up"; all outlining new approaches to old puzzles.

The Prime Minister of Bhutan described his tiny country's efforts through a program called Bhutan For Life to exceed a commitment to carbon neutrality to the point where they're actually "carbon negative".

Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay says his tiny nation is committed to a carbon neutral future. (The Associated Press)

Tshering Tobgay said his Himalayan nation of 750,000 is nestled between two of the world's most populous polluters: India and China.

And yet as part of a vision that places higher priority on "gross happiness" than "gross product," Bhutan has managed to preserve 72 per cent of its forests while providing free electricity to farmers and investing in sustainable transport.

They've also devised a means to pay for it borrowed from a Wall Street investment model.

"What if we could mobilize our leadership and our resources, our influence and our passion to replicate the Bhutan for Life idea to other countries?" he asked.

"I invite you to help me. To carry this dream beyond our borders to all those who care about our planet's future."

The rich world and the poor world

The CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellman, struck a similar chord in a talk which asked why millions of babies in developing countries die in the first 28 days of life.

Desmond-Hellman said parents in Ethiopia often wait for a month before naming their children because they're so afraid of them dying.

But by taking an approach she termed "precision public health," she said scientists and researchers are bringing first world innovation and data to target specific health problems, such as women with HIV, in third world populations.

They've already cut the mortality rate in half in some cases.

"We all live in two worlds: the rich world and the poor world," she said.

"And what I'm most excited about in precision public health is bridging these two worlds."

As if to underline that point, Betts asked why the global community was outraged at the 2015 death of two-year-old Alan Kurdi but apparently unmoved by the subsequent drowning deaths of more than 200 refugee children.

Refugee researcher Alexander Betts says the outrage expressed at the 2015 death of Alan Kurdi has not extended to the subsequent drowning deaths of 200 refugee children. (DHA/Associated Press)

He said the current approach to asylum seekers basically forces refugees down one of three paths: living in overcrowded camps; destitution in nations which border conflict zones and dangerous journeys to the west.

Betts called for the development of a system to better match the labour needs of the developed world with the professional skills of asylum seekers.

He also suggested the implementation of a humanitarian passport, which would allow refugees to travel directly to asylum accepting countries without having to travel to third countries and refugee camps.

"We really need a new vision," he said.

"There's nothing inevitable about refugees being a cost. Yes, they are a humanitarian responsibility, but they're human beings with skills, talents, aspirations, with the ability to make contributions if we let them."

'There must be another way'

One of the session's most popular speakers was Casey Gerald, the Harvard-trained CEO of MBAs Across America, a grassroots organization which seeks to help entrepreneurs outside cities like New York and Los Angeles.

MBAs Across America founder Casey Gerald called on his audience to doubt everything.

He offered the crowd doubt instead of hope. And in a presentation that was much sermon as TED talk, he explained why that was a good thing.

"When our troubles overwhelm us; when the paths laid out for us seem to lead to our demise; when our healers bring no comfort to our wounds," he said.

"It will be our humble doubt that shines a little light into the darkness of our lives and of the world and lets us raise a voice to whisper or to shout, or to say simply — very simply — there must be another way."

About the Author

Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.


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