Is inclusion the right focus, if you want a world where everyone can realise their full potential?

That question hit me at event yesterday to build on the diversity gains made during the Olympics. My answer: no, the right focus is the water-food-energy nexus that – left unchecked – will wash away all the gains on diversity we’ve seen in this golden summer.

Yesterday I was at an event on diversity and inclusion. The organisers declared that the Olympics were the first time we had all been proud to be British in their lifetime (I agree). And we must build in the golden summer to create, well, that when things went a bit motherhood and apple pie. Let’s say they would summarise as ‘an inclusive society where everyone can realise their full potential’.

All the speakers, all the conversations were focused in variants of what you might call identity politics. One speaker said we’d moved from multi-cultural world into a inter-cultural world – one where diverse cultures co-existed and engaged each other. Another decried the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for people who had disabilities. I love that phrase, by the way, and it crystallises an important barrier to people becoming the best they might be (including people from poorer backgrounds). Another spoke movingly about his campaign to get homosexuality accepted in the military (from illegal and controversial to accepted born in a little over a decade).

All of which is fine. I agreed with all of it – except the implication that identity politics should be our top priority to deliver an inclusive society where everyone can realise their full potential.

To understand why, let’s look at the US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report. There are lots to worry about in all the scenarios. One is called ‘Gini outbid the bottle’ because inequality ramps up so massively. Is the trigger the soft bigotry of low expectations?, you may ask.


The crucial driver is what they term the water-food-energy nexus. Many of the greatest threats to people realising their potential are ‘environmental’ issues – which are, of course, really *social justice* issues cause by our impact on the environment.

Now, I’m still glad the Olympics and Paralympics triggered and crystallised gains in the acceptance of people who historically been considered ‘Other’ (mixed-race like Jessica Ennis, or immigrants like Mo Farah, or in a wheelchair like David Weir). That progress is fabulous and to be celebrated. I’m glad – but if we let climate change to runaway then all those gains will be washed away. We’ll feel threatened by insecurity on food, by refugees from devastated areas  and much more. We’ll be nostalgic for this high watermark of integration.

My conclusion: if you want to deliver an inclusive society where everyone can realise their full potential then prioritise the real threats to that future – climate change, food security, etc. Then you’ll be protecting society where it is possible to make gains based on identity politics.


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