By Helga Bjørnøy Urke
The 20th World IUHPE Conference was just held in Geneva. It both marked an anniversary, and an important standing principle of the organization. The theme of health promotion and sustainable development was salient throughout the conference both in terms of scientific content, and also in the practical aspects framing the conference. Experienced, expert professionals, engaged health promotion and environmental activists, newcomers to health promotion, all contributed to putting sustainability under the spot light in discussions and presentations. What impressed me more was the practical dimension that I as a participant automatically became a part of. Prompts and signs were all over the conference building encouraging us to engage in a more healthy and environmental friendly life style by taking the stairs, riding the bikes available for free outside the conference centre, eating less meat, and more locally grown food contributing to better health and considering the environment, refilling your water bottle on the water stations placed around in the halls and session rooms instead of grabbing a new bottle. Eating as much apples, tomatoes, carrots and apricots you could. Recycling your waste. And I could go on. It was easy. It was possible.
So what happens next? Will the so appropriately nick named “carrot conference” be left behind and remembered only as that? The Geneva Carrot Conference 2010? Or are we as health promoters willing to make the effort ourselves when it is not given to us on a silver platter. It is not a secret that we as humans tend to take the easy way out. We might have wanted meat on our conference sandwich, but it was too far to a restaurant, and we had already paid for the lunch at the conference. So we ate it. Because it was the easiest. Is that what we will continue with? Eat the long travelled food because it’s the cheapest, take the car because it is the most comfortable option, don’t bother to recycle because it’s such a hassle. Taking the easy way out, even though it doesn’t comply with our highly valued theoretical health promotion principles about sustainable development. And will we take the easiest way out just because the practical small things in our everyday lives seem too insignificant in the great theoretical world that we work and turn our brains in? 99 percent of the CO2 emissions related to the organizing of the 20th World IUHPE Conference came from travel. How many of us paid offsets? We are no better than anyone else, no matter how much we discuss and speak intelligently of principles and social change if we don’t make the change an incorporated part of ourselves and our everyday lives. I was inspired both scientifically, ideologically as well as practically by the atmosphere and frame of the conference. They made it easy. They made it possible. Let’s not leave their efforts meaningless.