I worried a lot before the conference about context and meaning. Why was I speaking about this to a European audience, and why there? The conference was for the Interreg Europe ZEROCO2 project, with partners from Slovenia itself, as well as Italy, Germany, France, Greece, Finland, Malta and Lithuania, all concerned with the reduction to zero emissions from public buildings. My task was to introduce the nature of the market needs for innovation in energy reduction technology, and how such innovation can be enabled by funding mechanisms from private investment through to public grant regimes.
We are stretching our energy resources to a point where we cannot sustain our own lives, let alone those of others; and the consequent fouling of our own climate has created a pollution layer that threatens lasting and disastrous damage.
Of course, it is an issue throughout Europe. Energy. We know our habits are creating problems for the economic system we all share, Brexit or not. We are stretching our energy resources to a point where we cannot sustain our own lives, let alone those of others; and the consequent fouling of our own climate has created a pollution layer that threatens lasting and disastrous damage.
As I walked on the hillside where the Romans had built a temple to their Gods, and the Emperor Diocletian had been responsible for one of the early Slovenian Christian martyrs in 302, I looked down on the 13th century Dominican monastery where we had held our conference and had spoken about the energy crisis, and wondered, when had we felt secure? Why are we talking now about a crisis we feel we are addressing for the first time? The Huns had dispossessed the Romans, the Dominicans lasted longer, until the monastery was dissolved in 1785, when they too were dispossessed. Little more than 100 miles away to the south-west, along the Austrian border with Italy, the First World War gave rise to one of the most savage forms of trench warfare throughout that savage war, the battles fought for the mountain trenches in the Dolomites.
Around me, I saw the evidence of buried civilisations, forgotten cultures, belief systems, societies and colonising powers whose time had passed forever. Ptuj was first inhabited several millennia before the Romans came, and was captured from the Romans by the invading Huns, who in turn gave way to the Holy Roman Empire. All gone now.
Why do I feel my voice can make any difference to the fate of our civilisation today, as we contemplate the consequences of our own reckless use of the resources we need for life?
What difference is there in what I believe and what these former civilisations believed would keep us safe?
There is no security. Of course, we are afraid. Loss of water sources, more than lack of energy, is coming to get us quicker than anything else. In Cape Town, they do not know how they are going to support themselves without access to water unless it rains soon. In Syria, they have lost water supplies in so many of the rural areas that life is no longer tenable and the stream of refugees grows larger every day. The refugee boats crossing from Libya to Sicily are filled with people who depend on finding adequate water supplies in an island the majority of them have never set foot on in their lives.
So are we to see in ourselves the seeds of a downfall as complete as the builders of the monastery, or the Roman temple before it?
I am not sure. I cannot see the future, none of us can. I am not sure whether the chronic state of water sourcing, the unimaginable changes to energy usage, the threats to food production, can make a difference. I am not sure whether we have the wit to understand how to spread the food and water production capacity so that a population of more than 7 billion can survive.
But my faith, if faith it is, rests in history. I know that the men and women who worshipped at the Roman shrine; the Huns who inhabited the region after them; the Dominican Friars who lasted longer than either, but perished in the end; they all feared a terminal blow to their lives and culture.
Yet Ptuj remains. It is a town of immense beauty and charm. It is inhabited by families who have been there for centuries in some cases. It is durable.
That is the key – durability. We will survive, whether we survive in the form we know or whether we adapt to take on another. After all, Ptuj has evolved more recently than anything we in the UK can imagine. Less than thirty years ago, it was part of a geo-political structure called Yugoslavia. Now it is part of an independent state called Slovenia, ancient in conception, modern in reality.
We endure, in spite of our changing order rather than because of it. But we only endure because we work at it. Ptuj’s existence is the consequence of the continuous efforts of its population to make sure that it has enough food, water and energy to survive. This effort is regardless of the wild and uncontrollable changes in regime, never more so than in the 20th century as Hapsburg gave way to Nazi, followed by Communist, and most recently democracy and the EU.
These changes matter less than water, food and energy. So I feel justified in speaking about how we can make energy stretch to meet our needs in the new world, because this matters to everyone, whatever that new world might be. I was there to work at it with them, to share the perceptions and precepts by which the world of innovation in energy and water is governed, as far as I can see. I was there to say, the struggle to find new solutions matters, because we will find them and make them work. On that quiet, sunlit hill, where peace and silence reigns, I felt that Ptuj stands for something that is an example to us all. Courage. The courage to endure and find the solutions. We can take courage from what we see there. The people of Ptuj have been making their solutions work for more than seven millennia.