On Thursday last week our head office in the UK was the location for a colourful visit from members of the Munduruku tribe and Greenpeace protesters. The topic of protest, I recognise as an important debate and it is an active debate going on all over the world; How do countries build energy infrastructure to meet an ever higher demand of energy, at the same time making it affordable and with minimum adverse environmental and social impact. In this case the Munduruku tribe is very understandably concerned about the potential negative environmental impact hydroelectric dam projects in Brazil’s Amazon would have on their environment and community.
I was sorry not to be able to make the impromptu meeting with Chief Arnaldo Kabá Munduruku and Greenpeace, but receiving one days notice via an ‘open letter’ in the FT is an unusual way to request a meeting. Had I received a letter or an email I would have made a firm arrangement with them. Contrary to subsequent reports by Greenpeace, two of my senior leadership team were able to change their schedules and were on standby to welcome the visitors. The Chief was an eloquent ambassador for his people and the meeting was conducted on all sides in a very constructive, open and respectful manner.
Firstly, let me make clear that I personally and at Siemens, we very much share the same values of environmental protection and care for communities as Greenpeace and it was good that in their meeting with us they recognized and confirmed that. Sustainability is core to Siemens culture and we have been top of the Dow Jones sustainability index since its inception.
Secondly, let me also be clear that Siemens is not involved in any hydroelectric power projects in Brazil. In fact, our information is that the mega dam project in question was recently cancelled by the Brazilian Government.
For any major infrastructure project, it is always a complex balance between matching human needs for things like access to electricity, more travel and higher energy consumption with the need to protect unique habitat and prevent further pollution of our planet.
So, these difficult issues need objective debate supported by facts and scientific evidence of all the options available, enabling Governments to consult with their communities and choose the solution that matches the needs the best and causes the least harm. Unfortunately, I have never seen a major infrastructure project that matches all criteria and everyone’s wishes.
Regarding this Greenpeace organised visit I’m afraid, I have to question both the process and balance. What was the real intention of bringing this debate to Siemens in the UK? Of course we will have all identified with the potential risk and felt emotionally touched by the Munduruku tribe and their fear of being displaced. But do we now have a clear view of what the other options are? Would these create even more social displacement or negative environmental impact? Was there enough objective evidence from all sides?
We seem to be living in a new world of fast and social media that is mainly focused on sensational headlines and with complex and emotional issues like this debate we need it to be much more thoughtful, rational and fact based.
I’m personally very concerned by this trend and that we are allowing less space for experts views and balanced debate. Michael Gove’s now famous quote during his Brexit campaign of ‘Britain has had enough of experts’ a damning example of that.
I will certainly continue to listen to experts from all sides of any debate. On this particular one, I thank Greenpeace for providing me their view, but I will not be bullied into a position through headline grabbing campaigns at very short notice. If they’d like to meet me in the future – do just contact me in the normal way!