The Walter Westman Lecture on Science, Humanity and the Environment

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2016 Lecture: 'Sustainability – time to move past waffle and denial?', by Dr Haydn Washington


What is sustainability? What is it we are sustaining, and for whom and how long. The word is in danger of becoming an empty shibboleth, while its cousin ‘sustainable development’ is in large part an oxymoron when society has exceeded the Earth’s limits (as we have). A child can tell one that on a finite planet you cannot grow physically forever, yet society still operates as if we can. Why? Humanity’s key problem is denial, the ability to switch off our reason and believe in the absurd. This is one reason why the term ‘sustainability’ has become buried under academic waffle and jargon. If we wish to reach any meaningful ‘sustainability’ then it is well and truly time to demystify the term and get serious about solutions, so we avoid the extinction of perhaps two thirds of life by 2100. That means confronting terms society does not like to discuss, such as overpopulation and overconsumption. It means accepting that endless growth is not only not good, it is the key driver of unsustainability. It means changing our worldview, our society and our economy. Our economy must be based within the ecological limits of the Earth, hence we need a ‘steady state’ economy. However, denial stops us from moving to the challenging but positive solutions that do exist. We can solve the environmental crisis – but only if we break the denial dam that blocks sustainability.

2016 speaker: Dr Haydn Washington

Dr Haydn Washington

Dr Haydn Washington

Dr. Haydn Washington is a visiting fellow in interdisciplinary environmental sciences at UNSW. He has a forty year history as an environmental scientist, writer and activist. He has a degree in ecology, a Masters of Science in eco-toxicology (heavy metal pollution), a Dip. Ed., and a Ph.D. 'The Wilderness Knot' in Social Ecology (2007).

Haydn has worked at CSIRO, as Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, as an environmental consultant, and as a Director of Sustainability in Local Government. He is the Co-Director of the NSW Chapter of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy.

Haydn has written books on environmental issues, the most recent being ‘Demystifying Sustainability’ (2015). He is lead editor of ‘A Future Beyond Growth’ (2016).

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