Sustainability is the new prosperity
10 December 2012
Global environmental degradation is with us. The science is in. Measurements of ecological, carbon and water footprints, and biodiversity loss, imply stark consequences. Carrying on as usual will only make a dire world-prognosis worse. Children born now into this world will have us to thank for their diminished prospects.
So we have to do something immediately if they are to inherit a future with quality natural ecosystems, diversity and opportunity. We can't rely on political change because that would be too slow. We can't rely on the next generation because that would be too late. Substantial change requires us all to pitch in now from wherever we stand. It needs leadership - we are all leaders, we all have a sphere of influence and we can all use it for good.
We have the capacity to make decisions to improve our world. In fact, sustainability will only be realised decision by decision because it's a process to be undertaken minute by minute, not a destination to be reached some 50 years hence. So what to do? Begin with the possible at home, in the community or at work. Begin small or big - it doesn't matter - begin where you're at and believe that one thing will lead to another.
This belief is why our sustainability education book Enough for All Forever turned out to be such an eclectic collection of chapters. They come from 50 contributors with diverse backgrounds, including biologists, environmental scientists, educators, health scientists, artists, art historians, economists, geoscientists, indigenous cultural educators and lawyers. They are linked by a common commitment to do something about sustainability. The book opens with an invitation to sit with some of the elders - David Suzuki from Canada and Laklak Burarrwanga, Merrki Ganambarr and Banbapuy Ganambarr, from East Arnhem Land. Together with Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Kate Lloyd and Sarah Wright they tell about the vast and magnificent interconnectedness of the world. They end with an impassioned plea to hurry and take action to prevent its destruction.
The rest of the book is in support of their plea, providing big questions to mull over and suggestions for action. It's intended that any teacher, from kindergarten to tertiary level, can dip into it and find ideas for classes at all stages. In fact, teachers were crucial to the book's evolution. Contributors were asked to submit draft chapters to a teacher for feedback. Then in the final draft process all chapters were read by other teachers, who made comments about how they could be translated for lesson plans and activities.
All chapters shed some light on the same daunting challenge but they arise out of different life experiences and different spheres of influence: social, cultural, political, academic and business. We have deliberately sought out experts committed to doing something about sustainability from wherever they stand; but where they stand differs widely. Some discuss the challenges to businesses and how they must accept a fair share of responsibility for the social, economic and environmental effects of what they do. Yet other chapters suggest that in the face of our massive impact on the earth and all that lives on it there'll be no business if we can't get the environment right.
Our purpose is to present at least some ideas that will immediately resonate with the reader's situation and be useful in their professional or personal life. From there we hope that each idea leads to another and that people will find ways to make a difference from wherever they stand.
It could be something like making food your hobby - growing it, cooking it and eating it too, donating time to a charity or community group, shopping at Vinnies, going to festivals, theatre and cinema, participating in exercise or sport. Or it could be something like making it your mission to use less energy and water; or walking, cycling, taking the bus or train.
Maybe you are able to tackle a broader agenda, such as introducing a labelling system that helps us to become discerning shoppers; or developing a policy for using less energy at work; or building housing that will conserve materials, energy and water and respect the natural environment. If you have the power to do big things you are in a position to be remembered as someone who acted out of a concern for fairness and the greater good. If you have investments you can support positive changes in production systems and resource allocation. As a shareholder, you can influence how your funds are used. Maybe you can change corporate behaviour, make long term business development the focus rather than short term returns. Perhaps your organisation's innovations can help prompt legislative and policy changes that further societal changes and challenge fundamental values. Change is inevitable, but it need not be about giving something up. It can be about ensuring we create a future that we want.
From home, to community to the wider world, our actions make a tangled web of feedback loops that start to make living within our planetary means the norm. Meanwhile we will all find ways to deal with the likely tensions created by the ethical dilemmas and competing demands of a world striving towards sustainability - and a different kind of prosperity.
The book Enough for All Forever was launched at a special Sydney Ideas session on Thursday 6 December. Edited by Dr Joy Murray, Glenn Cawthorne, Dr Christopher Dey and Chris Andrew, it can be ordered from Common Ground Publishing.
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