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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Sustainability

We face some enormous challenges in the world today. Shit, everybody knows that.

Climate change, peak oil, metals depletion, and the over allocation and pollution of waterways are just a few. The environment is now on the agenda for all political parties. Businesses are queuing up to promote their green credentials. Newspapers are covering ecological issues, and even the Catholic Church is talking about it.

You could be fooled into thinking we are taking environmental issues seriously.

But what are the real implications of the global economy running into the environmental limits to growth? What does it mean for our politics, our economics, our cultures and our aspirations? And do the decisions being taken by governments and corporations today in any way match these concerns?

For all the rhetoric about ‘carbon neutrality’ there is a lack of real action at nearly every level. It doesn’t take enormous thought to realise that the deeper implications of resource depletion require a much more radical, fundamental shift than any being currently discussed.

In 2030, the world population is expected to reach 8.2 billion (against 6.2 billion today). Like any animal population, human population rises and falls in line with available food supplies.

Rising oil prices will reduce the amount of food available and increase its price. We are seeing that now, with food riots or protests in Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia and Indonesia.

In addition, climate change is likely to mean both an increase in extreme weather events like hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons, and a disruption to established weather patterns, making weather prediction and crop planning more difficult.

Conflict over resources is a major element of human history, and this is predicted to increase. In addition we are likely to see an increase in migration, and increasing internal and international tension as a result.

Economic growth will become increasingly difficult to sustain, unless we can find some way of decoupling growth from resource throughput – an unlikely prospect at this stage.

There is no reason to think that we are incapable of developing systems that provide us with an increased quality of life, less reliant on stuff, but instead based on strong relationships and a sense of connectedness, a slower and richer pace of life, and work that is meaningful and ecologically restorative. But are we willing to start the transition before it is too late?

The psychological and political obstacles are significant. Real food security, energy security, water security and political security are possible, but require a rethink of the assumptions that underlie our current ways of doing things. In particular we need to design systems that do not just attempt to incorporate elements of sustainability, as a kind of clip-on to corporatism, but which incorporate ecological principles as an intrinsic aspect of the design process itself.

We are heading into an energy descent. We can either crash, or we can negotiate a landing. Either way we are going down. How we do it is up to us.

Come and hear Nandor talk about the deeper implications of resource depletion at Victoria University on Wednesday May 14 (Student Union Building, 12pm).

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