Nature & Society - June 2002
This issue of Nature and Society celebrates the tenth anniversary of the incorporation of the Nature and Society Forum. So how are we getting on? Some critics claim that NSF is simply a group of well-intentioned people, who like to talk about issues but do nothing. There is a little truth in this, but indeed we do do more.
From the beginning there have been divergent views amongst members as to the relative value of actions and words. This is natural and healthy; it reflects the wide range inherent in a human population. Without the thinking and talking we would not be human. After all most of life is involved with being whatever the organism is, doing whatever is necessary to be that organism, in that particular niche. It is only with humans that reflecting on what they have done, or thinking about what they will do, has been vitally important. This ability has put humankind into an immensely powerful position, in which our actions impinge on everything else on the globe. And it is because too many people do not think enough about what they do - or, from an environmental point of view, do not think enough about matters beyond their own immediate comfort, and give no thought to connections - that the world is in such a pickle.
The Nature and Society Forum was established to make people more conscious of the links between the health and happiness of the environment and the health and happiness of humans. From the beginning some members thought it was more important to change people’s behaviour than to talk about it, for instance the way they deal with rubbish, or how they travel. This practical approach made one member organise a bike parking area at an environmental fair, to try to winkle people out of their cars. Another practical effort was to provide reusable plastic plates and mugs for sale at the National Folk Festival, plus a washing up place, to encourage festival goers to turn away from throw-aways. After a couple of years, this approach was changed to getting the festival to purchase a large number of crockery and plastic mugs, and to provide a washing up service, hiring out the mugs to stall holders. At the same time recycling services were organised for paper, glass, cans and compost. This all worked, most stall holders cooperated, but of course it was really hard work.
Nevertheless a seed had been sown, and the washing up service continued after the NSF organisers pulled out. It is very heartening to know that a much bigger effort is now being made to introduce No Waste to Landfill festivals. There is still a long way to go, as you will see from Gerry Gillespie’s report in this issue. This is what you would expect when you see what the general public does, even with the household rubbish and recycling bins that have been standard in the ACT for years. Many householders do not use their bins properly, and some do not even understand that overfull bins are difficult or impossible for the collecting trucks to manage.
This brings us back to education and understanding. The main thrust of NSF activities has been to educate through discussion, courses, conferences and publications, with a trial run on providing speakers on energy conservation to other community groups.
In addition there is a strong group working to establish a National Biocentre, an actual physical place where this type of education could continue, but with an emphasis on displays and practical demonstrations. The aim is to show people the links between humans and the rest of nature, along with practical things individuals and businesses can do to green their lifestyle, reducing their harmful effects on the environment.
On looking at human impact on the earth, it is obvious that one of our major impacts is our built environment. Someone pointed out that for most humans our preferred habitat is cleared land. We could add, cleared land with human structures built on it. So one of our best moves would be to improve the built environment by making it use less in the way of natural resources. To this end NSF has entered dialogue with builders and the housing industry. In fact it is becoming obvious that one of the best ways to achieve anything like sustainability is to work with the people who make and build things. This does not remove the need to continue trying to get everyone else to understand the connections. Just as everyone needs more knowledge to make recycling work, so too does it take knowledge and will to live properly in a solar efficient house. A passive solar house needs an active occupant!
Humans are a funny lot, with myriad vices and virtues. No one is wholly wise or totally stupid, and all are different, There is no one way to educate everyone, no one way to change behaviour. We have to try all manner of approaches; practical actions, theory and discussion. We need displays, videos, books, radio, meetings, humour and drama. We need to lead by personal example.
Trying to get people to see and understand connections is of prime importance. When you can see links everywhere it is hard to believe they are not obvious to everyone else. When you know a debate is raging about genetic modification of crops it is a shock to find that many people are barely aware of it, or think it only matters if crops are for food. When you are painfully aware of the wide range of effects of climate change, it beggars belief to find that others think it only means they’ll have warmer winters. Or that they do not understand that their own life styles are contributing to climate change. This is why every possible approach to environmental education has to be tried.
Action-oriented environmental organisations need their theoretical and educational side. Theoretical concerns need to show practical possibilities for the future. From the Wilderness Society, to the Master Plumbers’ association, to large corporations, to political parties, all have a part to play. NSF is in there, doing its bit.
Forthcoming NSF meetings
A response to health inequalities - The Peoples Health Movement and a Peoples Health Charter — Prue Borrman, Coordinator, Health Care Consumers Association ACT
My talk will discuss the vision of the movement , begun in Savar Bangladesh in December 2000. I will talk about the impulse behind the movement, what happened at the Assembly and how it continues. I would like to explore with those present ways of working toward this vision using the charter and the idea of People Health Movement circles to share information and to support the basic ideas expressed in the Charter.
Equity, ecologically-sustainable development and peace are at the heart of our vision of a better world - a world in which a healthy life for all is a reality; a world that respects, appreciates and celebrates all life and diversity; a world that enables the flowering of people's talents and abilities to enrich each other; a world in which people’s voices guide the decisions that shape our lives. There are more than enough resources to go around.
The Peoples Health Movement is a broad movement encompassing grass roots, academic, research and campaign groups across a range of areas. e.g Dag Hammersskjold Foundation, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Consumer International, Health Action International. I work for a grass roots health consumer organisation. I attended the first Peoples Health Assembly in Bangladesh in 2000.
The Double-Edged Sword - Interactions of nature and society in response to serrated tussock in Monaro
— Alice Thompson
This presentation is based on a study examining nature and society interactions in Monaro, South-east NSW, in response to the introduction and spread of the pasture weed Serrated Tussock (Nasella trichotoma). Serrated tussock is considered to be amongst the most important weed species in Monaro, providing a significant threat to the social, economic and ecological sustainability of many landholders throughout the region, and grazing properties of South-east NSW.
On a local scale, this presentation will explore broader patterns of change over time, in the context of the biophysical, social and institutional settings of the Anembo/Jerangle region, using serrated tussock as an indicator. The relative nature, timing and scale of these changes will be discussed, in order to gain an understanding of the complex interplay of human and environmental factors leading to the spread of serrated tussock, and subsequent difficulties faced by many landholders in managing the weed. Through taking an historical and integrated perspective, this study, and presentation, provides insights into the conditions where the control of serrated tussock is possible.
Report on World Summit on Sustainable Development
Interview with Stephen Boyden
Daniel Connell, former Social History Unit journalist with the ABC, talked with Stephen Boyden about his past and present roles in Nature and Society Forum
How was the Nature and Society Forum established? What were the circumstances that caused it to come together?
It all goes back to around the middle of 1991, when a small group of us got together to talk about some common interests. We found we shared the view that there is an urgent need for better understanding, throughout the community, of the processes of life, the human place in nature and the ecological and health issues facing our society today. We believed that understanding of this kind is an essential prerequisite for our society’s transition to ecological sustainability.
We recognised that there had been some improvement in the situation in recent times. There had certainly been an increase in environmental awareness in some sections of the community. But we also recognised that, as far as the community as a whole is concerned, this learning process had a long way to go - it was in need of a big boost.
Existing institutions universities, schools, the media and so on were not achieving this necessary surge in new understanding. So we felt there was a need to introduce a new element into the system a new kind of community-based organisation which would focus on life and the health of people and the natural environment, and which would provide a framework for interested people to come together, learn, discuss and debate the practical meaning of what they learn, and pass on what they have learned to others. Since no such organisation existed in our society, we decided to get one going – and after a lot of discussion we decided to call it the Nature and Society Forum – perhaps a bit of an awkward name, but it well described what we had in mind. It’s about nature, its about society and it is a forum for learning, debating and communicating.
One of the projects I understand you are involved with is the Australian National Biocentre. Now what is that and how is that different from some of the other national projects that we have got around Canberra?
I can best begin answering that by saying a little bit about the background to the Biocentre proposal. A few years ago, the Management Committee of the Nature and Society Forum decided it was time to undertake an exercise in self-examination – an assessment of the Forum’s performance, in terms of our original aims and objectives. A working group was therefore set up to do this. This group met over several weeks, and it came up with certain conclusions. One was that, while what NSF had been doing over the years was entirely consistent with its aims and objectives (that is, of improving our own understanding, and the understanding of others, of ecological and health issues), it was having no real impact on the system as a whole.
So we had to ask ourselves whether it was worth going on whether we should close down, because we were not really achieving what we set out to achieve. The group eventually decided to recommend that the Forum does continue to operate, but that it should find ways of improving its performance. It suggested that NSF could better achieve its aims and objectives of communicating this understanding to the public at large if its activities were based on what we came to call a ‘Biocentre’ that is, a place a series of buildings and some land somewhere in the ACT a physical entity which the public could identify with our theme, or slogan Healthy people on a healthy planet.
It would be a place where the NSF activities, like interactive courses, workshops, conferences, the preparation of publications and the managing of the website - a place where these activities could take place, probably more systematically and on a larger scale than at present. But it would also be a place open to the public where there would be displays and exhibitions on important and interesting ecological and health issues and themes. That was the origin of the proposal for the National Biocentre.
The working group also decided to recommend that we incorporate another proposal in the Biocentre project. At that time there was also a group in the ACT which called themselves the Australian Centre for Ecologically Sustainable Systems. Some of the members of this group were also members of NSF. They had put together a proposal for a centre where community groups - say permaculture groups, organic farming groups, as well as commercial business organizations, could showcase the various ecologically beneficial techniques or technologies that they had developed. Success stories, if you like. It would be a vehicle for encouraging industries and businesses with ecologically sustainable products to showcase them, and these demonstrations would serve as an effective marketing tool for the businesses concerned.
So NSF eventually decided to propose the establishment of a Biocentre incorporating both the education or learning component of the NSF, including courses, conferences and educational displays on important ecological and health themes, and the showcasing of ecologically beneficial technologies.
You asked how the ANB differs from certain existing organizations in ACT, such as the National Science and Technology Centre and the National Museum. In fact, the Biocentre is very different in important ways, from any existing institution in our society.
First, there is the very fact that it will focus on the processes of life and health of people and the natural environment. We have no major national institutions for the public with this orientation despite the fact that everything that goes on in society is entirely dependent on the health of these underlying processes of life.
Second, the Biocentre is different from most other institutions for the public in its emphasis on learning and thinking– and then on linking this with practice. It is also different in its emphasis on both the past and the future – asking the questions: Where have we come from? Where do we seem to be going? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?
Another difference is the involvement of the business sector, reflecting appreciation of the key role it will be playing in the transition to ecological sustainability. In fact, we see the Biocentre as providing a new framework for constructive collaboration, in the environment and health arena, between community groups, scientific and professional bodies, businesses, schools, government departments and other organizations.
And, at least as I see it, the ANB, unlike the other institutions, but like NSF, it will be characterised by a great deal of active community involvement, and it will encourage musical events, artistic displays, theatrical performances, photographic exhibitions and other activities that are in keeping with its aims and philosophy.
We believe that the Biocentre will fill a serious gap in the institutional structure of society, and that it will make an important contribution to the achievement of ecological sustainability.
Given the things you have been talking about, there are a number of major themes that I think are coming out. What, for you, are the key ideas that you think we should be thinking about as we think about the general very daunting challenge of how do we achieve sustainability?
In trying to answer that question I must go back to some things I said at the beginning of our discussion.
My work over the years has led me to appreciate the extraordinary power of human culture as a force in the biosphere. It can, of course, have some very desirable consequences. But often in the past it has also led to very undesirable situations. And I am convinced that there are aspects of our dominant culture today which are simply not consistent with the achievement of ecological sustainability. In other words, we are not going to achieve ecological sustainability until the dominant culture changes in a fairly significant way in terms of its world view, its assumptions and its priorities. And this of course, is a very serious matter, because if a society is not sustainable ecologically, it can’t be sustainable in any other way.
So, I am convinced the deficiencies, or weaknesses, of our dominant culture lie at the root of the ecological predicament, and until they are overcome, or corrected, there is little likelihood of a healthy and prosperous future for our society.
Now this is a key issue, but it is a difficult one to talk about publicly. I don’t think one will achieve anything by standing up in society and saying the dominant culture is all wrong, by telling people that their behaviours, or their values, are inappropriate.
The only hope, I believe, lies in the improvement in understanding – right across the community – of the human place in the living world – so that, on the basis of this understanding, people decide for themselves whether their world view, assumptions and priorities are appropriate.
I believe this is by far the most urgent issue at the present time. And this is where I see NSF’s and ANB’s biggest potential contribution – to play a catalytic role, in promoting /encouraging a snowballing growth in what I call ‘biounderstanding’, leading, hopefully, to changes in the dominant culture, and so to changes in patterns of human activity
To sum up: I am a moderate optimist, in that I think a transition to ecological sustainability is possible. It is within our capabilities to make this shift given the motivation. But this motivation will not come about until there is a big change in the dominant culture. And this, in turn, will not happen until there is much better understanding in all sections of society, of the human place in the living world.
First there was Stephen Boyden, passionate about getting people to understand their place in nature, their ecology, and to get them to respect the whole of nature and live in peace with it.
Then there were numerous other people, keen to spread that message. Any attempt to enumerate them is bound to have omissions; I am not going to try to mention them all. Some I particularly remember are Robyn Manley, keen to use her artistic talents and Stephanie Williams who put her editorial skills to work. Kate Mossop enlivened the newsletter/journal with her delightful sketches for several years. Phillida Hartley was strong on practical, on the ground projects and leading by example. Marie Jamieson brought forward her empathy and community health skills.
Henry Leveson-Gower kept our financial system in order for several years. Gösta Lyngå helped in many ways and still does. He is about to represent NSF at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. I, in particular, have reason to thank him for his willingness and skill in keying my handwritten work for the journal. Speaking of which, Peter Farrelly gave much time and expertise to computer work and layout of magazines, papers and newsletters.
Bryan Furnass has had ideas that he turned into conferences and resultant publications. Derek Wrigley has spent much effort and thought on design, on living sustainably, on campaigns to encourage sustainability and on suggesting interesting speakers for our meetings. John Schoonevelt has held many roles, and originated various ambitious schemes, some of which are now reaching fruition.
Some of these people have since left Canberra and we have lost touch. Some have left Canberra but remain members, more or less active. Others continue to be very active.
This list could go on and on. Indeed the amount of work done has been remarkable. There are many more people currently working on the Biocentre project, the Sustainability Science team, the Metabolism of Canberra and Region, the nomination of Canberra as a UNESCO world Biosphere Reserve. To name these people would make the list too long, but you can read about their work in this issue of Nature and Society.
A special mention should be made of our benefactor and patron, Frank Fenner. Both as Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research and as foundation Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at ANU, Frank was a colleague and supporter of Stephen Boyden’s ideas. He has been particularly active in the Biocentre project and has also given generous financial support to NSF, enabling us to employ our invaluable office manager, Sue Gilbert.
Oh, and a final mention of Robert MacArthur, early secretary of NSF, who said to me “I’ve joined an organisation that may interest you.” So, here I am. Thank you Robert for enabling me to fulfil the only ambition I ever had as a child, to be an essayist, and to spend a decade working with such an interesting bunch of people.1
— Jenny Wanless
1 And from Jenny Wanless we have got all those thought-provoking editorials, those “Farrago” snippets of relevant issues and numerous reports from meetings over the years. Thank you Jenny! (typist’s comment).
Education and the Australian National Biocentre
contributed by the ANB Education sub-committee
During 2001–2002, the ANB Education Committee developed a set of educational principles and inaugurated four programs demonstrating the principles: Canberra World Heritage Biosphere Reserve; the bioregion as an educational tool; the national environmental curriculum, and the Earth Charter Learning Exchange. Members have taken part in activities connected with Bushcare, the Murray Darling Basin Committee, the National State-of-the-Environment Report 2001, the Earth Charter, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Sharing the Journey: Australians’ Transition to Sustainability
To promote the ANB Vision of an 'equitable, healthy and sustainable world,' the ANB Education Committee has developed educational principles for everyone involved in ANB activities, as follows:
• Everyone is both a learner and a teacher - This is about sharing in the learning process, and respecting all knowledges. It allows for valuing local knowledge, as well as specialist knowledge.
• Education means sharing power - Participatory learning involves mutual respect for each other’s learning, exchanging stories, working together on a project, listening to each other, and enjoying the learning.
• Education brings social change and transforms understanding of the world - To make the transition to more ecologically sustainable living, people and their communities can share their knowledge of what works, and what are practical social changes. The ANB can give support and resources to enable the exchange of such learning.
• Learning brings personal growth and understanding of one’s potential in the world - The ANB can provide mentors, peer support and co-counselling networks, to value people’s capacities for imagination, creativity, courage and initiative in making changes for an ecologically sustainable world.
• Education takes place in a learning community which is inter-generational and inter-cultural, and integrates the perspectives of community, specialists, government and industry - In this global information era, we can construct knowledge by sharing local community experience with specialised knowledge from research, from professions and industry, and with the strategic processes of politics and administration.
By a more holistic focus, we can initiate more effective ways to a sustainable future.
• Co-learning generates new knowledge through: inspiration and adventure, passion and contemplation, thinking and doing, challenge and security.
Where are we going and how can we get there?
In sharing the journey, and exploring the options for advancing towards sustainable development, our building structures and educational programs are designed as successive interactive experiences along themes:
• Our only home: the Biohistory in each of us; evolution; the beauty and fragility of life. Who are we now?
• Where are we now? How did we get to here? Every ecological act has ecological consequences. Our place in the world: Bioregions and our identity; regional metabolism; Sustainabilty Science; Food, nutrition and disease. Healthy people and a healthy environment
• Where could we go? How low energy lifestyles work and are attractive. Solar technologies. Waste minimisation ideas. Sustainably built structures and designs. Fuel cell cars and eco-friendly transport.
• How can we get where we want to go? Fair go for future generations. Decision making for alternative futures; personal, communal, industrial, and governmental, sustainable practices.
Canberra Biosphere Reserve proposal
Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognised UNESCO designated areas conserving ecosystems. Australia has 12 such Reserves, at present, and the NSF is proposing that Canberra be another Biosphere Reserve.
This is as a true Bush Capital, symbolising our country’s spirit, and based on biophysical attributes together with its links to the local community and the whole country. Also, its links through being the Capital of Australia to and from the World.
The idea is a synthesis of ecosystem, economics and society, providing for all sections of the community to play a role and take on-going responsibilities for more effective and integrated use of our existing environmental knowledges, and for creative problem solving.
The proposal is to shift perceptions about Canberra as much more than just a political capital, and as a Bush Capital it represents and honours our 'Spirit of Place' as a collective identity, and our heritage links to the Australian landscape. It can promote the connection of specialist knowledges with community knowledge and strengthen community engagement in making changes needed for a sustainable future.
Bioregions, our needs and our identity
Australia can be seen as a series of biogeographical regions, or bioregions, which can form a more meaningful way that people relate to, and understand, their particular place along with other living things. We all know that as humans, like other creatures, we need to breathe clean air, drink safe water, eat good food, be sheltered, and feel we belong.
Bioregions provide a way to focus on the characteristics of where we live, our home bases whether in towns and cities or country areas, valuing each unique environment for why we like living there, and knowing the stories of the places - ours, our families’, our friends' and our neighbours’ stories and those of our workplaces. They are where we earn a living and can look after each other. They are where we understand that we are in a changing universe, and live among generations of living things. By valuing the environment in which we live, we can take actions that are sustainable for a healthy future.
These concepts and the questions arising about concerns for a healthy future, are the basis for designing a Visitors Centre and a range of outreach activities around the country.
National Environmental Curriculum
The ANB Education committee has examined the relevance of the ANB Education policy to the National Curricula of Australia. In a prepared paper, we have shown the many important and relevant outcome statements for various key learning areas, like Studies of Society and Environment, Health, Technology (Design), Science, English, and the Arts. These statements are requirements for Australian Schools, and profile over the School Years Kinder to Year 12.
For example, the English and The Arts Curricula provide for the expression of values we hold about people and the environment. These can give powerful connections in their expression, and promote changes.
The Studies of Society and Environment Curriculum gives outcomes for skills in investigating, communicating and participating, as well as concepts which include natural and social systems, resources and place and space. Each of these has detailed statements for groups of years during Primary and Secondary Education. We are opening dialogue with environmental educational avenues to link ANB activities with educational innovation in Australian environmental education.
Earth Charter Learning Exchange
The project is based on the social learning processes of open space dialogue and inquiry-based adult learning, within a framework for action developed with Australian communities. The vehicle for communication is the interactive learning community software developed by EarthTIES, a non-profit organisation teaching a Master of Integrative Studies for Endicott College, Massachusetts.
The Earth Charter Learning Exchange will have the capacity to generate self-directed learning communities in every country working on the Earth Charter, to train their qualified volunteer tutors, and to monitor continuing commitment and quality control through a team networked through the contributing countries. The aim is for the ANB node to develop a prototype, for world-wide recruitment of groups who are willing to accept dialogue-based rules for engagement, are committed to self-generated activities which further the aims of the Earth Charter’s aims, and able to nominate a volunteer tutor willing to join the support network.
Biological treatment of waste water
Peter Young, managing director of Pryme Waste Water Treatment, was the speaker at our May discussion meeting. Like most of our speakers he came across as an energetic person dedicated to doing something positive for the environment. Peter’s concern is with waste water and its impact on natural landscapes. Of course he does not believe that any water is waste, but he is very conscious that too much water, or water carrying the wrong substances, can have deleterious effects on natural systems.
Some time ago Peter met an old bushman who showed him how nature purifies the water in a creek by the combination of plant growth, aeration and sunlight, as the creek flows over rocks or rests in pools. From there on Peter worked at developing a system that uses similar methods to clean up used water.
In Pryme’s system used water is collected in an influent tank, which feeds water into two trains of biological tubes. A variety of plants is massed, suspended in baskets in the tubes, and these plants harbour colonies of bacteria and algae which are the main purifiers of the water. These living systems need light, so the tubes are made of strong, transparent plastic held in wire frames. Aerators at the bottom provide air and ensure water circulation within each tube. Water at the top flows on through a pipe to the next tube. At the end of the train is a sand filter, a UV disinfection chamber and a sludge process chamber.
One advantage of this system is that a new train can be added if an extra capacity is needed later, so the whole cost does not need to be financed at the beginning. Another advantage of the system is that (without the use of chlorine) it can deliver a zero E coli count, as required by health authorities, something nature does not achieve.
The system has also proven its adaptability, coping with freezing water, and with very variable use. A Pryme treatment system was installed for the Tidbinbilla Visitors’ Centre three years ago. It functions well despite large visitor numbers at weekends, interspersed with almost no visitors during the week.
Water treatment plants have been or are being installed at a school and at a couple of rural residential developments near Canberra. Yanchep National Park in Western Australia is installing a system, and much further afield, the Chinese are interested.
The success of such biological waste water treatment depends to a certain extent on the education of the users. People must not pour hazardous chemicals into the system: they would kill the plants. They need to moderate their use of chemical cleaners, they need to learn what the system can and cannot do, they need to treat the system with respect. Then it will serve them well.
— Jenny Wanless
Science at the Shine Dome: transition to sustainability
symposium report by Bryan Furnass
In 1992 the Rio Conference on the Environment, and the birth of Nature and Society Forum exemplified increasing awareness at the global and community levels of the impact of human activities on the natural world. One decade later, a public symposium on Transition to Sustainability has been held at the Australian Academy of Science as a preliminary to the proposed Rio+10 conference in Johannesburg.
The Academy of Science has traditionally been mainly concerned with promoting the specialist disciplines of its membership. By way of contrast, this symposium recognised the urgent need to develop a trans-disciplinary approach between the bio-physical and social sciences if sustainability is to be achieved. This will require a ‘triple bottom line’ of trade-offs between the economy, society and the environment, with efficient governance to conserve non-renewable resources and minimise pollution.
Symposium contributors were drawn from disciplines in the biological, geophysical, environmental, engineering and social sciences and economics. The topics covered included social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, and integrated systems related to renewable energy and water supplies. Many of the problems which were cited are familiar to NSF members — fragile ecosystems, human population increase, resource inequalities, rising atmospheric CO2 levels (the highest for 20 million years), dry land salinity, precarious water supplies and loss of biodiversity, in Australia and globally.
Economic development has hitherto tended to ignore ‘externalities’ such as resource depletion, pollution, land and water degradation and particularly inter-generational inequities. There is a need to ‘internalise the externalities’ to achieve sustainability and equity for both the industrialised and developing world, yet ESD is not yet readily embraced either by government or industry. The Natural Step and other NGOs were cited as potential contributors to long term solutions.
There is no reliable energy supply for one third of the world’s population and oil supplies are expected to plateau in 10 years time. Yet electricity demand is predicted to rise by 50% by 2020, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. Hence the urgent need for a partnership between science and industry to develop large-scale renewable energy systems with low carbon emissions. Solar energy, wind power, coal liquefaction, CO2 entrapment, a hybrid car using half the fuel and producing 10% of emissions of current vehicles, with the potential development of hydrogen/fuel cell cars, were envisaged as feasible alternatives to the present high carbon fuels.
Some small scale gains in human responses to the environmental crisis were reported. These included a rise in the whale population, improvement of city air quality following the introduction of lead-free petrol, reduction in use of CFCs, and a return of native species when cats and foxes are removed from the environment. But major global problems remain unresolved.
Although no long-term goals have been formulated, symposium contributors agreed that Australia has the intellectual and material capacity to become a world leader in the transition to sustainability, in parallel with the chance to develop new opportunities for business, employment and economic growth. Much will depend on community education in applied sustainability science, and promotion of the three Rs — 're-cycle, replace, refrain'. As NGOs, NSF and ANB could support the Academy of Science in these educational initiatives, following the dictum 'when people lead, their leaders follow'.
World Summit on Sustainable Development
At the end of August and early September, delegates from the whole world will meet at Johannesburg to discuss and hopefully agree on ways to make our civilisation and our planet more sustainable. This meeting comes 10 years after the Rio Conference, in which similar issues were discussed and some decisions made. According to most environmentalists the results of that conference did not meet expectations and the world is not in a better shape environmentally and socially now than before Rio.
Johannesburg will host two conferences, one intergovernmental and one of civil society, Aug 19–Sep 4. An NGO conference will be held, presumably as part of the civil society conference Aug 19–25.
The Intergovernmental Conference
From the Johannesburg intergovernmental conference there are three expected outcomes:
(1) political declarations from world leaders on principles
(2) intergovernmental programs of action; the draft of this part has been the focus of considerable activity
(3) voluntary agreements and partnerships, ie. coalitions of those countries and organisations that are willing to take part.
Outcomes (1) and (2) are of type I meaning that they may be carefully worded but they are binding on all parties. Outcomes (3) are of type II, ie. they can be quite far reaching and do not need negotiations but are only valid for the countries and organisations that are part of the agreements.
The issues singled out for priority attention have been:
• sustainable management of the oceans;
• national level governance; this deals with combating poverty, corruption and such issues; and
• sustainable land management
The Civil Society Conference
This conference is held simultaneously but at a different venue. Organisations accredited by the UN are entitled to send delegates. NSF has achieved accreditation as one of about 700 organisations, of which around a dozen are from Australia. It is expected that about 60,000 delegates will meet at this conference of civil societies from all over the world.
NSF being the Australian host of the Earth Charter, Brendan Mackey will be working towards its endorsement.
I have taken on to represent the Forum on three other issues:
• A treaty to protect and share the global water commons
• A treaty to share the genetic commons
What actually will happen depends very much on the agenda which is still being set, but obviously the NGOs can only expect to be part of type II outcomes, ie. agreements that are voluntary and not binding on the governments. However, there is expected to be some degree of interaction between the two conferences, so that declarations from the civil society meetings would be presented at the intergovernmental conference.
It is a great opportunity for me to represent the Forum at this conference and I hope to be able to present my impressions from it at the monthly meeting of NSF on October 16th.
— Gösta Lyngå
— John Schooneveldt