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Pacific Ecologist

The New Frontier - Pioneering Sustainability

Editorial from Pacific Ecologist issue 10 Summer 2005 by KAY WEIR

On 30 March, yet another study, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report highlights the global environmental crisis. The MA, conducted by 1,300 experts from 95 countries warns 60 percent of ecosystem services supporting life on Earth e.g fresh water, fisheries, air and water regulation, and regional climate are being degraded or used unsustainably. This adds to a stream of recent reports saying similar things.

Why does sustainability remain elusive worldwide despite thousands of tomes written and intergovernmental meetings held over decades on the subject? A curious factor of our times is although there's widespread recognition of development causing mounting environmental and social problems, both international and national bodies continue to promote unsustainable policies inducing dangerous degradation of essential resources. Even more curious is the insistent promotion to third world countries of an unsustainable development model with all its destructive ways.

Policies beloved of international financial institutions, such as deregulation, privatisation and direct foreign investment, unfortunately followed slavishly by national governments, can be easily shown to be inimical with efforts to conserve the environment and resources on which we depend for our existence. As Dr Vandana Shiva says in her article, when a vital resource such as water is privatised, it tends to be managed for highest financial returns and rundown and degraded, rather than for ecological maintenance.

Yet if communities respect and function within the hydrological cycle, water will continue to be available for people's essential needs. Thus, in a region in India which never had water scarcity, within a year of water being privatised, Coca Cola, by pumping over a million litres of water daily for the bottled water market, managed to make 3 lakes dry up. It's pleasing to note the Kerala High Court ruled Coca Cola's water take as illegal, creating severe water shortages, and there's been a huge backlash against Coke in India. But this happened only after people suffered and hundreds of women went to jail.

Alas, there are many other examples of privatisation, causing havoc, yet still it's blithely promoted, despite all too observable ill effects. In this issue of Pacific Ecologist we continue to show ways out of the problems of unsustainable development of the consumer society.

Peter North finds increasing consumption of finite nonrenewable energy resources cannot continue for much longer and wonders when countries are going to invest the remaining hydrocarbon energy in renewable energy projects, instead of driving cars around in aimless circles and burning it up on holidays in exotic places.

Ted Trainer tells us the world's population could live well on renewable energy, but the consumer society cannot be supported by it. He also outlines plans for people to begin building self-sufficient societies now.

Edward Goldsmith, says a rapid switch from industrial agriculture to robust sustainable agricultural practices is essential for food security and to prevent the world's eroding soils from releasing massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, and causing runaway climate change.

Michel Fanton reports on his project to protect the caretakers of extraordinary banana diversity in the Solomons' Island of Makira from the wiles of powerful corporations, whose monocultural industrial bananas are suffering disease.

Jim Kebbell says to survive, humanity must develop an environmental ethic, where we see life as a collective whole.

Caroline Smith describes how permaculture and organics have a key role to play in the shift to sustainable societies, giving Australian perspectives.

David Pimental discusses the need for good farming practices and methods to conserve water resources with water shortages threatening humanity's food supply.

John la Roche informs on low-cost, low-tech methods helping some of the world's poorest people with clean water and sanitation.

Pam Parsons reports on a marae community water project in Hokianga in New Zealand, and Caroline Girling writes about a dedicated group of school volunteers looking after streams in the Auckland region.

Better ways of measuring progress than the limited Gross National Product are needed, John Shaw writes, describing New Zealand initiatives of the General Progress Indicator. Finally, a sustainable community in Colombia founded 30 years ago by Paolo Lugari, is living proof of the practicality of sustainable communities even in harsh conditions. If they can do it there, Lugari says, it can be done anywhere.

The new frontier is pioneering sustainability now, finding out about it and learning to live in context with the environment, limiting material possessions, having car-free days, buying organic food, working on a permaculture farm, perhaps writing submissions to government on unsustainable policies, creating or moving to an ecological community, there are many things to be done. As Ted Trainer says, given the current global situation, is anything else more likely to succeed?

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