Friday, April 01, 2005
The biggest issue of all?
Dr Robert Watson
Sustainability or Market Forces
There is no doubt that there have been advantages that have accrued from the ‘Market Forces’ ideology for some countries and for some people, but it has come at a price. Capitalism, at its best, is efficient but hardly a moral construct. The promised ‘level playing fields’ and the ‘trickle down' theories of sharing wealth are hard to see. The rich have got richer and the poor poorer and the ‘middle class’ more insecure than ever!
Capitalism is also not good at looking too far into the future, or worrying about unintended consequences of increasing production – in particular how it effects the environment or the lives of people affected by the changes.
On Thursday night, on ‘Campbell on Three’, there was a enlightening, or even frightening, interview with Dr Robert Watson the Co- Chairperson on the recently issued ‘Millennium Ecosystem Report.’ Dr Watson is the Chief Scientist for the World Bank.
We are now in a battle between environmental sustainability, the health of the planet, and human need – or greed!
In reply to the question that the report paints humans as arrogant, selfish vandals the Dr replied, ‘fundamentally yes!’
A few facts and figures to consider:
More land claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than the entire 18th ad 19th centuries.
25% of the fish stock is currently being harvested
20 % of coral reefs destroyed since 1980
90 % of all large ocean predators have disappeared.
12% of all birds 25% of mammals and over 30% amphibians are threatened with extinction.
I also can’t believe that there are no more cod left on the Cod Banks off Canada; we were told at school that this was an endless resource! And recently we have been told that oil reserves will peak 2020 -2030 but no one seems too concerned!
So what did the Dr suggest needs to be done?
‘We have to stand back and look at the current situation. If we continue with business as usual, to meet current demand, we will degrade our ecosystem causing even greater problems.’
‘But if we change our habits now and take a full holistic review we can realize a positive outcome.’
To the question, ‘How are we fowling our nest’ the Dr replied:
‘Ocean resources are being depleted, the quality and supply of water is being degraded, fragile landscapes are under pressure, and we have over used nitrogen fertilizer which is leaching into rivers and oceans causing 'dead spots'. And we continue to fragment our habitats’ – ignoring the vast range of ecological interconnections that exist.
So what should we do the Dr was asked?
‘We need to value and manage our ecosystems as valuable resources .Too many agricultural subsidies are leading to environmental degradation .We need to invest in green technology that will make us more efficient and we need to look at the ways we use and produce energy’
The amazing thing was that Dr Watson remains, even after all the evidence of catastrophe, optimistic and convinced that we can still remedy the situation and save the world.
But he said, 'It will require a new mindset. We need to recognize the tradeoff between agricultural production and the need to protect the purity of our air and water.’
‘If governments take on this message; if the private sector takes it seriously; and if we empower local communities, we have a fighting chance to balance our human needs and protect our wonderful important ecological systems.’
Schools must play an important part in developing this new ecological mindset but this will be problematic if we continue to teach in a fragmented way. Indigenous people have always appreciated the interconnectedness of natural things as have environmentalists. Now scientists are trying to bring this awareness to all of us.
What is the challenge for those in schools?
An important value, underpinning all school programmes, should be the need to understand the interconnectedness of all life, and the importance of protecting the health of our planet, both locally and internationally.
I wonder how many schools teach this vital value. Environmental literacy may be the most important literacy of all?
‘Life forces’ not ‘market forces’ should drive the 21stC