Cornerstones of Sustainability

G’day, you may have read my letter headed “Check your figures-it’s a gas” in last week’s Herald.  Well, that led to the Editor agreeing to a series of monthly pieces on climate change and sustainability.  I hope you will be stimulated to respond with comments and questions.  Today I cover cornerstones of Sustainability; we’ll deal with specific issues in future episodes.

 Gro Brundtland defined sustainability as “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (1987)1  and John Elkington coined the term ‘Triple bottom line’ (TBL) in 1994 as a way to “capture(s) an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organisational (and societal) success, that being economic, ecological and social”2.  These are essential concepts for all decision making at the personal, business and governmental level.  In our hearts we all know that when social, environmental and financial impacts, today and into the future are considered we are on the way to making good decisions, while considering only short term financial implications is a recipe for bad outcomes.

 Sadly, our politicians appear to consider growth as the only evaluation of success, yet at the same time our planet’s capacity remains static, resulting in problems of ‘climate change’, ‘peak oil’ and an escalating population.  Something has to give; we are fast reaching the point at which this planet cannot support any additional growth.  Growth economics is a giant pyramid scheme which like all pyramid schemes is destined to collapse; leaving our children to pick up the pieces.  There are better way of defining success, through a matrix of indicators such as social wellbeing, cultural richness and ecological biodiversity in combination with our ecological footprint, and yes fiscal responsibility is important, but not the be all and end all, money should be the servant of society, not its master.

 Australians emit 18.1 tonnes of CO2-e per person annually3, making us one of the highest polluters on the planet.  If all the people on earth enjoyed that same levels of consumption, it is estimated we would need 7 planets to support us4.  Are you going to be the one who tells people in developing nations they cannot aspire to a lifestyle that is far more modest than yours?  Is this a fair divide?  Of course not!  In the absence of a couple of planets being available on ebay we all need to achieve a carbon footprint that is both sustainable and equitable.  That level is around 2.5 tonnes of CO2-e per person.3 Indians are surging towards that level from their current low base of 1.3 tonnes per person3 so Australia needs strategies in place to reduce our CO2-e by about 70%.  I look forward to look at how this can be done next time, any ideas?

 Publishe in Fremantle Herald 6th February 2010

Please contact Herald or author for references.

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