5. The transition
The role of concerned and interested individuals
While the shift to a biosensitive and therefore sustainable society will require enlightened and decisive action by governments, individuals and community groups have a crucial role to play in the transition. Without their efforts governments will not act and adequate changes will not be made.
In fact there is an ever-increasing number of people in our society who appreciate the urgent need for social change and who would like to play a part in the transition. The cultural reform movement is certainly underway. But it has a long way to go. The ecologically maladaptive assumptions of the dominant culture remain firmly entrenched.
Unfortunately many concerned individuals lack the confidence to become actively involved in the reform movement, or they feel powerless to bring about effective change.
So – what should they do? Some suggestions are offered below, based on some of the main conclusions reached in earler papers in this series. To repeat these key points:
- The achievement of biosensitivity and the avoidance of the ecological collapse of our society will require very big changes across the whole social system - including changes in the economic system, urban design, transport systems, structure of the work force, primary production, consumer behaviour, personal lifestyles, and governmental priorities.
- This will not happen unless there is a revolutionary transformation in the worldview, assumptions and priorities of the dominant culture of our society - a transformation based on a sound understanding of the human place in nature and the health needs and interdependencies of humankind and the natural environment. We call this biounderstanding.
- These changes in the dominant culture will not come about until biounderstanding becomes a core feature of the shared knowledge of the whole community.
Bearing these points in mind, we suggest that the most important role for these concerned and interested individuals at the present time is to work together bring about this vital shift in community understanding, and hence in the dominant culture. This would involve:
1. improving their own understanding of the human place in nature, the major ecological and health issues of the present day and the essential characteristics of an ecologically sustainable and biosensitive society of the future; and
2. communicating this biounderstanding and vision for the future as widely as possible in the community. This could be achieved by:
- talking with relatives, friends and acquaintances
- communicating to and interacting with the public at large – by forming or participating in community learning and action groups, by writing letters to the press, participating in talkback radio and through the Internet
- encouraging community dialogue on the practical ways and means of achieving biosensitivity
- setting an example by adopting biosensitive lifestyles
- joining, supporting or establishing political or social pressure groups campaigning for a biosensitive society.
Strong government action essential for ecological survival
Voluntary lifestyle changes by individuals and family groups are very worthwhile, but will not alone be sufficient to overcome the current ecological threats to humankind. One of the reasons for this is that there will always be a significant proportion of the population that ignores these recommendations. Even in times of warfare, when the perceived threat is blindingly obvious, governments have found it necessary to legislate for rationing petrol, food and clothing. They cannot rely on voluntary restraint by concerned citizens.
There are many other reasons why enlightened government action is an absolutely essential condition for the transition to a sustainable and biosensitive society. Here are some of them.
(1) Government policies today are aimed at promoting economic growth – which at present means increasing the intensity of resource and energy use and waste production. This is not compatible with ecological sustainability. The necessary shift to a new economic system that will satisfy human needs at much lower rates of resource and energy use than those typical of affluent societies today will not take place without government leadership and action.
(2) Manufacturing and transportation use over 70 percent of the fuel energy used in Australia. Significant reduction of these sources of carbon emissions will not be possible without strong government intervention.
(3) The present occupational structure of our society is not compatible with ecological sustainability, because the occupations of a significant proportion of the workforce actively contribute to climate change and other ecologically unsustainable changes in the environment.
The necessary major changes in the structure of the work force consistent with the shift to ecological sustainability will not come about without government action.
The challenge for government is not to safeguard or create eco-destructive jobs – but rather to provide alternative employment for members of the work force whose present occupations are inconsistent with the goal of ecological health and sustainability. Government policies need to give priority to ensuring that workers in bio-insensitive industries (e.g. coal mining) are provided with alternative, biosensitive, work (e.g. developing and maintaining clean energy sources).
(4) The shift to clean sources of energy and the elimination of fossil fuels must be a central objective in all urban planning and in the design of buildings. This will require effective government controls.
(5) Natural nutrient cycles must be restored and maintained. The necessary changes in the treatment and disposal of sewage and organic waste to ensure that nutrients are returned to farmland will not be achieved without government involvement.
(6) The revolution in learning and understanding that is a prerequisite for the achievement of biosensitivity will be greatly enhanced if there is effective government support for appropriate changes in the educational system.
For all these reasons, there is little hope of an effective transition to ecological sustainability and biosensitivity without well-informed and decisive government action. Strong regulatory measures and powerful economic incentives will be necessary to achieve the necessary changes across the whole community
But such enlightened government action is highly unlikely until there is overwhelming support for such action from an informed and concerned electorate.
Perhaps the day will come when governments, in seeking re-election, will boast of their success in improving the health of the human population at the same time as reducing industrial production, the rate of extraction of non-renewable resources and the release of pollutants.
Australia’s moral obligation
The ecological problems discussed here are global in scale - all of humankind is involved. In some respects Australia is a relatively small player on the field. For instance, although Australians make a bigger contribution than almost any other population to global climate change per capita, they are responsible for only about 1.4 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide.
On the other hand, for several reasons Australia is in a favoured position to play a leading role internationally in the transition to ecological sustainability – by showing the world how it can be done. This would be to our advantage in the long term, because it would hasten necessary change across the globe – to the benefit of all humankind, including Australians. It is noteworthy that this argument is seldom heard in the political arena.
1. Australia is in a favoured position to play this role because it has (1) many world-class scientists working on technologies for harnessing clean energy (2) plenty of sunshine and geothermal energy (3) a well-educated population – providing the opportunity for the rapid dissemination of relevant information and ideas.