West Belconnen development
The first joint FFF - Conservation Council ACT region members event was held Thursday 23rd April. The meeting was addressed by the project managers (Riverview Group) leading the development of West Belconnen development. The Riverview Group have stated their intention to create an innovative, diverse and sustainable community and have consulted a number of community and expert groups to assist them with implementation of this intention. Frank Fenner Foundation is one such group.
The meeting held presentations from the Riverview Group, Stephen Boyden for FFF and Ginninderra Falls Community Association, and then a lively discussion ensued. The identification of areas for development is being based on a footprint AFTER the conservation areas have been identified. While much of the discussion focused on immediate concerns, such as placement of roads and protection of the Ginninderra falls, it is clear that there is opportunity for FFF to encourage an innovative and sustainable longer term approach for sectors opened up in future years.
A number of consultative workshops are planned - please check www.talkwestbelconnen.com.au or drop in to the shop front at the Kippax Centre.
The two following hand-outs by Stephen Boyden, were prepared for the meeting:
A LIFE CENTRE - FOR HEALTHY PEOPLE ON A HEALTHY PLANET
The Frank Fenner Foundation and, or, the Conservation Council should consider mounting a campaign for the creation of a new kind of institution within the West Belconnen Development – something we have talked about before and have variously called a Biological Centre, a Biocentre and a Life Centre. Here we refer to it as a Life Centre.
Canberra, like other urban centres, has a big range of cultural institutions. They include a National Gallery of Art, a Portrait Gallery, a War Memorial, a Museum of Australia, a Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Film and Sound Archives, the National Institute of Sport and a range of concert halls. There are also some public institutions focusing on non-human forms of life, like the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, the National Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum. And there are a great number of vigorous NGOs and community and student groups concentrating on a wide range of environmental and health issues.
Yet, strangely enough, there is no cultural institution in Canberra, or as far as we know in any other Australian city, that focuses on the story of life on Earth and on human civilisation as part of this story. There is no institution that provides a venue for learning about and celebrating life and for generating ideas about the way forward to a society that is truly in harmony with the life processes that underpin our existence.
We suggest that the West Belconnen Development offers a unique opportunity to rectify this deficiency in our cultural institutions.
An ideal location would be on the boundary between the urban area in the West Belconnen Development and the Nature Reserve along the Murrumbidgee.
The Life Centre would promote understanding in the community at large of the human place in nature. It would constitute a two-way bridge between scientists and the rest of the community. A major theme of the Biocentre would be the promotion of health in human populations and in the ecosystems on which they depend.
The Biocentre would be much more dynamic than a conventional gallery or museum, with a great deal of community involvement and dialogue about the way forward to a biosensitive society. It would be a hub for interaction between NGOs, government agencies, the private sector and community groups concerned with the promotion of human health and of ecological sustainability; and it would initiate projects and host courses, workshops and conferences on the achievement of biosensitivity. It would encourage inputs from the arts.
The Centre would consist of one or more buildings situated in attractive grounds covered with native vegetation. There would be at least one large hall for major public gatherings, as well as a series of smaller rooms providing a venue for convivial small group interaction, as well as a café or restaurant.
The Life Centre could make a very significant contribution to the transition to a healthy and sustainable society of the future.
ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A BIOSENSITIVE SOCIETY
The survival of civilisation and the future wellbeing of humankind will depend on radical changes in the worldviews and priorities of the dominant cultures across the world.
This is because these cultures have lost sight of our total dependence on the life processes that underpin our existence, and they have no grasp of the magnitude and seriousness of current human impacts on the ecosystems of our planet. They are generating human activities on a scale and of a kind that threaten the integrity of the living systems which underpin our existence.
At present climate change is the most critical symptom of humankind’s over exploitation of our planet; but there are many other causes for serious concern. If present trends continue unabated the collapse of civilisation is inevitable.
There are also other highly unsatisfactory features of current society, such as the major disparities in health and conditions of life across different socio-economic groups and the existence of thousands of weapons of mass destruction.
The best hope for the future of humankind lies in a transition to a society that is truly sensitive to, in harmony with and respectful of the processes of life – a society that is in tune with our own biology and with the living world around us. It will be a society that satisfies the health needs of all sections of the human population as well as those of the ecosystems of the biosphere (see Figure). We call this a biosensitive society.
Biosensitivity will be the guiding principle in all spheres of human activity – individual and collective. It will mean a biosensitive economy and biosensitive technologies, transport systems, industries, farms, forests, buildings, cities, industries and lifestyles.
A BIOSENSITIVE CULTURE
By far the most essential difference between a biosensitive society and that in which we live today will lie in the worldview and priorities of the prevailing culture.
In a biosensitive society the prevailing culture will be characterised by a profound respect for the processes of life that underpin our existence, and being sensitive to, and harmony with , these processes will be seen as what matters most.
Unlike the situation today, biosensitivity will be right at the top of the political and social agenda – reflecting the reality that we humans are living organisms, products of biological evolution and entirely dependent on the processes of life for our wellbeing and continued existence.
All the necessary changes in human activities (e.g. energy use, local food production, recycling of nutrients etc.) and in societal arrangements (e.g. the economic system, the occupational structure of the work force) will follow naturally from this seminal cultural transformation.
However, this essential cultural change will not happen unless there comes about a wave of new understanding spreading across the cultures of the globe - understanding of the story of life on Earth and of human culture and civilisation as a crucially important part of this story.
This story is of overarching significance for every one of us and for society as a whole, and yet it is known and understood by only a small minority of humankind. If it were understood by the majority the prospects for the future of humanity would be very much brighter.
We call understanding of this story ‘biounderstanding’
We believe that shared biounderstanding across all parts of society – governments, the private sector, individuals and families, educational authorities - is a precondition for the survival of civilisation.
SUMMARY OF PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
The following list of some of the most important physical features of a biosensitive society serves to remind us that the long term survival of civilisation will require radical changes in many different areas of human activity.
- Minimal use of fossil fuels and a high proportion of energy used coming from clean sources
- Extensive forestation and reforestation and other measures worldwide to sequester atmospheric carbon
- Stable consumption of materials and energy at a sustainable level
- Maximisation of local food production
- Maintaining a supply of clean water for human consumption, free of pathogenic organisms or harmful chemicals
- Farming practices that protect the biological integrity and health of soils
- Keeping natural nutrient cycles intact by returning organic waste to farmland
- Effective protection of biodiversity in all regional ecosystems and in the oceans
- No release into the atmosphere , waterways or soil of pollutants t that interfere with the health of humans and other forms of life -directly (e.g. PM2.5 and SO2 in the atmosphere, POPs in the soil) or indirectly (e.g. CFCs in the atmosphere)
- The non-existence of weapons of mass destruction
People’s lifestyles will be:
− Consistent with the biological health needs of the human species (e.g. clean air and water, healthy diet, plenty of physical exercise, the experience of conviviality)
− Consistent with the health needs of the living environment. Emphasis will be on such activities as growing food, making music, dancing, art, theatre, sport, convivial social interaction – as opposed to consumerism and fossil fuel dependent travel.
− A healthy human population with no gross disparities in health and wellbeing in different sections of the population
− Eventual adjustment of global and regional populations to levels that do not cause progressive damage to the planet’s ecosystems.
The built environment will be designed to
− minimise use of fossil fuels and increase use of clean energy
− minimise pollution
− encourage health-promoting activities (e.g. walking, cycling, convivial social interaction)
− maximise biodiversity and opportunities for local food production
The fifth ecological phase of human history will be free of weapons of mass destruction.
At present government policies and regulations, the economic system and the institutional structure of society are all geared to ever-increasing consumption of resources and, consequently, ever-increasing impact on the living world around us. They are also resulting in extreme differences in the wellbeing and material wealth of different sections of the population. These arrangements are simply not consistent with biosensitivity and the survival of civilisation
The achievement of the physical requirements for biosensitivity will therefore require big changes in societal arrangements, and biosensitivity will be at the top of the government’s agenda. There will be changes in the occupational structure of the work force. There may well be drastic reduction in working hours, resulting in reduced consumption of material resources and energy at the same time as minimising unemployment.
The most significant change of all will be in economic arrangements. In a biosensitive society the economic system will:
- be based on economic theory that reflects a sound understanding of the processes of life that underlie our existence and of the biological limits to human activities on Earth
− ensure the satisfaction of human needs in ways that do not result in a continuously increasing rate of use of material resources and energy
− progressively reduce present disparities in material wealth, health and wellbeing across human populations.
For further discussion on biosensitivity see www.fennerfoundation.org.au
Figure. Biosensitivity triangle
 We have introduced the term ‘biosensitive’ because there is a need for a single word to describe a society that sensitive to the health needs both of people and of the ecosystems of the natural environment. The expression ‘ecologically sustainable’ has come to be used widely in recent years. Of course, society must be ecologically sustainable – otherwise in the long term it cannot continue to exist. But ecological sustainability is surely the bottom line. We must aim for a society that is not only sustainable, but that also really promotes human and ecosystem health. So we are using the word biosensitive for this purpose, at least until someone comes up with a better term. For further discussion see www.fennerfoundation.org.au