The environment: a time to choose our future

To anyone with even a modest understanding of humanity's place in nature and our absolute dependence on the natural world, the response of governments and institutions to the massive environmental changes the world is now facing appears morally and ethically negligent.

In the face of human induced climate change and a mass extinction crisis we urgently need to fill the gaps in our knowledge of how natural systems work and of how to protect, sustain and restore them. We need to recognize the economic value of all of the ecological services provided by nature. We need to support economic initiatives which reduce our ecological footprint and help to restore natural systems. But most importantly and urgently we simply need to act in ways we have known to be right for many decades.

Who can believe that we still log old growth forests; that we still clear virgin bush; that we refuse to sign the Kyoto protocol; that we won't support the development of renewable energy; and that we can surreptitiously promote uranium mining, nuclear enrichment and nuclear waste dumps behind a stage managed, false debate about nuclear energy and global warming.

These actions go beyond policy failure to reflect a moral void and a deep disregard for the gift of life.

Opposing this indifference is civil society. It is not an overstatement to say that the hope for the world lies in community care and action.

But the pressures on civil society as an independent voice for the community are mounting.

Consider, for instance the impact of the lawsuit by Gunns Limited against 17 individuals and 3 environmental organizations; and of the pressure to remove the charitable status (and therefore the right to receive tax deductible donations) of many ‘not for profit' environmental organizations. There is a determined campaign to marginalize voices from the community who champion environmental protection and therefore an urgent need to strengthen the right of all Australians to free speech and peaceful protest.

Ambitious ventures like this are among the many similar global initiatives that are helping to re-shape our common future. For instance, this initiative sits very comfortably with the global ‘Earth Charter' initiative launched at the peace palace in The Hague on June 29, 2000.

The Wilderness Society has always understood the power of the community to bring about change. We have seen this power in every major community based environmental campaign. Mostly these campaigns have focused on saving beautiful and irreplaceable parts of our natural heritage.

What we are now experiencing is the power of an idea to catalyse major environmental change.

TWS embarked on our own highly ambitious ‘forever' project known as WildCountry some five years ago. Exploring new conceptual and research ground with leading scientists to understand how nature works and applying that knowledge in long term, landscape scale conservation projects with diverse stakeholders has given TWS the confidence to aim for a nature conservation revolution.

The response from the community to a powerful idea has been extraordinary and unexpected so early in the long journey towards protecting and restoring ecological processes across the entire Australian continent.

So how do we shift governments to hold a vision and develop environmental policy frameworks and programs that last for more than their parliamentary term? The answer lies in building strong community support across the political spectrum.

We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity can still choose its future.

If we care for the Earth and each other we can still avoid the risk of destroying ourselves and the diversity of life. But fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions and ways of living.

We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is about being more, not having more.

We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment and we must act on that knowledge.

We do not have to choose between the uncertain and chaotic future posed by escalating global warming and a purportedly greenhouse friendly but ultimately far more toxic nuclear future.

I encourage everyone to work towards the commendable goals outlined in ‘Our Common Future'.

This article is an edited version of a speech given at the launch of Reclaiming Our Common Wealth: policies for a fair and sustainable future at NSW Parliament House on Tuesday June 13.

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