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2020 VISION FOR A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY

MELBOURNE SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY INSTITUTE


The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, brings together researchers from different disciplines to help create a more sustainable society. It acts as an information portal for research at the University of Melbourne, and as a collaborative platform where researchers and communities can work together to affect positive change. This book can be freely accessed from MSSI’s website: www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au.


Cite as: Pearson, C.J. (editor) (2012). 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne Published by Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute in 2012 Ground Floor Alice Hoy Building (Blg 162) Monash Road The University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia Text and copyright © Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission of the publisher. A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the catalogue of the National Library of Australia at www.nla.gov.au 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society, ISBN: 978-0-7340-4773-1 (pbk) Produced with Affirm Press www.affirmpress.com.au Cover and text design by Anne-Marie Reeves www.annemariereeves.com Illustrations on pages 228–231 by Michael Weldon www.michaelweldon.com Cover image © Brad Calkins | Dreamstime.com Proudly printed in Australia by BPA Print Group


Foreword

T

he last two centuries have seen extraordinary improvements in the quality of human lives. Most people on earth today enjoy access to the necessities of life that was once available only to the elites. Most people enjoy longevity, health, education, information and opportunities to experience the variety of life on earth that was denied even to the rulers of yesteryear. The proportion of humanity living in absolute poverty remains daunting, but continues to fall decade by decade. The early 21st century has delivered an acceleration of the growth in living standards in the most populous developing countries and an historic lift in the trend of economic growth in the regions that had lagged behind, notably in Africa. These beneficent developments are accompanied by another reality. The improvements are not sustainable unless we make qualitative changes in the content of economic growth. The continuation of the current relationship between growth in the material standard of living and pressures on the natural environment will undermine economic growth, political

stability and the foundations of human achievement. The good news is that humanity has already discovered and begun to apply the knowledge that can reconcile continued improvements in the standard of living with reduction of pressures on the natural environment. The bad news is that the changes that are necessary to make high and rising standards of living sustainable are hard to achieve within our current political cultures and systems. Hard, but not impossible. That is a central message from this book, drawn out in Craig Pearson’s concluding chapter. This book introduces the reader to the many dimesions of sustainability, through wellqualified authors. Climate change is only one mechanism through which current patterns of economic growth threaten the natural systems on which our prosperity depend. It is simply the most urgent of the existential threats. Climate change is a special challenge for Australians. We are the most vulnerable of the

v


developed countries to climate change. And we are the developed country with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per person. There are roles for private ethical decisions as well as public policy choices in dealing with the climate change challenge. This book is released at the time of ‘Rio+20’, a conference in Brazil to review the relatively poor progress we have made towards sustainability in the past 20 years, and soon after the introduction of Australia’s first comprehensive policy response to the global challenge of climate change. Australia’s emissions trading scheme with an initially fixed price for emissions permits comes into effect on 1 July 2012. The new policy discourages activities that generate greenhouse gases by putting a price on emissions. The revenue raised by carbon pricing will be returned to households and businesses in ways that retain incentives to reduce emissions. Part of the revenue will be used to encourage production and use of goods and services that embody low emissions. The policy has been launched in controversy. Interests that stand to gain from the discrediting of the policy argue that it is unnecessary either because the case for global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the associated climate change has not been proven, or that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians. The health of our civilisation requires us to bring scientific knowledge to account in public policy. Everyone who shares the knowledge that is the common heritage of humanity has

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a responsibility to explain the realities to others wherever and whenever they can. The argument that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians can be answered by seeking honestly to understand what others are doing. The critics of Australian policy argue that the world’s two largest national emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, are doing little or nothing to reduce emissions, so that it is either pointless or unnecessary for us to do so. China has advanced a long way towards achieving its target of reducing emissions as a proportion of economic output by 40 to 45 per cent between 2005 and 2020. It has done this by forcing the closure of emissions-intensive plants and processes that have exceptionally high levels of emissions per unit of output, by imposing high emissions standards on new plants and processes, by charging emissionsintensive activities higher electricity prices, by subsidising the introduction of low-emissions activities, and by new and higher taxes on fossil fuels. China has introduced trials of an emissions trading system in five major cities and two provinces. This adds up to a cost on business and the community that exceeds any burden placed on Australians by the new policies – bearing in mind that the revenue from Australian carbon pricing is returned to households and businesses. The US Government has advised the international community of its domestic policy target to reduce 2005 emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. President Barack Obama said


to the Australian Parliament that all countries should take seriously the targets that they had reported to the international community, and made it clear that the United States did so. United States efforts to reduce emissions are diffuse but far-reaching. They now include controls on emissions from electricity generators, announced in March 2012, effectively excluding any new coal-based power generation after the end of this year unless it embodies carbon capture and storage. From the beginning of next year they will include an emissions trading system in the most populous and economically largest state, California. The United States is making reasonable progress towards reaching its emissions reduction goals, with some actions imposing high costs on domestic households and businesses. Australia has now taken steps through which we can do our fair share in the international effort, at reasonable cost. It would be much harder and more costly to do our fair share without the policies that are soon to take effect. What Australians do over the next few years will have a significant influence on humanity’s prospects for handing on the benefits of modern civilisation to future generations. This book will help Australians to understand their part in the global effort for sustainability. Ross Garnaut University of Melbourne 15 April 2012

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Contents Foreword by Ross Garnaut Table of Contents

v viii

Author Biographies

x

Drivers

1

1 Population Rebecca Kippen and Peter McDonald

2

2 Equity Helen Sykes

10

3 Consumption Craig Pearson

17

4 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change David Karoly

27

5 Energy Peter Seligman

37

People

47

6

Ethics Craig Prebble

48

7

Culture Audrey Yue and Rimi Khan

57

8

Awareness and Behaviour Angela Paladino

64

9

Local Matters Matter Kate Auty

70

10 Public Wisdom Tim van Gelder

79

11 Mental Health Grant Blashki

86

12 Disease Peter Doherty

94

13 Corporate Sustainability Liza Maimone

104

14 Governance John Brumby

114

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Natural Resources

123

15 Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Rodney Keenan

124

16 Water Hector Malano and Brian Davidson

132

17 Food Sunday McKay and Rebecca Ford

141

18 Zero Carbon Land-Use Chris Taylor and Adrian Whitehead

150

Cities

161

19 Changing Cities Peter Newman and Carolyn Ingvarson

162

20 Affordable Living Thomas Kvan and Justyna Karakiewicz

170

21 Built Environment Pru Sanderson

177

22 Infrastructure Colin Duffield

184

23 Transport Monique Conheady

192

24 Adaptive Design Ray Green

200

25 Handling Disasters Alan March

210

Outcomes

221

26 Twenty Actions Craig Pearson

222

Further Reading

234

Index

241

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26 Twenty Actions Craig Pearson

W

e have created a society that is not sustainable. We didn’t design it that way through malice or greed; it was an accident, we were all party to its creation. But now we’re faced with the realisation that we’ve gone down a cul-de-sac, and it is high time we changed course. The word ‘sustainable’ itself has been bandied about so much in recent years that it’s worth revisiting – derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold and sus, up), it means ‘capable of being maintained or held up’. Unsustainable means something that can’t be maintained or held up. There is consensus in the world of science that our current system of society is unsustainable. So it’s clear: there really is no alternative to changing our course, there is no ‘Plan B’ that supports current consumption and pollution behaviours while delivering sustainability. Although nobody in particular is to blame for creating this unsustainable society, future generations will have every right to hold this one responsible for not responding to the tell-tale signs, for dilly-dallying in the face of irrefutable evidence, and for digging our heels in to protect our own selfish and preposterously short-term interests. Our governments and

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corporations put ever-increasing subsidies, taxes, operating and capital finance, and media campaigns into maintaining the way we do things currently rather than beginning the journey to a necessary alternative. This is ‘the critical decade’. Between now and 2020, we have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to progress down the road to a sustainable society. As emphasised in this book, the journey will engage many issues and activities. Interestingly, and probably contrary to popular opinion, our authors believe that most of the issues and activities relate to people: our ethics, behaviours, financial objectives and rewards. There is no metaphorical silver bullet in these pages; instead there are practical and manageable steps we can take towards a safer, more secure future.

What Is Our Destination? Let us develop further the metaphor of a journey. A journey implies a goal or destination, which in this case is a state of mind and a way of living. There is ample evidence that current consumption and carbon pollution are leading us to a less attractive and more inequitable future. And if current comparisons within and between countries are any guide, these forces


Twenty Actions

will lead to greater instability, crime, poverty and less happiness even among the rich. That’s clearly where we’re heading, unless we choose to change course. What is ‘a sustainable society’? It’s not Utopia or a totalitarian state. It’s not radically different to what we know today. Certainly nowhere near as radical a change to society as that brought about by mobile phones or the advent of the internet. It’s simply about modifying our habits, our lifestyle, our thinking. It is in everyone’s interest to work to create a sustainable Australian society: an affordable, globally competitive economy that

emits zero carbon, is less consumptive, more equitable, and provides personal fulfillment, longevity and reasonable health. Changing sources of power, types of transport and expectations of consumption will get us to sustainability; it doesn’t require the overthrow of society as we know it or the emergence of new forms of government. Nor will it require self-sufficiency in every home garden or for us all to live in tents. In fact, a sustainable society could look remarkably like today’s. The reason many climate scientists bang on about how bad the future might be is only

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2020

A snapshot of a sustainable Melbourne It’s 2020, and we’ve heeded the call to act in the critical decade. Led by some inspirational leaders, we made the switch to creating a sustainable society and realised it didn’t require that big a shift after all – not when we pull together. We dress the same but walk, ride and socialise more. The successors of smartphones help us organise our travel more efficiently, monitor our energy and water-use at home, and calculate our production of landfill, which recycles nutrients back to farms. These smartphones can also tell us how much fat we’re burning with increased exercise, not that we need technology to tell us how good we’re feeling. The most obvious transformation is the amount of greenery in the city: trees and planter boxes line streets, vertical gardens line walls both outside and inside buildings and roof gardens are planted for relaxation and food production. The vast ‘city beautiful’ suburbia built in the 1960–80s is changing visually too, with four-packs of townhouses on many lots and scattered infill of coffee-and-work precincts. Older parts of the city still use the regional energy grid, albeit now based on renewable sources, whereas new suburbs are self-sufficient in water and energy, trapping what they need. Most farms and regional towns have become self-sufficient too: it is smarter and cheaper. Farming is more diverse, with trees for carbon sequestration and small areas of grass set aside for the production of bioplastics, which are tougher than steel and used for vehicle parts and buildings. Freeways still exist for long-distance travel, particularly on weekends. However, using a personal car during the working week – even though they are electric or hybid – is a social no-no, like littering or smoking or stealing someone else’s clean air. Finally too, the tunnelling technology that was wasted on roads in previous decades has made a very positive difference, expanding networks of rail and light rail. Coffee tastes the same, kids still love playgrounds and footy is still king. The fundamentals of life remain unchanged. The community is more closely bound, cooperation becomes second nature, crime hasn’t escalated, the economy is healthy and the future looks rosy. It is a dynamic society and nothing like the Martian landscape sceptics were sketching back in 2012. Collectively, we shake our heads in disbelief at the things we used to do. Depending on cars to get around, burning brown coal to provide electricity, letting the tap run while we brushed our teeth. Honestly, what were we thinking?

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Twenty Actions

GOAL OF SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY

MEDIA GOVERNMENT BUSINESS INDIVIDUAL

ETHICS

Figure 1.

because we’re not yet listening and taking action. Unpleasant futures and threats lead, understandably, to public disengagement or denial, exemplified by the Leunig cartoon. In contrast, the MSSI authors of this book, each experts in their respective fields, have a very positive view of what a sustainable society will look like. Our authors portray a positive, cando approach to the future.

How Do We Get There? The journey towards a sustainable future may be encapsulated or visualised within a figure for change: a diamond, no less. At the top is our goal, an expectation of what a sustainable society might look like. It is perhaps aspirational and is certainly subject to change as we develop new technologies and smarter priorities. At the other apex is ethics, as emphasised in chapters 2, 6, and others. Between these are the four participants who need to take individual

initiatives and act collaboratively: individual people (leading alone or working within selforganised communities of common concern), business, government and media (Figure 1). While visionary leadership and persuasion may come from (extra)ordinary people and community groups, there is nonetheless a clear and important role for governments. As Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies said in 1961: ‘The essential quality of good government is that it should have sound and intelligent principles, that it should pursue great national and social objectives with resoluteness.’ Also in 1961, when the world came under a different threat, US President John F Kennedy said: ‘The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.’ And later in the same speech: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’ Kennedy’s speech gave rise to the Peace Corps, which attracted the best and brightest of a generation to service in developing communities, and also to placing humans on the moon within a decade, but sadly, not to eliminating poverty. In January 2012, a United Nations Report ‘Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing’ summed up the challenge facing us now: ‘It is within the wit and will of our common humanity to choose for the future. All great achievements in human history began as a vision before becoming a reality. The vision for global sustainability, producing both a resilient people and a resilient planet, is no different.’

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2020

As our authors have urged, governments can lead change through required actions (laws and regulations), incentives (such as taxes) and encouragement of voluntary actions (underpinned by media campaigns for example). They also say that our journey will involve increasing interaction and dialogue between leading individuals, community groups and government to create a coalition of ideas: to reach a broadly-agreed definition of what society wants for our future, and to identify enough common elements so that the vast majority of activist groups are prepared to work in concert with political parties to achieve the vision. The third and fourth players within the diamond are the media and corporations. Unfortunately the media cannot be relied upon to persuade society of change because controversy and divisiveness sell copy. The media can, however, provide leadership, as The Sydney Morning Herald did in 2010 when it championed the need to create a strategic plan for Sydney. Corporations may also take public positions against change while individually being quite innovative. News Corporation exemplifies this duality (and the sometimes conflicting motives as an agent for change and as a corporation) of both media and business generally. While promoting divisiveness about climate change in its media, News Corporation proudly advertised that its headquarters achieved zerocarbon status in 2010. Some current media articles and corporate stances – for example, the mining-industry

226

media campaign against a mining tax in Australia in 2010, and the supporting notion that it is easier to get planning approval for an open-cut coal mine than a wind-farm in Victoria in 2012 – may be best described as horseshit arising from vested interests who make profits purveying horses and carts. Nonetheless, these same media and mining corporations are constantly innovating: selfinterest in new, profitable opportunities and desire for longevity, as discussed in chapter 13, will cause them to eventually participate in leading the creation of a sustainable society.

Twenty Actions Between the participants and the goal lie the actions; multiple steps along paths that will collectively deliver sustainability. The Twenty Actions table (see p. 228) lists 20 recommended actions in the categories of individual, government, corporation and media. They are samples chosen by our authors. Singly they are not essential, but they raise issues that must be addressed, and they exemplify the mix of actions that will need to be taken before 2020. It is noteworthy that our list of actions aligns with those recommended by others. For example, after this book was written, the United Nations Environment Program identified 21 issues that need to be addressed for global environmental sustainability. Their issues also emphasised that shifting to the path(s) to sustainability is primarily about changes in behaviour and governance. Some people will argue that truly effective action requires setting a detailed vision and


Twenty Actions

working backwards to identify the most efficient path, a process called backward chaining. It has some role, but it also encourages either inaction – ‘I can’t make any change until I know what is the best change to make’ – or notions that we need new, powerful forms of governance to lead us. This argument arises, innocently, in many forums. For example, at a November 2011 national conference of geographers, a keynote speaker argued that city sustainability and resilience could only be addressed effectively if we created over-arching single lawmaking bodies to take charge of each of our cities. Brisbane City Council, responsible for the whole of Brisbane, is such a body but it is not self-evident that it addresses sustainability better than the multitude of councils that have responsibilities for other cities. Setting preconditions for action is dangerous. Just as having a precondition for action may be dangerous, so is identifying a key or essential action. This book advises otherwise. The 20 advocated actions will develop momentum for change; none of them is a silver bullet, but each a carefully thought-out example of the types of changes that will lead to sustainability. Actions will be interrelated. Three things arise from this. First, we are on an unpredictable journey, not a linear path. Doubtless we will encounter some unanticipated cul-de-sacs. Transformation to a green economy – for example, the shift to renewable energy and recycling of materials – will leave stranded assets and failed firms, just as ongoing climate change will strand some current assets, to the extent of making some

communities non-viable and turning them to ghost towns. Second, many apparently unrelated actions will have unforeseen consequences. They may reinforce each other, and sometimes they may stimulate unanticipated behaviours that set back the journey to sustainability. These knock-on effects are broadly known as emergent properties, which apply to complex or wicked systems. Unknowable knock-on effects are a further argument for learning-bydoing, because their likelihood is based on an understanding that the system – our society – is so complex that we cannot predict all outcomes from individual actions. So, let us make a start because if we seek full knowledge of the outcomes of our actions, we will never begin. Third, some actions, although desirable, may not provide the long-term solution we seek. They may move us to an intermediate or better state but not have the capacity to deliver true sustainability. For example, moving from coal to natural gas will reduce carbon emissions and assist in meeting short-term targets to reduce the heating of the air. However, natural gas extraction, transport and burning do emit carbon dioxide, and natural gas is a non-renewable resource. So, it represents an intermediate step: worth taking, but in making the transition we should be mindful that further transformation will be necessary. Coupling a transition from coal to natural gas with thoughtful action (such as taxing nonrenewable mining, chapter 3) will encourage a further transition, most effectively to largescale thermal energy (chapter 5).

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Twenty Actions by 2020 for a Sustainable Society

Individuals

INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS

EFFECT

SUSTAINABLE OUTCOME

1. ENGAGE PERSONALLY Engage in community activism and monitor resource use and impact of lobbying (Newman).

Build local capacity to effect change and support a reduction in individual and community carbon footprints.

Decision-making through coalitions of governments and grassroots movements.

2. OWN LESS Choose to reduce ownership of ‘things’ and the size of homes (Kvan).

Housing will become more affordable and energy consumption will decrease.

Denser cities, requiring shorter commutes and providing easier access to greenspace; more sharing and fewer ‘things’.

3. REDUCE WASTE Reduce waste in supply chains, eg, by choosing aesthetically imperfect food and low-impact packaging; reduce personal waste (Ford); and support food rescue for disadvantaged communities (Pearson).

There will be greater food security to feed an increasing population.

Less on-farm wastage; reduce income gap between rural and urban and address ‘nutritional ghettoes’ in cities.

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Businesses

BUSINESS ACTIONS 4. CORE VALUES Integrate sustainability into core business culture and values to reduce risk and enhance brand and reputation (Maimone).

EFFECT Greater business stability and profitability for the long-term.

SUSTAINABLE OUTCOME Corporate leadership; greater employer satisfaction; slower product model redundancy.

5. LABELS Provide product labelling that is More informed consumer choices, digestible, unbiased and trustworthy (Paladino). more effective purchasing.

Preventative health reducing healthcare costs; address health and obesity; accelerated the shift to sustainable products.

6. INNOVATIVE DESIGN Lead globallyinnovative design. Design of technologies to reduce GHG emissions by at least 50 per cent (Karoly) and buildings modelled on ecological principles, integrating vegetation and built environment (Green, Blashki).

More efficient use of sun, water and other natural resources. Incorporation of plants and green spaces for food, cooling, carbon capture and recreation.

Improved physical and mental health; reduced health costs and increased productivity; contribute to climate stabilisation.

7. CREATE ZERO CARBON LANDSCAPES Strategically revegetate targeted areas, creating mixed forests and farmland (Taylor).

Significantly increase the carbon storage capacity of the landscape, improve ecosystem functions and services, diversify rural economies.

Some mitigation of climate change; enhanced wellbeing of rural communities.

8. DESIGN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE Design new infrastructure to account for the impacts of climate change (Duffield).

More robust assets that will serve the community over the long term.

Make cities more efficient and less vulnerable to disaster; market and sell solutions internationally.

9. REDUCE DISASTER RISKS Minimise disaster impacts and inequities, eg, by studying likely impacts of climate change on Indigenousowned land (Sykes) and developing plans and kits for every household, workplace and community (March).

Anticipate and minimise impacts of disasters; make disaster-risk assessment part of planning.

Reduce direct costs and indirect impacts, eg, personal trauma and increasing inequity, from increasingly frequent disasters associated with growing population density and climate change.

229


Government

GOVERNMENT ACTIONS

EFFECT

SUSTAINABLE OUTCOME

10. TEACH ETHICS Introduce courses in sustainability ethics in schools (Prebble).

Create awareness and subsequently a more ethical basis (rather than financial) for intergenerational decisions.

Promote a moral community based on non-GDP measures of wellness.

11. TAX NON-RENEWABLES Resource tax on all non-renewable resources (Pearson).

Accelerate substitution of nonrenewable resources with green technologies.

Create globally competitive technologies, likely to cause new stimulation of economy.

12. MARKET WATER Introduce water-trading based on markets and property rights for environmental, rural and urban needs (Malano).

Allow inter-sector trading and more transparent water prices, without political interference.

Provide greater imperative for better technological and economic decisions that allow for the provision of infrastructure and water for the environment.

13. GO SOLAR Make a substantial commitment to large solar, wind and energy storage installations (Seligman) with emphasis on large-scale solar (Brumby).

Shift to renewable energy at acceptable cost.

Reduce carbon pollution; create new industries; vitalise some remote rural areas, but recognise and address negative economic impacts on others, eg, communities in coal basins.

14. PROVIDE CHILDCARE Provide universal and affordable childcare (Sykes).

Enable low-income families to fully participate in workforce.

Reduce inequity; increase productivity; increase educational aspirations.

15. VALUE CULTURE Develop frameworks for, and measure, impacts of culture programs on sustainability (Yue).

Improved assessment of value of cultural programs.

Stimulate cultural support as a factor in societal change, leading to increased govt commitment to culture programs.

16. PROMOTE TRANSPORT PYRAMID Provide a public awareness campaign on healthy transport based upon the transport pyramid (Conheady).

Changes in attitudes and behaviour to modes of transport.

Greater demand for public transport, separated bikeways, community car ownership, improved health; significant reduction in carbon pollution.

17. RESTORE ECOSYSTEMS Establish an international Ecosystem Restoration Service (Keenan).

Restore natural ecosystem function to 20 per cent of deforested areas.

Help society adapt to climate change by working with the natural environment and reducing our exposure to future risks.

18. PLAN FOR POPULATION Plan for population growth by increasing investment in new public infrastructure like water, transport, energy and communications (Kippen).

Greater efficiency in publicresource usage.

Improved management of demands made by population growth.

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Media

MEDIA ACTIONS

EFFECT

SUSTAINABLE OUTCOME

19. ACT RESPONSIBLY Factor sustainability into media coverage, talk about and explore the issues, lead debates and find ways to engage the community – eg, raise awareness of city growth, its inevitability and consequences (Sanderson).

An informed public can make informed decisions and exert pressure on governments, corporates and indeed the media itself to think sustainably.

Will help get each of the key participants of society working in tandem towards a better outcome for all.

20. INVOLVE PUBLIC Establish a not-for-profit national virtual forum capable of synthesising public wisdom (van Gelder).

Bring deliberative democracy to major sustainability issues.

Enable governments to make wiser, faster decisions on path to sustainability and be less swayed by weekly opinion polls.

*We recognise that some of the initiatives listed under ‘Business’ and others may require legislation or subsidies for an interim period, but the primary point of innovation and action resides with business. For example, adoption of innovative solar technology and household photovoltaics was stimulated by government financial incentives but depends on businesses producing low-cost technology so that energy is created at a competitive cost.

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2020

What do we need? • Narratives: a sustainable future will be attractive. • Actions: specifics to achieve sustainability. Largely, behaviour and policy changes, not technology. • Evidence: research to identify what is needed and its impact when it occurs. Publicise success. • Commitment: join the movement. • Partners: civil society, government, business and media working in concert.

What Can You and I Do? Throughout this book we have drawn attention to inspiring examples where individuals have acted, or got together with others and acted, to create a more sustainable society. To conclude, let’s enumerate some of the actions that we can take as individuals. Before we do, bring to mind what one Australian, Eddie Mabo, said in relation to the land claims that established Aboriginal land rights throughout Australia in the 1990s. Change, he said, ‘starts with one person taking a stand’. So while we wait for and encourage the emergence of inspiring leadership and vision, there’s nothing to stop us from just getting going with it and being leaders in our spheres. Here are some actions described in a little more detail than was possible in the Twenty Actions table:

Ethics Think and act ethically. Act now or give escalating problems to our grandchildren. Don’t be swayed by media and others’ selfinterest; expect leadership from governments and corporations, and support those who give it. This year, Leonie Pearson and others analysed how we trade-off among many things

232

when we make choices, but hold some things as non-negotiable ‘protected values’. We will need to make sustainability a protected value and question whether or not our choices, lifestyle, actions and purchases are sustainable.

Actions Measure personal consumption and waste, and participate in community groups. Own fewer things, because they don’t necessarily bring happiness, and explore the socially-rich flipside of sharing and renting. Reduce waste; buy on the basis of labels that inform you about the energy it took to make each product; recycle. Act to maximise happiness, health and equity rather than be persuaded by consumer-driven advertising.

Essentials Water, food and energy are essential for living, and changes in the way we generate and use them are critical if we are to become sustainable. Shift to renewable energy quickly, emphasising large-scale solar plants to support grids, and precinct- or suburb-scale selfsufficiency. Support more realistic costing and trading of water and food; reduce use, reduce waste and recycle.


Twenty Actions

Transport Adopt your own ‘transport triangle’. Maybe by 2020 using a personal car for short-distance transport during the working week will be as socially unacceptable as littering became in the 1970s (do you remember the roadsides littered with papers and cans before that?). Technology such as electric cars will make a large impact, but behaviour and social norms will make a greater one. There are many consequences arising from literally walking the talk, such as selecting schools that you and your children can walk to.

Support With your voice and your pocket (and your back if need be) support sustainable innovation. Whether it’s your neighbour, a small start-up company, a multinational or a government,

when you see it, celebrate their preparedness to change towards a sustainable society. To finish with a specific example drawn from chapters here, support political leadership that sets goals such as more greenspace in cities and taxes on extractive industries, even if the actions are not as comprehensive as we think are necessary. We can take many simple actions to address the urgent need to transform to a sustainable society. If the vast majority of scientists are right, these actions need to be taken so they make a difference by 2020. The authors of this book think the science is correct and the need for action is urgent. Even if we and most of science have overestimated the problems of, say, food security, resource depletion and climate change, then we can congratulate ourselves we will still have taken action to create a better, fairer, more sustainable society by 2020.

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Further Reading Twenty Actions Brunner, R.D., & Lynch, A.H. (2010). Adaptive governance and climate change. American Meteorological Society, Boston, Mass. Chapin III, F.S. et al. (2009). Ecosystem stewardship: sustainability strategies for a rapidly changing planet. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25, 241–9.

Twenty Actions | 2020 Vision for a Sustainable Society  

Chapter Twenty Six - Twenty Actions

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