There were the two big questions which David Suzuki led with when he spoke at the Sydney Opera House last night. Thanks to my dear friend Virginia for taking me along.
It was a talk called ‘Legacy’ based on the thesis of his present book. Actually, I have been profoundly shaped by Suzuki’s work. This whole journey (all of it, not just the 10 City Bridge Run) began after reading Suzuki’s book “Good News For A Change” while I was posted in Darwin during my time in the Army… It was good to come full circle and hear him talk in person.
He covered many themes skilfully woven together in a seamless talk. Population growth, our preoccupation with jobs, who we are as humans, economics, and why this matters to nature.
Suzuki challenged our idolisation of lifestyle through our worship of the market: Do we actually put the economy above human life? Have we missed the opportunity that was presented with the global financial crisis over the last three years?
Is the economy the source of everything we need?
In economic systems, unless money changes hands the transaction for something is thought to have no value. He uses the example of the environment and nature. In a similar way, this appeals to how I have been thinking about ‘developing countries’ and the 24,000 children who each day will die largely from preventable disease. All ‘externalities’.
We have enshrined economic growth as our highest priority. By itself, growth is nothing. It is not a definition of progress. It describes a cycle, not progress. Does all of this stuff make us happy?
We never ask the important questions, Suzuki lamented, returning to the questions that had framed his opening comments.
As a biologist, he observed that death resulted from things growing forever. As humans, we have defied our own limits to growth becoming the most populous mammalian species on earth (I haven’t checked this figure, can this be true?)
Death awaits us all. What are the meaningful things in life? What really makes a home? Suzuki told us a moving story about his father in the last month of his life which exemplified the importance of relationships. The things that matter most are not valued on the economic system.
His answer sounds a little abstract, but I think needs to be practiced rather than planned:
- Slow down!
- Get to know each other.
- Re-imagine the future.
- Dream of what is possible.
Small actions matter. I found inspiration in his distillation of why it is important to act, which I would summarise as “because we are human and part of creation”. Similarly it gives good rationale to why we should care to address extreme poverty: we are all human- caring for others and relationships are what make us human.
The same economic argument for the environment presented by Suzuki applies for extreme poverty. They are directly linked. High birth rates in ‘developing countries’ that come from high child mortality creates an unsustainable population.
Hans Rosling has made comments about this population explosion which Suzuki portrayed using the exponential growth of bacteria in a test-tube. The lifestyles we enjoy now will become untenable not because of our cities, but because of the effect and neglect this is having elsewhere.
We all have a choice. What will be our legacy. It actually does matter.
Working toward the start of the G20 Summit in Seoul when I will set of with the first steps of the 10 City Bridge Run. 240 km ahead of me across 10 cities in 10 countries within the space of one month.
Previously on this blog I looked at Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 1 through 6, and then made a summary of what looks to be a massive deficit in achieving this seemingly impossible objective. Can it be done, and does it matter?
I was fortunate to attend a City of Sydney presentation on the MDG last week which gave good insights to understanding the MDG in perspective which I made mention of in this blog post.
Continuing this list of MDG, today I turn to MDG 7: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability. This is one MDG which is not looking like being addressed successfully. It covers many broad areas that are affected by bigger sustainability issues.
This MDG has four targets:
- Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources
- Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
- Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
- By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
Here are comments from the United Nations on progress and challenges:
- The rate of deforestation shows signs of decreasing, but is still alarmingly high
- A decisive response to climate change is urgently needed
- The world has missed the 2010 target for biodiversity conservation, with potentially grave consequences
- Key habitats for threatened species are not being adequately protected
- The number of species facing extinction is growing by the day, especially in developing countries
- Overexploitation of global fisheries has stabilized, but steep challenges remain to ensure their sustainability
- Safe water supply remains a challenge in many parts of the world
- With half the population of developing regions without sanitation, the 2015 target appears to be out of reach
- Disparities in urban and rural sanitation coverage remain daunting
- Improvements in sanitation are bypassing the poor
- Slum improvements, though considerable, are failing to keep pace with the growing ranks of the urban poor
- Slum prevalence remains high in sub-Saharan Africa and increases in countries affected by conflict
Is it just me, or does it astound you too due to the following statistics. How can it be that in our world of technology, convenience and accessible luxury that this should be the case? Go figure! Next time you get delayed standing waiting for your skim-soy-decaf-latte, count yourself lucky and enjoy the privilege of knowing at the end of the queue is anything you care to order:
- 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
- The world has missed the 2010 target for biodiversity conservation. Based on current trends, the loss of species will continue throughout this century.
- Slum improvements are failing to keep pace with the growing number of urban poor. The absolute number of slum dwellers keeps rising.