Notes on a workshop presented at the Adelaide Meeting House on Saturday 27 August 2011

The workshop titled
The practicalities of earthcare: steps towards one-planet living
was facilitated by Beth and Ray Mylius

Outline

Consideration focussed on three principal themes – food, the economy and our potential resilience to severe shocks.

The starting point was an examination of the burden each of us is placing on the resources of the earth and the ecosystems which sustain us, estimated using the ecological footprint method. The calculation is done on line at www.footprintnetwork.org.

The consequences of ecosystem degradation include serious threats to the security of our food supply.

The flaws in the present economic system underlie the degradation of the environment. The well-being of all life on earth depends on radical changes in the economic system, and some possible options were discussed.

Severe unpredictable changes in the circumstances of our lives are possible. We considered how we ourselves might cope with adverse events and how we would exercise our responsibility for others.

Summary of presentations

Ecological footprint

Globally, humans demand the biological capacity of 1.4 planets according to Global Footprint Network  data. The Australian average ecological footprint is approximately 4 planets while the footprints of the workshop participants were each about two planets. We discussed the changes we could make to live within the resources of our one and only planet, and recognized the lifestyle changes which are necessary.

Food

Currently in the world there are 1 billion people suffering hunger while global food production is more than sufficient for the present population and overweight and obesity are problems especially in wealthy countries. Food supplies are at risk due to land scarcity from degradation, desertification, city sprawl and diversion for biofuels. Agricultural production depends on availability of fossil fuels and distribution is distorted by subsidies. Roughly one third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted every year.

Animal industries are one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from local to global (FAO 2006. ‘Livestock’s long shadow’).

Australia’s food supplies are not secure in the longer term, due to population growth, urban expansion, water shortages, climate change, mining and salinisation. Australians are throwing out 7.5 million tonnes of food waste every year.

There are a number of things we can do. Avoid all waste of food – care in purchasing, use left-overs, composting, worm farm. Give thought to the “food footprint” of what we buy. Eat more vegetables, grains and fruit and eat less meat, milk and milk products. Grow our own food. Support local food production. Choose seasonal foods and those with low energy inputs. Conserve, recycle and reuse nutrients all along the food chain from farm to consumer and beyond.Eat fish sparingly, from sustainable fisheries.

The economy

Economic growth is no longer improving well-being in wealthy countries and economic growth is not just unsustainable but infinite growth in a finite world is irrational. However, technological advance and economic growth are the levers out of poverty for developing countries. We must contract and allow developing countries to advance. Globalisation brings people together and increases trade but can disadvantage poor countries.

Approaches for us to consider can be summed up as “localisation“.

Local procurement of gods and services, community gardens, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, Slow Food, food swap and share, the 100-mile Diet, eco-villages, free-cycle … Other options include cooperatives and alternative/complementary currencies.

‘Standard of living’ and ‘prosperity’ need to be understood as quality of life and well-being rather than income and wealth. A steady-state economy implies a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population, and energy and resource use are within ecological limits. The goal of maximising
economic output is replaced by the goal of maximising the quality of life. The changes proposed are very different from the present system and amount to a transformation in the way we live. Changed values by the majority of people will be pre-requisite. It is unlikely that it will be possible to change the present system while participating in it; rather it will be necessary to construct local economies outside the conventional system. Transformation will be achieved by ordinary people living differently. Local economies will be constructed outside the conventional system, and we will act cooperatively in local communities aiming to be maximally self-sufficient.

Resilience

Globally “The world is in no position to face major new shocks. The financial crisis has reduced global economic resilience, while increasing geopolitical tension and heightened social concerns suggest that both governments and societies are less able than ever to cope with global challenges.” (World Economic Forum, Global Risks 2011).

In Australia house prices are unaffordable for many people; for those with mortgages there are risks if house prices could fall. Requests for assistance exceed ability of welfare agencies to fulfil. An interest rate rise could result in mortgage defaults. The mining ‘boom’ offers little benefit to most of the population. Natural disasters and severe weather events associated with climate change are probable.

A resilient system is one that can continue to maintain its central function in the face of external shocks. Although for many shocks, most systems can adapt and continue to function, sometimes the shock can be so great that it forces the system into a new functional state to which it is now transformed. At this point there is no going back.

In society at large we depend on official authorities and emergency services in the event of disasters. Individuals may cope with adversity by preparation, money availability; food stocks and neighbourhood cooperation. Prolonged and severe challenges will require societal changes which enable individual resilience.

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