We can choose to be sustainable or unsustainable. There is no third option, and the unsustainable, by definition, ceases. Nobody in their right mind would vote for a party promising to empty the nation’s coffers, yet the way we live is based on reducing our physical bank-account (let’s call it the Finite Planet Resource Account) at an ever-faster rate. We consume those resources and eject them as waste, causing Climate Change, plastic oceanic soups, and mass-extinction.
That resource-spending approach was always unsustainable; always destined to slow, to cease, and then reverse. We are in the cessation phase, whether we understand this yet, or not. Interest-rates trending to – and below – zero, may baffle economists but they tell the rest of us that growth is being less and less underwritten by Planet Earth. The need now is to structure society for the inevitable post-growth era. It is a discussion our political leaders, business leaders, mainstream media (and let’s be honest; we) have avoided, but we’ve run out of avoiding-time.
What is sustainability?
A simplistic answer would be: That which gives our children and grandchildren the same resource-chances we had; that which hands the planet on, in as-good or better condition. We are a long, long way from that. It means accepting limits; living with restrictions. Ultimately it demands equality, because dog-eat-dog just ends in a race to consume resources, and to avoid costs.
This tells us that the more equality-focused the Party, the closer they are to being future-appropriate. Equality is not free-marketry, despite propaganda peddled by the elite, lauding a system which temporarily suited them.
This also tells us that the longer the view, the more likely the Party is to be future-appropriate. The caveat is that those long-haul projections have to be sustainable.
Moving away from resource-depletion means that unsustainable activities (such as extracting swamp-kauri) need to be deemed inappropriate, and those who advocate resource extraction need to be relegated to history.
We need to move on, too, from fixating on money. It is only a keystroke-conjured token, an expectation that there will be future resources (processed parts of the planet) and future energy to comprise and deliver future stuff. When those promises reduce and the shelves they filled begin to empty, what will our digital tokens be worth? ‘Less’ is the answer, and with empty shelves; ‘Nothing’.
On a finite planet, ‘sustainable economic growth’ was always an oxymoron, as is any growth promising, growth demanding Budget. With a goal of valuing actual resources instead of digital tokens, we can conclude that a ‘Wellbeing Budget’ is likely to be a step in the right direction.
Who ticks the sustainability boxes?
Does any Party currently tick all the sustainability boxes? No. Not even close. Sustainability is not a little bit of recycling, or paying someone to (perhaps) plant a seedling so you can fly conscience-free. Nor is it just Conservation and it certainly isn’t Green Growth (although it will involve the growing of greenness). The Fitzsimons/Donald iteration of the Green Party went close, the earlier Values Party, closer. Historically, the sustainability vote has never climbed past 10%, but recent events have shifted the discussion. Who would have thought to see aeroplanes grounded; borders closed; empty highways; runs on bog-roll? Or Trump? Inevitably, more people are appraising society in a disbelieving light.
The irony is that sustainability will forcibly impose itself on us due to resource-depletion. It would be better if we imposed it on ourselves first. That would give us the longest possible time to adjust; the longest time to optimize our infrastructure. Ask Candidates and Parties what they understand by Sustainability. Most will insist it can be had, is a wonderful thing and that it is compatible with growth; educate them. Some will be evasive, some arrogantly disdainful: ignore them. But some will be closer to understanding the real meaning; they are the ones our children, and children’s children would ask us to vote for.
Murray Grimwood is a hands-on environmentalist, and minimalist. He saw the ‘limits to growth’ coming a long time ago. He was advocating getting ready for sustainability as a County Councillor from 1986, and as a representative at Regional level (C.N.O.U.C.). He has been a Co-ordinator of Environment Access, a member of the Hawkdun Land Management Comittee and deputy-Chair of Sustainable Dunedin City. Murray writes the occasional op/ed piece, and a monthly column (The Good Life) in The Shed Magazine. He has been involved in various committees from ‘Keep Dunedin Beautiful’ through ‘Dunedin Planning ‘ to ‘Dunedin and Districts Road Safety’. He is a past member of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (and still an enthusiast). He and partner Jennie live in a passive-solar, off-grid house built from recycled materials. They grow timber trees, orchard trees, and vegetables on their 60-acre block. They are constantly striving for self-sufficiency. Currently, they are setting up a formal framework whereby they can share the land with younger folk, a logical extension of that thinking. Murray sails a bit, teaches sailing a bit, writes a bit, never stops inventing, and has a lot of unfinished projects.