A sustainable future


Here in Queensland (Australia) we are going through the trials of a State election. Queensland is a state full of natural resources, above and below ground. We have both coal and sunshine to burn. We also have some of the finest areas where nature gets to show off her finery – the Daintree Rainforest, the Great Barrier reef, and Carnarvon Gorge to name but three.

Add to this the vast amount of land which has been farmed for many years by the graziers and growers, and the wild country of the far north and Torres Strait.

This results in a population of miners, farmers, greenies, city dwellers, business people, blockies, you name it, they are here in Queensland. Each has their own view on how to best cater to the needs of the people, the state, the economy, the planet and/or the self.

On the political side we have the incumbent Labor Party, the hopeful Liberal National Party, the quiet Green Party and the noisy newcomer Katter’s Australia Party. Of course there are also the countless independent and small alliances which punctuate the confusion of viewpoints.

Finding what the “real issues” that sway the voters is not an easy task. There is a lot of noise. But, put aside the bickering and personal attacks which are rife in today’s politics. Real issues are those which the real people are talking about. These include (but are not limited to) climate change, mining, the economy, education, health, the future and how am I going to be better off.

Let me digress for one moment. My small-p politics has always been around social welfare, community, equality and what benefits generations to come. Some say that is to the left of the capital-p Politics. Left, right, centre – it doesn’t matter.

Over the past months, everyone I have spoken to has said that these same four things are important to them. Now I know some of them are further right in their politics. Some are generational voters of historically right-wing parties like Joh Bjelke Petersen‘s Nationals. So, how can it be that right, left and moderates are all looking for the same thing from their political party?

The other night, a comment by a friend made me realise what is missing in politics world-wide. He said, “what we need is a sustainability party.” The lights went on. Sustainable climate, sustainable forestry, sustainable fishing, sustainable resource use is already in the lexicon of many. But what about sustainable health care, sustainable mining, sustainable business, sustainable farming, sustainable employment, sustainable food production.

Sure, we talk about these things under different guises but often they are at odds. By way of example, miners and farmers are clashing over coal seam gas and the rights to what is on top of the dirt versus what is under the dirt. But instead of looking at how they can co-exist, each is looking to rid the planet of the other. While the miners are saying they would like to work with the farmers, their actions do not tell the same story. Meanwhile, the smaller farmers are powerless to battle the miners so they are reduced to using age-old tactics of blockades and rallies.

Politically both major parties seem to be speaking more with miners than with farmers. Of course the revenues for the State from mining are beyond comprehension which may have something to do with that.

Missing from the equation is the sustainable nature of mining and of farming. No-one is truly looking at this. We are pulling out more resources from under ground than we know what to do with. So, with this plethora of gas, coal, and oil, we are finding new ways to use it and abuse it. This is not sustainable. We are now in the boom of a magnificent boom-bust cycle.

What would happen if a responsible charter was drawn up to say that x% of resources can be mined per year. Okay, we may not have as many mining companies. We may not have billion dollar profits, but we would have a sustainable mining industry. Shareholders may not get $100 each year for the next 10 years. They may only get $50 each for the next 50 years. Do the math.

Meanwhile, some of those farms which are on less than arable land may be better off passing them over to the miners and moving to more fertile soil. That is a hard choice but surely there are parts of the State which are better suited to farming than way out west where the drought and dust turns to flood and mud every 15 years.

Now, I am not saying that this is a solution. And I recognise how simplistic an argument this makes it seem – which of course it is not. What I am saying is that, we need to look at a fundamental change in how we look at sustainability.

Mining will not go away. Forestry will not go away. Fishing will not go away and farming will not go away. Maybe, just maybe we should be looking at how we  regulate what and where we can do things and at what pace. In this way we are looking to the future of the people, not the succumbing to the avarice nature inherent in a wealthier few.

I am not alone in this thinking. The Occupy Wall Street Movement had an underlying theme of sustainability entwined with their social and economic equality passions.  People want a sustainable future and that requires a rethink on how we use natural resources, food, water, energy, and, well, pretty much everything.

I was listening to the radio the other day and they were talking about population and food security. The problem was years away – well, so it sounded. They were talking about 2050. In the year 2050 my youngest daughter will be a little older than I am now. She may well have children in their teens. If we keep doing the things the way we are today, my children and possibly grandchildren will be living in a world full of stress and angst. I don’t want that to happen.

It’s not easy and it would take a wise government to see past their electoral term. But maybe that’s what we need – a sustainable party.

We need to reassess what’s important to the planet. Is it year-on-year economic growth? Is it huge bank and mining profits? Is it a two tiered health system – one for the rich and another for the poor? Or is it a society where people are content, happy, comfortable, fed?

One is sustainable, one is a recipe for disaster. Anyone who has kids will know what happens when the sugar rush is over. It isn’t pretty.

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