Thursday, 3 December 2009

Talking the talk

Over the past 48 hours, I've attended three meetings where sustainability or resiliance have been the watchwords. On Tuesday afternoon, there was quite a heated discussion in the RCE Severn Steering Committee about the extent to which we needed to sock it to our stakeholders. Should our working groups challenge businesses' CSR policies, and challenge too the whole notion of the sustainability of continuing economic growth, given Peak Oil and that we are already in ecological debt? Are children being equipped by our schools for a society based on the realities of resource depletion and global warming? What is our positive vision of a low-carbon, steady state economy or our plan for energy descent?

Some of these questions were addressed by Ben Brangwyn of the Transition Network at the University of Gloucestershire's IRIS Seminar that evening. Ben's "excited by local currencies," he tells us - not as a replacement for the pound sterling, but as a complementary process. And he's big on visioning: "Where will we need to be in 20 years' time? How do we get from here to there - year by year?" "We don't know," he stressed, "if this Transition thing is going to work: it's an experiment; but we cannot sit around and wait for someone to do a pilot." And he cautions, "complex systems can never return to a prior state." Sustainable Bungay was an example of what could be achieved with faith-based communities heavily involved. Or, talking of adaptation, what about Cheltenham becoming a City of Sanctuary? (There's a challenge!)

My photograph was taken at the well-attended meeting of the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network yesterday, where Professor Daniella Tilbury spoke of the UoG's work in the sustainability field. What is it about our lives that has got us to where we are, was the question she posed. Not, "Who dropped that plastic wrapper?" but, "What sort of society makes it necessary to have such wrappers?" Strategies to change behaviours don't work: the consumer culture is here to stay. How do we influence without preaching? "The biggest problem we have in this institution [the UoG] is students."

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