Environment is now Cool
- 26 Jan 07, 09:37 AM
The study of ecology can give us some important insights into our behaviour - And enviroment is now cool, there's surely a moment to be seized in a quest to find a sustainable future.
The UK organic food campaigning NGO The Soil Association are holding their annual conference today. Their key theme is "one planet agriculture". And I heard a spokesperson on national radio this morning being asked whether organic food flown into the UK is truly organic. And the overall answer was...that flying food is a costly business in every sense, even when compared to road freight (especially if moving bulk by lorry stops large numbers of individuals travelling in their own cars). The point is made, air miles on food might counter some of the foods organic credentials. If the rapidly expanding market for buying organic food sustains - And let's say (which hasn't been said formally by those who decide on such matters) that organic food flown into the UK is no longer organic because of the cost to the environment - does that huge UK market then buy only locally distributed organic food? I sense localism, and within it, community is going to be the big torque wrench in the tool box over the next ten years as we try to off set the causes of global warming and loss of biodiversity.
Is everyone buying organic food - or is it only the worried well (the worried who can afford it)? And in terms of trying to combat climate change is not localism the more important factor. Organic farming arguably is better in terms of biodiversity and not loading our landscape with chemicals...but if we can make all locally grown food cheap for everyone then the effect on reducing road and air miles surely would be phenominal.
In animals, societies emerge - over a very long period of time - when the interests of the individual are the same as the interests of the group. A group of monkeys, meerkats or ants live together in a sustainable society because the individuals share common interests that make group living have a much greater survival value than living alone. In their cases, co-operative foraging, protection from predators and maintaining the nest respectively. Of course by "agreeing" to live in a group you then get politics as individuals vie to control reproduction.
If localism is becoming the big thing, then the era of our individualistic thinking has to come to an end. Localism will be sustainable if a new sense of community builds - And the insight from wild animal populations is that individual and group interest must be the same.
The human race is virtually unique on earth - an animal that intensifies the world about them. The domestication of animals and plants 10,000 years ago or so allowed people to cease being nomadic and to settle in communities and farm the land around them. In doing so, they could support a population way above the "carrying capacity" of their immediate surroundings. In todays world, that intesification is on a global scale - and clearly this is unsustainable. We are already beyond the carrying capacity of the earth if everyone alive today were to have "our" same living standards and access to food.
So the challenge is to define the boundaries of localism, which might mean that our current model of gargantuan cities where you can be a stranger in a crowd simply cannot go on.
we need to know where our food comes from, how our energy is generated and how much we use - And like we see the decline in the super 4x4 market ("the Chelsea Tractor") - so might sourcing exotic products from far away lands as staples become uncool.
James Lovelock told us in an interview for PEuT, that we didn't broadcast, that tribal people all come together in the face of immediate danger...he thinks we're all tribal at heart. A clear example of when individual and group interest are the same. But we're bright and forward thinking (aren't we?) - we don't have to wait until the 11th hour - the get out or die out stage.
How can the spirit of shared interest pervade society and spawn functioning communities with a philosophy of sustainable living? - And can a sprit of localism help reduce the global plundering of resources?
What does it take? Some on this series think it comes down to public education. Others believe the market can make the change happen - others a combination of both including designing into our lives the technical efficiences needed to reduce energy demands.
But environment is now cool - There's a growing desire to seize the moment - But when will individual and group interest be the same? That will be the day sustainable-living communities will emerge in the towns and cities, and herald the way forward for us all.