Sustaining The Conservation Debate

Frog pond 104x86 06.7.30 009a.jpg The pressing environmental issues of the day can be addressed in many ways. Everyone has their own take on eco-matters. None of these different understandings offers complete answers to very complex questions, but all who ask them do us a service insofar as they keep the issues at the forefront of debate.
Does Prince Charles have a point? You probably don’t have to be a royalist to think perhaps he does, environmentally at least. Few can be unaware that conservation and sustainability are important to him.
In that concern of course our future monarch is not alone. Turn the pages of publications as diverse as The Guardian and The Economist, The New Economics Foundation (nef) and The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), and you will find the same themes: energy and sustainability are the debates of the day.
Similarly with our politicians and policy makers, national and local. Whole departments are dedicated at every level to finding ways forward. Nuclear, oil, solar, wind, tide or biomass? Green bins for garden waste, purple for paper…. Our leaders are certainly onto a winner when they share their thoughts on recycling and energy. Everyone is worried, though not everyone will follow through to action.
The ‘action’ is however where it has to be. Nothing will be achieved by being worried – though there is undoubtedly consensus that we all should be. And it’s here things sometimes start to go fluffy.
There are logics which arise from environmental concerns.
If you believe that things need to stay as they are (or, better still, were), you’ll probably take the view that progress is not to be encouraged. What we ‘should’ do is stick with what we know, but maybe regulate it rather more, so that things don’t change.
But if you generally welcome initiative and challnge, you’ll want to find new ways to meet the problems which everyone agrees are there, and you may even believe that Science in all its glory has the answers.
The third way, of course, is to try to think out of the box. Should we use so much energy? Are there modes of operation which meet needs in far-distant places as well as our own? What mix of provision and production of enery, food, whatever, will best reduce risk of under- or over-reliance for ourselves and others? Does nuclear increase or decrease the risks in energy? Does GM help to feed people or do we risk damaging them? Should we increase our consumption of vegetables and reduce that of meat? Is intercontinental travel ‘bad’ because it harms the physical environment or ‘good’ because it increases human understanding? The questions could go on…
Essentially, the issues relate to human activity – after all, it’s largely what we as individual human beings choose to do which has brought about these conumdrums, so presumably it’s up to us as socio-political beings to sort it out.
Here then is the rub: Conservation on its own is probably impossible. Science and technology alone probably can’t solve the problems. Everything which looks like it might have positive effect is but one part of the total scenario; but the incremental, balanced approach lacks appeal because of its very caution and good sense.
It’s much harder to have impact with the slogan, say, ‘10% this sort of energy, 25% that sort, 5% of something else’ (etc), than it is to go for the grand gesture.
The politics and the practicalities often don’t stack up when people realise it’s they, personally, who will have to make adjustments, not them, unknown folk somewhere else.
Full marks then to those across the entire conservation-progress spectrum, Economist, nef and Prince Charles alike, who keep the debate going. Sustaining public interest (and thereby enabling complex issues to be addressed even when it costs) is a crucial element in the environmental equation. Perhaps different people are asking different questions, but it’s a lot better than asking none at all.

Posted on November 1, 2005, in Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Science Politics And Policy, Sustainability As If People Mattered. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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