Launching Speech

"God bless her and all who use her to promote a sustainable future."Ian Low, AO

The launch of The Little Green Handbook took place in Brisbane on 8 March 2005. Below is the transcript of the launching speech by Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, AO.

Professor Lowe is one of Australia’s most respected environmental scientists. In 2001 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to environmental science. In 2002 he was awarded a Centenary Medal and the Eureka Prize and his contributions to the environment and science have been officially recognised by the Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier. He is currently emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, an adjunct professor at Sunshine Coast University and QUT, an honorary research fellow at the University of Adelaide and a consultant to the CSIRO Division of Sustainable Ecosystems. He is also President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

It’s a real honour to launch this book. Not often you read a book and say: I wish I had written that book. But I had that feeling when I read this book. It’s a wonderful analysis of the global problems and some of the solutions.

I cannot do much better than to read the last paragraph in the chapter ‘In a Nutshell’

Time is running out, but we might still be able to choose and use danger as an opportunity. The future does not have to be based on business as usual; it could be based on sustainable development. However, this will require a radical change of direction and a radical change to our customary ways of living. It will require closer collaboration between nations, more equitable sharing of the planet’s resources, a big cut in profit for individuals and corporations, better support of research and development, and eventually a substantial reduction of money, time, and effort devoted to military activities.

This change of direction does not apply just to industrialised countries; developing countries have to play their part. We must all learn to live together, and we must learn fast. However, developed countries need to make the greatest commitment—and extend a helping hand to the rest of the world. (R Nielsen, The Little Green Handbook, p. 247.)

The chapter headings spell out the scope of the book: Environmental Degradation, The Population Explosion, Diminishing Land Resources, Diminishing Water Resources, The Destruction of the Atmosphere, The Approaching Energy Crisis, Social Decline, Conflicts and Increasing Killing Power, and finally In a Nutshell to sum up the book and Landmarks of Progress to show our progress.

Why is it all so important? It’s hard to overstate the scale of problems. As the UNEP report Global Environmental Outlook 2000 said: ‘The present approach is unsustainable. Doing nothing is no longer an option.’ Of course this is still a preferred option of elected leaders in this country and others who think that as long as the calamity does not happen during their watch it won’t affect them politically.

The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme published an important book last year, Global Change and the Earth System: A planet under pressure in which they reminded us that current consumption of the world population is significantly greater than sustainable productivity of natural systems. So we’re running on an ecological deficit. And of course it’s just as irresponsible to run on ecological deficit as to run on fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit will almost guarantee not being elected in the current political climate, and ecological deficit almost ensures that you will be re-elected because you’re essentially bribing present generation with the assets of future generations.

Local reports on the state of the environment in Brisbane, South-East Queensland, in Queensland as a whole and Australia as a whole, all make similar comments that we are unsustainably eroding the national assets and so removing the opportunities for future generations.

Governments inaction, I think, in the face of the problem is partly reflecting how big and difficult these issues are. But it’s partly a head-in-the sand approach.

I remember the story of an Irish person who was visiting a Spanish speaking country and kept hearing the word manyana being used and finally summoned the courage and said: What does this word manyana mean? And they said, Well, the literal translation into English is tomorrow. But in practice here it means, possibly tomorrow, possibly the day after, possibly next week, maybe sometime soon. And she responded: We have a similar word in Gallic, but, she said, it doesn’t have the same sense of urgency.

I think the government approach to sustainable development doesn’t have the same sense of urgency as manyana. There’s indeed the sense that maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after, maybe sometime soon. There seems to be an implication that we can safely leave it for future generations.

Of course, the commercial media while giving occasional messages about the scale of the problem spell out in foot-high letters that consuming at a greater rate is almost your civic duty rather than something that’s reducing the opportunities for future generations.

So this is a very important book. It reminds that there’re alternative futures to the standard business-as-usual approach of saying 'trust the market', and in fact the global scenario it draws, reminds us that the market-forces approach cannot even in principle lead us to a sustainable future because allocating the diminishing natural assets of the planet on a market basis would inevitably widen the gulf between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, and that will inevitably undermine the social stability that’s needed for the effective operation of the markets.

So the market approach cannot even in principle lead us to a sustainable future, although it’s the firm approach of governments because it appears to work in a short term.

This book also reminds us that in principle we can move to a sustainable future through policy reform, that we can change the policy settings to encourage conservation, encourage renewable energy, encourage the conservation of biodiversity, encourage a responsible approach to the natural assets of the planet. But there’s no sign of political will, which would be required to drive that sort of change. And it’s always a temptation to politicians to appear popular in the short term by denying the problem.

The famous statement by George W Bush in the presidential election campaign was that under republican administration you won’t be urged to walk to work because we’re not going to deal with the panic merchants who tell you that we’re running out of oil and changing global climate. We will allow you to drive multiple V8 cars for that’s not going to be a problem under our administration.

The inevitable consequence about not doing something different is that we will drift to either Fortress World in which privileged minority will try to protect their access to natural assets thought military force or to a complete brake down of the system we rely on in a modern urbanised society for the basics of life such a water and food. And neither of those is a pretty future.

The alternative is what the Global Scenario Group calls the Great Transition, which will only occur if there’s a significant value change in the community, particularly in the industrialised countries. So that’s the only hope for the sustainable future. And that values change will only happen if enough people are informed about the consequences of their choices and motivated by their concern about the future.

I have great faith in the capacity of people to make rational decisions if they’re given the right information. One of my colleagues does some work in the military administration if Pakistan and it’s hard to imagine less promising fields to till than military administration in Islamic country such as Pakistan. But he said that one thing that even the Pakistani generals respond to is thinking about their grandchildren, thinking about the legacy they’ll leave them, thinking about the opportunities they’ll have. And I believe that if enough people understand that our lifestyle choices are literally consuming the future of our own children and our grandchildren more of us will make the sort of choices to use public transport, to use renewable energy, to use solar hot water, to moderate our consumption, to live simply, so that others may simply live.

So this book gives the clear message. It indicates what we can do. It give the data to show those confused by the Don’t worry, close your eyes and trust the market approach of mass media, the armaments, the ammunition with which to rebut those arguments and that propaganda. It’s virtually a handbook for the green future, and the book we should have in our hands and use like a rod of the righteous to persuade other people of the need to change values and the need to live sustainable.

I’m here launching this book as in the days when dowagers were asked to launch boats. They would speak for a much shorter period than I had and at the end they would symbolically raise a bottle of Champaign and smash it over the bow of the boat and say: God bless her and all who sail in her. I do not have a bottle of Champaign but I do have a glass of red, which I will raise and symbolically break over the bow of the book and say: God bless her and all who use her to promote a sustainable future.