January 03, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

A 12 step program for saving the environment

It’s as easy as 1-2-3: Intention – Design – Governance. Times 4, because you need to keep looping around.
Hello, this is my Thursday Blog, in fulfillment of the only New Year’s Resolution I dare to make. A committment to blog each week is made all the easier for having nothing to say, and knowing that comments are highly unlikely in any case. Bloggers have no doubt been compared to 18th century pamphleteers, ephemera flowing by.
But surely we need the equivalent of a 12 step program. The first step might be admitting that our species is not exactly playing fair with all the other species on the planet, and that individually we are helpless. Any animal that intentionally set fire to a church, knowing that at least 35 people would die, is a creature that makes the San Francisco tiger seem like, well, just a big pussy cat.
So intentionality, to decide what exactly we are aiming for, is a big first step. All the relevant cliches apply, such as you can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going. Actually, I dispute that, as I often arrive in wonderful places, either physically or intellectually, without planning. But it is definitely better to be generally right than perfectly wrong. This little homily comes from an advertising text book I was teaching from last semester.
And that’s why we need to go through the loop at least 4 times. Because if we get the intention generally right, but mess up on the details of the design, we can just change on the fly. Isn’t that the way the world works anyway?
Perhaps these are trivial observations, but planning in the ACT does not give the impression that the intention is survival. Canberra has christened 3 new suburbs this week, which are intended to fill in the open space between Belconnen and Weston Creek with about 73,000 people. Nearby Bungendore, the sleepy village one passes through on the way to the coast from Canberra, is planning a subdivision for 1300 homes. My rural friend says it will change the nature of the town, in ways that are probably not welcome to many.
I see Weston Creek becoming busier, less friendly, and more crowded once these new areas get going. Everyone has the same comment: where is the water going to come from?
This spring has been a reprieve for Canberra, with generous rains. However, these still fall short of the long term average. And it is too late for the 10,000 street trees, mostly natives, that have been cut down due to drought.
A recent book and a New Year’s trip to Sydney serve as reminders of the sharp gap between reality and sustainability. The intention, and therefore the design elements, all seem to assume endless complexity and unbounded growth. Governance, the dimension that covers the legal, social and economic accountabilities of our system, is misguided at best, often malicious in practice.
How can it be that 30 years after I first decried the lack of street signs on many Sydney’s major streets, they are still missing? Or that people now need GPS systems just to navigate it’s labrynthine paths?
Choosing Eden, by Adrienne Langmore, is the book about a 50 something Sydney couple who got so spooked by Peak Oil that they moved to a farm near Coffs Harbour. There the story ended as they implemented their permaculture and low-carbon lifestyle amid like-minded folk. People with intentions, because without that you can’t design what you want.
The Melbourne trams always strike me as an unintended design feature: they have a traffic-calming effect, thereby helping to make the city feel more low key.
Canberra is building crazily at the airport, but without adequate public transport or housing nearby. The great Shangrila of Gungahlin, on the other hand, has endless houses and people, but few jobs. Does this sound like a city-state preparing for the future?
The give away is the ACT document Weathering the Change, which has many sensible intentions. Their noble goal is 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. However, it doesn’t address issues of population or possibly providing for more localised food production might be sensible. The intentionality is limited, and while smart urban design is mentioned, the offering will be fairly conventional.
We are all addicted to growth of all kinds that is managed (perfectly wrong, although every detail is in place) by a growth-driven approach to governance.
Surely enough said for one Thursday. Time for me to do something about my sad, dry vegetables outside. But as a reward for anyone who has read this far, check out the recent report from the International Food Policy Research Unit, or just look at the summary given in: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071204091925.htm. The report emphasises the impact of rising world food prices and scarcity on the world’s poor, but there are some obvious extrapolations as the globe heats up.


Posted by Ronda Jambe at 12:15 pm | Comments (6) |


  1. Welcome back Graham.
    How about a 12 step program for saving the Liberal Party?

    Comment by Matt — January 3, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  2. I’m not Graham.

    Comment by ronda jambe — January 4, 2008 @ 7:51 am

  3. Matt:
    She doesn’t look much like Graham from way up here but I’ll get my binoculars and check for you, if you like. L-O-L :-)
    Well posted!

    Comment by Graham Bell — January 7, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  4. The environment does not need saving in terms of the carbon footprint.We are going through an extended period of high sun spot activity that according to Henrik Svensmark will peak in 2013 and diminish until 2050 possibly bringing on an ice age.CO2 has never been the prime driver of climate change over the last 500 million yrs and why should the reality be different now?

    Comment by Arjay — January 9, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

  5. arjay,
    Perhaps you are on a different planet from the rest of us. On the planet that I inhabit sun spot activity has been diminishing since 2000 and is expected to reach a minimum this autumn, before the next 11 year cycle begins. From http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080109-sunspots.html

    Comment by MikeM — January 10, 2008 @ 6:04 pm

  6. the sun spot hypothesis has been truly debunked some time ago, but keep dreaming.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — January 14, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.