MOST New Englanders live with a quality of life that is beyond anything ever experienced by humanity in all of history. We have it that good, me included.
On average, our life expectancy is double that of our great-great grandparents.
We have technology for health, communication, entertainment and more than was scarcely imaginable even 30 years ago.
Transportation has become so commonplace that we complain about airline food and affordability as much as car reliability, when not so long ago such things were out-of-reach to anyone but the most wealthy of people and most senior of authorities.
We are immersed in so much information that we feel like terrorism, war and violence are all around us even though we live in the most peaceful of eras in recorded times and pre-history.
And the range of public services we have ~ health, education, social security and family benefits ~ which at the time my still living grandmother was born used to largely exist only through charities, and even then only for the poor.
Yet the question arises, how can we sustain this economically?
The most common answer given is ‘growth’. While growth means many things – personal growth, plant growth even spiritual growth – in this way it mainly means money, material possessions, business, jobs, GDP and taxes.
The need for growth is bigger than just our New England needs alone, given that 20 per cent of Earth’s population, including most of us, account for 80 per cent of all resource use, while the other 80 per cent of our global village are moving on up. They are increasingly buying cars, building houses and wanting health care, electricity, education, social security and more.
On what basis could we blame or deny them for seeking this?
In some ways the New England (and other rural areas) has a similar view to less developed countries like China and India - that we have to, or should be allowed to, grow. There is a view we need to compete and get as good as our big city cousins, while China and India race to compete and get as good as us.
This all adds up to a phenomenal desire for economic growth and activity.
Is it sustainable? Can it be sustainable? What if it isn’t? I’ll wager the answers: no, maybe, and big trouble.
These questions are too big to answer in one short column. However, some key issues for the New England’s sustainability can be pointed to.
We need to be shifting more swiftly to renewable resources. Too much of our economic activity is from once-only use non-renewable resources.
Fossil fuels for energy, raw materials for building, habitat clearing and space for development.
We need a master plan for the Tablelands that maps how population growth, urban development, infrastructure, transport and biodiversity will truly be more sustainable. If not we risk further fragmenting and degrading bushland and increasing highly expensive (financially and environmentally) personal transport.
We need to seek satisfaction and pleasure in ways that literally don’t cost the earth. Retail therapy would have to be one of the most counter-productive terms ever made part of pop culture. Most houses in Australia these days have one or even two rooms filled with unused stuff. There are shoes and clothes rarely worn.
What difference would it really make if the New England grew the old way anyway? After all, there are 20,000 Indians for every one of us.
This is a serious decision for us each to consider.
For me it is useful to dream how my great-great grandchildren might one day reflect back and compare as I do now with my grandmother. It’s their health, happiness, sense of self and belonging in a global village of wonder that comes to mind.
Starfish Enterprises Network