Brian Rogers

"Mankind and the Landscape are 'Us'. The Sustainability concept helps us to address the false duality in this respect. We begin to develop not a singular, but a richly layered perspective on our surroundings and on our place in that context."


Sustainability does not mean keeping all unsustainable processes ongoing; the
embracement of sustainability as a substantive social objective can however include a
tolerance towards unsustainable activities. Sustainability can be used as a compass, a
cognitive filter and a pivotal corrective and cohesive precept by all sub cultures. It is implied
by our constitution that the state is about sustainability it is undignified for it to be pushed,
pulled and dragged through the issue, this will largely continue until the state achieves the
separation of business and state and until business/the growth economy identifies the need to

There is now a permanent circuit of sustainability related events in Ireland, principal amongst
which is the low impact conference and the Landscape Forum both held in Maynooth.

Current urgent needs: as the media and the university system are so incorrigibly disfocused
on the sustainability issue, there is an urgent strategic need to set up a university faculty with
its own vote and a separate media outlet in order to achieve the broadening and flattening of
the information needs of our evolving society and to address the inequitable tensions between
the anthropocentric view and the 'ecological view' of society. Many of the current strategic
needs regarding the facilitating of, the validation, the testing of sustainability could be grouped
together in the development of an eco-town - e.g. R & D, Libraries, Training, The Integration
of NGOs and the development of a 'Plan B' for this island nation, which currently cannot feed,
clothe or cover itself on its own and has no idea of how to do so should the need arise.


The most frequently quoted and possibly lowest common denominator definition of
Sustainability is, "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The Local Agenda 21 process, which requires implementation before December 2002, points
to practical ways in which we can move towards Sustainability, principally by increased
communication - leading perhaps to integration between statutory bodies, national N.G.O's,
voluntary and local organisations.

Clearly, as Ireland is a party to the Rio Declaration, of which Local Agenda 21 is a significant
element, it is accepted that sustainability is now formally recognised as 'an' objective of this
State. There is however, a cacophony of short term perspectives which affect the perception
of the scale of the response needed to achieve sustainability within the time frame available.

Besides the scale and timing problems which are leading to a sluggish prioritisation of the
sustainability issue by our society, we have the related problem of the Growth
Economy/Corporate view/Consumerist ethos, the imperatives of which pervade all levels of
public life, including the politics and the administration of Government, our Educational
system and our Media. This seems likely to continue until the State and Business/the growth
Economy identify the need to formally separate.

That separation of currently interlocking interests will contribute to enhancing and evolving
our society by achieving a fairer balance between the corporate, the statutory and the
voluntary/community sectors.

The concept of sustainability is a superb cognitive tool. Its implications are at worst benign to
our society. It is a compass and a target; a cognitive filter, a corrective and cohesive
principle to be used at all levels in society. It gives the basis for the rebalancing of the
Anthropocentric and the Ecological views of human affairs.

The concept provides a means by which we would perhaps link the words 'Abuse' and
'Respect' with the word 'Sustainability'.

An equivalent idea to sustainability is that of 'Landscape'. For instance it is plain that our
landscape is or has evolved as a direct result of the interaction between Humans and their
Ecological context. Man is now so numerous and arguably, so insecure that we just can't
leave the Landscape alone. We have reached the point now where our deeply cumulative, -
causal and consequential - relationship with the landscape can threaten both it and us. Of
course, there actually is no 'it', Mankind and the Landscape are 'Us'.

The Sustainability concept helps us to address the false duality in this respect. We begin to
develop not a singular, but a richly layered perspective on our surroundings and on our place
in that context. The concept gives us a means of adjusting our aims towards our context and
developing effective strategies for reducing our dependence on, (and waste of), finite

If we cannot yet immediately extrapolate threats to our landscapes, biodiversity and eco-
systems as threats to our culture and indeed our lives here in Ireland, we can certainly
recognise it on the global scale; e.g. the effects of the seasonal typhoon 'Mitch' in Honduras
and Nicaragua where a heavy price was paid in human terms for the denuding of the forests
that has taken place in those countries over the past twenty five years in the name of
'Economic Growth'.

While much excellent progress in policy and administrative adjustments over the past two
years here in Ireland must be acknowledged, the fact that our island population will likely
move from 5 to 7 million plus in the next 10 years and that 'growth economists' are not
reviewing their position makes one generally glum as to the chances of future generations
being able to enjoy landscape features which we currently take for granted.

The Problem of 'Equivalence'.

The current trend is to try to pretend to ourselves that short term incremental adjustments to
standing Social Economic and Environmental policies without any attitudinal shift on our
society's part constitute an adequate response to the imperatives of the sustainability issue.

In this understanding, the Sustainability issue must bend to the status quo rather than the other
way around. Sooner than later we are going to have to face up to the inadequacies and
irrationalities inherent in our majoritarian and adversarial system of governing ourselves and
we must determine to achieve an enhanced democracy. Two steps that might be taken
towards this require us to clarify our prime social objective and clarify a clear code for
committee members at all levels.

Instead of actively researching the evolutionary potential of the sustainability issue, 'We' are
in danger of equivocating about it, of playing it down, deprioritising it, of seeking to
renegotiate its meaning.

It is fortunate that a quorum of our society has taken an informed and committed view of
sustainability issues during the past 23-33 years and acted on their convictions. One
expression of this sanity and humanity of Society has been the hundreds of NGOs and
voluntary groups and individual efforts, who, until recent years have largely taken a single
issue approach rather than an integrated approach to glaring Societal / Landscape /
Sustainability issues.

One can see these organisations as a flowering of Citizenship, and yet, the sheer scale and
duration of these campaigns cannot be recognised as amounting to an indictment of
successive Government's failure to do their job properly. Indeed I can see the makings of an
argument that the medium is the message, that the delay is the thing, that a peek at the script
for Ireland would reveal that of course 'We' intend to do what is necessary to achieve
sustainability - but not just now Lord. And so, the years slip by, the landscape issues
remain off kilter, and an odd sort of progress persists. I can, however, choose to adopt the
perspective that all relationships exist in a phase of positive constructive flux.


A number of events have taken place over recent years, which have touched upon the issue of
sustainability. These have included:

The 20th anniversary Mustard Seed Gathering at the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation where
we focused on what a process of Recognition, Affirmation and Alignment might mean for
sustainability activists.

The Future of the Environmental Movement in Ireland conference at U.C.G.

The National Landscape Forum 1995-1998 at U.C.D. and latterly at St. Patrick's College,
Maynooth (I strongly recommend the beautifully produced 'Proceedings' of these colloquia,
published by Landscape Alliance Ireland, to the Committee).

The 'Low Impact' conferences again at Maynooth which featured amongst a complex of
sustainability related events, a debate on Genetic engineering which left the pro-moratorium
side looking like Asterix, Obelix and the fishmonger meeting a Roman Patrol.

A series of conferences were held by the Department of the Environment and Local
Government and An Taisce, these represented for me a historic first, at which the DOE
spokesperson took an upbeat and optimistic view of the sustainability issue and its salaried
participants took the issue very seriously.

The series of colloquia under the heading 'Building the Local Economy' which took place at
Banagher, Co. Offaly, Carrigallen, Co. Leitrim, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, and Kilronan, Inis

The Harvest Festival held at Crannagh Castle Co. Tipp is a regular busman's holiday for the
widest imaginable variety of environmentalists.

Mentioning these few headline events does not detract from what hundreds of other meetings,
directly or indirectly addressing the subject of sustainability, whether initiated by the State or
civil Society - are attempting to articulate, - groping for the vision which describes this
separate onthology which is emerging. I have the impression that conversation has begun to
drift from what we are doing and why we are doing it to the more useful question of how we
do it. Questions of how, are awkward but necessary; e.g. what role do NGOs play in
underwriting the status quo of equivalence and the preference to 'handle' rather than 'deal
with' environmental issues?

These meetings, workshops and Conferences, are part of an information distribution network,
which constitute what I can only describe as a determined hedge school.

The scale and consistency of this circuit points to a benign Social Movement already in
existence, although fragmentation and conventional thought processes are so strong that this
Social movement does not yet recognise itself.

It must be disheartening for the Government to observe this scale of activity filling a vacuum
especially as it is in fact a very active contributor at ground floor level, spending thousands of
millions a year with sustainability somewhat in mind, - this is to a degree a communication
and P.R. problem. It is more to do with a sycophancy to the growth economy (exclusion by
criterion/prioritisation etc.) that suppresses diversity and is not in the long term/medium term
interests of this island.

What is also indicated is a certain lack of conviction that it is the Government's sovereign
right to control the money rather than the other way around (that money controls the

It is true that an 'us' and 'them' scenario no longer fits, e.g. civil servants are effective and
valuable members of communities which collectively recognise the need to have effective
NGOs, environmental and otherwise, and submissions sometimes do influence policy. This is
reflected in the strategic dropping of the term 'alternative' in favour of complimentary.
Nevertheless substantial policy changes are very rarely internally generated, on the part of the
State, but rather result from occasional court cases or EC legislation.

It could be argued, for instance, that the primary motivation for the recent sustainable forestry
management initiative by the State forestry company, Coillte Teoranta was neither its own
intellectual process, Government direction or recognition of the integrity of an NGOs
submission, but the financial need to qualify for the internationally recognised sustainability
certification that processors are demanding.

Another case in point would be the decision to remove architecture from an EC directive on
Environmental Impact Assessment. This is now the subject of one of numerous court cases,
but what is particularly worrying from a landscape/Sustainability point of view is the fact that
it happened in the first place.

While there is much to be said about the upcoming National Environmental Partnership
Forum, it must be noted that the non-provision of funds for an NGO secretariat, consultancy
facilities etc. is not a good omen.

NGOs which have arisen in the last two years show a more sophisticated approach than
heretofore. For instance, Eco-Link approaches the institutionalised NGOs' reluctance to
integrate and extensively researched how it could provide a retraining and upskilling service,
making introductions, creating efficiencies for the various groups etc.

I understand that individual efforts in related areas may be banding together to constitute the
Coalition for a Sustainable Ireland: e.g. a two year old group called E.T.C. - the Ecological
Trades Community could hope to achieve a mass which justifies participation.

Two significant indicative actions going on presently are 'Genetic Concern' and the 'Glen of
the Downs' protest. The ink is still fresh on 'Feasta - the foundation for the economics of

And then of course there is Lancefort Ltd. And not forgetting new localised Environmental
groups springing up in almost every major town and the local NGOs who have broadened
their focus, in order to see the wood from the trees.

The power contained in the 1996 Waste Management Act to create regional 'superdumps' may
come to be seen as a call to environmental activism and for deliberation on sustainability in
much the same way as did the proposed nuclear power station in Carnsore, Co. Wexford in
the late 1970s.

Besides events and reorganisations, a few learning sites plod on, at DIT, Bolton Street and at
Waterford Institute of Technology sustainability courses attract interest. Down south Will
Sutherland and Dominic Waldron crop up, and one hears of Environmentally sound building
courses and environmental sciences. Three sites of note are The Ark Permaculture Centre,
Sonairte (the National Ecology Centre), and An Grian n.

There are many schools and centres for the healing arts - an aligned sector. The Three Rock
Institute offers substantial ecology-specific courses. Angel Management in Co. Wicklow has
emerged as a niche local point of learning.

Printed books are scarce enough - The Growth Illusion, and Short Circuit by Richard
Douthwaite; 'Campaigns and how to win them', 'Green Design' by the OPW, Sustainable
Development by the DOE and Land of Milk and Honey by Brid Mahon. But then, Walnut
Books supplements the diet by importing a large selection.

And then there are the Internet sites, e.g. Sustainability Ireland Network. There is a good plan
being formulated to use the internet to produce regional Magazines. Meanwhile the
information vacuum created due to 'Common Ground' magazine suspending itself is filled by
the Catalyst Magazine and the more tabloid Pobal an Dulra. Neither is like the heftier Aisling
Aran magazine. Earthwatch have a very readable publication, Crann's 'Releafing Ireland' has
just moved to magazine format. And so on.

No overview of this Sustainable Environment sector could be complete without mention of a
strengthening Green Pound, from the bigger, like wholefood and trees to innumerable micro
business initiatives which persist despite tacit discouragement and resource deficiencies. and,
the McKenna Judgement, which, has not yet percolated as far as it will.

Prior to a conclusion of this overview, I need to make two points which are constructive in

First, if it were possible to look at this sector as an entity like a SME then can there be
another single entity (excepting agriculture of course) as wasteful of valuable human
resources, of man hours as it?

Is it possible that any other sector gets through as much diesel, electricity, paper, telephone-
time and money for so little tangible result as this? Fragmentation is part of the reason, but I
suggest that it is the dysfunctional interface between these organisations and the state which is
at the core of the waste.

This dysfunction is caused by the imbalances which exist in the institutions of States
relationship with the businesses based on Usury and Growth, and Civil Society. Going
beyond the Nuremberg Excuse, it is useful to look at the role of the Irish Media and Our
Educational system in this.

But first I will finish my first point with the observation that it is the State's job to make sure
that 'the Farmer and the Cowboy must be friends' - Brokering a funding vessel to be filled by
the business interests and emptied by the sustainability sector would be a good start.

Clarifying the balance between 'merit based' and 'relationship based' decision making would
be one theme for the development of the code for committees.

Secondly the fact that the converged, homogenised, conventional media 'withholds'
the oxygen of recognition and attention from the sustainability issue is a principal
reason that the public does not enthuse about it to their political representatives.
We can daydream about Statespersonship all we want, but in the end politicians tend to do
what effective political lobbyists want, and not necessarily what civil lobbyists want - obviously
there is a difference.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the way we organise our public representation turned out to be a major
restraint in terms of letting the ordinary voting public create the kind of sustainable reality it
would, in its more reflective moments, prefer?

So, to my mind a 'bread and circuses' media represents a key dysfunction in our political
system. In this, the converged yet departmentalised universities are of little help in
that the validation of the knowledge and ontology of the sustainability sector does
not occur on any significant scale.

The commodification, the hiving off, of knowledge, interferes with 'the broadening and
flattening of access to knowledge within our Society'. How is it, for instance, that an
infrastructure of tele-cottages or similar has yet to be seen as an obvious infrastructural need?

Does government's need to 'control and handle' override the higher purpose of 'facilitation
and enablement'? Does fear of real change lead to the discouragement of the intellectuals and
more importantly, the Creatives in our society?

With respect, I must say that the media and Educational system are so undiverse, monolithic
and in the short to medium term, so incorrigible that they can now only change if competed
with successfully by a Sustainability Faculty with its own vote and a Sustainability media
with countrywide distribution. But this competition will not arise without the goodwill of a
truly Democratic Government in recognising that such competition as this would represent is
a strategic need of a healthy, diverse, vigorous State.


Sustainability is the Prime-directive of all life, whether Bird, Bee or Human, all biological
entities, sentient or insentient, interact with their Ecological context to maximise the survival
of their species. Genes transmitting themselves through time.

This State is defined by the Constitution and our Government is the means by which this State
runs its affairs and does its business. I contend that the prime directive of life - call it
Continuance, call it Sustainability - and the Constitution are halves of the same coin in that
the Constitution implies sustainability.

I can point, to the section on Family for instance; Mr Terry O'Regan, of Landscape Alliance
Ireland, has pointed out that "Articles 43 and 45 might lend themselves to be interpreted as
referring to landscape quality, as it is Article 43 which underpins our planning process. As
part of the current review of our Constitution an article relating to our total environment
embracing Landscape, would appear to be very necessary."

It would be psychotic to suggest that both prime directives, one, of our biology as animals and
the other of our humanity as society are not in direct sympathy with each other. "In
economics, the discontinuity established between the human economy and the earth economy
has been disastrous beyond measure.

A rising Gross Human Product with a declining Gross Earth Product is surely an absurdity.

To preserve the integrity of the Earth Economy should be the first purpose of any economic
programme. Yet it would be very difficult to find a University where this first principle of
economics is being taught" (1)

This being the case, I wish to say that Sustainability is not a social objective that we will get
around to when it suits the old and nouveau money, but it is the social objective. And as
such, it is an imperative which must be properly respected and resourced.

We must engage in 'Sustainability Screening' just as we have recently introduced the concept
of 'poverty proofing' into our public administration. (2) Consequentially, Government as an
activity is about Sustainability and many of the Social, Environmental and Economic
anomalies which we now face can be effectively addressed by our Government saying this
straight out for once and for all.

The sequence then is, first Sustainability, the Growth Economy second. Constitution and
Sustainability are boss, not Usury, not the shareholder, not the lobbyist. While this
proposition is likely to be about as popular as carbon tax, the McKenna Judgement,
Guaranteed Basic Income or hemp farming in the short term, it does indicate that a fair
Government would choose to begin 'Plan A' while 'Plan B' is currently at its zenith. To begin
Plan A, the achievement of a more steerable State, our Government must clarify that the
current strategic infrastructural needs of the Sustainability sector are its needs.

The need for a separate faculty and media, an Eco-link, Eco-villages in all rural regions, tele-
cottages, much better Research and Development strategies, core funding for N.G.O.s and the
implementation of Agenda 21 are all current strategic needs of State and cannot be entirely
left to resource starved, tiring, volunteers.

(1)      A sample quote from an inspiring essay by Thomas Berry (which sorted out my
          thoughts on this matter) entitled "The University: Its Response to the Ecological
          Crisis" (on the Internet).

(2)       I lifted this idea from the paper given by Mr. Eamon Gilmore T.D. at the Forum, with

Perhaps the above trends are contributory reasons for the first meeting of the Wheel, a coming
together of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland; of which the groups and
individuals mentioned above constitute a small part. This galvanising event happened in the
Presidents Hall, Blackhall Place, 13 February 1999.


That a quorum of society have taken the 'elders' view of sustainability issues and are prepared
to act upon their insights.

Sustainability means not keeping unsustainable processes ongoing: the embracement of
sustainability as a substantive social objective can however include a pragmatic short-term
tolerance of unsustainable activities.

Sustainability can be used as a compass, a cognitive filter and a pivotal corrective and
cohesive precept by all sub cultures. It is implied by our Constitution, for as the State is about
sustainability it is undignified for it to be pushed, pulled and dragged through the issue. This
will largely continue until the State achieves the separation of business and state and until
business and the growth economy identifies the need to separate.

There is now a permanent circuit of sustainability related events in Ireland, principal amongst
which is the low impact conference and the Landscape Forum. This circuit, taken with what
is effectively a Hedge School infrastructure indicates the existence of a social movement.

As the media and the university system are so incorrigibly disfocused on the sustainability
issue, there is an urgent strategic need to set up a university faculty with its own vote and a
separate media outlet in order to achieve the broadening and flattening of the information
needs of our evolving society and to address the inequitable tensions between the
anthropocentric view and the 'ecological view' of society.

Brian Rogers is a former thatcher, based in County Sligo. He was one of many initiators of
the 'Anti Nuclear Power Movement' in the mid 1970s and acted as co-ordinator of the Anti-
Nuclear Power Roadshows.

He contributed to the establishment of a number of environmental NGOs including CRANN,
An Caidreamh Eiriu and the Ecological Trades Community.

He is currently a contributor to Landscape Alliance Ireland, Feasta - The Foundation for
the Economies of Sustainability and The Three Rock Institute.


"If the forces of growth and expansion could have given us the keys of heaven
and earth, it would have been in the last hundred years. Yet in the days when
vast temperate supplies of grain were released by the opening of the prairies,
people starved on a planet carrying only a thousand million souls. When
unlimited energy welled up from the desert at a cost of 15 cents a barrel, at least a third of the world's people continued to depend upon back-breaking labour to achieve barely a substance diet. If, in short, at the time of maximum cheapness and abundance of resources, we planned so little, shared so meagrely, and did such environmental damage, then we can be sure that drift and stupid optimism and no thought for tomorrow will not provide any better answers in the days of greater stringency ahead."

Barbara Ward,
'The Home of Man' Penguin, 1976.