IN THE IRISH CONTEXT
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
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,
which is the low impact conference and the Landscape Forum both
held in Maynooth.
needs: as the media and the university system are so incorrigibly
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
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,
to practical ways in which we can move towards Sustainability, principally
communication - leading perhaps to integration between statutory
bodies, national N.G.O's,
voluntary and local organisations.
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.
scale and timing problems which are leading to a sluggish prioritisation
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,
system and our Media. This seems likely to continue until the State
and Business/the growth
Economy identify the need to formally separate.
of currently interlocking interests will contribute to enhancing
our society by achieving a fairer balance between the corporate,
the statutory and the
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.
provides a means by which we would perhaps link the words 'Abuse'
'Respect' with the word 'Sustainability'.
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
concept helps us to address the false duality in this respect. We
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
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
While much excellent
progress in policy and administrative adjustments over the past
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
trend is to try to pretend to ourselves that short term incremental
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
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,
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
sustainability issues during the past 23-33 years and acted on their
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 /
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
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
we focused on what a process of Recognition, Affirmation and Alignment
might mean for
The Future of
the Environmental Movement in Ireland conference at U.C.G.
Landscape Forum 1995-1998 at U.C.D. and latterly at St. Patrick's
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
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
Banagher, Co. Offaly, Carrigallen, Co. Leitrim, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary,
and Kilronan, Inis
Festival held at Crannagh Castle Co. Tipp is a regular busman's
holiday for the
widest imaginable variety of environmentalists.
few headline events does not detract from what hundreds of other
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?
workshops and Conferences, are part of an information distribution
which constitute what I can only describe as a determined hedge
The scale and
consistency of this circuit points to a benign Social Movement already
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
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
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
certification that processors are demanding.
in point would be the decision to remove architecture from an EC
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.
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
facilities etc. is not a good omen.
NGOs which have
arisen in the last two years show a more sophisticated approach
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
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.
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
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'
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.
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
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
Institute offers substantial ecology-specific courses. Angel Management
in Co. Wicklow has
emerged as a niche local point of learning.
are scarce enough - The Growth Illusion, and Short Circuit by Richard
Douthwaite; 'Campaigns and how to win them', 'Green Design' by the
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.
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.
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
Prior to a conclusion
of this overview, I need to make two points which are constructive
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,
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.
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.
balance between 'merit based' and 'relationship based' decision
be one theme for the development of the code for committees.
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
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.
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
system. In this, the converged yet departmentalised universities
are of little help in
that the validation of the knowledge and ontology of the sustainability
not occur on any significant scale.
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?
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?
I must say that the media and Educational system are so undiverse,
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.
is the Prime-directive of all life, whether Bird, Bee or Human,
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
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
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
the integrity of the Earth Economy should be the first purpose of
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
of 'poverty proofing' into our public administration. (2) Consequentially,
Government as an
activity is about Sustainability and many of the Social, Environmental
anomalies which we now face can be effectively addressed by our
Government saying this
straight out for once and for all.
then is, first Sustainability, the Growth Economy second. Constitution
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
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
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
on this matter) entitled "The University: Its Response to the
(on the Internet).
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.
means not keeping unsustainable processes ongoing: the embracement
sustainability as a substantive social objective can however include
a pragmatic short-term
tolerance of unsustainable activities.
can be used as a compass, a cognitive filter and a pivotal corrective
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,
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
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
anthropocentric view and the 'ecological view' of society.
is a former thatcher, based in County Sligo. He was one of many
the 'Anti Nuclear Power Movement' in the mid 1970s and acted as
co-ordinator of the Anti-
Nuclear Power Roadshows.
to the establishment of a number of environmental NGOs including
An Caidreamh Eiriu and the Ecological Trades Community.
He is currently
a contributor to Landscape Alliance Ireland, Feasta - The Foundation
the Economies of Sustainability and The Three Rock Institute.
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
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."
'The Home of Man' Penguin, 1976.