[Coral-List] Resilience, Remnancy, Sustainability - Semantics?

Andrew Williams A.J.G.Williams at newcastle.ac.uk
Mon Feb 27 14:30:15 EST 2006

Dear All,

I started out reading this topic with interest, but it is now becoming irritation, because it seems to be a great deal of definitions, discussions of semantics and ego flattering statements. Do I intend to be insulting? No, I attempt to point out that if this discussion is affecting me in this way (an alleged scientist), imagine what it does for members of the public...

Now watch me reel off a massive list of definitions! *laughs*

Global warming - fossil fuels are the key issue, yet they are owned by massive MNCs whose sole interest is capital generation. The technology to replace these energy sources already exists, is owned by MNCs and DODs around the world, either hidden from public use for protectionism of markets or national security (i.e. protectionism of national markets!). The USA is 'run' by an oil baron, a man who was re-elected by over 50% (ish) of the nation (well those who voted). 

What is the solution when the public are disinterested in (global) politics, and the politicians are interested in re-election and capital accumulation?

Education is fundamentally important to changing public, and thus political, agendas, yet who controls school curricula? 

What happens when the media has become mankind's source of (dis)information?

What happens when scientists cannot even decide within themselves the 'correct' course of action?

I'll tell you what I believe happens, things get worse, further ingrained, more polarised and more self-centred. There are two real problems in this world, apathy and greed. If these two variables can be addressed, mankind has a chance at not destroying itself and the planet in the process.

I've seen/heard various people say things like, "thanks for that depressing outlook" to which my response is, do we live on the same planet? I would dearly love to be optimistic about global affairs, but I think it's deluded. I don't believe in the Hollywood happy ending, in fact if I did, I wouldn't be studying natural resource management. I will happily admit that there are success stories about the place and I will come to that point 'shortly'. We are creeping in the right direction, but we could be walking, if not running (hand in hand into the sunset...sorry!).

We all talk about globalisation, yet where are the international laws, where is the international institution that represents mankind's interest and not national interests? None of us alone is going to change global problems, it is going to take a concerted global effort, it is not going to be easy, it is going to require considerable pain in the process, because current consumption of global resources are not sustainable (yup sorry, there's that buzz word again). There are no 'silver bullets', if we haven't learned that yet...

Admittedly, all this globalisation 'stuff' is in it's infancy, it is barely crawling, but someone (plural) MUST teach it how to walk and it cannot be driven solely by the free market ideology.

'Over' population - Carrying capacities do not take into account advances in technology, so improvements in agricultural practices increases production (agreed, simply pouring chemicals into the ground is not sustainable, but there are alternatives). There's plenty of food being produced today, it's not a production issue it's a distribution issue. I only have to wander around shops like 'Pound Land' to realise there are massive amounts of resources being poured into utterly useless products, yet people still buy them. My computers enable me to communicate globally, increase my productivity, my lights enable me to work in the dark, but, for example, these ridiculous plastic (oil derivative) desk ornaments - where's the utility in that? Don't even get me started on SUVs!

To say China has the right idea about birth control, is rather simplistic, just look at how many female babies are abandoned or aborted, I feel that women being marched en-mass into sterilisation programs (India) against their will is totally indefensible. Human rights on one hand, control systems on the other - where is the middle ground? I personally would like to see a licensing system, whereby people have to prove they are capable of being good parents and are economically able to raise their kids - but of course that only works in developed nations, I could not possibly argue for that to be applied in developing nations. I'm sure that would cause a massive outcry, it being a fundamental human right to have children, but this example of the women having her 12th baby - what about the rights of people who don't want to live in an overcrowded world? Since when do the rights of the individual outweigh the rights of the many (sorry, rather star trek I know!)? We are boxing ourselves into a corner with all this political correctness.

Timescales - someone mentioned that on a long enough time line, reefs will be gone. Well in several billion years the sun will expand to the point Earth will be uninhabitable - does this mean we should all just give up and damn the world to extinction early? I absolutely take the point that ecosystems are processes, (perhaps they should be renamed as ecoprocesses and not systems (I am so joking!)) and that on a long enough time line everything will change, but these changes are for the most part geologically slow - slow enough for evolution to keep pace. Mankind's affects on the planet are accelerating beyond the pace of evolution, plus I would prefer to live in a world where the atmosphere is breathable, the water drinkable, the soils cultivable...

Spatial scales - I vaguely remember mentioning I would come to a point and this is it - start small, lead by example and the people will follow! We can't take on global issues, the institutions and laws simply are not there yet, it's currently far too voluntary and un-enforceable. Apart from anything else, ecosystems are site specific - there are reefs on the east coast of Australia that are growing in highly turbid conditions, whereas in other places, turbidity is fatal. I don't think it is possible to come up with a 10 point plan to global success, because by doing so you are going to have to cut down a 1000 points to 10, what if the 990 disregarded points aggregate to greater importance than the 10 you chose? Global affairs are for the politicians, scientists should be there in an advisory capacity but when I say scientists I mean all of them, not just e.g. Marine Biologists - see my next point.

Integration - So, one school of thought cries out for public awareness and consumer driven market forces, one cries out for more stringent laws and regulations, another for strict conservationism, another for... where is the integration, where's the facilitator, the chair person co-ordinating all these schools? If you are going to try and solve issues, then you must consider (in alphabetical order) economics, environment, politics and social anthropology - not on a sectoral basis but as an integrated whole. You cannot just form MPAs where ever biodiversity is greatest, because you will more than likely marginalise the people living off that resource. Making the poor poorer just causes further environmental degradation as they are forced to exploit any (free/common) natural resource they can. If you exclude people from the picture, you have an issue of non-compliance and thus a cost in enforcement. I entered into my first degree of the opinion that the environment should be protected no matter the human cost, I have since completely amended that outlook since it's myopic at best and downright inhumane at worst.

Participation - To overcome issues of non-compliance, marginalisation and often to increase knowledge of local systems, people must be allowed to participate at ALL levels of project and policy formulation/implementation - that does not mean consultation, that means active participation.

Process - Sustainable Development (sorry but I don't see it as an oxymoron - I do see it's false implementation as oxy-moronic) is a process, not a system, thus projects and policies should be re-evaluated as often as humanly possible, because making changes causes changes.

Good governance - We are only just starting to see models of good governance, not top-down, not bottom-up, but multi-tier (local, regional, national, international) well organised/managed, with an ability to pass information/resources up and down the system with speed and efficiency. Good governance starts with individuals and ends with international agreements, with every single organisation/institution in-between. It needs to be based on equity, equality and shared interest, not ego, power and greed. Now that's a serious challenge because a majority of the current systems of governance are corrupt and unwieldy, favouring the rich and powerful, self-protecting and exacerbating poverty.

Developed nations cannot dictate how developing nations can and cannot develop when, as someone has already pointed out, a large proportion of greenhouse gases derive from our activities. Good governance must be about setting a good example, not just enforcing it.

I think I am probably boring everyone by now, but I have one more thing to say. All of the above I have been taught, ok some of it I consciously/sub-consciously knew already, but there are more people behind me, coming up through the 'new' schools of thought. One day, these people will be the top scientists of the day, the politicians, the decision makers - when that day comes, I think (hope) we will see some real changes being made. I can only hope that some of the above will help people break free of the chains of sectoralism and start seeing things from a holistic perspective, you cannot save reefs by simply speaking about how they are dying at n.nnn% a year.

Of all the traits of human nature, survival is one of the greatest, otherwise we'd already be gone. The glass can be half empty and/or half full, it all depends on how you view it, but why does no one ever consider topping it back up to brim? Stop observing, start doing!

A passionate Msc Student

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