All for one and one for all – sustainability, resources and stewardship of planet Earth
By Katherine E Welch, on 17 November 2014
“The solutions are in our hands if only we could recognise them”, one of the key remarks from the closing panel discussion at this year’s BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities/UCL Grand Challenges Symposium hosted by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources on Nov 6-7.
This is, I think, a sentiment shared by most, and certainly by those attending this year’s conference, which ran with the theme ‘Stewardship for Planet Earth’. Over the two days of the event we heard contributions from academics, policy makers and practitioners, both presenting and in the audience, and held rousing discussions about our individual and shared responsibilities for how, and to what extent, we exploit our natural resources.
Debate was fierce and flipped from economics to anthropology to environment as the delegation seesawed between whether a top-down or bottom up approach would be most successful. The final conclusion? Well somewhere in the middle I suspect. Multi-disciplinarity has been stressed by virtually all participants, and so was the need to give local communities a voice, i.e. a strong pledge for inter-cultural communication. There was consensus that we all have a shared responsibility for our environment, but views on how to tackle the problems of over-consumption and scandalous wastage (roughly 1/3 of everything grown on the planet never makes it to the plate) varied.
There is no denying the role of industry, governments and international bodies, as Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council said in one panel debate: “the power of the market can work together with public policy”. Indeed, in his opening address to the conference, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said that accepting that we must act globally while at the same time being rooted in the local is not a contraction, it is simply a challenge.
Yet many more advocated bottom-up approaches utilising citizen science, community outreach and our individual moral compass to guide us to a more balanced future. As one delegate tweeted “something more than policy is required here”. Frans Berkhout, Professor of Environment, Society and Climate, Kings College London, another keynote speaker, advocated the role of a more solution-oriented research along with actors from civil society.
I’m not going to pretend we came up with the solution, if only that were the case. But I certainly left at the end of the day with a palpable sense that now is the time for action. I am not an academic, but while our academic staff here at UCL ISR (and at so many other departments around the world) are doing sterling work, I still left the conference with the sense there is something I can do.
In his keynote address Kevin Urama summed up one of the main problems: “as humans all we want is more, and that makes us bad stewards of ourselves let alone the planet.” I guess my take home is for each and every one of us to examine our own resource footprint and what we can do to better balance it with what the planet can provide.
I’ll leave you with another key remark I took from Prof Urama: “Have I been a good steward?” a good question for us all.