Dermot O'Gorman, CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature, spoke at the Eco Expo a few days ago. The theme of O'Gorman's presentation was "Is it possible to live in harmony with nature?".
To answer his question he discussed a number of different case studies around the world of individuals who have done extraordinary things to progress environmental knowledge, and cases where sustainable development options have been implemented. These examples included development in the village of Durian Rambun, cane farmer Tony Bugeja creating systems to manage sugar cane runoff, creator of the concept of the ecological footprint William Rees, and Dave Keeling who began the longest running atmospheric measurements of CO2.
Charles Keeling - CO2 monitoring
O'Gorman discussed the work of Charles (Dave) Keeling on CO2 levels in our atmosphere. Keeling conducted research on CO2 level during the 1950s. This work has continued at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and resulted in the Mauna Record, the longest continuous record of CO2 measurements in the world. Despite the scientific nature of his work, it is probably best know as the inspiration for the Al Gore’s lecture/documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (you can see the trailer below). Several years ago, Keeling’s son Ralph Keeling predicted that CO2 levels would surpass 400ppm in 2014 (human habitation of an area is best at around 300ppm). This actually occurred earlier this year.
Scripps CO2 program.
William Rees - ecological footprint
William Rees of the University of British Columbia coined the term "ecological footprint". This developed from his awareness of his connections to ecosystems and the planet through his knowledge of local food production. He applied the concept of carrying capacity to population growth and our ever-expanding needs and wants. Below is a clip of Rees describing some of the key points which led him to his theory.
Tony Bugeja - reducing runoff
Tony Bugeja is a third generation sugar cane farmer in Mackay. A serious issue affecting the Great Barrier Reef is the impact of runoff from sugar cane farms. This runoff contains fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides. When it enters the water the increase in phosphorous encourages eutrophication and algal blooms. The other nutrients and sediments in the runoff smother the corals. Tony was concerned with the reputation of sugar cane farmers as environmental vandals and wanted to ensure the effective management of the reef for his community. He set up a project to reduce runoff with other farmers in his area. In doing so, he has proved that it is also profitable to do so. 80 farmers became involved and they are promoting the systems to others. Monitoring has shown that the project has been able to increase water quality. The project has had the added benefit of influencing the thinking of the sugar cane companies who purchase the sugar cane. The companies are also under pressure from consumers who are searching for sustainable products.
Mackay farmers honoured with reef rescue accolades.
Durian Rambun - community ownership
Durian Rambun is a remote village in Indonesiawhere surrounding forests are being wiped out by forestry companies. Rosidi is the village chief who has overseen vast change in his community. The Asian Pulp and Paper company announced the creation of a forest plantation on village land. The community was concerned over the company's reputation of exploiting indigenous people and stripping forests bare. This is a significant site as the area is populated by the last 400 Sumatran Tigers in the wild. These tigers have evolved to suit these condition, and much of their home has been destroyed for paper production. Following the announcement of the plantation the community fought back. The community successfully lobbied the government and secured the rights to the forest for the next 35 years. In February APP announced cessation of natural forest clearing, and agreed to review their human rights issues and NGO scrutiny.
Seeing the forests for the trees.
So, is it possible to live in harmony with nature?
The examples discussed provided insights into how even the smallest ideas can have huge impacts down the track. Many individuals and communities can make decisions on how they choose to live their lives. Consumers wield enormous power in that they can determine the products and practices by business through their consumer decisions. We have the knowledge and skills to live in harmony with nature, and we have the connectivity to each other to share the methods with each other and motivate change. We all have the potential to do this.
O'Gorman left us with the following challenge:
What difference will you make?
What is your story and how will you tell it to billions of people?
How can we use these ideas and case studies in our classrooms?
Keeling's work ties in very well with Year 11 Geography if you choose to explore Climate Change in the Biophysical Interactions topic, or, if you choose the Natural Resources topic, it could be discussed in the environmental and social issues dot point.
The ecological footprint conceptualised by Rees is important background information for any discussion on ecological sustainability which can be found in both Year 11 and Year 8 Geography.
Tony Bugeja's cane farming strategies feed into a case study on the Great Barrier Reef in Year 12 Geography, providing specific examples of management strategies.
The Durian Rambun case study could be applied to a range of topics across a variety of years. For example, it could be used when looking at Forests in Year 7, Endangered Species in Year 8, Ecologically Sustainable Development in Year 8 or 11, and possibly in Year 12, depending on your case study of an Ecosystem At Risk. If you're about to implement the Australian Curriculum (I think every state but NSW) then it is also a great case study because it is based in Asia and addresses the Cross-Curriculum Priority of "Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia".
Another interesting question that Dermot raised was, "Does social media have the capacity to change the world or is it the biggest ever sinkhole of productivity?" In light of some events that have occurred over the last few days I will examine this question in a separate blog post, Are We Tweeting While Rome Burns?
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.
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