by Harry Partridge…

Pursuing the goals of sustainability, and pursuing them rigorously and with good intent seems often to fall short. The goals themselves are usually plural, multi-purposed and often conflicting. An example from the built environment is the debate between creating housing with a thermal sink of heavy masonry construction, and housing of lightweight construction. In simple terms, “cave” versus “tent” living. Some of Harry Seidler’s houses showcase the former and Glen Murcutt’s classic rural retreats describe the latter. Which is correct for a particular climate?

And, of course, the various emission and carbon trading schemes provide multiple positions for entrenched political and corporate posturing.

But before considering those contradictions, there is one glaring fact, one extremely large elephant in the room, which is fundamental to any discussion on global sustainability. And that is Third-World extreme poverty.

Is there a uniting driver for the divergent goals towards a greener lifestyle that can simultaneously help reduce extreme poverty?

Ecologically, and when we are at our best, we do wish to share nature and the cornucopia of all the numerous species of the planet with our kids and our grandkids; to share our mineral wealth with future generations; and of course we are quickly realising that we have to stop using the atmosphere as a general waste dump for CO2.

But extreme poverty, in spite of the dire news and images that we see almost nightly on our TVs, does not seem to move us.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Report (2003) states that 68,000 people per day die of malnutrition. Is this not shocking? Or is it not even more shocking that we are not shocked. Here in first world countries, we tell ourselves that we must be good global citizens, though of course we seem to want to do this only if we can do so without giving up anything ourselves. The typical green attitude seems to be: “how can I make my current life-style greener?”

Is it because the dire poverty that we see on TV does not, obviously, consume resources and create pollution that we are not outraged? Is it only when countries such as China and India endeavour to lift the squalid poverty of a couple of hundred million of their peoples, obviously causing more consumption and pollution and adding to global warming, that we begin to take notice?

Global Footprint Network states by the mid 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. Though of course, we only have one. It is obvious that we, in the first world, are using more than our fair share.

There is much hypocrisy between first-world green initiatives and third world hunger. So what is the solution? This essay suggests that a workable (and individual) approach is encompassed simply by “voluntary sharing”.

Baby-boomers fondly remember the late 60s and early 70s as a time of free love and peace, man. Then, there was a prevailing sense of sharing and a free giving: not just of love and sex, but of all one had. If you had only two apples, you gave one to the stranger next to you, and you wouldn’t go hungry because another stranger would offer you a carrot, or a peach…or maybe a joint. But the overriding aspect of the hippy era was of sharing.

This didn’t last long – perhaps only a few years, but in that time hope was tangible, possibilities were endless, fear and anxiety seemed remote. Maybe it was just youthful fancies or maybe for those few years we were really onto something.

Sharing means being less possessive and less greedy. It means loosening up a little on that fierce competitive drive that currently animates most of our business, sporting and even recreational activities. It would mean less of ‘them’ and more of ‘us’; it would mean we would expand to an ever larger family.

Michael Burling is an old Sydney baby-boomer. In his article on ‘Sharing and Being Shared” he states:

“I am now a very wealthy man. From my holiday house I can stroll straight onto my own sandy beach and dive through my translucently clear water; I see my fish and my very own rocky reef. I see my sky, my birds, my clouds. Others are here too. I share it freely with them. And perhaps they share it with me.”

And if we could all share the one God (worshipping in whatever way that we humans have developed and without the grasping attitude of exclusive ownership) then there would be no tectonic clashes along faith lines. No more faith-based wars!

Peter Singer, the Australian bio-ethicist, tells us that if one were to forego the morning take-away coffee and give that money to an Aid Agency, one third-world child’s life would be saved every six months. And surely much more can be given up and many more lives saved.

Maybe this won’t lead to a sea change in society; maybe no-one else will take the least notice, but perhaps through this notion of voluntary sharing I can find a place from which my personal, social, charitable and business decisions can spring more logically and more meaningfully. If, at its root, sharing is sought rather than grasping, then possibilities and potentialities for both sustainability and relief from poverty may begin to grow and flourish

Harry Partridge is director, Partridge Partners Structural Engineers