PROBLEM
21 May 2010 – The understanding within systems thinking of connections – causality and implications – is important if we are to derive solutions which are sustainable.  It “… completely saddens me you can’t go up a creek or a lagoon without severe poisoning … Perhaps if people could see the linkages between what they do and the impact on the environment …” But how can individuals remain mindful about such connections when they can be so easily hidden by spatial distance, by time, and by the un-priced “externalities” in economics?

We have had for far too long the luxury of seemingly being able to ignore consequences: “Air pollution … You know when you go out on a headland, look back towards the City and see the fringe of the [air pollution] gunge … scary” – but we now have car airconditioning and tinted glass so you can just wind up the windows and ignore it. “I don’t see the black smoke pouring out [of the power station] until I get to Lithgow. If it’s not in the backyard, I don’t really know…”; “… I find that really hard because you don’t know how the product is being made. Lack of disclosure… .” “Unit living … harder to influence people … Just a sense. [Are] people less resourceful [living in units]?”  “Lack of choice of products, and [limited] labelling … make it harder.”

There is an almost constant call to “provide education to the total population to increase awareness”. Environmental educators now realise that this can only be one component in any program to improve environmental responses.

However, there does seem to be a pressing need to make visible the invisible: “I know what landfill does – what leachate does. Council did some pamphlets: ‘Where does your garbage go?’ Especially in a unit you don’t know where everything goes, except down the stairs into the bin.”

So we must continue with actions to label stormwater drains, water courses, products and so on – not just as bits of information, but to embed connections and the quantification of “ecological footprints” within our thinking.  Thus, environmental education as integrated with everything we do: “… showing people the results of their everyday activities and the changes they can make (however small) to tread more lightly on the earth.”

SOLUTION
Bring what is hidden into greater consciousness. Think about all actions and describe and name things in terms of their connections  – where they have come from, and where they might go to.

Greg Paine is an urban planner interested in sustainable development.  These articles draw on his research work in the field.