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If governments won't fix climate change, people power will

At times “sustainable living” is seen as too broad a goal for practical and realisable implementation. Most of us would like to make a positive contribution to the environment—we would like to "make a difference". Al Gore, in his recent whirlwind visit to Australia, spoke passionately about living a "carbon neutral" life, and the measures one can take to ensure that one puts back as much as one takes out of this planet’s delicate ecosystem.

Dr Wim Hafkamp, a visiting academic from the University of Rotterdam, is someone who is very passionate about living a life that is “sustainable". He has a background in environmental economics, with a PhD that concentrated on building models which looked at the interaction between the economy and the environment. In the Netherlands, Dr Hafkamp looked at how emissions generated by various activities affected air quality in different regions of the country.

Dr Hafkamp suggests that governments and private enterprise begin to pursue alternative policies on emissions, and that they start to work towards pollution reduction. One of the projects Dr Hafkamp was involved with, was modelling the economic effects of a more sustainable environmental policy at both an industry level, and at the level of individual firms. Heavy industry today faces more and more criticism about the role it can and should play in providing jobs and making consumer goods, on the one hand, and making more of an effort not to pollute and degrade the environment, on the other.

Dr Wim HafkampDr Hafkamp brings up both the coal and car industries as examples of industries who are in denial about the damaging impact they can have. However, through his work with groups in these industries, Dr Hafkamp has found that some are willing to be proactive about the environment. He believes "the key thing is the shift in (industry’s) frame of mind, and all of a sudden new avenues open up as we have seen in industry since the late 1970s. The whole movement towards cleaner production, eco-design, pollution prevention are all industry generated, (it’s) not environmentalists having thought it up."

For Dr Hafkamp sustainable living is "something that is both individual and contextual". He takes a more holistic view of our place in the eco-system. Our interactions with, and our physical presence in, the eco-system means that the principles of sustainable living and sustainable development become inseparable. Dr Hafkamp believes that two things need to be done if human beings are going to live in a more sustainable way.

First, he says we have to ”think about what is development and what brings us ahead in life, and how do we do this in such a way that we maintain some kind of sustainability, some kind of relationship with our physical environment.” There is a need to “find your place in (a) continuum” that allows one to implement a way of life which incorporates elements of environmentally friendly activities, but fits in with your context, the people around you and your community.

Speaking about the reliance on government to lead the way for sustainable living, Dr Hafkamp says, “To hell with governments. If we can’t have it the way it should be, let's have it the way we can, which is when you try to go ahead and take action anyway, like a citizens' coalition for climate change.” It may be too late to expect government to wake up to the dire need to make adequate environmental policies and to actually implement them. As awareness grows it is time, at least in Australia, says Dr Hafkamp, that we “work on (our own) government”, rather than wait for the government to work on us in making sustainable policy.

Dr Hafkamp is also very welcoming of non-environmental circles, such as the Catholic Church, being interested and concerned about the environment. He recalls having previously thought about the Church’s “insensitivity to environmental issues, (which really) is about what we are doing to creation.” It’s an interesting perspective on what might have prompted the Church to take an interest in environmental matters. Dr Hafkamp says that “these different fabrics of society” are needed to guide people. He comments on the fact that the “Bible says nothing of climate change, it is a matter or re-interpreting what it says” in a way to show that we care for Earth, God’s creation.

Dr Hafkamp, who is speaking at a climate change conference at the MCG in October, hopes to put across a range of options for sustainable living by “our own ability to modify and reduce our demands on resources”. He wishes to present ideas and strategies that are both viable and affordable. Dr Hafkamp is optimistic, saying it “is never too late” to make a change. Although this motto rings familiar, with our planet showing advanced signs of deterioration, erratic weather, drought and heat waves, it is a message that must be broadcast long, loud and clear, so that change can be absorbed and affected.



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