Carbon coach Dave Hampton passionately argues why we have to maintain sustainability despite the difficulties of economic conditions

Commentators are predicting that ‘sustainability’, the bain of our comfortable western lives, is about to take a back seat again, now that the economy is looking shaky.

I don’t dispute that tending to the planetary garden, so the kids can play there in the future, can appear a self-indulgent luxury during hard times. Cash is king, and if it’s a choice between driving with the air-con on to pick up a Big Mac from the not-so-local drive-thru, or going hungry, we all know where we stand, or rather sit, don’t we? We’ve got to live, haven’t we?

Back seat drivers

However, on our journey we find we have some troublesome passengers: the do-gooders, Mr. Ethics and Mrs. Sustainability. Recently they’ve been enjoying riding shotgun and fiddling with the levers of power. If we are going to relegate them to the back seat where they so recently came from, we’d better be sure we trust the driver to get us home safely without their input.

But a back seat driver is hard to ignore and we shouldn’t expect Mr E and Mrs S to keep quiet, especially against the background of the testosterone-fuelled fight for speed, profit margin and corporate survival. The nagging voices from the back seat ring true, and they have an irritating habit of being right, and foretelling nasty accidents.

We’ve discovered with our dipsticks that the oil tanks aren’t as full as they were. We are even reluctantly admitting that 25 billion tonnes a year, each year, of fresh CO2, (previously ‘carbon captured and stored’ safe underground by nature and a million years of sunlight) being dumped unseen into our thin layer of atmosphere is fast fouling up the weather system that underpins our very existence. Are we surprised that all the signs are saying “stop” and it seems it’s time to put the brakes on? The party, the century or two of us all growing plump, pumped up on a diet high in oil, is coming to an abrupt end.

This (the credit crunch) may be a storm in a teacup once we experience the violence of the “climate crunch” - the lethal weather in store for us all

Dwindling avocado dips

Future historians may report that “the credit crunch” was akin to the ‘polite stage’ of this longest ever party coming to an end. The point where we ran out of avocado dips, long before the drunken fights stage, a breeze compared to the typhoon storms ahead of the “carbon crunch” which will surely result from fuel supply unrest. Further down the line, this too may be a storm in a teacup once we experience the violence of the “climate crunch” - the lethal weather in store for us all.

If our two back-seat friends manage to wipe the smug ‘told you so’ grins off their faces, stop over-charging for their advice, and start to respect the skills and ‘guts’ of the person actually doing the driving, during this new bumpy ride, they will stand a better chance of being listened to, and of being able to help guide the driver without any calamities. There’s a place for them as co-drivers.

Profit from the right thing

Now is the time to dispense with the prejudices and myths. With true sustainability we are talking endless free energy from the sun. We are looking at zero waste, no junk to deal with ever again, whether nuclear, CO2, or the more visible varieties. We are cooking on endless gas, all core facilities free from dependency on other people’s energy, free from other people’s control. Closed loop processes. No waste and no raw feed-stock. No requirement for ‘never ending’ streams of ‘virgin’ resource being converted, slowly but surely into more land-fill ‘slag’. No injustice, no community damage, no irreversible processes, and no heavy booted ‘footprints’ tolerated by society. Business that really works. Doing well by doing good. Who says we can’t profit from doing the right thing?

These are the things that good dreams are made of: living in accordance with nature’s ability to cope with us. New business that is regenerative, not exploitative, healing not damaging, and profitable, in the newly emerging paradigm of low carbon and one planet thinking. We got ourselves into this mess, and we are perfectly capable of designing our way out, together. It’s up to us to make the dreams reality, if we decide we want to give the kids their future back.

At the end of the day, it is not ‘sustainability’ that is the luxury that we can no longer afford, but rather, it is un-sustainability whose price tag we are unable to justify. It has had its long day, costing more than an arm and a leg. The future, if we want one, can be shaped in any image, as long as its colour is green. Our children will not thank us for giving them a comfortable childhood now, at the expense of life itself, later. Putting the world to rights won’t come easy, or come cheap, but the alternative, selling our children’s future for a few dollars more, was never seriously an option, was it?