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 Conservation Challenges and Opportunities for the Future 
           

         
Professor Stuart B. Hill
Department of Social Ecology
 University of Western Sydney-Hawesbury 
s.hill@uws.edu.au
           

         
CONTENT
ABSTRACT

THE CHALLENGE

CHILD REARING

INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURES & PROCESSES

THE PROCESS OF CHANGE

A VISIONING THE FUTURE

REFERENCES

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ABSTRACT

Because of worsening environmental, social and economic conditions, most people are not hopeful about the future; and certainly if we adhere to our unexamined values of unlimited growth, consumerism, individualism, corporate managerialism, and technological and curative solutions to ecological, social and personal problems our fears will become self fulfilling prophesies. But, if we clarify our values and move beyond these limited perceptions, deepen our understanding of nature, community and ourselves, and learn to design and work with, rather than against, natural processes, then we can certainly achieve a meaningful, mutually supportive and sustainable future. 

This will take greater awareness, vision, courage, collaboration across difference, a new kind of political, business and academic leadership, and the identification of the driving and restraining forces for such change, and the strengthening of the former and weakening of the latter. At the individual, family and group levels it will involve identifying the "small meaningful steps that we can each guarantee to carry through to completion" and the public celebration of completions to make such change contagious. 

This final presentation will provide an opportunity for us to reflect on this, and on the earlier presentations, and decide what we can and will do towards this necessary change of direction in the course of human history.


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 THE CHALLENGE
 

If each of us continues doing what we are presently doing, our impact on the planet’s ecological systems will eventually, over a relatively short space of time, cross the numerous thresholds that constitute the interrelated maintenance processes that make life on earth possible for most species. It will be like running the tape of the evolution of the great diversity of life backwards on fast rewind. 

At some level we all know this, yet we haven’t really got started on the programs of action that are needed to fundamentally transform our culture and our lifestyles to ones that are genuinely conserving and life affirming.

If we are honest, most of us would have to admit to feelings of being trapped and impotent, and too often naively hoping that this can all be solved by others, particularly those in science, technology and politics. But also, at another level, we also know that it can’t, and that we will all be required to make radical changes to everything that we have come to think of as normal.

It is difficult for us primarily because of two groups of interacting factors: the ways in which we were raised and the nature of the institutional structures and processes that we have constructed to support us. 



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CHILD REARING

In most cultures it is assumed that children must be socialised, moulded and guided - that they might have their own internally derived agendas that need helping and support is rarely taken seriously (deMause, 1982). And so, in the process of learning how to fit into and be successful in the dominant culture, most of us give up our power, lose awareness, and become distanced from our internal agendas, visions and values. Certainly children need some guidance, but the balance of external control over the development of internal guidance is excessively in favour of the former. 

The outcome is that most of us become experts at living from the outside in and novices at living from the inside out. I think R. D. Laing (1971) described it well when he observed that "it is as if we were hypnotised twice, firstly into accepting pseudoreality as reality, and secondly into believing we were not hypnotised". This is why, even among the numerous non-governmental and grass-roots communities, it remains difficult to develop effective programs for genuine sustainable change. This is also why most energy continues to be put into projects that ameliorate the symptoms of our problems, thereby keeping attention off and protecting the causes, which persist and predictably continue to cause further problems. 

Williamson & Pearse (1938; see also Stellibrass 1989), in a study of health, recognised this as an adaptive compensatory process - something we tend to ‘automatically’ do to survive over the short-term.


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 INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURES & PROCESSES 
 

The problem is that we have institutionalised these compensatory adaptive strategies to such an extent that they have become the dominant structures and processes and are now regarded as the norms - the things that we believe we must protect to have a civilised society. These include political systems that are based on power over strategies and widespread exclusion from access to essential information, rather than access together with high levels of citizen competency and participation; an overly simplistic economic system that excludes most of the story when doing cost-benefit analyses, that regards success as being synonymous with growth, and that permits the rich to continue to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

Clearly we need an economic system in which money is regarded merely as one of a number of helpful tools (along with appropriate technologies, policies, programs and services etc.) that can be used to enable us to act on our core values, i.e., those relative to our fundamental limited needs versus our compensatory unlimited greeds (Norgaard 1994). This would enable us to develop our human potential while living within the limits of ecological systems. Our religious institutions have also become largely compensatory, which is why there is so much confusion in the area of the spirit and why so many drug pushers, evangelists and cults are doing a roaring trade. 


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 THE PROCESS OF CHANGE

Until we acknowledge that on the one hand we are a lost people, and that on the other we collectively still have the capability to learn how to live in harmony with one another and with the other life on the planet, we will be stuck on our path of destruction, and this will certainly condemn all future generations to impoverished lives. To change - to be open to learning our way forwards into these uncharted waters of living in harmony - we will have to be willing to move, moment to moment - between unknowing, so that we can learn, and knowing, so that we can act. Two common compensatory adaptations to our current situation are to either get stuck on knowing, thereby being unable to critique what we ‘know’, hear critique from others or learn anything fundamentally new, or to get stuck on not knowing, which is often evident as constantly critiquing and postponing action. 

What I am arguing for here is a fundamental redesign at the personal, socio-cultural (political, economic, technological, business, religious, etc.) and environmental (including managed ecosystems) levels. None of these areas are immune from the need for critical examination, revision and redesign. 

This all may seem too overwhelming to consider, but this is also a symptom of how our culture has constructed the process of change, which is still largely visualised as being carried out, or at least led, by heroes, and the result of heroic efforts, i.e., largely acts carried out by superior others. What is primarily needed for the kind of change being envisioned here are a symphony of small meaningful actions that each of us can guarantee to carry through to completion, each serving as a stimulus for further actions and as a support for one another’s efforts. These very small actions need to be recognised and valued, and their completions celebrated publicly to assist their contagion. Presently most small actions tend to be trivialised, and so are eventually abandoned as being ineffective, or they are kept hidden.


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 A VISIONING THE FUTURE

The process of change that I am arguing for requires a long-term commitment, and we may not see the benefits immediately, but we really have no alternative if we are serious about playing a part in the cultural evolution of our own species. There is no implication here that everyone has to do the same thing - only what you can guarantee to complete. 

Certainly I have some ideas of what a re-designed society might be like, but what is more important than being guided by my vision is to develop your own and collaborate with others to develop group visions within your various communities.With respect to our relationships with nature, some things are already very clear. We are part of and can never by apart from nature. Most children need much more opportunities to develop competencies in relating with nature, and this learning needs to be supported throughout our lives (Hill in press). 

We need to find ways to live in harmony with other species throughout the world, not just in nature reserves. We need to reframe ‘pests’, for example in agriculture and forestry, as primarily indicators of problems in the design and management of ecosystems, rather than as enemies to be eliminated (Hill 1998, Hill et al.1999). 

We need to become familiar with the potential uses of many more species, particularly those that occur locally, and to develop sustainable relationships with them. We don’t need Ministers of the Environment, or indeed any politicians, who are not committed to the sort of vision being promoted here, or the armies of bureaucrats, academics, scientists, technologists and business people who are keeping our maldesigned and malfunctioning systems in place. 

They all need our support in helping them change their focus. There are many small meaningful projects that could be carried through to completion in this vital area of cultural change. However, unless we are engaged in our own process of recovery, healing and change, all our efforts to help others will be vulnerable to being undermined by our own persistent adaptive compensatory coping behaviours. 

The main barrier to what I am proposing is our unfamiliarity with the validation of small acts and our tendency to postpone and leave the initiation of fundamental change to others. Now is the moment when we need to recognise that we are the essential agents of change, and that small actions are the primary means. It is up to us, let’s get started.


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REFERENCES

 
deMause, L. 1982. Foundations of Psychohistory. Creative Roots, New York.

Hill, S.B. 1998. Redesigning agroecosystems for environmental sustainability: a deep systems approach. Syst. Res. 15: 391-402.

Hill, S.B. In press. Autonomy, sense of place, and conscious caring: a hopeful view of the present and future, in J.Cameron (ed.) Changing Places: Sense of Place in Australia.

Hill, S.B., C. Vincent & G.Chouinard.1999. Evolving ecosystems approaches to fruit insect pest management. Agric. Ecosyst. Envir. 72(2):107-110.

Laing, R.D. 1971. The Politics of the Family. Vintage Books, New York.

Norgaard, R. 1994. Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Coevolutionary Revisioning of the Future. Routledge, New York.

Stellibrass. A. 1989. Being Me and Also Us; Lessons from the Peckham Experiment. Scottish Academic, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Williamson, G.S. and I.H. Pearse 1938. Biologists in Search of Material. Faber and Faber, London.
 


This paper is based on a presentation at the Nature Conservation of NSW "New Solutions for Sustainability: Integrated Natural Resources Management Conference", March 4-5, 1999, Sydney University, Camperdown, Sydney, NSW.

Professor Stuart B. Hill
Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, 
Faculty of Social Inquiry, University of Western Sydney-Hawkesbury, 
Locked Bag #1, Richmond, NSW 2753.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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