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Sustainability. Don't Wreck Your Nest Humans


  • When talking about communities these days, the word Sustainability comes up a lot. Is it a policy? Not really. A principle? Yes possibly. An ideal?

  • It comes up a lot in Neighbourhood Plans.

  • I am going to try to capture what I think it means with a personal story.

  • By 1973 scientists had become alarmed by the “hole” in the ozone layer. I was a TV producer, aged 30, in charge of a small unit in an early-evening programme called Nationwide. It had a huge audience.

  • Our unit, like others, tried to explain what the “hole” was all about and told people about the need to control the use of fluorocarbons, the cause of the problem, a problem that could only be solved by international co-operation. That was achieved, in the spite of the Cold War and numerous small wars around the planet, by the Montreal Protocol of 1987. It proved that when their survival is at stake, hostile nations can work together. But the popular will must be engaged too. I believe it was this event that crystallised the modern meaning of sustainability.

This chart type is called “nested”. Each category contains the other and our ultimate container is the environment. Our planet is, literally, the “nest” of our species. We need economies to provide for our welfare but without that “nest” we would die. (Most of the other planets we know about are not survivable).



  • The 1970s were the first time the general public came to know that special conditions make are planet survivable and we were breaching them.

  • We are part of the animal kingdom, just a species with a very big brain. The drama we call “politics” may seem a showcase of the built-in instincts of our species, tribalised, competitive, obsessed with hierarchies, easily mesmerised by crazy ideas and leaders!

  • But politics is also the way we turn new thinking into social norms. Sustainability is political, the hardest kind, the kind that needs all the nations on the planet to make changes together.

  • Communities are miniature versions of one society. Sustainability will matter everywhere. Unsustainable places will become ghost towns. Villages are surrounded by agricultural land, but the way we use our land today is a net contributor to the greenhouse gases warming our planet. Human homes and communities and landscapes will all change. And, without underplaying the challenge, making the right changes can be satisfying and enjoyable. The detail of course is everything. We'll go there on another day.

  • In a previous post I also wrote about how we are an over-centralised country where individual communities have too little scope and resources to experiment or shape measures to their needs. I think that is something worth fighting for, and not unrelated to Sustainability. Another story for other posts.

Globe Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay ©David Graham. 21/02/2023



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