Standing on the outside of local government, as I frequently do (I'm a supplier), I am a more than casual observer of the manner in which local government operates. If we accept that climate change is a fact and that humans do indeed impact on the climate in one way or another, surely the only thing we really need to do is accept what we can deal with and get on with it? In my own particular field - stormwater - the evidence of human impact on the environment is both irrefutable and concrete (no pun intended). We modify and change our landscapes to suit the way our communities function and the environment generally comes off second best. Ignoring the minor loonie faction that would suggest the only way to reduce or reverse our impacts on climate change is to remove all traces of human occupation to pre-settlement conditions and then try and live in harmony with the natural environment. Try doing that while still conducting a 21st century style of life! Surely then much of what we do now and into the future will have to be a compromise. Having said that, compromise is not necessarily a bad thing, humans, once the blindingly obvious has been pointed out to them, are eminently capable of effecting change and delivering compromise. One of our biggest drawbacks and this certainly relates to local government in my observation, is the need to politicise issues that do not require it. Or rather politicise issues that should be sufficiently irrefutably obvious and unilaterally agreeable to all that they can be acted upon in a concerted manner and without delay or demur. If we have bi-partisan agreement that climate change is a real issue and that the human coefficient of it can be ameliorated without major upheaval or distress to our existing communities, then we should be able to work expeditiously towards a commonly agreed goal. If we set achievable targets and pick off the low-hanging fruit we may be able to achieve significant results in a relatively short timespan. It has been both my observation, and is currently my opinion, that the cyclic nature of politics and the silo mentality of some municipalities are both impediments to the potential for and progress of the levels of change required within our communities to achieve an appreciable impact on climate change in the near future. One single common and limiting factor for all is the potential cost of any changes. When cost is perceived to outweigh expediency the "do nothing" factor tends to win every time and we enter yet another round of "paralysis by analysis". It has also been my observation that local government (and IPWEA in particular) has among it some very real champions. What I'm hoping to see emerge from the Sustainability forum is some real leadership and practical ideas that will operate on the wider community scale.
Referring again to my own area of expertise - stormwater - I firmly believe that much of the scope of works already identified and included in council stormwater management plans and capital works programs can be adapted, extended or modified to include aspects of water treatment and harvesting, without significant increases in investment. So much so that we could see a rapid and measurable increase in the availability of alternative sources of water that can go towards the mitigation of the heat island effect; one of the aspects of climate change that we can most easily affect. That one of the by-products of this action would be the rapid and significant reduction of pollutants discharged to our marine habitats, would be another demonstrable, environmentally-beneficial activity that ticks all the right boxes and further engages our local communities in a positive manner.
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