As 2017 dawns – and we are already beginning to smash temperature records – Dr Greg Wilding asks what we are doing locally to belong to a more ecologically sustainable community.
Perhaps the core idea behind any community working hard to protect the wellbeing of its environment is ‘belonging’. Belonging to an environmentally protective community is more or less summed up by saying something like, ‘I live in an ecologically minded place.’
And for sure, that’s a very satisfying thing to say, although, of course, there are obvious problems with it. Just living in an ecologically minded place is not exactly the same thing as living ecologically in that place. For one can live either actively or passively in an ecologically minded place.
However, I do want to be careful here, and clearly acknowledge that there are many levels of ecological participation through which we can and do live ecologically. Simply buying locally grown foods and other products and services from eco-friendly farmers and businesses is an important way of supporting the products of ecological living by virtue of consuming them.
But we still have to register that there needs to be an active awareness of the practices of ecology behind those products for the wellbeing of an environment. It is simply ecological nonsense to say, ‘Oh, yes, I am aware of the dangers of chemical toxicity, polluted outcomes, and continuously sticking with outmoded technologies, but for now let’s forget about environmentally friendly stuff and just habitually get on with things that work, like always…’
This is of course a familiar type of ‘positive’ mental attitude. But eventually, in the long or short term, this type of ‘positivity’ doesn’t really belong to the living identity of an ecological community. To belong ecologically, one has to nurture a distinction between the ideas of ‘just living in’ and ‘living as a belonging to’ the ecology of a community. To belong to an ecological community one has to contribute their awareness of ecological belonging.
So, with all these basic definitions in mind, I want to go on by asking about whether Byron Shire is a place of ecological belonging that works to nurture and protect the wellbeing of its environment? In short, ‘Is Byron Shire ecological?’
For me, the simple answer is ‘yes,’ it is. But not because the nature around us appears to take care of itself naturally for us; and not because we have easy access to the ocean or the forests; and not because every day we are able to enjoy walking out into an environment so rich with life, so ready to wrestle with us, so ‘green’ that everything feels right; no, the answer is ‘yes’ not because of all this access to nature. The answer is ‘yes’ because Byron Shire, as a community, has decided to locally tackle the present global problems of ecology and environment in terms of culture and technology. And that is because ecology has largely become a question of supporting political cultures that recognise the undeniable role that new technologies play in combating the damaging, polluting forces of certain past technologies, whose only real justification for their continuing existence is because they’re already there, they’re cheap, and they’re very profitable.
Progress so far
So, if the answer is ‘yes’, then how is Byron Shire achieving ecological belonging?
Below is a summary of the distinct approaches and contributions of various groups, organisations, and individuals who are engaging their ecological passions and awareness in answer to the present challenges of our ecology, challenges which, as we know, appear predominantly in the form of global warming and climate change, industrial pollution, environmental degradation, and the continuing use of outmoded technological applications.
As probably everyone already knows, back in June 2015 Byron Shire Council held its inaugural public meeting concerning the idea of the shire becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Five working groups were formed to tackle the problem under the categories of Energy, Land, Transport, Housing, and Waste. Since then there has been a lot of positive progress and activity, which largely promotes awareness through researching the various facts informing what is at stake to achieve our goal of a zero emissions shire.
Out of a national think tank organisation known as Beyond Zero Emissions, a local initiative called Zero Emissions Byron was formed to coordinate the five groups who have, as would be expected, made varying rates of progress. But all the groups, in one way or another, deal with questions concerning technological answers to lowering CO2 emissions in the shire.
Another important ecological development in 2016 was the birth of ENOVA, our community owned green energy retailer. Perhaps Enova’s most basic enlightening drive is their orientation towards a sort of eternal return to the needs of the community. Much of their business philosophy seeks to return back to the community the very forces of support that the community initially, and going forward, gave and continues to give them. In the long run, keeping profits and jobs in our area, supporting an ethic of community inclusion in the benefits, and continuously trying to build a stronger network of energy generation, are more than worthwhile.
COREM, Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby, is another inspirational group of people simply because their particular form of dedicated passion, focussed as it is on community belonging in terms of renewable energy proliferation and ownership, cannot be anything but right. From fitting out solar systems on community buildings (the Drill Hall), to organising and hosting festivals (Renew Fest Mullum), to shoring up community awareness and participation ‘in action’, they cannot be ignored.
Byron Eco Park
Another significant approach to local community and ecological belonging is Byron Eco Park. Byron Eco Park is a large coastal farm in Tyagarah that functions as an ecological hosting property. Hosting, and hence, demonstrating ecologically sustainable businesses, technological projects, and ‘ecological offset’ conservation, has been the brainchild of Dieter Horstmann and his foundation (the DH Foundation).
Basically the idea is that if a renewable environmental project can present a feasible business case that either figures into a community’s renewable need (solar park for instance), or can produce an outcome that supports ecologically protective outcomes (creating conservation agreements) it can be hosted at Byron Eco Park.
Various areas of the property, ‘eco-zones’, are dedicated to various workable eco-business operations. Some zones are dedicated to operational ecological businesses like the medicinal honey factory, the organic muesli factory, and bio-char distribution.
Other zones are in other phases of development, such as the DA-proposed 5MW community solar park, the ECO village hill development, and the ‘green concrete’ project (in development with Southern Cross University).
In addition, certain zones are already dedicated to long-term conservation agreements for endangered species like the Wallum froglet. These types of agreements are usually created to offset the environmental damage produced through high-density urban building expansions.
Horstmann’s conception of Byron Eco Park utilises the property to host and push forward various ways of demonstrating differing ecological approaches to land use, to housing, to energy production, and to transport. For him, ecology equals determining the best possible culture of relations between humans and nature. Several of the eco businesses mentioned are housed in an award-winning solar-powered building known as Hangar no. 5. This building also runs an EV charging station, which powers the farm’s BMW I3 EV.
In the 2016 international WAVE rally (the world’s biggest EV rally), Byron Eco Park represented our community’s drive towards the future of EVs and a solar transporting world.
Thousands of support cards, collected from children all over the globe – a collection process that kicked off its card collection journey right here in Byron Bay – ended at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, where all the cards were displayed.
And in Marrakesh on November 2016, a world record was set for the largest greeting card ever made for the introduction to the UN Climate Change Conference.
The other interesting point, here, and this is true of many others in our community, is that Byron Eco Park has also committed itself to investing in many of the other local ecological projects mentioned above. Byron Eco Park is an investor and proud customer of ENOVA, for example.
I want to also recognise that there are so many other talented and dedicated individuals and businesses that are right now out there in our community that continue to offer their ecological awareness, which is the very thing that defines our ecological belonging.
Vicki Brooke and her tireless support of so many things solar. Organisations like Mullum SEED Inc, who can be relied on to show us what it is to work right at ground level with all those vital pods of sustainability. Mullumbimby Community Gardens is simply indispensable, as is Byron Community College in its support of creative educational programs. Also, Giles Parkinson for his absolutely relentless disclosures of the ins and outs of the politics (industrial and ordinary) of renewability. And the list goes on, and will continue to go on…
So, perhaps the real question is not, ‘Do I live in an ecologically minded place?’ Perhaps the real question is: ‘How can I belong to an ecologically minded place?’ And certainly, part of the answer would be to offer one’s active and concrete awareness of what is ecologically at stake.
Dr Greg Wilding works with the DH Foundation. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.