Almost everyone today accepts that human activities are having an effect on our small and finite planet. Professor Will Steffen has the sort of mind which isn’t satisfied to accept a proposition: he wants to know more. How much? When? What can we do to improve the situation?
Will Steffen is Director of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the ANU, and he is one of the astonishing gathering of speakers at Canberra’s Rydges Lakeside Hotel on March 14-15 for a public conference organised by Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).
Australia is one of 189 countries to sign the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in 2000. The eight goals include eradication of poverty, universal primary education, improvement of maternal health, and ensuring environmental sustainability – all to be achieved by the year 2015.
A report in 2007 to the British Parliament concluded that there was little hope of reaching the goals. The report says: “The MDGs failed to take into account the population growth factor. This has significant negative effects on socio-economic development, human health, regional stability and the environment.”
Professor Steffen says that climate change is now accepted as a fact, and the important questions are what effects it will have on our way of life, and what can we do to lessen these effects.
“Sea level rise may be a matter of metres not centimetres,” he says. “Acid seas will be hostile to all the creatures who use calcium – shellfish, sponges, millions of micro-organisms. Extreme events, such as floods and droughts, will become more frequent and more severe. Cyclones will increase in ferocity. Rising fuel prices will cripple world transport.
“In this context, achieving the Millennium goals is not just socially necessary, it becomes critical to human survival that we reduce our impact on global resources,” says Professor Steffen.
The conference will focus on environmental sustainability, health, climate change and peak oil, with speakers from Australia and overseas from many disciplines. The final session, with Anglican Bishop George Browning, Catholic historian Dr Paul Collins, and Buddhist environmentalist Dr Colin Butler, will look at the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by all of us in a threatened world.
Organisers say that the SPA Millennium Development Goals conference is not scientific or technical. Anyone interested in registering can download the conference brochure at www.population.org.au/events or call conference organiser Jenny Goldie on 02 6235 5488.