Sustainable development -  jobs for the girls and boys? (Draft text)

During the ten years since the Rio 'Earth Summit' conference in 1992, most local councils appointed 'community development' or 'sustainable development officers'. Their prime role in life (so it would seem) is to pretend that they are doing something useful so that councillors have an excuse for doing little or nothing.

At East Devon District Council a graduate has been employed for over 10 years at a total resource cost of probably over 400,000 and I have yet to see anything that I would term substantive output. I say that as a scientist who has worked and lectured on the subject. Other local experts hold similar opinions. Are all District Councils this bad?

Everybody these days talks about sustainability. Few people have the faintest idea what they are talking about, especially government officials who simply append the word to the end of every document and carry on policies as before. I doubt that one local councillor in fifty could give an authoritative lecture on the subject - yet local government was supposed to be at the centre of Agenda 21 - an initiative for taking action locally to implement the principles agreed by national governments at Rio.

In contrast, some local people who operate largely outside of the mind-numbing bureaucracy of local government have made real progress - see the websites of local Wildlife Trusts and in particular the Offwell site based in East Devon.

The Offwell website is probably one of the best in the world for education in woodland ecology. It was produced on a shoestring by several dedicated people. There are over 60,000 keywords and topics. Why should I mention this in a website devoted largely to the ineptness of local government in the UK?

Because, in contrast (and as a personal opinion) District Council and County Council staff based in Devon and who claim to be advancing the cause of sustainable development have cost the taxpayer probably more than two million pounds in salaries and overheads over the last ten years. Their job descriptions have been vaguely 'sustainable development' or 'community liaison and development'. East Devon District Council in particular has produced little of value as far as I can determine.

The Offwell website is well worth a look if you are involved in education, or have some corporate money to spare! It receives millions of 'hits' from over 110 countries and is recognised in the USA and by many universities as a site of educational merit. Its website receives over 50,000 hits per week and often comes top or near top of Google for enquiries relating to aspects of woodland management.

Many years ago I wrote an article entitled "Realities of Sustainable Development" for the Offwell Environmental Link, a support group of the Offwell Woodland Trust.

More recently, I wrote an article for them on climate change - and explaining why government could do little about it even if it tried.

More will soon be added to this section of the website, including advice to environmental groups on how to present data for public consumption, and how to summarise the future of the world in a few diagrams. This will comprise an update of material contained in my 1998 'Offwell lecture'. In summary, there is little time left to save what remains of nature. We are the last generation to have a chance to do so. Leaving all the problems to our children will be too late. I believe it is not difficult to prove this, and to show how readily change might be achieved.


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