Saving Starship Earth

When Dr Peter Ellyard took the stage at the PacPrint forum in Melbourne in May to present on the formidable topic of environmental sustainability he was introduced as a “futurist”, a job he described as being “a bit like a fairy godmother. I help people to realise their dreams”.


Now the die-hard sceptics in the room probably tuned out at that point and busied themselves Twittering. But had they listened to what Ellyard (pictured) had to say they would have quickly come to the conclusion that being a futurist doesn’t involve a diploma in crystal ball gazing. It is the serious and respected profession of predicting trends and defining new opportunities, and his views are probably the most relevant and important they are likely to hear.


Ellyard is sought after by governments and corporations for his insights, and has been an advisor to the United Nations for more than 25 years. A vegetarian (a choice made after working in an abattoir in his youth) and a yoga master, Ellyard has successfully combined a philosophical viewpoint with an intellect that enables him to back up his somewhat esoteric statements with facts and logic that are hard to dispute.


On the topic of a sustainable future his message is clear. The inhabitants of “Starship Earth”, as he calls our planet, must move towards zero net collateral damage on the environment. No ifs, buts or maybes. If we are going to save our planet, our home, then this is a non-negotiable position. 


Ellyard has no sympathy for those who state they can’t go green because they can’t afford it. “I am sick of hearing those with vested interests bleating about being hurt by change and wanting to halt progress for their own industrial gain … nobody can afford to not be part of the environmental movement”.


Regardless of profession or socio-economic group, we are all going to have to make changes to the way we live our lives, to the way we think about the environment and our impact on it. Some of those changes will be easy, others less palatable, but we are now at a point where we can no longer sit on the fence. If we do we will end up being marginalised as the global community takes environmental responsibility to the next level.


As our right to healthy air has led to the widespread eradication of smoking in public spaces, so too will environmental decisions be made to benefit communities, said Ellyard. It will be a collective voice that makes the change and the laggards will either acquiesce or be left out in the cold.


One of the most powerful, motivational statements of his speech was “those who get to the future first win”. Translated, what Ellyard means is that those companies or individuals who create new markets and capitalise on the environmental movement won’t only win for themselves. They will win for the planet and that, of course, will be a win for our species. 


A win-win scenario that includes the planet as a player is one that we all should be focusing on. We don’t need to be “desperate and fatalistic” about the environment, stated Ellyard. “There are opportunities to create new businesses. And there needs to be a marriage between ecology and economics to take us there”. 


We can no longer assume the health of the environment is someone else’s problem, or that future generations will deal with it. The truth is we must act now and be prepared to weather the difficulties that come with transitioning from the industrial age to an ecological platform. The global financial crisis is just another excuse to put off the inevitable.


So what might the future look like on a sustainable Starship Earth? Ellyard’s vision incorporates the harnessing of the sun with solar power being the main fuel for the planet; waste will be a thing of the past and the concept of landfill relegated to the annals of history. And the new economy will be green from top to bottom.


The inventiveness of humanity, as Ellyard put it, is what will get us over the line. That same inventiveness that took us to the moon and beyond – 50 years ago who would have thought space travel was possible?


Between now and 2030, Ellyard said, we need to “invent all the ways and wares to achieve environmental security, to achieve zero collateral damage”.


There will always be Doubting Thomases, and we heard from some of them after the presentation at PacPrint — those who belly-ached about the demise of their own businesses, those whose vision for a better world extends no further than their own well-heeled bank accounts.


But, as Ellyard said, “we are all in this together. The pain needs to be shared, as will the gain, for the future of humanity”.

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