So how might we find hope for the future?
I came across a quote very early on in my research that has stayed with me throughout my academic and experiential journeying. It is by Vaclav Havel, a former President of Czechoslovakia:
What could change the direction of today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience.
It is not enough to develop new machines, new regulations, new institutions.
We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new modes of behaviour and a new set of values for the planet.
I then found that Pope Francis made a similar plea in Laudato Si’:
Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality
The Encyclical welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we can seek paths of liberation.
Nothing in my research, however, suggested that any form of attitudinal change was occurring in the regulation of CSG mining. Rather, the emphasis was on ‘tweaking’ the existing regulatory system in response to perceived shortcomings. And this did not seem to answer the concerns that continued to be raised about CSG mining. Tim Winton’s words haunted me:
Twenty first century governments continue to make decisions based on the assumptions of the nineteenth century.
At this point I began to explore the contribution ‘imagination’ could make, in addition to insights drawn from science, economics, law, and reason. Is there value, I speculated, in ‘imagining’ Land differently, if that inspired new ways to address the wicked problem of how to regulate CSG mining?
For instance, imagine Land having legal status in a market economy, such that it owns the natural resources it contains and exchanges those resources for certain rights (similar, perhaps, to a company having rights in law). It then becomes a stakeholder to be consulted in environmental protection debates.
Alternatively, imagine the environment in terms of a relationship, rather than an object, as suggested by Pope Francis:
When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.
Maybe Land doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t belong to Land, but we are beloved companions on a restless journey through the reality within which we all live. How might this outlook change the way we humans determine how much we will allow the environment to be degraded? Will letting imagination contribute to our policy debates give us hope for the future?