Many of the current urban population have lost connection with the land; the younger urbanites most of all. Consequently they have unreal perceptions and expectations of biota, the environment, the place of people in it, and the implications of sustainability for urban life. New Zealand and Australia have a very high proportion of their population urbanised, and the subsequent consequences for the land, the people in it, and sustainable resource use and management, are not good and must be addressed by affirmative action.

Comment from Brian Swale

During the current week ( ended 7 July 2001 ) a radio programme (that I did not manage to hear) covered the premise that New Zealand and Australia are amongst the most highly urbanised societies and nations of the world.

This is highly probable. Just consider the increasing size of farms, the high mechanisation of farms, the extreme mechanisation of exotic forests, the demise of forest villages, the low percentage of New Zealand comprised by arable land, and the very high percentage of total land area owned by the Crown ( the State) and therefore unable to be lived on. The rural depopulation that followed the withdrawal of many services such as banking and many public services from many smaller towns and villages during the past 15 years has accelerated this trend. Also, that a high percentage of New Zealand land area is too mountainous, cold and infertile to support human endeavour in forms that most of us would accept these days. Add to this the seemingly irresistible magnetism of Auckland, the warmer northern city surrounded by sea with but tenuous links to the rest of New Zealand save commercial strangleholds.

Many people have noted the ease and rapidity with which many people are sucked in by false precepts coming from the Greens, Forest and Bird, Native Forest Action, and other environmental NGOs. Having lost a functional connection and first-hand experience with land, water, farms and forest, many people have little personal experiential knowledge that enables them to adequately judge stories they are confronted with. Further, the reduced level (in terms of numbers of people involved) of professional endeavour in non-urban activity, accompanied by the gross reduction of government regional and district offices dealing with forestry, agriculture and the like, which used to disseminate information, means that there are fewer people in the community at any place who deal in depth with the land and who can tell the stories that should be told.

Further, increasingly the people involved in planning and decision-making which affects the non-urban land have this non-connection with the land. Parliamentarians are especially subject to this, and given that in the new millennium matters concerning the environment have become highly politicised in New Zealand, we have already seen significant political decisions made in New Zealand that fly in the face of reason and which are an outrage to good ethical behaviour. There are almost no reasons to expect any improvement in the quality of Parliamentary and government decisions regarding the New Zealand environment, in the foreseeable future.

New Zealand has a serious need for sustained education in sustainable management and the place of humans in the environment.

Given these points, it is interesting that the following article which came to me by a round-about way, should reveal that in the USA there is a similar disconnection of urban dwellers from rural life and experience - and of course the understanding that comes from these.

Although I have not obtained this article from source, Professor Coursey has informed me that he did write it.

You can meet Professor Coursey at the University of Chicago here

The conclusion I come to, reinforcing previous ideas I have developed, is that much more must be done to improve the availability of good information about rural matters, environment and sustainability, to urban and young New Zealanders.

Environmental fantasies run amok

By Don L. Coursey. June 13, 2001

Don L. Coursey is a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago.

Over the last 20 years, I have taught some of brightest college students from America and around the world. My students are as well prepared and challenging today as they were when I began my career, with one exception: We have produced our first generation of environmentally challenged citizens.

Since birth, they've been told of worsening environmental conditions, immoral business practices and an imminent environmental apocalypse.

Every day I see a disconnect between my very bright students and their latest cause. Everyone is trying to save something--save the whales, save the rain forest, save the seals. While these are all worthy causes, passion without reason or facts quickly becomes zealotry. And zealots do little to create practical solutions to complex problems.

This generation imagines that environmental utopianism is a moral stance. It is not. It is a flight from ethical complexity into absolutist fantasy. This generation won't face the reality that there are trade-offs between investments in the environment and investments in other aspects of life that nourish us.

These young people, as well as many adults, don't understand the relationship between the material lifestyles they enjoy and the environmental resources that must be harnessed for them to enjoy this lifestyle. Many people do not understand what must happen behind an electrical outlet, from plug to ultimate power producer, to enjoy the benefits of electricity.

This generation is unprepared and reluctant to face the reality that its members do not understand how much water is used in their homes, where the water comes from, how it is treated or where it goes after it leaves the home. Most people learn early that paper comes from trees, but few seem to understand the wood, pulp and paper industries, how these industries find it in their best interest to conserve resources, and what role the government plays in influencing their behavior. And, as we have become an urban society, many individuals are only remotely aware of agricultural practices, and have an outdated, romantic notion of what being a modern farmer or rancher actually implies.

Our education system only adds to misconceptions and ignorance. Textbooks paint an anti-business picture of the world and dole out a standard mythology about nature and the human place within the environment. Children are taught one-dimensional moral tales about the global climatic system, but know nothing about how their own thermostats work. Children are taught about the complexity of life in South American rain forests, but cannot explain where rain falling in their own backyard eventually goes.

This generation of students is poised to assume leadership in corporate America or in elected government. How can we prepare them for this future?

Teach them about the relationships between science, the economy, public choices and the environment. Better balanced and more scientifically accurate educational materials and approaches will improve the national debate--and the choices we make--about the environment and the economy.

We owe our children the benefit of an education that prepares them for the genuine complexities of actual life, not the escapism of environmental fantasies.