As much as democracy serves us it also leaves us vulnerable to the whim of public opinion. Popular opinion, often without merit, that forces the hand of government to regulate without adequate or thorough investigation of the consequences, beyond satisfying and securing voters.
That is one of the key measures of a Social Licence to Operate. It’s about public permission; given and received on the belief that values are aligned or being met. The challenge, which Jess Berenston-Shaw puts well in her book ‘A matter of fact. Talking truth in a post-truth world’, is that beliefs (assumptions we hold to be true) can be contradictory because they’re determined by people’s experiences, which are complex. The narratives we create, based from our experiences, helps us filter the information we are exposed to, to fit our values. This is where polarisation happens. And right now is what is interfering with getting a consensus on the best approach to improving and protecting our environment. My view is that we would be more effective at making these decisions catchment by catchment. Consensus would not only be a lot easier at a grass roots level, but solutions more relevant and enduring. You can’t throw a blanket over environmental issues, every river/catchment has different issues, economies, cultures and values, and needs to be empowered to create its own workable and enduring solutions. We need to put people at the centre of change. No one likes being told what to do or feeling they’ve lost control over their future. The term community capacity building could be adopted as the approach we take on our environmental issues. What would this look like? Perhaps a Catchment Taskforce, representative of the community, resourced and empowered to identify key issues and causes, set targets, goals and strategies to improve each catchment. This domino effect builds to a collective improvement nationwide whilst meeting each communities needs. Governments’ heavy hand, while well intended is not always the most effective way to build confidence in making meaningful and sustainable change. Let’s flip it on its head and put our communities in the drivers seat!