“Sustainability” is the buzz word of the moment, and may define a transition in thinking and policy, as did “privatization” in the 1980’s, “free markets” in the 1990’s, and this decade’s “globalization.”

Recognition is growing that our way of life on Planet Earth is threatened by climate change and ever diminishing resources. The failure of our economic system has revealed flaws in the mantras of the past. Free markets in commodities and financial services have encouraged deceit and avarice. Globalisation has destroyed the diversity of locally-based manufacturing in favour of low-wage mass production in foreign countries, and privatisation has resulted in ever increasing prices for utilities as CEO’s gouge profits to satisfy their shareholders and cream their own bonus-related salaries.

“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age,” Barack Obama said in his inaugural speech.

He was addressing the American people yet speaking for many countries when he declared, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Sustainability has come of age. But what does it mean?

In 1983 the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), was convened by the United Nations to address concerns about “the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.”

An aim of the Commission was: “To propose long-term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development to the year 2000 and beyond.”

Sustainability was defined as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Twenty-five years later, and it takes peak oil prices, bizarre weather changes, and a financial meltdown to wake us up from the mesmerising seduction of two decades of unparalleled prosperity, where growth in consumerism was considered more important than protection of ecosystems.

Obama seems serious. He’s created a new position of “sustainability czar” who will act as White House coordinator of climate and energy policies.

Hastings District Council is also serious about sustainable development.

“The Council has decided to take a sustainable development approach,” announces Mayor Lawrence Yule in the discussion document, What should Hastings look like? – Planning for a sustainable future.

Our Land
The main target of Council’s sustainability “vision” is our productive land, and their stated aim is to: “Focus on sustainable management of our abundance of natural resources and valued landscape,” and to “retain our strengths in land-based production and manufacturing.”

HDC recognizes: “The growing importance of food production world wide will mean a greater emphasis on the protection of productive land capacity, such as the Heretaunga Plains.”

“Hastings will be the premier land based production region in the South Pacific,” is the achievement being sought in their fifty year vision.

We’ve been there before. When we were the “Fruit Bowl of New Zealand,” Hastings was a premier production region in the South Pacific.

I was a kid growing up in Havelock at that time. Te Mata Peak was our playground. And from the heights we climbed to chase the goats and watch the falcons dive, we would often sit and marvel at the view of the Heretaunga Plains.

A patchwork of orchards, cropping fields, and pastoral runs stretched from Paki Paki to the sea. The most prominent buildings, whose shining roofs seemed as big as farms, belonged to Watties canneries, the Apple and Pear Board, and Tomoana and Whakatu freezing works.

On cold spring mornings a blanket of smog would cover the Plains. Oil smudge pots saved the fruit from frost. We could hear the train but see only the puffs of smoke punching through the cloud.

These were the days when orchardists, fag hanging out the mouth, mixed organic phosphates by hand, and sprayed without protection. Biking to school we would sometimes have to dodge the sprayer as it turned the rows and covered the road, and us, if we were too slow.

We’ve come a long way in changing agricultural practices which are unsustainable, as the growers, the manufacturers, and the exporters fine-tune their skills. It’s a learning process.

Whakatu and Tomoana proved unsustainable. Smudge pots have been replaced by wind machines and helicopters. The apple industry has been decimated; yet the most efficient and adaptive operators prosper. New crops have been introduced with great success – kiwi fruit, berries, olives, and especially grapes. There will be others in the future.

The Heretaunga Plains have been the production base of Hastings district ever since the swamp was drained in the 1870’s.

Sustaining the Plains productivity is at the core of Council’s new policy direction.

Yet it is not the politicians and policy-makers who make the lasting contributions. They are made by the men and women on the ground who adapt, and innovate, and respect the land which provides their livelihood.

In the next issues I will talk to growers and processors about their contributions and foresights of how we are to attain a “sustainable future.”

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