People are paramount

12 Mar 2020 People are paramount image

As a world we are focusing on people, with the World Health Organisation declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, travel restrictions in place, and events being postponed or cancelled. 

COVID-19 has forced us all to become much less selfish and care more for our fellow human beings, even ones we do not know.  It is a timely reminder about what life is really about and what we should hold as valuable.

People being paramount can be taken much further.  Adapting and mitigating climate change, improving water quality and protecting biodiversity were our priorities.  They are still priorities but not our top priorities, today.  The COVID-19 lesson is that we had largely forgotten the role people need to undertake and how their actions affect environmental issues. 

At one end of the spectrum, people are the cause of our environmental problems while at the other end, people are the solutions to our environmental problems.  My point is that to make any meaningful progress on improving the environment, we all have a significant part to play: reducing our harmful effects and doing positive things to make a real difference.

The conundrum we face is that councils and governments can fall into the trap of regulating for change and imposing rules.  They can forget that it is not the regulations and rules that make necessary changes, it is the people.  Councils and governments can also forget that people are not light switches that turn on and off when required, by a regulation or a rule. 

To be truly effective, you’ve got to take people with you and empower them to make the changes – only then will there be significant and lasting change.  This starts with the consultation process for any new regulation or rule.  People need to be given time to understand, assimilate and then respond to what’s being proposed. 

People have busy lives so sufficient time is a must if they are to have a chance to thoroughly study the proposal.  That works for the people who watch for changes and new rules, but there are many people who do not watch for change.  To really consult fully, these people must be reached out to and engaged.  This is a lengthy and difficult process but one that is vital if people are going to support what is proposed, and gain an understanding of why their views may have not been accepted.

The critical part of lasting environmental changes is then getting people – the urban dweller, rural farmer and grower – to change what they do.  This cannot be achieved by rules and regulations alone.  It can only be achieved by recognising their role and providing support and encouragement. 

So, people really do matter.  We need to support people if we are to achieve anything meaningful and long lasting. 

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive