While this document is entitled “ReVision 2020: Restoring Sight to the Blind”, it is not about physical blindness. Instead, it is about the occasional unwillingness of society in general and leaders in particular to look into the future and prepare for predictable challenges and crises. It is about restoring sight because Mauritius once created a vision for itself known as “Vision 2020: the National Long Term Perspective Study”. Written in the 1990’s, it attempted to see 25 years into the future. Our challenge is to look much further, even beyond our own natural life times.
Lessons from the past
While we find it difficult to imagine, our current civilisation is probably not going to last. A glance at history reveals this pattern has been consistently repeated. The Egyptian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, the Ottoman and the British Empires once reigned over vast swathes of the earth. They are no more. The difference today is that our civilisation is so global, interdependent and militarised that if part of it collapses, it may well bring down the whole.
Jared Diamond, in his classic book “Collapse: How our societies choose to fail or succeed”, identified five fundamental factors that have historically contributed to collapse:
- Climate change
- Hostile neighbours
- Collapse of essential trading partners
- Environmental problems
- Failure to adapt to environmental issues
Today, mankind faces eight environmental problems that have led to collapse in the past:
- Deforestation and habitat destruction
- Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses)
- Water management problems
- Effects of introduced species on native species
- Increased per-capita ecological footprint
Further, he says four new factors may contribute to the weakening and collapse of present and future societies:
- Anthropogenic climate change
- Buildup of toxins in the environment
- Energy shortages
- Full human utilization of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity
Somewhat alarmingly, Mauritius faces all of the fundamental factors and all of the environmental problems. While our geographical isolation means we may never have hostile external neighbours (although we can be less confident if we consider our territory to be our Exclusive Economic Zone), there is certainly potential for internal hostility between communities and classes. Moreover, our high dependency on food and energy imports means that we will feel the impact of conflicts elsewhere. Diamond’s point about photosynthetic capacity may be overstated for the world as a whole, but with about a third of Mauritius’ total land area devoted to sugar cultivation, few countries have less room for manoeuvre.
It is obvious that Mauritius is on an unsustainable path and heading towards inevitable collapse. Some may be tempted to avoid facing up to this stark reality and bury their heads in the sand, passing on the burden of dealing with it to another generation. However, with awareness comes responsibility and the more honestly we confront the truth, the stronger we will feel compelled to change direction. The purpose of this document is to collectively set a new course for our nation – a vision for the future that guides us away from the abyss and towards sustainability.
Daring to dream
While religious myth and the history of Mauritius seem to concur that paradise and people are incompatible, our capacity to create hell on earth belies our latent capability to create heaven as well. Whether the future of mankind is one of intelligently designed paradise or self-inflicted purgatory is fundamentally our choice and within our power. If we can wreak so much havoc upon our environment when we are collectively asleep, should we not be able to help regenerate and restore it once we are awakened?
The corollary of warnings of doom and gloom are the dreams of hope and inspiration. Therefore, we must liberate our imaginations to perceive a vision of the highest potential that we can conceive. This is a role for the innocent child within us, recalling our idealistic youth before it was tainted by frustration and failure. Who knows what is possible? Only one thing is certain: if we fail to achieve sustainability then future generations will curse us. However, as we progress on the pathway to sustainability we may find it is actually the stairway to heaven.
Practice makes perfect
As the scales fall from our eyes and we exercise our imaginations, our vision of the future will become clearer. Therefore, this is a living document. It should be constantly challenged and consistently updated. However, this does not meant that we should not act until our dream is perfected. Time does not afford us that luxury.
We have built up too much momentum in the wrong direction. Our train is travelling at high speed and the rails are leading to the edge of a cliff. As well as digging up the tracks and relaying them, we need to slow down the train. We can do this by taking stock of everything that we are now doing and reversing those actions that do not pass the test of sustainability. Once we are more confident of our course, then we can accelerate towards our goal.
For now, we should apply the precautionary principle, conserving our resources rather than constructing new edifices that seem to be the flavour of the month. In time, we will determine what is really of lasting value and build physical and social structures that can be set in stone, emulating the spirit of the great cathedral builders of centuries ago. Until we reach that point, we should be careful that what we construct can be easily dismantled or we may find that the paths we would like to take in the future are smothered by concrete jungles.
Leading the way
The task before us may seem daunting and we might prefer to abdicate responsibility, leave it up to others and grab onto their coat-tails. However, it is becoming clear that no country is making much progress towards sustainability. As a remote island, highly dependent on imports, major perturbations to the world’s natural and economic climates will hit us hard. We cannot float alone so we will either sink or swim together with other nations. We have no choice but to lead the way and advocate for others to follow us. The example of our diverse and fragile society transforming itself to live in harmony with nature will be a catalyst for our sisters and brothers in other nations to do the same. In the (slightly modified) words of Frank Sinatra’s song, New York: if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere.