Today, bloggers world wide are thinking about climate change as part of blog action day - and I am reminded of a conversation I had with a security man one dark night on a compound in rural Nigeria.
I was admiring the stars. He was surprised. I explained that here in the UK I live on a main road; I need thick curtains in the bedroom to keep out the street lighting; light pollution hides all but the brightest of stars. He said he had previously met an American woman, also admiring the stars. She had said something similar but he had not believed her. Now I was saying the same thing so he was starting to believe it was true.
Another time, stumbling along a dark village path one evening someone said to me "Pam, we want street lights like you have". I replied "No. You want street lights - but not like I have! I believe there are better ones now than the ones I have - ones which do not prevent you from seeing the stars"
What does this have to do with climate change and sustainable futures? Well I have the privilege of close connections with rural Africa, and many friends who are struggling to improve the situations of their impoverished communities. They want "What I have got" - but "What I have got" is not sustainable. Much of it is not even sensible - such as the way our water system works. The water companies treat our water to make it fit for drinking - but then much of it goes straight down the toilet. Crazy!
If we started now surely we'd do things differently. But it's hard to put things right when you have already got things working okay in the wrong way. If you haven't even started yet then it is different. You can get it right - from the very beginning.
That is the opportunity that the development of Africa presents. Rural Africa missed out on the industrial revolution that raised the living starndards of the industrial nations. It is a fresh canvas where we can paint a new picture of development. We can work together, learning from the mistakes of the past, using the sustainable technologies of the present, developing the technologies of the future, and finding solutions that can also be copied by the nations that developed first.
The innovators made great strides in industry and technology but "We did it first, and so, not surprisingly, we made some serious mistakes along the way". We have systems that are polluting and are not sustainable. We have gained visible consumer assets, but many people feel we have lost some invisible community assets. This time let's all do devlopment together and do it right - let's have community development that is sustainable and can be used to tackle the related issues of poverty alleviation, peak oil and climate change.
There is no reason for top-down solutions any more. We have ICT, we can connect with each other, many people already have good working information channels between "developed" and "developing" worlds - let's make better use of them. Let's "rub minds" to create sustainable, resilient communites in rural Africa, using the best technological solutions we can come up with, combining local and international expertise. Then, as we get some local solutions that really work - let's adapt them and adopt them elsewhere as climate change and peak oil issues drive us all into new ways of living.