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How do you balance action with regulation?

Gateway Stoney Middleton Derbyshire 1.8.11 1In an increasingly regulated world many people, especially in small businesses feel more and more oppressed by the burden that regulation imposes on them.

Firstly it’s good to acknowledge the origin and purpose of regulation.

Regulations are nearly often started with the best of intentions. I, for one, am glad that the worst excesses of child labour have been curbed in my country a long time ago. No more children working down coal mines, no more boys climbing up chimneys. Concerns about public safety have increasingly impinged upon working practices. A lot of this is for the good. Twenty years ago people might have scoffed at forestry workers wearing all the safety kit, but chain saws are dangerous things and today forestry workers scoff at those who don’t wear proper safety gear.

The down-side is the over application of regulations. Talked with a group of workmen recently outside the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh. They were standing on the pavement painting the railings wearing hard hats and high-viz vests. No-one working overhead, and clearly visible to pedestrians, unless of course they were visually impaired, in which case a yellow jacket isn’t going to make much difference.

Additionally we live in a country where we can’t just write a regulation. We have to turn it into a book. Legislation on carbon dioxide emissions is now over seven hundred pages long with seventy pages of explanatory notes and has had fourteen changes in the last ten years. The Polish enactment of the same EU regulations is ten pages long.

The oil refinery at Grangemouth has to employ fourteen people whose sole job is to ensure compliance. How can any small business hope to compete against this weight of red tape?

And now this has all come into the world of permaculture. What started out as some keenly observed lessons from nature is now being riven with administration feet deep. Yes of course there are good reasons: setting standards, achieving some kind of compliance. But compliance to what and who decides? The latter two questions are not clearly answered for me.

On the other hand we have the need to promulgate easily achievable solutions fast on a global scale to counter the juggernaut of environmental damage rolling in the wake of the industrial revolution and the industrialisation of land use alongside a burgeoning world population. One in which the ‘developing world’ aspires to have the same standard of living as the ‘developed world’.

Developed in this context is largely related to consumerism. And why shouldn’t they? But how possible is that?

And does regulation help set limits to consumption or get in the way of production systems and energy harvesting and conservation programmes which seek to counter the destructive side of that direction?

Have been re-reading some of my writings from twenty five years ago and realising that the state of the nation and the wider world and therefore one’s own insight continues to develop.

Perhaps permaculture remains the questions we need to ask rather than in itself being the answers.

Comments welcome.

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