Humans should be more like bees to save the environment, writes Brendan Gallagher.

The presenter of ABC-TV’s Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis, wants us to be like Trigona carbonaria; the native bee. He believes the story of the native bee is the story of sustainability.

“They’re local; they don’t travel more than 500 metres. That’s everything about sustainability and footprint,” he says.

They make environmental lifestyle decisions.

“They don’t come out if it’s not 18 degrees or more,” he says.

They’re frugal.

“They make enough honey for what they need, another lifestyle decision. They store for the winter; that’s all about understanding the seasons.”

They are caring of their home.

“Outside their verges, outside the hive, they put resin and that’s a way of securing and sterilising the entrance and making the community safe.”

Yet they’re relaxed.

“They don’t sting, they don’t bite if you damage their home, their community. They represent that small is beautiful and passive is possible.”

But not completely passive.

“As you get engaged with the native bee hive and learn about it, you are being helped to turn off commercially driven use of chemicals. They’re educators.”

They awaken understanding.

“They’re re-engineering the souls of people who sit there and watch them. Sit and watch those bees go about their business.”

Take note.

“Be that bee; put it out to the people in your world. Cultivate the imagination; raise the ceiling of the possible. This is about turning place into home.”

Fortunately, this exercise in imitation-based flattery comes with a blueprint, in the form of the Sustainable Communities Plan, aka The Plan.

Mr Georgiadis was speaking on a panel convened to discuss The Plan, which is currently open for community submissions, held at the Pine Street Creative Arts Centre in Chippendale on Tuesday, October 16.

The Plan, an audacious act of common sense, is a collaboration between writer and sustainability coach Michael Mobbs, City of Sydney Council and the community of Chippendale.

The presenter of ABC-TV’s <em>Gardening Australia</em>, Costa Georgiadis, gives the instruction: be like the native bee. Photo:thanh7580

The Plan seeks to build on the success of Mr Mobbs’ sustainable house, which, through various sustainable technologies, has become completely self sufficient. The Plan takes these kind of practical sustainability ideas to the next level, that of the suburb, Chippendale, specifically.

While still in development, The Plan includes such elements as combatting the urban heat island effect, the increased residual heat caused by heat absorbing dark surfaces and localised food management, through both growing food in community gardens and on the verges and community composting.

Mr Georgiadis was joined on the panel by John Conner, Chief Executive Officer of The Climate Institute, Monica Barone, Chief Executive Officer of Sydney City Council, Jeff Angel, Executive Director of The Total Environment Centre, John Fairley, owner of Country Valley Farm, and Sharon Bicknell, a representative of Guerrilla Parsley, an app which connects people to community gardens.

Mr Conner said plans such as this formed a unique and integral part of the fight to maintain a healthy environment.

“What I like about the plan is the way it embraces a new kind of prosperity,” he said. “A new kind of joy in community, which at its roots is actually a very old fashioned, very conservative. Getting back to the idea that less is more; getting back to the idea that communities can work together.”

This spirit of communities working together was on show at the meeting, albeit with a reach wider than Chippendale. Mr Fairley owns a dairy farm in Picton. His family has farmed the land for 170 years, but he has recently noticed the soil degrading. This prompted him to start using natural fertilisers, a move which culminated in Country Valley Farms winning the President’s Medal at the Royal Australian Show.

Mr Fairley brought to the meeting a desire to close the loop.

“On my farm, all the cows go to the dairy, and they drop their manure and everything at the dairy and all the nutrients end up in the dairy on the concrete,” he said. “So I’ve got to pick it all up and take it back to the paddocks. And that’s just fixing the loop.”

But while Mr Fairley is sending his milk to the city and he believes he is not getting anything back out of the place.

So he has started collecting compost from Cafe Guilia in Chippendale. His hope is to link up more businesses in the city with excess food waste to the farmers he knows will use it as natural fertiliser. He welcomed the community to assist with ideas to address the logistics.

Mr Angel said that these kind of community-based solutions were crucial, contrasting them with a view he heard expressed by the developers’ lobby at a recent Green Paper Forum on The Planning System.

“They said essentially that ‘if only they could stop the community saying what it wanted locally, everything would happen a lot better and faster’.”

Mr Angel said the strength of The Plan lay in its community involvement. He said he is never afraid of asking residents what they want.

“Invariably they want a better environment,” he said. “They may express it in terms of opposition to things, but the fact is that if you actually ask the community, they actually want things like the sustainable plan.”

However, he said that support from municipal councils and government was also crucial, as such plans require re-engineering of existing physical structures, such as the case with dark road surfaces, and also financial and social incentive structures, to encourage and support activities such as composting and greening verges.

“I think it’s really encouraging that this is being done with City of Sydney Council, they do have one of the best sustainable city plans in the world,” he said.

Ms Barone said that The Plan was consistent with the aspirations of the environmental initiatives a contained in City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan.

“The city already has some overarching plans that will help deliver the Sustainability Plan in Chippendale,” she said.

However, she did signal some challenges.

“There are new ideas in the plan that we have to work out how we’re going to implement, if we’re going to implement them, because some of them are going to be challenging.”

Ms Barone urged community participation.

“Unless the community wants it to happen, unless you’re prepared to participate, unless you’re happy, unless we can get, as much as possible, a consensus in the community, it’s impossible for these things to actually happen.”

Support for The Plan was also expressed each by the three candidates in the State by-election for Sydney; Greens’ Chris Harris, Liberal’s Shayne Mallard and Independent Alex Greenwich.

But some remained sceptical. One resident, who voiced her concern during the Q and A session that followed the speeches, said she was wary of platitudes considering a history of council inaction.

Even so, her passion tapped into the community sentiment of the night.

“We’ve been fighting council for 40 years to get this done and you come along and say, why don’t you people do this, this, this and this,” she said. “We have been fighting council. We want it.”

Honey Bee Macro
The honey bee. Photo: wildxplorer / Foter / CC BYwildxplorer / Foter / CC BY