After my comments last week on the need to start building resilience into our communities, I was contacted by a Scottish academic with the story of the ‘town that refused to die’.

It’s the tale of a mining community in a remote part of Canada that survived the loss of its economic base. I won’t go into details here, but it’s a fascinating case study in sustainability.

What really struck me, though, was the way so many communities in north America have developed as an exercise in economic rapacity. It’s the equivalent of third world slash-and-burn agriculture: grab it now, exhaust the resources, move on.

In towns and cities across the UK that have existed for centuries, the signs of that approach are often masked: yet you only have to look at the former pit villages of north Nottinghamshire, for example, to see those same values exposed. The legacy of mining has frequently been benefit dependency, heroin addiction, and negative equity. It has taken concerted efforts by regeneration agencies to begin to restore hope.

This week’s Stern report on the economic impact of climate change tells us loud and clear that we can’t carry on living like this. Forests have already been devastated by commentators on the report, ranging from the ‘we’re all doomed’ apocalyptists to climate change deniers like the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips, who claims it’s all a front for more taxation. So I’ll keep this brief. What we do know is that the likely effects of climate change are overwhelmingly negative; that a global effort is needed to avoid them; and that the poorest will be hit hardest.

The key message is that we will need to rethink our approach to wealth creation. That should send alarm bells ringing among regional development agencies that are dreaming up new airport and road schemes; it should send tremors through anyone who still thinks an urban renaissance consists of the ‘alcoholic agora’, an endless succession of bars and eateries.

It won’t be easy. The story of human activity over the last few thousand years has been one of exploitation. To create an economy that is carbon-neutral and relies on renewable resources, not least of which is human intelligence, is an enormous challenge. But we can’t afford to duck it.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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