Mike Nickerson of the Sustainability Project

CBC’s Information Morning with Steve Sutherland recently hosted a panel and public discussion on the question “Cape Breton 2030: What’s your vision for the future?”

Answers ranged from the broad (develop tourism, protect the environment) to the specific (entrepreneurial training in high schools, inclusion of Mi’kmaq). And while several themes emerged, many seemed to centre around the need to develop a local economy – one that is more environmentally sustainable, more self-sufficient and resilient to global change, more inviting to newcomers and expats, and more focused on Cape Breton’s assets.

Everyone seemed to agree that the way to get there is by collaboration, both between and within Cape Breton’s various municipalities and First Nations, as well as between Cape Breton and the rest of Nova Scotia; and between rural and urban, government and the private sector (and I would add the voluntary sector), and between local producers, distributors and consumers.

The question of direction has been a driving force behind the 35-year career of Mike Nickerson, director of the Sustainability Project (sustainwellbeing.net). Currently on a cross-country tour to promote his new book, Life, Money and Illusion, Nickerson will be in Cape Breton on October 4th and 5th, where he’ll be visiting classrooms to talk to students and meeting with community groups, asking the question of the day: What’s our vision for the future, and how will we get there?

Central to Nickerson’s message is the idea that economic indicators are the wrong rulers for measuring progress and well-being. We should instead pursue the 3 L’s – Learning, Love and Laughter – in order to develop ourselves and our relationships with others, through skill-development, scholarship, art, music, sport, dance, friendship, spiritual aspiration, parenting and service.

We are quickly coming up against the limits to growth, whether ecological limits such as how much waste the planet can absorb, or financial limits such as how much debt a household or nation can carry before collapsing under the weight. In each case, we deny the existence of limits even while we suffer the consequences of crossing them. But in each case, it is not too late to chart a new course.

Many of the alternatives to consumerism, the things that build community instead of tearing it apart, are the same things that help develop local, place-based economies: from cooperatives and credit unions to local food and energy production and distribution.

In other words, we’re all in this together, and the time for meaningful change is now. Whether that means something as practical as developing renewable energy resources like wind, solar, tidal, biomass and geothermal as sustainable alternatives to coal, oil and gas; or something as crazy as asking a young person about their vision for the future.

Sydney Tour Dates for Mike Nickerson:

October 4, Sydney Academy, Science 10, 8:45am-1:50pm
October 4, ACAP, 582 George St., 7:00 pm
October 5, Riverview High School, Global Geography 12, 10:05am-11:15 am
October 5, Rotary Club of Sydney, Delta Hotel, 12:15pm
October 5, Green Cape Breton, McConnell Library, 50 Falmouth St., 7:00pm

All dates at sustainwellbeing.net