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WE TOOK a long flight from Manila to Auckland, New Zealand (stopping over in Hong Kong), and finally boarded a small aircraft to Whakatane.

It was our first time to visit this place where the Ngati Awa, one of the many Maori tribes of New Zealand, played host early last month to the ?Power Sharing Conference? (because the planet can no longer sustain the present development models) organized by International Union for Conservation of Nature-Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy (IUCN-CEESP).

The first day of the conference brought us to Kohohimau Marae, the community where the Ngati Awa (population: about 19,000) live.

We were welcomed with the traditional hongi and learned how the tribe succeeded in preserving its cultural heritage after winning a long fight against the crown and the colonizers.

It was only 17 years ago that the Ngati Awa people won the right to occupy their ancestral lands and to begin the long process of uniting the tribe.

They have come a long way, having preserved their culture by, first and foremost, speaking their traditional language. (They say that without the language, they have no culture.) They have even established a School for Indigenous Graduate Studies.

But like many other indigenous peoples, the Ngati Awa are affected by developments outside their borders. Climate change is one of them.

Quantum change

The Power Sharing Conference covered relevant topics ranging from peak oil, climate change, the dying planet, poverty, ecosystems, and habitat loss to the rights of indigenous peoples, including prior and informed consent to extractive industries.

It was agreed that at the rate damage was being done to the world?s resources, a quantum transformation in ways of consumption was needed to save Mother Earth so she could sustain us and generations to come.

Dr. Ashok Khosla, the president of IUCN, summed it up very well: that we are suffering from ?affluenza? (the rich are getting richer and less than two percent of the global community controls the world?s wealth) and ?povertysis? (the poor are getting poorer).

Khosla warned that by the end of 2030, we would need two Earths to sustain life.

Dr. Elinor Ostrom, a member of CEESP and Nobel Laureate for economics, spoke about the common pool resource and the value of the global commons.

Ostrom said we needed to move away from narrow economic issues and focus more on social ecological systems like rivers, lakes and forests which have more value because they sustain life.

She raised the need to protect both marine and terrestrial resources, to shun the politics of destruction and expert arrogance, and to reclaim the global commons from corporate control.

Bite the bullet

The conference produced many recommendations, some of them urgent:

To develop renewable energy.

To change paradigms of thinking and educate the people.

To step on the brakes on development and go slow in extractive industries.

We have to bite the bullet and protect all our habitats and ecosystems for they are what sustain us all.

We have to realize that colonization has never gone away and has just taken a new form, and that a transformation, and not mere change, is necessary.

We must remember that all things that count cannot be measured and all things that can be measured hardly count, that we cannot have food security without food sovereignty, and that should we continue with present economic models and consumption patterns, all civilization will perish.

The author is the president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines and a member of IUCN-CEESP.