So, the worthy Kate Barker has allowed her rational and enumerising mind into another area of our national life. Not content with skating the surface of the inequity that is the ‘housing market’, as though something so essential to human well-being as the need for shelter could possible be bought and sold like a CD or piece of underwear, she has now passed judgement on the nature of the planning process. I have not looked at the report; nor shall I. It will be the usual hundreds of pages of text garnished with incomprehensible graphs assembled as weaponry rather than to facilitate understanding. Instead I invite you to consider how planning might be if we extended its concerns beyond the desires of property developers and the rich, beyond the needs of our fellow citizens in the wealthy North, beyond even the unrecognised and uncounted needs of our brothers and sisters of the South, and included all the species of planet earth. I invite you to consider the Parliament of All Beings.
The thought experiment of the Parliament of All Beings is an illustration of the narrowness of the current approach to policy-making. We begin by considering a national parliament in the UK or the USA, which is made up of representatives of a significant number of people in those countries, only excluding those who could not or will not vote or whose votes do not translate into seats. Now we imagine a world parliament, where each country sends a number of representatives so that all countries’ interests are equally represented. We now have a much broader-based and democratic way of deciding whether the solutions to Iraq’s problems will be solved by a US invasion, or about policies to tackle climate change. But now we need to extend this further, to include all the other species with whom we share this planet in our decision-making. We need a representative from the deep-sea fish, the deciduous trees, the arctic mammals, and so on. If we imagine putting to the vote in such a parliament the issue of a planning decision over an out-of-town-shopping centre, not to mention ten new nuclear power-stations, we begin to see how narrow our current decision-making structures are. In the case of most of what we do for economic reasons we would have just one vote against the collected votes of all the other species of planet earth.
The lesson of ecology is that, as species of the planet, we are all connected in a web of life. A Buddhist parable brings to life this rather stark and scientific lesson from ecology. During his meditation a devotee fantasises that he is eating a leg of lamb, an act proscribed by Buddhism where a strict adherence to vegetarianism is required. His spiritual master suggests that when this fantasy comes to him he draws a cross on the leg of lamb. The devotee follows the advice and, on returning to self-consciousness, is amazed to find the cross on his own arm. A more prosaic way of reaching the same sense of connection is to think about a time when you might have hit an animal or bird when driving your car. The sense of shock and horror that you have destroyed something so precious is the same no matter how insignificant the animal appears.