BOB DOUGLAS. Would Australian politicians contemplate a strategy for human survival?

Why are governments around the world  avoiding the constellation of threats to survival of humans on the planet? 

At least ten mega-threats to human continuation on our planet have been looming for decades. In Australia, our efforts to confront even one of these threats – climate change – have been half-hearted to say the least. The rest are being largely ignored by most people, and certainly by our political leaders. They include:  world population growth, food insecurity, ecosystem decimation, depletion of the resources on which our societies depend, threat of nuclear war, uncontrolled technology and artificial intelligence, global poisoning, pandemic diseases and, above all, the self-delusion that we can somehow escape the consequences of human actions that have placed us in this predicament.

Canberra-based science communicator Julian Cribb has researched and published extensively about these issues in a series of books.

In his analysis of possible solutions to the combined threats, Cribb suggests that we must now build a circular world economy: one that wastes nothing, recycles everything, mines nothing anew and no longer pollutes.  He says we need a growth economy that runs on ideas, creativity and knowledge – rather than material goods. He claims that a vital part of the solution is to transfer half of global food production back into cities, recycling all their wasted water and nutrients into new food, jobs and industries. It is to redesign cities as truly green – enabling them to feed themselves in a hot, climate-ravaged world, as they cannot do today. Producing half the world’s food in cities, he says, will free up 25 million square kilometres of wilderness: under the stewardship of today’s farmers and indigenous peoples this will help end the Sixth Extinction.

Cribb points out that the energy revolution is already under way, powering the next great phase of economic growth and development. But it will only be complete when we have entirely eliminated all fossil fuels. This will both reverse global warning – and also end the present poisoning of every child on the planet by human chemical emissions (pollution of air, water, soil and food). But he adds essential solutions – without which all others may be in vain.

Cribb argues that the key to our survival in the 21st century will lie in our ability to think, not just as individuals, but as a species.  He points out that today individual humans are connecting at light speed around the planet. We are crossing all the boundaries that formerly divided us. We are in the process of creating a universal, Earth-sized ‘mind’. Through thousands of organisations on the internet and social media, tens of millions of people are now joining hands and sharing ideas, information, values and solutions.

Humans are learning to think at supra-human level by applying millions of minds simultaneously to the issues, in real time, by sharing our knowledge freely and by generating faster global consensus on what needs to be done to secure our future. He argues this is an evolution that could drive government, corporations, economic and social institutions as nothing ever has in the past. The writer thinks that women must assume leadership in all spheres of human activity – politics, business, governance, industry, religious and community – as generally take the longer view, wishing a secure, flourishing world for their children and grandchildren.

What will it take to place human survival on the agenda for the coming federal election? We cannot afford to continue on our present path and be confident that we will survive the 21st century as a species.

We must change our thinking and expectations and confront the reality of these interlinked mega-threats. An immediate challenge is to help large numbers of Australians to understand these threats as part of the landscape that we must negotiate together. And to understand that we cannot negotiate them one at a time. The strategy must treat the threats as a package, dealing with them together because of their interdependence.  And we need to recognise and plan for the major social, cultural and economic benefits that will flow from the transformative change that is set in train. This requires a sophisticated engagement that is built not only on fear, but also on hope and anticipation; that clearly spells out both the threats and ways they could be mitigated. It will need to foreshadow radical change in the way we currently live and manage society and the economy.

Time is desperately short, but Australia could lead the world if we could somehow make human survival a centrepiece of national policy.  And there is every reason why we should.  The younger generation is lading the way on climate change and a group from Young Australia21  is now developing a series of podcasts to help to inform and energise Australian voters.

One thing is certain. Our political representatives will not take up this challenge unless large numbers of Australian voters insist that they do so.

In Australia21, we are developing the idea of a widely promoted series of one-hour conversations between groups of five people, stimulated by a one-page outline of the challenges facing us all.

Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas is a retired public health academic; a director of Australia21 and leader of its project on “Surviving And Flourishing In the 21st-Century”.

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3 Responses to BOB DOUGLAS. Would Australian politicians contemplate a strategy for human survival?

  1. Ted Trainer says:


    Thanks for a valuable article on the accelerating global predicament…and adding to the grounds for believing that we are not capable of solving it. But Julian Cribb‘s analysis makes the surprising and profound mistake of thinking that growth makes sense, when there is now a huge literature documenting the obvious fact that it is absurd. The predicament is essentially due to the fact that there is far too much producing and consuming going on, burning through dwindling resources at unsustainable rates and destroying ecosystems. This is widely understood, massively documented and now central in the De growth movement. What is not well recognized is that the overshoot is enormous; there is a powerful numerical case that sustainable systems and lifestyles require reduction in rich world levels of consumption, material living standards and GDP to the region of 10% of present levels. This logically leads irrefutably to the second major mistake so many light greens make. Reductions of the required magnitude cannot possibly be made unless there is a willingness to embrace simplicity; that is to live very frugally and self sufficiently in far simpler systems. This can only be done if the basic settlement form becomes highly localized economies that cooperatively gear local resources to meeting local needs. There are now many in Eco-village, Transition Towns, Voluntary simplicity and similar movements trying to get such systems up and running before he global system collapses. In my view they will fail; the problems are too big, the time is too short and human collective intelligence is borderline feeble-minded. But nevertheless we should work as hard as we can to get through the coming time of extreme troubles via the Simpler Way.

    See you at the community gardens,


  2. Andrew Deakin says:

    ‘ … the energy revolution is already under way, powering the next great phase of economic growth and development.’ Seriously? To date, in Australia and elsewhere, government enforced preferencing of renewables have increased energy prices substantially, reduced security and reliability of energy supply materially, and imposed a regressive tax that is limiting discretionary spending by consumers, leaving them worse off. For no net benefit, either individually or as a ‘species’.

    The proposals in the above post read more like a plea for central planning and government control. The average voter, here, in France, the US and the U.K. has expressed diametrically opposite preferences. Only a dictatorship could enforce the implementation of these proposals, & no prizes for predicting the outcomes.

  3. Rod Holesgrove says:

    Of course this is the only way forward Bob, but it will be v hard to get country leaders to take this forward. I was heavily involved in initiating Hawke’s Ecological Sustainable Development Strategy. PM Keating wasn’t interested. I was also v
    Involved in developing the UN’s Agenda 21 and the UN Johannesburg Summit Sustainable Development goals. Neither of these are being seriously implemented by most Govts .

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