BOB DOUGLAS, Australia Should be Leading The Extinction Rebellion

Jun 27, 2019

Prime Minister Morrison is now in a very strong position to lead the way on radical policy reform. I am arguing here that we should help him to develop and promote a strategy for human survival in the face of the ten interacting, mega-threats that seriously threaten the extinction of humanity in the lifetime of our grandchildren.

Threats to human survival are being studiously ignored nearly everywhere,- that is, apart from climate change, which is being discussed, but inadequately managed everywhere. Nine other existential threats are: worldwide human population growth, insecurity of food supplies, the destruction of ecosystems, the depletion of resources, the threat of nuclear war, uncontrolled technology and artificial intelligence, global poisoning, pandemic outbreaks of diseases and above all, the self-delusion that we can somehow escape the consequences of human actions.

Australia could be showing the rest of the world how we could work to avoid the total collapse of human civilisation, that now looks inevitable unless we seven billion people can very quickly transform the way we live and relate to the planet.

The PM was quite misguided over his lump of coal, but he is not dumb and I sense that he cares about his constituents. He also says he believes in miracles. If he genuinely thought that he could lead Australia and the world to a new and constructive way of thinking and acting on the threat to human survival, he might make a good fist of it.

So where to begin? The starting point must be widespread recognition and acceptance in Australia that these threats are real and that there are effective ways to manage them all. The scientific evidence that they are real is settled, in my view at least. Canberra Science communicator and author, of multiple books on these topics, Julian Cribb, argues that solutions are available for all of them. But he also makes the point that we cannot afford to deal with them one at a time, but must develop a strategy for mitigating them all at the same time, because dealing with only one or two of them is likely to make some of the others worse

Mitigating these ten risks all at once is, of course a very tough ask and it demands a degree of scientific, administrative, political, and technological collaboration at a level the world has never before seen. On the other hand nor have we before, seen such an awesome combination of lethal threats. It is so awesome that most of us don’t want to think or talk about it and that is another part of the problem. I often hear people say “keep it simple and start with something that we all understand, like population control. Others say: “Don’t scare the horses by frightening us. Give us hope rather than fear”.

Yet it is the promotion of fear that seems to contribute to success in modern elections. Fear is undoubtedly a strong motivator for human action, but it is something most of us other than politicians would prefer not to promote.

To get these matters understood and discussed in the broader community, a team from the NGO, Australia21, is suggesting a process of one-hour discussions between five people, perhaps after watching this 10 minute video by Julian Cribb and a series of five questions for the group to consider. This approach builds from experiences with kitchen table conversations, which have been effective in generating political change in parts of Australia in recent years. Such discussions could take place in schools, universities, faith groups, NGOs and among neighbours across the nation. Certainly, until the issues are being widely discussed and considered by thousands of ordinary voters, we are unlikely to reach first base with our political leaders. The evidence suggests, that when people have had an opportunity to voice their concerns about complex issues with friends and neighbours, significant things can happen. Look at Hong Kong.

Australia21 is proposing three other activities in addition to promoting these conversations of five people. It has developed a series of podcasts on the issue of “Survival Matters” which are discussions between a young person and several experts about the issues. With Julian Cribb and academics at the ANU, the group has also developed a website – which contains substantial resource material and linkages to international research on existential threats. The group is also currently seeking partners and funding to hold a series of high-level interdisciplinary roundtables of scientists, policymakers, politicians and community representatives whose role will be to explore issues like an index of progress towards survivability and practical implementation measures for governments on each of the ten mega threats.

The fourth planned initiative, that grew from a roundtable discussion about existential threats at the Australian National University, and which would need substantial financial resources, is the proposal for a world leading “Commission on Global Futures”. The Commission would be owned by all Australians and develop a positive vision for the future of the nation, the planet and all its living systems. It’s mission would be assist Australia governments to play their important role in a global effort to mitigate the threats to the long-term survival and wellbeing of humans on Planet Earth.

Why wouldn’t our re-elected PM take it on, if it turns out that we are able make all of these things happen? And if he won’t, his successor almost certainly will.

Em Prof Bob Douglas is a former Public Health Academic, a Director of Austalia21 and leader of its program on “Survival Matters”

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