BOB DOUGLAS. My Unsolicited Advice to Australia’s political leaders.

Dec 20, 2018

This week I cheekily wrote to the leader of the Federal Opposition seeking an urgent appointment before he embarks on his party’s convention this weekend. Because I doubt that I will get to meet with him, here is what I would like to say to him and to the leaders of each of the other political parties as well as the cross benchers.

Millions of us are disenchanted with the current political system and concerned that it may be incapable of responding to the challenges, which now face our country and our species. We are desperately seeking a government and leaders, who will actively commit to the long-term survival of our grandchildren.  On our present trajectory their survival seems increasingly unlikely.

As one of the richest nations in the world, Australia could, and should be taking its place as a leader in confronting and responding to the very real threat of human extinction in the not too distant future.

This is your big opportunity!

Firstly, we need to be responding positively to each of the nine pillars of an exciting vision for future Australian society that has been laid out by a group of NGOs who have been consulting with the community and have proposed an “Australia Remade.”

Next, as  Canberra science communicator, Julian Cribb, concludes in his book “Surviving the 21st Century,” human survival and even flourishing, is feasible in our modern internet age – but only with a global collaborative effort at transformative change, that will challenge many of our current beliefs, expectations, assumptions and modes of living, and will transform the way we deal with each other, the planet and other living systems.

The ten interlinked mega-threats that stand in the path of human survival are: global warming human population growth, food insecurity, ecosystem destruction, depletion of the resources on which our societies depend, threat of nuclear war, uncontrolled technology and artificial intelligence, widespread poisoning from man-made chemicals, pandemic diseases and, above all, the self-delusion that we can somehow escape the consequences of our actions.

In Australia, our efforts, to tackle even one of these threats – global warming – have been half-hearted and inadequate.  The rest are being largely ignored by most people and apparently by our political leaders.

In his analysis of available solutions to the combined threats, Cribb argues 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 also says 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. Producing half the world’s food in cities, Cribb 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. The author 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 help to end the present poisoning of every child on the planet by human chemical emissions

None of this is rocket science. We know what is needed. The challenge is to come up with a plan for implementation.

So here are four key pieces of advice that  I can understand you may find difficult to accept.

1. Do not be frightened of foreshadowing radical change. It is the only way forward. Engage your constituents, both in understanding the threats and in co- creating our alternative survivable future.

2. Commit to Australia becoming a world leader in mitigating the threats and pioneering research into mitigation. Seek corporate and philanthropic support for the development of an independent Commission on Global Futures that will provide advice to the government as well as to the community about progress.

3. Rethink the role of the economy, taking some lessons from the work of Kate Raworth in her book on “The Doughnut Economy”, where she argues that there is a safe and just space for humanity between an ecological boundary that we must not go beyond and a social foundation below which no humans should be allowed to fall. Instead of a goal of endless economic growth, our goal should now be “to bring all humanity into the safe and just space and avoid exceeding any further than we have already done, the breach in the ecological boundary”.

4, Above all, stop trying to wedge, outmanoeuvre or besmirch your opponents, and focus instead on the exciting and truly viable future you can be helping to build for all of us.

Em Prof Bob Douglas is a retired epidemiologist, a Director of Australia21 and leader of its project  on “Surviving and Flourishing in the 21st Century”

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