BOB DOUGLAS. Responding to Greta’s Challenge

Nov 13, 2019

“How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? …You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.We will not let you get away with this.” These were the words of sixteen-year old Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg as she addressed the United Nations climate conference on 25th September this year.

Greta is right. Not just about our failure to respond to the challenge of climate change.  Climate change is interacting with other threats of human origin and we now face the greatest existential emergency of our entire existence. But most of us and most of our leaders continue to behave as if it is not happening. This may sound apocalyptic, but the situation really is that serious, and the opportunities for timely action are running out. The scientific evidence shows we are living well beyond what the Earth can sustain. To ignore these mounting threats and not devise integrated national and global strategies to prevent them will commit future generations to catastrophe.

Yet, here in Australia – and in much of the western world – these threats are being ignored or treated as second order issues. As a result, citizens, young and old, are becoming concerned and angry and are making their feelings known to all, through protests and strikes.

Roger Hallam, British co-founder of The Extinction Rebellion ,has recently published a small booklet “Common Sense for the 21st Century” that concludes:  “We can delude ourselves if we so wish, but we can be assured the next generation will be free of such delusions. They will be in the middle of the chaos of ecological collapse. They will want the prosecution of those who created the hell they will face.  Think on that. Feel it in your body. And then act. Friends, there are no easy options anymore. There is only one way that leads to true self-respect – and that is Rebellion. Let’s get to it.”

Australia could be a global leader in helping to solve the combined threats that face us, in ways that secure our health, wellbeing, prosperity and a bountiful future for our grandchildren.  But we are, like many other nations, sitting on our hands.    A new institution, A Commission for Australian Futures, is being developed by a group of concerned Australians, arising from discussions among academics at ANU and the independent think tank, Australia21. The group has been stimulated by Canberra science writer and author of four books on the threats to human survival, Julian Cribb.  The planned Commission will focus initially on Australia and on the severe threats facing our region of the world.

The Commission will engage in the following activities:

·       Alert Australians to the looming planetary crisis
·       Promote a positive narrative for transitioning to sustainable planetary health
·       Partner with researchers, policy makers, industry and civil society
·       Draw on the research available in Australia and internationally
·       Act as a ‘knowledge broker’ in communicating the evidence on threats and solutions
·       Engage in policy dialogue workshops with key players in order to develop action on threat reduction, mitigation or adaption, that each focus on a selected risk such as food security or water management.
·       Communicate findings in regular and readable reports to key players and the public
·       Propose a Human Survival Index comprising component risk indicators (climate change, resources, human population, pollution etc) in order to measure and monitor progress

In her 2019 book, “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal”, author, Naomi Klein, refers to the recent UN Panel on Climate Change report that, she says, has had a greater impact than any publication in the 31year history of that organisation. The report examined the implications of keeping the increase in planetary warming below 1.5°C. Given the worsening disasters we are already seeing with about 1° it found that keeping temperature to below the 1.5 degree threshold, is humanity’s best chance of avoiding truly catastrophic unravelling. But doing that will be extremely difficult. Turning the ship around in time to keep the warming below 1.5 degrees, will require cutting global emissions by half in the next 10 years.   Pulling off this high-speed pollution phase-out is not possible with a single technique or with approaches like carbon taxes. Rather it requires deliberately and immediately changing how societies produce energy, how we grow our food, how we move ourselves around and how our buildings are constructed. What is needed is rapid far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

In tackling the climate crisis, Klein  says we can create hundreds of millions of good jobs around the world, invest in the most systematically excluded communities and nations, guarantee healthcare in child-care and much more. The result of these transformations would be economies built both to protect and to regenerate. The Green New Deal could instil a sense of collective higher purpose – a set of concrete goals that we are all working toward together; rebuilding the planet’s life support systems and respecting and sustaining the people who depend on them. The idea takes its inspiration from Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in the USA in the 1930’s.

Without something of this order the human future looks grim. With it, our grandchildren could perhaps, after all, anticipate a flourishing future.

Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO is a retired Public Health academic and leader of the Australia21 project on “Survival Matters”.  He is a member of the self-appointed interim board of the developing  Australian Commission on Global Futures.

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