Surviving the mega-threats to our world

Apr 28, 2020

We humans are a threatened species, and it is mostly of our own making. To survive the ten mega-threats we must act fast, and we must collaborate.

We can unmake these mega-threats, but in order to do so, huge collaborative actions must be taken across the world. We have no more than ten years to reverse the deadly trend towards human extinction. In doing so, we could offer our progeny a reprieve, and even the prospect of a rich and exciting future.

That was the broad conclusion reached at a round-table of 37 leading Australian scientists and thinkers, who met this month via Zoom, to consider ten mega-threats to human survival. The round-table was convened by the recently formed Commission for The Human Future grew out of discussions between The Australian National University, and the not-for-profit think tank for the public good, Australia21.

Simply stated, the ten interacting threats to continuing human existence are:

  1. Unconstrained climate change.
  2. The possibility of nuclear war.
  3. Unconstrained growth in human numbers.
  4. The mass extinction of non-human species and collapse of the web of life on which human life depends.
  5. The rapidly increasing insecurity of human food supplies.
  6. Depletion of essential resources on which modern civilisation depends.
  7. Universal pollution with chemicals.
  8. Pandemic diseases, caused both by pathogens that are new, and others well known by humans.
  9. The advent of powerful new technologies, including artificial intelligence.
  10. Failure , nationally and globally, to understand and act to prevent these nine threats – as a result of both widespread denial and intentional misinformation.

Dealing with one threat at a time will not be enough. We must deal with all of them together. And we are not yet adequately dealing with any of them. Perhaps Covid-19 has done us a service. It has threatened our entire species and profoundly transformed our way of life in our collective endeavour to minimise its impact.

We cannot “snap back” to the way we lived before. The virus is a wake-up call and now we must intentionally transform the human world in ways that will enable us to survive and thrive.

We must commit our best brains and develop a new academic discipline and a new global industry around surviving and thriving. We must think of “security” in new ways. Security depends on the genuine well-being of humans everywhere and on the health of the “web of life” that includes diverse ecosystems on which our own lives also depend.

We must think afresh and creatively about the “systems” which dominate our human world. Our current economic system is manifestly not fit for purpose. We must rethink it to serve the needs of all humans and the planet rather than the needs of clever human entrepreneurs.

The Internet has provided us with the tools for working as a species and the growing emancipation of women is now injecting growing sanity, cooperation and concern for the future into our decision-making bodies.

We urgently need a new human narrative to guide our thinking and our behaviour and with which to train our young.

As a result of the work of numerous cooperating NGOs, a start has been made on the development of a new narrative for Australia. It is called “Australia Remade“. The nine pillars of that statement have been developed in the context of interviews with many hundreds of Australians about the kind of country they would like our nation to be.

The task ahead is to realise that vision, not just for Australians, but for all of our threatened species. That is the challenge facing The Commission for The Human Future, as it develops specific policy proposals for our governments and agencies around the world.

You can read the communique from our first round-table discussion here.

Em Prof Bob Douglas is an Epidemiologist and Secretary of the new Commission.

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