Why are governments around the world avoiding the constellation of threats to survival of humans on the planet?
At least 10 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 others 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 underway, 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 warming, 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, 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 – and 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. 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 leading the way on climate change and Australia21’s youth arm, YoungA21, is now developing a series of podcasts to help 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.
At Australia21, we have and will continue to take a proactive approach to Global Change. At present, 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
Em Prof 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”.