Figure 1. Possible alternative futures for Australia in 2030
© Climate and Health Alliance 2021; Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures
The case for imagination
2020 was a remarkably challenging year for humanity. A global novel coronavirus pandemic infecting millions around the world, with morbidity and mortality steadily rising.
Radical changes to how we live and work, instituted to combat the pandemic, leading to a global economic recession with rising unemployment and increased suffering.
And simultaneously our climate continues to change with an increasing rate of extreme weather events.
Our climate is changing and the rapidity and impacts of the changes are already catching us by surprise.
Imagination is central to the human condition.
It informs our creativity and our science and it is central to our survival particularly as we contend with events not previously experienced or imagined.
Healthcare workers use imagination in practice to guide patients through diagnosis, treatment and maintain hope through periods of extraordinary challenge.
These skills are of central importance as we work through catastrophic and existential global risks toward a better future.
As we emerge from this remarkable period, it is time to employ our imaginations deliberately and in collaboration.
To take our understanding of science and explore ideas and challenges we’ve not yet experienced or perhaps conceived.
As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic resonate around the world, there has never been a better or more important time to imagine our future.
To imagine the risks and threats, and to imagine how we can work together toward a healthier and happier community.
Dr Arnagretta Hunter
Physician and Cardiologist, The Canberra Hospital and Australian National University
Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures 3
Possible Alternative Futures
Head in the sand
This scenario is the ‘no-change’ scenario – one in which we bury our heads in the sand, refuse to acknowledge the scale and urgency of the problem of climate change, and fail to take appropriate action to respond. It features increasing climate-fuelled extreme weather events, rising social anxiety, an ongoing political apathy, which combine to worsen already unstable social and environmental conditions. Two case studies, featuring data broker Cara and firefighter Malcolm, describe personal experiences in this possible future world.
This scenario describes the outcome if we ignore scientific evidence and fail to heed the lessons from the past. Despite some positive social policy initiatives when COVID-19 first emerged, we quickly reverted to small government strategies, ignoring the evidence of social and economic benefit from tackling inequity. Advances in technology, including for health and education, are largely serving upper to middle income urban Australians, leaving rural and remote First People’s communities further behind. A young Aboriginal girl in the Northern Territory dreams of making a difference. Ministerial advisor Ramesh is trying to push forward with positive policy, but is thwarted by political egos and media interests.
Looking for love in all the wrong places
In this scenario, we have lost our compass as a country. Without strong leadership, nor a sense of identity that we can be proud, we feel paralysed, and inert. Despite recognising we are at a powerful tipping point, we fail to act. We panic, and throw funds at unproven schemes and technologies.
Our decisions serve to deepen cultural and social divides. We fail to mitigate or adapt – climate impacts intensify. The relationship between federal and state governments declines – cooperation is a thing of the past. A law student laments the now almost total shift to online learning while planning an activist future. Another day-in-the-life story centres on a young rural craftsman, Kaspar, struggling to imagine a secure future.
We can do this
Australia is on a strong and positive path.
We have faced the future with courage and agency, and in the early 2020s, engaged in bold and decisive action – and it shows. Deep thinking, community engagement and a revitalisation of democracy helped create a mandate for elected representatives at all levels of government to act. Recognition of First Nations sovereignty and voice is enshrined in legislation, and all Australians embrace Indigenous culture as part of their identity. Policy is guided by the deep knowledge of the connection between planetary and human health and connection to country. The school strikers form a new generation of leaders in our parliaments, and a Climate Emergency Act is passed. We hear the story of Suraya, a co-owner in a local cooperative in Tasmania, and a new life for Frank, an organic farmer in Queensland.
Our island home
Australia finds its place in the world as a responsible, compassionate, fair country.
We begin by acknowledging historical injustices, and take formal steps to address this with compensation, expansion of land tenure and water rights. Indigenous voices and knowledge systems guide policy and practice. Our environment and unique biodiversity begins to recover following legislated reforms. A progressive taxation system and increased investment in the commons supports a more equitable society.
We invest in truly sustainable progress, with measures going well beyond GDP. We champion truth and accountability, rethink what is needed from technology, and reimagine how we might live.
This scenario describes a future that is possible – if we proceed with our eyes open to the interconnected and complex challenges we face, and do this with courage, humility, and the generosity that has characterised the community response to COVID-19.
We can employ solutions that offer wide ranging benefits and set us up well to succeed, and flourish, into the future.
This future is available to us. It is scientifically, economically, culturally, socially, and technologically feasible.
It can be the future we choose.
No policy change
This refers to a situation in which there is no change to current (inadequate) climate policy settings.
This refers to small, incremental or marginal changes to policy, which may be positive, but are insufficient to effectively tackle the problem.
This refers to policies and actions that may appear to respond to the problem, but ultimately deliver negative results due to unforeseen or unintended consequences.
Radical, transformative change
This refers to bold, ambitious actions that seek to address the core of the problem and provide solutions to match.
This scenario takes desirable elements of the four preceding scenarios to create a preferred future.