Imagine the future: Australia in 2030, part 5

© Climate and Health Alliance 2021; Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures

Scenario 3 Maladaptive

Some response but poor choices

“Looking for love in all the wrong places”

Stock prices soar for space mirror manufacturer ‘Reflector’

We are on the verge of a powerful tipping point

Litany Just keep swimming

Metaphor Sisyphus (forced to push a boulder uphill)

Motto At least we gave it a crack

Somewhere over the past decade, Australia lost its compass. In 2030 we don’t quite know who we are, or how it all went wrong. Where once we identified with stereotypes of gung-ho sports legends, brave battlers, proud feminists and a tolerant fair go society, these have been replaced with a deification of celebrity and material wealth and a willingness to cede power to the powerful. There is a rise in female leadership, but the public discourse is hostile and inclined to blame new leaders for past mistakes. Without any aspirational signs of leadership, we live in the grip of a sometimes paralysing anxiety about the future.

We are at a tipping point

The potential for major social change follows the global public uprising early in the decade, powered by a proliferation of engaged social movements.

The Federal Government convenes a national forum to address multiple challenges; COVID-19 recovery, climate change, the recession. It starts by acknowledging the scale of the challenge and the complexity of the problems. We are on the verge of a powerful tipping point.

But the government and key players prove indecisive, unwilling to take necessary risks. Hope proves short-lived as promise fails to follow through into policy. We cannot find accord.

Adaptation is used to excuse inaction. Mitigation is seen as idealistic and unattainable. Critical windows of opportunity to create systemic change pass us by. Attempts at decentralisation fail due to the power of vested interests and failure of governments to loosen this hold.

We opt for tech over deep solutions

Misplaced enthusiasm that ‘tech will save us’ leads to investment in unproven technologies with unintended consequences. In medicine, prioritising individual precision diagnostics over preventative health leads to greater inequity.

We continue to ignore the cause of climate change and opt for maladaptation: with billions invested in sun reflectors in an effort to cool the earth, rather than phase out fossil fuels. Canberra takes its lead from Dubai and opts for a giant glass dome over the central city, creating a climate-controlled outdoor environment. Instead of strengthening food security through promoting sustainable plant based food sources, we spend scarce research and development funding on complex processed meat substitutes.

We invest in monoculture plantations (including of non-native trees) to sequester carbon emissions, rather than reforestation of native species. Cities and towns are losing their natural green spaces.

Local councils install fake trees, leading to poorer air quality and contributing to the urban heat island effect. Many community food gardens are abandoned due to excessive heat and the rising cost of water. Food is increasingly grown on the urban fringe in factories under UV lights, but the high cost of produce limits access to those on higher incomes. The divide between rich and poor has never been more apparent and this growing disparity drives poor physical and mental health outcomes.

We work and think in silos

Governments and government agencies work in silos, consistently avoiding the root causes of environmental, economic, social and health challenges instead throwing haphazard fixes at short-term responses. We grasp at answers in expensive and invest in expensive medical technologies, but fail to invest in health promotion and illness prevention, so health outcomes continue to decline. In the wake of the pandemic recovery, governments do not adequately plan or prepare to address the next zoonotic health crisis and a significant, avoidable loss of life results.

We repeatedly fail to learn lessons such as properly consulting and involving Indigenous and multicultural communities in planning and tailoring messaging to community values or building trust and providing education support on new initiatives, where needed.

The social, health and economic impacts of climate change are writ large. These range from lost productivity, declining food production and poorer human health outcomes. This has both financial impacts and societal burden (with increased pressure on healthcare budgets, rising food prices, and rising unemployment). But the Federal Government continued reliance on decide, engineering only approach, which focuses benefits on the wealthy and so fails society as a whole.

We fail to consider consequences

Despite all the evidence, there is still an unwarranted confidence that we can improve on nature, leading to manipulation of ecological systems that produce short-term benefits but long-term problems. For example, the government invests heavily in geo-engineering technologies, launching an initial trial of a UK technology to spray sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere. But this leads to an increase in air pollution and is considered responsible for a sudden depletion of the ozone layer, resulting in a damages claim from New Zealand in the International Court of Justice.

With increasing incidence of infectious disease outbreaks, public health surveillance is being outsourced to defence personnel, with costs deducted by the Commonwealth from states and territories whenever they experience a surge in cases. Further changes to healthcare funding in 2021 see states and territories forced to take on responsibility for the majority of healthcare expenditure. This drives a further shift towards telehealth services, but while demand rises, access to care declines: GP consultations are reduced to three minute sessions.

Deliberate misinformation campaigns make truth and evidence indistinguishable from propaganda and disinformation. Fake news is almost indistinguishable from fact. There is a deepened mistrust of governments and institutions, as there is less consultation or dialogue with the community and little insight into decisions being made. The uprisings of the School Strikes, and Extinction Rebellion have gone underground, as increasingly punitive restrictions influence public displays of activism. This erosion of human rights and civil liberties leaves people very anxious about what each day might bring.

We lose confidence, and retreat

Following repeated false starts and a failure to commit to social, environmental and political progress, our faltering economy is weighted further by poor consumer confidence. Climate inaction has led to entrenched inequities, and worsened population health outcomes. As temperatures increase, people are much less likely to spend time outdoors exercising or socialising, undermining social cohesion and contributing to the growing national ‘girth’.

Metaphorically and literally, Australians just can’t motivate themselves to get up off the couch.

Scenario 3 Maladaptive Case Study

A day in the life of Francesca Ditadi, 22 year old student studying 3rd year law, NSW

Francesca sits in her online lecture from her bedroom desk. Online learning became the new ‘normal’ when the pandemic drove the world ‘virtual’. Francesca misses the true connections that face- to-face learning gave her in primary school. She doodles on a notebook, though she really should be concentrating because exams are coming.

The lecturer is talking about the ethics of technology in a horribly dull monotone and Francesca looks around the virtual lecture room to notice almost all the class seem as bored as she is. Since university fees are now prohibitively high, every one of the faces she looks at will likely spend the rest of their working life paying back their HECS debt. But they count themselves lucky: At least they will be able to work at the company of their choice. The other option today is to accept a corporate- funded place, which would have meant no debt, but a lifetime contract tethered to one company who preselects you using a PsychApp entry test that digitally selects top scoring students and determines the full life cycle of their careers, even before they receive their Uni offer.

The legal system has changed so much in the past few years. After a seismic jump in litigation post-pandemic, due to the environmental, economic and social fallouts of poor planning and a surge in climate-related litigation, laws were hastily changed to automate and streamline many legal processes. This was not well thought out however and only added to the backlog before being taken offline; Francesca could have saved the government the millions of dollars they wasted on this infrastructure – she knows answers can’t always be found in the law: We will always need humans to find broader, human-centred solutions.

Francesca is also passionate about a free press and ensuring that disinformation doesn’t subvert the truth. But social media today is a multi-headed beast and an ongoing challenge for citizens, lawmakers and governments alike. It continues to lack regulation or oversight. Every day, damaging content risks going viral in seconds. And Francesca knows more than most, the dangers of disinformation spread. It had nearly cost her father his life a couple of years back.

Her father is a police officer and when the 2028 food riots broke out, police and militia were sent in to calm things down. Social media however had been weaponised with a false story about police ‘paying off’ some of the protesters with food coupons. This quickly stirred the crowd into uncontrollable rage. Somewhere in the thick of it, Francesca’s father had been knocked unconscious and trampled until a colleague pulled him out to safety.

Francesca does not blame the rioters or the police. She knows this is happening because the system is broken. It makes her all the more determined to create change. At 22 she has already decided her life will not be about traditional concepts of family or community. She will become a modern freedom fighter, her ‘weapon’: her intelligence and the law. She and her generation overwhelmingly agree the system has to change. After all, Australia in 2030 is not a place anyone should settle for.

Scenario 3 Maladaptive Case Study

A day in the life of Kaspar Sapp, immigrant 52 year old furniture designer and teacher, Esk, QLD

Kaspar bends forward as he runs his hand over the smooth arc of the timber chair leg. Its line, like many of the soft lines in his work, follows the curves of nature. He has been fascinated with the structure of furniture since he was a boy back in Estonia. Aged eight, Kaspar had already built his own table and chair. When his family moved to Australia seeking a better life, he already knew what his future would be.

In his early career in Brisbane, Kaspar built an enviable reputation as a true craftsman furniture maker. Then during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaspar and his family had joined the mass migration of city dwellers seeking more space and a healthier lifestyle of rural living. They were lured to the town of Esk with the promise of strong federal and state economic recovery plans, reassured that his innovative furniture making school would find a rich new vein of students.

Economic predictions indicated significant growth for that decade in the furniture design and manufacturing market. But Kaspar knew too, that computer drafting, drawing and modelling was the future of furniture design. So when a government post-pandemic recovery package included education funding and incentives for small businesses to build their skills, he jumped at the opportunity, commuting back to the city to study CAD. Half way into his course however, the government switched strategies, slashing arts and humanities funding and redirecting it all into STEM subjects. It was a frustrating setback for Kaspar, but for Australia, it was a disastrous decision. It set the nation up for future chronic shortfalls in the professions needed to focus on the many broader challenges facing humanity. It was not the first strategy failure from governments post-COVID: a lack of policy to plan for sustainable growth and long-term jobs shifts had already seen over four millions jobs vanish in the past decade.

There were early attempts to design and implement major economic reform. This was driven by the private sector as well as education. But governments repeatedly failed to back this up with authentic consultation or properly funded, detailed innovation, technology and education policies.

Kaspar knew all this. He had grown up in Australia but his lineage instilled in him a strong sense of political engagement. He felt a simmering rage watching as Australia dwindled its enormous opportunities much in the same way many European countries had done in the past. His anger joined the rise of widespread social unrest around the country. But government’s response was to ramp up laws that prohibited free speech, protesting or demonstrating. Try to stop protests and you only drive them underground, Kaspar thinks to himself. He knows things in his troubled country will get much worse before they get better. And that ‘better’ may not even come in his lifetime. But for now, he would focus on things that calmed him, like the beautiful lines of a chair.


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