Imagine the future: Australia in 2030, part 6

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

Scenario 4 Transformative Change.

We take strong action and stay the course

We can do this.

Northern Quoll emblematic of a new Australia

A ten-year turnaround from near zero to healthy numbers

Litany 2030 is better shared

Metaphor Future in young hands/symbiosis

Motto A future for all

Indicators Indigenous life expectancy gap closes

Australia is on a strong and positive path.

It takes a big struggle to make big changes and we are by no means ‘there’ yet. We know for instance, that massive efforts to mitigate climate change impacts won’t translate into clearly visible outcomes for decades. Many other challenges continue, but instead of meeting these with fear and contraction, we have discovered the value in addressing them with courage and agency, learning from our past and – finally – seriously thinking about future generations, first. There is a sense of optimism that we are heading in the right direction and that Australia has the tools we need to get there.

We reflect

While it wasn’t immediately discernible in 2020, COVID-19 led to a period of deep thinking and reflection among civil society, development, environment and conservation groups, academia, and among local and state governments – about the need for a radical shift in our systems of governance and democracy. The old way was well and truly broken. It had become increasingly apparent that tinkering at the edges of reform would never meet the scale of the threats we now faced – to our climate, our health, our way of life and indeed, to human survival.

The determined and passionate advocacy by strong coalitions of civil society and industry groups over the past decade finally helped create a mandate for governments to invest in policies and strategies that benefit the whole of society.

We commit to a better, shared, future

The now adopted Uluru Statement captured what has become a nationally accepted mantra – let’s walk together into a better future for us all.

We begin envisioning a future in which diversity is genuinely valued, where there is nested governance, free and transparent flows of information, evidence-based decision making, and deepened trust in our institutions and amongst each other. We adopt a healthy culture of risk taking, curiosity and an acceptance of fear of failure to support entrepreneurship and innovation.

Key to community-led reform is legislative recognition of First Nations sovereignty, a strengthening of Native Title and recompense for past injustices toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous leaders are now represented at every level of government and lead positions in land management. Land tenure and water rights reforms recognise Indigenous autonomy. Indigenous voices and knowledge systems guide holistic solutions as with the incorporation of Indigenous approaches to environmental management and business development. There is strong progress towards closing the gap. Non-Indigenous Australians begin authentically embracing Indigenous culture as part of their identity. Australian birth certificates

include the name of the Indigenous traditional land where the child was born and every child receives a welcome to country.

Governance is decentralised and local councils and health systems work together with communities through meaningful co-design that embraces community led solutions.

This is exemplified in the diversity of communities now involved in designing and delivering culturally appropriate healthcare that meets their needs

and provides quality health access for all. Health investment decisions restrict private interests, instead placing citizens beside clinicians as key decision makers. This is underpinned by well- resourced regulatory systems that prioritise safety and consumer protection.

We rethink the digital world

Following an explosion of interest around digital privacy arising when the digital space became our ‘meeting room’, the world experiences a second digital revolution, this time founded in principles of digital dignity. Business models based on data exhaust (the digital trail of one’s online activity) become the new asbestos and regulations around the use of data exponentially increase. This leads to moves that de-monopolise and deconstruct major technology companies.

Consumption is being redefined as we invest in the circular economy as well as focus on selling services rather than ‘stuff’. This also contributes to more stable and resilient economy as Australian companies move productivity towards the global frontier, creating new, internationally competitive low carbon industries and services.

Most people have changed their eating habits, having become more aware that food has been the leading cause of ill-health and contributes to climate change; health institutions have also followed suit, now sourcing locally grown organic food, supporting farmers and reducing emissions at the same time.

We develop a planetary consciousness

Legislation formalises accountability for recognising the connection between planetary and human health – contributing to win-win outcomes: policies and strategies that reduce emissions, improve health, create jobs and tackle inequity. We see a greater proportion of young people elected to parliament as the generation of school strikers for climate which began in 2018 opt for political careers to drive change. We invest in measures to preserve and restore natural environments, in tandem with commitments to health promotion and illness prevention funding. Agreements and wages for health care professionals are renegotiated and improved. There is greater emphasis on climate change adaptation to better protect individuals, communities, organisations and natural resources, such as coordinated management of precious water resources and new building codes that factor in future climate conditions.

The situation is not perfect and trade offs are inevitable: Large solar farms require significant parcels of land to deliver into the grid where there is demand. Some previously strong markets (e.g. the car industry) endure significant pain with the demise of private vehicle ownership, leading to the downsizing of vehicle maintenance infrastructure (mechanics, auto equipment, car insurance).

We truly commit to net zero

But perhaps one of our greatest sources of national optimism comes from bi-partisan national agreement that Australia must – and can – get to net zero emissions by 2040. Progress leading up to 2020 had already closed the technical gap and made this possible across many sectors.

Drastic reductions in emissions were initially driven by significant government intervention in the form of the Climate Emergency Act (2023). All sectors develop and implement time-bound emissions reduction plans and a carbon price on all emissions-intensive activities is integrated at every level of society. Revenue from this subsidises the transition for low-income households and accelerating clean technologies like converting retired coal-powered to solar thermal plants to produce dispatchable clean energy.

With a net zero emissions by 2040 goal enshrined into law, business, industry and community finally have the much-needed certainty to commit to the transition. The ground for innovation becomes fertile and early wins reset expectations so that a ‘race to the top’ approach becomes the new norm. Governments find that energy retrofits, particular for low-income households, tick all boxes.

Microgrids become widespread and an expanded and improved recycling system creates a large number of jobs.

Following the lead of China, Europe and North America, coal use is being rapidly phased out of Australia’s energy system, with a focus on high reliability and affordability and low emissions.

While the task remains significant, the renewables revolution has been reframed as both achievable and fun. The Grand Prix is now totally electric vehicles and and three out of four new cars sold are electric.

We achieve growth AND decarbonise

Australia’s economy continues to grow while we achieving 45% emissions reduction (since 2020), positioning us to achieve the 2040 target.

Few can deny that decarbonisation, economic growth and positive social outcomes are working hand in hand.

A day in the life of Sureya Namok, co-owner of local cooperative, Strahan, Tasmania

Sureya walks with her child, Dewi, to school in Strahan, which has been renamed Toogee, a zero waste, carbon neutral community on the west coast of Tasmania. They are excited to spot a huge white-bellied sea eagle with a wingspan of about 2m; the animal totem of the region.

Her town and state seem peaceful now, but less than a decade ago, Tasmania – and much of Australia’s populated regions – had become hotbeds of social discord. Protests, rallies and even rioting became commonplace, as the strains of economic and social disparity had finally become untenable. Tasmanians fought for change on so many fronts: from environmental destruction to massive unemployment and then outrage in the wake of the political donations scandal from gambling businesses. The Premier had resigned before his whole party was brought down, and this seemed to precipitate a ripple effect right up Australia’s east coast, before the north and west joined in. At that point there was no denying the system was broken. Major political parties fell like tenpins, replaced by a new generation of Independents and leaders who truly engaged with communities and courageously chose bold reforms that would better society, over the political manouvering and sniping of old.

It is a ‘work in progress’ today, but Australia has definitely turned a corner and the future looks promising.

A descendant of the local traditional owners, the Minegin people, Sureya is part owner of the local community factory that processes native foods, including sea vegetables for Tasmanian restaurants and a native therapeutics business in Launceston. With eight weeks’ annual leave and additional public holidays, she works a 4 day, 30 hour week – around 1,200 hours a year, which is about average for full-time workers. This gives her time to volunteer at the local community co-operative FeedThePeople, which both nurtures and feeds the region’s small number of unemployed people. Most people without paid work are actively engaged in the community farm, earning a ‘participation income’ for in-kind contributions to society.

FeedThePeople works closely with the local traditional owners to support caring for country initiatives and the development of the native foods industry, in recognition that our health and ultimately our wealth depends on protecting nature, so nature can protect us.

Mother and child pass under wind turbines powering the region. Australia-wide, the transition to a net zero economy is well underway. Transport and many industries are now powered by renewable energy, generated by both micro-grids and publicly owned utilities, such as the Togee Wind Farm.

Coal-fired power stations are almost completely a thing of the past now – nobody these days will touch carbon-exposed assets. The much-hyped economic and employment losses that were threatened with the fall of carbon-intensive industry were, however, never realised, as a new, hyper-energised green economy emerged bringing with it, a host of jobs that had previously never existed.

As they walk, Suraya reflects on the transformation in her health, since she was referred to the local health promotion nurse practitioner a few years ago. Struggling with obesity, and a heart attack at age 39, she was at risk of leaving her only child an orphan. But with the help of a skilled practitioner at the local community health service, Suraya has turned things around. She’s now at her ideal weight, leading a local walking group herself, and feels stronger, happier and much more confident about the future.

A day in the life of Frank Bagnato, organic farmer, Kuttabul

(near Mackay) QLD

He squints as he looks across the shore, always a keen eye on the kids when they’re swimming. Both children are together, laughing and splashing each other, best of friends – until the next spat at least.

Frank and Lena Bagnato have taken the family to Seaforth for a few days. They can afford time off to do this now, as their small scale fruit, vegetable and flower farm in Kuttabul

is ably managed by a young manager with big ideas. Working a four-day week used to be the stuff of dreams for Australians dedicated to farming life. But a major systemic shakeup in the early 20’s driven by chronic unemployment, social discord and political collapse, had finally changed how Australians work.

This period prompted many to reconsider how we were living. For Frank, that meant searching for a new approach to farming – one that would protect the environment from damage caused by the old fertilisers. They were producing significant nitrogen runoff that threatened water quality and ultimately, entered the Great Barrier Reef to devastating effect: Excess nitrogen was causing algal bloom and supercharging populations of the devastating crown of thorns starfish. This one species alone had destroyed over 40% of coral on the Reef. Add the impacts of climate change, and the coral in this World Heritage Site didn’t stand a chance.

But today, hope is found on a number of fronts: Federal legislation has enacted a comprehensive strategy for net zero emissions by 2050. And the new government’s support for raft of social and business practices more in tune with sustainable environmental management is showing some early signs of success. It will take many decades for nature to respond, and some damage is irreparable, but in a number of regions around the Reef, coral has started making a tentative comeback.

And Frank is playing his part: he along with many Queensland farmers supported The Long Term Sustainability Plan that led to a major breakthrough in ‘discovering’ a natural fertilising alternative that is revolutionising the impacts of agriculture on environment. While many had been looking for futuristic answers in technology, the solution ultimately came from looking to the past – to Indigenous land management experts who were included in the Plan. They asked for their knowledge around sustainable agriculture.

They shared their own farming traditions, which dated back thousands of years. And it changed the game: incorporating these Indigenous agricultural practices and shifting to organic production techniques has eliminated nitrogen runoff. It has also seen yields increase and profits grow.

For the first time in their married lives, Frank and Lena are hopeful too, that their family business will survive. He looks back out into the water to check on his kids – only to see the laughter has once again turned to tears. Oh well, he thinks to himself, they’ll survive the environmental challenges; they just might not survive each other!

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