Changing Course or Business as Usual?

Bushfires are commonplace in Australia and have been for many years. But they’ve recently reached new levels of intensity. They started early this year and became widespread long before the official ‘fire season’ was supposed to arrive. This time, however, the impacts and implications are no longer confined to the bush. Only last week, after long periods of darkened skies, dozens of smoke alarms in Sydney’s CBD were triggered. Dense smoke from multiple nearby fires set off the very devices intended to keep people safe. But, in this instance, office workers and others were turfed out of their air-conditioned high-rise buildings into far more dangerous levels of toxic smoke outside. Further afield farmers have been struggling with drought for several years. Many are desperate and close to giving up a way of life that had lasted for generations. At the same time, many smaller country towns have run, or are running, out of water. Some are fortunate enough to have supplies brought in via tankers, albeit at enormous cost. Others are simply being evacuated. The levels of suffering and dislocation from drought, fire and record-breaking temperatures are incalculable. Meanwhile the PM who thinks that the ‘firies’ (volunteer fire fighters) are doing just fine, takes his family overseas for a short, pre-Christmas, holiday. What is going on? Read more…

Clarity v Denial in Difficult Times

 

I’ve recently been clearing out old files and discarding redundant material. Our recycling bin has seldom been so full of old paper. Yet I’ve also rediscovered valuable items that had fallen out of sight. They include letters from old colleagues and friends, short items I’d written for now-forgotten publications and the occasional gem of an article. Among the latter was a piece written by Ted Trainer in 2007. I’d never met him but was aware that he and I were distant colleagues working toward broadly similar ends. Like myself, he’d found what one interviewer called ‘a home of sorts’ in academia. One thing I believe we both understood was that underlying the deceptively smooth surface of everyday life was a chasm of uncertainty and hazard that was routinely ignored by most people, media and mainstream institutions. Continue reading…

On re-reading Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders

Of all the ideas put forward by Karl Marx one that has always resonated with me is his view that people are ‘authors’ of their society yet have forgotten their authorship. In one sense this is unexceptional. Not everyone has the time, opportunity or breadth of mind to appreciate the social construction of reality, the uses of legitimation and the many ways that powerful interests favour themselves above others. On the other hand there’s something increasingly bizarre about the way that entire populations in the rich West have been sold a notion of ‘the good life’ based on a 20th century invention known as affluent consumerism. For if one thing has become clear it’s the undeniable fact that this way of life has been on a collision course with planetary systems for some time. As Sam Alexander puts it:

Capitalism wants or needs what it cannot have: that is, limitless growth on a finite planet. This ecological predicament is the defining contradiction of capitalism in the 21st century, insofar as growth is now causing the problems that growth was supposed to be solving (Alexander, 2018).

While browsing recently in a small bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, I came across a Penguin paperback of Vance Packard’s book The Hidden Persuaders, first published in 1956. It’s perhaps 50 years since I first read it but it left a strong impression. It’s almost certainly one of the underlying reasons I’ve never accepted full-on commercial advertising as anything other than what Donella Meadows called ‘an unwanted tax on humanity’. (She also said that ‘you only have to spend millions on promoting something if its worth is in doubt.’)

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Drift Toward Disaster Installation

An item entitled Drift Towards Disaster in a recent issue of the Weekend Australian Review deserves wider attention (Allen, 2017). What makes it different from so many other treatments of ‘growth,’ ‘the environment’ and ‘human impacts’ is that it refers to an installation from the Fondation Cartier in Paris and currently at the Art Gallery of UNSW. An introductory video by Paul Virilio deals with recent population upheavals (said to be 36 million in 2008 alone). This is followed by ‘a curved diorama on which changing projections convey some idea of the reasons for these vast population displacements.’ Further sections cover environmental changes such as global warming and sea level rise. The whole installation brings together a vast amount of information in visual form and, in so doing, provides a way of coming to grips with, and powerful critique of, our collective addiction to endless growth and development.

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Rights of Nature Tribunals

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22nd October, 2016, Banco Court, Brisbane

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is described as ‘a worldwide movement’ seeking to create ‘human communities that respect and defend the rights of nature.’ A founding member of this alliance is the AELA or Australian Earth Laws Alliance. Both organisations have held Rights of Nature (RON) tribunals, the most recent of which took place in the smart, modern surroundings of the Banco courtroom in Brisbane’s civil law precinct. Some 150 people were in attendance for this serious, yet inspiring and well-organised event.

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Global Integrity Summit Day One: The Big Picture

Griffith University, Brisbane, 13th October 2015

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It’s rare to attend an event such as this one that ticks nearly all the boxes. When my wife and I decided to register it was simply on the basis that it offered three consecutive sessions on issues of major significance. They were:

  • Free speech, freedom of the press and integrity in journalism
  • Big data, privacy and surveillance, and
  • Climate change and climate justice.

The event was held at the impressive Brisbane Conservatorium on South Bank. A PDF of my write-up of the day is available here.

Overshoot Day 2015 – The Biggest Story of the Year?

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In Australia, as in most other places, Thursday August 13th 2015 came and went without any particular fanfare or comment. Yet on that day the Global Footprint Network (GFN) issued a press release that was picked up and commented upon mainly, it seems, by certain on-line ‘niche’ media. It turns out that August 13th was the day that humanity crossed a threshold that went far beyond the merely symbolic. It was the day in 2015 when the collective demands of humanity upon natural systems exceeded what can be regenerated within a year.

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Rally and March for the Great Barrier Reef

A large crowd turned out in Brisbane on Sunday 25th August to draw attention to proposed developments in northern Queensland adjacent to the reef. A rally was held in Queen’s Park followed by a good natured march around the CBD. The document below gives my impressions of the event. A few of the pictures I took on that day can be found on this site under ‘Images.’

Reflections on the Save the Reef Rally and March (To open click here)

Here are some other resources associated with the event and the vital issues it raises. To get a quick impression click on the Source News and ABC Reports below.

Bill McKibben’s piece on: How Australian Coal is Causing Global Damage: False Profits, was published in The Monthly, June 2013, No. 90.

Photos of the event: http://fightforthereef.org.au/photos-rally-for-the-reef/

The Source News Report: http://thesourcenews.com/2013/08/29/thousands-gather-for-rally-for-the-reef/

ABC News Report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-25/great-barrier-reef-on-protesters-voting-agenda/4911138

Also see Felicity Wishart, Politicians risk future of reef for sake of progress http://www.smh.com.au/comment/politicians-risk-future-of-reef-for-sake-of-progress-20130811-2rq4h.html Retrieved 12th August, 2013

Responding to the ‘global emergency’ or the ‘megacrisis’

I’ve just added a new section to the site.

It introduces five recently produced clips from a mid-2012 conference session in Toronto. The material may be useful to anyone wishing to review approaches to what, by any measure, is a vast and immeasurably challenging topic (but, I would argue, one we can no longer afford to ignore). It also acts as a kind of ‘marker in time’ that identifies the point that an extended conversation between Michael Marien, William Halal and myself had reached. We were also fortunate that Thomas Homer-Dixon was available to participate. If you only have time to view one clip, I suggest you look at his since there are few people anywhere with his depth of understanding and knowledge.

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History

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For the past year or so I’ve been working on project with the above title. I chose it because, rather than viewing the emerging planetary crisis merely in fatalistic or downbeat terms, I wanted to see if it was possible to re-frame it in a more positive light. Like most others who’ve been paying attention, I acknowledge the seriousness of our situation and also the fact that it could indeed bring the whole human enterprise to a relatively sudden and ignominious end. Given our careless uses of the environment and our penchant for ignoring planetary limits that, certainly, is the diminished future toward which many trends point.

Yet, as has been known for a long time, ‘trend is not destiny.’ With our in-built capacities for foresight, forward thinking, anticipation and choice, there’s still time to come to grips with our predicament and to change direction. Human destiny is not set in stone. We are perhaps the only animals that can see emerging futures clearly enough to make decisions about how our everyday modus operandi can affect our collective prospects for good or ill. The big question seems to be ‘can we change course in time?’ There’s plenty of evidence to support both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.

As I discovered during my research, this fact provides a vital clue. While many continue to be entranced by the latest technological wonders – currently iPads and 3D televisions – the keys to our future lie elsewhere. But, as I reviewed a broad range of hard copy and on-line material, I found surprisingly few pointers to that widely overlooked territory.

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History is an attempt to apply what I’ve learned over some three decades of futures and foresight work. Ironically, therefore, I had to set aside nearly all of the ‘futures literature’ and to scan more widely than ever before. As a result this work makes reference to many different fields of enquiry. Key questions that arose were: how can so many contributions fit together within a coherent whole? Also, how can many different kinds of truth be honoured and adjudicated? There’s never likely to be an answer to such questions that will satisfy everyone. Pluralism reigns. The culture wars continue – both within nations and between different cultural spheres. Nor will the post-modern tendency to critique everything subside overnight. Complexity, pluralism and difference are here to stay. That said, a method that can handle such challenges is a vital part of any credible attempt to respond to a world in deep crisis.

I’ve found an Integral perspective useful as it is perhaps most able to provide a panoramic and in-depth view of the issues and concerns before us. As a perspective and method it is far from static. It is a process that evolves and changes from year to year. To the extent the present work succeeds, it is to no little extent a result of the power, depth and inclusiveness that this perspective offers.

The work will be published in eBook, PDF and hard copy formats. In the meantime here are two ‘tasters’ of what is to come – a draft introduction and chapter outline. To access the full work, you may want to bookmark this weblog and check back from time to time. Please also note that I’ve provided a visual intro and overview of the book on the page here that also carries the same title. To access it just click on the relevant entry on the upper right section of this front page. Another page records some of the early comments received in response to pre-publication drafts.

Introduction To open click here

Overview of chapters To open click here