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The Hour Is Darkest Just Before Dawn: Crisis As Opportunity

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page.

The Festival of Ideas is on at the University of Melbourne at the moment, and I was invited to give a short talk, envisioning how Australia made the transition to a low-carbon society by the year 2033. Here is the transcript:

As I look back from the year 2033, I would like to be able to tell you that the transition to our low-carbon society was smooth and rational. I would like to be able to tell you that, as a democracy, we shaped our nation with sensible, evidence-based decisions, and built a just and sustainable world through intelligent planning and bold leadership. I would like to be able to tell you that people did not suffer, and that our ecosystems are not permanently damaged. I would like to be able to tell you that the leatherback turtle and the orange-bellied parrot are not extinct.

But who really thought that the transition beyond consumer capitalism was going to be smooth, rational, and painless? Who really thought that Empire would lie down like a lamb at the mere request of the environmental movement? No - it was always going to be a muddy transition, punctuated with crises, and moulded with conflict, grit, and tears.

When looking back over the last few decades, one has to acknowledge that the global economy resembled, not an obedient servant, but a snake aggressively eating its own tail - a snake seemingly unaware that it was consuming its own life-support system. When the global economy finally choked on its own growth fetish, what was surprising was not how quickly it transformed into something else, but rather why so few people had foreseen its inevitable demise.

The lessons of history so often seem infantile when seen through the lens of hindsight.

The era of resource abundance and cheap energy was over, and this was to change everything. It was the 'new normal' that forced us to become something else, something 'other', whether we wanted to or not. The road, to be sure, was rough.   


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