The following is an extract from the book VISIONS 2100: Stories from Your Future. The book, to be launched in Adelaide and Sydney this week, is compiled by John O’Brien, managing director of Australian CleanTech and a regular contributor to RenewEconomy. It comprises 80 short visions from authors including Mary Robinson, Christiana Figueres, Bill McKibben, Connie Hedegaard, Yvo de Boer and many others. Their visions tell what they want to see in their future and they are passionate about achieving that world.
This vision is by Antony Funnell, author and presenter/producer of Future Tense, ABC Radio National
How did we get to a low carbon world? Barely; with enormous difficulty; by the skin of our teeth; with absolutely no time to spare; with a constant eye for any other option.
We got there through fair and foul – through market economics as much as enlightenment; through dirty politics and national self-interest, not just fine words and good intentions.
But we got there – just in time.
Now we have to live with the consequences of taking so long to make the journey.
How did we create a low carbon world? Through high-tech luck more than dogged persistence; through scientific game-changers like nuclear fusion and artificial photo-synthesis.
But we created it – just in time.
So, what did we discover along the way? We prided ourselves that human beings are ultimately self-correcting – perhaps, maybe. But we were also forced to acknowledge that we like to avoid taking difficult decisions until the very last moment – until the hour is about to strike. Until we absolutely have to.
We learned that – grudgingly.
Still, we got there – with not a moment to spare. And now we have to deal with the consequences of taking so long to make the journey.
A note from John O’Brien: Antony Funnell published a book in 2012 titled ‘The Future and Related Nonsense’ that took a fairly light-hearted look at how our future world might evolve. In a chapter on environmental issues, he portrays a fairly pessimistic view of the human race’s ability to act in good time to achieve sensible outcomes. In support of his argument he considers finishing assignments at university and Europe’s reaction to the rise of Nazism. He concludes that: ‘The greater the size and complexity of the task, the greater the chance that no one will get around to doing anything about it until the eleventh hour.’
Antony explores why writing about efficiency and sustainability is very hard to make interesting. Efficiency, in particular, is a passionless argument involving no right brain thinking – it will never excite or inspire despite, or maybe because of, its rationality. I am not, however, so convinced on the Jevons Paradox concerns that Antony also raises.
The Jevons Paradox suggests that increased efficiency means that it is cheaper to produce the product in question so more of the product is produced and consumed. As a result, efficiency gains are usually negated. There are clear sets of data that show that both increased efficiency and increased consumption can happen simultaneously but there is little evidence to tie these together in a straight forward cause and effect relationship. No doubt there are some elements of truth in the theory of the Jevons Paradox but I am not convinced it is the fatal flaw that some suggest.
Both Antony’s view that we will get to a low carbon world – ‘just in time’, and Paul Gilding’s view that the human race was ‘slow but not stupid’ indicate that, worryingly, we will not be taking decisive action any time soon. As we have already seen, the resistance to change for this particular problem is strong. We have looked at the psychological reasons for this and it seems likely that attracting people to a positive future would be a good way to start re-wiring our underlying assumptions and overcome the psychological capital so many of us have invested in our current way of living.
Some of the practicalities involved in this are further explored in Chapter 11. There has been significant research into effective change management techniques and in particular where this is concerned with environmental issues. Professor Dexter Dunphy of the University of Technology in Sydney has explored the role of how change agents in successfully changing attitudes towards environmental issues. In his book with the very left-brain orientated title of Organizational Change for Corporate Sustainability, Dunphy describes the competencies required for successful change agents as including ‘clarity of vision, knowledge of what we wish to change and the skills to implement the changes’.
In my corporate energy career, I unsuccessfully set about trying to be an environmental change agent with the naiveté of someone who thought that rational thought would always prevail. However, as Dunphy warns, ‘Changing entrenched power structures can be a career-threatening move!’ With the status of a failed ‘intrapreneur’, I set upon a path of wanting to understand the psychology of change and leadership along with a better understanding of the innovation process and how to successfully deliver disruptive projects.
The Adelaide launch of Visions 2100: Stories from your future will be held on Tuesday November 17 at 5:30pm at The Historian Hotel, 18 Coromandel Place. The Sydney launch will be held on Wednesday November 18 at 6pm at the THE Bonython, 52 Victoria St Paddington. For more information, click here.