A New Direction?

Tough Times

It is 2009. Think back just a handful of years ago, to 2004. 

There was a drought, but there was still a bit of water in the Murray-Darling River system. Primary production was still somewhere above the red line. The SA state economy was beginning to ride the “growth” wave that was enveloping the whole of Australia. Energy was reasonably abundant – and cheap. Household incomes were rising – as were the size of houses! There was not much talk of the impacts of Climate Change. If there were any “crises” on the horizon, they were kept out of the public eye. Times have changed dramatically. 

In 2009 a water crisis threatens the supplies for Adelaide and also those of many rural areas of the state. This same water crisis has adversely affected communities along the Murray River, and it has seen a significant contraction in the irrigated agriculture economy. Heat wave upon heat wave have enveloped the state during summers past. Raging bushfires have razed across the earth. The drought has persisted, and has threatened primary production. Rainfall is declining in areas of the state that once had relatively high falls. There has been a GFC (global financial crisis), the spectre of rising unemployment, the threat to the standard of living, mortgage foreclosures, severe loss of superannuation balances – and on and on it goes. It is little wonder that people live for the here-and-now. 

As I write this in 2009, the pressures of living are all-pervasive at the global, national, and local levels. Couple these pressures with the massive problems of environmental degradation and disturbance, with runaway global population, and with a lack of urgency amongst governments around the world to confront these problems, and humanity is facing an insurmountable future. 

Urgent Times

South Australia is either in, or is heading towards, many interconnected and complex environmental problems, yet there doesn't seem to be much of a stir in the wider community about their implications. Why is this so? Is it because governments don't want to frighten us? Is it denial? Is it because the primary focus of economic development has caused a blindspot to what is actually happening? Is it complacency? Is it all of these?

These problems affect every citizen. The state is a victim of its past, and is a captive of decisions it now has limited control over. It has a small population, but aspires for a much greater population not knowing how it can sustain itself. 

It has a rural sector that is as much in threat of contraction as are the impacts of a changing climate on its productivity. Natural resources, particularly soil and water, are known to be in a long-term decline and yet action to mitigate this is very slow. 

It seems that the future is mining - a "quarry vision" that Guy Pearce wrote about in his eloquent piece in Quarterly Essay - for that is the focus of the present state government. 

This is not sustainability, it is not a blueprint for the future. 

A new direction is needed ... and urgently. But where is it going to come from?

We need to learn from the past to find a way to a truly sustainable future. Maybe less is more.

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