The Outback’s global significance as we move into the Anthropocene

The recent Pew Charitable Trust’s report – The Modern Outback: nature, people and the future of remote Australia – documents the huge diversity and value of this part of the world. It is one of only a handful of large natural areas remaining on Earth including the rapidly diminishing wildlands of the Amazon basin; the boreal forests and tundra of Canada, Alaska and Siberia and the Sahara.

In our “age of humans”, where the world populations are such as to have irrevocably reduced the natural world, we face a future of increased urbanisation.

The move to cities will increase as the degradation and loss of productivity of lands increases. Clearly, we need people to live well in what many find as hostile environments. Aboriginal custodians have a long history of creating abundance in the natural world and are those most likely to want to be there. They need to be supported to stay.

Evidence for the sustainability of Aboriginal settlements on their lands exists where Aboriginal people are moving increasingly into collaborations with scientists and other researchers to maintain the viability of fragile ecosystems on their lands.

  Photo: Rusty Stewart

Their role in mapping biodiversity, crucial to maintaining sustainable country in remote places, is unique and without parallel. This activity has important spin-offs in education and employment.

Maintaining populations in remote Australia will involve increasing investments in renewable energy, water and food supplies, including wild foods. This will have short and long term economic and educational benefits for all of us as we move further into the Anthropocene.

These benefits are beginning to be obvious from the innovations that are already occurring in remote Australia. One good example is the renewable energy initiatives of the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) in the Desert Peoples Precinct in Alice Springs. Projects include the solar-powered Bushlight that is now being exported to villages in India, and renewable energy projects in Australia and the Pacific.

Perhaps the most important argument for supporting Aboriginal people to live on their own lands in remote Australia is that their capacity to survive over many thousands of years in changing environments demonstrates resilience. It is this quality that we will need in bucket loads in the future.

What we now urgently need is a government with the vision and the acumen to put in place policies that match the demands of our future in this country and on this planet – policies that meaningfully include Aboriginal people in ways forward, as part of the solution, not the problem.


2100 AD : A poem

The children turned the page and said
What is this creature?
It is the spirit of the wind
And the heart of fire
And its name was Cheetah I said

And the children turned the page and said
What is this garden green?
It is the creator of beauty
And the seat of life
And its name was Forest I said

And the children turned the page and said
Where is this place?
And I said
It is where freedom flies
It is the link
It is where the soul finds its sanctuary
And the gospel its spirit
And its name was Wilderness.

And the children said
You have stolen from us.
You have taken what is ours.
We do not know Cheetah or Forest or Wilderness
Therefore how can we know Soul or Spirit or Freedom or Fire.
Because you have destroyed the link
We are blind.

And I saw how they grasped desperately for a light
Out of the darkness we had led them too

And I had no answer.

Val Payn (2005)

This poem by South African writer and environmentalist Valerie Payn was originally published in the anthology ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’.  Visit this website for more details:

Val will be an occasional contributor to this blog.

Degrowth and transformation

sustainability scienceSustainability Science is a journal that probes interactions between global, social, and human systems, the complex mechanisms that lead to degradation of these systems, and concomitant risks to human well-being. It provides a platform for building sustainability science as a new academic discipline which can point the way to a sustainable global society by facing challenges that existing disciplines have not addressed. These include endeavors to simultaneously understand phenomena and solve problems, uncertainty and application of the precautionary principle, the co-evolution of knowledge and recognition of problems, and trade-offs between global and local problem solving.

Special issue 

Degrowth as a social-ecological transformation

CONTENTS (Click on titles download articles as PDF files):

See more on degrowth research and action at:

Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene

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edited by Katherine Gibson, Deborah Bird Rose, and Ruth Fincher

The recent 10,000 year history of climatic stability on Earth that enabled the rise of agriculture and domestication, the growth of cities, numerous technological revolutions, and the emergence of modernity is now over. We accept that in the latest phase of this era, modernity is unmaking the stability that enabled its emergence. Over the 21st century severe and numerous weather disasters, scarcity of key resources, major changes in environments, enormous rates of extinction, and other forces that threaten life are set to increase. But we are deeply worried that current responses to these challenges are focused on market-driven solutions and thus have the potential to further endanger our collective commons.

Buy or download this book at:

Navigating whole system transformation

There can be little doubt that the 21st century will unfold as an age of transition when humanity will be called to reconsider our global civilisation’s core values. The odds are better than even that this essential resetting of our cultural compass from human exceptionalism to eco-mutuality will be driven by an accelerating succession of economic and environmental crises and widespread societal breakdown.

We have often experienced such times on our evolutionary journey, but never on a planetary scale and thus never with the stakes so high. We must discover new modes of engagement and new levels of human solidarity for this transition.

Faced with the prospect of inter-linked environmental, economic, demographic, and socio-political crises, most of our institutions are in deep denial or, in much of the corporate sector, a feeding-frenzy of short term profit-taking. Business-as-usual is their ever more stridently proclaimed mantra, and blind faith in the chimera of unending growth their creed. Yet it is clear that the whole-system complexity of the 21st century’s challenges render conventional politico-managerial models, tools and methods redundant.

So what is to be done? Have we no alternative than to fasten our metaphoric seat belts and prepare for an exceedingly turbulent ride into oblivion?

Historically most social change movements have tended to be preoccupied with advocating desirable end states – how a more equitable society might be structured, what a post carbon economy might look like, what forms participatory democracy might take. Such blue-sky visioning is valuable and necessary. But, in practice, the Achilles heal of these movements has too often been the process question: by what means do we get from A to B; from an existing ethically or environmentally untenable state of affairs, albeit one with huge institutional and political inertia, to a more just and sustainable future, without tearing ourselves apart?

The 19th and 20th centuries saw experimentation in social transformation on an unprecedented scale — spearheaded by political movements of both the left and the right. Beginning with high hopes, most of these experiments either resulted in the piecemeal amelioration of the worst effects of industrialisation and social inequity, or ended in fratricidal violence, wide-spread suffering, or self-defeating compromises and trade-offs.

Now humanity faces a very steep learning curve to develop the collective competencies needed to envision and enact the transition to a viable future. Developing these capabilities will go hand-in-hand with a practical rethinking of the social forms by which we live, work, and learn. This will be a project for generations, but the urgency of our predicament requires that we make a start now.

Do you agree that the challenge of the Anthropocene involves much more than replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy or protecting precious ‘legacy’ ecosystems as lifeboats for future recovery — as essential and urgent as these and similar reforms are?

By what processes can we transform the core cultural values of the dominant and rising industrial growth societies?

What are the collective capabilities we will need to navigate this historic transition?