Wise Response urges the Government to create a Commission for the Future

Quarterly Briefing – 2

Wise Response urges the Government to create a Commission for the Future. A Systems based approach to avoid piecemeal legislation.

As the human enterprise has become ever larger, our planet’s ability to support and absorb it has diminished. There has become less and less room for error: at our present scale of activity, virtually none. As Ronald Wright (A Short History of Progress) states: ‘The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes.’ 

Falsely-based assumptions – the unlimited growth-potential for per-head consumption by unlimited numbers of our species, for instance, have led us to this critical point. The blindness of our chosen accounting system has led us to the point where we face multiple threats.

The reality is that an ongoing amount of the remaining fossil-energy stock will be burned. The reality is that carbon which has been locked underground for the whole of human evolution, will be released into our atmosphere. The reality is that in hosting a new wave of tourists, consumables – all processed parts of the planet – there being no other source of anything – will end up in the atmosphere, in landfills, or in other entropic ways (like plastic oceanic soups).

People will pile up computer-held digits and think themselves ‘richer’, little realising that the destiny of those digits is to be swapped for yet-more processed parts of the planet; the very same planet they are depleting to obtain those digits.

The single-topic failure of the Productivity Commission was shown when productivity was defined as being labour-related, before society became fossil fuel-energised. In fact, Productivity is: ‘Work done per Energy Expended’, and fossil energy has long outgunned labour in that regard (human and animal labour now account for less than 1% of work done globally). Work-done per energy-expended comes up against immutable Laws of Thermodynamics. The exponential growth of Productivity has plateaued, which is something no economic initiative can alter.

Clearly, besides needing an accounting system which addresses both the environment and economy in proportion, we need a society persuaded to embrace it. Addressing the big picture in a Systems manner and with a long view, the Government would be facilitating this transition. The Wellbeing initiative, along with the Brundtland definition and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, are good starting-points for discussion. But we must acknowledge that Planetary Boundaries – call them Hard Limits – override human aspirations. Rights, equalities, growths, all have to fit within those boundaries and in relation to each other. None can be addressed from within their own silos.

Wise Response urges the Government to create a Systems-based, future-focused entity – we suggest a Commission for the Future – to oversee the integration of all legislation, past and future. We also urge the Government to refrain from facilitating or encouraging actions which result in the unsustainable reduction of planetary capacities.

Wise Response Chair: Prof. Liz Slooten

Wise Response Deputy chair: Dr Jim Salinger

18 April  2021

Wise Response is an association of scientists and engineers expert in their fields, dedicated to drawing public and government attention to the urgent need to plan for resource limits rather than exponential consumption.  Patrons are Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Sir Alan Mark. 

For more information please see:

Hagens, N.J. 2020. Economics for the future – beyond the superorganism. Ecological Economics 169: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800919310067

Ehrlich, P. The population bomb, 50 years later.

Murphy, T. 2021. Do the math. Using physics and estimation to assess energy, growth, options: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2021/03/textbook-debut/