Mike Raupach

26 February 2013 — Negotiating our future: Living scenarios for Australia to 2050, a book which proposes tools and approaches to ensure Australia’s social, economic and environmental sustainability to 2050 and beyond, has been authored by the Australian Academy of Science.

Oceans and atmospheric expert Mike Raupach led a 35-strong team of senior and emerging natural and social scientists to respond to the threats posed to Australia by an ageing population, rising sea levels, and uncertain food and water security.

In the book’s preface, the authors write that the 21st century “looms as a pivotal period in the ongoing human story”.

“This is a tale that has been gathering momentum for centuries as we have made increasingly extensive and intensive use of our planet’s continents, islands and oceans to the extent that many parts of the Earth System at large are now showing the strain.

“As the size and affluence of the human population have grown we have placed increasing demands on natural resources, leading in turn to cascading stresses and impacts upon the natural world that serves as the planetary life support system for all human societies.

“Those impacts are evident through climate change, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, changes to the great natural cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other essential elements, overuse of surface water and groundwater resources and in threats to food security.

“These developments collectively define the challenge of environmental sustainability. The social challenges facing the world in general and Australia in particular are as great as the environmental challenges.

“Demographic, cultural, economic and technological transformations are profoundly altering patterns of living, wellbeing and health around the world in ways that often magnify inequalities.

“People and societies value fairness and cooperation because they enhance cohesion, productivity and creativity and are prerequisites for social sustainability. Further, a fair and cooperative society recognises the value inherent in cultural, ethnical, behavioural and other forms of diversity.

“In these senses, a socially equitable society is just as important as an environmentally sustainable one.”

The preface says the two goals of environmental sustainability and social equity are closely enmeshed.

“Environmental conditions influence levels of social equity because loss of environmental assets, especially those that impinge on whole populations and regions, causes disproportionate harm to poorer and more marginal groups, entrenching poverty and social unrest, displacing people and widening disparities between the more and less secure.

“Social and economic conditions influence the environment because they affect human uses of natural resources and the consequent environmental pressures.

“These two lodestars of environmental sustainability and social equity encapsulate the set of future challenges considered in this book.

“Our first goal is to characterise them.

“Our second goal is to move beyond viewing these challenges as a set of disjointed problems with isolated solutions toward a consideration of how the goals of environmental sustainability and social equity together define an overarching challenge: negotiating an uncertain future in the face of differences in values and perceptions that characterise an open society.”

Dr Raupach said the book was about how living scenarios can develop and evolve to support coherent society-wide responses to the great challenges facing Australia – resilience, sustainability, and equity.

“The book sets out tools and approaches for the whole of society to work together to determine what a future Australia will look like, and how to get there.

“It includes tools for approaching sustainability from a range of perspectives, including:

  • Resilience in the face of shocks
  • Climate change and energy pressures
  • Population issues
  • Economic uncertainties
  • Social justice and equity.”

The book, and its companion volume, are available here.