Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

A slap in the face is exactly what was needed to wake people up to some hard truths about our times.

It’s come in the form of young students bringing the climate emergency to the streets.

It’s the intensity and frequency of bushfires, floods and droughts that were predicted in a Garnaut report exactly 20 years ago.

It’s the systematic failure of governments to adequately address vilification of various ethnic groups for decades that have led to “Black Lives Matter” protests. Same goes for any form of bigotry.

And of course, it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that has drastically changed the world.

I’m constantly hearing people in hysterics, asking “Why is all this happening?” Well, let me tell you, it boils down to two things:

  1. The people in power.
  2. Apathy, indifference and inaction from many people of means that have allowed these things to go unchecked. It’s been going on for years. I’m talking about us. The working middle class.

The system has been set up to keep us working longer hours to support ourselves, our families and whatever indulgences we want to satisfy. There are distraction methods such as 24-hour social media, mind-numbing reality TV shows and fake news that get us all worked up beyond rational thought. There’s also the constant pressure to build more, do more, be better, smarter, faster and stronger. Who then has time to turn up to rallies or stop that bulldozer from destroying 500-year-old trees, which have been carbon sinks for so long?

It’s not enough for us to feel bad about something, and say “I don’t agree” with whatever injustices we’re seeing. We need to actively start calling it out when we see someone being vilified or doing something destructive to the environment. We need to drop the sugarcoating, stop transferring the problem, face up to it and do something other than more pointless discussions that don’t eventuate into something tangible.

Because while we’re fumbling, governments are still approving coal mines and dirty energy, and selling our water to foreign investors while our farmers are suffering and can’t grow our food. We’re not even on track to meet our Paris Agreement commitments and time is running out.

After the bushfires, a lot of us said let’s leave 2019 behind and 2020 will be a year of change. Boy, did we get what we asked for. Now, as dire as it all may seem, I’m actually optimistic for once. Because for the first time, I’ve seen school students en masse demanding that governments take action to protect their futures.

We’ve seen people of all backgrounds speaking up against racial injustices. The more we call it out and force people to face up to harsh realities, the more power we take back from the destructive elements of our society…and believe me when I say there’s more of us than them. We just need to reach that critical mass and show certain “leaders” where the real power is.

And as for COVID-19, what’s my take on this? Working from home has allowed me to save money by not having to travel to work, so I’ve effectively reduced my carbon footprint. I’ve also saved money on not having to buy lunch every day.

Multiply this by millions of people in the same situation and we’ve effectively reduced our global carbon footprint.

Many businesses have been forced to re-evaluate how they operate, and downgrade office sizes because the new norm of working from home is going to save them thousands of dollars in energy and water costs.  It’s a win-win for both employee and employer. In my line of work, I’d like to see more sustainable retrofitting of existing buildings.

Things have changed, and I’d like to believe for the better even though it’s unchartered territory for many of us.  We’re being forced to acknowledge that a paradigm shift towards a more altruistic society is required for us to survive.

We need to individually ask ourselves what our purpose is and what legacy we’re leaving behind for future generations. It’s just unfortunate that human beings need a slap in the face for any drastic changes to occur.  But that’s how we learn. That’s how we adapt.

Davis Demillo is ESD team leader at Cardno.

Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so-called because it’s at the “spikey” end of sustainability, focused on the more difficult or challenging issues that we need to change to create a more sustainable world. Spinifex may be inconvenient or annoying at times, but in fact, it’s highly resilient and essential to nurturing biodiversity and holding the topsoil together in a hostile environment. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words. For a more detailed brief please email

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  1. Nigel, I myself read ‘Limits to Growth’ and of an opinion that it should be compulsory reading material at school and university as opposed to some of the rubbish that’s drummed into students because the predictions in it have come to pass. A lot of us have been as frustrated as you for a long time. However, I know many people that are trying to do the right thing and as shown by all the recent mass rallies of people who have just had enough.
    The whole point of my article was to highlight that people are now starting to pull their heads out of the sand because they’re now being forced to confront some ‘inconvenient’ truths, as Al Gore pointed out. We’re at the tipping point and we need even more people to wake up to reality and force governments to make drastic changes – NOW!
    As much as some people might criticise organisations like Greenpeace and Avaaz for being ‘extreme’, they’re the only ones out there blockading various life-destroying companies and governments. Dare I say they’re even more effective than the UN who appear to be selective about who they help when their more powerful members influence their decisions. From that front and the rest of us within our respective industries, we can drive change.

  2. The only thing I’d argue with here is the timescale, starting point and extreme urgency – for me its 48 years ago aged 19 reading and being shocked to the core by “Limits to Growth”. Club of Rome and MIT were on the money and COP after COP have been cop-out after cop-out showing that our ruling elite haven’t got an expletive clue. We are complacently and arrogantly ignoring science and meandering over the threshold of unstoppable climate feedbacks by about 2030 that GUARANTEE extinction of our species and 90% of other species = i.e. our own children and grandchildren. We are selfish, arrogant, stupid psychopaths and even our environmental activists limit their ambition to carbon neutral by 2050 – too late stupid species!

  3. Well said but I hope it does not represent only a minority.. Those fools who voted for Scomo because they believe that Adani will provide lots of jobs didn’t even know that mining is becoming automatic and wille imply fewer and fewer people.

  4. I concur with your sentiments. Nicely said. Words of hope.
    I am a hopeless optimist and utopist. I believe (hope) that the goodness and humanity in peoples will prevail. But, at my low points, I despair because I see a world where many people are not prepared to give up their comfortable lifestyles, even though it is at the expense of those less fortunate.

    1. Agree on the optimism front Sylvia… there is no choice really… but I think Covid provided some shock therapy: despite the dreadful impact for some people we can survive a substantially altered economy and society. It’s not as dreadful as we thought to give up some luxuries…

  5. Yes, its a time to be reflective. Its also essential we look beyond the COVID shock at the systemic economic, social and environmental injustices that many of us tolerate day-to-day (they haven’t gone away because of COVID, of course). One thing I would like to pick into is the remote working ‘reaction’ to COVID. In Auckland, we saw ~20% of the workforce being able to remote work fairly confidently. Some 30% were ‘essential workers’. The balance were in neither camp. That’s a lot of people who weren’t commuting but were paying a hefty price for it, in employment terms. We’ve got to keep in mind that when economies rebound from lockdowns, the ‘new normal’ of remote working can’t be everyone’s reality. Some of those folks are the folks who’d like to sell lunches.

  6. Well said! In addition, I would emphasise that although individual action in our homes and businesses is necessary, it is far from sufficient. If we care about the environmental and social issues faced by human society, some of which are existential, join a group or movement for change. Politicians rarely respond to reason alone; they do respond to the threat of losing a large bloc of votes. Industry leaders respond to the threat of losing customers.