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White paper fails to recognise fundamental truth

John Coulter

The government white paper on the Asian century fails to recognise the most fundamental truth about the economy, namely, that Nature is about to impose a multitude of impediments in the way of the destination sought by the white paper.

Nowhere in the white paper is there any acknowledgement of the fact that ‘the economy’ is totally dependent on a healthy and functioning natural environment; in fact the word ‘environment’ only appears a few times.

Nowhere is there recognition that we live on a finite planet and we have come to the end of growth, that we urgently need to transition to a new economic model that is nested within Nature’s ability to provide.

The 1972 publication ‘The Limits to Growth’ developed a number of scenarios bringing together population, resource exploitation, pollution etc and indicated that under the business as usual (BAU) scenario of continuous growth, global civilisation would likely collapse in the first half of the 21st century. Dr Graham Turner of CSIRO has made several studies at 30 years and now 40 years post-1972 and matched the actual data with the 1972 predictions. He has shown that we are right on track with the BAU scenario. He suggests that a global collapse is imminent.

The world faces a severe energy shortage with rising costs and falling availability. Water is being over used across the world and rivers and water tables are falling precipitously, not least in China. As a consequence the world faces a global food shortage with rising prices and consequent political unrest, within and between nations. While the Gillard Government has paid some slight attention to climate change, there is no mention of climate change’s impact on the aims of the white paper.

Media commentary so far on the white paper has been found wanting. It underlines the failure of our educational system to produce a biologically literate population, one that understands the foundational role of Nature in Economy and acts accordingly. The need to produce a biologically and ecologically literate society is far more pressing than the teaching of Asian languages.

As a society, we must now make a historically significant transition in our thinking about Nature/Economy/Society/Sustainability. Yet the white paper is oblivious to this transition.

The exercise of producing a white paper is useful but the data fed into such an exercise must be based on reality. It should not be based on a now discredited and no longer applicable ideology of endless economic growth.

Dr John Coulter is an ERA member living in SA and is also National Vice President of Sustainable Population Australia

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