Sustainable development was never going to be an easy ask. You cannot suggest the transformation of the dominant paradigm and expect it to happen overnight. Far from economics and sociology, matters so monumental take us to the inner realms of human psychology. As people we are conditioned to resist threats to our normal condition. Over 40 years ago Elisabeth Kubler‐Ross, a key figure in what has become the modern palliative care movement, reported on the five stages of dying. There can be no more personally confronting notion than staring death in the eye.
From her interviews with terminally ill people Kubler-Ross distilled that there seemed to be a pattern (not necessarily linear) that involved five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance[xxix]. The broad social response to the issues thrown up by unsustainable development and the related need to change our economic, social and personal behaviours may not strictly conform to the notion of grief – but there are similarities in the pattern of adjustment. For many there is still denial about what is happening, for others there is bargaining or indifference. I’d suggest to you that in respect of the general proposition of sustainable development, we as a global community are not yet at the point of acceptance. When that will happen is anyone’s guess– but that it must happen is beyond doubt. Encouragingly, as I look around this room and see people committed to playing their part, I am reminded that it is certainly possible.
So in the general analysis, it is impossible not to conclude that Stafford Beer was right so many years ago when he wrote: “Acceptable ideas are competent no more and competent ideas are not yet acceptable.[xxx]” This is the challenge of innovation.
And encouragingly amidst all the negative indicators of the human condition it is quite possible as President Bill Clinton did recently for Time Magazine to highlight ideas that are changing the world for the better. It is hard to argue with Clinton’s view that the liberating benefits of mobile communications technology, the demonstrable business opportunities of green technologies, the medical and community triumphs over HIV/AIDs, the rise of women in politics, and the impatience of the younger generation for justice as was evidenced in the Arab Spring – are not in themselves great cause for optimism about the future.[xxxi]
Indeed, here in Australia confronted with the partisan spite and the political bickering about energy, climate change, health care and cost of living, we ignore the fact that overseas some countries are seriously investing in sustainable technologies and infrastructure. Let me tell you that worldwide the investment in energy is erring on the side of clean. Overall in 2011 clean energy investments far outnumbered money spent on coal fired power stations for example. In the US the $48 billion spent on renewable energy was even greater than the $45 billion spent in China and the $30 billion spent in Germany.[xxxii] And we in Australia worry about being too far out in front reducing carbon emissions, when we are not even key players in the clean energy game. Understandably, the fossil fuel lobby keeps insisting that because Australia has lots of coal to export we should pretend that clean energy technologies don’t exist. But we will not find the clean energy future if we pretend it does not exist.