Adapting through resilience to a different world

by Terence Jeyaretnam

If you were born in Australia in 2012, you will have a one in three chance of living to 100, with the average life expectancy alone getting you to 2100. Many disciplined would make it to 120, the new benchmark for centenarians. Now imagine being born in 1900, and try and foresee our country and world today.  It would be near impossible to gauge the scale of population growth (it was 1.6 billion then), with more than four times the number of people in the world now, let alone the technology capability, the speed of transport, the global connectedness and advances in health.  But the average life expectancy then was half of what it is today, so people needed to imagine and build a world 20, 30 or 40 years into the future, not 100.

This radical shift in life expectancy is one among several factors that dictate a much different approach to building our future world, compared to where we’ve come from.  But I don’t believe we are quite ready or equipped to view the world from this new lens offered to us.  Other factors include scale of continued population growth, risks of connectedness, risk of speed of travel, climate change, resource limitations, carbon constraints, availability of water and land, scarcity of space for the mind, our changing physiques and physical capability, and different priorities in health such as significant escalation of costs, mushrooming of mental health conditions and increased occurrences of pandemics.

I believe our governance, planning and investment horizons need to change to accommodate a very different world, not inter-generationally, but now, intra-generationally beckoning us.  A world that needs to have much more resilience built into it, and a world that is able to adapt much better than our own.  Just imagine this – how differently would you build a house today that you may leave behind for your kids? How differently would you build a business? Where in Australia would you choose to live if you played out the climate change scenarios for 2100? How would you even plan out your retirement knowing that your own average life expectancy continues to get stretched?

I believe our approach needs to move from globalization to localization, where systems and communities are self-sustaining and locally resilient, yet connected globally through technology.  We also need to find a way to decouple our lives from energy, carbon and resource intensity, to more simpler and efficient lifestyles that allow celebration of technology rather than abuse.  We need to consume far less.  Finally, we also need to move from a mindset of competition to collaboration, learning to share and help.  Now the challenge is to build houses, communities, cities, countries, governments, businesses and community organisations that foster this paradigm shift in thinking.

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.