It is safe
to assume we have all done our fair share of streaming this year, but one show
released in 2020 before we descended into this seemingly-unending morass is
more prophetic than ever.
appeared on streaming platform Stan in January this year, tells the tale of the protagonists in climate-affected
Sydney in 2026, roughly the mid-point between now and when the United Nations’
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we need to have reduced global carbon emissions by 45 per cent.
made headlines because of its premiere in the aftermath of widespread national
bushfires, but there are other dimensions to the show that are prescient.
example, an introductory scene shows a checkpoint that drivers from regional
New South Wales must pass to enter metropolitan Sydney—easily comparable to the
so-called ‘ring of steel’ between greater Melbourne and regional Victoria that has
been initiated by the state government in its extended response to the pandemic.
germane comparison is the dash to find a vaccine to a highly-infectious
disease—Chagas disease in the show. The Commons depicts scientists at
the fictional National Institute of Science going on anti-Chagas patrols and
reducing points of infection in hotspots.
Melburnians in particular have found to our detriment, former prime minister
Kevin Rudd’s famous dictum in 2009 that the ‘great neoliberal experiment …
has failed’ has never been more correct. It’s a shame that we have to leave to
fiction what should have been standard policy responses by Australian
governments across the ideological spectrum and in different jurisdictions. Instead,
casualised workers in the precariat have faced the impossible choice between a
day’s wages and safety from infection. The only winner here is the managerial
class deriving income from what is assumed to be extremely non-infectious home
what ‘disaster capitalism’ might look like, and while we are not entirely there
yet, it is easy to imagine using this aspect of the show as preparation if
societies keep going down the same track of ever-increasing global warming—notwithstanding
the slight dip in carbon dioxide emissions this year due to reduced plane
It is in such a context that progressive icon
and quiz king Barry Jones has written What is
to be done: political engagement and saving the planet (Scribe), which has
been published about a month after his 88th birthday.
served as science minister in the Hawke government and was involved with Labor
policy for some time thereafter, he provides numerous examples of being managed
by head office in the mini-memoir at the start of the book—most notably in the
barren Beazley opposition years. Even the late Bob Hawke as prime minister was
apparently prone to fits of jealousy or felt a threat to authority by denying or
delaying other governments’ requests for Jones to represent Australia on the
to be done, which
has been written in a similar revolutionary style, if not substance, to
Vladimir Lenin’s novel of the same name, can been seen not only as an extension
of Jones’ 1980s book Sleepers, Awake! Technology and the Future of Work,
in which he argues for the need to prepare for a move to the services-dominant
economy we see today and, as he tells Catalyst in a follow-up interview,
in which he “correctly predicted the digital revolution”, but also a 2015
article in The Conversation, in which he lists several ‘wicked problems’ and provides an
attempt at solving them.
refer to them as ‘wicked problems’, ‘adaptive challenges’ or ‘clock and cloud
problems’, it is important to continue engaging the system rather than take
cheap shots from the sidelines or become nihilistic or cynical.
is problematic, as Jones writes in the book and tells Catalyst: he
asserts that four Australians (Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest,
and Clive Palmer) “have far more political influence than GetUp’s one million
followers” (p. 327), even individually.
which Jones tells Catalyst, took a total of “one year to the day” to
write, is quite up-to-date with the pandemic and provides analysis based on
statistics until the end of August 2020.
the astute observation in the book that the pandemic has given us a small taste
of the damage climate change will do to our global systems if left unchecked
and elaborates further with Catalyst by referring to the potential for
conflict brought about by ethnonationalist militias coming into contact with
climate refugees—one of those pesky vicious cycles, as Jones illustrates in the
book (p. 314).
are lessons from the pandemic for governments and citizens alike, the
unfortunate reality, Jones tells Catalyst, is whatever support for
evidence-based responses to the virus (which have struggled, to say the least,
in the face of extended isolation measures) has not translated to support for
evidence-based responses to climate change.
addresses political short-termism—the tendency for governments to focus only on
winning the next election—in the book and with Catalyst. Again, there
are no easy answers—it is not as if the UK House of Commons’ five-year
(maximum) terms have resulted in more of a focus on the future, although
successive governments on both sides are taking responsibility for the
environment. Fixed electoral terms could work better than a specific number of
years in a term, if we are looking at Australian states.
should do is make short-termism work for them. According to the Behavioural Insights Team,
one of the world’s leading behavioural change organisations, “We are
disproportionately more motivated by costs and benefits that take effect immediately
than those delivered later … because the present is tangible but the future is
abstract and hypothetical” (p. 40).
else, the book does a fantastic job of providing a mini-bachelor of arts (Jones
writes about Wikipedia and its intellectual ancestors, Denis Diderot and
Jean-Baptiste d’Alembert, and himself is up to the seventh edition of his Dictionary
of World Biography) before once again reminding us that whatever happens in
the next ten years will go a long way in determining what humanity’s future
looks like after that.
decide we don’t want the status quo, we would be extremely smart to follow
Jones’ instructions in the last chapter and take up his ‘Gettysburg address for
2020’ (pp. 352-353).
can’t wait until the last minute to do so.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!