WHEN I was conducting corporate trainings on the mainland, I’d often ask the assembled executives or managers…’What kind of world do you inhabit?’…with a view to working out what classes of skills would best serve the students…

1) Is yours a predictable world where goals can be made in advance then action plans devised that will carry you through to your outcome?...or

2) Is yours a more chaotic and unpredictable world, where constant surprises and shifts in the environment can trash well made plans and make many goals irrelevant?’

Just about everyone said that their environment was chaotic and unpredictable.

This is an interesting result because senior managements and governments always want predictable plans - ‘blueprints for the future’ they like to call them - along with accurate budgets.

Governments like to work from statutes and regulations, each of which can only be changed with huge effort, time and cost. Their world was defined and structured at a time when things were relatively slow moving and predictable - but things are different now.

The skills and abilities useful for predictable times (structure, plans, goals, measures) become significantly less useful the more chaotic and fast changing the situation.

In chaotic (unpredictable) situations, we need skills and abilities such as flexibility (the ability to change what we’re doing to meet the circumstances at hand), situational appreciation (useful understanding of your situation) and heightened awareness.

Personally, I think the times that we are in are very turbulent. We’re seeing a massive diminution of US influence and power, a serious US economic collapse, huge uncertainties about oil prices and supplies, droughts and other changes produced by global warming, unstoppable forest fires, threats of a destabilising war with Iran and major global realignments. Just a few months ago, our Prime Minister who tried to be as flexible as Bush’s ‘man of steel’ description of him, was consigned to the dustbin of history with his rigidified ideas still fully intact.

It’s interesting to list the threats to our way of life as they appear currently. My current short list goes something like this:
• Economic collapse US sub prime etc
• Fossil fuels Price and availability uncertainties
• Drought Loss of food production capacity
• Fires Forest and plantation fires that cannot be stopped

These threats come with differing levels of immediacy. Each is created or amplified by government actions and policies and compounded by governments’ unwillingness to either recognise the problems or organise to do anything useful to mitigate them.

There seems little doubt that the economic threat is pressing and is unfolding now.

Credit crunch

‘Reaganomic’ changes to US banking and credit rules made credit more easily available, and resulted in many companies being stuck with junk paper written up as an asset. As the various organisations determine to what extent their assets are overvalued, credit is becoming harder to obtain thereby deferring many commercial opportunities awaiting funding. When a major group like Centro, which owns multiple shopping centres in desirable city locations, cannot refinance it’s position, you know there’s trouble.

It seems likely that credit rules were relaxed originally to make sure that consumer markets had access to sufficient spending power to keep everything growing. That could mean that we’ve hit a ‘peak credit’ (analogous to ‘peak oil’), where we’ve maxed out most people’s ability to consume, so we’ve tried to increase consumption by increasing the number of consumers through access to easy credit.

They also allowed banks and others to write the debt off in their books as if it were some kind of asset (e.g. CDO), which have then been traded with other institutions as if they were worth real money. When the loan defaults started, the entire edifice started to crack up. Now no-one knows the extent of the problem or it’s implications and even the banks don’t trust each other to have the asset backing that each claims.

This problem was created by US governments failing to regulate their financial industry responsibly. The government doesn’t want to admit making any mistakes of course, so they’ll probably fail to take useful structural action in time to avert a serious crisis, plus there’s the usual problem of politicians being cushioned from the real impacts of the problems that their policies create.

Fossil fuels & energy

China and India are both booming and need energy to supply us with products, so global demand for oil is increasing.

Informed estimates place us at close to ‘peak oil’ (a point about ½ way through global oil supplies), which implies reduced oil availability and rapidly increasing prices. Federal government commitment to fossil fuels has distracted us from developing a reliable renewable energy sector, indeed many solar and other companies have left Australia for other countries (just another dumb move by JWH).

With the US still claiming Iran to be the greatest threat to world peace (whereas in fact that’s a better description for George W Bush), a war could quickly blow out oil prices to impossible levels with pundits predicting an instant doubling in price to $200 a barrel.  This could translate out to unleaded at around $3+ a litre, with diesel perhaps at $4 per litre.

Couple these problems with the economic recession/depression scenario created by the sub prime collapse, and we could be in for very rough times indeed.

A little thought shows that our ‘dependence’ on fossil fuels is largely created by governments’ total failure to plan, or design for, an oil poor future. Tasmania’s public transport system is hopeless, with almost total reliance on private automobiles and private carriers. The designs of our cities and suburbs assume the availability of private vehicles, while our railways have been sold to a private operator who doesn’t seem to want to stay here.

Climate

Climate change, again probably created by our activities, is creating drought, severe weather events and other economically disruptive outcomes.

Drought is a threat to our food production capacity, to our economy and to the viability of our environment. Even with the Murray Darling Basin under severe threat with corrosive creeks like battery acid1, federal MIS policies still stimulate the conversion of rapidly disappearing food producing land into tree plantations at taxpayers’ expense. Decreases in food production lead to increased prices that compound our economic and fuel related problems.

Reduced rainfall is also placing pressure on our electricity generating capacities, with power prices rising significantly early in January, and a further round of increases proposed for June.

Fires are a severe threat to local communities and exposed investments (e.g. bridges). The increased area and density of tree plantations in Tasmania presents serious risks, particularly given plantation operators’ reported penchant for failing to put in proper fire roads and fire breaks. No water, tinder dry trees all about 3 m apart, all at the same stage of development, make many plantations like matches waiting to be struck.

Severe storms are also becoming more frequent, causing major economic and community disruptions. Tasmania’s exposed overhead power lines frequently fail during storms leaving businesses and residents without power for extended periods.

Governments’ main responses to climate threats have been denial, minimisation and delaying tactics, with virtually no leadership or action whatsoever. Much of this is due to the way that government funds itself, with 1 year forward budgets and strong lobbying for budgets from existing departments with no effective voice for new requirements.

Government priorities

We seem to have not only a priority problem, but also a purpose problem.

What is the purpose of our governments?

Instead of planning and acting to protect us from harm, their policies appear more designed to help a few favourites while exposing all other taxpayers to serious risks. Lennon’s outfit appears to have no concept for government except supporting their mates and going along with the bureaucracies.

We need a government ‘triage’ system really, a way of stopping doing things that harm us (e.g. cutting down forests, wasting water, selling off public transport and converting food land to trees), and increasing efforts to improve our situation (e.g. encouraging biodiversity, planning for low fossil fuel use, removing regulatory impediments to productivity, improving our health system and cleaning up our water supplies).

These appear to be 3 useful priorities for that purpose

1) National security – that is those actions and abilities that contribute to Australia’s viability as a nation. Our definition includes military, border, resources, food, water, power and all other elements necessary to a viable society including the ability to be self-sufficient.
2) Productivity improvements in government and the private sector to help guard and build our economy. Includes all government activities and their downstream consequences on industries and the population at large,
3) Assurance of services to those most in need to create a climate of fairness and inclusion for everyone (e.g. homeless, disabled, aged etc)

Whatever priorities we have, we first need our governments to tell us their purpose, why they are there.

The issues in Tasmania are pretty stark. Failures of essential services created by budget shortfalls at the same time that major corporate subsidies are being made and while taxpayer’s money is constantly being shelled out, either by undervaluing publicly owned assets (trees, buildings, land, railways) or by plundering public institutions of their cash.

Survival basics

From the world of viable systems, we have learned that to be viable we must:

1. Have access to the resources we need, when we need them;
2. Be able to get the resources to where they’re needed when they’re needed;
3. Convert the resources efficiently into energy;
4. Be able to recycle waste products effectively;

So, at the most fundamental level, we need to make sure that we can access clean air, pure water and sufficient food in order to be able to survive.

Too often, government policies frequently prevent us achieving even these simple goals as favoured industries are allowed to pollute, extract and dominate our resources and government programs such as MIS programs accelerate the conversion of food producing land to tree plantations.

Some ideas for action

Develop your information about these (and other) threats so that you have a superior set of descriptions about what’s happening.

Lean heavily on politicians to take useful action to protect our communities.

Do not accept poor government performance or policies

Replace non – performing politicians as soon as possible.

Demand integrity from your politicians. Show everyone that you care about your country and expect high standards from its paid representatives.

Check any share or superannuation portfolios that you have and reduce your exposures to any major losses.

Get off the grid, or at least move to become energy efficient

Identify transport options that reduce your exposure to fuel price increases or shortages.

Build/join networks of like minded people.

Develop ideas about the future that you’d like and tell your politicians to produce it.

Mike Bolan
abetteraustralia.com

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.

1) Murray River water becoming like battery acid http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23039781-421,00.html

Mike Bolan

It seems likely that credit rules were relaxed originally to make sure that consumer markets had access to sufficient spending power to keep everything growing. That could mean that we’ve hit a ‘peak credit’ (analogous to ‘peak oil’), where we’ve maxed out most people’s ability to consume, so we’ve tried to increase consumption by increasing the number of consumers through access to easy credit.

They also allowed banks and others to write the debt off in their books as if it were some kind of asset (e.g. CDO), which have then been traded with other institutions as if they were worth real money. When the loan defaults started, the entire edifice started to crack up. Now no-one knows the extent of the problem or it’s implications and even the banks don’t trust each other to have the asset backing that each claims.