Commission for the Human Future calls for action on global catastrophic risks

Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe has joined a growing list of prominent Australians calling for action to prevent further disaster.
Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe has joined a growing list of prominent Australians calling for action to prevent further disaster.

Bruce Pascoe describes the newly green forest growing through the burned-out bushland where he's pulled over on the road 10 minutes from his home in Mallacoota.

"When I drove through here on January 1 where I'm parked right now was totally black - parts were still on fire," he said.

"Yet now she has produced another forest. The old trees are here with new growth. That's the power of the Earth to recover."

Mr Pascoe is a writer of Tasmanian, Bunurong and Yuin descent who lives on a farm in the Victorian coastal community which saw scores of tourists evacuated via Navy vessels this past summer.

The Dark Emu author has since joined prominent Australians calling for urgent action on what they've acknowledged as 10 major threats to humanity's survival.

Mr Pascoe, alongside Sydney mayor Clover Moore, former governor-general Quentin Bryce and rocker Jimmy Barnes, have agreed bushfires and the pandemic are a "dress rehearsal for what awaits us".

"It doesn't mitigate the tragedy but if we can realise that the way we conduct our societies around the world lends itself to this type of virus, maybe we can look at how we behave on the planet," he said.

"Like all Aboriginal people I believe that the Earth is our mother and my first and foremost concern is for her health. If we look after the health of the Earth everything else that is good about humanity will follow."

Bruce Pascoe.

Bruce Pascoe.

The growing list of signatories have responded to a commission's report, following a roundtable held at the Australian National University in March bringing together leading experts across health, climate change, economics and public policy, which identified 10 potentially catastrophic global risks.

The threats include pandemics, ecosystem collapse, rising food insecurity, nuclear weapons and global warming.

Mr Pascoe said rising temperatures and rising sea levels impacted Indigenous people around the world.

"It will affect Aboriginal people right around Australia because global warming will reduce the world's economy and Aboriginal people have such a tenuous hold within that economy any way," he said.

"The deterioration in the environment is very important in Aboriginal justice because Aboriginal communities rely so much on those natural resources."

Mr Pascoe was working for the Country Fire Association over summer when the bushfires hit his town of around 8000.

Although his wasn't one of the 140 homes in Mallacoota lost over summer, they did lose their crops, sheds and fences.

Yet as neighbours call out their greetings while passing on the road he admits he was a silly bugger to have driven with his dogs on New Year's Day.

He acknowledged his "survival guilt".

"So many of my neighbours and friends lost their houses and I survived, my dogs survived," he said.

"Considering the scale of the disaster, I'm incredibly lucky."

Chairman John Hewson said the commission aimed to start a national conversation on the threats humanity faced and how they could be addressed.

Bruce Pascoe.

Bruce Pascoe.

"The list is long and deadly: climate change, nuclear war, water and food shortages and of course pandemics," Professor Hewson said.

"We need to act and we need to act now."

Mr Pascoe said it was time we took responsibility for the planet the way Aboriginal people had done for more than 120,000 years.

"If we can we'll have prospering health, we'll have a prospering economy and we'll have prospering societies," he said.

"It's a no-brainer to think that if we look after our world our world will flourish. Australia can tolerate fire but we never want to see fire like that again."


  • Decline of key natural resources and a resource crisis, especially in water
  • Collapse of ecosystems and the mass extinction of species
  • Human population growth and demand, beyond the Earth's carrying capacity
  • Global warming, sea level rise and changes in the Earth's climate, affecting all human activity
  • Universal pollution of the Earth system and all life by chemicals
  • Rising food insecurity and failing nutritional quality
  • Nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction
  • Pandemics of new and untreatable disease
  • Advent of powerful, uncontrolled technologies
  • National and global failure to understand and act preventively on these risks
This story Prominent Australians call current crises warning of what's to come first appeared on The Canberra Times.