Stacking up the case for life

Why we need a new story

City buildings: Google streetview
A particular moment sticks in my mind. I was living the high life of a public servant in the climate policy factory, the 25th floor of a drab grey office block on the windiest street in the city. We sat in pods of four desks - rather like sheep pens - though not a blade of green in sight.

Resilient signs of life were visible in that world of concrete towers and rigid structure of rank and control. Small stacked boxes of life with their overflows of clutter piled together with washing hanging out to dry. And in the flats opposite, a particular flat was a constant talking point. On its balcony lived a family of rabbits. Inside the flat, lived a man. Sometimes the man would join the rabbits on the balcony. Could he see us? Did he talk about us like we talked about him? But mostly, why does he like to roam around on the balcony in just his underpants?
CBD towers: Google streetview

Inside our HVAC climate-controlled policy factory, Frederick Taylor, father of Scientific Management, and economist Adam Smith would have been proud. We carefully framed our policy rationale in terms of addressing market failures, improving economic efficiency and labour productivity. Making the business case for the environment stack up. Furiously drafting yet another version of a climate policy to submit for hierarchical dissection and likely rejection, it became increasingly obvious to me that climate change is not a only scientific and technological problem but a story problem.

A picture kept popping into my head. A ghost gum and the red dirt of central Australia. What did it mean?

It was a picture from my teenage adventure to Central Australia. Aged 16, my 13 year old sister and I had traveled alone from Manchester, a 747 transporting us to our other family in New South Wales. Granny was 84 then, living across the road and railway from the three sisters of the Blue Mountains and the Hydro Majestic. She drove an old morris as if it were a sports car and used the white lines in the middle of the road to line up the centre of her vehicle. She chartered a six seat aeroplane to take us from Meadow Bath airstrip to Alice Springs and Uluru.

Before we set off, we'd pored over our world atlas at home in Manchester to see where Granny was taking us on this outback adventure. Oodnadatta was one of the places she had mentioned in her aerogram explaining our impending travel plan. "Must be a fair size town," we thought, "after all it's on the world atlas." The South Australian Government's website says, "With a mixed Aboriginal and European population of about 80 people Oodnadatta is arguably the most isolated surveyed town in SA. There is no all-weather road access and no regular public transport. The town is sometimes isolated after heavy episodic storm rain."

Granny held tightly to her handbag while we stopped to refuel the small aircraft at Oodnadatta.  "You can't be too careful," she said. I laughed, actual tumbleweed blowing and red dirt as far as the eye could see across the bewitching desert landscape

We flew on to Uluru and Alice Springs. Namatjira's country, "he expands our vision. He opens our eyes and our senses to new ways of seeing the centre."

"The Director needs that briefing note by 3pm," said a voice cutting through my memory and bringing me back to level 25.

"Thrivability," I said.

And decided to go to Alice Springs.

So began my exploration of ways to communicate and connect people, new models for measuring progress, the psychology of climate change and the world of social innovation, social enterprise and social media.

I invite you to join me in crafting a new story that connects humanity in the web of life, with all the richness and diversity of thrivability, rather than just overblown GDP growth, measuring life becoming landfill. Are we at the point of emergence? Will we find a new story that grows our human capacities for empathy, wisdom and an ecosystem where life thrives?


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