The issue of the future, coming down on us now like a steam train, is of course the environment, the double hammer blows of climate change and peak oil. Energy, weather and human misery are the factors that will define our lives for decades to come. You can cancel your newspaper, those are the only four words you need to know.
Linked to this, but compounding it in frightening ways, is the imminent demise of the United States economy. In fact the whisper, the subplot in economist circles, was that this election was one to lose. That whoever inherited Australia in 2007 inherited a coming economic collapse in globalised trade that would suck Australia and much of the rest of the world down with it. For two years now the best predictions have been that the subprime meltdown would act as merely the detonator of a much larger explosive charge created long ago by US consumer debt, concealed by Chinese and Arab investment in keeping that great hungry maw that is America sucking in what it could not begin to pay for. The avalanche-like fall of US house prices will be closely followed by the same in linked economies worldwide, and presage a harsh and very different world than the one we have lived in. In short, the party is over. We are a civilisation in collapse.
Labor is the right party to manage this. Despite the widespread belief after years of cynical politics that politicians are all the same, Rudd and Gillard are not in power for power’s sake. I am willing to stake my 30 years as a psychologist on this, but I think many observers have also come to this conclusion. Kevin and Julia, as Australia already calls them, want to make this country a better place for the people in it. In the coming times of deprivation, they have the value systems that will be needed to care for the sudden rise in poverty, stress, and need. They also have the unity.
So what will be the new polarity in future elections? It’s the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children’s tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.
By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right – Labor and Green – and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.
Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.
The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade – superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won’t be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.
Steve Biddulph is a psychologist and author.