Our times are rich with opportunity, and fraught with risk

Our times are rich with opportunity, and fraught with risk


Opinion
Robbie Sefton writes about the rich opportunities of our times, including gene-editing technology, but managing the extensive risks that come with it.

Robbie Sefton writes about the rich opportunities of our times, including gene-editing technology, but managing the extensive risks that come with it.

Aa

Robbie Sefton writes about the rich opportunities of our times, but managing the extensive risks that come with it.

Aa

No matter whether you are conservative or progressive, I think we all have a sense that our world is changing too fast for comfort.

It's not just the climate, although the implications of a changing climate is of growing concern to Australians. All our systems - political, legal, economic, social - are being strained by growing populations, new technologies, and excessive demand on natural resources.

We built current societies under different circumstances, and systems that helped us flourish are now like an old one-lane wooden bridge trying to carry modern B-doubles. What once enabled progress now limits it.

Our times are rich with opportunity, and fraught with risk.

How do we gain the advantages of CRISPR, the gene-editing technology, but manage the extensive risks that come with creating our own forms of life? How do we adopt blockchain to make better contracts, without enabling even more sophisticated forms of scamming? Can we make agriculture part of a nation-wide biodiversity strategy without compromising food production?

Embedded in all questions like these is: will it be evolution or a revolution that brings our systems into sync with the times?

Evolution is challenging at the moment. The political systems we rely on to facilitate change are being fragmented by "special interests", and it has become difficult for any party to get a mandate for the bold big-picture changes we need. On the other hand, revolution tends to arise out of crisis, and I'd like to believe we're mature enough not to allow our systems to fail to the point where revolutionary change is desirable.

I'm still hopeful that evolution is possible. However, it will mean the putting aside of minor skirmishes and false distinctions - like the pseudo country-city divide - to ensure the signals for change are clear.

An interesting example of this has emerged in the German state of Bavaria, where a recent referendum persuaded the extremely conservative Bavarian government to support a massive state-wide on-farm conservation program, and back it with millions of euros.

The specifics of the Bavarian project don't apply to Australia, but the principles might.

Australian farmers have for years been asking for a robust system that rewards on-farm biodiversity, rather than just being made to maintain biodiversity with the big stick of regulation. And urban voters agree.

The federal government has made a small step towards the concept - but without the public mandate of the Bavarian project.

Perhaps the first step towards reforming our systems must be strengthening the mechanisms that deliver public mandates for change, and for enacting those mandates into legislation. Democracy was once capable of this. Somehow, we need to make sure it's made capable again. The results of revolution are seldom pretty.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by