The stories we live by – that human nature is fundamentally selfish, and that the planet has infinite space to absorb abuse – have turned deadly. In this broad and comprehensive offering, Geoff Davies goes back to the origins of the stories that have turned industrial societies against the earth itself. Not content with traversing physics, philosophy, economics and politics in pursuit of the antecedents of our disastrous present, Davies is at his best when he sketches the outlines of new stories.
Sunburnt is an urgent and necessary contribution to the big ideas our age demands.
Scott Ludlam, Author, former Senator
Julian Cribb, AM
Rekindling the ‘Fair Go’ for a better Australia
“Fair go, mate!” was once the rallying cry that embodied the ideals of Australian society – a fair go for all at life, at health, at hope and at prosperity.
But it is a phrase almost expunged from the contemporary national lexicon, demolished by the pseudoscience of economics than enriches only the few, the politics of selfishness and the dominion over the national conversation by a handful of cynical media. It is buried beneath a growing disregard for the nature of our land, its qualities, its landscapes, its wildlife and its people. The ‘torment of the powerless’ decried in the Uluru Statement from the Heart now applies to most of Australia’s inhabitants.
In ‘Sunburnt’, earth scientist-turned-social-critic Dr Geoff Davies turns a mordant eye on the road our nation has travelled in the past generation or two, and the forces which have diverted us from the clear-eyed vision we once held of what it meant to be Australian. The result is a state of deepening national confusion, lost between the failing dream – and the crude reality of a materialist society devouring ever more ‘stuff’, while laying waste to its future.
But ‘Sunburnt’ is not just about how Australians have squandered their patrimony and shed their dreams. Or even acknowledging the stunted little nation of gamblers and consumers we have become, hamstrung by debt, crawling to superpowers, mean to strangers and indigenous alike, unconfident of our place in the world.
Rather it is a bold philippic that calls for the rekindling of our national spirit, a rebirthing of the dream of decency and fairness that we held in earlier days, a re-energising of the will to make this a better, fairer, kinder land.
It also offers much practical wisdom – increase wages so the economy can grow once more. Give farmers back control of their land so they can regenerate the continent. Learn to live with and manage our native landscapes, heeding the advice of those who occupied them for 65,000 years. Recycle everything, waste and pollute nothing. Harness markets for health and wellbeing, not just cash. Reshape our cities for a vibrant future. Green our energy system. Tread more lightly on the landscape. Have respect for one another. Rebuild our democracy and bury adversarial politics. Take back our media. Be independent in mind and heart.
Like all good cases of sunburn, ‘Sunburnt’ stings. But it is worth the discomfort, if it helps to form a wiser, kinder nation. For those who care about Australia’s future, a must-read.
Julian Cribb AM, Author, science journalist, January 2022
Geoff Davies’ book “Sunburnt” should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of Australia, or indeed humanity at large. But particularly for our leaders, whether political, business, government or community
His particular focus is on the damage caused by neoliberalism, the concept first mooted by Friedrick Hayek and his Mt Pelerin Society colleagues in 1947, an understandable reaction to the threat of authoritarianism post-WW2. After its adoption by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1970s, it went on to become the dominate economic philosophy throughout the Western world , and in key authoritarian regime such as China and post the Soviet Union Russia, albeit in rather different guises.
Whilst neoliberalism, with its focus on free markets, deregulation and individual rights as a means of stimulating economic growth, had benefits in earlier eras in freeing up sclerotic economies, the cost as Davies outlines, has long since exceeded its benefits. More concerning, as he highlights, its original purpose has been hijacked by vested interests at the expense of the common good: “It has become a convenient cover for those who wish to turn the power of the State to their own advantage”.
And that is its fundamental flaw. Its inexorable progression has allowed power to accrue to a few elites, for example in the fossil fuel and defence industries, and conservative media, who have little empathy for humanity at large in favour of their own self-aggrandisement and maintenance of the status quo. In turn this has corrupted the political system which now works to favour the elites rather than the people it is supposed to serve.
The result is an increasingly demoralised society, loss of trust in leadership and institutions, raging inequality and a failure to honour basic human rights. The current Australian government is a classic example, albeit less extreme than their role models in the US and UK.
But more importantly neoliberalism has created problems like climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity that it has proved incapable of solving, creating an existential threat to human civilisation.
Geoff draws on his wide scientific and life experience to chart the way to overcome this existential challenge, creating a genuinely sustainable and prosperous society where the common good is respected and individual freedoms are balanced with corresponding responsibilities.
A tour de force. Thoroughly recommended.
Ian Dunlop, Member, The Club of Rome, Formerly: Chair Australian Coal Association, CEO Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Geoff Davies is a retired, prize-winning geoscientist who, in the past 20 years has turned his attention to the discipline of economics and its contribution to the state of the human world. In that connection he has published a series of books on the inadequacy of current mainstream economic thinking, which he perceives to be a “pseudoscience,” which has distorted the way we manage society.
In his latest book “Sunburnt”, Davies boldly argues the need for a new direction in the structure and operation of Australian society. I have followed the author’s journey for several years, and I consider that what he is proposing in this book is stimulating and constructive, and that the arguments he presents, need to be seriously considered by politicians, decision-makers and leading thinkers across Australia.
Davies argues that Australia is now “trapped in a deadly embrace of fossil fuels and that our society has regressed into acrimony and declining well-being”. He says that economic neoliberalism is “a field bereft of intellectual integrity” and that its focus on selfish homo economicus has played a vital role in the desperately serious situation in which humanity now finds itself.
The book draws not only from the author’s extensive analysis of the way the economy now operates, but draws from writers from multiple fields who share many of his views.
Em Prof Bob Douglas AO; formerly the Founding Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University