• Brett Ellis

Another End of History

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama declared the 'end of history'. He was premature. Our environmental situation now demands that we reassess.

In 1992, Professor Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and The Last Man. Fukuyama wrote this in the now heady-seeming days of the early 1990s and the ‘triumph’ of liberal democracies over the socialist/communist systems, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and associated Warsaw Pact.

As things turned out, Fukuyama was overly optimistic and since the demise of the mad, bad but generally more predictable bi-polar Cold War era, we have witnessed a world that is more fractured and fractious. The unpredictability of the current era in social, political, natural and environmental realms is seeing leaders and citizens of countries around the world urging us to become ‘more resilient’.

I reflected on Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ at the recent Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience Knowledge Week, while listening to Alice Hill, special advisor to former President Obama. Ms Hill spoke about the unprecedented nature of the environmental catastrophes that we are now faced with almost annually. While declaring the end of history through a political lens was premature, it struck me that we are perhaps looking at the end of history from an environmental perspective.

In the emergency management and resilience space, the majority of practitioners with whom I work support the concept that we do not have ‘natural disasters’, but we do have ‘natural hazards’. Whether or not these hazards become disasters tends to depend on the choices we make as humans – whether we continue to build habitats in increasingly volatile locations, whether we fail to read warning signs to evacuate in timely fashions, or whether we manage a response adequately to prevent a dangerous situation becoming a disaster.

That said, the bushfires currently burning in California are “unprecedented”, as were the bushfires we experienced in Australia during the Southern Hemisphere’s last summer. Temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit being recorded in the Russian Arctic are similarly unprecedented, as last week’s Hurricane Laura was expected to be, but a meteorological bullet was dodged – ‘though try telling that to those who lost homes, businesses and loved ones.

At no point in human history have we experienced the kinds of environmental conditions we are currently experiencing. The ‘end of history’ is upon us not because we have no future but because we are looking at a future when the past can no longer be a reasonable predictor of what lies ahead.

We cannot rely on toughing it out to ‘be resilient’. We have to accept the reality of the situations in which we exist, and then act decisively to imagine and prepare, from the highest tiers of government to individual households, for risks that are unprecedented. Building infrastructure, valuing assets and behaving as we always have, or even incrementally better, will not be adequate to enable people to survive, let alone thrive. in a world that is going to be profoundly different in the years ahead, regardless of whether our political systems make us more or less stable. Toby Kent EllisKent

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