On Thursday 31st October 2019, on Halloween, Prof. Peter Sainsbury presented the suitably scary 11th Southgate Oration entitled ‘Are humans smart enough to avoid making themselves extinct?’
Prof. Peter Sainsbury is an adjunct professor at University of Sydney, and recently retired Director of Population Health in South Western Sydney Local Health District. Prof. Sainsbury has a long-standing collaborative relationship with the Southgate Institute, most recently as chair of the policy advisory group for the Centre for Research Excellence on Social Determinants of Health Equity.
Prof. Sainsbury rigorously drew on a range of scientific disciplines to make the case that the need for action on climate change was very urgent, and that while we have the technology and knowledge to enable this action, there were powerful vested interests blocking action, and a failure of political will and collective decision making to take action. He stepped through how capitalism, even green capitalism, would be unable to provide a full solution to climate change, based as it is on the need for continued economic growth.
Prof. Sainsbury emphasised the implications of the large inequities within and between countries for how we address climate change globally, ensuring the most powerful actors did not consume too much of the carbon budget.
Ultimately, Prof. Sainsbury concluded the answer to his presented question of whether humans will avoid their own extinction, was, based on all the evidence he could find, “probably not”. His final call was to join and fund the “trouble makers” protesting climate inaction.
The Honourable Reverend Dr Lynn Arnold AO, chair of the Don Dunstan Foundation provided the vote of thanks for the Oration and summed up the challenges Prof. Sainsbury had raised, and added a caution about our “growth addiction” fuelling rising emissions.
You can view a recording of the oration here.