After pressing the plus button five times, I waited patiently as the delivery slot dispensed 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 sheets of toilet paper. The screen now showed me that the price had just doubled. Ouch. When I finished, I opened the small zip lock bag of hand sanitiser bought from a young woman who had slipped an open palm at the end of her tattooed arm through the open window of my self-driving pod. She offered 5 millilitres for 15 yuan - a good price, and I went for it.
What does this mildly dystopian image of a virus riven 2040 - or any scenario - have to do with how long the Tomago aluminium smelter remains operating or the volumes of coal exported from the region? The link is a focus on change and uncertainty, and how a resilient region grows from collaborative effort. Our responses suggest the extent to which we have gained the capabilities required to achieve more desirable futures.
Drought, this past summer's spate of bushfires, and current attention on the global spread of the coronavirus indicate how our world responds to disruption - dramatic change and threats of change. Such events compel forecasts of potentially dramatic shifts, which may or may not occur - whether more frequent and more severe droughts, a drop in the GDP or boosts in the demand for Australian exports.
Such uncertainty can be seen to come in two forms.
There is the uncertainty about what might actually happen. One can create models based on historical trends and make predictions - such as forecasting the price paid for in China for Australian milk or the percentage of electric power in Australia generated by renewables in 2040. However, the complexity of the weather, technological change and world politics mean that such predictions can be inaccurate.
That said, predictions can be useful in that they can suggest the kinds of things that might happen. For example, there may be a greater number of violent storms eroding shorelines, even if we do not know how many such storms will occur each year.
Or, there could be increased migration from Sydney to Australia's regional areas, as current data suggest, but we cannot predict precisely how many people that would involve or where they will settle.
Exploring such scenarios can address the second kind of uncertainty - whether we have the ability to cope with the range of things that are likely to happen. That is, are we suitably prepared in terms of infrastructure, governance processes, and mindsets?
Scenarios were addressed recently by Paul Graham, hosted by the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre to explain the Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO). The ANO was a collaborative effort involving numerical modelling and stakeholder consultation led by the CSIRO and the National Australia Bank (NAB).
The CSIRO also drew on their characterisation of global megatrends, as discussed by Stefan Hajkowicz of Data61 at the HRF Centre's Smaller and Smarter Cities International Symposium.
Graham's explanation of the methods and findings of the ANO were augmented by the NAB's head of thought leadership, Leanne Bloch-Jorgensen. She provided an industry perspective on the study, which had involved two-dozen organisations, ranging from the ASX to Cochlear to Uniting Care Australia. Bloch-Jorgensen noted that NAB already undertook extensive efforts in forecasting and scenario analysis to inform its investments.
The collaborative ANO study had helped to test their insights with a wide array of experts in a range of organisations. For example, they learned from issues raised by the non-profit, social services sector, she noted.
Forecasts presented in the ANO suggested that by 2060, gross domestic product would be increasing in an envelope from a weak 2.1 per cent to a stronger 2.8 per cent annually. Real wages could be 40 per cent higher in 2060, or they could grow to 90 per cent higher. The study outlined the potential for significant positive shifts possible in five areas - industry, urban settings, energy, land use, and culture.
But how do we make such shifts; how do we handle disruption? As noted above, examples of that capability could be seen in our responses to drought, fire, flood and pandemics. The preparation, immediate responses and follow-up investments in rebuilding and recovery evince capacity for resilience. Community resilience, specifically, will be addressed on April 1 in the HRF Centre's economic breakfast in Muswellbrook. Keynote speaker, Ronnie Faggotter, former director of South Australia's State Recovery Office, will contrast the fates of two communities and lessons in resilience that they illustrate.
So, current news about fire recovery and pandemic can suggest national prospects for 20 years hence - underlining the importance of investment to enhance collective resilience. That investment should be informed by a systematic and collaborative review of where the Hunter could be headed - a regional outlook exercise.
Now, back to washing my hands.