Unpublished extracts from the writings of Adelaide Grant between 2008 and 2084.
The young narrator of 'Looking Back' laments in 2111 that many of the things open to her great-grandmother were denied to her, and she wrote:
How I wish I could go to Italy and see all those paintings first hand the way Adelaide had, but it simply isn't possible to travel in today's world; it's not only prohibitively expensive, you would have to provide your own transport and security, but from all accounts it's also far too dangerous. As far as we can judge from here, law and order in southern Europe appear to have largely broken down in the face of never ending waves of refugees fleeing drought stricken Africa and the Middle East. So who knows, in all that turmoil we can only hope that the galleries are only closed and not looted.
The conjunction of my great-grandmother's death and my own birth in 2084 seems a turning point of some sort, particularly as that year was the start of some sort of precarious stability after thirty years of successive traumas caused by rising temperatures and the breaking down of the globalised world. The migrations and enormous population losses in most parts of the world caused by catastrophic famines and floods had largely stabilized by 2084. World population in 2084 was estimated to be less than four billion people (an over 50% reduction in numbers). World trade had on the whole almost ceased along with most container shipping, and international mass tourism has become a thing of the past. Countries had to rely pretty well completely on themselves once again, but this had the good effect that it kept our economy alive once we started making things again.
That date also heralded the final dominance in world affairs of the two linked Chinese territories that had evolved when the Communist Party's grip on power finally slipped, and what that meant for Australia and South-East Asia. It was also the year the World Bank relocated from Washington to Beijing and the fixed Yuan became the preferred world currency. That year somehow stands for the whole century, but I shouldn't get ahead of the history; we're lucky that despite everything, Australia managed to maintain a civil society.
Extract 1: 2011
Adelaide believed that people needed the facts in order to make decisions about the best ways to generate the power we need without at the same time emitting the green house gases that cause the planet to warm up. She risked boring people that our lives may depend on it and was especially concerned about what she called 'the technology will find a way mob.'
In mid 2012 she wrote:
Despite the fact that our survival as a species may depend on it, many people simply refuse to consider our situation as a problem, technology will find a way, they claim, it always has, don't worry, she'll be right mate! This gives comfort to all those politicians that are also too lazy to face up to the facts and hinders the creation of an atmosphere where political change is possible. And there's no doubt western society IS a very inventive one, particularly when there is the prospect of earning great profits. And there are people all over the world who are trying to find answers and make their fortunes. Many of these answers are science fiction stuff that have their fervent advocates but have never been tested. Others are technically feasible and proven but simply cost far too much at this stage. One of the most interesting is fuel cell technology, which holds out enormous hope if it can be made more economical.
Fuel cells are a bit like batteries, and depend on a physical phenomenon that was first demonstrated in 1838 by a Swiss scientist. All fuel cells produce electricity and heat through an electrochemical process using an electrolyte, a cathode and an anode, and there has been constant innovation ever since with different electrolytes being used for different application. They found use in submarines during the 1939-45 War, and NASA used alkaline fuel cells to produce the electricity to power their spacecraft. The cells also produced water for drinking and cooling equip-ment, and heat that was used to keep the astronauts from freezing so one can't doubt both their efficiency and practicality. One of the leaders in the field is Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited (which started in 1992 and is based in Melbourne) and they have developed Solid Oxide Fuel Cells that use natural gas. Unlike internal combustion engines or coal/gas powered turbines, fuel cells don't burn fuel and therefore produce electricity, water and enough heat to provide hot water and heating for the house (silently) and only produce very small quantities of greenhouse gases. It sounds too good to be true and they have produced a prototype for domestic use which is about the size of a washing machine and produces enough continuous elect-rical power and enough heat for hot water and space heating for a normal domestic situation. And excess power can be sold back into the grid! They are producing Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for use in big institutions in Germany like hospitals but refuse to say at this stage what a domestic unit like those described above would cost. You can bet they are working on reducing the cost, and some sort of systematic patronage similar to that used by the US defence forces is needed to speed up the process and lower the costs. Fuel cell enthusiasts also see them used in cars with hydrogen as the catalyst that you would get at a service station in the normal way, and there would be no emissions except water vapour. Roll on the day!
Extract 2 : 2024
In August 2024 Adelaide described how the recently adopted system of citizen referenda changed local government in Melbourne for the better:
All the referenda stuff took well over a year to be settled, so back to Port Phillip and the changes that happened there. UnChain(they'd left off the St Kilda bit so they weren't so geographically constrained) immediately put up a referendum that all houses and flats in Port Phillip had to be made energy and water sustainable by 2025. The council had been vacillating about these actions for ten years, they thought it would be unpopular with the voters and kept putting it off. The unChain proposal required all ratepayers to insulate the walls and roofs of their houses and apartments to a certain standard, to collect rainwater to flush toilets and water gardens (with grey water as a back-up), to install solar heaters for hot water and solar collectors to generate electrical power that was then sold back to the power companies at a generous buy-back rate fixed by the government. All new apartment buildings were to be required to have flat concrete roof gardens for growing vegetables. Airconditioners and dishwashers were banned unless the owners generated enough power for all of their own needs. There were subsidies available for some of these requirements, and the referendum was passed easily. There was a howl from real estate and development interests because they thought it would affect their sales, but the result supported my view that people are smart enough to act in their own long-term interests even if there was some short-term pain, that we're not entirely governed by the bottom line.
Now comes the good bit. Over the last ten years, large allotment gardens (like VegOut at St Kilda with its 140 odd allotments) had been established on council owned land in all of the seven electoral wards of the council. They'd all become dynamic community centres, much more so in my view than the council itself, so in early 2025 I initiated a referendum that would, in effect, decentralise the council. I got the required ten thousand signatures easily enough and my idea was to transfer the major part of council activities in each ward to each of the ward garden committees (and the local ward citizens) to manage and control directly, with a consequent major reduction in staff numbers. That stupid St Kilda Festival (an excuse for a booze-up by non-residents which we paid for) and lot of the other half arsed attempts to promote what the staff called community activities (like street parties and free golf lessons for beginners) were to be discontinued, and apart from a much smaller central office controlling all the money, the rump of the staff would only be responsible for looking after roads, parks and drainage (what they call our 'assets' in bureaucratese), replacing cracked footpaths, collecting rubbish and cleaning the streets and so on.
UnChain had estimated there'd be a saving of more than 55% of the annual wage costs plus all the on-costs, which in turn would enable the rates to be reduced by more than 50%. The staff didn't like it of course, and I even got a death threat. They challenged our legal power, but the court supported us, and a majority of citizens approved the referendum that followed. OMG, it worked like a charm. One administrator and a couple of experienced planners were transferred to each of the ward gardens to help them handle any development applications in their ward and to act as technical advisors to the committee and any other citizens who turned up at meetings. If any of those council-wide legal planning strategies and policies had to be updated, we simply hired a consultant to deal with it. The rest of the staff, almost 250 of them, were given generous severance pay and we were able to reduce the rates by over 50% so people could afford to make all those unChain environmental improvements. The officers in each ward were based at their community garden, there was as little paper as possible, everything was written in plain English and everyone in the ward could take part in these discussions and vote.
The thing I really liked about it was that everything was handled in an intelligent, non-bureaucratic way with speed and good humour. And people were quick to participate in a responsible way once the covert obstruction of the council bureaucracy had disappeared. And while they were happy to take part, it didn't become a pompous big deal and they were equally ready to get back to their gardens! There were far fewer appeals to VCAT after the change, mainly because the people were less legalistic and more commonsensical than the bureaucrats, and applicants could see that they were being treated fairly by their peers, not some faceless planner! Any matters that concerned the whole of Port Phillip were discussed in each ward and unless there were many points of difference they were sorted out informally. Ward councillors like me went to the meetings (where I had one vote like everyone else) and we kept a joint eye on all the actions of the parking, roads and garbage people, and even wondered if all that couldn't be simplified as it was already mostly subcontracted.
The immediate success of all this wasn't lost on the State government and other councils of course, and most departments and agencies started slimming down and being more open in case a referendum might pop up that would put them on the spot and force them to change. One is required to be modest, and believe me I kept a straight face in public, but I couldn't help gloating in private over the success of my aim to make Port Phillip a more participatory 'grass-roots' democracy; a friend of mine even dubbed us 'the Athens of the South'!
A flow on from the devolution of power to the gardens led to the establishment of Men's Sheds that further contributed to the real sense of community that these places represented. An unused building on the back part of the Port Melbourne garden became an informal 'mens shed', a congregating place for retired blokes. Apart from fixing and restoring stuff left in the street for recycling to the less fortunate, they started fixing small things on people's houses, things like the broken latch on an old lady's front gate, or replacing a rusted gutter for an old pensioner, or giving advice about problems until they'd almost became a full time social service. I persuaded the council to chip in petty cash to pay for things like new bits of guttering if there wasn't any available, but those older guys were good scroungers and not much money was ever needed. We trusted the garden to decide what was needed, there was no detailed accounting of every cent, and in any case the gardens usually had enough spare cash to pay for any odd things that were needed. The men's shed became another aspect of living well on less in Port Phillip, so we extended the idea to all the other gardens.
Adelaide had her detractors of course. Many left wing people didn't like the idea of a bureaucracy that directly 'served the community' being broken up to reduce the rates. She answered her critics in February 2026 saying;
There's nothing wrong with saving money, particularly if society becomes more sustainable as a result. But efficiency wasn't my primary motive in suggesting changes to the council, I just happen to think that a more participatory and open system is not only a better and a more democratic one, but one that's also more fulfilling for more people. There have been many past societies that collapsed under the deadweight of an administrative, a priestly or a military caste, and for our society to survive and become truly sustainable everyone will have to play a real, contributing role. The council bureaucracy had become too large and unwieldy, imposed far too high a cost burden on ratepayers, and the staff had acquired an unhealthy sense of entitlement. We'll all be better off if they do something to really help support our sustainability on the planet.
Extract 3: 2024
An overseas trip to Italy gave Adelaide great concern about the environmental impact of air travel, and in 2024 she wrote in the Age:
It's obvious that well-meaning people are as capable of contributing to the destruction of the planet as the worst polluter, and that includes you and me. Although I grow a lot of my own food, don't drive a car -I ride a bicycle and catch public transport instead- recycle my rubbish, collect rainwater and generate most of my electrical power and use low energy bulbs, I have to admit to one big hypocrisy.
On average I fly to Europe every second year, and up till now I've been in denial about the impact of these flights. I'm not as unthinking as the beautiful people who casually fly to Bali for a weekend party, but it's no different in principle, the impact of my travel in terms of the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases and their impact on the warming of the earth are very high. It's been estimated that the carbon emissions for every single passenger-mile for a fully loaded aircraft are comparable with those from a car full of people. But cars, of course, don't usually travel very far, whereas the cumulative pollution of 400 passengers all the way to Italy and back is enormous.
In his book Heat,George Monbiot, environmental writer in the Guardian newspaper, has examined the impact of flying in detail and could find no practical technological ways in which the emissions of aircraft are likely be reduced in the foreseeable future. In his opinion the growth of aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled; it's either-or but definitely NOT both! Trains are better for short haul trips, but even those very fast bullet trains have a similar environmental impact as planes in terms of emissions, especially if the electricity that drives them comes from non-renewable sources. The only question is how many of those Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane flights could be replaced by rail, or better still how many of those interstate meetings could be done by Internet conference instead. If we are to be truly environmentally responsible the number of overseas flights should also be reduced. It's a highly unpopular conclusion that flies in the face of universal attempts to increase tourism, and one for which we'll all find excuses.
The only practical thing we can do, Monbiot suggests, is to limit physical capacity, don't build any more airports and don't expand existing ones. The main Sydney airport at Mascot is unable to expand, and apart from the airport for light aircraft at Bankstown, Sydney doesn't have a second airport and given the arguments for the last thirty years over where it might be (and the state of politics in NSW) we can probably be confident it will never happen. Let's keep it that way. Melbourne on the other hand, already has a second airport at Avalon, and there is room at Tullamarine to add more runways, so vigilance is needed to resist attempts to expand them.
All this flies in the face of the current trend to expand air travel and mass tourism, and Monbiot offers no comfort except grin and bear it. But as he says, just as it was possible to construct an alternative world WITH aero-planes, it is surely possible to adjust ourselves to a world WITHOUT them, particularly if it helps to ensure our very existence. He concludes by pointing out that no more air travel would only affect a very small proportion of the world's people; the problem is that they almost certainly include you and me! I promise to face up to it when I can afford another trip; what will you do?
Extract 4 : 2050
The local climate scene was still a problem that kept getting worse, but the so-called boat people had finally stopped coming as Adelaide described in June 2050:
In the end there were more pressing problems and the simplistic cry to 'Stop the boats' finally ceased. Refugees who did get here by boat soon found that our north-west coast was a pretty inhospitable place, so in the end the government simply ignored them, gave up on detention camps, security checks and temporary visas and all that stuff, and simply left them alone to their fate. Although there's still a wet season up there, it's less pronounced than it had been previously so if they wanted to camp there and eke out an existence we weren't going to stop them. All means of regular transport south had ended after Darwin was more or less shut down as an admin centre (and the marines returned to the US), there weren't even any grey nomads any more as all the petrol stations had shut down, and the low range of battery cars wasn't good enough in that situation. Effectively there was no way you could go further south except walk. As a result the boat people, the cause of so much political anguish to successive Australian governments, had finally stopped coming.
Extract 5 : 2065
In 2065 Adelaide wrote that it was hard to keep up with world happenings, that all the worst predictions of the climate scientists were finally coming home to roost, that no 'she'll be right' technological miracle had evolved to save most of the world:
Up till now I've had the sense that although things in Melbourne were breaking down and fraying at the edges in all sorts of ways, we were managing to maintain a civil society and keep our heads above water, a poor metaphor considering our general lack of the stuff. Thank goodness we finally had the sense to cut back on population and economic growth and concentrate on becoming a more sustainable economy.
But things have increasingly been getting way out of hand in the rest of the world. Even finding out what's really happening is difficult as the 0n-line news sources we've been used to, like the BBC, the Guardian and al Jazeera, have all dried up; no one can afford to have reporters all over the place any more. And the situation in the Sudan, the Yemen, Libya, the West Bank and the Gaza strip, Syria, Lebanon, North Korea, all the usual trouble makers, has got worse over the previous twenty years, but it's not just them, it's pretty well everywhere.
The breakdown of the rest of the world was heralded in 2062 by the most catastrophic flood ever in the Indus valley in Pakistan that left over twenty million people in the Sindh area homeless. The Pakistani government was still pursuing a stupid dispute with India over the future of Kashmir (all their limited resources went into buying weapons rather than helping their people) and in the absence of help these people faced the worst famine in recorded history. No one knows exactly how high the death toll was, but it must have been in the millions. There was no international aid available either for this or other disasters as most other countries had their own, similar problems to cope with. The United Nations has proved so ineffectual over the last few years that people are predicting that it will soon disappear altogether; there hasn't even been a Security Council meeting since Russia tried to get UN sanctions to stop mass migration from drought stricken Northern China into Siberia in 2054.
Climate change is inexorably affecting every country, too much land was cleared in the Amazon basin so it's drying up, and this time the polar ice cap really is melting and the direct effect of this has been to raise sea levels everywhere by at least 1.5 metres. More than half of the land area of Bangladesh is now under water displacing more than fifty-five million people. As a consequence the area where crops could be grown has been reduced by 50%, compounding the famines that followed the floods.
Similar displacements of whole populations, floods followed by famines are becoming widespread in most parts of the world. Like the bickering of our own governments over the future of the Murray (still!) there are innumerable festering disputes wherever rivers run through a number of countries. The Mekong for example, rises in China, runs through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and water flows for the rice crops in all those countries have been reduced by Chinese dams.
The drying up of the shared Jordan River (and even more the drying up of US financial support for Israel in the face of the US debt crisis) has caused the Jewish homeland to become even dryer than it was, and now it's much poorer too. It's largely been abandoned except for some diehard orthodox Jews who have decided to stay and die in Eretz Israel. The remaining Israelis and Palestinians are too busy surviving to fight anymore, and most of them have already left, migrating north through Turkey, heading towards Russia and northern Europe in search of food and water. And small Pacific island states like Kiribati and Tuvalu were literally drowned and don't exist anymore; their numbers were small fortunately and they were transferred to New Zealand.
A temperature rise of well over three degrees has caused droughts and crop failures all over the world, but there is little or no international conflict any more, each nation has its work cut out worrying about its own survival. No one cares any more whether the Egyptian elections were free and fair, or who the next president of the United States might be, it just isn't relevant any more to a world in survival mode. Starving people don't stay put when their crops have failed for the second and third times, they migrate to find food for their children, somewhere, anywhere!
The populations of North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe have mostly attempted to go north, towards Britain, Scandinavia and northern Russia, the northern parts of the USA and Canada, and all the coastal places that still have enough rainfall to grow food. There were many conflicts of course, but no one country could resist this enormous flow of humankind that just kept coming, they had no choice, either move or starve! There was enormous untold loss of life, but no one was counting any more!
It had happened before on a smaller scale. Between 1845 and 1852, during the Great Potato Famine, Ireland experienced the greatest loss of population in world history at that time--in a nation of eight million people, a million and a half people emigrated. Another million starved to death or died from the effects of hunger. Inside a decade Ireland went from being among the most densely populated in Europe to the least. What happened two hundred years ago in Ireland is what is happening now to the whole world on a much larger scale, except that this time there aren't that many places left to go to.