Doctor Sam Wells

Sam Wells

Listen to a podcast of Sam Wells sharing his thoughts on envisioning a sustainable future… Everywhere we look these days, we are confronted by challenges to global sustainability – climate change, water shortage, food shortage, community fragmentation, poverty, species extinction, deforestation…the list goes on. Many people are concerned, but it’s clear that our collective response to these crises has not yet been commensurate with the need. This is your opportunity to put forward your suggestion, just leave a comment below to share your vision and get the conversation started!

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18 Responses

  1. dennis poole says:

    Ever since human kind crawled out of the so called swamp we have been at each others throats for one reason or another and as it seems to be going, the world is vastly over populated in many areas and when our finite resources finally dwindle to nothing, we will be at each others throats even more, as people will get desperate. This article is as fanciful as I have ever read. Yes we may make efforts to improve our lot but there will never ever be harmony while some have and some have not. We have never lived in harmony with each other and there is no reason to believe we ever will.

  2. Marilyn Goodwin says:

    Stop putting overseas fast, junk foods on our supermarket shelves and especially at eye level. While the good food and our own brands we have to reach for it to get it. No one cares least of all the Govt. We have obese people? yes we do but they won’t do anything about that either except maybe to pay someone from overseas for a temporary solution. All our money goes to other countries. How much of it is actually owned by us? Not much. Why don’t this ridiculous Govt just give it all away then we will have nothing now. We won’t have to wait for it then. Try and pick the REAL Australian made brand. Ha! We don’t own Australia anymore.

  3. K.D.Afford
    PO Box 242 Mount Barker
    SA 5251
    Email: afford@bigpond,

    Ph. (08) 8391 0182 Mobile: 040 891 0182

    Objections to the population expansion scheme:
    • This is an ill thought out plan in light of current knowledge of the state of the planet we inhabit. It does not encompass new visions, but ones that the final outcome will result in the collapse of society as we know it.
    • Why? Because the earth is only so big and if you compare it to an apple there are only so many bites in it. In most instances we are down to the core at the moment and getting very close to collapse.
    • There is the failure of rainfall across Australia, not just a flash in the pan thing, but real phenomena. There is hardly a farm between Adelaide and the Great Divide, as I write, that is not under threat of bankruptcy due to the failure of rain.
    • A mere ¼ of our average inflow to the Murray has occurred in July.
    • Whilst the draft management plan puts forwards water plans they are spurious and regardless, we soon will not only be wanting for water, but unable to feed ourselves.
    • We have reached a point of no return and need a government that can think and act in a new and enlightened way, nothing that the draft management plan states does this. It is just more of the same.
    • Blind Freddie can see this, yet this government is hell bent on pushing on. Grand-standing “more people” only equals more with problems, in the futile explanation that we have and aging society and need to bolster the population to 2,000,000 by 2050.
    • From figures quoted in the paper we will achieve that by 2030 with out doing anything.
    • This is rather frightening as what will we need then, 4,000,000?
    • The answer is to reign in growth and the easiest way to do that is by birth control, in the first instance, replace your self and that is it.
    • Educate the ones we have to be more productive and useful. There in lies the big answer!
    • We are too reliant on non productive lifestyles to support the present society, more will not help in any way.
    • We are over governed and over regulated. This causes a dramatic waste of human resources into pointless life pursuits – just a means to exist and not to participate in added value to life.
    • We need to change the way we live, our expectations, and our waste. Overt consumerism is to our greatest detriment, as to is the multinational ownership of business to the point of exclusion of all but token competition.
    • Certainly nuclear power must be countenanced as a means of maintaining our level of lifestyle, not to bugger around with wind and solar which have rapidly fallen out of popularity in a seriously short time. The manner in which government propped up the solar industry has become a joke, sadly one falling on unsuspecting and gullible public.
    • We have neglected rail transport in homage to greed of the motor vehicle manufacturers.
    • Peak oil has passed and we are in for some giant shocks as it runs out, yet blithely we want more and more.
    • The current motor industry is hardly breaking new ground in design and development as government handouts are still easy to get and come with no real incentives.
    • We have neglected rural communities to gather around one place, Adelaide; pillage its land, a reasonably high and reliable rainfall area, for the dreams of suburban homes, at times obscene two storied ones on an acre of ground as has happened at Mount Barker where the infrastructure is a farce.
    • There is no reason why industry should not be encouraged and situated along the fingers or rail that already exist – where water can be supplied, of course – rather than flog our better country for the pleasure of living near or in a city.
    • Modern communications mean people can often work from home – thus that can be anywhere in the state, not on the coastal belt that has the reliable (was) rainfall.
    • Set the current boundaries of the city as is, build up if necessary, and ensure land use is, encouraging and supporting agrarian pursuits to achieve this.
    • We need to introduce collective farming so the tiny rural holdings are in fact able to produce more than horse manure.
    • These steps need to be taken before we even think of getting bigger.
    • We have to prove our sustainability and not just jump the gun at the behest of developers who line the pocket of government which as a result becomes unthinking and blind to sensibility.
    • Your 30 year Plan is really only a lip service document to them and not one of vision.
    • I shudder to think of the waste of human resources it took to bring it together.

    I put the above together last night in response to the 30 year plan and have sent it around for comment, I will send off after attending an open forum or series of lectures at Mount Barker next Tuesday.
    K.D. Afford

  4. Patricia says:

    Connectivity is key; we need to understand that we are not separate from nature and its patterns and processes. As a society we live outside these patterns, how many people recognise the seasonality of the food we consume? Tomatoes, apples and strawberries are available all year round, when in reality it is not possible to grow these locally throughout the year. We need to relearn our role as a part of the patterns and processes and not consider them as trifling inconvenience in our lives that can be overcome with technology. As Dr Wells pointed out, key to a sustainable future is bioregionalism. We need to live within the carrying capacity of our local environments and not waste energy on resources for which there are local substitutes. We need to reconnect with the environment and to do this we need to re-educate ourselves on how we perceive nature and our place in it. Furthermore education should not be a chore regulated to childhood but a lifelong experience, where new ideas are assimilated and explored and not summarily dismissed in favour of old and rickety bandwagons.

  5. S Myers says:

    In our own backyard, the Lower Lakes, we have a perfect example of how an unsustainable system is failing. Lakes Alexandrina and Lake Albert were once connected to the Coorong and part of one vast estuary that ultimately connected with the sea. Since 1940 the lakes have been divided by man-made barrages that have helped create an artificial freshwater system. The fact that we do not have enough fresh water means that we must find a sustainable alternative, and fast. The Lower Lakes have an option. Return the Lower Lakes to an estuarine environment with the Coorong. This would restore a sustainable, ecosystem to the region and allow what precious fresh water we do get to be used upstream where the communities have no options. Insisting on an unsustainable freshwater only system dooms the Lower Lakes to their present condition. The community website has compiled a collection of information from multiple sources in order to help people make informed decisions.

  6. Toby Whittington says:

    I see a sustainable future where every house and building supports itself, each home will collect its own water from the sky, generate its own electricity from the sun and wind and people will grow their own food both in their houses and outside. If a house or building generates generates excess resources – electricity, food, water – then the excess will be feed back into the community. Excess electricity will go into the city’s grid, excess water will feed into larger community gardens or into natural waterways, excess food will be sold at markets or given to those who need it.

    Each house and building will process its own sewerage and compost its own organic waste. When new things are made they will be designed to have many uses beyond their first intended use. Everything will be recycled.

    Electrical goods will have universal plugs so that your Nokia phone charger can be used in your friends LG and so on, once you have a plug for one device you will not need a new plug when you get a new device and your old device will be sent back to be recycled into something else.

    In the sustainable future we will all still have machines in our lives – cars, trains, planes, mobile phones, computers etc. However, in the sustainable future they will all be powered by renewable energy. Solar collectors will be everywhere. Our cities will re-orientate to face the sun so that our buildings roofs can collect energy, solar power collection will be so much apart of everyday life that that we will forget that it is there at all, every bus stop, house roof, building roof and backyard shed will be generating power free from the sun.

    Cities will become gardens, there will be gardens on our roofs, in our houses and on our streets. On the way to the sustainable future there is much work to be done, jobs will be created and a new green economy will emerge.

    I see a sustainable future of a total global community, fully connected and totally decentralised.

  7. Trude Dunn says:

    Common sense, too bad most governments don’t have it.
    * Solar power – Here we are in a country that has more siunshine than almost any other, yet we are doing very, very little in the way of collecting power from it. Roof tops, bus and tram shelters, even light poles can be topped with solar panels. Ok solar panels cost money, but that’s what you call ‘investment’. You invest in the future to save money, time etc down the line. “A stitch in time saves nine” was a saying I grew up with. Rather than playing catch up, put in place those things we need before we run out of other resources and find ourselves scrabbling to fix it.
    * Desalination – Don’t follow NSW’s example of only running a desalination plant when water is really low, run it full-time, powered of course by solar power. Letting the water get really low actually makes the problem worse as plant and animal life die off and and bacterium become concentrated causing greater expenditure of money and energy in water treatment. Which leads to…
    * Greening – Because we’re conserving water rather than making more we restrict watering of gardens. Lawns and gardens die off, many homes have no gardens at all. Less greenery = more heat. Nature had a system set up whereby even in great heat ground temperature was lower because of greenery, we’ve messed that up. Gardens need to be everywhere. Better still food gardening needs to be actively encouraged, which would lower future drains on food supplies. Cities and suburbs generate heat, we’ve all seen ‘heat shimmer’ on roads, that’s because the roads are hot, and we have little greenery to absorb that heat as the winds carry it to our homes.
    * Farming – Don’t farm things that aren’t suitable for our climate, buy water hungry products from the countries where they grow well, it helps their economies, as their economies improve so do the economies of countries surrounding them, which will lead back to us. And by growing what does well here farmers make more money and can hire more people.
    * Industry – Legislate the re-use of water and collection and use of rainwater. Then actually make sure it’s happening.
    * Building – Before airconditioning buildings were designed to keep naturally cool in summer. Now that we have airconditoners buildings and especially houses are designed so that they’d be unbearable without airconditioning. build for our climate, build for conservation.
    * Transport – Get the public transport system working in such a way that it’s actually convenient to use. Force public transport use by making the city mile a car free zone for all but delivery vehicles and public transport. Less cars, less use of fuels, less polution. Make fuel guzzling vehicles a ‘special license vehicle’ Are you just taking a child to school and doing shopping? You don’t need a big vehicle.

  8. Sam Wells says:

    Great to have your thoughts everyone. It’s challenging, isn’t it? We seem to be more comfortable railing against the way things are, or solving the ‘problems’ inherent in the way things are, than actually describing what we really want.

    Perhaps it’s a cultural habit – we want to ‘engage the enemy’. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that by focusing on what’s ‘wrong’, we end up making changes only at the margins of the status quo and, in a sense, that reinforces the established paradigm or way of seeing things. It can’t generate a transformational change of the kind that we sense is necessary.

    One of the world’s great traditions of knowledge, the Vedic tradition, says it nicely: “Don’t battle the darkness; bring in the light”. To bring about the level of change that our challenges require, we have to shape a shared vision of possibilities towards which we can aspire, rather than hoping that fear of the appalling consequences of inaction will be enough to ‘drive’ a transformation – history tells us that it won’t happen like that.

    One way of explaining it is to think about what happens when we realise that the house we have been living in for years no longer suits our needs – in fact, everywhere we look we see faults and we’re beginning to hate it and to question the credentials of the architect. But we don’t just pack up and move out into the street. Instead we do little things to make it more bearable – some paint here, some wallpaper there – and we try to convince ourselves that with a few little changes we can make it livable. It’s only when we find or build a new house that reflects what we really want that we sell up and move out…the big shift happens towards the real prospect of a better future, not away from a flawed present. If we focus on what’s wrong with the current house and how we can improve it, at the margins, we never get what we really want and we never shift!

    DENNIS POOLE: Yours is a bleak vision, Dennis, but a ‘safe’ one too – no matter how bad things get, you’ll never be disappointed. But underneath your acquiescence in such an unhappy state of affairs, is the clear message that things are not as you would like them to be. So if you weren’t constrained by the need to be ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic’ (which never get in the way of people who envision and achieve great things), how would you like things to be? If we don’t at least start by articulating that vision, we run the risk of the most catastrophic self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s ‘fanciful’ to aspire to something better, so we don’t even try…Result? Never in doubt.

    PATRICIA: What does connected ‘bioregionalism’ look like when implemented in all its glory. Sounds like there’s a wonderful vision sitting behind that ‘solution’ – I’d love to see it fully spelled out, with all the feeling and humanity and nourishment that I sense in your short statement. What would it be like to live in the abundance of your vision?

    S MYERS: What will the river system and the Lower Lakes and the Coorong look like when your vision is realised? What will our experience of them be like? Can you see it, feel it, smell it? What do you really want? Make it real for us, so that the complex path of implementation can always be guided by the beacon of your vision.

    TOBY WHITTINGTON: This is a vision – I love it! That doesn’t make it right or wrong – it’s a vision of possibilities that’s the start of a conversation about what we really want for our shared future. From the minutiae of universal plugs (it’s often the little things that bring a vision to life) to the sweeping description of solar collectors and cities as gardens, your vision beckons us. I wonder if it resonated with others and whether anyone will be moved to elaborate it, refine it, amend it.

    In particular, I wonder if the values that underpin it appeal to others. It’s at the level of values – Toby seems to be embracing integration, wholeness, nourishment, abundance – that our vision becomes ‘shared’.

  9. Paul says:

    I want you to all leave me alone. But I want a society that uses resources most efficiently. Surely this is the crux of the issue. Getting the right balance between personal freedom and common goals is an endless struggle.

    Don’t worry about the environment, it will look after itself once we are gone.

  10. I guess it comes down to how long it will be before you are gone!
    This enormous problem of trashing the planet has had a long warning time, overlooked. When the crunch comes it will come in a rush and then we are left legless!
    The recent financial crash is an example.
    On population growth, the Japanese saw problems due to deafforestation, circa 1700 and kept their population at c.20,000,000 for nigh on 100 years.
    We, collectively, cannot see any problems with the way we are going – the simplistic answer for us to all grow our own vegetables ( I do that) is grand, but we have grown with so much greed, or, must have this and that, that the common family today is so knackered at trying to (both work) keep ahead of the bank’s overdraft/credit card/ encouragement to spend that I am surprised they have time to breed.
    It must come from one of the secret ingredients in KFC.

  11. Sam Wells says:

    TRUDE DUNN: Some challenging ideas here. I’d love to see them taken to the next level – not just what we should stop doing or start doing so as to limit our harm to the environment, but how does it all look (sound, smell etc.) and what is our experience of it when we get it exactly as it should be…what we really want?

    I think the risk in focusing on ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’, or on prescription, is that we cultivate a ‘scarcity’ mentality, in which we are always looking to preserve, conserve, constrain, corral, limit, minimise. If we are successful, as the great Donella Meadows says, we promise no more than mere survival…and that is a failure of vision. In contrast, an ‘abundance’ mentality is not about growth, in the destructive sense, but about possibilities, ‘richness’, interdependence, nourishment, synergy. It’s about ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or’; it’s about saying “No more trade-offs!” It’s about what we really want, not what we’ll settle for.

    Abundance comes from a vision of something better. Scarcity comes from battling the problem at the level of the problem – that immediately places a limit on what we can aspire to.

  12. Josie says:

    A typical day in my vision of the future.
    I arise from a sound night’s sleep with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the day ahead. I arise about 7.30am – my natural waking time and move into the kitchen to be joined by the rest of my family. I put on the kettle for my first cup of organic green tea for the day and remember that the electricity for the kettle is coming from our solar panels and new cell storage system. The water is from our own tanks.

    I look outside the window, past our own vegie patch, and see people – all sorts in the streets and community space opposite. Cars as I used to know them, are almost absent and people are travelling around on bikes; catching public transport (which is free and readily accessible) and walking.

    There is a mixture of people outside …all talking with each other…. Young and old… neighbours helping to keep an eye out for each other’s children, teens and older folk. Birds and native animals seem to be everywhere.

    Our house is relatively small but it has been so well designed for us that it fits us like a glove! Energy efficient and resource wise… It is designed for easy living, like a holiday home, and it is designed for easy recycling at the end of its usable life. It’s a gorgeous combination of form and function – of sunlight and shade when needed.

    I start to think about work – its one of my rostered days on (I only work 5 days per fortnight). The hours of work have reduced due to the recognition that we really didn’t need to work the long hours of not so long ago. Consumerism is gone and we have learned to live with “enough” which means is just don’t need to work as long. I enjoy my work and look forward to it.

    I catch the new electric bus to work (powered by renewable energy of course). It’s clean and it’s quiet. People chat on the bus. They know each other. A group of students get on together and they are laughing and playing instruments. They have dressed up this morning to join people on the bus and play music, sing songs and just have fun! Everyone loves seeing and hearing them.

    I jump off the bus and walk the last way to the office. The “office” is bit different than it used to be. This is a space where the joyful chatter of people indicates how much they love working here, the fact they know each other well, and stress is kept to a minimum. Because consumerism is now a thing of the past, companies only need to manufacture just what we need. The old days of huge annual growth rates have past and the sales team is a relaxed place to be. My employers respect me for the full person I am. I get to use my natural strengths and talents nearly all the time. The company I work for has taken the message of sustainability to its very core and heart. They manufacture goods still, but in a way that recycles all materials into the new manufacturing process and products are designed for return to us and recycle at the end of their life cycle. The products are all necessary to life and not frivolous or wasteful of our limited natural resources. Sustainability at this company is also about more than the environment – its also about how they fit within their community and how they treat their people. They have no problem at all attracting all the best people. Life at work is fun and creative…. We all really love being involved with a company that is so “wholesome”.

    Morning tea and the tea trolley lady comes by with lots of stories about what is happening elsewhere in the company. She always remembers my favourite type of tea and my favourite muffin!

    I eventually travel home again and I still have plenty of energy and life to enjoy my family. It’s a ritual in our house to eat together and talk over the events of the day. Much of our food is seasonal and comes from our own and local farmers’ gardens. We know many of the people who grew our food. Often there are visitors who join us for tea. We talk politics, hopes, dreams and disappointments. We are there to support each other. We enjoy lots of different types of entertainment – books, DVD’s live music and plays too. We are intellectually stimulated by these things.

    The day comes peacefully to an end and I am looking forward to what the next day will bring….

  13. Sam Molloy says:


    This city I live in.

    It’s beautiful.

    Walking through leafy streets to the community shop I bring home fresh organic produce. I have enough for my needs – we all do.

    I greet my neighbours, my friends, my community, as I walk home. The panels and turbines of local power generation blend seamlessly into the attractive landscape. Homes and environment connect in harmony.

    My kids breathe fresh air as they play in the park, its natural watercourse alive with native birds.

    My work is meaningful, balanced; its challenges invigorating, yet with time and space to recharge.

    We are awake.

    We know quality – quality food, quality air, quality work, quality life. As a community we have the wisdom to choose quality; and do so gladly. It has been a good choice.

    We are carbon neutral. We are zero waste. We are green. We are sustainable.

    We are happy.

    Come with us.

  14. Sam Wells says:

    Josie and Sam M – I’ll have what you’re having! Such powerful, nourishing visions. If we could develop a widely shared vision that captured these qualities of nurture and wholeness and joy, it would be so much more than a wish-list…it would be a guiding inspiration for decision makers, and a beacon we could aim for as we danced with the complexity of the challenges and possibilities of sustainable living.

    Some will suggest that such expressions of ‘what we really want’ are impractical and naive – I would argue that they are the most practical, the most pragmatic response we can make to the sustainability challenges that confront us, because without such a response, we will find ourselves forever playing at the edges of the status quo, and unable to embrace the big shift in thinking and action, and living, that is required of us. Maintaining a conversation about what we really want is the epitome of pragmatism.

  15. Ian Mason says:

    Currently as soon as we go out the door we jump in the car. We use complex transport systems for just about everything. Life and our society is so unstructured.

    You can’t build a city unless you can build a town, and you can’t build a town unless you can build a village. Our neighbourhoods are so important. Life should radiate out from where we live. Have a BBQ with our neighbours. Share resources with our neighbours. Garden the neighbourhood park with our neighbours. Create neighbourhood community like an ecological succession and enjoy bringing the neighbourhood to life.

  16. Deputy Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood says:

    By 2020 Adelaide will show leadership in sustainability and export it to the world. Our city centre will be clean and green, boasting a complete tram loop, many more people in eco-friendly high rise apartments and highly accessible infrastructure including a new hospital, stadium and super school.

    Adelaide will be a city full of pedestrians with King William Street and Gouger Street car free on weekends, like Swanston Street in Melbourne, both leading to an acclaimed Victoria Square.

    A smart power grid will fuel a fleet of electric cars running quietly and with no exhaust – the city centre will smell a feel clean and resonate to the sound of birds singing and people talking – a place everyone wants to be.

    The Central Market will be solar powered and provide local produce with zero waste. Next door a new Little India and expanded China Town will be the gateway for our Asian neighbors who visit regularly to do big business and savor our food and culture.

    The debate over our heritage and parklands will be long gone – the parklands will be world heritage listed and enhanced with well planned infrastructure that ensures they are a pure delight and used by tens of thousands of people every day.

    Our built heritage will have been embraced by exciting modern architecture that respects the past in creating our colorful future. Perhaps we have a few self sustaining 50 storey buildings reaching for the sky as bold statements of our reinvigorated aspirations!

    The Rundle Lantern will have been the beginning of a new age that combines urban art and street lighting – low energy LED lighting will shine brightly throughout the city, our historical and contemporary architecture a stunning canvas that people come to admire.

    Education and the arts, including a different multicultural festival every weekend of the year, will be the backbone of a city that is smart, creative, prosperous and stimulating – where people from the world over live, learn and play in a globally connected community that is one of the worlds most liveable.

  17. I am getting old and cynical, and as I watch all around us cave in, our collective greed catch up with us, the politicians of the day fail us in everyway, I cannot help but countenance that the world is finite, that we cannot keep getting big bites out of it as if it were an apple and survive on the course we are on.

    Take Dick Jaensch, he had a farm on the southern edge of Mount Barker, and at 84, sold it.

    He said, “If I did not the next person who bought it would sell to developers anyway.” Of course he was right; we have no respect for good farming land anywhere near where you can have “growth” of urban development. That is where people live, in the good areas.

    Besides who would want smelly old sheep, noisy tractors, cattle mooing, and weed spraying alongside a town ship that came after the farm? So a clearing sale was held.
    Afterwards the developers moved in with a rush, $13.6 million cost to be turned into a profit of several hundred million of dollars – 580 odd homes – of course environmentally sensible designs, we are told; but at the end of the River Murray in a town without its own water supply, one that brings its food in from across the country. One where the rainfall is falling off at an alarming rate.

    Down came the trees around Dick’s old house as did it, the sheds the sheds were sold, everything went – somewhere.

    I feel sad about all of this. Then like a penny, there has to be two sides, in life there is birth then there is death, you cannot have one without the other. You cannot be pretty without some one being ugly; ripe does not come before green. I have yet to find a one-ended stick.

    Therefore, maybe none of this can be bad – “You cannot put bad in a wheel barrow and take it away,” they say – so is it the opposite, good?

    Does this look good or bad?

    As there is no up without down I cannot reconcile with the logic of “growth” as it does not seem to have an opposite. No growth won’t work for we will all die if that happens, won’t we?
    Dick has stood in this town, Mount Barker South Australia, for as nearly as long as many of the trees they keep cutting down.

    The Council was going to honour him and other volunteers in a calendar, now they won’t. (They did!)

    That is my lasting reminder to him of a farm that was. It appeared in 2008 Mount Barker District calendar, still available at the PO, at least.
    Sorry photos would not up load to here.
    If you would like a copy of this article with pictures please email me with the subject “Dick’s Farm.”

    © copyright K.D. Afford 6 July 2008

  18. Florian says:

    In fact, I always wondered why Australia wouldn’t fully embrace solar technology and create itself a strong competitive identity as a renewable – solar – energy champion. Adding to that world-class tertiary education and eco-friendly tourism and you’ll be a big step closer to a sustainable future.

    Check out the sustainable futures blog to find out how other countries are tackling similar questions.