the four researchers speaking at Future States event

Future States: Visions of the Year 2041

24 October 2016

As part of the University of Sydney Innovation Week our researchers foresee the future.

Professor Simpson Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre: 

Hopefully we will look back at our present lifestyle and healthcare systems in the same way as we look at flared jeans and long hair in photos from the 1970s and ask ‘how could we have done that to ourselves?’

If we don’t change then our population in 2041 will have at least 40 percent obesity. The costs of supporting the aged population, a quarter of whom will be older than 65, will put a huge strain on young people and the economy. 

We need to address this as an entire society – with legislation, marketing and education, and changes to our attitudes, behaviour and cultural norms –  just as we did with smoking and road safety. As individuals, family and community members we can resist the siren calls of consumerism and listen to the signals from our exquisitely evolved bodies that took millions of years to achieve, and will help look after our health if we will only take note. Live a healthy lifestyle and help those around you to do the same – everything else follows.

The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre is ideally placed to meet the challenge of dealing with health as a complex system, including a future where we mainly prevent disease rather than cure it, and use health data and devices to manage our health, hopefully rarely if ever darkening the doors of a hospital. Philosophers, agronomists, engineers, mathematicians, economists and other social scientists – indeed all disciplines can play a role – are as essential to our success in fighting obesity and its related diseases as clinicians and medical researchers.

Associate Professor Robyn Alders, Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Veterinary Science:

By 2041 we will have recognised that farmers grow the best medicine: fresh, nutritious food. Food producers, manufacturers and distributors will be seen as essential components of the health system.

The current divide between food producers and consumers and a lack of recognition of the importance of food-based approaches to achieving good nutrition will be ‘so last century’.  Farmers will no longer be marginalised in mainstream society. 

My positive vision for 2041 needs us to:

  •          Think about our own nutritional requirements for who we are in terms of gender, age, health status and reproductive status
  •          Buy from distributors who pay fair prices to farmers  
  •          Study Australian ecosystems and investigate what food systems and diets are most sustainable here rather than using information coming from Europe and North America.
  • At the University of Sydney Healthy Food Systems node, we are working to achieve this vision. Our node involves more than 30 disciplines including food security and safety, bee biology, anthropology, economic geography, disease surveillance, plant biochemistry and public health policy and the many collaborations that implies.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, Founding Director of the Australian Institute for Nanoscience Technology (AINST).

My optimistic vision for 2041 is that we will have a largely decarbonised, highly diversified and distributed energy sector that will be much more robust than the current grid. We’ll have service industry, distributed manufacturing and energy networks that will reduce the need for long-distance commuting, and that will re-empower communities to shape their destiny - while still being globally connected and aware, they will produce and work locally with a community focus. 

The shift away from coal is already irreversible. New and improving renewable technologies will make investment in fossil-based power generation uneconomic within the next two decades worldwide.

At the University we are developing and translating into commercial reality new processes that turn waste into fuels and chemicals with very low to no net carbon emissions. We are designing new batteries that will help us to re-imagine the way in which we generate, distribute and use power. We collaborate with universities and research institutes in Australia and around the world and have links to companies all the way from start-ups to multinationals.

Steps we can take now to achieve a 2041 vision include behaving with awareness to reduce our carbon footprint - every little helps. 

These speakers are joined by Professor Ariadne Vromen, Professor of Political Sociology in the Department of Government and International Relations details of whose future vision is here. 

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