2009: Pushing the Limits

When we started planning the sixth Adelaide Festival of Ideas nearly two years back, ‘pushing the limits’ seemed to be a good thing on the whole. Technology seemed always to provide the answers, money seemed to breed money, and the boom Australia enjoyed on the back of Chinese and Indian growth was never going to end. It was a time of prosperity so prolonged that Australians were even beginning to feel secure enough to want to do something substantial about the environment and global warming.

How things have changed! In so many ways, the limits have started pushing back, the magic engine of growth the finance industry seemed to have discovered has broken. Suddenly a great many more of the tenets of the long boom look misguided. Things are probably not as bad as they presently seem, but they were certainly not as good as we were beginning to believe.

Fortunately, we never try to be too topical in designing an Ideas program, because the news cycle will always leave you behind. Instead, in this Festival we will ponder how to adapt to those limits that can be pushed no further. This is a long-term project, not a quick fix. Humans are clearly capable of destroying their communities and environments with a growth-at-all-costs mentality, but simply to stop would also be hugely destructive.

We’ll look at issues as diverse as the geopolitics of tolerance among nations and religions in our region and the pursuit of scientific limits in neuroscience, health and the environment. We’ll engage our audience in a discussion of the power and consequences of the ethic of exploration and expansion which has shaped, and perhaps now risks, the modern world. In the bicentennial year of Darwin, whose idea of evolution is the single most consequential idea in the modern world, that only seems sensible.