Tag Archives: climate change

If you hear us …

Yesterday afternoon I was planning to spend an hour or so at our nearest railway station handing out leaflets for Friday’s Global Climate Strike, but the weather was terrible and I’m trying to shake off a virus so I stayed warm and dry instead.

Please accept this terrific video, words by the Peace Poets, in lieu of a leaflet, and consider responding to the students’ invitation.

The Sydney strike is at midday at the Domain. It’s politely out of the way and non-disruptive but the students are hoping to fill the vast space with people trying to inspire out governments to face reality. Details are at schoolstrike4climate.com/sept20.

Roger Hallam, The Time is Now

Here’s a wonderful video, Roger Hallam, co-founder of Britain’s Extinction Rebellion talks to a hall full of people in Penzance:

November Rhyme #10

This weekend the United Nations Climate Summit begins in Paris. The huge march through the rues and boulevards that had been planned has been cancelled because of the risk of mass murder, but all over the rest of the world people will gather in a massive display of concern about climate change. The Sydney event starts at 1 o’clock, in the Domain.

The ‘People’s Climate March team’ emailed me suggesting I share a post of theirs on social media. The post was fine, but I realised that my real challenge is to say something from my own brain. So, at the risk of seeming to trivialise the issue, Sunday’s March is the subject of today’s little rhyme. It turns out that my own brain is full of fragments of other people’s wisdom.

Rhyme #10: Three days before the People’s Climate March
There’s no such thing as a human being,
there’s only humans and everything else:
stars that pull from beyond our seeing,
myriads living in our cells.
The human race has disunited,
Earth’s love for us gone unrequited,
who favour empire, comfort, gain,
and make the whole world our domain.
Saint Francis called the fire his brother,
water his sister. Was he wrong,
or was there muscle in his song?
This time we have is like no other:
last week is gone, next year’s too late,
what we do now decides our fate.

Zero Carbon by 2030 at Sydney Town Hall

Last night we went to hear Peter Harper, Coordinator of Zero Carbon Britain, speak at the Sydney Town Hall. The topic was ‘Zero Carbon by 2030 – Britain’s dream or reality?’ As the advance publicity put it, Zero Carbon Britain is

a plan offering a positive realistic, policy framework to eliminate emissions from fossil fuels within 20 years. Zero Carbon Britain(ZCB) brought together leading UK thinkers, including policy makers, scientists, academics, industry and NGOs to provide political, economic and technological solutions to the urgent challenges raised by climate science.

Governments and businesses seem paralysed and unable to plan for a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy. ZCB shows what can be done by harnessing the voluntary contribution from experts working outside their institutions. The ZCB report, released in June 2010, provides a fully integrated vision of how Britain can respond to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity, with the potential for a low-carbon future to enrich society as a whole.

(Download the PDF here.)

The talk itself was a great mood lifter. First, the setting: it’s hard to be gloomy about the future in the elaborate colonial prettiness of the refurbished Town Hall Foyer. Then the introduction by Robyn Williams, icon of enthusiasm for scientific enquiry: after an obeisance to current ABC pusillanimity with the mantra ‘I’m from the ABC and I have no opinions of my own’, he told us that the Science Show had broadcast three programs on Peter Harper’s base, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, over the years, and generated a lot of interest. The audience was great, producing a supremely lively, smart, on-topic Q & A: as one of my friends said, when an event receives this little much publicity in the mainstream media, the people who know about it are likely to know a lot about the subject.

Peter Harper is a scientist with style. He began and ended with photos of his granddaughter. ‘Why am I doing this?’ he asked at the start. ‘Because of her.’ He went on, ‘I often ask my great-great-great-granddaughter what to do next, and though she hasn’t been born yet, she’s a sharp tongued little hussy and says good things.’ He characterised the ‘leading thinkers’ who had prepared the framework as greenies and geeks, and put his argument for a strategic approach to climate change (as opposed to much frantic activity around short term projects that often turn out to be cul de sacs) with wit, warmth and a lucid slide show.

One of my take-homes is what he called the Canute Principle. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with British lore, he told the story of King Canute ordering the tide not to come in so as to demonstrate to his obsequious courtiers that there are limits to kingly power. The principle: ‘Physical reality trumps political reality.’ That is, there may be any number of political reasons not to act on climate change, or to take short term actions that lead nowhere, but any plan that aims to actually deal with the dangers needs to take account of the physical world. Let me say that again in bold: Physical reality trumps political reality. Isn’t that elegant?

On being a responsible sceptic

I’ve been mulling over the weirdness of public conversation about climate change, trying to figure out what ‘sceptic’ means in this context. Mark Bahnisch  on the Overland blog and more succinctly on his home turf at Larvatus Prodeo proposes, scarily and almost certainly accurately, that ‘there is no public sphere of reason to which we can unproblematically appeal’. That means, for example, that it doesn’t advance any cause to say that denialist senator Nick Minchin also chose not to believe the science linking smoking and lung cancer, or that Tony Abbott was mildly nonplussed when a TV interviewer pointed out that the scientific paper he was quoting actually arrived at a conclusion completely at odds with the one his selective quotes appear to support. Belief does come into it. The belief that reason will triumph, Mark says, is ‘also a belief – and it’s one that will only come true if it’s fought for’.

So here’s a little tale about a man who did believe in reason.

My friend and teacher, H–, loved full cream milk. He drank a glass with every meal. He loved food fried in butter. He ate lots of ice cream. He also had heart problems – he’d had severe angina for years, then a massive heart attack and open heart surgery. When people urged him to go easy on the saturated fats because they were bad for his heart, he would – either politely or with a snarl – tell them to stop nagging him. When they said he was in denial and just didn’t want to give up his food addictions, he harrumphed that most nutrition advice in the public domain was corrupted by vested interests, and he simply didn’t trust the consensus on this matter.

Two friends who happened to be doctors realised that ‘nagging’ wasn’t going to get anywhere. It may even have been at his suggestion, in fact: they scoured the scientific literature for the major studies that established the link between heart disease and saturated fats, and presented him with a stack of paper about a foot high, saying that he should read the science for himself and then decide what made sense. One of H–’s central and most admirable qualities was his commitment to living rationally, to acting on the basis of what he reasoned out to be right rather than on impulse, on the bidding of emotion or the dictates of authority. They’d backed him into a corner. He read the literature – grumpily no doubt – saw that there was indeed strong empirical evidence that his eating was seriously risky, and became a man of salads, grilled lean meat, and just occasionally a single bite from an ice cream cone.

I cherish his example of what it means to be a sceptic – as opposed to a denialist – when the stakes are high.

Peter Madden on creating sustainable cities

Peter Madden, Chief Executive of the UK not-for-profit organisation Forum for the Future, has just visited Australia for a series of public lectures. The main event has been his part in the Deakins – the Alfred Deakin Eco-Innovation Lectures, an initiative of the Victorian government – and I gather his Melbourne lectures were well publicised and will soon be up on the web. On his way home, he spent a couple of days in Sydney , and I went to his lecture, ‘Creating Sustainable Cities’, at UTS on Thursday night. Although it was technically public, this lecture seems to have been a well kept secret, advertised pretty much by word of mouth,  with notes on the UTS staff bulletin board and the Sydney Cyclist web site. As far as I’ve seen it went unnoticed by the press. And you thought sustainability was a hot subject!

Forum for the Future was founded roughly 13 years ago by to members of the Green Movement in Britain who realised that Greens seemed to spend most of their time protesting – their activities had a predominantly negative feel to them. They decided to organise on a positive footing, and the Forum was the result. It has been working with business and government to persuade them to take environmentally responsible initiatives, and show them how.  The opening slide of the lecture showed the logos of maybe a hundred organisations that have worked with Forum for the Future. The idea is to help them think through ways to change their practices in response to climate change – to reduce their own carbon footprints and then to make their activities benign rather than destructive in relation to the environment.

I won’t try to summarise the lecture, but I have two thoughts to inflict on you.

The level of public conversation about climate change is very different in Britain from the one here. Prominent Australian politicians proudly declare themselves to be climate sceptics, failing to realise that the science of climate change is based on systematic scepticism and that they are actually identifying as denialists, and debate often gets bogged down there, pretty much at kindergarten level. Meanwhile the question of whether to pass the tokenistic CPRS legislation gets to be seen as the be-all and end-all, with Kevin and Penny saying, either disingenuously or idiotically,  that since they’re being criticised from both left and right they must have it about right. That is to say, climate change is hardly treated seriously at all, for all the lip service it’s given. In Britain the conservative opposition has more far-reaching policies about climate change than the Labour government, and there are significant commitments from Government – for example, by 2015 to have every new house built be carbon neutral.

Peter Madden guesses that the issue is taken seriously in the UK because so many of the leading climate change scientists are British , and speak with authority. It strikes me that the reason the science is treated with such disregard here is a legacy of the Howard years: just as the Howard government dismantled ATSIC and deprived Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of a national voice, it also set about discrediting CSIRO, once looked to as a reliable source of information on scientific matters, now able to be dismissed by the likes of Nick Minchin, along with the vast majority of climate scientists, as left wing propagandists.

The other thought, more or less unconnected, is that greenies fail to communicate their message because they/we fail to listen. According to Peter Madden a recent study shows that green activists tend to have a weird and atypical psychological make-up, in which abstract, altruistic concerns rate high. Their/our attempts to communicate often come off sounding like preaching or even haranguing. What he and the Forum for the Future try to do is reframe the conversation in the positive: here’s a major problem we’re all facing, and here are some ideas for how we can address them. Business can do this thing and still be profitable. Governments and do that thing and still be re-elected. Individuals can do the other thing and still live well. So Tesco, the huge, many would say rapacious, supermaket chain, has a green strategy with teeth; the NHS is exploring ways to reduce its carbon footprint and at the same time deliver health services more intelligently.

About individual action to reduce carbon footprint, he said you could cut through a lot of the agonising over details by addressing these key questions:

1. What forms of transport do you use?
2. Where do you go for holidays?
3. How much red meat and dairy do you eat?
4. How do you heat or cool your home?

I’m sorry the audience for this lecture was so small, mainly because it gave a glimpse of possibilities. During question time, one man evidently a green activist, asked Peter to talk about bullshit moments – that is to say, moments when he realised that he was listening to someone talk about their green credentials in a completely disingenuous way. Peter did mention a bottled water company who claimed to be carbon neutral – the Forum had refused to work with them because bottled water is an environmental disaster, end of story. But he was adamant that while almost none of the companies he worked with could claim to be completely clean, they were all going on a journey. Even in the most profit-motivated corporations, there are people who, given half a chance, will have a go at sustainability.