The elephant in the room

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of a book that examines the responses of corporations and capitalism to climate change.

The book’s authors and guest speakers rightfully took capitalism and neo-liberal, free-market economics to task for the ideology’s role in stoking the climate crisis (you can watch a recording of the evening here). But there was an elephant in the room, the one that often looms large in the corner of climate talks these days: the lack of an alternative.

Too often advocates of climate action, with the best of intentions, focus on pointing out what’s wrong (which is very necessary) but don’t go the extra (and equally necessary) step of elucidating how we can do things differently.

Of course this is no easy task at all and I’m by no means casting aspersions on this book (which indeed looks at alternatives to business-as-usual capitalism). What I am saying is that if we as climate activists and the like want to bring the majority of people with us in demanding governments and corporations and people do what is necessary to avert dangerous climate change we need to point them in the right direction, not just avert them from a treacherous path.*

A few of us in the audience tweeting agreed, with one sharing this excellent quote from American designer, author and inventor Buckminster Fuller.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Talking about what’s wrong will only get us so far with capturing the weight of popular opinion and action; climate change discussions with a relentlessly negative focus prevent action while those with a positive focus encourage it.

We need to start discussing and spreading the big and little picture ideas and visions that imagine a sustainable, low-carbon or decarbonised economy with socially and environmentally responsible companies and science-based public policy. When we talk about the things that are wrong with the world that are causing climate change we need to speak equally as passionately about how these can change and how much more appealing this new world will be for all of us.

* (As I elaborate on here, the lack of focus on alternatives could be what has held back climate action to date).


Hey Malcolm Turnbull, What’s Up With Your “Vision” For Climate Change and Renewable Energy?

This article originally appeared in The Vocal.

When Malcolm Turnbull announced his leadership challenge last week he was at pains to paint himself as a man with a positive vision for the country. Australians, he suggested, are ‘living in the most exciting time,’ and ‘the big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities and we need a different style of leadership.’

On no other issue was this truer and more pressing than climate change and renewable energy.

Faced with global temperatures rising faster than support for #Kanye2020 and a semi-hearted and at times baffling political response to climate change, Australia’s millennials could be forgiven for lacking enthusiasm about the future.

But Turnbull is right, inspiration is what we need, especially when it comes to climate change. He just needs to back his words with actions.

#AusPol is not very good at Climate Change

Since Kevin Rudd’s stillborn emissions trading scheme, Julia Gillard’s much maligned carbon price and Tony Abbott’s full-frontal attack on renewable energy, the debate over climate change and what Australia should do about it has been poisonous.

Investment in large-scale renewables plummeted 90% in 2015 and there are questions over whether we will be able to meet our recently announced emission reduction target under the current Direct Action policy, a target and a policy Turnbull stated his continued support for after becoming PM.

Yet despite this morass Australians, and young Australians in particular, are calling out for consensus and action. More than two in three, according to a recent Galaxy poll conducted for the Climate Institute, want the government to take climate change more seriously.

What do we want? Action. When do we want it? A decade ago!

The time has come for an optimistic view of Australia’s future in which we embrace ambition and innovation. A future where renewable energy provides us with businesses, jobs and cheap, clean electricity. Where our scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs lead the discovery, design and development of new and more efficient forms of energy storage, efficiency and transmission. And where the country joins the international community in strengthening much-needed efforts to greatly reduce emissions.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the exciting potential of this future was the announcement last week that Australia will be one of the first markets in the world in which Tesla will roll out its new Powerwall home energy storage battery. Later this year Australian homes using the device will be able to store the electricity they generate from their solar panels allowing them to reduce their bills and increase their energy independence.

Indeed 1 in 5 households across the country have already installed solar to generate power or heat their water. Farmers like Bruce Garratt in Western Australia, are earning extra income by hosting wind farms on their property.

When Barack Obama, in his first address after being elected President in 2008, announced that this was the moment we stopped the seas from rising, we listened, not perhaps because we entirely believed him but because as nations and peoples we want to be inspired to great and lasting achievements and to leave the world a better place than we found it. Or at least attempt to make up for the damage we wreaked upon it.

There’s still (plenty of) room for optimism

Optimism promotes innovation, spurs business investment, creates jobs and tackles big problems. It’s the motivation behind the recent call from David Attenborough and a group of scientists, business leaders and politicians for a massive public research and development plan to reduce the cost of clean energy generation and storage similar in scale to the Apollo program that put humans on the moon. It’s the motivation behind Adelaide’s announcement this month that it would aim to become the world’s first carbon neutral city and attract $10 billion in low-carbon investments in the process. This kind of big picture thinking is exciting.

So where does Turnbull stand on climate change and renewables at the moment? It’s a little hard to tell. Despite immediately announcing his support for Abbott’s recent emission reduction target and Direct Action policy Turnbull has previously described Direct Action as “fiscal recklessness on a grand scale” and recently hinted that these policies could be changed if they prove inadequate. And then of course he supported an emissions trading scheme when he was the leader of the opposition in 2009.

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Remember when you said this Malcolm?

It’s just too much waffle. If our new Prime Minister wants Australians to embrace the challenges and opportunities presented to us then he should start with climate change and renewable energy by thinking positive and thinking big. He should recall his own words from 2010:

“Without that carbon price you will not and cannot unleash the ingenuity, the infinite ingenuity, of millions of people around the world… [who will build] the technologies that enable us to move to that low-emission future.”

Turnbull needs to steer the discussion back to genuine bipartisanship and positive, evidence-based solutions, offering stronger support for renewable energy and encouraging optimism and excitement about a clean energy future and our ability to prosper in it.

Here are a few good places to start Malcolm:

  1. Set an emissions reduction target for Australia of 40-60% by 2030. (This is what the Climate Council suggests is the “bare minimum” for us to keep pace with our key trading partners!)
  2. Join Labor and set a renewable energy target of 50% by 2030. (Everyone loves renewables! Let’s have more of them.)
  3. Implement an emissions trading scheme. (You know it’s the most cost-effective way to reduce our emissions, you supported it in 2009!)
  4. And for bonus points if you really want to go big, help Australia go 100% renewable! (Judging by your speech below it seems you already think it’s a good idea!)