#BetterNotBigger

A couple of things I’ve come across this week really struck a chord.

First, this tweet from Martin Tye.

Second, this article from Will Hutton, and in particular its subheading:

Societies must learn to use economics to help provide purpose and fulfilment.

Both the hashtag #BetterNotBigger (actually the campaign slogan for the Sustainable Australia party) and the subheading are simple calls to action prompting us to think about what kind of economy we want and how it can better serve us and the environment.

They quite succinctly encapsulate what I believe is an important aspect of sustainability – creating economies (or an economics) with other purposes than growth, mass production and consumption.

That is to say economies that are smarter (using science, data, international coordination, policy and the market to more efficiently allocate limited resources) and better (providing for the greatest good in quality of life, civilisational stability and environmental sustainability).

We need to lose our obsession with growing bigger and having more and instead think smarter and build and use better.

An economic focus on mass manufacturing and consumption-based growth makes sense to a point to lift a country out of poverty but once developed, with an information and service-based economy, this focus should shift to providing us well-being, purpose and environmental stewardship as well as prosperity and economic stability.

This is one of our key challenges and opportunities in creating a sustainable world and these two messages are a simple and concise way of conceptualising this.

I Went To Canberra To Eat Delicious French Food And Raise Awareness About Food Waste

This article originally appeared in The Vocal.

I was let into the French Embassy in Canberra by Pierre, a young intern studying Public Affairs in Paris. He led me up to the main building at the top of a small hill next to Parliament House. I had jumped at the chance to travel down to Canberra from Sydney to take part in an event put on by the embassy marking the start of the COP21 global climate change meeting in Paris, being both a climate wonk and a curious outsider hoping for a brief glimpse into the secret life of Canberra’s public servants and diplomats.

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Through the building – a typically Canberra, 1950s sandstone and plaster take on a modest French chateau – I emerged onto a beautiful, green lawn with glimpses through the gum trees over Lake Burley Griffin and the mountains beyond.

The oversized LED clock counting down on the patio behind me indicated that in just under two hours guests would be arriving and, on the other side of the world, COP21 would be getting underway.

Pierre showed me to the kitchen where I got to work helping chefs from the nearby National Press Club as they prepared for the festivities.

Arriving guests were greeted with our canapes consisting of tuna nicoise en croute bursting with flavour and a light carrot flan with asparagus and a fresh, zesty pesto.

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As the countdown clock reached zero and the speeches espousing the importance of meaningful outcomes on climate change at COP21 began, it was time for the mains. Picture melt-in-your-mouth beef bourguignon with Dutch carrots; handmade vegetarian lasagne with a delicious creamy bechamel sauce, eggplant and toasted pine nuts; braised barley with roasted fennel; potato gratin. And the pièce de résistance: a mind-blowing Grand Marnier Panettone bread and butter pudding with blueberries.

Asparagus, spinach, rocket and roasted almond salad and Carrot flan with breadcrumbs and zesty pesto

Why am I at such pains to describe the menu to you? Well because despite being quality food of the kind I imagined these guests would enjoy regularly, almost all of the ingredients used had been rescued from local supermarkets and cafes over the last couple of days by food rescue organisation OzHarvest; food that would otherwise have been thrown out.

If the idea of feeding politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats food that would otherwise have gone to landfill gives you a perverse sense of satisfaction, it shouldn’t (ok, maybe just a bit) because most of the food that supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and households throw out every day is perfectly edible and can be turned into top quality meals.

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That’s why OzHarvest (and me, luckily) had been invited by the embassy to prepare the menu for the event as part of its Think.Eat.Save campaign. They wanted to show just how tasty food waste can be and that reducing the huge amounts of food we throw away or lose every day is important for lowering our emissions and tackling climate change.

Here’s an insane fact. Every year roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tonnes.

If food waste was a country it would be the third largest emitter of carbon in the world behind China and the US.

And, I’m sorry to say it Australia, but we’re some of the worst offenders. Food waste here costs us up to $10 billion a year and despite producing enough food to feed approximately 60 million people, 2 million Australians still rely on food relief every year.

How does this happen?

Supermarkets throw out heaps of fruit and veggies every year (20-40% in fact) before they even hit the shelves because they don’t meet strict cosmetic standards, despite being perfectly fine. We also tend to buy too much food and throw away what goes off. Indeed, Australians bin the equivalent of 1 in every 5 bags of groceries we buy.

So we waste a lot of food and it’s quite bad for the environment and climate but there are simple things we can do to reverse this:

  • plan ahead when you buy your groceries to minimise buying too much
  • avoid buying cheap 2 for 1 specials at supermarkets – only buy what you know you’ll eat
  • consider buying fruits and veggies from supermarkets that now offer discounted “imperfect” produce like Woolworths’ ‘Odd Bunch’ or Harris Farm’s ‘Imperfect Picks
  • try and use all the food in your fridge and freeze leftovers – consider it a challenge!
  • perhaps buy some of your fruit and veg at a local farmer’s market and learn about how it’s grown. Or even try growing your own at a local community garden, in your garden or on your balcony.
  • if you’re a food business with regular excess produce, get in contact with your local OzHarvest office to arrange a regular pickup. Or suggest to your local food provider that they work with OzHarvest to reduce their food waste.

For the past 11 years, OzHarvest has rescued quality food from outlets across the country and donated it to less fortunate Australians as well as providing food education and cooking qualifications for underprivileged youth. In one way, their goal is to run themselves out of business by helping eliminate food waste.

As I left the embassy later in the evening (having tried the dishes on offer – hey, you’ve got to know the product you’re selling!) Pierre told me how surprised he was that such a delicious menu could be prepared with rescued food. It was a sentiment echoed by a lot of guests.

Events like this one suggest perhaps that one of the most important things we can do to help reduce food waste is to change the way we think about food: to enjoy it but also to see it and treat it as the valuable resource that it is.

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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!)

The weather in Woodward

Support for renewables comes from surprising places and we need to build on this.

When thinking about climate change it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we first need to convince people that it’s happening, that it’s caused by human activity and that it’s serious in order to get action. In other words that we need to combat climate scepticism.

We do, but past a certain point I believe it’s not worth convincing everyone that we’re buggering up our climate. Most people around the world are on board with this already.

Far more important now is the need to find common ground with unexpected allies and build on widespread support for solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to tackle climate change. 

Renewables offer a bridge across the often seemingly impassable partisan and climate “belief” divide.

A great example of the bridging potential of renewables is this article by John D. Sutter for CNN in which the author travels to Woodward County, Oklahoma, one of 7 counties in the US with the highest number of climate sceptics.

It’s worth the (long) read but essentially Sutter finds, along with all the unsurprising doubts about a changing climate from farmers and small town Americans along with conservative political and religious ideologies, a surprising degree of support for renewable energy. From people living in oil and gas country!

For instance, Sutter speaks to oil company owner and climate sceptic Woodward local Randall Gabriel who is spending US$30,000 installing 38 solar panels on his home and who takes a practical view of renewables:

“If everyone goes to solar, and that works, and that shuts down the oil and gas industry, I’m good with it. If that works, then fine.”

Or elderly rancher Harold Wanger who leases his land to wind farms because “an oil well will pump dry up on ya. And these turbines will keep runnin’,” (and paying).

As Sutter succinctly identifies, points of agreement on renewables are the common ground we should be focusing on fostering in order to tackle climate change.

“Seventy percent of people in Woodward (and 79% of Americans, according to a 2015 poll by the Yale group) are estimated to support funding for renewable energy research; 65% (75% of Americans) are estimated to say we should regulate carbon as a pollutant; and a narrow majority, 51%, (66% nationally) are estimated to say utilities should be required to produce 20% of electricity from renewable sources.”

In Australia, where I live, support for renewables is strong across political divides. Twice as many Liberal/National (conservative) voters think the Australian government should prioritise support for the renewable energy industry over the coal industry, as those who think the opposite, and residential solar uptake is strongest in low-income and regional areas.

In the UK 3 out of 4 people support renewables and believe they provide economic benefits to the country. 55% would be happy to have a large-scale renewable energy development in their area!

Finding common ground on renewables means finding support from unlikely allies for potential solutions, a key ingredient in Julie Unwin’s recipe for social change which I discussed in a previous post on interminable climate inaction.

A large part of building this support is figuring out where people are at and speaking to what interests them: tackling climate change, providing jobs, reducing their power bills, providing cleaner air for their kids.

This means forming and pushing narratives of renewable energy as affordable, healthy, clean, providing jobs and independence, easy to access and install and empowering.

One form of this that I practiced in a comms role in a renewable energy campaigning organisation was never mentioning climate change, only talking about renewables, and focusing on how solar was helping people reduce their power bills, all I believe to great effect by offering an appealing, inclusive and non-partisan platform for supporters of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Yes, we have to continue to press the need for adequate climate policies and emissions reduction targets, international climate treaties and carbon pricing but a lot of this will be by-the-by to many people.

So let’s talk more about what renewables have to offer and how they’re not just the energy source of the future but increasingly today. Let’s recognise that they have broad appeal to many different people, some of whom, and for reasons, we might not necessarily expect.

The speed of the renewables revolution

More of the strong words and leadership on climate action that’s needed, this time from Cameron Clyne, former Chief Executive of National Australia Bank.

He explains that it makes economic sense for Australia’s current government and Australian business to take on stronger climate action and back renewables over fossils fuels given the risks of inaction and the ever increasing opportunities of clean energy.

Half a billion!

“We’re on the cusp of a new era. We can create a more open, efficient and resilient grid that connects us, empowers us, improves our health and benefits us all.”

– Hillary Clinton, 27 July 2015

Love this strong visionary leadership and language from Clinton. It’s exactly the type that’s needed to create the necessarily sustainable future.

It covers:

  • inspiration
  • unity
  • health
  • equity

Clinton was announcing her pledge “to have more than half a billion solar panels installed nationwide within four years of taking office” and “that the US would generate enough clean renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years of taking office.

Read more here.