• Ben Smith

The Climate Change Opportunity

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

With the climate change debate re-ignited by the recent bush fires, it's worth considering that if we want to change to avoid serious impacts on our lives, we need to be brave and be led by our opportunities.

While the debate around the impact of climate change and our contribution to it continues, we see more of what extended debate delivers, which is not much.

There is progress towards a positive transition, and the efforts of many cannot be discounted. But, the level of change we are seeing is way below what it needs to be if we want to escape the worst of the impacts and equally, make the most of our opportunities.

In Pilita Clark's recent AFR article "Five things I've learnt about saving the world", a few handy examples are provided of the pace of change required and the pace of change that's underway today. Clark singles out some analysis from the UK, which you would expect to be similar or to ahead of Australia in enabling a shift in our broader economy.

Professor Sir Ian Boyd, who was the UK’s chief environmental scientist for seven years until he stepped down in August.

“The net zero target is built on a wish and a prayer,” he told me. “We cannot stop greenhouse gas production without re-engineering our economy.” He thinks a net zero ministry may be needed to vet all department decisions, along with leadership and enlightened government policies which are, he says, “currently lacking”.

A taste of the challenge came in a recent UK parliamentary committee report that listed the gaps between the government’s climate aims and the policies needed to meet them.

Nearly 20,000 conventional cars should be removed from roads each week for the next 31 years on average. Last year only about 1,200 new ultra-low emissions vehicles were registered each week.

At least 15,000 homes a week should also switch from natural gas to lower carbon heating, not the 220 a week expected under current policies.

The sense of opportunity applies in Australia more than many other countries.

Opportunity 1 - limit the damage

Logically, the first opportunity any country has is to reduce the future impacts on its people. This means that while we know we have done so much damage to our atmosphere that we will wear serious impacts for the coming decades (at least), we have a chance to make it less terrible for our descendants. The tricky part of this is keeping this at front of mind for people today. It's hard to think about tomorrow's problem without focusing on today's issues. Sadly, what was seen as tomorrow's climate problem 30 years ago is right up in our grills today.

Opportunity 2 - become a renewable energy super power

Secondly, the opportunity to play a role in the positive transition is immense. In Australia we have the opportunity to become a world leader in renewable energy. The smart money and the smart people are already onto this. That's why people like Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes is investing part of his personal wealth in an audacious $25 billion project to create the world's biggest solar farm, its biggest power storage system, and a 3000-kilometre cable to export energy to Asia.

Anna Skarbek, CEO of Climate works Australia says we need to re-frame the issue to an opportunity.

"Rather than seeing the transition to clean energy as a financial burden for Australia, Ms Skarbek says it’s about seeing the opportunities we can seize. It’s an investment in the longevity of the employers in those sectors. It’s about industrial development and it’s a national prosperity issue.”

The crazy thing is, we don't need to spend that much to totally transform our country, energy system and ultimately our economy. In this article by the ABC's Nick Calvert, a nominal pool of $4 billion could easily be pulled together using the minimum amount that Australians responding to a survey said they would be comfortable to donate. This amount was $200.

While the $4 billion is conservative, the article does a wonderful job of showing how this pool could be leveraged through partnerships and smart investments to double its value in capital and assets, all while providing most houses in Australia with their own solar panels. Equally, this funding could support a just and productive transition for those working in fossil fuel industries today. This is super-important, we can't leave these people high and dry, they need to have real opportunities to play a role in new industries where the skills they have can be transferred.

Opportunity 3 - manage our everyday investments

We all know that in Australia, our biggest opportunity to invest in climate change action is through diverting our super into targeted funds. In Australia we have a superannuation pool of $2.9 trillion and the average Australian contributes around $9,000 each year. That's 45 times more than the $200 we said we stump up to save our way of life.

“Anyone interested in directing more resources to renewable energy can switch their super fund to 100 per cent fossil-fuel-free funds,” says the Chief Economist for the Australia Institute, Dr Richard Denniss.

There will be a plethora of opportunities to be part of a positive transition at an individual, business and community level. In fact these are already underway.

Opportunity 4 - disrupt the system

The simplest yet most confronting opportunity we all have is to change our habits as consumers. This means making conscious decisions each day about what we buy, how we travel and what we communicate about.

Ultimately, the opportunity we have as individual consumers is step away from the convenience and ease that guide our easy, consuming, convenient life today...easy, right?

Changing the way we commute, consume and make choices overall is a good start. The power really is in the hands of the people in this sense and while the governments will dither and debate, business, communities and individuals can take the lead and create the disruptions that we need. It sounds hard and given the system we are part of, it will be hard, but the opportunity we have is to disrupt the system to make it work for us.

So - tell me exactly what to do! I hear you say...

Well, there's a lot to cover and my blog post word limit is well in the red, but I will be back with much clearer advice from a bunch of smart people.

As you'll see in the 2040 movie, the solutions really are already out there, we just need to commit to breaking our current system down, bit by bit to make a more sustainable way of living the norm. The 2040 crew have even made an action plan online tool to help you understand what you can do and track it.

The best summary I have heard on individual actions of what we can do I have heard comes from Al Gore and his climate reality project (no surprise there). He says we can use our choices, our votes and our voice to make this happen. I would add courage to that. if we can all be brave enough to chase an opportunity for a better future, we can collectively steer the ship back on course.

Project Drawdown is a global research organization that identifies, reviews, and analyzes the most viable solutions to climate change, and shares these findings with the world.

There are many sites that can help you start to reduce your everyday waste, like Living Waste Free...

I could go on, but really the answers are out there for anyone that goes looking. To give this a real crack we need to stop being scared of it and take it head on as an opportunity.

More to come...

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