climate change and director responsibilities

When the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is no longer in dispute, it is unthinkable that there are directors of publicly listed companies who admit to be climate change deniers.  There is no longer any scope for deniers to cling to their ideological positions, even if encouraged by sceptics in Government, certain political donors and their sympathisers. See an earlier post on conservative ideology and climate change.

Some recent work by a special counsel at Minter Ellison, Sarah Barker, has highlighted the fact that climate change deniers who are company directors are likely to breach their duty of care.

Sarah has two decades experience on advising governance, disclosure and fiduciary duty issues and was recently acknowledged by the United Nations PRI for her recent work on directors duties and climate change.

As Chairman of Regnan, Australia’s leading governance advisory and engagement body, I am particularly interested in Sarah’s paper and its implications for corporate Australia. The abstract, quoted with permission, reads as follows:

“The science relating to anthropogenic climate change is no longer in credible dispute. With its physical and economic impacts increasingly observed, the attention of legal commentators has begun to broaden from responsibility for emissions mitigation to liability for climate change induced harms.

 At the same time, Courts are demanding higher standards of proactivity and engagement from corporate boards in order to satisfy their statutory directors’ duties.

This paper combines, and extends, those two areas of scholarship by examining whether common corporate governance approaches to climate change may contravene directors’ primary duties under Chapter 2D of the Corporations Act.

 It concludes that, even where directors’ subjective bona fides are not in question, passivity, reactivity or inactivity on climate change governance is increasingly likely to contravene the duty of care and diligence under section 180(1) of the Corporations Act, and increasingly unlikely to satisfy the ‘business judgment rule’ defence under section 180(2). This includes governance strategies that emanate from climate change denial, a failure to consider its impacts due to ignorance or unreflective assumption, paralysis caused by the inherent uncertainty of its magnitude and timing, or a default to a base set by regulators or industry peers. In addition, even considered decisions to prevail with ‘business as usual’ are increasingly unlikely to satisfy the duty (or the business judgment rule defence) – particularly if they are the product of a conventional methodology that fails to recognise the unprecedented challenges presented by an erratically changing climate. In addition, whilst unorthodox, it is reasonably arguable that a failure to actively consider the impacts of climate change may also breach the duty to act in good faith in the best interests of the corporation under section 181.

 Accordingly, directors who do not proactively respond to the commercial risks and opportunities of climate change, now, may be held to account under the Corporations Act if corporate value becomes impaired into the future”

 Maybe activist investors will start to demand  board change and directors who are climate change deniers will eventually be forced to step aside. A better outcome would be for them to acknowledge  that their own views and the overwhelming scientific evidence are at odds, and to further reflect on that Sarah’s paper may have implications for them.

pain or gain from structural change?

pain or gain from structural change?

Fanned by the hurricane that is the digital world, creeping globalisation and undeniable climate change, mature economies are undergoing huge structural change. Christopher Rollyson argues that the major driver of change is actually people placing greater value on consumer experience.  They demand better choice, access, convenience and quality at a time when consumer power has never been stronger.

The pace of change is certainly accelerating, as is the noise from many affected by job losses in industries like manufacturing, retail and traditional media. There are plenty of ostriches playing the blame game – “It’s the carbon tax!” (even before its introduction) or, “it’s Fair Work Australia” or “it’s the exchange rate”. Conditioned by a legacy of handouts and bailouts, the complaints are also generally accompanied by calls for the government “to do something”.

Fortunately, there are also business leaders who see the change towards a knowledge economy as an opportunity rather than a problem. Peter Roberts’ recent piece in The Australian Financial Review highlights how enlightened companies are finding the way to adapt and benefit. He cites companies like GE, which has identified $30 billion of near term opportunities in Australia in areas like LNG and wind power. We don’t all have the deep pockets of GE, but there are other impressive examples of adaption to a changing world, such as the gradual transition of LJ Hooker from property developer to sustainability manager. My own experience suggests organisations that embrace environmental and sustainability challenges, tend to drive costs down and foster innovation more rapidly than those that choose to treat them as an imposition.

The knowledge economy isn’t the exclusive domain of high tech and big companies. In reality, the biggest changes will come from the application of innovation and knowledge in the low to medium technology sectors, which form the bulk of the economy. These sectors include food processing, transport, the hospitality industry, and service industries in general. They provide the possibility for intelligent customer-focused business solutions that will attract consumers like magnets.

Julian Cribb has written a compelling opinion piece called Australia in 2050. He paints a picture of the biggest economic driver being knowledge (including technology and advice) and thebiggest export sector climate adaptation, where we use our own natural climate volatility experience as an intellectual springboard for creating new industries. Opportunities will span food production, water management, construction of homes and workplaces, urban design and tropical medicine.

What can governments do? The most relevant policy responses are likely to be around supporting financial pressures borne by innovative firms, and re-focusing the role of Australia’s knowledge infrastructure, particularly universities and scientific institutions. There will also need to be a much greater commitment to R&D, in the way that China has committed to spend an incredible 2.2% of GDP annually ($320 billion) on R&D in the latest five year plan. Such responses are required to diminish the debilitating brain drain from Australia to places like Silicon Valley. We need to see the level of debate about our rapidly changing economy, migrate from whingeing and blame, to insight and possibility.

image by jason hoover

framing a vision for the tarkine

framing a vision for the tarkine

Last year the battles were about logging native timber in the Tarkine, right now it’s about mining. On the one hand there is the economic growth argument about extracting valuable minerals, and on the other the recognition of the significance of the ecosystem. Finding sensible solutions must start with an understanding of the place and the issues, and finish with a spirit of compromise, because there are no right answers in these debates.

There’s no doubt that the Tarkine is one of the world’s great wild places. It is a landscape of such breathtaking beauty that it is impossible not to love it. It is an expansive 447,000 hectare wilderness area which contains remarkable natural and cultural values, including one of the world’s most significant remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

 The Tarkine is now generally recognised as that part of north west Tasmania bounded by the Arthur River and its tributaries to the north, the Pieman River to the south, the Murchison Highway to the east and the Southern Ocean to the west. Most of the land is either managed by Forestry Tasmania or the Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the Tarkine is listed on the Register of the National Estate and there are a number of reserves that provide the Tarkine with some level of conservation protection.  

The Cradle Coast Authority Master Plan for the Tarkine describes it as, “a place of sustenance for its inhabitants, a breathtaking, fragile wilderness for those in search of renewal, a robust landscape rich in minerals and forest resources, and a playground for the communities that surround it”. 

The Tarkine is Australia’s most significant tract of rainforest wilderness and Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness area. It is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as “one of the world’s great archeological regions” with aboriginal middens, artefacts and rock carvings that predate the pyramids. 

There’s been much debate and emotion about land use priorities in the area – for tourism access, primary production, logging and mining. Conservationists have sought to have the Tarkine classified under the world heritage listing. The Forests Agreement of September 2011 has brought timber industry and conservationists closer, although many issues remained unresolved. Tasmania, now facing reductions in contribution from commercial timber, is increasingly looking to the resources sector for economic growth.

How do we, as stewards of this 60 million year old wilderness, make sensible decisions on its future at any point in time? We can rest assured that it will involve compromise from all sides. As a plan is developed for the Tarkine, some guiding principles are needed, and these might be a good start:

  1. Manage the Tarkine for multiple end use according to the sensitivity and significance of particular areas, rather than lock it up
  2. Special parts of the Tarkine, notably the primary rainforest, should be totally protected from logging, mining and recreational vehicles (these areas may be the focus of world heritage)
  3. Controlled tourism access that leaves no footprint should be encouraged
  4. Community involvement in decision making is essential

 Such guidelines need fleshing out and adding to. They may well end up allowing a flourishing adventure tourism industry based on walking, some selective logging for value added timber in agreed areas and mining with appropriate rehabilitation, in areas other than primary rainforest. Honey production and agriculture in existing cleared areas would sit comfortably under these guidelines.

 They would not, however, allow clear felling of native timber in the region, nor allow projects such as the proposed open cut tin and tungsten mine in primary rainforest at Mount Lindsay by Venture Minerals. That particular proposal, for a 3.5km x 3km 200 metre deep mine, is not within the scope of these guidelines. It’s also the sort of project that depends on the price of tin to be high for its sustainability.

 If the right information is gathered and shared, and if there is willingness to compromise, worthwhile outcomes can flow. They will only be forged by people working together. As the old African proverb goes:

“if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

We also need to remember that we are transitory human beings making decisions in a microsecond of time, in the context of what has gone before us.

australia's corporate blindspots

australia’s corporate blindspots

Inspiring case studies about Asian market penetration, leadership in technology and global excellence in sustainability programs, show what Australia is capable of. However, across the ASX 200 and beyond, we tend to lag in some game-changing areas. While it’s risky to generalise, I believe that corporate Australia tends to underestimate three important strategic themes:

  1. Fully understanding the impact of China on a number of fronts – as it shifts from a low cost manufacturing base to the biggest consumer market in the world; as it moves from a user of technology to a creator of technology (2.2% of GDP in the next five year plan on R&D); and as the need for primary resources (minerals and food) continues to grow. Geoff Raby, retiring Australian Ambassador to China, said that the one thing that surprised him most about his time in Beijing, was how few CEO’s and Chairs of Australian companies paid him a visit.
  2. Treating environmental and sustainable challenges as opportunities rather than impositions. There are many ASX 200 companies with lengthy annual sustainability reports, however few demonstrate genuine belief that environmental responsibility and growing profitability are not mutually exclusive. We desperately need a mindset shift from compliance and complaint, to realism and possibility.
  3. Recognising the value of leading rather than lagging in embracing digital technology-based innovation. Although there is variation in responsiveness within the sectors, media and retail are two sectors which have been caught asleep at the wheel. Is this an age related phenomenon – as older people are in positions of responsibility? How many senior executives and directors have you heard pass off Twitter as being frivolous, rather than seeing its potential as a primary source of focused information? Yet I know many savvy over 60’s behaving like digital natives. No, it’s not age per se; it’s about mindset, openness to change and awareness.

In a global context, Australia business has performed relatively well in the last decade, supported by resources based economic growth, a sound banking and legal system and excellent corporate governance. After the GFC, some observers have suggested that this same good governance has trended towards risk aversion and consequent inertia.

As the world is turned on its head by the digital revolution, major shifts in the global economic balance, and the need to resuscitate an environmentally struggling planet, there is no room for board and executive risk aversion in these areas. While being in the “late adopter” or “laggard” group may not have threatened company survival in the past, today’s environment calls for a positioning as “early adopters” at worst, and “innovators” at best.

Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital, goes even further in suggesting that any board of directors or group of managers who are not moving fast to understand and harness changes that technology is delivering – social media, cloud computing, mobile devices and data – is abrogating its responsibility to deliver leadership and governance.

Over the next ten to twenty years, the future of Australia will be fall into three main areas – primary resources (minerals and food); the service economy, and the knowledge economy. Julian Cribb believes that by 2050, our economy could be 70% knowledge based. In China last month I saw evidence of the emerging demand for our capabilities in disciplines like urban planning, agricultural science, energy, information technology, architecture, engineering, water management and medicine. We have a long way to go to understand the scope and shape of that knowledge economy, let alone create it. The building blocks exist, but success will depend on the ability of corporate (and political) Australia to gain insights and show leadership in the three areas that we underestimate.

What can we do? CEO’s need to get on the court and play – go to China and understand the market and people. Get immersed in the new technology – as ABC CEO Mark Scott does, personally sending 140 relevant tweets a week. He knows the medium and can talk the language because he has become involved. Shift from a mindset of lobbying Government about regulation, to one of understanding which way the wind is blowing and putting up the spinnaker. Get rid of dead wood on boards – people who are reluctant to change and enjoy peer group support for their scepticism. Much focus is given to gender diversity on boards – we need some mindset diversity as well! It’s not too late but we need to act quickly.

australia's creeping inertia

australia’s creeping inertia

There are many things that fill me with pride as an Australian. There are others about which I am increasingly embarrassed. We all have long lists on both sides of that ledger. The one which disturbs me most, and which can most impact our long term prosperity, is inertia.

I’ve been in the UAE, China and Singapore recently and returned wondering why we’re being beaten hands down in development of convention centres, bullet trains, sustainability programs, new hotels, freeways, and even knowledge economies. The world is moving at an incredible pace. In many areas, we seem to lag, even behind the developing world. Why?

Within the context of “free market” principles, national sovereignty is diminished as global markets, multinational corporations and global institutions play a major role in shaping our economy. While these forces also prevail in emerging markets like China, they are matched by a hunger to catch up and exceed, which is strongly nurtured by State. By contrast, inertia is rife in Australia, not so much in the private sector, but certainly in public policy.

 I’ve spoken with a few wise heads to get an angle on our malaise (in the spirit of “first seek to understand”) and have developed some thoughts. I wondered whether to tackle the ultimate sacred cow by asking “is democracy itself the problem – and do democracies inevitably tend to inertia?” On reflection, I think the issue is more the way our democracy is manifested. Australian democracy today is being impacted by four forces:

  1. The shape of politics today

- Reform is always slow and politics is about compromise  – a challenge enhanced by the current political mix. Without masterful negotiations or bipartisan support for reform, we have a melting pot for inertia.

- As membership of, and interest in, political parties diminishes, the influence of factions and divisions increases, resulting in a sub optimal mix of candidates. There are too many poor performers, insufficient diversity, too many lawyers and union officials, too few business people and visionaries. As a consequence, we have fewer issues focused debates and more fixed partisan positions, with vested interests buried in ideology and inaction.

      2.    Our relative comfort and apathy

Australians have not faced any prolonged shock or discomfort since the end of the WW2 more than 60 years ago. While there is poverty and disadvantage in our country, standards of living have continued to improve. As consumerism grows and people increasingly “have what they want when they want it”, they are becoming less happy, readier to find fault and carry a higher expectation for “the Government” to fix things. We’ve become more apathetic and short sighted and this flows on to major projects – where is the next Opera House, Harbour Bridge or renewed public transport system? Are they a priority today?

      3.   Media

Lack of media diversity and standards is a major concern. In many of Australia’s media markets, only one single company dominates.  John Faulkner captures the argument – “the media’s freedom to publish was once a safeguard for our democracy. Today, as trash tabloids and opinion-for-hire commentators destroy any semblance of a debate of ideas, the principle of informed decision-making at the heart of the ideal of democracy drowns beneath racy headlines and print-now, retract-later coverage. Radio shock-jocks and shallow television infotainment do the same”.

         4.    The digital revolution

Technology has shrunk and accelerated our world, generated more choice and shortened our attention spans. There are greater demands on our time and more attention to the short term than the longer term.  Faulkner again – “opinion pollsters report a lack of interest or understanding in politics from the very same people racking up massive mobile bills voting for an Australian Idol contestant. This disinterest breeds a vicious cycle, for those who don’t speak up will find nothing so certain as that they won’t be heard”

Solutions?

These four elements are causing indifference, distrust and disengagement about politics and democracy – and apathy about our future. What can we do? Here are four thought starters:

  • Achieve electoral reform at candidate selection level through absolute transparency
  • Win bipartisan support for application of the benefits of the resources boom into infrastructure and other long term benefits, such as creating a knowledge economy
  • Overhaul media laws to achieve diversity, debate and responsible reporting with a view to the future of the country and the globe – not just selling papers. As this is being posted, there are cries for a media review based on the events in News Corp.
  • As individuals, bother to be heard. The world is changing and solutions are not always driven in the traditional way. Look at what GetUp is achieving, for example.

We must achieve major reform and progress in these relatively strong economic times, rather than having to wait to react in the bad times. What about a sovereign fund? That aside, it’s up to us all to make a difference, in a democracy that’s tested but not broken.

climate change attitudes part two

climate change attitudes part two

Encouraged by responses to my blog post last week on the role of ideology in driving opinions on climate change, I feel the need to follow up with another post based on the release of Lowy polling over the weekend. Why does community concern about climate changed appeared to have softened in Australia?

The annual Lowy Institute Polls on public opinion are useful background information. In the 2007 poll, Australians ranked tackling climate change as the equal most important foreign policy goal. In the same poll in 2009, it ranked seventh out of ten possible goals.  In the 2011 poll, released this week, 39% of Australians were not prepared to spend a cent on global warming, with the numbers prepared to take action even with “significant cost” falling from 60% (2008), to 41% (2011). What’s happened?

Remember the Howard Government’s plans to commence an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2007? Despite differences of opinion around the edges, there appeared to be general bipartisan recognition of the issues and the need to act through a market based mechanism. It was carried forward by Rudd and Turnbull in their respective leadership roles. What has changed? In my view, it’s mostly to do with politics and communication.

Although climate change remains a complex and challenging issue around the world, in Australia and to a certain extent in the USA, the debate has been politicised and people’s inner worldview, and the opinions of their peer groups has prevailed. Apart from some of independent thought, people have now tended to line up along traditional conservative and progressive lines. The other driver of confusion, indifference and resistance has been the inability of the Rudd and Gillard Governments to adequately articulate the issues and the case for action – a disappointing lost opportunity for the Government and Australia.

Why have things become more politicised in recent times? In my blog post last week, I discussed the reasons why many conservatives may push back from acceptance of, and the need to act on, Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).The theme I didn’t develop is the disproportionate influence of the religious right, many of whom adopt literal interpretations of the bible such as, “the world will end when God is ready”. It underpins the mindsets of many in the Tea Party in the USA and conservatives in Australia with strong influence. It is proving to be a significant contributor to the polarisation and politicisation of the issue.

Other contributors are some of the positions offered by the “dark greens”, who tend to crusade on issues rather than see them in the context of a dynamic and finely balanced economy. This causes reactions, push back and further polarisation. We need to understand the respective positions, debate the issues, play the ball not the man and work together with open minds. Failure to do so will cause more and more people to switch off altogether.

Of course it’s hard for people to give things up to fight a cause which is difficult to see and understand. AGW is a global issue and there are now more than 30 countries with an ETS or some form of carbon tax and many more without such measures. While there is a majority belief that action needs to be taken by Australia on climate change (latest CSIRO survey), this belief seems tempered by the respondents’ key concerns about the cost of living and financial hardship.

Perhaps the essential challenge for society is to clarify the relatively minor costs of acting now compared to those of acting later. We need to find a path forward that proactively addresses the needs of individuals while encouraging action on climate change.

In Australia, the polarisation and politicisation of AGW is disappointing and short sighted. Both sides of politics are guilty and should lead the chorus of apologies to our children for our collective inability to lead, build consensus and act. The apologies will be all too late when decision makers “get it” in 20 years; when people can actually see that the melting of the polar ice caps has caused devastation to hundreds of millions of human beings; when they can ultimately see before them the outcomes that the ostriches said wouldn’t happen in 2011.

Sadly, by then it may well be too late to save this planet from irreversible damage. Sometimes it is necessary to lead rather than look in the rear vision mirror and ask people what they think. To reinforce the point, watch James Hansen talking with David Letterman in an entertaining yet disturbing treatment of the subject.

Seduced by the prospect of power at the next election, both sides of Australian politics have dropped the ball. The Government has done a lousy job in building consensus and articulating why they feel the need to act. The Opposition has passed up a once in a generation chance to show bipartisan leadership on an issue which will affect the planet, and the lives of all future generations.

conservative ideology and climate change

conservative ideology and climate change

I see that lobbyists are paying to bring Christopher Monckton – the high-profile climate denier – on another speaking tour of Australia. Earlier this month, Monckton accused Australia’s climate advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, of being a fascist. People’s behaviour in the climate change debate, or what passes for sensible debate in this country, has been interesting and frustrating. Denial and spoiling tactics have been adopted by people who seem to carry an agenda. It is an immutable fact that the vast majority of these people are conservatives and reactionaries, rather than progressives and true liberals. Apart from their characteristic resistance to change, I’ve struggled to understand this particular conservative rationale and driving purpose, until reading the insights presented by Tim Dean in the Drum in March 2011.

 My blog post is stimulated by his piece, but largely expresses my own frustration with the situation we find ourselves in today. Of course, these views don’t apply to all climate change deniers or all conservatives. I am trying to understand the motives of deniers rather than to bash them. It is not about conservatives being bad and progressives being good. Clearly all conservatives and progressives don’t think and behave in the same way and not everyone will agree with this generalisation of the conservative view, however analysis of specific demographics, ideologies and patterns of behaviour can be instructive.

Why is it that so many conservatives appear immune to the overwhelming scientific evidence and rational argument that suggests Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real? The answer may lie in the fact that to conservatives, climate change is not about science or economics – it is about an ideology and politics, as Clive Hamilton points out in his book “Requiem for a Species”. Most of us decide at some time or other where our political beliefs sit and rarely stray from this belief. When a concept like AGW comes along, we tend to reference our political belief system before assessing the evidence. When facts don’t support the pre-existing belief system, then the facts must be wrong! Often rational thought processes are subsumed in the emotional responses to challenges to a political belief system or to our implicit worldview. AGW represents a fundamental threat to the conservative ideology or worldview. Denying it doesn’t make climate change go away, it only makes dealing with it even harder, for us and future generations. There is also an argument that the more climate change is associated with the Greens, the left and environmentalists, the less comfortable conservatives are about embracing it.

 Various Newspoll and other polls have consistently shown that a big proportion of the conservative demographic behaving as climate change deniers, are over 50 year old males. Why? Maybe they want to eliminate challenges to their comfortable existence, despite the consequences for future generations, at any cost. Dealing with climate change is uncomfortable for many of them as it requires, at least to some degree, embracing social consciousness and stepping away from selfishness and mass consumerism. Unfortunately the vested interest of many conservatives is so strong that only climate related disasters of increasingly devastating magnitude, which personally affect them, will have any chance of changing their world view.

 The one thing that intrigues me is the veracity of their sense of purpose on this issue and their relative indifference to other issues. Maybe it relates to control – one thing this demographic holds disproportionately strongly. The thought of losing control of control, control of wealth, and control of assets certainly sharpens their minds, as do potential changes in power relationships in society. But have they really thought things through? Ironically, conservatives have the most to lose from the impact of AGW, as they control most of the money! Why can’t conservatives see nature as an asset that supports humanity? Failure to do so is to support an unsustainable world. Perhaps, as Lewansoky points out, conservatives with a free market ideology will be more able to accept AGW science when it is framed in a favourable context (lots of technology, opportunities to make money etc.)

 In even further irony, the tactics many deniers adopt, either deliberately or unknowingly, generally become supporting proof for the issue they are trying to discredit. Spoiling tactics take on many forms including exaggeration of potential harm, use of irrelevant issues, appeals to personal freedom and magnifying disagreement among scientists. Suddenly, non-scientists claim that science is about opinion rather than fact. Or they talk of the need for more peer review. Clutching at straws, they selectively search the haystack to find the needle represented by a dissenting scientist. Whether by ignorance or spoiling, they confuse weather patterns with climatic change. They confuse El Nino and La Nina cycles, and Ice Age effects, with AGW. They reserve the right to “make up their own minds” on this issue, while accepting what science says as the truth on other issues.

When their arguments start to flounder, they resort to saying that Australia (as the biggest per capita polluter in the world) shouldn’t act because the rest of the world isn’t acting! You should see the massive greenhouse gas reduction programs in the latest 5 year plan for China!! When all else fails, they play the man rather than the ball, attacking the motives and integrity of the scientists.  Assisted by News Limited media and “shockjocks”, who have irresponsibly confounded the debate on this subject in Australia, they throw mud so that some sticks, causing doubt where there should be acceptance and a desire to understand more and seek the best solutions. Please forgive me for drawing the analogy with conservative Anglicans who thought that Darwin was a left wing activist as he used massive amounts of scientific evidence to overthrow dogma and ignorance.

 Perhaps we should cut some slack to those people not trained as scientists, because they don’t know what they don’t know. Doing post graduate science, I can remember my professor saying, “a science graduate is a person who is introduced to bodies of knowledge in such a way that he or she can continue to relate to them”. The undergraduate degree taught us to gather evidence, test, analyseand think in a logical way and establish hypotheses that can be subsequently confirmed. I’ve heard deniers and sceptics who claim to have better knowledge and the right to be heard as they have “read many books on the subject”, yet understand neither the concepts of theory, probability and proof in a scientific context. It’s amazing how many of them believe they have the technical and intellectual capacity to look at the data themselves and arrive at the correct conclusion, and how their conclusions are radically different to those with the relevant training and expertise. Then there are others – people with a genuine desire to learn, who are vulnerable to manipulation by legitimate sounding conservatives without adequate science, and to the propaganda of some hard line Christians and the resources sector lobby.

 Climate change deniers don’t have a mortgage on being selective in the information they seek and use to support their ideologies. While progressives are more accepting of the science, they can also be selective in mounting their arguments, and can also be driven by their own worldview. So how do we break the deadlock of our implicit, and often irrational, worldviews or our political attitudes? The circuit breaker is awareness. When considering an issue such as AGW, we should pause and reflect on whether our feelings are inspired by evidence and reason, or by a strong emotional inclination. Think about how we’re approaching the issue, and how we’re injecting it with value, and the benefits of keeping an open mind.

 Science has established beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect (without which our planet would be a frozen wasteland), increases in CO2 levels produced by humans and increases in global average temperatures. The science has also established, on the balance of probabilities to at least a 90% level, that humans are the primary cause of that change. We should be at consensus on this point and now be sensibly considering what action to take. That’s the subject of another blog post.

cultivating an open mind

cultivating an open mind

Most of us claim to have an open mind, but we often stop walking the talk when it comes to certain beliefs and opinions, some which can be held dogmatically. Dogma can lead to intolerance (does anyone spring to mind?)  No matter how open minded we think we are, we still shut off new things or alternative perspectives, just not realising the rut we’re in.

An open mind doesn’t mean that we fail to develop convictions, rather it means being able to question things – even our central beliefs. It gives us the capacity to think on both sides of an argument, and the chance to grow, and to change. I was surprised, early in my career, to see the reluctance of people to embrace change, and so developed an appetite for helping people and organisations accept and grow with change.

There are two paradoxes associated with change. Firstly, to achieve continuity, we have to be willing to change. Change is in fact the only way to protect what exists, for without continuous readjustment the present can’t continue. A marriage, a career, a dream for the future are all destroyed if they don’t change over time. The second paradox is that the very things we wish to hold on to and keep safe from change, were originally produced by changes.

Having an open mind takes courage, because it challenges our minds. After all, we can decide whether we want to be disturbed or remain in the comfort zone, both personally and professionally.  I think that the keys to an open mind are curiosity, and affirmative listening. When we listen affirmatively we listen for the possibilities for ourselves and others, we hear more than the words, and we hear the person behind the words. 

Being open minded keeps alive the childlike appetite for what’s next, and enriches our lives. This often occurs through working together with like-minded people to express our own values, but can also occur through partnerships that are not as obvious.

There are many examples of people with different mindsets and beliefs coming together to achieve amazing things. In these cases, on open mind or a willingness to overcome barriers to partnerships that don’t come naturally, is important.

 I continue to be excited about the possibilities around partnerships across generations. Business and life experiences with my children and their mates have been inspiring. They bring fresh ideas, hunger and new skill sets to the table of experience and wisdom. There are so many opportunities for young people and older people to work effectively together. Bring it on! Combine the dreamers and the pragmatists, the wired and the wise to capture the benefits of mutual learning, and the different perspectives that resonate with different audiences….and do it with an open mind.

Can I challenge you this week to take on one thing that you’ve made your mind up about….and open it?

reality of climate change - the trees don't lie

reality of climate change – the trees don’t lie

A few weeks ago, I was standing in awe of the forest giants in the world’s second largest temperate rainforest, the Tarkine, in Tasmania’s north-west. Little did I know that these trees are silent recorders of the environment. Not until Mike Peterson, an experienced forester, unlocked the secrets of dendrochronology – or tree ring analysis.

Many trees produce a single ring of growth in a year. Because climate and environment affect the way trees grow, the size of the annual rings varies from year to year. Dendrochronology requires knowledge of the exact years during which individual rings grew, which is achieved by carbon dating technology. In Tasmania, 1500 year old Huon pines from Mount Read have been cored with a small 5mm increment borer, and with other samples from dead tress and partially buried logs in the stand, it has been possible for tree ring scientists to develop a chronolgy of more than 4000 years.

Climatologists use the statistical association between ring width and weather data to estimate climate variation in the past. Mike sidled up to the back of his ute and pulled out some cores from old Huon Pine specimens that dated back more than 1000 years. He then showed me his published work, in conjunction with the University of Tasmania, on temperature variation over this period. Guess what? There was about 0.5 degrees Celsius of average variation for the entire 1000 year period until we get to the 1960′s. From that time on, the tree rings suggest that temperatures have climbed an incredible 1.0 to 1.5 degrees Celsius in an unbroken upward trend line. The trees don’t lie. They are detecting and recording global warming, deep in the Tasmanian rainforest.

I was amazed at what I’d been shown, not that I need any convincing about global warming, and the contribution of man to it – and yet the sceptics continue to give our decision makers licence to stall action. John Quiggin (AFR Feb 3, 2011 – no hyperlink because of Fairfax content charging policy!) captures my perspective when he argues that “the spoilers generally lack the understanding of basic statistical analysis of trends in time series, or the fundamentals of the greenhouse effect. Worse, they haven’t bothered to learn”. Regardless of their scepticism in the light of overwhelming scientific evidence, it would be pretty hard for these people to mount effective arguments against the evidence that I saw – presented first hand by the mighty Huon Pines of  Tasmania.

If you’re really interested in the subject, then you might even be interested in attending the second Asian Dendrochronology Conference in Xian, China in August 2011! And I’ve just heard that the next major international conference “World Dendro 2014″, will be held in Melbourne, with several excursions and field studies planned for Tasmania.

the dignity of man

It is a while since I blogged and I understand the need for regularity – so please accept my apologies. Here is the first in an eclectic series for 2011.

Occasionally, we intersect with special people in our lives. I had the privilege of working on the Board of one of the few remaining Australian manufacturing companies with such a person for four years. He has a wonderful human touch that seems to accompany respectful people who have that precious ability to listen.

There is no need for this man to be humble, but like many great leaders he is.  He ran Mitsubishi in Australia for seven years and knows more about lean manufacturing than anyone outside Japan. He received the Centenary of Federation Medal for services to the automobile industry. He also ran GNB Batteries and Pacific Dunlop in the USA and mixed it with people like Hilary Clinton and Sam Walton. Some of his stories about Sam are both instructive and amusing.

His name is Graham Spurling – a giant of a man with a unique ability to give “tough love” in the work environment and gentle love in the personal sphere. Graham was a champion of environmental and community responsibility long before they sat on board checklists. As we walked the factory floor, Graham taught us the principles of eliminating hard work, of the dignity of men (and women) in factories and the importance of evaluating change programs through the eyes of the worker. He is the only Director I have ever seen put on a pair of gloves and lift a piece of steel to check how much the workers were being asked to lift. Graham, I salute you, just as many others did when you were a respected Major in the Australian Army Reserve.

Graham, like many good scientists, engineers and leaders, showed us the value of a planned approach and of rigorous analysis to solve problems. His creativity and lateral thinking also surfaced, as they did in his recent proposal to the Government to have one car manufacturing plant in Australia. The logic was compelling (and still is), but the challenge was too hard politically, going the same way as many other value adding  mid to long term projects at State and Commonwealth level. Populism and opportunism prevail!

Today, Graham chairs the prospective junior miner, Phoenix Copper. He is also a much admired figure in his home town of Adelaide where he is tireless in making contributions to society as a mentor, visionary and philanthropist. If you are travelling in the southern Flinders Ranges near Melrose, you might find Graham at his North Star Hotel or at his Bundaleer winery, extolling the virtues of his sparkling shiraz, or discussing an issue of the day with one of the customers. Ask him about the car industry or about the dignity of man. You might get a twenty first century version of the famous fifteenth century Pico della Mirandola oration.