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

making the complicated simple

December 19, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, philosophy  |  2 Comments

After my wife read the first draft of this post about making things simple, she said, “you’re guilty as charged – you’ve written a complicated piece on simplicity!” She was right. Complicating things is what we tend to do. But here’s the good news. As information, the pace of change and choice grow quickly, we don’t need to roll over and accept that complexity must prevail.

Edward de Bono said, “Dealing with complexity is inefficient and an unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple”.

 I asked a friend who plays golf very well, what tuition books he reads. He replied, “a golf swing is simple mate, you just focus on the ball and hit it – constant analysis complicates it”. On reflection I thought that his comment was a poignant metaphor for life itself.

 Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple defines innovation and creativity. It’s true in technology (think Steve Jobs), art, photography, design and fashion. Coco Chanel said, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Leonardo da Vinci offered “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

 Perhaps the greatest challenge in removing complexity is in communicating simply – and this can be a real burden. Mark Twain made a telling comment “I apologise for the length of my letter, I didn’t have time to make it shorter”. It’s not hard to think of examples in our own working lives where we’ve over cooked our written and spoken communication. A former boss of mine claimed that if you couldn’t put it on one page then you didn’t understand it. Something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it.

 It’s tough getting simplicity in workplaces, where making things appear complex tends to be an art form. Jargon, sounding important and impression management are often actually rewarded in organisations. For leaders who can see the value of a simpler, more inclusive approach concerted effort to de-complicate, achieves reduced costs and mistakes, and improved morale and return on investment. Making the complex clear always helps people work smarter – because it’s a lot easier to figure out what’s important and ignore what isn’t. Note however that Einstein said that “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In our personal lives we’ve become so materialistic and self-indulgent that the next new toy or experience isn’t special for long.  Accumulation of “things” has led to clutter in both our living space and inner space.  We’ve also tended to be more excessive with what we try and fit into our lives, what we consume and the way we obsessively protect our kids. It’s also easy to allow the struggle and strife of others to become part of us – which is something the Kinks say we should eliminate in their little known song, Complicated Life.

The old saying, “less is more” resonates with me. The fewer friends, possessions, and experiences we have, the more we appreciate and enjoy them. Simple living, which is about people being satisfied with what they need rather than what they want, is different from living in poverty – it’s a lifestyle choice. The choice might be around frugality, health, ecological footprint, stress or just increased quality time. The people I know who live this way are, without exception, the happiest. The art of having less but enjoying our lives more, involves a few simple changes in perspective, like understanding where our true values lie – and focusing on them.

What else can we do? We can try to minimize the impact of negative people in our lives as part of our search for simplicity and elegance. It doesn’t mean removing ourselves from criticism, but it does mean taking control of our environment. We can also escape from the “everyday” to get doses of perspective by experiencing wilderness, meditating, and volunteering, for example.

Simplifying our unnecessarily complicated lives can also extend to what we eat. I’m reminded of my mum’s sign in her library, “live simply so others may simply live”. There’s also a lot to be gained by being more like children – learning, appreciating what’s around us, being active, having fun and above all keeping things simple. What ideas do you have for making the complicated simple?

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.

penetrating the USA market

Sustainable penetration of the lucrative US market by Australian companies is uncommon. Although there may be diminished appetite for market entry by export, investment or full participation due to current exchange rates, the US is still the king of global markets. Many Australian corporates have tried, however not many have succeeded.

Much has been written about the way Yellowtail Wines created as much value organically as Fosters paid for Beringer by acquisition, and the Westfield shopping mall penetration is well known. The successful entry of the US market by listed Australian building materials company James Hardie, is another case study that offers some valuable insights to aspirants.

James Hardie initially entered the US market in 1990 with imported fibre cement roofing and it was apparent by the early 90’s that a prospective market for siding products existed. Siding is the term used for a product we might call weatherboard, and in the USA some of the engineered wood siding products were failing in the southern States. Savvy local operators led by the current Hardie CEO, Louis Gries, made the choice clear – “there is a big market opportunity here. You can have a skimming strategy or a penetration strategy, depending on price”. The right price for a penetration strategy demanded a lower cost base.

Even with the establishment of manufacturing capacity in California, the cost base, at $400 per thousand square feet, would only enable market skimming. It needed to be $200. There were those who thought the task impossible, but the Americans, particularly those from Chicago, are real “can do” people. We assembled a team of American engineers and Australian researchers, committed between 4 and 5% of sales to R&D (an amazing level for a building materials company) and 18 months later had cracked it – a volume market strategy for the biggest building materials market in the world.

What were the critical decisions made to ensure this success?

  • Having a low cost base enabled Hardiplank to be competitively priced for volume
  • Hardie committed from the outset to putting capacity into the market ahead of demand. That takes courage and commitment.
  • Hardie built plants around freight logistics to cover targeted consumer segments
  • A brilliant, hard-nosed sales force won the hearts and minds of the dealers in a classical two step distribution model (which later incorporated direct)
  • The company used customer preference to steer the ongoing R&D with winning new products hitting the mark every time.

James Hardie penetration of the US siding market became so successful that it surprised the industry. In fact, the market was sufficiently attractive that competitors entered – some of the biggest players in the world including Saint Gobain and Temple Inland. They each spent the best part of $100 million on a single plant, only to retreat after some years.

James Hardie was able to grow market share and see off competitors not only because it had driven the cost base down, but because we had also moved way up the experience curve in the process of understanding how to produce at a lower cost. We also empowered the local operation, which had a deep understanding of the market and drove distribution decisions around freight logistics. It was also about a focused corporate and operational mindset, people determined to win and who understood that there were no quick fixes or short cuts. As the architect of the strategy and CEO who started the journey, Keith Barton, used to say….”get the conditions right and the outcomes will flow”.

Today Hardie (as it is known in the USA) owns the market. The Hardie brand has become the generic for fibre cement and the US exceeds 80% of total company revenue. Products now include siding in its many variations and backer board.

The USA new housing market will take quite a while to pick up again, but when it does, watch those fibre cement machines start pumping in the ten USA plants, strategically positioned around the USA

inspiration and longevity from gardening

inspiration and longevity from gardening

August 23, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation  |  4 Comments

I’ve just come in from an exhilarating day in the garden – made myself a vegetable plot from redgum railway sleepers – and feel motivated to post something about gardening.

Creating and/or maintaining a garden, whatever the size, nurtures the body, mind and spirit. For many people, their garden is their sanctuary, for others like me, gardening can inspire and energise.

Gardens can make us happy, heal us when sad or depressed, and help us understand profound truths about the relationship between ourselves and nature. As we journey through the seasons, the pattern of birth, bloom and decay sheds light on the mystery of being human” Albert Camus

The life and death cycle in the garden is an analogy with life itself. It provides a sense of wonder at what nature can provide. For children, seeing a pea in a pod, a bird feasting on a flower, or tasting a home grown tomato, adds a whole new dimension to our consumer and supermarket driven society. For adults, a garden can be a total escape from the things that bother us, such as technological intrusion, or unfulfilling lives…..and there’s nothing like whipping out the back to find a fresh herb to add flavour to any dish.

Eileen Campbell writes in her delightful little book, “The Joy of Gardening”, “We’ve somehow become divorced from the natural world and seem to be on a headlong course to destroy the planet one way or another. Gardening isn’t a panacea for the problems of the world, but maybe by creating our own little bit of paradise, we can make a difference. Gardening nurtures qualities like patience, optimism, trust, discipline and attention – which can ultimately help us live a fulfilled and happy life

 I was lucky to have been brought up with soil under my finger nails, enjoying the products of an extensive home vegie garden, the taste of home grown fruit and learning to appreciate the beauty of native plants. For those to whom gardening is new, don’t be intimidated by the prospect. It’s highly accessible and possible for everyone to become involved – from single room apartment balconies to sweeping arboretums.  There’s even a trend towards green walls and roofs in residential and commercial buildings. They give a sense of tranquillity, connect the inside with the outside and help the planet by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 The community garden  concept is also becoming popular around the world. Community gardens bring people together, generate fresh food and flowers, and operate on a shared work load principle. If there’s nothing in your local area, why not approach the council or park management authority to kick one off?

So, to the unconverted I suggest you get involved. While great gardens show a sense of flair and artistry, there are no rules – it’s simply a matter of getting on the court and playing. The web is full of guidance on vegetable gardening , growing herbs and even a helpful site which collates 50 blogs covering many types of gardens.

Sowing seed, watching life emerge, weeding, pruning, harvesting and clearing, give a rhythm to life and transcend time. It’s also therapeutic for the body and mind. Active gardening contributes to longevity (my unproven hypothesis) – through fresh air, sunshine, peace of mind and exercise. As the garden you have created and developed becomes part of you, then you become part of it.

Gardens also provide the chance to learn things (I’m still trying to learn how to make compost like my mother in law!) We’re increasingly being challenged to understand concepts like water use efficiency and growing plants without artificial chemicals.  You’ll find that experienced gardeners love to share their secrets with aspiring gardeners – tips like planting a passionfruit vine above a bullock’s liver, or keeping your orchids in part shade. Many of them have also grown to understand the garden as an ecosystem and have learnt about integrated pest management and the importance of soil condition. It’s a great conversation opportunity across generations.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. Show me your garden and I’ll tell you what you are” Alfred Austin

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.

we took them for granted

Flathead fillets at $45 a kg! Rabbit at $32 a kg! Individually wrapped quinces in tissue paper @ $4 each in Fourth Village Providore. Figs 2 for $5. Excuse me! Quinces and figs were left to rot on the ground 30 years ago.

Growing up in Gippsland, flathead and rabbits were accessible to any old hunter-gatherer with a fishing rod, ferret and some local knowledge. My father in law, Frank Ferrari, bought rabbits at one and six (15 cents) a pair. No-one wanted rabbit – chicken was a treat. We used to joke about Kentucky Fried Rabbit, thinking that some cheating Yank was denying consumers their advertised chicken. Now the boot’s on the other foot with the bunnies bringing three times the price of low flying pigeon.

Unwanted cuts like ox tails and lamb shanks are now making the butcher a healthy margin as Master Chef fuelled enthusiasts serve trendy comfort food. We knew they were good, but assumed they would continue to be cheap and undiscovered. Don’t tell anyone about the lamb back-straps at $5 a kg or what a Moore Park apricot straight off the tree tastes like!

What else today is relatively less affordable and less accessible than it was 30 years ago? Consider water and petrol, energy and houses, mushrooms and passionfruit.

What do we value now that we took for granted then? Consider space and silence, family time and customer service, less choice and clean air. It’s interesting to see how making a virtue of the fact there’s no mobile phone reception at Corinna (an eco-tourism destination on Tasmania’s west coast), resonates with guests. A temporary escape from a wired and complex world!

We’ve seen a revival of home gardens and of course the farmer’s market phenomenon has caught on like wildfire (sadly to the point of opportunistic commercialisation in some cases). I reflect on the paradox of cocooning on the one hand and connectedness on the other, as we react and learn to cope with a constantly changing world, and as we search for authenticity over superficiality.

Many goods and services are becoming more affordable and accessible, but the interesting question is, “What are we taking for granted today that will be more valued in 30 years from now?” What do you think?

provenance in the tamar valley

provenance in the tamar valley

March 18, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, main blog, motivation  |  4 Comments

Imagine receiving a box of fruit and vegies once a week, packed full of fresh seasonal produce with a story about where they were grown. Carrots and spuds with soil on them, new seasons apples, tomatoes that taste like the ones you grow in the back yard, rhubarb and fresh lettuce, as well as mushrooms and onions (and whatever else is in season at a point in time) – all for $25, on your doorstep!

Across Australia, there is a groundswell of sourcing fresh locally grown produce from farmers markets. My friends Hilary and Barney near Lilydale in the Tamar Valley of Tasmania, have taken this one step further. They have developed a network of local providers who provide fruit and vegetables in season for Hilbarn. The producer is packed with a team of local people every Sunday night ready for despatch the next morning. An emerging distribution network has the Hilbarn box delivered to more than 100 loyal customers in Launceston, Scottsdale and even Hobart, every Monday.

We were lucky to see this in action recently and even helped with the packing. The idea is brilliant! It embraces the concept of provenance, or understanding origin. The regional and local sourcing has obvious carbon, energy and employment benefits, but also engenders a sense of community and belonging that adds another dimension and level of appreciation and understanding.

The contents of the Hilbarn box are a talking point. There is an element of surprise and even education. Hilary related the story of children realising for the first time that peas come in pods rather than packets. The sense of discovery and infectious involvement is exciting. People have even described themselves as “Hilbarners” (a marketer’s dream).

Hi and Barney do this because they love it. Although they are establishing a potentially powerful brand and concept, they would never sell out to the big retailers whose philosophies just don’t align. This is grass roots, local and powerful. It was a privilege to see it in action and I salute these two visionary people who are bringing growers and consumers together in a very satisfying and meaningful way.