Sustainability Bites

There is no such thing as a free lunch

David Salt

BAU and the green button syndrome – it’s the end of the world as we know it, so push the button again

BAU and the green button syndrome – it’s the end of the world as we know it, so push the button again

To quote a much (over) used aphorism, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ It sums up our approach to sustainability. I call this the ‘green button syndrome’, and to appreciate it, think of the world as a photocopier. It’s also a good way of understanding our policy response to mass coral bleaching.

This is not ‘higher than average’, this is the new normal

This is not ‘higher than average’, this is the new normal

NOAA has declared a Global Mass Bleaching Event and Australia’s Prime Minister races to the Great Barrier Reef to make an announcement! At last, the world is responding to the existential threat of climate change. But wait, what’s this; the PM is actually in Gladstone (at the southern end of the GBR) to celebrate the shipping of fossil fuel to Asia! Is this some sick parody? No, it’s real life. Welcome to the new normal – just like the old normal but with none of the certainty we once all enjoyed.

The cognitive dissonance in dealing with mass coral bleaching

The cognitive dissonance in dealing with mass coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef is facing an existential threat of our own making. We know what the solution is but our current governance around the Reef is inadequate to meet the challenge.
We can’t speak truth to power; science does not guide our decision making; and we can’t acknowledge that current economic priorities (and vested interests) mean that “the best managed reef ecosystems in the world” is being hung out to bleach.

Trump and the crazy ants – focus on the system, not the symptom

Trump and the crazy ants – focus on the system, not the symptom

‘Trumpism’ is a bit like crazy ants? Both require certain system conditions for them to become super pests. Throwing Trump in jail won’t remove the threat. The conditions for Trump’s ascendency are still present and will enable the next ‘crazy man’ to do just as much damage. We need to remediate the craziness and address the gaps in society that let so many people believe the system isn’t working for them.

Crushing the doughnut: A mud map on how we’re going on ‘sustainability’

Crushing the doughnut: A mud map on how we’re going on ‘sustainability’

The concept of doughnut economics incorporates both biophysical elements and social justice elements in one framing, something few other approaches to sustainability do in a comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, 2023 is revealing solid evidence that the doughnut of sustainability is being remorselessly crushed. We’re breaching our ecological ceiling at the same time we are failing on most of our internationally agreed minimum social standards. Humanity’s space for sustainability is shrinking before our eyes, right at the same time climate disruption is beginning to tear apart society’s foundations.

Joining the dots (Part II) – insurance, the law, and the cost of living as the climate boils

Joining the dots (Part II) – insurance, the law, and the cost of living as the climate boils

While it is apparent that society can turn a blind eye to bleaching coral reefs, burning forest biomes and flooding cities, it seems everyone is angry about the rising cost of living and unaffordable insurance. And when voters get really angry, politicians start actually doing something. When it comes to climate disruption, that includes taking climate criminals (ie, the fossil fuel sector) to court. Could it be we are beginning to join the dots on climate boiling?

Joining the dots (part I): The garden shed as metaphor

Joining the dots (part I): The garden shed as metaphor

Unfortunately, as the last two years are demonstrating (AND SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN PREDICTING FOR THE LAST HALF CENTURY!), climate change means the past is no longer a guide to the future. All other things are no longer equal because human modification of the Earth system means it is behaving with no historical analogues. And the disruption is set to accelerate. Sometimes, to join the dots, you have stop looking at the big picture and focus on smaller things – like the leaky garden shed in my backyard.

Fiddling while Rome burns – Delay follows denial, let me count the ways

Fiddling while Rome burns – Delay follows denial, let me count the ways

There’s probably not a government on this planet that isn’t telling its people they acknowledge climate change and are making ‘serious’ efforts to combat it. However, in the parentheses at the end of every proclamation is the implicit (sometime explicit) caveat that new policies won’t change the status quo, won’t slow down economic growth, won’t bite the hand of key stakeholders (read fossil fuel sector), won’t cost the voter anything additional and likely won’t even be implemented in the current electoral cycle. Climate delay may sound different to climate denial but it amounts to the same thing.

Postcards from hell – cognitive dissonance in the face of a disastrous holiday

Postcards from hell – cognitive dissonance in the face of a disastrous holiday

Frequently, it seems, the greatest exposure to climate disruption we witness in mainstream media is where it interrupts our holidays. To help us avoid the inconvenient truth of existential collapse, we distract ourselves with the trivial and the inconsequential, or give up and join in the orgy of misinformation and conspiracy thinking. You can run (deny and/or delay or maybe retreat to your favourite holiday idyll) but you can’t hide.

Revelations 2 and 3 – justice and truth (Now all we need is the slogan)

Revelations 2 and 3 – justice and truth (Now all we need is the slogan)

If you accept that humans are not in control, that you can’t hold nature in some mythical ‘optimal state’, that good resilience thinking is all about understanding the variability of the natural systems around us and living within those constraints – if you do all these things then you are acknowledging complexity and demonstrating ‘humility’. So, do you want to save the world? Justice, truth and humility is the path you need to tread.

Don’t think this is rational – it’s a mad, mad world. The revelations of bowing to BAU.

Don’t think this is rational – it’s a mad, mad world. The revelations of bowing to BAU.

Climate scientists of all types have been forecasting these consequences for decades but we’ve done nothing. Now we’re reeling as the water laps at our doors and the smoke chokes our air. In the world we have, a complex world, today’s decisions are driven by past investments, vested interests, political compromises, and an overwhelming inertia not to buck the status quo. BAU (business as usual) rules, it’s our society’s identity. Maybe we should stop kidding ourselves we live in a rational world.

Too big to believe!!! Making sea level rise accessible.

Too big to believe!!! Making sea level rise accessible.

Hyperbolic comparisons (like ‘each year we lose 4.2 million air carrier’s of ice’) are fun and evocative but ultimately not really informative. Worse, they distract the reader from the consequences of what’s really happening. Rising sea levels are a point in case. Most of the human population lives by the sea. Around half a billion people live in low lying areas less than 2 metres above sea level. Sea level rise will be directly disrupting the lives of billions of people in the coming years, yet we rarely engage with these realities.