Sustainability Bites

There is no such thing as a free lunch

climate change

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.

Environment Cabinet Papers 2003: An Emissions Trading Scheme was (almost) a lay-down misère

Environment Cabinet Papers 2003: An Emissions Trading Scheme was (almost) a lay-down misère

Back in 2003, PM John Howard’s colleagues were telling him that his entrenched views were standing in the way of sensible policy and that now was a good time to introduce an emissions trading scheme with minimal risk and minimum loss of face. In reply, Howard told his colleagues that his political instincts were right and that the most important players, key Liberal Party backers, agreed with him. The irony was that, while Prime Ministerial power might trump policy power, people power trumps the lot. Two elections later, in 2007, Howard was thrown out, partly because of their lack of action on climate change.

Turning points and tipping points – the road ahead and taking on BAU

Turning points and tipping points – the road ahead and taking on BAU

The road ahead is unclear and uncertain. ‘Business as usual’ has us thinking it will be much as it has been in the past but it’s likely humanity is approaching major tipping and turning points.
Turning points make sense of history and are like looking behind in the rearview mirror to better know where we have come from so that we can drive better. Tipping points are about carefully looking at the road in front of us to anticipate the risks ahead and to take appropriate action to avoid the hazards.

How to beat ‘rollout rage’: the environment-versus-climate battle dividing regional Australia

How to beat ‘rollout rage’: the environment-versus-climate battle dividing regional Australia

Clean energy developers are caught in a perfect storm, at loggerheads with environmentalists and landholders alike over environmental conditions, proper consultation and compensation, while grappling with long regulatory delays and supply chain blockages for their materials. They see a system that provides environmental approval on paper but seemingly unworkable conditions and intolerable delays in practice. Does the bureaucracy’s left hand, they wonder, know what its right hand is doing? Net zero, nature protection and “rollout rage” feel like a toxic mix. Yet we have to find a quick way to deliver the clean energy projects we urgently need. As tough as this problem appears, elements of a potential solution, at least in outline, are on the table. These elements are: good environmental information, regional environmental planning and meaningful public participation. The government’s Nature Positive Plan for stronger environmental laws promises all three.

The sceptical economist

The sceptical economist

“What we are hearing and reading and seeing is a continuation of the grand rhetoric from the Rio Earth Summit over thirty years ago in which ‘Business-As- with modifications’ will give us richer tomorrows with no sacrifices today. It’s based on the fantasy that carbon offsets and credits, the planting of one trillion or more trees, and advanced machines can suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to set the world right.This is a sort of a Business-As-Usual with ‘market and technology extras’ that will allow us, with a few tweaks, such as driving an electric vehicle (EV), to carry on as we have always done. If only this were true. Business-As-Usual, even with all the brightest bells and squeakiest whistles, will continue our trajectory towards catastrophic consequences.”
Quentin Grafton

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.

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.

“Measuring What Matters”: With the first results in, what next?

“Measuring What Matters”: With the first results in, what next?

The first version of Australia’s national wellbeing framework “Measuring What Matters” has been released. The basic idea of the report is to shift from our narrow focus on key economic indicators, such as GDP and inflation, to embrace a wider suite of indicators that measure our overall quality of life. In the environment theme, six areas are covered: (urban) air quality; biodiversity; climate resilience; emissions reduction; protected areas; and resource use and waste generation. The headline result has to be that the threatened species index, which tracks the abundance of a selection of threatened species, shows a decline of 55% from a 1985 baseline to 2019, a period of just 34 years. This is a shocking number.

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.