Bondi Beach

30 ctober 2013 – Over the last 17 years I’ve heard and felt the hope and trust of over 19,000 visitors to my house (Sydney’s Sustainable House).

I know from my visitors that Australians “go sustainable” when they choose hope.  They trust solutions that are within their grasp or capacity. They may just want a rain tank, for example, but before they can trust it and buy one they may need to see it working in a house where people live. Only 3 million Australians drink rainwater so most of our 23 million citizens have never seen one being used, and for many “seeing is believing”.

These visitors have convinced me that politicians and citizens who wish to keep safe our little critters, land, water and air, fail to achieve their goal when they put preaching ahead of hope and trust, and criticism of others ahead of humility about themselves.

Many of us fear our climate’s already broken beyond repair. But many of us dare not say so, even to ourselves. Held back by that fear we say, “What can I do?”  Then we do nothing. But I’ve seen trust and hope overcome disempowering fear and turn it into action.

Existing carbon pollution in Earth’s air, and the additional 1 degree of the planet’s warmth coming from it, is causing Earth-wide increase in fires, famines, floods, cyclones, droughts, crop failures, premature human deaths from heat and cold.

The carbon there now is also going to heat Earth by at least a further 1 degree. Like a kettle on the stove, like a log on fire, the carbon in Earth’s air is only just starting to “catch on fire”.

I can’t imagine what damage the next 1 degree will do. I can’t imagine doubling the strength and frequency of the floods, fires and famines we’re getting now.

So, to cool Earth we must extract from Earth’s atmosphere the carbon pollution we’ve put there.

Why’s existing pollution mostly ignored when it’s knocking us sideways?

Most of what’s being said and done (including what’s in The Fifth Estate) is about future carbon pollution. Yes, it’s essential to stop future pollution and I wish all involved well with what they’re doing about it. I know in my whole being, however, that if we don’t get out the carbon that’s up there now that effort will be for nought.

Here’s an inspiring example of hope in action, something people can see and touch.

Waverley is a coastal suburb in Sydney where Australia’s famous Bondi beach is. The Council has decided to take food waste from cafes and places around the beach. It will compost the food to grow soil on a farm about an hour’s drive away. The new soil and plants will be made from carbon extracted from the air as part of the natural process of growing soil. Work’s begun and the first composted food waste will be on the farm this November.

By taking carbon out of the air the project will help to cool Earth. And to grow food.  Affordably. Simply. Profitably for all. Day after day.

Compare that project with our mis-directed focus on future pollution and future actions to stop it.

Putting off action to extract carbon from our atmosphere is the tragedy of politics in Australia.  It’s a tragedy for us all, no matter our ideology if we have one, or for whom we may vote. Political ideologies that prevent action to stop our climate breaking have been convincingly denounced by a leading conservative thinker, Roger Scruton, because they don’t get the job done – see a review of the book in The Fifth Estate here.

A sample of this tragedy was played out when Greens Party member of the federal Parliament, Adam Bandt, said during recent NSW bushfires, “Why Tony Abbott’s plan means more bushfires for Australia . . . ”. He was widely attacked by some media and citizens.

A commentator, Peter Fitzsimons, defended Bandt well in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Can we give the Greens a break? For yonks they’ve been saying if we don’t look after the planet there will be hell to pay, and so, when that hell on earth arrives –  most lately in terms of these unseasonal devastating bushfires – it is quite legitimate for the likes of Adam Bandt to draw attention to it, and advocate a change in policy. In the words of Barack Obama, denying the reality of climate change is the equivalent of belonging to the Flat Earth Society.

The carbon tax was demonstrably successful in reducing emissions. So when the Prime Minister says the previous government should ”repent” bringing it in, even as we break yet another month’s temperature record, and the bushfires take hold, it is reasonable for Bandt to put an alternative view.

He is not disrespecting those who have lost their homes, nor those heroes fighting the fires. He’s saying what needs to be said, to try to do something so fewer people lose their homes in the future. The problem is not that he’s pushing his ”political agenda”. It is that his agenda – actually doing something to preserve the planet – is not shared by us all.”

Bandt compared the behaviour of others – Prime Minister Abbott’s – unfavourably with his own. And he focused on future actions or plans while ignoring existing pollution. And he offered no hope.

Who trusts anyone who compares themselves favourably with someone else? Can you imagine Nelson Mandela doing that?

I prefer a politician or citizen who leads and says: “Our carbon pollution is causing extreme bushfires like Sydney’s. Here are five things we can do today to reduce extreme bushfires . . .”  then lists them.

The decline in the major parties’ support, and the collapse of The Greens vote, is due, I suggest, to three things: growing distrust of them; growing distaste of the scolding tone adopted by some in the Greens Party; and because they don’t offer hope.

Anyway, the time for talking and carping has gone. The UN reported in 1999 that if our cultures did not reduce carbon pollution by 2015 it’s unlikely Earth’s weather could sustain us beyond a few decades. That deadline’s a year away.

It’s up to us, we citizens, to get the carbon out of Earth’s atmosphere. We put it there, didn’t we?

Climate mud throwing will cease to stick only when there are many projects that can be seen, smelt, touched and cost little and which take out existing carbon pollution today, tomorrow and next week.

There’s hope at work at the Bondi Beach project and on a farm beside Sydney.  It’s hope that’s within anyone’s reach.

May I invite you to choose hope over blame, and to act on your hope today, not tomorrow?

Michael Mobbs designed, built and lives in Sydney’s Sustainable House. His books, Sustainable House and Sustainable Food are best sellers, giving practical examples of how to live and eat sustainably in our cities. His ecopops are self-watering gardens that can be “popped up” in streets or car parks to cool our cities and help grow food and provide shade. See  www.sustainablehouse.com.au