By Michael Mobbs

13 October 2010 – It’s interesting, the changing weather.  Not just the facts of it – the unusual events that are remarkable for their heat, their rain, their departure from the averages. But how we respond to it.

I’ve had 60 turns around the sun, so I’ve become used to mostly repeated rhythms in the weather, much like those in a classical musical composition where the key and the time are prescribed from the first bar.

But all that’s out the window now the climate’s changing.

It’s a bit like watching the long shots of the far distant horizon in Lord of the Rings, where the hobbits would look with true awe at the immense might of the long off lighting and volcanoes; only for us, we humans in our own movie, the horizon is coming to us.

And all of us are to be like the four hobbits, our singular difference is that we don’t know we’re hobbits, haven’t chosen to be hobbits who would go adventuring.  In fact, we, most of us, actively chose not to go adventuring didn’t we? Do so each day.

Well. We’ll see about that. We choose adventure whether we wish to or not when it comes to loving or not loving ourselves and our Earth.

As I write now, the lovely but unseemly rain rains down where once it did not on my Sydney roof. And how I love it, welcome it for the goodness it gives the trees and plants, to the unseen lives of the billions of tiny insects and bugs in the soil outside my house.

It’s earlier than we think.

It’s the first day of daylight saving, 2010. My smart mobile phone clock knows this and has already switched automatically to the new time, but not the human clock inside me, and not the other manual clocks in the house which I must wind forward an hour. I’m only awake this early because the music of the rain has me in its thrall.  (You come from the bush, you love the rain; it’s how it is.)

And Earth is moving to her own clock, too. She’s smart too, but in ways we have yet to compute.

Will we show the courage of the hobbits when we’re fully immersed in the weather that’s come to us and is now ramping up her storms like no storms we’ve ever seen where we live?

I’m looking forward to the answers. To observing the smallness of the politicians; the wealth of the rich – the several hundred seat private entertainment theatres, the bloated boats; the vast sums of money in banks; the union men stuck in their “entitlements”; the actuarial predictions of superfunds (as if Earth’s history ever supported the illusion of superannuation, I mean, really), the kids; the cat and dog; so many of us who just wanted to get on with our lives. What a show’s a coming.

Anyway, the horizon’s come to us.

And I’m glad to be up early in it.

May I ask, are you, too, fellow hobbit?

I ask this question so I might invite you to join me in what I suggest might be our preferred way of talking as we experience our new horizon; conversations where we talk and listen.

Here’s why.

“The really big scientific revolutions have been the invention not of some new machine, but of ways of talking about things. How we talk about our private lives can change in revolutionary ways too. And the revolution we need today is in the way we talk about failure.

The conclusion I draw from the history of technology is that it has managed to deal with failure on the whole more sensibly than we have dealt with failure in our political or private lives, perhaps because failure is regarded by engineers as their central problem. They know it is impossible to conceive an airplane which could not crash.’ (1)

So, can we talk?

Zeldon says, “Dostoyevsky claimed that it doesn’t matter what people say, only how they laugh. It’s true that you cannot be free or fully human until you laugh, because to laugh means to make your own judgement, or to refuse to accept things at their face value, but also not to take yourself too seriously.” (2)

And he cautions that, “Jane Austen said that you cannot make good conversation if you read only newspapers, implying that only books contain enough stimulating ideas to enable you to turn topical issues into discussions of a general kind’. (3)

For himself, Zeldon says, “I particularly value conversations which are meetings on the borderline of what I understand and what I don’t, with people who are different from myself’. (4)

Less than a decade into the fashion of “sustainable” living there’s a prevailing fear of talking about failure.

Instead, it’s “five stars” this, “worlds best practice” that, trophy this, trophy that.

Fair enough but enough already.

I’m inviting us to talk about what really happens with each project, what worked and what didn’t.  To embrace, count, disclose, quantify and be curious about what doesn’t work as we intended.

The fluff of sustainability repels me like the skites at school we could not stand. Enough skiting about our “sustainable” projects. It’s nauseating. And it’s putting many people off the whole thing of “sustainability”. If ever there was something about which the human animal in us yearned and deserved truth it’s the actions that would conserve Earth.

A more productive conversation, one which really helps us live in the horizon which has come to us, the rains, temperatures, crop failures, oil spills and all that’s life that the computer models can’t predict, is one which has at its core a courage and love of failures.

After all, when was the last time we controlled the weather? Saved a planet?

It’s what we have yet to get right about water, energy, food and which sits for many of us undiscussed in our private minds which we need to talk about. (5)

Don’t we?

Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” is available from his

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who advises, teaches and speaks on sustainability issues. He works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.

(1) Conversation, Theodore Zeldon, 1998, p83
(2) p87
(3) p88
(4) p88
(5) I know of only one mainstream Australian developer with the guts to put failure of his projects front and centre of his projects, recently deceased Peter Szental. His legacy is partly to be found in the web page about his Melbourne project 40 Albert Road, St Kilda, which chronicles how the building performs after construction, year after year. Imagine that, just one Aussie developer with courage among so many.

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