Australia, Planet Earth

Human energy looking for a grid
By Tina Perinotto

In six months The Fifth Estate has moved from a tentative start to fielding ever growing demand for coverage from this exciting and fast moving industry.

We’ve featured change agents working out how to stimulate new human behaviour, climate risk specialists with a booming business in risk assessment of land and infrastructure, and carbon farmers who promise that wide-scale plantation of grassland in arid soil can capture and store massive quantities of carbon long term.

We’ve had inventors of solar desalination plants with cheap options that could transform the lives of millions in developing countries and, potentially, our own in the years ahead. We’ve broken provocative stories such as Peter Newman’s attack on The Australian and Glenn Murcutt’s calls for the University of Newcastle to stop its destruction of its sustainability agenda..

We wanted this to be your industry newspaper, and you are making it so. This is an industry with the energy and passion of a revolution, hungry to get its message out and hungry for information from peers and competitors alike.

If this planet goes down, it won’t be without the biggest fight humanity has ever seen. We want TFE to be the grid that this wonderful energy plugs into. So what’s in store this issue?

Retail energy guzzlers

In our lead story Lynne Blundell throws the door wide open on retail property, our temples of indulgence spawned by our consumerist lifestyles. It turns out the sector is an even bigger guzzler of energy than we imagined – consuming 50 per cent of the commercial property sector’s share.

But that could be about to change with the introduction of a NABERS rating tool – which will be rolled out hand in hand with a tool for those other big energy guzzlers, data centres. We figured the NABERS team must have stocked up on double Mac burgers to prepare for these doozies.

As Blundell has found not all shopping centres need be so greedy. Mirvac’s Orion Springfield for instance has pulled out all stops to go green. And GPT, with its swag of shopping delights won’t let a tenant in the door these days unless they sign a green lease. Westfield, of course – tut-tut – is still citing the Fifth Amendment on the sustainability/green issue and tends to avoid interviews on the subject, in this instance  pointing to the highly-qualified lawyer-lacquered statement made in its submission to the Carbon Disclosure Tool that  “Westfield recognises that the failure to comply with relevant legislation would have serious repercussions for the Group.”

Why the long face?

Where’s the joy in going green there? Negative. Negative. Negative. “In addition to any financial penalties (for example, under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 penalties of up to $220,000 can be applied and in some cases criminal penalties), the Group’s reputation as an industry leader worldwide would be diminished,” Westfield  solemnly declares.

Strangely at the giant’s new heart-of-the-city glitzkrieg, Westfield Sydney, we hear they are actually doing quite a decent job in the green stakes. But they just don’t seem to be into bragging about it which TFE feels is like the mistaken modesty of the wealthy keeping their philanthropy secret: instead they should shout it from the rooftops in order to shame any miserly members of their old school network.

What do you mean that material is sustainable?
In another wonderful breakthrough Blundell delves into the amazingly complex world of how to properly assess the sustainability ranking of building materials – a head-spinning task currently being worked through by Edge Environment, as project manager for the Australian Life Cycle Inventory Database Initiative – jointly funded by the Building Products Innovation Council and AusIndustry.

But try as she might, Blundell could not extract even a hint of which is the best and brightest sustainable material, perhaps not a surprise given the complexities involved.

Jobs are go
Our People and Jobs section – one of our more popular categories – is carrying more news on the fast developing jobs market. Please send us any news of jobs on offer, new appointments or trends you notice to: editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

On the bigger, nastier political picture, we’ve gone off KRudd (again) after one of the audience members at an RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) event this week made a salient observation regarding the retinue of advisors surrounding our Prime Minister at the Bali conference on climate – aluminum, coal and oil were well represented but not one climate scientist. According to our source, there won’t be one at Copenhagen either.

What the chief scientist thinks

We think we know why – the Government’s own chief scientist, Penny Sackett says we are in deep trouble. Here are the key points she made in an interview with ABC’s Sabra Lane this April:

PENNY SACKETT: It is an issue and it’s very serious. We know that the rate at which we are putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is increasing rather than decreasing, which is what we need to do to halt the affects of climate change.

And we also know that if we want to maintain that level of climate change, which we could measure by the increase in global average temperature to two degrees, then we have six years to reverse the trend from increasing CO2 emissions to decreasing CO2 emissions.

SABRA LANE: Six years, that doesn’t sound like a long time at all.

PENNY SACKETT: It’s not long, which is why we need to begin to act now and to sustain and increase that effort with time.

SABRA LANE: Given you say it will take six years, I’d like to know what your reaction is, particularly at the moment, we’ve had two parliamentary inquiries talk about climate change policies and most of those inquiries have been dominated by the science. Are you surprised that there is still a debate about the science?

PENNY SACKETT: I’m very surprised that there’s still a debate about the science, although I’m pleased people are talking about science.

It is in the opinion of the experts, who have devoted frankly their lives to studying the climate, that it is unequivocal that the climate is changing. There is no doubt, the evidence is very clear that that is underway and it is also clear that the largest portion of that change is due to human action. That is through deforestation and emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

SABRA LANE: Professor Garnaut has said that he thinks it’s a line ball call as to whether the Government’s planned emissions trading scheme is introduced. Do you hold a similar view?

PENNY SACKETT: I’m not an economist and so I wouldn’t want to give a view on exactly the mechanism by which we need to achieve the change. But as a scientist I do need to underscore the magnitude and the speed with which we need to execute that change.

SABRA LANE: Based on what you’ve just said then, the Government has an aim of cutting emissions by 5-15 per cent by the year 2020; do you believe that that kind of target will achieve the pause and the decrease that you’re looking for within six years?

PENNY SACKETT: We know that we need to set the highest possible target we can now, not only to start the process but because the lower the targets now the more difficult it will be to achieve the aim later. It becomes harder and harder to meet the aim.

SABRA LANE: Some scientists spoke to parliamentary inquiries, suggesting that the target should be 30 per cent.

PENNY SACKETT: Again, I don’t want to talk about individual targets but it is known that the goal, in fact many scientists would say that this goal is too low, and we know that we will have to set ambitious targets.

I believe the Australian Government is aware of the targets that need to be ambitious, but it is also aware that we need to put a mechanism in place and that is actually the first step.

And I suppose what I am encouraging is that we take the first step.

SABRA LANE: Have you been advising the Government on what kind of a target it should have?

PENNY SACKETT: Yes.

SABRA LANE: Have you been advocating a steeper target?

PENNY SACKETT: I have indicated, as you may know from a speech that I gave at Science meets Parliament, which I gave to both scientists and parliamentarians, that we need to set the steepest possible target we can.

SABRA LANE: What is that?

PENNY SACKETT: My advice to the Government is, on anything that approaches matters of policy is best done privately. In matters of science I’m quite happy and I think it’s quite appropriate for me to discuss publicly.

LISA MILLAR: Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Penny Sackett speaking there with Sabra Lane.