On bells, loaded dice, and Queensland

Some things you hear are a like a bell.

Such as the news that dolphins have been granted non-human personhood status in India.

These sea creatures who cannot speak our name nevertheless speak each other’s names and remember them for decades. The personhood status recognises their high intelligence and evolved social systems.

Another bell, more like a toll really, was news that we’re on track to five degrees warming, and that rising heatwaves are locked in. And no, we’re not just worried about the kids any more. It’s us.

The loaded dice is democratic

Then there was last week’s clanger from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who told reporters that his Direct Action budget won’t be increased even if it falls short of meeting Australia’s targets on emissions reductions.

The Climate Institute said another $4 billion was needed as top up to the $3.2 billion committed by Abbott. Or Australia would not only fail to meet its measly five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020, but emissions would rise nine.

So Abbott, who everyone knows will absolutely keep his pledge to remove the carbon tax and dismantle the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, thinks nothing of reneging on Australia’s pledge before the global community.

It’s disrespectful to this country.

But the polls say this is exactly what will happen after 7 September.

It’s the downside to democracy on issues that can’t wait for swinging voters to “get it”.

Russian Roulette with fossil fuels… maybe democratic

The oil industry too thinks there is a downside to democracy. It wants to set up a structure that stands outside of the political system much like the Reserve Bank does, to “manage” the transition to a lower carbon fuel.

Lest the failure of electricity grids and blackouts means people will vote for politicians who will re-open the coal mines.

At least that’s what former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister is spruiking as part of a campaign in the US and lately Australia to create a 50-year segue for the fossil fuel industry… into something else.

Hofmeister’s arguments are about order and balance so that the environmental damage can be minimised and there’s time for renewables to be properly developed.

The arguments are as muddied as the Bjørn Lomborg style of anti-climate debate. Lomborg has made an art-form of joining the debate and then shifting the focus. First he lulls by saying, yes we’ve got a problem, then he disarms by saying it will cost too much to stop carbon emissions, better to concentrate on malaria instead as it will save more lives (for now).

The fact that we haven’t got 50 years seems of no concern to Hofmeister and his fossil fuel pals on whose payroll he still is, by the way, and readily admits.

What’s of concern is that the fossil fuel industry is running out of time, too, because it can see solar panels glinting on a million Australian roofs. And the coal industry becoming quickly a no-go zone.

Both the fossil fuel industry and the renewables industry have the same favourite saying, “The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” But, for vastly different reasons.

The bits between happy and sad, hot and cold

It’s bittersweet ironic sometimes that from the worst of times that the good times rock and roll.

Craig Roussac said as much about our relationship with airconditioning. In a great piece from Donna, writing up his presentation to a recent conference, Roussac said we are now quite intolerant of temperatures that are not perfect – just because we can be.

But we need some variation and occasional discomfort and, yes, even – horror – some occasional discomfort to really enjoy the good things.

And then there’s Queensland

In Queensland there’s a similar thing happening, in terms of bad news spawning good.

We know the economy is not faring well. Consult Australia this week called for urgent government intervention as job losses pile up.

In the property space the sudden halt of the mining boom (mining booms tend to do that) has compounded the slashing of jobs from the state government under Campbell Newman.

And while there may be the very first twinges of life stirring in the residential market, the office market remains moribund.

Vacancy rates in the commercial sector are the highest in the country, growing from 9.6 in July to 12.8 in a recent Office Market Report from the Property Council of Australia. It’s the toughest market in 20 years, the PCA said.

So in line with the very best traditions of counter-cyclical thinking, the PCA’s Queensland chief executive Kathy Mac Dermott this week told us she is leading some exciting work on Environmental Upgrade Agreements.

Mac Dermott hopes to soon take the fruits of this work up the political food chain.

In a recent media release she said. “the state and Brisbane City council need to embrace Environmental Upgrade Agreements”.

“These are available in other capital cities and would support a major round of refurbishments across the city.”

Mac Dermott says there is a heap of opportunities available. Brisbane is rife with lower grade buildings that are brilliantly located, she says.

So other than the EUAs, how much interest is there in energy efficiency and other related retrofits?

Mac Dermott says not much. The mining boom made everyone too busy and the buildings too full to worry about. Until now, it seems.

Meanwhile the state government has committed to a nice new premises at One William Street in Brisbane for about 60,000 square metres. And they will be 5 Star Green Star, 5 star NABERS Energy and 3 star NABERS water.

Developer is CBus, new to Queensland in a welcome commitment.

In a deal with a slight twist the government owns the land and will retain ownership with a 99 year lease to CBus.

Queensland treasurer Tim Nicholls said the $650 million building “would be constructed by the private sector at no cost to taxpayers and the government would then lease back office space”.

But what the industry wants to know, fairly urgently, is where would the tenants be drawn from? In other words, what other buildings would the government start to empty out?

The industry is frustrated because it wants to see a strategy, something planned, ordered and transparent, Mac Dermott says.

However there’s no frustration with the state’s policy reforms on planning and infrastructure charges, which under the previous government didn’t make sense and were sometimes doubled up, she says.

The reviews on infrastructure are all in, and the industry is now waiting for some results Mac Dermott says, but the expectations are positive.

“The offset conditions look realistic and fair,” she says.

But who will make up the shortfall?

Under the previous regime the charges were so high they simply failed to occur; developers were simply scared off.

“At the current rate of infrastructure charges, non-residential is unviable,” she said.

On broader environmental policies, Mac Dermott says the new government is doing well although this is “well” from the perspective of more “balance” for business and development, as part of the mix, Mac Dermott says.