Christina Hobbs, 350.org

On a river of cool and calm in an arid desert of crazy people

10 July 2014  [Updated] — Here’s what one weary general in the climate wars told us on Thursday when we called to see how the troops were holding up under fire.

“It’s bat-shit crazy, it’s like they’ve all gone to Canberra and taken LSD,” he said.

Around the nation  governments were vandalising their own patch, destroying jobs, against reason and logic and even economics, he said. “You’d be struggling to find one person in our industry who would vote for the current government in Victoria and probably federally.”

In Canberra Clive Palmer, everyone favourite Labradoodle, had had just turned the Government’s Titanic promise to repeal the carbon tax  into a speedboat and smashed it into the rocks. (By Friday morning the reports were of Palmer seated outside the Senate holding court, to a conga line of bowing and scraping government ministers, begging for him to reconsider his directions to the Palmer United Party Senators inside to repeal the repeal. No chance. Palmer was being crowned “King Clive” and he would show no mercy).

Talk about incompetence, said our general. “And they accused the Gillard government of incompetence. This lot have no idea how to negotiate. None. ”

“They should replace all the headlines in the nation with  just one word, chaos.”

By contrast, he said, The Fifth Estate was a “a river of cool and calm in an arid desert.”

Well shucks, we’ll put that in the media kit.

But in truth, it’s not hard to stay calm and positive in this job. We get to talk to the sane and exciting folk who are ploughing on with great ideas, science, economics,  humanity, environmental logic, and most important long-range thinking. Peer out of the trenches now and again and you can see that all the noise and chaos is coming from somewhere down the rabbit hole and pretty soon, someone will just plug it up.

So what have we discovered this week?

Built Environment Meets Parliament

Did someone mention Canberra? You can expect some fun and games early next week when a  battalion from the Coalition of the Willing-to-be-Green movement in the built environment advances on Canberra for another tilt at the battlements of irrational behaviour. The Carbon Tax repeal is scheduled for another Senate hearing on Monday, but of course anything can happen.

The event,  Built Environment Meets Parliament summit, is organised this year  by the Australian Institute of Architects. It’s always at Parliament House so that the pollies have plenty of opportunity to interact but David Parken, chief executive of the AIA suspects they could be  a “bit busy”.  Environment Minister Greg Hunt might still make an appearance, but Parken said, no, there would be no egg-throwing. One question that Hunt might get, which will feel like a rotten egg, will be around what’s happening with the Emissions Reduction Fund,  since that’s an idea that’s already gone off, with most people in the property industry dismissing it as a bad joke. Besides it’s another piece of legislation that Clive Palmer has decided to toy with and dispatch.

Parken said to watch out for strange things in the Parliament House lobby, thanks to one of those futuristic visions that architects dream up for the Venice Biennale. This time it’s Augmented Australia in the form of an app that will, if you point it in the right direction, show up a 3-D image of something or other. But don’t hold us to it. Hold the app instead and see.

More down to earth but still visionary will be the big new plan for upscaling city-scale infrastructure and investment. We’ve called it the “Manchester model” in the past for want of a better catch-phrase but essentially it’s about funding current investment from future income streams. Someone from KPMG UK will be there to explain how it works.

Sustainability Drinks

On the subject of good news and uplift, on Wednesday night we spent time in a crowded Sydney pub for Sustainability Drinks with people keen to hear Mark Diesendorf talk about his latest book, Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change, and then talk about their own passion for sustainability.

The Fifth Estate also did a small presentation on our ebook, the Energy Gold Rush.

Diesendorf had the crowd rather entranced.

There was an “enormous battle for renewable and sustainable energy,” he said. “Why? Because it’s been too successful.”

In 2007 solar power was the most expensive renewable energy, he said, today it was the cheapest. South Australia was well capable of becoming 100 per cent renewable on its phenomenal wind capacity. All that was needed was to upgrade the transmission wires to the eastern states so that some of the excess electricity produced by its wind power.

Superannuation with social impact

Another presenter, Christina Hobbs from 350.org, gave a run down of the divestment campaign that her organisation has run to encourage Australians to pull money out of finance and investment institutions that have coal in their portfolio.

The huge ads and media articles trying to drum up counter support, under an “Australians for Coal” campaign, showed this was working, Hobbs said.

Next month, she said, will see the launch of a new superannuation fund that will be fossil fuel free, Future Super.

The new fund is out of Melbourne – an idea cobbled up by entrepreneurs, Aron Ping D’Souza and Phil Kingston, who are targeting young people who want to have a positive social impact with their investments.

Here’s the website:

Let’s stick our neck out and say that this fund and its competition Australian Ethical will go like the clappers. Ringing in our ears are the words of the AE people when we asked what they were doing holding a stall at a climate rally last year.

“Cleaning up,” they said.

Ping D’Souza told a newspaper late last year that, “So many people said this was legally impossible. These were people with the letters AO after their name. But we are so proud the regulators and trustees have supported the creation of a social-impact focused fund.

Interestingly for the property and development sector, he said the fund would not exclude resources stocks because it wanted to support “next generation infrastructure or better designed cities”.

“For that you need steel, and concrete. So we will own resources stocks if they meet good environmental standards.”

Future Super aims for 1 per cent of the market – about $16 billion, according to the article.  It could be more if the recent survey by The Australia Institute is correct in saying that  25 per cent of people would put their money into a clean fund if it was available. That’s a quarter of about $2 trillion in total superannuation investments, Hobbs estimated in her presentation.

The next Sydney Sustainability Drinks, held on the second Wednesday of each month, will be on the topic of green money.

The young

The smart money is on smart cities, smart futures and young people.

In Perth, LandCorp chief operating officer, Nicholas Wolff, who we were chatting with ahead of our launch event for Greening the West Part 2 next month, said it was time for a generational change in the property world and sustainability, to turn our attention to the people who actually care about the future and know that to get there, in one piece, things have to change.

We’re hearing more of that lately. A deep annoyance and boredom with the old generally male folk who run the joint and have a litany of reasons why things can’t be changed: why density doesn’t work, why you can’t rely on renewable energy, why you still need massive freeways and new freeways, why we should consider nuclear, why you can’t extract major environmental uplift out of ALL new buildings.

The future has to change if the people it belongs to are to inherit it. Time for the older generation to move over and for the young at heart to lend a hand.