Kerryn Wilmott

It’s a real wake up call to step outside our comfort zone and talk with people “not in the choir”.

So it was on Wednesday night at UTS when The Fifth Estate formed part of a panel with academics Kerryn Wilmot and Sara Wilkinson to address an audience of about 350 people from professional backgrounds, academia, government and business.

The topic was “Good Living for the Long-Run”, so in other words a message on the positive change we can all make as individuals to our lives and our future.

What do you share with people who may not read The Fifth Estate on a regular basis, and so aren’t exposed to the constant stream of good news that makes us quite optimistic?

So much so that people sometimes look askance.

Most people, wherever their walks of life, and even in our multi media world and perhaps because of it, are hearing mainly the  bad news. The huge front page story on Wednesday that tells us we’ve reached the point of no return on CO2 emissions –400 parts per million. Or the stories of warming oceans and the failure of the Great Barrier Reef.

How can you be optimistic when the world is falling apart?

This is how: At The Fifth Estate we’re  in the incredibly fortunate position of being at the end a never ending stream of emails and phone calls telling us abut the fabulous initiatives, ideas, technology, people and passions who are doing amazing inspirational work. We can’t possibly keep up. It’s actually frustrating.

And this is not exaggerating.

People not in “the choir” who may well be highly intelligent and educated and certainly concerned enough to come to such a talk may not be seeing our daily headlines on the rise of green bonds and climate bonds, the divestment movement, the death spiral of coal and the rising call for fairness in our social system.

They may not realise there is an almighty convergence of serious investment money, technology and entrepreneurs on Silicon Valleys and silicon valleys everywhere all trying to figure out how to create new technology, materials, energy, energy storage and transport systems for which there is a rising clamouring demand.

Our readers see our stories and can draw their own patterns and threads that point to the trends.

But the trends are not easy to see if you don’t stand back.

Who was it that said there’s not much harder to imagine than the past? We absorb change and adjust so quickly we hardly notice there is a new agenda. It’s hard to remember the time before mobile phones, or fast computing power, for instance.

So it is with trends. We can forget there are powerful forces afoot that are on our side.

That was the most wonderful opportunity  of the evening.

A chance to convey just a touch of the good news.  From our perspective and that of our joint panellists with their inspiring work under way at UTS in collaboration with business and other universities in Australia and globally.

Here’s just a smidgin of what was said. You can see more soon at the UTS website.

Wilmot it turns out was lead architect in Australia’s first Green building, 60 L for The Australian Conservation Foundation. She’s now deep diving into the synergies of regenerative development though programs such as the ambitious Living Building Challenge.

And looking at opportunities for abundance in the sense promoted by “Cradle to Cradle” authors Bill McDonagh and  Michael Braungart, symbolised by the cherry tree (pictured) which nourishes all around it and far more than it needs.

Sara Wilkinson

Wilkinson, who we incidentally quoted just this week in an article on how real estate agents are missing the game in understanding and selling sustainability features in residential property, is working on a range of exciting projects that focus on the human impact of our built environment.

A major focus of Wilkinson’s work is on green roofs and the potential they have to reduce heat and create synergies such as lifting biodiversity in the built environment and improving community and human connections.

There’s a photo of the cover of a book on the subject on which she was lead author, due out soon.

The social opportunities opened up by green roofs and their related community gardens is important, says Wilkinson, given the rise of depression and mental illness in our crowded cities that are still largely being designed and delivered in ways that should have been redundant a long time ago.

The video Wilkinson showed on the algae building in Hamburg Germany pretty much stole the show.

Here’s a thought that occurred during the talk, watching these inspiring women on stage – committed, sensitive, highly intelligent and driven by a passion to do good work.

They’re looking out for us. We, the people, are their target outcomes. They’re working for our common humanity and our privilege to aspire to a good life for the long-term.

They’re not alone. In that category too go many inspired public servants, school teachers and scientists and artists.

And that’s a nice feeling.

Business needs to respect and embrace this side of our economy more. It might find this pays off much more handsomely than it thinks. At least in the long run. Which was the point of the talk, of course.

Three power tools for change

The Fifth Estate focused for the evening on three “power tools” that we all possess to create change.

One is our consumer power that creates the demand side of the economy. Without it the corporations would not exist.

We can see the rise of consumer power in the 1.5 million houses with solar panels on the roof, farmers markets, slow food, and electric cars and falling prices for battery storage.

We can see it in the emergence of disruptive housing like The Nightingale Model in Melbourne.

And we can see it in the meekly obeying supermarket giants starting to change what they offer us in the supermarkets. (We need to make them much meeker, until they rid the shelves of toxic chemicals and soft drinks and junk food that harms us.)

Another power tool we have is in the power of our investments.

The rocketing divestment movement is making the world’s biggest superannuation funds divest from fossil fuels.

The Norwegian Sovereign Fund, worth US$863 billion, just last month sold out of 52 coal-dependent companies “as part of its policy to fight climate change”.

Future Super which has no fossil fuel exposure started just 18 months ago and has 5000 members.

The Responsible Investment Association of Australia says the market for responsible investments has grown by 400 per cent in three years.

However, 75 per cent of super funds are in the default option. So that means there is still a lot of ordnance that can be fired in the right direction.

We also talked about the “Power of Nudge”.

This is a kind of accelerant for trends, the kind of power that makes trends go viral.

Just quiet word to your friends, family, neighbours – a “by the way” casual kind of mention of your changing consumer patterns, you new ethical super fund and so on can work a treat.

Good living for the long-run.

So many people are onto it. It has to be a winner.

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