Planet for Sale, premium price required. Caveat Emptor

By Tina Perinotto

So Steve Fielding has become the Steve Irwin of the climate sceptics, wrestling climate change initiatives to ground as if they were wild and dangerous crocodiles. There’s a climate sceptic political party in the wings. And Ian Plimer is into his umpteenth print run of his book (the Hell of) Heaven and Earth, due in part to the dream run provided by such ready-reckoners as The Australian.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Australia is the star player in the resurgence of climate sceptics world wide and it hails Fielding and Plimer as the new heros, even crediting the The Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan for his gullible spray on the wonders of the Plimer book – before he bothered to ask Australia’s leading scientists for their subsequently damning opinions on it.

Of course, Australia has always been a country that prides itself on a wild maverick streak. Challenging orthodoxy. Opinionated. Today it’s the land of talk back radio. Where every little opinion is sacred. No matter how uninformed.

Even from the educated. Take this snippet of recent conversation from an architect: “I’m not convinced on climate change. Mind I haven’t read the literature, but still, I’m not convinced.”

Does that sound like the words of a sane and logical man?

No matter. When these people organise at least you know where they are. And according to the theory of shifting mountains – or public opinion, same thing – it’s all about the bell curve: there are some people that you will never convince so you don’t worry about them. But you do hope that they never run a dictatorship.

The good news is there is a most encouraging reason why this reactionary movement is now bringing out the heavy guns.

According to Al Gore, who stormed Melbourne this week with his own personal artillery of optimism and mammoth charisma, the momentum on climate change is gathering pace – in America, thanks to Barack Obama; in Europe, China and in Australia. And if a full and final agreement on greenhouse reductions isn’t achieved in Copenhagen at the end of this year, then an agreement could well be formed soon after.

Our correspondent on the spot in Melbourne was The Fifth Estate contributor Simon Carter, who attended the Al Gore summit and spoke to several of his fellow delegates. According to Gore, reports Carter, the Copenhagen agreement could be like the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances. At first agreement was weak, but the momentum was there. Soon it built to a more aggressive agreement and then an even more aggressive agreement, so that we are now close to phasing out all these substances.

In Carter’s view Gore’s energy alone could be enough to generate all the momentum needed.

“Al Gore is a force of nature,” he quipped.

“He came straight from Singapore where he had done some work on a stop over from Switzerland then addressed the summit, went to dinner that night and was up the next morning for a breakfast with 1000 people.

“His energy is awesome. It was powerful, and hugely inspiring being around someone whose position was, ‘over my dead body will we not address climate change’.”

A few more people like Gore and we could generate all the renewable energy we need.

It got Carter thinking: “We are all prepared to do our bit but maybe only as long as we can beat the traffic home and as long as we get a good night’s sleep and buy ourselves a new pair of shoes on weekend.

“For Al Gore, it’s just an honour to have the opportunity to contribute.”

Gore was in Australia to support the launch of think tank Safe Climate Australia, fronted by Ian Dunlop, former chairman of the Australian Coal Association and to train a new batch of ambassadors.

Safe Climate Australia is a welcome addition to the political sphere – a sophisticated high-level organisation that aims to counter the sophisticated high-level resources employed by the coal and mining industries to pressure governments to delay and pay – them of course.

The list of its founding members are impressive – it’s worth a look .

It aims specifically to “build on a range of international innovation and transition projects such as Repower America, which target energy efficiency and renewable generation, a modern national smart grid and electrification of transport as key actions in addressing global warming, energy security and peak oil.

“Inspired by these projects, the purpose of Safe Climate Australia is to identify and catalyse action on the societal transformations and solutions needed to achieve a safe climate for Australia, and for the planet, at emergency speed. The structural change achieved in the next 10 years is crucial.”

Ian Dunlop has already warned in The Age and other publications) that we are using out of date science (previously pointed to in TFE).

Long term business thinkers are already across the line – not because of any ideology or emotional fears or particular values – but on simple business principles.

In generous and standout coverage on climate issues provided by The Age its environment reporter Adam Morton talked to many delegates at the Al Gore events to pick up the mood. Among them was Bob Welsh, chief executive of VicSuper about the fund’s gradual shift into more sustainable investments.

“It is not an ethical thing it is not a socially responsible thing, it’s fundamentally about risk moving forward.”

See our recent story on the shift in sustainable investments. See also our story on Climate Risk Pty Ltd,  a company that has been growing leaps and bounds since 2006 on the strength of businesses understanding that the due diligence now needs to factor in climate change.

Now what would Steve Fielding and his friends advise?

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tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au