Anna Rose and Nick Minchin

Changing minds on a changing climate
27April 2012 ­ –
Climate sceptic and former politician Nick Minchin, writing after his head to head on ABC television on Thursday night with Anna Rose who founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, makes an important conclusion. The science on climate isn’t settled.

He supports green energy, he says, and yes, that goes a long way to showing he’s not “mad, bad and dangerous” as he’s keen to demonstrate with his reasonable and listening/learning manner.

But you need to wonder what he wants to do with his conclusion that the science is not settled. If he says, do nothing then it’s a gamble with the odds stacked wildly in his favour. If he’s right he wins because nothing happened. If he’s wrong he still wins, because as a late 50s man he gets to take home all the carbon goodies, and never have to pay the full price, since chances are he’ll be too old to care or dead when the real Hunger Games begin.

But Minchin doesn’t say do nothing. He falls for the Bjorn Lomborg line to say put all your eggs into the green energy basket. If that was enough, great. But the science, which is never settled on anything because it has an implicit invitation to challenge it, says we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well. Lomborg’s mantra is to strongly advocate doing nothing on carbon emissions.  At least he’s moved on from saying that if you care about the danger to humans from CC you ought to worry about eradicating malaria instead.

If nothing else the ABC’s documentary following the two opposing people around the world to speak to experts was great entertainment and offered some valuable insights into how the other side thinks. Minchin at one points notes that what is being proposed is an economic revolution. The UK commentator says, yes, isn’t that great!

In the Q and A that followed the doco, mining tycoon Clive Palmer showed his colours again.  Anna Rose made mincemeat of his hopeful tugs on the heartstrings to say that coal was the shining salvation for China and India’s poor. And she pointed out that Bunnings employed far more people than the mining industry.

And from the audience at home…

Comments from one viewer said the show was fascinating for its assessment of where the public debate is on climate change but that finding a “take” on the show, one answer, was difficult and possibly part of the problem…reducing complexity to simplicities again and thus not getting the right answers/directions,” he said.

“Deep down we do all know what we have to do.  The social  researcher [panelist] seemed to provide evidence for this.  Our sensing bodies do tell our minds things it might not want to know  (hear or see or feel)…. then the cognitive dissonance thing kicks in. We are particularly adept at finding all sorts of explanations, indeed excuses  – wild and fanciful, or measured and full of data (not necessarily facts), or philosophical/ideological –  to assist us to avoid the hard yards, the necessary change of consumptive habits.  Our patterns!   I think we saw lots of that last night.  Nick Minchin, Clive Palmer, even the CSIRO chief executive, Megan Clark. Anna Rose too maybe?

“And then of course there are always the opportunists.  A way to get ahead, to run ahead of the pack. Like Bjorn Lomborg (who only 10 years ago was writing against any action!)

“But then there is still something missing too from the ‘middle ground’ that Minchin and Rose apparently came to – a sense of urgency.

“And that may well be the crunch.  As one of the people from the floor (the solar guy I think)  criticised Bjorn Lomberg about.  Sitting back and doing a whole lot of research we will just end up too late (again). We really do already know what we have to do.

“So lets have some ‘risk management’ kick in here.”

“And we in the West do need to reduce our consumption levels.  It is totally naive to suggest that the millions in China and India etc can ever have the consumption we have. There just isn’t that much to go around.  But they do need to have their wants and needs better met. And to do so, we need to reduce.  As we know.  But will we do it?

“That’s where I was a bit uncomfortable with the CSIRO woman [Megan Clark] ­­– who was on about the necessity to maintain lifestyle or otherwise people won’t change.  And that’s where the cognitive dissonance thing comes in again – and so we go round ….”

Victoria doesn’t pull the plug
It was good to see the Victorian government last week listen to reason and say it would not plug on six star minimum design for housing.

Media reports had suggested the Victorian housing industry might soon be able to go back to hoodwinking their clients with cheaper houses that would cost an arm and a leg to heat and cool.

The Association of Building Sustainability Assessors breathed a sign of relief, along with every other sane mind in the country, no doubt.

“The suggestion that Victoria would slam itself into reverse on such an important energy and building policy seemed to fly in the face of common sense,” Rodger Hills, ABSA’s acting chief executive officer.”

Hills went on to point out that the standards save the household money in bills over the entire life of the house.

The blame for this retrograde idea was slated to a musty Master Builders Australia report that someone in the government must have dug up, without realising it had been twice discredited for using incorrect data.

Of course the extra cost of a six star house is marginal anyway since Australia’s clever builders, who their dopey association represents worked out in no time how to implement the higher sustainability standards for next to no extra cost.

The irony is that there are some very good people talking about ditching star ratings, but for entirely different reasons. They say the ratings don’t go far enough.

•    our story on Gunter Pauli for instance. Gunter Pauli: passion and energy for a blue economy
Pauli says we should use DC power, not AC, and to insert nano turbines in our water pipes so that they can make energy while we use water.

  • •    Jerry Yudelson, in Melbourne next month, as keynote speaker at the ARBS conference/trade show, says the very highest commercial star ratings achieve at best a 25-35  per cent cut in carbon emissions. We need to be “audacious” he says. See his article  Yudelson on the need for big, scary, and audacious goals in buildings  The challenge is to reduce energy by 80 per cent over 2005 levels.
  • •    The Passive House?? (style?)movement in the residential sector starting to gain some ground.  Umow Lai engineer Clare Parry was recently certified as a Passive House designer, one of only two in the country, after completing an intensive two-week course in Auckland, NZ. Clare Parry, Passive House certified.
  • •    Living Building Challenge, will be part of the Living Futures conference soon in Oregon. See details here People such as green architect Caroline Pidcock will be attending.  It will feature speaker Jason F. McLennan who founded the Living Building Challenge and proposes that buildings aspire to be as integrated with their environment as nature. And to not forget that beauty is part of the deal.

Even more serious
Here’s an interesting article from Thomas L Friedman writing in The New York Times.
Isn’t it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food — just at the moment when world food prices hit record highs?

And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials?
And that it was spurred on in Yemen — the first country in the world expected to run out of water — by a list of grievances against an incompetent government, among the biggest of which was that top officials were digging water wells in their own backyards at a time when the government was supposed to be preventing such water wildcatting?
As Abdelsalam Razzaz, the minister of water in Yemen’s new government, told Reuters last week: “The officials themselves have traditionally been the most aggressive well diggers. Nearly every minister had a well dug in his house.”

All these tensions over land, water and food are telling us something: The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well. If we focus only on the former and not the latter, we will never be able to help stabilise these societies.

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