Jeb Brugman, telling it different

Green Cities conference gets its mojo back

4 February 2011 – Green Cities 2011, or #GC2011 for the Twitter fans, with their streaming commentary of speakers and discussion groups (see below for a selection), surprised on the upside this year.

There was passion and there was controversy. Last year there was also passion and controversy, but from frustration in some quarters that it was “same ole’ same ole’” talking up the problem rather than the solution. After all, once you’ve greened a building, where do you take things?

This year organisers,  The Green Building Council of Australia and The Property Council of Australia  – let’s call them The Firm, for short – pulled out all the stops to throw open the doors to the big wide world.

And the industry is ready, it seems. In a cross section of responses from delegates, it was clear the industry is champing at the bit to start co-mingling with the communities they work in, other professions and industries, and the economy at large.

Comparison and controversy

Keynote speaker Jeb Brugmann took the notion of traditional property and turned it on its head.

Yes, the industry is brilliant at creating highly efficient, impressive buildings, he said, but there’s a downside. It was a bunch of extremely well-built, brilliant housing products – five-bedroom, five-bathroom, three-car garages – in a couple of locations in the US that pretty well triggered the global financial meltdown.

In contrast, Brugmann showed photos of India where the very poorest communities did the opposite. Instead of creating toxic waste, they took the traditional dead zones between the slum dwellings and roadsides, and turned them into the largest flower markets in the region, or thriving micro economies that run independent of lumbering central agencies.

For controversy, you could not get anyone more calculated to generate heat than former (is he/isn’t he?) climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg. Take a look at Google to see the long list of complaints about his statistics, methods and objectives. (Key in Lomborg and “errors” or “wrong”. For example, the Lomborg Errors website).

Controversy? Lomborg? The two go hand-in-hand, sweethearts in the art of media stardom these days.

In the tea break after his talk, some people wanted to carry out a ritual crucifixion, quipped The Warren Centre’s Alex McKenna. Or at the very least, “hurl petrol soaked muffins” at his oh-so-casual black T-shirt-clad frame.

But others liked his presentation.

After all, he speaks like a superstar and has the back-up visuals to match, including a cheeky photo of a smiling Al Gore shaking Lomborg’s hand “seconds before he realised who I was,” chuckled Lomborg.

So much of what Lomborg said is true and correct. Yes, cutting carbon will be hard, yes so far it’s been a political suicide to attempt it. Yes, polar bears are killed by humans as well as melting ice caps, and yes it’s true a lot of people die from malaria, which is more about poverty than climate change.

But it’s what he does with those truths, his use of them as distractions or “straw men” as one of the tweeters commented (see below), that point to his ethical and logical failures.

Why spend most of the talk urging against carbon reduction, and so little on how to achieve his stated goal of green technologies? Except to strongly advocate against subsidies for emerging green energy other than at the research and development phase.

Alex McKenna, Warren Centre

The biggest revolution
This is the biggest revolution in history – the massive transformation of our economies away from 100 years of carbon dependence – it was always going to be tough. That’s no reason to stop. In revolutions or evolutions the road will always be littered with failed concepts and political martyrs. (It’s clear Lomborg should stick to economics; he’s no historian.)

One overseas visitor, here for the World GBC conference, said Lomborg “didn’t know who he was talking to”. This audience, especially in Australia, had proved you could profoundly transform an industry and it was leading the world, he said. Lomborg’s talk was “dangerous”, he said. Especially, commented another delegate, as he is being paraded around the country thanks to his sponsors at the same time that the carbon price debate gets underway.

Hey, but what’s wrong with a bit of danger?

Or frustration. As McKenna said, without the frustration of last year’s Green Cities, we would not have had such a good billing this year.

McKenna thought the overall program was “excellent”. She had “zero expectations” about the “fishbowl” sessions – a kind of central panel that audience members could jump in and out of – but found them challenging and well on the way to how “we think these things should work.”

“I thought the fishbowl was quite clever,” McKenna said. “I was very impressed with its ability to get people asking the questions that became part of the discussion.”

In particular, she liked that they stopped some sessions becoming railroaded by sectoral schisms.

McKenna ticked “like” for Lomborg. And clearly has the ability to take the strong logical messages as items separate and distinct from their packaging.

His challenge to examine the effectiveness of programs, free of bias, was crucial and often missing, she said. Especially when tools such as abatement credits led to “engineered solutions” that led to massive waste of public funds.

Huge, powerful points of course.

Besides, McKenna said she never much listened to his past rhetoric. “Number one, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the sceptics,” she said. “I don’t waste time on things that make me angry.”

If McKenna wants good information on climate change she says she goes to credible sources such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“I don’t bother with people who are deliberately reactionary.

“I’m not saying you stop looking at climate change, and I’m not saying you stop carbon abatement, but the message is don’t just stop on the carbon issue; to think about the interaction of these things and accept responsibility for our behaviour where it has a social and welfare consequence.

“Collaboration is what we need.”

Also, to think clearly about our own consciences, especially in relation to developing countries.

McKenna reckons Elena Bondareva from Thinc Projects put it best at one of the discussions.

“Elena said, ‘we are all part of the problem’. You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.
“If we haven’t made the adjustment, how dare we pontificate to others how to make the adjustment?” McKenna asked.

On the nuclear debate, McKenna again said it was excellent and the organisers should be congratulated.

“No-one has the answer. We need to be pragmatic and we need to start to look at data from an independent point of view.”

Bjorn Lomborg

Sceptics on sceptics
Shauna Coffey from Deloittes also ticked “like” for the overall event, and said it was clear that feedback from last year had led to a broader, more challenging program.

“All the key note speakers were excellent, Jeb Brugmann in particular,” Coffey said. “I like the way he presented net present locational value as an alternative to the traditional measurement of net present value.

“It’s a good way of addressing what people have been trying to do to capture social value around development.”
(See Brugmann’s five key ideas about urbanism https://jebbrugmann.com/latest-book/5-key-ideas)

It was clear Brugmann’s approach resonated strongly with some people, Coffey said. On Lomborg, she was unconvinced.

“I was very pleased to have the opportunity to hear him speak – he’s a talented speaker – but he didn’t sway me,” she said. “He has eloquent arguments but it doesn’t mean what he says is correct.

“This is exactly the type of ammunition that people rallying around an opposition to a price on carbon are looking for.

“And because he says it with [apparent] credibility, it sounds believable.

“He contradicted himself, saying you can’t believe other people’s modelling, but my modelling is good.”

The nuclear debate was also good, Coffey said.

“Again, it didn’t sway me.

“I thought the arguments were really well presented but I don’t believe nuclear is part of the energy future in Australia.”

Coffey liked the introduction of new techniques, such as the fishbowls and the new media such as sms questions flashed to centre stage.

“I’d love to see the conference make better use of social media: maybe a phone app for social media, reminders on sessions and the rooms they are in, maybe linked to information on speakers. There’re lots of exciting voting tools.”

Communities are hot
Stella Whittaker of Manidis Roberts was another conference fan.

“It’s rare for someone who has been practising 20 or 30 years to go to a sustainability conference and come out with something really inspiring,” Whittaker said. “I thought this was really refreshing.”

Michael Green

Again, it was Brugmann with his net present locational value or NPLV who inspired, and also Michael Green with his work on how to use timber in high-rise construction.

Whittaker was keen that her firm kept in close contact with both speakers.

Overall it was the talk on sustainable communities and the GBCA’s communities tool that took the bulk of attention for Whittaker and others too, she said.

“You could see big and small property participants wanting to make a big commitment to it, wanting to be the first to trial it. Stockland is champing at the bit and so are Lend Lease, and they are fully involved in developing it and are key players.”

Next week we’ll bring you much more, and in Lynne Blundell’s report on the event.

editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

Below are some of the tweets from #GC2011

RT @blairpalese: ; ) RT @greencities2011: Warwick Johnson reminds the crowd the Sydney Olympics were the “green games”, London didn’t do it first #gc2011

5. Have a sovereign fund, to pay for the greening of the country. To take Australian precincts make them selfsuficient. #gc2011

Step 1. Move away from GDP? It is a valid indicator, but why just limit ourselves to this one? #gc2011

Hospital in Dublin using artists to rotate imagery that is calming to patients, including web cams over the river for one patient #gc2011

How can we learn from nature’s use of light to heal? #gc2011

Designing less stressful hospitals with virtual reality #gc2011 https://yfrog.com/gy6nbo

RT @shaunacoffey: Toohill: one star occupants in ten star homes will undermine the best design intentions. Social change is key. #gc2011

We need more research to back the knowledge that valuing people and health and happiness to enable to charge higher rents #gc2011

biinT Ben Thomas

Michael green-We have not seen wood included in the building construction conversation for 100 years. #gc2011

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill

Visually stunning presentation from architect Michael Green advocating building with wood #backtothefuture #gc2011 https://yfrog.com/h6e2mpqj

EditorEDG EDG Tweets

#GC2011 Lomborg & M. Green diametrical opposites. Lomborg = adapt without challenging consumerism. Green = rethink consumerism.
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

shaunacoffey Shauna Coffey

Michael Green: don’t plonk your houses in the middle of your productive fields. Pay attention NSW planners #gc2011

jochapa Jorge Chapa

But I kid, I find Bjorn a good speaker; has message worth mulling. Glad I got chance to hear him. But he deserves criticism plenty #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Green: assumptions of modern living were wrong, Afghanistan “ancient” homes on bad land, but allows great farmland, sustainable #gc2011

jochapa Jorge Chapa

“If the goal is to not kill polar bears, forget about carbon emissions, let’s not shoot them” okay…#gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jochapa Jorge Chapa

But I think that he is a study in marketing, and his shift in position shows that. But his rhetorical tricks drive me nuts #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Bjorn: innovation drove improvements in computer technology not taxing typewriters #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

kovertoperation Sara Kovari

Bjorn Lomberg = Gordon Ramsey’s evil twin #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jess_macca Jessica McCartney

That felt a little like ‘let’s ignore the big issue & focus on specifics.’ Smokescreen? #gc2011 Bjorn Lomborg #wspls

jochapa Jorge Chapa
@
@DonnePutter I’m finding the talk frustrating. I think he confuses the message by putting a large number of straw man arguments #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

kovertoperation Sara Kovari
@
@jochapa this guy is a crack pot. Why not just call adaption, adaption? Not a “buzz” word? #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jochapa Jorge Chapa
@
@RL_Miller it’s quite amazing how many rhetorical and oratory tricks Bjorn Lomborg uses in his talk. #gc2011 ?

greencities2011 Green Cities

Bjorn solution: invest 0.2% of GDP in R&D non-carbon emitting energy technologies, let each country focus on own vision to change #gc2011

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill

Björn Lomborg slams Al Gore’s (et al) alarmist Climate Change arguments via same evangelist techniques. Interesting. #gc2011 #yam
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Tokyo is 12degrees warmer than countryside because of black top streets and footpaths- let’s lighten them:Bjorn #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

BuiltEnvirons BuiltEnvirons
@
@greencities2011 Are we joining in the moment silence for New Zealand today? #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

shaunacoffey Shauna Coffey

Lomborg: climate change is real & man made, but to bring people along, we need to avoid “exaggerated vocabulary” aka “climate porn” #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Bjorn: yes more heat deaths (2000) but fewer cold deaths (20000), let’s tell the whole story #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Greentreesfilms Greentrees Films

RT @verdantflaneur: Inspiring film building Green London Olympics on time budget by Sustainable Development Dir, Dan Epstein #gc2011 #yam
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jochapa Jorge Chapa

Agree, I prefer to emohasize the benefits of green. RT @greencities2011: Let’s not scare ourselves witless: Bjorn Lomborg at #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jess_macca Jessica McCartney

Bjorn Lomberg at #gc2011. Great stats & message ‘let’s fix it, but fix it smartly’ #wspls
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill

Inspiring film on building the Green London Olympics on time, on budget – presented by Sustainable Development Dir, Dan Epstein #gc2011 #yam
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Let’s not scare ourselves witless: Bjorn Lomborg at #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Bjorn: economists say cost of global warming likely to cost 0.5% of GDP, not world ending but needs to be fixed #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Good news Bjorn agrees climate change is real and man made, and thanks Al Gore for bringing it to the forefront, not so skeptical #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

verdantflaneur Siobhan Toohill

Should green building tools account for embodied carbon? And can we do this through building in comprehensive life cycle analysis? #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

jochapa Jorge Chapa
@
@shaunacoffey and construction and operations management. We’re getting there ? #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Bjorn wants us to think about climate change “smarter” do stuff that will actually work and not just what will feel good #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

Excited to hear from Bjorn Lomborg! #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

shaunacoffey Shauna Coffey

Would be keen to see Green Star account for embodied carbon too #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

shaunacoffey Shauna Coffey

At Green Cities day 2, on stage now: Dan Epstein, Head of Sustainability, 2012 Olympics. They have a site the size of Venice! #gc2011 #yam
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

“lovely to see a lot of women and Australians on the project” Rom Madew comment on London Olympics #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Dan Epstein: everyone on site was incentivised to deliver esd on time & budget #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

London Olympic park was developed ahead of time and under budget because of “planning, planning and more planning” Dan Epstein at #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

The Olympic park will create a new green hub in London #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

London 2012 engineer: incorporate ESD at the start of the project & there can be real benefit to project inc. shorter timeframes #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

London 2012: aquatic stadium has 2 temporary stands, designed to resemble wave, 3000t roof with no internal support columns! #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

London 2012: apprenticeship program employed local, unemployed youth #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Trains saved time & money and used 5 times less emissions than trucks #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

London 2012: up to 50% of construction materials were transported to site via sustainable means ie train #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

BuiltEnvirons BuiltEnvirons

On the tram to #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

London 2012 main stadium has 55,000 temporary seats after games they will be sent to next olympic nation #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Watching Dan Epstein’s London 2012 video: 2 million tonnes of soil were decontaminated from olympic site! #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

greencities2011 Green Cities

15 minutes to the Dan Epstein keynote at #gc2011 – have you seen the work done for the London Olympic Games?
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

biinT Ben Thomas

Just completed a 5.67 km run – Run with @Romillymadew this morning for #gc2011. https://rnkpr.com/ag6f3l #RunKeeper
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

DonnePutter Donné Putter

Good night kids! Gala dinner was fun and went to the coolest wine bar after. time for bed though – 8 am plenary tomorrow. #gc2011
1 Mar Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Hope everyone had a great time at the Gala Dinner – see you at 8am for Dan Epstein presentation ? #gc2011
28 Feb Favorite Retweet Reply

Tan_Parker Tanya Parker

Had no idea so many @gbcaus staff & members were masters of the dancefloor! #gc2011
28 Feb Favorite Retweet Reply