Hong Kong Hong Kong is a fairly sustainable city precisely because of its very high densities and an average of 50 cars per 1000 people

Yes we can

By Tina Perinotto

For optimism you can’t go past Peter Head, the Arup chief making his way around the world explaining to governments and public forums how it’s quite possible and realistic to make 80 per cent cuts in greenhouse emissions by 2050.

At the resurgent Sydney Forum last week (25 June) he showed a packed Customs House venue, how.

A video created using Manchester in the UK as the guinea pig, showed plants sprouting up the sides and on top of buildings, gracing footpaths and verges; small shops taking over redundant garages to serve the local community, clean quiet electric cars and pipes inserted into hot tarmac roads for energy capture and heat transfer.

In Sweden a community of 22,000 people are already living sustainably, recyling their waste, trapping carbon in algae and using it for fertiliser, the audience heard.

Such was the transforming power of intelligent thinking, new technology, supportive public policies and government legislation – all enabled by business leaders who could smell a good deal.

Underpinning it all are the principles of bio-mimicry identified by Janine Benyus, which look to natural systems for how to turn a toxic growth economy into a productive and positive one. (Why do some people still think sustainability means dreadlocks and mung beans?)

How does all this become affordable? Easy, Head explained  – urban planning: high densities around transport nodes, which creates high land values and wealth. It’s not rocket science, and it’s been identified for years.

Hong Kong is actually a fairly sustainable city precisely because of its very high densities and an average of 50 cars per 1000 people, said Head.

More detail on this is contained in Head’s Brunel Lecture, Entering The Ecological Age. Read the entire lecture – in your language.

Look at what the document says about China.

“When Hu Jintao became president of China in 2003, his administration carefully examined the trajectory of China’s industrial and urban development.  Since then a new policy emphasis on ‘harmony between man and nature’ and on ‘building a conservation oriented and environmentally friendly society’ has emerged.

“China’s political leaders started to insist that ‘economic development must consider its impact on the environment and on society’. Development should proceed along the road of high technological content, sound economic ef?ciency, low resource consumption, little environmental pollution and full use of human resources.”

But there was more. “In his 2007 speech at the 17th Party Congress setting out the new five year plan, he referred for the first time to ‘moving China towards an ecological civilisation with much more ef?cient use of resources and use of renewable energy”.

Yes, we know words are cheap. But the Chinese are renowned for their intelligence, and it’s matched by a single political party with an awful lot of clout.

Monica Vandenberg who hosted the forum as chief executive officer of organisers Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, and on behalf of partners Landcom, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and the City of Sydney, concluded the evening with some lively action with the Arup “Slim City” cards, designed as part of its Ecological Age research to help participants to work out feasible short and long term aims for Sydney.

Watch Peter Head on this subject in You Tube

On climate, change and women


For another superbly entertaining event, it was hard to go past the political/social/literary parry between Bob Ellis and Justice Michael Kirby at Gleebooks in inner Sydney’s Glebe on 19  June, for the launch of Ellis’ latest book of political insights, and so it went.

It was fascinating to watch Kirby at close range as he artfully and brilliantly questioned, challenged and provoked Ellis to reveal rather more than he might have bargained for, while Ellis, alternately flourished, shuffled, then slunk further into his claret.

Some observations such as John Howard’s double ignominy of losing his seat but, worse, “to a woman”, elicited audible disapproval from offended women, while Kirby challenged whether Ellis’ outdated “1950’s” white picket fence attitude might be more suited to the deposed prime minister who Ellis claimed to dislike so much.

More relevant was Ellis’ close range view of politics and his views of the Rudd Government’s true colours on climate change.

The news was not good.

Ellis doesn’t like Rudd. Nor Penny Wong. Nor Julia Gillard for that matter.

They are far from Greenies, he says, with Wong not previously showing any interest in environmental issues. Quoting his good friend Kim Beasley, a former Labor Leader, Ellis claimed that Rudd and Wong were the “triumph of the middle management” whose sole duty was to delay.

Bad news indeed on an emissions trading system that should have meaningful impact.

There was worse for Gillard – who suffered the terrible triple woes, in Ellis’ opinion, of being a redhead, Welsh and possessing a voice like “crushed glass”.

And she would never be prime minister, he said, because she lacked warmth.

(By now the crowd had to be settled down by Kirby, and even he started to look a little worried.)

It was probably a poor judgement for Ellis since a lack of warmth has not been a problem for leaders in the past –  certainly it wasn’t for Maggie Thatcher.

Besides, there are more than a few people who think Gillard would make an excellent prime minister – quite a few of them at Gleebooks that night, judging by the reaction.

For the sake of climate change, and women, the good news is that Ellis could well be wrong on all fronts.

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tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au