This campaign would be banned under new proposals

On why free speech means free speech and we should follow the good things from Uncle Sam, not the bad

3 April 2014 – At the first Green Cities conference The Fifth Estate attended we were surprised to find that there was a stall in the exhibition staffed by people pushing PVC.

Quietly, stunned, we asked what was going on. Well in the US it’s worse, said someone or other from the Green Building Council – the anti trust laws there make it illegal to ban or discriminate against products you think could be harmful to the environment. And even to humans it turns out. Because, well, discouraging those products could be harmful to profits of the companies making those goods.

Right now there is move underway for Australia to follow right down Uncle Sam’s alley.

Led by parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, and some pals from ministry and industry groups such as the Australian Forest Products Association and fishing industry, the proposals are to make it illegal to mount campaigns, such as the hilarious “NoHarveyNO” campaign by GetUP! and Markets for Change that also took a swipe at Forty Winks, Fantastic Furniture, Freedom and Boral.

The reason? Apparently it might harm the hip pockets of people such as Gerry Harvey, who must have been badly stung.

Poor Gerry, all the time he was moaning on TV about the impact of the GFC because people were buying so much less of his landfill, it was really those pesky greenies who were hurting his bottom line.

So far campaigns on environmental or consumer protection ground have been exempted from secondary boycott provisions, and for good reason.

But now it’s yet another proposed sting in the tail of a federal government that doesn’t know/doesn’t care much about these things and wants to protect the corners of our world that create most of the damage.

In the US, according to the Public Participation Project, you can barely register an objection to a development, report on bad products or file an action on health and safety violations without incurring the wrath of the laws.

So how many people have bought stuff from Gerry Harvey?

Here’s a message from The Fifth Estate: stop buying from Harvey Norman, right now. Anything at all.

Also stop using anything but Forest Stewardship Certified timber. And buy noting but sustainably sourced fish.

Got that Mr Colbeck? You heard it here first.

(By the way the GBCA on 13 March placed a statement on its website on PVC. “We’ve listened to feedback from manufacturers and industry, we’ve conducted a literature review and we’ve consulted independent experts. As a result, we have now revised the Best Practice Guidelines for PVC in the Built Environment,” it said, before explaining how there are now “revised guidelines address the differences between the two types of polyvinyl chloride” See the note here and the Best Practice Guidelines for PVC )

As if the above developments aren’t embarrassing enough yet another humiliating international incident got underway today [Thursday] morning.

It was the opening plenary of the Australian Alliance to Save Energy’s 2XEP Forum on Doubling Energy Productivity.

All sorts of dignitaries had attending Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s opening welcome on Wednesday evening. US Consul General Hugo Llorens, former lead US White House advisor on energy and climate change, Heather Zichal, former Australian senator and now Adjunct Professorfrom the US Studies Centre Robert Hill, Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s Jillian Broadbent… you get the drift.

But what happened on Thursday? Headline speaker Environment Minister Greg Hunt wouldn’t be appearing, with urgent business suddenly erupting in Perth. But we wouldn’t be surprised if someone warned him he’d better take a sickie because Ms Zichal was on the warpath.

You can read the gory details in Cameron’s report. The fed’s climate inaction and decision to sit out on international climate negotiations is a “mistake”, Zichal told the influential audience, among several other choice and forthright observations.

Jonathan Jutsen was chairing the event, and speakers included Kateri Callahan, president of the US Alliance to Save Energy; Maya Stuart-Fox, assistant secretary of the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund Taskforce, who stood in for Hunt; and Anthony Roberts NSW minister for resources and energy. We feel their pain.

How much power to save energy resides in resi?

There was much better news in the resi but more by way of potentially huge gains still to be tapped.

Try these small bombshells:

The average household paid $39 on energy bills a week but it adds up to $16 billion a year, according to Department of Industry’s building efficiency manager Gene McGlynn.

Already energy efficiency in houses has contributed more to the fall in electricity demand in Australia than any other factor, McGlynn said, and houses built last year use 30 per cent less than houses built six years ago, even though there’s more appliances being used.

From RMIT’s Alan Pears there was news that yes, we’d improved but our 2011 building standards would still be illegal in many countries! He said we could knock off 80 per cent more energy use.

Another thought was, why not use policy levers to tweak incentives, say through property tax discounts, for instance? They work wonders overseas, the conference heard.

(We don’t like to say, but maybe because they’d be unfair to the fossil fuellers?)

Cecille Weldon the guru transforming the world from inside LJ Hooker said energy efficiency or energy productivity wasn’t going to cut it for consumers in the residential sphere.

“Energy efficiency is not sexy,” she said. Call it “running costs” instead.

But what about existing houses? “What the hell are we doing focusing on new homes?” she asked, when the big problem was existing stock.

But don’t think this gives us any salacious pleasure to be telling how the political scene is deteriorating on a daily basis.

We’d rather point you to Willow’s wonderful batch of stories this week, on three innovative architects who won Australian Institute of Architects awards in recent times.

Or on how the gifted Steve Hennessy managed to make his outperforming team headquarters at WT Sustainability perform even better. It’s a bit like a fairytale but not (Hennessy can tell a good yarn, but he’s no storyteller.) In this lovely piece he steps Willow through the paces and she, nerdy-wordy person that she is, curates every detail and process so it can be replicated by many more.

Which is what The Fifth Estate is all about. No intellectual property will ever be respected here if it’s about saving the planet and saving humanity as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its new report this week.

Enjoy this issue.