Happy to meet you 2015! Image courtesy of freelance designer Mohsen Shirdel at Pixypen.com

We love this goat. Jumping with alacrity from 2014 to 2015. It’s exactly the sentiment we need. Don’t look below. Just focus on that next ledge… Don’t overthink it. Well, goats are not known for their IQ but they are very successful at finding what they need to survive.

Like an entrepreneur once said, the secret to his family’s success in many disparate fields was not to research too deeply, do a cursory examination, a bit of research and then just jump in. The world conspires to help the action takers. It’s all in the doing.

As we enter the new year – nearly five per cent consumed already – let’s embrace the spirit of the brave goat (not the meek sheep).

So what will be the character and tone of this year? What will unmistakably mark this 2015 vintage?

No one can know the answer. But a good thing to do is to understand the progress that’s been made in sustainability and climate change the past 12 months.

This is a great exercise because it’s so easy to forget the impact of big events and how quickly we absorb change. As the saying goes, “The hardest thing to imagine is the past.”

So here’s our take on just a few of the big shifts, mostly positive.

Green bonds

Out of nowhere it seemed, like the cavalary rising up over the horizon came the green bonds. Stockland – bless their born-green-again cotton socks – was first with a $300 million Euro raising. Then came the NAB with a raising that was well oversubscribed at double the initial expectation of $150 million. Showing that money (and banking) is but a tool that can be used for good as well as for evil dirty empires such as coal mining.

The upshot for the year 2014, was that massive $36.6 billion globally, was raised, three times the amount on the previous year.

For Australia, the best bit was the buzz around our start in this game. Underwriter UBS, Stockies and those around the NAB issuance all said the interest was huge and the appetite looking intense. After all a new product is a new product and isn’t it wonderful when the money boys and gals get a whiff of the profit-making power of a better, greener planet?

 Sustainability on the way out?

So they said. Okay, we didn’t get a lot of new chief sustainability officers, but instead there has been the emergence of chief resilience officers. This isn’t really good news: more a signal that we need to prepare contingency plans, but there is no doubt it signals a ramp up in seriousness not a scaling down.

If you don’t like the word sustainability, fine. But how about suggesting another? Come to think of it, we’re bored with the word “shoe”. Can anyone suggest another?

Recruiter Warwick Peel says some of the big corporates are opting for words such as “value”, pushing the notions of transparency and responsibility.

As if it’s a new thing for corporates to be responsible. But Peel takes it further; what’s happening, he says, is a questioning of the notion that all a big company has to do is report it’s earnings every quarter. What about its long-term direction and goals? What does it want to do about its staff, or cities it operates in? Does it want to make the world a better place?

A few years ago these issues were outliers, the preserve of those who are deemed a little on the extreme side. In 2015 they became way more mainstream.

What impressed us was the level of understanding displayed by the UBS people on green and sustainable buildings and climate change. These people get it. And why not? They’re smart; they will follow the money trail, not the vacuous yabberings of those who tell us that “coal is good for humanity”.

Wild weather

You can bet one of the big property companies we spoke to this week is not alone when it says it’s auditing all its shopping centres for climate change. History is no longer enough to determine what the capacity of your HVAC system is.

This is a change that 12 months ago may not have been quite so openly stated.

Tesla and friends

Tesla cars are beautiful, fast, sexy and clean.

Now there’s a bevy of competitors on the market and recharging stations about to be strategically located to get the rollout rolling. A new dealership is opening up in Melbourne.

Twelve months ago? Hmm, not so much.

Politics

We love keeping an eye on politics. Especially in recent times.

Remember just 12 months ago, when a very cocky new prime minister Tony Abbott was just getting into his budgie-smuggling stride and happily embarked on trashing of every climate and sustainability initiative he could think of? (Okay, that was painful).

The climate deniers were on a roll, smirking with the heady scent of power that comes with winning government, aided abetted by the loonies on The Oz and seeded in other parts of the evil empire. Abbott nestling in the metaphorical lap of his thought leaders in the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne and their pals at the Heartland Institute and the Tea Party in the US. How exciting it must have been for all these Ayn Rand fans to feel they were restoring the world to its rightful place where we could rip up the Galilee Basin, rip out the carbon tax (and replace it with a GST on food, medicine and education) and rip into those boring “leaners” such as pensioners and the unemployed.

Then came the federal budget in May. But how things have changed. The government is still struggling to pass all its measures even as it starts work on the next budget.

Mind, the image of a delirious treasurer Joe Hockey puffing on his cigars and leaping around to rock music didn’t help the PM at all.

By mid year public opinion had started to turn against the government and even tragic disasters which are normally a boon for a sitting prime minister have failed to turn around sentiment.

On climate change support for action has come roaring back, according to surveys by the Lowy Institute and the Climate Institute. And you can sense that corporates, which typically don’t want to directly challenge the sentiment meted out by a federal government, are starting to squirm with embarrassment.

Twelve months ago? We ran a lead photo of the German Panthers rolling through Paris in WWII. That’s how it felt: that a foreign power had taken over our country.

The Australia Institute

Out of the blue. Or rather out of the Greens, Ben Oquist who previously advised Greens Leader Bob Brown, and then joined the Australia Institute, unleashed a massive public relations coup on the national climate debate. There was former Vice President of the US AI Gore, looking slightly stunned and blinking in the media spotlights, alongside Clive Palmer, coal and mining billionaire, who agreed to embark on his road to Damascus and save some of the climate change “architecture” now that he held the balance of power in the Senate.

Was this a great con? Did Oquist get it wrong and embarrass Gore?

Hell no.

It’s been a huge success. Look at what’s shifted. There’s been a halt in dismantling at least some of the climate change institutions, and best of all a stunning public jolt that only a well executed media stunt can create, to shake people out of inertia that “this is the way things are and we’ve lost”.

Seven months ago? Misery and depression.

About the same time, Curtin University’s Peter Newman nailed it.

“Cheer up,” he said, “We’re winning.”

Newman, quickly becoming the oracle on all things sustainable, had the data to back him up. Renewable energy is strongly on the rise and it won’t be stopped now. “The genie is out of the bottle,” he said. People are also turning away from cars and driving less, especially the young, who can’t be bothered with congestion and long uncomfortable trips; they would rather sit on a bus and talk on their phones. Not just in Melbourne and Sydney, but around the world and even in China where bicycles are making a comeback.

Seven months ago? Palmer and Gore sharing smiles and handshakes? Crazy stuff.

China

If you had any doubts about where China stands then read China Dialogue to see how strong is the move to fight pollution. People want the right to clean air and clean water that won’t kill their children with toxic sludge.

Climate, after all, is the consequence of pollution. Save the air and water, save the climate.

China and the US

The agreement between these two giants to fight for climate change was another stunning blow to the weakling government we installed in Canberra, hoping to curry favour with its secular pals and place their benefit ahead of survival of the planet.

Abbott was stunned and humiliated by the move, on a global stage, ahead of the G20 forum leaders that he was to host.

Not long after, his Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, toned and taut in her own running gear, appeared in front page photos of her early morning jogs in foreign countries. Leadership material, as we know. And taking a stance, of some sort, on climate issues, to show she at least is not a Neanderthal.

Twelve months ago? Unthinkable.

Victoria

So you can’t get rid of a government after one term? Now we can.

In Victoria the eco-eaters have been dispatched. The media said environment issues were not top of mind for the pollies but they certainly appeared top of mind for voters who ended up nominating the environment as high on their list of concerns.

Another group for whom these issues were high on the agenda was activists such as Environment Victoria and GetUp, which campaigned fiercely to rid Victoria of the Coalition government.

The damage in Victoria has been huge. In sustainability, in climate action and in renewable energy. There has been devastation in some parts of the industry and many job losses. Worst attacks were the ditching of the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target and the Greener Government Buildings Program.

We don’t know what Labor will do now it has the reins again. Sure it’s promised to keep the VEET but we’re still waiting to hear back on our inquiry on the GGBP.

As NSW continues to make efforts to lift its environmental performance, especially in the energy efficiency and renewable sphere and hopefully with residential standards, it would be great to see the old rivalry between these two states reignited. There’s nothing like a bit of competition to get some good outcomes.

And as we leap into 2015, let’s keep in mind the spirit that can make change – turn public sentiment around, achieve global agreements to try to save the planet and get rid of governments after one term if they continue to trash the things that make sense and that we love.

Good luck to all our readers. And remember the goat.

3 replies on “News from the front desk: Issue No 223 – On why the past is the thing to remember”

  1. An uplifting reminder of how change occurs. By expending plenty of sweat and keeping one’s eye on the goal. Thanks for the reminder to “keep hope alive.” It pays off!

  2. Tina, thanks for this… I like your optimism! and agree that we need to look at the positive gains…but where do you think we are on the cities agenda? the Urban Policy Forum was abandoned last year (along with 174 other cttes); the 2014 State of our Cities report was published as a yearbook (better than nothing!) at the end of December and i’m trying to find other optimism in the government’s approach. I think Campbell Newman’s announced initiative in Townsville is a positive but is there anything else I’ve missed?? can you share your thoughts?

    Sue

    1. Hi Sue,
      Oh, the cities agenda is really interesting. I think the Feds thought they could kill it by getting rid of any programs remotely focused on rational sustainable development – along with anything planet-saving – because they are captured by a political ideology that is threatened by sustainability, which it believes is subversive. Which it is, because sustainability challenges our fossil fuel based economies and therefore the powerful oligarchies that rely on this. So anything that threatens the use of maximum oil and coal has been hammered by the Feds. This means the agenda is to build more roads and crush sensible planning models that can develop energy-efficient renewable-energy based development. (There was a great article in The Monthly last month that shows how much more efficient it is to use rail instead of road freight, not the least of which is evidenced by the hundreds of people killed by trucks each year.)

      But the good news I think is that it’s really hard to suppress logic and efficiency for too long. The Feds’ agenda is not working. We can see it in the polls that are forcing policy and legislation back-down on an almost weekly basis and we’re seeing it in the rise of grass roots and, increasingly, corporate thinking that is ignoring government and getting on with ever more sustainable and efficient production and consumption. (The force of nature and evolution?) Even the Productivity Commission says we have to plan for climate change or the entire economy will be threatened.

      On the cities agenda the trashing of all those wonderful related programs has created so much anger and frustration that this is causing eruptions of positive energy from thought leaders and ordinary folk agitating against planning they don’t like (NSW is really struggling here) and trying to influence more sustainable outcomes. Our precincts ebook shows that leaders in local government, some of the big developers and services providers are doing their best to provide radically sustainable solutions regardless of government. And best news of all is the emergence last year of a cross-party multi-industry Parliamentary Friendship group that is planning its own cities agenda. See this list of stories for the positive news! https://fifthestate-launch.newspackstaging.com/?s=albanese

Comments are closed.