Whoa! What happened over Christmas?
In Canberra, centre of palace coups and for a few centuries now hell bent on a planet-coup (well it feels like a few centuries) Environment Minister Greg Hunt seems to have been touched by the Magic Green Fairy over the hols.
We say Green Fairy in homage, for those in the know, to her fey highness of of absinth, to remind us that not all green is all virtuous, as Paul Keating alleged in his “sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” dummy spit at greenies a few years back. Hell no, there’s bounteous goodies, libations and other naughties in those rollicking green hills, all laid on by Mother Nature if she’s in a good mood and treated right. (Think mead, wine…need we go on).
It’s why our wise forebears invented such festivals as Christmas and Easter in the first place, all under other guises of course. Also to remind us of the tantrums Mother Nature can unleash when we fail to respect her (loss of treats first).
Meanwhile in Sydney Premier Mike Baird seems to have been tapped on the shoulders by the magic fairy’s nemesis, the Evil Queen.
On Tuesday Hunt declared he wanted to plant 20 million trees. The revelation came in speech he gave at the Sydney Business Forum on cities and the urban fabric. The sentiments were all nominally good. Even when he spoke about the importance of urban connectivity, we noticed the absence words such as “freeways” or “tunnels”.
At the same time Baird, who’s been busy running “cleaner than clean” sparkalarkling halos around himself and Planning Minister Rob Stokes, has been alarming growing numbers of people with what they say is a war on trees. There was the “10/50” rule that has been abused to demolish lovely old trees for development sites or views. And now he wants to change the law so that you can trade off one area of conservation for some other place. This is the “offsets” provision, that allows a developer to wreck some piece of biodiversity if they can then fund repair of biodiversity somewhere else. This didn’t make sense when former planning minister Frank Sartor introduced this crazy notion and it doesn’t make sense now it’s about to put on steroids with the Biodiversity Conservation Act and mooted repeal of the Native Vegetation Act.
It’s a sign of the times. All messed up and confused.
Just have a look at the sharemarket right now. Same thing.
But someone has been in Hunt’s ear.
Was it Westfield? An interesting comment from Republic of Everyone’s Ben Peacock told us about the 202020 Vision program that he led design on was that people don’t go out much when it’s really hot. They don’t shop.
It’s a lightbulb moment. (Or maybe a Kodak moment.)
Global warming, 40 degree days, is bad for business. If we don’t do something about this mother of all disruptions, it will disrupt for us.
So Hunt becomes suddenly an advocate for the value of tree canopies. He’s concerned that in Sydney’s west it’s nearly always several degrees hotter than the east; that people get sick and even die when it’s too hot. Especially the very young and the very old.
We hope that Hunt’s 20 million trees are the right kind of trees. Sadly we know that many species will die when it gets too hot and it’s a huge long term investment to grow a tree.
Which is why destroying a whopping 400 of them along Anzac Parade, for the Light Rail, is such a dumb idea.
Why does it have to be a choice between the light rail and trees? Randwick Council and residents put forward alternative routes for the rail. But why would decision makers in the companies and government agencies that deliver these services and infrastructure ever listen to a resident group? Even if it’s made up of highly skilled professionals every bit as qualified as themselves.
Michael Mobbs, our No 1 agitator, has pointed out this very dominant trait among council staff in his latest blast against the intransigence of local government.
So many people in local government are passionate and fully intent on being the leaders of innovation and local action when it comes to sustainability and innovation. All power to them.
But there is a mind set among some authority figures, in local government, in corporate land, in the Institute of Company Directors that’s from the last century and there it belongs.
It’s useless in the face of the innovation and speed we need to solve our climate and sustainability problems. It’s useless in the face of changing technology and community huger for fairer and more satisfying lives. It’s useless in the face of the collaboration and or systems thinking we need.
There are good signs that things are changing. Again, just take a look at the stockmarket. There’s a great clunking re-orientation going on. Of course it might end up bringing the rest of us undone but there is a building sense that the way we’ve done things till now – including delivering half the world’s wealth to 62 people – is not on. Not sustainable, not fair, not workable. Nor are the smoke and mirrors of debt and short term thinking that created this system workable.
A major problem is the mandated quarterly reporting for public companies and traditional company directors insisting this is the main and almost only game.
Unilever is one giant who bucked the trend when new CEO Paul Polman declared on his first day of work several years ago that the company would no longer report on quarterly earnings.
An article last year in Forbes tells the story
He said his responsibility is to multiple stakeholders, among them, consumers in the developing world and climate-change activists. Regarding shareholders, Polman said, “I’m not just working for them.” On that note, he added this zinger—“Slavery was abolished a long time ago.”
Soon after he became CEO, Polman spearheaded the 10-year Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which seeks to decouple the company’s growth from its environmental footprint. The ambitious goals include doubling Unilever’s revenue while slashing the footprint by 50%; sourcing 100% of its raw materials sustainably (meaning that the supply chain is managed according to environmental, social, and ethical principles); and helping more than a billion people improve their health and well-being.
When asked if Unilever expected to reach all of its sustainability goals in the next decade, Polman replied, disarmingly, “We won’t. And I knew that.” He said his main intention has been to help bring about a “shift in people mindsets.”
To make that happen, Unilever is collaborating with companies, governments, NGOs and consumers around the world. For example, in April, the company announced it was partnering with two leading mass movements, Global Citizen and Live Earth. The aim is to focus attention on issues related to sustainable development in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in December, i
One of our contacts in the corporate world who brought up the Polman example said this long range thinking is not new. “That’s how business used to be built. It took a long term view,” he said.
“These days it’s run by markets and hedge funds who have nothing to do with capital aggregation and want income to pay out short term bonuses in some kind of Ponzi scheme,” he said.
Interesting that articles in the financial media right now are saying that it’s Wall Street that’s sick, not Main Street, meaning private companies, not beholden to the “children with machine guns” as someone once described the stockmarket, are doing OK. In fact jobs growth in the US isn’t too bad, nor is it in Oz. Of course the bourse has the power to send its bear claws into all of us if things get too carried away as it adjusts and recalibrates after years of profligate debt bingeing and so on.
Our corporate source says there is a tiredness with this irresponsible and yes childish behaviors that impact on us all.
There’s even a suggestion of the rise again of the left, or at least of people who want to put people first, rather than the market. Evidence? The rise of Bernie Sanders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Syriza in Greece.
In the US Sanders is calling for the break up of the financial services sector. Wall Street ,he says as an industry run on “greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance.”
In what world is that OK?
In what world does a government condone financial advisers who are able “lease” their licences to people who have shoddy financial history including? In ours.
The parallels with how we treat the planet are infinite.
But there are good signs that the places where the power centres are are indeed starting to shift – divestment is one sign, the rise of green investment is another.
Another powerful moment was when the Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England called for climate action ahead of the Paris COP. It resonated around the world. He focused on insurance. And drew a light to resilience. Resilience is of growing concern everywhere Sean Kidney from the Climate Bonds Initiative told us at our London salon.
Is that what has shaken up our own federal environment minister?
To be fair he was probably always concerned but under the watch of the former government climate Stasi it was probably hard to make a rational impact.
Go the new improved Environment, cities and Built Environment Minister, you.
The fun Magic Green Fairy will be with you.