We’d like to move straight to the good news. But it would be disrespectful if not downright wrong to not note a few things first.

In particular that no-one right now needs reminding about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Let’s make no mistake, the horses aren’t the problem, it’s the blokes riding them. Whatever shape they take we are certainly getting to know them better than we want to. 

Pestilence of course being a regular visitor in historical terms and one that just because we are in modern times, we need have no hubris around.

We hear that at the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association of Australia Building Ventilation Summit last week Dr Norman Swan not only said that the coronavirus would be around in some shape or other for up to the next 10 years but that if the pandemic had started 10 years ago we wouldn’t have the scale of outbreak we had because our global politics was different. Blame the poor political leaders we have at the helm these days who defied the disease and hence let it rip. In power in central places of influence there be tyrants and megalomaniacs. 

 
According to Dr Dominique Hes who is these days zero carbon buildings lead City of Melbourne and chair of Greenfleet, the other big issue was the apparent conflict between air quality and health. 

“Troubling for me,” she told us in an email, “was some speakers seeing an either or scenario between energy and IAQ (indoor air quality) that is IAQ trumps energy, if we need more energy to make our buildings safe then so be it.” 

Hes doesn’t agree. Her own presentation on the BREATH pilot research project, a collaboration between the City of Melbourne, the University of Melbourne and CBus property looks at “the energy, cost and transmission consequences of a mixed ventilation system, retrofitted with personal air systems, column based displacement systems and filtration”. 

“We can have good IAQ AND energy efficiency, we just have to look at the issue holistically and bring out ingenuity and skills to solve the problem.”

So human ingenuity can stymie progress (think of egocentric thinking as in certain political leaders we’ve been subjected to right now) or it can break open the barriers to balanced solutions. 

QandA

In QandA last night (Thursday) the word Covid didn’t come up, as someone noted towards the end of one of the edgiest programs for a long time. It was all about Putin and the floods.

Both disasters. Both severe warnings for our climate urgency. 

On Putin, well the daily news has it all. It’s a major distraction from the real war we should be fighting in a united global front.

On the floods, the latest International Panel on Climate Change report warned that things were worse than we thought. We’re on track to 2.1C warming by 2100, and possibly as much as 3.9C. But we don’t need to wait to see what’s coming. It’s here now.

As if any reasonable Australian doubts that for a second.

You have to wonder how the people of Lismore in northern NSW can again pick themselves up five years after the last flood with businesses in the main street this time pretty much wiped out.

One business owner Adam Bailey told The Guardian he and his neighbours were uninsured. The quote for his shop was $70,000 a year.

“I struggle to believe Lismore will survive this one,” he said. Tom Davies, who we know as co-founder of Edge Environment and now working in insurance said in the article, “As the climate changes, and the weather becomes more extreme, I think we’ll have to accept that in some places you just can’t treat the risk [by adaptation]. “We’ll have to retreat.” 

A recent resilience report from the insurance industry called for the federal government to double its annual spending on mitigation to $200 million, and there have been strong calls in recent times for infrastructure spending to be directed to adaptation.

Yet we still don’t hear the words “climate change” issue from the mouths of Australia’s political leaders. You’d think they’re all holidaying in Hawaii.

Are almost yearly disasters not enough?

Davies pointed to the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain to Sydney’s north and west, and where we know that the powerful development lobby keeps gaining approvals for housing regardless of what happens to the people who live there. 

Raise Warragamba dam, one of their representatives told The Fifth Estate recently, or raise the elevation of the roads so people can get out, he said. Ignoring the rest of that sentence that should have read, “leaving their homes and everything that’s dear to them behind”.

Watching the devastation of bombs and shelling on people’s homes in the Ukraine and the refugees pouring into other countries really brings home the unique value of our home. And it’s not just our house, it’s everything that surrounds it and contains it and extends from it. The amazing patriotism of the Ukranian people is inspiring to behold. It seems they will do anything to protect it.

Imminent destruction is evident and a clear motivator. Climate change is no different. But we have mealy mouthed responses from our national government and recently were astounded to hear that the people who lost their homes in the Black Summer bushfires have still not received any financial assistance. 

What’s going on? It’s a disgrace. As if $200 million a year in infrastructure can save us from the rain bombs that are now part of our lexicon. When it’s that serious you don’t patch up the wounds you go to the source of the problem and stop it. 

If you spend a minute listening to the Indigenous people of Australia you work with the land – nature, planet, climate – not against it or in spite of it as if we can beat that particular angry mother when she gets going.

On Tuesday The Fifth Estate was honoured to moderate a session at the CoreNet annual conference in Sydney that focused on Indigenous thinking and their key concerns of looking after People and Country (and pretty much everything else will look after itself).

On the panel was Clarence Slockee of Jiwah (and the Gardening Australia television program) who’s also been at one of our Tomorrowland signature events and who spoke about the connection to country that is starting to finally seep into the minds of those of us who are new inhabitants of this land. He was joined by Aunty Donna Ingram who works with Indigenous people from her Tribal Warriors organisation and is based in Redfern. 

When it comes to living with nature it’s a good to have understanding the land and its temperament first, and then working within that, Slockee says, and he’s buoyed a little by the nascent thinking to incorporate this idea that’s starting to filter through from organisations such as the NSW government agencies with master plans and also with major developers. 

Aunty Donna works on the People side, helping Indigenous people including youth gain exposure to better opportunities than the mean and stingy birthright that we arrivistes have bequeathed our First Peoples in this post-colonial era (our words not those of the polite Aunty Donna). 

There was a wake up moment in our pre-event briefing with Aunty Donna when she talked about the power of exposure to another way of thinking and being for people who are generally excluded from privilege. If you’re born into a world that tells you this is the tight box you’ve been assigned it’s pretty hard to know something better is within your grasp. The logic is you have to see it and feel it to enable change, she says.

In one personal anecdote Aunty Donna talked about a program called CEO Dor a Day, which enables a young person to shadow a CEO in their regular work. One young woman who did this was moved and inspired to the core, Kylie Captain. 

Kylie had been on a bad road but a day with the CEO of a major Aboriginal corporate entity changed everything for her, Aunty Donna said. And she wrote a book about it, Dream Big and Imagine the What If to inspire others.

Aunty Donna points to cultural experiences that run the other way too, and says there are 130 Indigenous cultural tours in NSW, including one that she runs around her own patch in Redfern, and another by another run separately by Aunty Margret Campbell in The Rocks. 

Now there’s something to offer staff as a way to entice workers back to the CBD, which was a major theme of the event.

Speaking of The Rocks it was great to see Anita Mitchell on stage in her new role as chief executive Placemaking with a big focus on the success her team has had with reinvigorating the Rocks district, hit quite badly by the disappearance of tourists during the pandemic. 

Key she said was focusing on core attractions that would bring the locals out to play. And besides she quipped that’s exactly the kind of experiences tourists want anyway. Who’d a thunk it: tourists, with even a hint of an adventurous spirit, don’t want a shopping centre experience that looks identical wherever they happen to land in the world.

Hmm Aunty Donna and co, looks like you should get together with Mitchell and cook up some ideas.

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