News from the front desk, Issue 484: According to the social scientists it can take a good 10 years for society to forget a collective trauma and move on.  Even after the actual danger has passed, the fear lives on.

We’re wondering if it’s this kind of fear that is making the PM Scott Morrison so timid in his plans for this next stage of the Covid recovery. The HomeBuilder scheme in particular.

Not so much the fear of the problem itself but fear of making a mistake in the recovery programs.

There are reasons to be nervous. When the GFC hit in 2008 the Labor government of the day headed by Kevin Rudd got hammered for a litany of so-called bungles in its stimulus plans. There was the pink batts scandal (where fires broke out in houses with newly fitted government-funded insulation, and four people lost their lives), the schools halls scandal (where schools were gifted halls they didn’t want or need) and the mountains of cash handouts that went straight to Harvey Norman for wide screen televisions.

Thing is, we know the stimulus worked. It kept us out of recession.

Besides much of the fodder for the scandals was good old fashioned politicking by a furious anti-climate opposition determined to bring down a relatively climate-friendly government.

The pink batts program, for example, delivered more than 1 million insulated homes that would have saved the owners huge electricity bills. And according to an article in The Weekend AFR in February 2010, actual data supplied by fire brigades for NSW, Queensland, South Australia and metropolitan Melbourne, say there were 115 house fires in 2009 caused by faulty installation, compared with 75 house fires caused by faulty insulation in 2007, before the scheme was operating.

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council said, “No fire service in Australia is saying there has been a significant increase in house fires linked to the insulation program”, the newspaper reported.

There were four deaths during the pink batt insulation rollout but “there are no statistics on whether installers were electrocuted before the program started, but it has always been dangerous work.

“Statistics from Safe Work Australia for 2007-8 before the scheme began show about 250 serious injury claims for a category of worker that includes ceiling insulation installers and installers of decorative home improvements.”

So now, just a bit over two months since the much bigger economic shock of Covid slammed into our recovering post-bushfire psyches, we’re in familiar territory. There’s a stimulus package that’s been praised for being delivered fast and effectively to at least part of the economy and community, but with holes now starting to appear.

For instance, barristers found to be putting their hands out for the $1500 a fortnight JobKeeper program, and refusing to pay rent. Likewise, some of the biggest property owners in the country are also claiming JobKeeper. And $60 billion notionally “banked” thanks to the government’s (or Tax Department’s) bad arithmetic.

Of course, that’s not a bad problem to have in case we need more bailout funds down the track.

Hopefully, revisions to the JobKeeper program will involve removing the subsidy from those who don’t need it and extending it to those who do.

All this is enough to make the PM nervous, we’d reckon. In case the Opposition remembers the vicious attacks on the delivery mistakes made after the GFC and starts to feel vindictive.

Can this loss of nerve and fear of failure (read mistakes) be the reason the HomeBuilder package looks so half-baked?

The nation, almost as one, bemoaned the directionless spending of this tradie-focused program aimed mostly at renovation and constrained, it seems, to those who have an idle $150,000  to $750,000 waiting around to get started on work almost immediately.

By Thursday, the airwaves were awash with the missed opportunities.

National president of the Australian Institute of Architects Helen Lochhead who had already been advocating for environmental and sustainability outcomes in the Fed’s stimulus program, was mystified.

Why were no KPIs mentioned? Around thermal comfort and lower energy bills, for instance.

Not to mention the missed opportunity for badly needed social and affordable housing.

Lochhead said the focus in this week’s package was tipped to the part of the market likely to exclude advisers such as architects.

It ignored the opportunities in multi-unit apartments and bigger family homes, which was regrettable.

“These are the ones that have most to gain,” she told The Fifth Estate on Thursday.

“It’s not just that architects should have more work but it’s here that with design intentions you can actually make a difference.”

“If you are going to provide a stimulus include some social, energy and environmental outcomes that can head us in the right direction to a more equitable, low carbon future.”

Even the AFR was sorry to see this opportunity squandered.

According to Robert Harley, former property editor for the paper who’s also written in these pages, the disappointment is “the failure, once again, to address the substantial need for social and affordable housing. Particularly at a time when a Commonwealth government commitment could leverage low-interest rates, spare industry capacity and private sector interest to address the worst undersupply in Australian housing.”

See the Flash Forum on Affordable Housing we held in 2017, moderated by Harley, designed to create an agenda to send to  Scott Morrison (who was then Treasurer) and who, we were assured, gets the housing problem. So why squander this opportunity? We can only imagine that the fossil fuel industry is still calling the shots and is threatened by a few home owners getting some better thermal comfort and lower bills. As for ignoring social and affordable housing… who knows what the PM is thinking, but we can only hope he’s got another few stimulus aces up his sleeve.

Are some environmentalists racist?

There’s a great little newsletter that comes out of the US called Heated, “for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis”.

With that vibe, its author/editor Emily Atkin is clearly a kindred spirit. Though we generally try to tread somewhere closer to the middle ground since our job is to prove the business and political case for rapid decarbonisation and sustainability.

What we clearly like about Atkin is her readiness to tell it like it is. It’s in that spirit that she chided a reader she called Climate Chad who ticked her off for including solidarity with black Americans and other oppressed groups in her coverage.

Chad wanted to unsubscribe, she told her readers, because he assumed her newsletter would be “laser-focused” on climate. He might agree with most of these groups, he said, “but I focus my support on focused advocacy.” 

Atkin went on to identify a truly uncomfortable racism in the US environmental movement. One that has been silent in the face of the riots and the US President’s incitement to violent and division.

“The environmental movement has long been full of straight-up, unapologetic racists,” Atkin said, equally unapologetically.

“Like the criminal justice system, American environmentalism was built on a foundation of anti-Black, anti-Indigenous discrimination, which its modern leaders have worked hard to reverse.”

Sierra ClubLeague of Conservation Voters, and Earthjustice have “all released statements condemning the killing and emphasising their commitments to racial justice,” she said. Ditto Greta Thunberg, Jane Fonda and

“Climate Chads are self-identified environmentalists who say they care about pervasive racial inequality and police brutality, but don’t believe these issues are related to the climate fight.

“Or if they do, they believe focusing on racial equality ‘undercuts’ the fight, and limits the climate movement’s ability to achieve broad support.

These are harsh words and harsh indictments and a movement that will find this incredibly uncomfortable to deal with, especially in Australia where such ideas are anathema to the image of environmentalism as equally interested in social sustainability as environmental sustainability.

The fight for the planet seems to have genuinely overtaken all other considerations in some cases.

Atkin says some people from Extinction Rebellion have committed to abandoning the climate justice movement altogether and adopted an “All Lives Matter-esque” rallying cry: “one people, one planet, one future.”

She’s not fooled.

“That these climate activists think mere talk of racism is more divisive than actual racism exposes their anti-Blackness—not to mention their stupidity. Imagine thinking you have a better chance convincing racists to support the climate movement than engaging minorities across the world.

“Imagine asking Black people to risk their lives to protect a planet full of people who have never, and will never, risk anything to protect theirs, and thinking that’s the more successful strategy.

That’s what Climate Chads do, though.

The low population movement also has undertones of racism. Comments on this site purport to care for the planet by blaming population growth for pollution and congestion.

But pollution is caused by the kinds of fossil fuels we use and congestion by bad planning. The options with this line of thinking is raise the drawbridge and look after just ourselves. Bad luck about the rest.

But to invest in others, in their own homes, by way of lending a hand, whatever it is they ask for, may minimise the chance of people being forced to leave their homes and create problems for others. Most people would choose to stay in their own place if they can.

Tithing, as Professor Peter Newman told us in the latest podcast, is an ancient principle that gives back as much – if not more – than it sends out.

What’s missing from hard-line split-system thinking about the environment to the exclusion of all else is the understanding that sustainability isn’t a destination, it’s a process – and it’s complex systems thinking, actually.

To achieve sustainability for the planet, are you going to fight for environmental justice, but not care about your fellow workers or the members of your community? If so, and your fight ignores the needs of others, how long would your achievements last before they become corrupted?

It’s one of the reasons that several years back the sustainability movement in Australia started to focus on social sustainability alongside environmental. And why the social impact movement is considered part of the sustainability “family”, or if you like, the set of values that needs to drive all your thinking and actions in this space.

Can you be a sustainability advocate and not support minority groups to attain equity? As Atkin has identified, this is destined to fail. Because if you attain a living breathing planet but it’s at the expense of its humans and other living creatures, then your achievement will soon be corrupted by the imbalance.

Quite frankly, some people don’t really care if the planet survives if it is to be without we humans and all the other living breathing creatures and life forms that inhabit it.

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  1. Regarding:

    The low population movement also has undertones of racism. Comments on this site purport to care for the planet by blaming population growth for pollution and congestion.

    Australia is not immune to similar, according to Green Agenda:

    Green Anti-Immigration Arguments Are A Cover For Right Wing Populism

    Seems to be a clear relationship between US led promotion of neo liberalism by radical right libertarians and eugenics, focused upon population and environment.

  2. ….a truly uncomfortable racism in the US environmental movement….
    We are all bombarded with bad news stories every day on every issue. Do we try to fight every one and thus dilute our energies? Yes they are all related, and the connecting link is our absurd economic system which creates inequalities and pollution in the name of growth. The high proportion of indigenous people jailed or self harming is largely due to high unemployment, poverty, poor healthcare and education opportunities.