News from the front desk 456: Michael Mobbs, one of Sydney’s most established sustainability gurus looks like he’s thrown in the towel on hope. He might not be throwing himself down on the streets as the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters are, but what he is doing could be more subversive.
Mobbs says his recent “coming out” as a prepper – one of the growing number of people preparing for the breakdown of our climate, environment and consequently, social order – has gone viral.
A recent article published in The Guardian on his thinking about the impending breakdown of our climate and social order caused a storm.
There were “thousands” of responses on social media. The original piece had around 350,000 reads “still counting” and is one of the most popular articles ever, he says. And Catherine Ingram’s article that he quotes, Facing Extinction had 43,000 hits in the first day after his mention, he says.
There’s been contact from media outfits in the UK, the US, Sweden and “from across Australia”.
People have stopped him on the streets. Some amused, some bemused and others sad or outraged that he’d betrayed his brand of hope and optimism to battle climate change and create greater sustainability.
Certainly, we copped some of the flurry at The Fifth Estate where Mobbs has run an occasional series called Bathurst Burr.
- See his latest here
On Thursday he said: ““Personally I’ve been swamped with Facebook and social media; I’ve had to go off social media.”
The first he knew of the reaction was during a “slow train trip” from Sydney to Casino. There was no internet between stations so it was only when the train pulled in, that he realised the storm he’d unleashed.
We’re not surprised. Our own “prepper” investigation in July also had huge hits (for us) and likewise approaches from mainstream media to follow up.
And Mobbs is not alone. It’s like there is a parallel universe that not only believes in climate heating (or at least its consequences because many are also climate denialists) but that the game’s up. Just one outdoors equipment business in NSW’s Southern Highlands has about 2000 customers a month, about 30 per cent of these preppers, mostly high income urban professionals, we found.
As to be expected, Mobbs has been called any number of names.
“People have called me everything from a white supremacist to a kook.
“A lot of people, however, have said they’re relieved someone has come out and said it because it’s been on their minds for years.”.
Some have invited him to move down their way; others to help create a self-sufficient island in Canada.
What we don’t know is what this has done to the real estate prices in Bermagui, on the NSW South Coast, where he told the whole world he’s headed.
So what made him spit the dummy and what does he say to the people who feel he’s abandoned them after decades of helpful advice on how to be sustainable and move off grid?
One of the reasons is that he can’t imagine either the Australian PM Scott Morrison or the American president saying sorry: Sorry, we’ve made a mistake: climate change is real and we better do all we can to mitigate its impact because it’s too late now to stop it.
But to the people who are horrified or furious with the XR people throwing themselves onto roads and disrupting traffic, Mobbs says they need to consider how political change has happened in the past.
Not by polite conversations, collecting signatures or letters to the editor.
With women’s emancipation for instance: “English women chained themselves to Parliament and some were beaten but eventually they got the vote.”
He thinks Queensland’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk would have done well to remember this when she threated this week to summarily throw XR protesters in jail.
She might also remember the shearers’ strike in the 1890s that led the formation of the Australian Labor Party.
There are very few alternatives to dealing with power structures that are implacably opposed to a growing body of opinion, he says. Or in this case, a screamingly obvious need to act.
Yes, there will be disappointed people but Mobbs is relieved. He imagines it’s like gay people in the 70s or 80s finally “coming out” and telling it like it is.
Mostly people are bemused or angry with Mobbs. But you have to wonder why.
Is Mobbs wrong?
Think about the fires raging in Australia before spring has even started, while the air is still cold. Think about fire fighters standing by and letting houses burn because there is no water to spare. Or of growing numbers of towns facing empty dams, farmers suiciding in a disintegrating landscape, food becoming harder to grow.
Think that in California 2 million people will have their electricity cut off for days to protect supply during imminent fire storms. And that because wild fires are in the US and Australia at the same time we can no longer share those giant water bombing helicopters.
Some people are angry because we need hope and they say Mobbs’ is a nihilistic kind of response. To be clear, he’s not moving away just yet. Yes, the house is on the market but he’s still gardening and consulting on sustainability. If he doesn’t leave, or even if he does, it’s a brilliant piece of media impact that will leave a nice chain reaction/wake up call in its wake.
What’s the attitude in Queensland where the climate agenda was smashed in the federal election earlier this year?
The Fifth Estate was this week in Brisbane moderating an event on timber construction at what could be the world’s tallest timber office building at 25 King Street, organised by Bates Smart and Aurecon.
We asked the Uber driver. Yes, he was furious at the XR protesters, saying they could endanger potential heart attack victims if an ambulance couldn’t get through.
The concern about climate was alarmist, he said. There were signs detected by new super computers of new climate patterns; the earth would heal itself, stabilise.
(Sure, we said, but in a way that’s friendly to humans?)
Fusion was the answer to our energy issues, he said, had been for decades (then why was it not a commercial option?).
Besides, coal was worth $5 billion to the state. What’s the alternative? He had us there.
Our timber event offered a clue. The room was fully booked. Here is an industry that’s new and bursting with enthusiasm and opportunity to be developed with plenty of “jobs and growth” potential, not just in growing the trees but in building sophisticated prefabrication technology that could slash waste, carbon pollution and onsite challenges of regular construction.
How much economic potential is the subject of new investigations by the University of Melbourne, we heard (more on this panel event soon).
But notice the subtle shift in rhetoric in our Uber driver who was clearly a smart man and who we bet was previously a climate sceptic. It’s no longer outright denial; it’s more a she’ll be right attitude, and dare we say, a surfeit of hope that looks a tad unwarranted from where we stand.
That subtle shift is not just (we’re guessing) from the Uber driver but from some of the pollies. Like Drought Minister David Littleproud the other day, shifting positions within a week from a climate change is crap to a climate change is real stance.
Same with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
In corporate land the shift is also powering through like a rent in the earth during an earthquake. Biggest news this week was the Minerals Council “capitulating to investors” and bringing on a climate plan – with no little thanks to Rio Tinto which threatened to quit the council if it didn’t get its climate act together and to BHP for clearly signalling a similar possibility.
Pressure behind these giants is coming from outfits such as the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility and investors such as AustralianSuper, which have warned that commitments to reaching for the Paris climate goals need to do more than pay lip service to them.
BHP is listening. It’s flagged it’s got to not just maintain a social licence to operate; it has to create social value. And that means being a positive contributor to the Paris climate targets.
All good signs.
Who knows what particular mysterious catalyst has put a fire under the belly of these behemoths. But something has.
As Mobbs points out who could have thought a year ago that a 16 year old schoolgirl from Sweden Greta Thunberg could have stirred pretty much the entire world to stand up for action.
There is an energy and urgency underway that’s unseen in this 40 year campaign.
Say what you like about Mobbs, criticise his methods, but some things really do need a big, sometimes shocking shake up, to shift the thinking and stir action.
Judging by the early signs we’d say this chain reaction is well underway.