Sunday 18th March 2018 | Blog #7 The Sustainability Conversation
These past few weeks I’ve been reading different reports, articles and the like getting further into the realities of the sustainability conversation. From reports by the Climate Council and Beyond Zero Emissions about the transition of the Australian economy and energy sector to renewables to general media reports analysing them and the political noise that surrounds them.
This is a core topic of our project, The Bees Republic and I’ll be writing another blog on what ‘sustainability’ can mean soon enough, don’t you worry. But for now, I just wanted to write about our observations of the conversation. Just in general, from London to Australia, from city to country, from social media to real life walking, talking people.
Fact or Opinion
A story from a few months ago on our hunt for Willie – the Kombi – sticks in my mind. After some polite chat with the owner of a bus we were looking at, we gave the light version of our story, our journey to sustainable living and he kindly provided a unique reply we’re yet to hear repeated. “oh, you don’t believe in all that sustainability stuff do you?”. That might not seem like a huge deal to some people, but we were pretty surprised. If you need to imagine it, we almost passed out in shock, falling backwards with mouths a gasp. We were surprised. My first thought (not verbalised) being “what a tit”.
It captures a point made by Jon Stewart a while back when he was hosting his talk show in the States that opinions and values seem to have become confused with fact. It’s really not about believing that the climate is changing. Well, I suppose we can believe whatever we like in life. So who am I to pass judgement? The point is more that it doesn’t matter what you believe (as The Rock might say), facts are facts.
This issue seems to have touched national conversation in every country (going by the signatories to the Paris Agreement). General populations are aware of a need to recycle, use less energy, be smart in the use of energy, use less plastic etc. But what’s also clear is the message of how to do it is still not sinking in, and that we really need to get a move on. The message that we can all actually make quite a huge difference with relatively little effort, and that we have the technology we need to make the changes that are needed.
The problem is simply enacting our abilities and expertise.
Making an effort
There is a huge debate around coal vs renewables in Australia at the moment. Australia has huge amounts of fossil fuels, some easy to reach, others not. But, it has even more renewable sources. A nice bit of sunshine, bum loads of wind, tidal, thermal. It’s a full monty of a menu down here, as in fact, it is in many places around the world.
I’ve now watched a few dialogues unravel on Twitter that seem to go the same way, it’s funny in some ways, weird in others. Generally confusing, and makes me wonder are these people being paid to respond like this? Are these their real conclusions? How have they come to such different conclusions to me? Conversation after conversation, the comments flow that renewable technologies don’t work, they’re just another thing being sold. That fancy pants city folk don’t understand employment in the country. That renewables are expensive and unreliable.
I’ve put on my reading list to research around the changing of tobacco laws, advertising and the general conversation that happened with that. So far, it seems pretty similar. Almost all of those criticisms are out of date, unfounded or the result of a drunken rant.
The evidence is there. Study after study, academics, institutions, businesses and lots of others in support. But a huge number of people refuse to at least engage in meaningful conversation as to why their perception is different.
I try to maintain a rational approach and I’d like to understand how an alternative conclusion is made, perhaps there’s something I’ve missed? But my observation is the information is there, the data, the evidence and it’s really rather clear. Things are a-changin’.
An ulterior motive…?
In the States, I had some interesting conversations from both sides of the argument including detailed thoughts on mans need to make money. A bit stereotypical perhaps coming from the States, but a true story. We spoke of why you would pursue a course of action, a business idea, why do you do what you do? And for that guy, it was all about money. He wasn’t seeking anything crazy, he wanted to run a food truck and similar things, he was a chef and I take his word that he was a good one. But he was all about making money.
I countered, surely you take some enjoyment from this? From cooking? If the money fell would you continue? Obviously, life insists on practicalities and money is a part of life, I’m not being facetious. But, if money wasn’t there what would he do? Is money actually the side party and not the driver? He was almost won over, but not quite. We talked about some other things and attacked the argument from various angles, all in good nature, as we sat around a fire with a beer. It wasn’t all bad.
Earlier in the trip, we met a guy as we donned our green, gold and purple face paint for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, who wanted to start an oil company. We practically passed out. Ok, we didn’t, but we wondered if there was some form of environmentalist exorcism we could perform on him? Again, we didn’t. But this guy was en route to Congo and the central African region where there are a lot of fossil fuels.
Why? Because there was money in it. He even described the area himself as a potential flashpoint for World War Three. Where there are no laws, where things are run by warlords. Bear in mind, this guy was in his mid-40s, a slightly tubby chap, somewhat middle class, and a former estate agent (realtor). What an adventure he was to have! Hopefully, he folded his tighty whiteys appropriately. It just seemed so backward to invest his time, money and potentially life in a passing technology and one that is damaging the environment.
Both conversations were fascinating. For me, they were about an obsession with the short term, with greed, with a childish excitement that I know something everyone else doesn’t, so I’m going to make loads of cash out of it. They were nice guys, but we struggled to find common ground on these points. I spoke about the long reign of history, that actually, only the last 100 years or so have been about the heavy use of fossil fuels. That they are a stepping stone on a longer journey, one that is now moving to the next step – renewables. And that it’s a journey that will continue. In another 100 years, if not sooner, we’ll move on no doubt. But why not join the emerging and growing wave, rather than the one which has passed and is now dissipating.
A few final perspectives
We were also lucky enough to stay with some people who had been fully engaged in environmental issues for their entire professional lives. Working to change local laws and protect local areas of natural beauty. Not just because they were indeed beautiful, but because they were vital to the physical functioning of an area for both people and wildlife.
These people provided an inspiring example that has made, and continues to make an incredibly positive impact, not only for themselves and the environment but for other people. This was a core difference between those we met who pushed the money objective and those who didn’t. Those seeking money sought it for themselves. Those who weren’t, thought of a bigger picture, including people. Yes, that might come across as sweeping, but from the handful of people we met and spoke with, it’s accurate. So pipe down.
Then there are the more everyday people. The majority. Who acknowledge this thing called climate change. Have a sip of tea/coffee, and admit yes it does seem rather bad Mildred and someone ought to do something about it. Big government announcements come and go and don’t really relate to everyday life. Announcements about reducing a country’s emissions by X%. Why would anyone be able to interpret that to their day to day? We can’t.
Who is someone?
Turns out it’s you. It’s us. The fact we’ve now been on the road for over a year met many people from many walks of life in multiple countries and everyone is aware of the issue of climate change is an important one. Yes, it could simply be that there has just been some very effective media coverage and it’s all a conspiracy.
But, I think really, we know. We all know. We’re in a pickle and we have to pull our finger out together to sort this one out. A big aim of this project, The Bees Republic, is to work out how to break this bigger picture down to be understandable. How to contribute to it more. The little changes adding up to a big change, to stop the other big change – climate change.