Collective wisdom: Uniting brains for a safer future

The Sustainable Hour no. 490 | Podcast notes

Our guests in The Sustainable Hour on 14 February 2024 are Louise Denver, comms lead for Subak Australia, and Tim Hollo, author and executive director at the Green Institute.

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Louise Denver describes herself as a “pioneering wordsmith”. She is communications lead for Subak Australia.

Louise Denver is a curious life long learner. She has formal qualifications in Psychology, Sociology and Criminology from London University as well as a Masters in Communication from the University of Technology Sydney. She has had a very wide work career. Amongst other things, an award winning documentary maker in the UK, a journalist in London, New York and the Middle East, and an executive position with the Commonwealth Bank and Deloitte.

Louise now runs her own writing business from Inner City Sydney. She is part of the climate action member hub Subak and works with the charity – a biodiversity, endangered and threatened species group of volunteers committed to spreading the word and turning caring about the planet into action.

Louise’s motto is: “Life’s all about the ability to continuously learn, share ideas, love, laugh and help people communicate, connect, and act for the benefit of all and the health of our planet.”

Some of the members Subak Australia supports are Parents for Climate, Surfers for Climate, and Open Corridor.

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Tim Hollo is executive director at the Green Institute as well as author of the book ‘Living Democracy’ and the reader of the audiobook version, which has just been released. We talked with Tim about his book in October 2022, and also, in 2020, talked for a full Regenerative Hour with him about his thinking around the commons.

Links to both versions of ‘Living Democracy’ can be found here: AudiobookBook

Tim is also an accomplished musician, playing violin in the FourPlay String Quartet.

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The song we end the Hour with is ‘Get Together (Griff’s Unified Mix)’ from Formidable Vegetable Sound System‘s Radish Beets Remix Album.

We also listen to clips from ABC Landline on farmers in Queensland’s experiencing the climate crisis, and a ABC News headline on 8 February 2024 about businesses ripping off Australian consumers. Professor Nick Barter from Griffith University tells us about his research that highlighted to him that Australian CEOs “appear to be stuck in the 1980’s greed-is-good mindset.”

In a short Twitter-video produced by the Australian Conservation Foundation, we hear a farmer talk about what the new windfarm which has been built on his land means to him and his family.

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Momentum for change and grassroots action: The episode of The Sustainable Hour highlights the momentum towards sustainability, driven by grassroots actions, innovative business models, and a growing awareness of the need for systemic change. However, it also warns against complacency, stressing the need for continued advocacy, innovation, and community engagement to maintain and build on this momentum.

Acknowledging Indigenous wisdom: The episode begins with a tribute to the Wathaurong people, emphasising the importance of justice for First Nations people and the value of their ancient wisdom in navigating the climate crisis.

The misunderstood 1.5 degrees: Mik Aidt highlights the general public’s lack of understanding regarding the critical nature of the 1.5-degree threshold in global heating. This segment aims to reframe the conversation around climate change, suggesting a focus on tangible impacts like sea-level rise and the economic costs of climate events, which reached $462 billion in 2023.

Profit from pollution: The discussion points out the disparity between the profits of major oil and gas companies and the broader societal costs of extreme weather events. This raises questions about the effectiveness of current discourse on climate change and the need for a shift towards more impactful metrics like economic costs and sea-level rise.

Innovative solutions and corporate responsibility: Louise Denver introduces Subak Australia, an organisation that fosters collaboration among not-for-profits to accelerate sustainable practices. Tim Hollo discusses the concept of “Living Democracy” and the need for a values-based approach to governance and economy, emphasising the commons and cooperative management of shared resources.

Challenging extractivism and wealth accumulation: The conversation critiques the extractivist mindset and the accumulation of wealth by a few at the expense of many. The guests advocate for a shift in cultural values, corporate governance, and economic systems to prioritise environmental sustainability and social equity.

Call to action: The episode concludes with a call to action. The hosts and guests encourage listeners to participate in collective efforts to address climate change. It emphasises the power of collaboration, innovation, and grassroots activism in creating a sustainable future and the importance of reframing our relationship with the environment and each other.

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Our outlook today begins in New York, where it was announced that nine U.S. states have formed a coalition this week to dramatically increase their statewide sales of heat pumps, while phasing out fossil fuel furnaces. 
And out of this came a somewhat unusual piece of history. Today, 80 per cent of New York’s residential buildings are heated by steam from a 100-year-old coal-driven source which also provides electric power to the city. It dates back to the aftermath of the Great War when authorities believed that keeping warm was a way to avoid The Spanish Flu. As a consequence, most New York buildings are way overheated. And as a result, most New York apartments leave their windows open during winter or find other ways to cool down. It’s a serious problem considering the city is pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent compared to 2005 levels by midcentury.

With so many New Yorkers blatantly wasting heat all winter long, it’s perhaps no surprise that buildings make up a staggering 70 per cent of the city’s total carbon emissions each year. It’s also the reason why New York state joined a nine-state coalition this week that’s pledging to dramatically ramp up installations of electric heat pumps, which are far more energy efficient than conventional heating and cooling systems and widely seen as a key solution to curbing climate change.

So last Wednesday, a memorandum of understanding was signed by California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island, to set goals to essentially phase out the selling of new fossil fuel boilers and furnaces over the coming decades. The agreement aims to have 65 per cent of new sales of heating and cooling systems in those states consist of heat pumps by 2030, reaching 90 per cent by 2040.

News from Stockholm, Sweden, and Somerset Council in the United Kingdom bear strikingly similar items. Both have voted to ban fossil fuel advertising, with the Somerset council, which has a population bigger than Canberra, taking it a step further by banning the advertising of petrol, diesel or hybrid vehicles plus airlines, airports and flights. They’re not actually banning flights – just their advertising.

Now to a new survey from the University of Queensland which found that three to five billion people – or up to two-thirds of the world’s population – are set to be affected by projected rainfall changes by the end of the century unless the world rapidly ramps up emissions reduction efforts.

The analysis showed many countries that are facing drier conditions in future. The top five most affected were Greece, Spain, Palestine, Portugal and Morocco, where at least 85 per cent of models projected significantly reduced annual rainfall by the end of this century, under a worst-case scenario of very high emissions. In contrast, for Finland, North Korea, Russia, Canada and Norway, more than 90 per cent of models agreed on a trend towards increasing annual rainfall.

The picture was similar for most parts of the two most populated nations of China and India, which together are home to more than 2.7 billion people. In those nations, 70 per cent of models agreed on projections for increasing rainfall. 

That report coincided with another from the British charity Oxfam, which showed the net worth of the world’s five richest individuals, all men, has more than doubled from $405 billion to $869 billion since 2020. That is a growth rate equivalent to about $14 million per hour. 

Oxfam asked the world to imagine if those five men used half of that extra money to reduce world hunger or address climate change. I would go further than that. I would say that $14 million an hour, which those five men are making without actually doing anything, if properly directed, could end the current wars that threaten our planet as well as fixing climate change and world hunger.

According to Forbes magazine’s billionaire list, from which Oxfam derived its calculations, Elon Musk currently tops the ranks of the world’s wealthiest, followed by Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg.

Perhaps we environmentalists are barking up the wrong tree in protesting against fossil fuel companies. We’d probably get better results if we were to bring those five men together in the same room with Greta Thunberg, Davids Suzuki and Attenborough, Al Gore and Saul Griffith and explain to them how they can become the planet’s saviours.

And that fanciful idea ends our global round-up for the week.

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That’s it from us for another week. We thank both Louise and Tim for being so committed to working for the safer world we all yearn for. They had us delving deeper into solutions. We hope you have enjoyed the discussion they have generated today. In Louise’s words, “we’ll get there together.”

“What’s happened is that slowly but surely over a couple of thousand years and accelerating dramatically since the Industrial Revolution and again accelerating dramatically since the Second World War, this idea of ‘greed is good’ – but really what I refer to as, and many others refer to as – this idea of ‘extractivism’ has come to dominate. This idea that humans are separate somehow from the natural world, that we can practically – and have the right to – dominate the natural world, and dominate each other, and extract value. And this is where I come yet to count my perspective on Colin’s idea of those five ultra billionaires, getting them in a room together and trying to convince them [to help save the biosphere]. We cannot convince them. We will not be able to. They are the prime extractivists. They fundamentally believe that it is their right to take anything, to make a profit from that, and to use it. And even if in some cases, like Elon Musk’s, a small part of his business has been somewhat environmentally friendly with electric vehicles, it is still deeply, deeply extractivist – and deeply destructive.”
~ Tim Hollo, author and Executive Director at the Green Institute

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We at The Sustainable Hour would like to pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we
are broadcasting, the Wathaurong People, and pay our respect to their elders, past, present and future.

The traditional owners lived in harmony with the land. They nurtured it and thrived in often harsh conditions for millennia before they were invaded. Their land was then stolen from them – it wasn’t ceded. It is becoming more and more obvious that, if we are to survive the climate emergency we are facing, we have much to learn from their land management practices.

Our battle for climate justice won’t be won until our First Nations brothers and sisters have their true justice. When we talk about the future, it means extending our respect to those children not yet born, the generations of the future – remembering the old saying that, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
The decisions currently being made around Australia to ignore the climate emergency are being made by those who won’t be around by the time the worst effects hit home. How disrespectful and unfair is that?

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→ The Conversation – 23 January 2024:
‘It’s not game over – it’s game on’: why 2024 is an inflection point for the climate crisis
“In 2024, global climate trends are cause for both deep alarm and cautious optimism. Last year was the hottest on record by a huge margin and this year will likely be hotter still. The annual global average temperature may, for the first time, exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – a threshold crucial for stabilising the Earth’s climate.”

→ Foreign Affairs – 3 April 2023:
The Case for Capping Sea-Level Rise
“A More Tangible Way to Measure the Harm From Climate Change.”

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DW News: Will democracy survive 2024?

Staggering profits

During the hottest year on record, oil and gas giants reported staggering profits. Here’s what just five of the biggest corporations reported:

ExxonMobil: US$38.6 billion
Shell: US$28.2 billion
Chevron: US$24.7 billion
BP: US$13.8 billion
Conoco Phillips: US$10.6 billion

That’s US$116 BILLION in profits for 2023. For just five companies.

…and staggering costs

The economic cost solely from weather and climate events in 2023 was an estimated US$301 billion according to insurers Gallagher Re.

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“The science says that the very best we can hope for now is a world that’s harsher and more chaotic than the one that you and I grew up in. Whether you’re in South Melbourne or South Sudan, 1.5 degrees of heating by the end of this century is going to change human prospects. That’s the good news. We’re currently tracking for about 3° degrees, and that’s catastrophic.

So business as usual means the obliteration of myriad species, and the immiseration of billions of human beings. That means business as usual needs to be stopped, and if it can’t be reformed, it must be overthrown.

It has to be reimagined and retooled, and writers will not be exempt from participating in that transformation. No cultural sea change is going to be possible without us. What’s this going to take?

I’m not sure. But I got some suspicions. And I’m forced to think every day of those lines from my late friend the American poet Liam Rector: Change is slow, and hope is violent. The Turning required is going to be tough, and yes, violence will be done – at the very least to some of the ideas we have of ourselves. Is a going to be chaotic? Hell, yes. Writers like everybody else are going to have to embrace new levels and new kinds of risk.

Writers in particular may need to set aside some of our precious irony, because in a burning world, irony might be about as useful as a one-legged biky in an ass-kicking contest. We may need to risk sounding earnest. I’m sure we’re going to need to jettison some nihilistic tropes about the natural world to live and write as if matter matters, and that means thinking more organically. Becoming more literate about the material lives and needs of ecosystems and creatures…”
~ Tim Winton

You can listen to Tim Winton’s full speech – or read the transcript – here

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Events we have talked about in The Sustainable Hour

Events in Victoria

The following is a collation of Victorian climate change events, activities, seminars, exhibitions, meetings and protests. Most are free, many ask for RSVP (which lets the organising group know how many to expect), some ask for donations to cover expenses, and a few require registration and fees. This calendar is provided as a free service by volunteers of the Victorian Climate Action Network. Information is as accurate as possible, but changes may occur.



List of running petitions where we encourage you to add your name

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