Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Good News Greenie

Last night I went to see one of Australia’s favourite popular scientific writers give a talk at UWA. Tim Flannery is an interesting character and if you want to get a bit of a background, here are some good links – Tim’s statement on Perth’s possibility of surviving the global warming and what his critics think of him.

Flannery did indeed change Australia’s way of thinking about its impact on the environment with The Future Eaters, and he is a constant voice in the media reminding us that we can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment.

His talk was fascinating, very Bill Bryson in that he gave you the figures, then broke them down into manageable sound bytes of data that were compared to quantities we understand from daily life.

Regarding global warming for example he told us that the last significant rise in global temperature was a rise of 7 degrees over 7,000 years about 15,000 years ago. It is predicted that the global temperature will rise 3.4 degrees over the next 100 years. This is a temperature rise over 30 times faster than last time. The chilling (no pun intended) point is that the environment survived the 7,000 year of temperature change because they had time to adapt – this time the environment will not be so lucky.

Whether you think Tim Flannery is a tree-hugging broad brush alarmist or a committed climate prophet crying in the wilderness, his bad news is accompanied by good news and this good news is about clever ideas. With his warnings and exhortations come the practical steps an individual, good citizen can take to become a green energy consumer.

These solutions make sense no matter what your ideology, capitalists reinvest in a clever industry, economists save money, greenies practise what they preach and the hip become the first in their street to have the newest technology running their house and driving their car. Saving the earth means everyone wins.

First principles understanding of the science behind global warming is not for all of us, but a universal acceptance of the figures on rainfall, temperature and weather patterns is not too far in the future. Flannery wryly remarked that since George W Bush admitted at the G8 summit that climate change was a significant issue, there should be no more debate. Don't let a Bush endorsement dissuade you however, it is only a matter of time before Green is Good, the question is, will you be in the vanguard or just one of the camp followers?

Talking to a Perth audience at UWA on Monday, Flannery outlined advantages that were relevant to both Australia and Western Australia, citing our wealth in natural gas, wind and solar power, as well as the accompanying technology and research. Flannery believes that these resources position us as the Lucky Country all over again, the country with the greatest green resources, the chance to become world leaders in intellectual property and the country just down the global street from the biggest potential marketplace for cheap, green energy in the world – China.

During the question and answer session one member of the audience mused that doing something instead of nothing was the best way forward. If we act now and the alarms are genuine, then we are already in possession of the solutions. If the alarms are false this time, then our actions now could ensure we do not reach the danger threshold in the future. It may sound like bad news now, but it means only innovation and opportunities, markets and revenue in the future.

A canny greenie helps create demand for green energy by installing solar panels for electricity and water, consuming green energy elsewhere and investing in a hybrid car. They support councils that have green initiatives, start an energy audit at work and when their green energy consumption saves them money and reduces their pollution footprint, they broadcast their good news to those around them. They vote for politicians that acknowledge the need for green energy and write to those who don't.

If popular science writers and God-bothering Presidents are in accord, who are we to stop the Green Good News?

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