I was fortunate to have been invited to attend the Australian premiere of National Geographic’s “Years of Living Dangerously.” Since I had been planning to make a trip back to my hometown of Melbourne to surprise my mum, this event gave me incentive to push the travel plans forward.
So I attended. Since it was a last minute trip, I did not pack properly, brought zero jumpers completely forgetting Melbourne’s infamous four-seasons-in-one-day weather and relied heavily on the assumption that I would find something to wear when I opened my bedroom closet. I had left many urban-stylish clothing behind when I decided to move to the farm for precisely this reason. But I had forgotten that I too minimalism my wardrobe and sold many of the branded jumpers I had possessed. Thank goodness I had a good selection of cardigans and jumpers from my mother’s overly-stuffed closet!
Anyway for the premiere I decided that I would wear a second hand LBD I picked up for about $7 from a thrift store and a second hand black Willow jacket and Danni Minogue heels that I had purchased from eBay. I borrowed jewellery and clutch bag from mum who unlike me is a fashion accessories hoarder. For a last minute job, I scrubbed up pretty well. I looked very Michelle Obamish.
My plus one for the evening was my best friend Belinda. Since I hadn’t seen her since June, this was a long overdue face-to-face catchup. While being served drinks and canapés, and after a kiss and huge hug, we launched into a frenzied discussion about last week’s political events punctuated with phrases like “still can’t believe Trump’s the President” and “the world has gone nuts”. The day Trump triumphed will go down in history as The Worst Day of My Politico Life. Our heads were spinning, trying to grasp the universal negative impact of his leadership and discussing ways to spread more consciousness as a way to combat the fear, climate change denials and xenophobia Trump encouraged.
Soon after our second glass of sparkling was poured, we were then ushered into the ACMI theatre where we watched a never-before-aired-in-Australia episode of Years of Living Dangerously. This particular episode features Hollywood actor Don Cheadle who witnesses firsthand the drought ravaging California and explores its repercussions to America’s food security. It also follows respected New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman as he travels to the hot dry climate of Africa to meet climate refugees displaced from their lands. It was truly eye-opening and although I hadn’t heard of the show before the team reached out to me to invite me to the event, I vowed to make time to watch it.
Throughout the screening, tears threatened to spill as I watched and listened to real stories of how climate change has impacted the every day lives of people in opposite parts of the world. For me, seeing so many climate change refugees fleeing their infertile land in Africa and the hardships farming families in the United States are facing due to changing climate was hard to watch. My capacity for empathy is huge and seeing injustice makes my heart heavy.
In contrast, the discussion that followed focussed on positive news and action items. Listening to Australian author, journalist and television presenter, Indira Naidoo, with panellists Kirsty Albion, Director for Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Andrew Thomson Managing Director of Acciona’s energy division in Australia, and Justin Leonard researcher at CSIRO, I returned to my normal glass half-full self.
When I reflect on how I feel about Trump being elected and what it means for our fight against climate change, I have decided that I am grateful that this has happened. It has helped me to see more clearly the importance of the work we’re doing, and it has given me a greater sense of urgency.
I’m rolling up my sleeves as there’s a huge amount of work to do. Are you with me?
Want to know why I’m feeling optimistic about our future?
Make sure to watch this video of the panel discussion or you can read the transcript below:
In response to Indira Naidoo’s question about what the Trump presidency means for the climate change movement.
Andrew Thomson: It’s beyond one man or one country to stop or you know, to influence in any way. We see that since the Paris negotiations there’s been a real shift I think, and I certainly see it in the business community and Acciona’s directly involved in all of these negotiations – we were in Paris and we’re in Marrakesh now – um, and what we see is that there’s huge momentum and we see the private sector really getting on board in a big way and the fact is that today renewables economically are more compelling new build solar new build wind are cost-competitive than new build coal or new build gas. Not only that there are no fuel price risks so we don’t pay for the sun and the wind it comes for free and it’s forever.
In making a transition, the science tells us that we need to leave around 80 percent of our fossil fuel resources on this planet in the ground if we’re going to stay within the two degree limit. So to be blunt, we have to stop burning coal to produce electricity – this is critical. To achieve that, we need to decarbonise the world’s electricity systems by 2050 and that seems like a big deal, and it is a big deal but the reality is that we have the technology today to do it. We’re aware that there are big challenges of course in going down that path but it can be done. And it must be done because we cannot allow this climate crisis to get the better of us.
Indira: Well you mentioned that Australia has recently ratified the Paris treaty but without making those changes, how likely are we to meet those obligations that we’ve signed on to keep it under two percent warming and to invest in renewables? There doesn’t seem to be that sense of urgency politically at the moment.
Andrew: Well I think that, you were asking Kirsty earlier on about state governments for example and we’re seeing evidence of state governments in this country as well as in the U.S. and elsewhere taking the initiative um, this state of Victoria has announced a target of 40% renewables by 2025 so that’s a big undertaking and we’re legislating change to make that happen. That’s obviously, that’s something that needs to be managed carefully but we’re seeing this kind of thing happen more and more where states are, the provinces are, starting to take the initiative. We’re also seeing the private sector stand up and make a difference. Kirsty mentioned Nab’s announcement; the financial community now is making clear choices about where to put its money. Corporations, big brands like Ikea, Google, Apple are now procuring their power directly from renewable energy sources so they’re going straight to the end point and making clear choices. We’re seeing more and more of this and I think it should give us cause for optimism and it should be a reason just to keep pushing harder and harder.
Indira: In terms of your work with some of the mitigation that we can all become part of, it’s not only about, you know we’ve spent a bit of time talking about the challenges, what are some of the solutions that your research is coming up with?
Justin Leondard: I guess the light at the end of the tunnel is that the types of things we do to have to adapt and sort of embrace the inevitability that fires part of our landscape and it is going to become more frequent is completely sort of synergistic with moving to a low carbon lifestyle like there’s no clashes at all. Decentralising our power grid means that we can have power during natural disasters, moving away from open cut coal mines means that they’re not susceptible to fire and having the power cut to the city. Capturing water on site and on your roof means you’ve got a water supply that helps you respond and use that in a bush fire. And all these things are actually synergistic and I guess the other good news is that the types of fires we’re seeing at the moment like Black Saturday and Ash Wednesday are really pertinent and clear lessons about what we’re going to see in the future so we know what we need to design against we just have to admit that that’s part of our environment and actually live with that and unfortunately the inevitablity that it’s going to be a fair bit more common in our future while we slow the whole global warming process down and move into complete mitigation and reform hopefully in the long term.
Indira: Kirsty obviously you work very closely with youth involved in the climate change movement and we do see consistently that it’s young people who get it, young people that are motivated they have a very strong understanding of the urgency of this and unfortunately though they’re often not in voting positions or positions of power and influence in companies. How do you keep young people activated and motivated even when they’re a little bit outside the political power structures?
Kirsty Albion: Yeh totally I think that this is a massive part of the injustice of climate change that it’s young people who will inherit the consequences of decisions being made today yet have no formal way in which to influence those decisions in either government or business or in their communities. At the AYCC what we do is we build young people to have the skills, the networks, the confidence, the knowledge they need to lead change in their communities and that looks like everything from – you know there was a high school student in Grade 11 in Adelaide who said “I want to get solar in my school” but the state government said “no we bulk buy our power”, then went with a solar company and got the grid involved and got the education department together got them all in a room to make a plan for how schools can go solar and it was successful in getting his business plan up in his school which is really incredible um right through to looking at what are the biggest threats to our future which – in Australia we are one of the biggest polluters per person in the entire developed world, we are one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas with plans to continue to expand both over the coming years and something like the Adani coal mine is something young people across the country are united saying “this is a line in the sand you can’t open one of the world’s largest coal reserves build mega mines that are 40kms long so from here to the airport and back again and then ship that coal over the great barrier reef, like this is enough, and that’s the line that young people across the country have drawn and this week we’ve seen the Queensland government change the laws just for Adani and we’ve got the decision maker in Federal government in charge of $5 billion for Northern Australia publicly campaigning in support of this coal mine so there’s definitely a lot of work and the vested interests we saw in California are just as alive and ripe here but as young people it’s how do we get out into our communities and raise awareness, talk to the banks who will have to finance this, talk to our governments, get active in raising awareness in the lead up to elections and ultimately provide the vision and hope for what a better world could look like. Hope is not just a gift but a strength that’s a real necessity.
Indira: We mentioned before that at the moment in Morocco we’ve got the latest round of climate talks happening that Acciona’s involved in, what is your company hoping will be some of the positive outcomes from these latest talks?
Andrew: I think there’s a real hope that we’ll see a continuation of the momentum. We talk a bit about the Paris hangover, and effectively what that means is after Paris where we exceeded our expectations as a global community there was a great party and a sense of “well we achieved it” but in reality as many would say, we’re really on starting the journey. So what we hope for as a business is that the momentum continues and increases and it’s pretty simple. It’s nothing more complicated than that.
And obviously we’ve talked about some very heavy serious big global issues to do with climate change tonight but to leave everyone with a sense of something that within their companies, their workplaces and their homes that they can activate to actually make a contribution to this climate change problem, what suggestions would the panellists have that everyone can take away, something simple and individual that they can do to make a difference?
Justin: I think just a simple shift of attitude in terms of acceptance that it’s happening rather than “if my neighbour doesn’t do it, I don’t need to do it” sort of approach, to maybe turning around and being the advocate or the driver or the first person on the street to sort of change and demonstrate is probably the most liberating thing sort of I do and feel as a researcher and as an individual so, take the step make the journey, it’s a great one.
Kirsty: One of the things when we work with young people we find that we’re not actually educating them on climate change cos young people already mostly know the problem, we’re educating them that they can make a difference. And I think that is the hardest thing to believe as a young person but as any person confronted with the climate science and confronted with the scale of the vested interests who have been holding back progress for decades but you know we are on this incre… we are in the great disruption shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and people call this, scientists calls this the critical decade, you know it’s the critical decade because we’re starting to see the impacts of climate change but it’s also the critical decade because this is when we need to act on climate change, this five year window is, this is the time we need to turn the ship around and that looks um, from the top of big businesses it’s like changing the way you invest in fossil fuels, and thinking about how you mitigate climate and become an advocate right through to in our communities how do we switch to community renewable energy or advocate in our sphere of influence and there are so many community groups and this powerful movement of people all across the country who are looking at what are the skills and networks I have and how do I have the biggest influence and so it’ll be different for each person but I guess on top of that I really ask everyone to think like at the end of the day, this crisis is so injust and it’s often those who are worst affected who are leading this whether it’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Northern Territory fighting gas, whether it’s farms across the country locking their gate or whether it’s young people getting out there, and just thinking about how you can support those communities who are most affected by climate change to have their voice heard and be making a difference.
Andrew: Well probably a couple of things. I would say firstly that we should stop waiting for governments to solve this challenge for us first and foremost and I think there’s a lot we can do as individuals and communities and society without the need to rely on government. But the second thing I say and I reflect on our company, on Acciona, and I think that the big thing that’s happened at Acciona over the last decade or so and I look at our shareholders, our shareholders are relatively small group really came to understand this issue very clearly and they made a conscious choice that this business that I represent tonight that we would try and make a difference in the world, so we attempt to make a difference by demonstrating a model of a sustainable business; we attempt to make a difference by trying to raise awareness so on and so forth so I would say to all the business people in the audience, go back to your businesses and ask yourself the question “how can I make a difference in my business?” And that might not be an easy thing to answer and maybe it’s only a small thing you can change but little by little we can bring change.