On marriage, children and the future

Maybe we’re not completely screwed, after all.

Last week, among close family and friends, I saw two young people married in a ferny glade on our wonderful mountain.

It was a happy event as every wedding should be. Weddings are the most social of occasions, about the ties that bind us all and the generations to come. At times like this you can’t help but think ahead to lives beyond ours and the world they will live in.

Many things that beset our lives today – struggling leaders, crumbling institutions, war, famine, erratic weather and a badly ailing biosphere – lead us to expect the worst.

There is an alternative. US environmental thinker Paul Hawken told two engaged audiences in Hobart a fortnight ago that we should not see today’s many environmental distress signals as the triumph of industrial pollution, but as an invitation to take up a challenge.

In his new book, Drawdown, Hawken urges us to stop seeing ourselves as victims of global warming, a mindset that tends to impotence. Instead, we should see climate change as a transformation “that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do.”

In thinking this way, says Hawken, we begin to live in a different world: “We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius.”

For anyone who has spent time looking at evidence of change around us, these can seem like brave words. Science’s pictures of doom, those countless graphs with trends all heading in the one direction, tell us that we’re losing the war. Some scientists say we’ve already lost it.

That is the dispassionate position, supported by the objective evidence. But it assumes that certain things will remain constant, that “business as usual” will remain in place and that we will simply continue to do what we’ve been doing until everything falls in a heap.

It does not account for what Hawken calls “the human agenda”. That implies action, a response to the situation we face, with the view to changing how we’ve done things to adjust to an entirely new reality.

Drawdown lists and describes one version of that agenda, which I looked at briefly last month – 100 actions put together by multiple experts in each relevant field, aimed at bringing atmospheric carbon down to safe levels by the middle of this century.

Many scientists are sceptical. A leading figure on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told me at one of Hawken’s Hobart events that the notion of drawing down current atmospheric greenhouse gas levels was orders of magnitude more ambitious than simple mitigation.

Being sceptical is a scientist’s job. But there are dimensions to the human experience that cannot be factored into scientific projections, and therein lies the tantalising idea that we may not be completely screwed, after all.

Back to marriage, now back in the spotlight after the same-sex debate. What can this veteran of an ancient and august institution say to young people just entering into it?

Life’s pressures, external and internal, ended my first marriage. The fact that I’m still in my second after 37 years I put down to three things: having a patient partner, having children, and good luck.

This may be my generation in play here, but I can’t help thinking that couples who stay together, especially if they are rearing children, contribute to a greater good. I believe lasting one-to-one adult relationships are the centrepiece of cohesive communities.

Most people entering marriage aren’t preoccupied with such things; they just love a person with whom they want to share their life. But the passage of time adds layers to that simple beginning.

The arrival of children is the big one: it changes marriage and the people in it, fundamentally and forever. Most of us manage that change but some don’t. Children can cement relationships, but for all its rewards family life is also very hard work.

That makes marriage seem a bold step in these uncertain times. But fortunately for the species’ future not everyone sees it that way. We’re programmed to be optimistic. Young newlyweds who decide to bring up children are making a statement of faith in the future.

They’re right to think like this. It’s the only way to deal with the odds that are stacking up against us. We need, with some urgency, to share that positive attitude with the school-age people in our lives and help them see why they need not fear the future.

Many of these young people, heedless of what their parents say, are raising their own strong, clear voices for climate action on the basis that joining with others is the best way to counter isolation and fear.

They need to be encouraged, and we all need to listen.

Posted in changes to climate, community action, future climate, human behaviour, leadership, social and personal issues, social mindsets, youth activism | Leave a comment

Electors deserve better on pokies and climate

Why do politicians continue to ignore issues that have voters’ support?

Poker machine venues openly supported the incumbent Liberal government. PHOTO ABC

Poker machine venues openly supported the incumbent Liberal government. PHOTO ABC

In Washington, guns is the big issue in question. In Canberra it was gay marriage until the battle was won last year. In Hobart, pokies. And in all three, climate.

I refer to matters of public debate which politicians persist in ignoring, despite years of opinion polls consistently showing a clear majority of people favouring just one side.

Most Americans believe there are far too many firearms in general circulation in their country. Yet not even the mass killing of infants at Sandy Hook school in 2012 could persuade politicians to defy the National Rifle Association and pass laws to restrict gun sales.

The NRA, focused and well-resourced, controls state and federal legislators by undermining opponents in party primaries so that they lose the party’s endorsement. Angry, fearless high school students are a current challenge, but the odds still favour this formidable organisation.

Tasmanians may once have found poker machines alluring, but that faded long ago. A comfortable majority of us now believes the economic and psychological harm they inflict on people and communities far outweighs any benefit.

In 2015-16 Tasmanian gamblers lost $191 million in pubs and clubs. A 2017 study of new spending patterns if pokies were removed found that while some of that money would go into other forms of gambling, there would be enough left over to boost the economy and employment.

Historian James Boyce has shown nearly all the poker machine venues outside the two casinos are owned by big companies including Woolworths. Economists Fabrizio Carmignani and Saul Eslake have found that supporting their machines occupies just 370 full-time-equivalent positions.

Yet the massive “love your local” campaign by Federal Hotels and other poker machine companies characterised those venues as family businesses supporting local needs. It also claimed that their pokies support around 5000 jobs – over 13 times the Carmignani-Eslake estimate.

The aim was to make us think that removing poker machines would be a disaster. It was focused, well-resourced, supported by compliant legislators, and very careless with the truth. It could have come straight from an NRA campaign handbook. And it worked.

Limiting the availability of guns in the US and poker machines in Tasmania has long had broad public support. So too does action on climate change.

The last Lowy Institute annual climate change poll found that the proportion of Australians who see global warming as a serious and pressing problem justifying urgent action has steadily risen for five consecutive years. At the time of the poll, in mid-2017, it stood at 54 per cent.

The same poll found that 81 per cent of Australians believe the government’s energy focus should be on investment in renewables and infrastructure to make the system more reliable.

That’s no surprise to me, but it may be to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, who for the past couple of years have pilloried South Australia’s effort to boost renewable generation by supporting wind, solar and battery storage.

Like other states, Tasmania has always struggled with the climate issue, but the Hodgman government has brought disengagement to a new low. Contrary to initial promises and despite some commendable bureaucratic effort, it has barely lifted a finger to mitigate emissions.

The Liberals’ “Building your future” plan which they took to the election lists 100-odd policies for managing all manner of things, but climate does not rate a single mention. Now they have been re-elected, which might lead them to believe that voters don’t rate climate as all that important.

Never mind that scientific institutions everywhere, including our own Academy of Sciences, CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, continue to warn about an increasingly destabilised climate.

Never mind that in the last week of the election campaign, in the depths of a northern winter, ice at the North Pole was melting. Never mind rising seas or heatwaves or irregular rainfall. This is Tasmania, where nothing bad will happen so long as you keep us in government.

For the record, Labor’s climate stance was markedly stronger, while the Greens’ was the most comprehensive and considered. That alone justifies their continued existence as a third force in Tasmanian politics.

Tasmanians must make the most of what they’ve got. The world’s troubles aside, they have practical issues around housing, health, education and employment to worry about. I don’t blame them for letting government shortcomings on pokies and climate go through to the keeper.

But we have put these people into office to do more than just keep things moving as they are. We expect them to keep vested interests out of government, to ensure that money doesn’t buy favoured treatment, and to keep a lookout for hazards ahead. This is not good enough.

Posted in Australian politics, climate politics, Tasmanian politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A rich greenie shares his secrets

Personal wealth and planetary health are not mutually exclusive, says Stuart Barry.


When you think of international finance, what sorts of people come to mind? I’m guessing captains of capital, currency speculators, hedge fund managers, computer nerds; maybe Lamborghini salesmen, fraudsters and money-launderers.

I bet you never thought of greenies, and nor would I until a few days ago. But a book to be launched this week proves the existence of at least one such person, living the dream here in Tasmania.

Stuart Barry says that there is a way to improve your finances while also helping the effort to stop climate change. The cheerful message of his new book, The Rich Greenie, is that the health of your personal finances and that of the whole planet are not mutually exclusive.

We shouldn’t accept such claims without question. Despite efforts to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions, the current wisdom is that a high level of growth is basically incompatible with mitigating our damaging impact on Earth’s climate.

It follows that in developed countries, a low-carbon economy will mean a somewhat more frugal existence than we enjoy today. That may not have much impact on me – I’m now in my later years – but it may be of concern to younger readers of The Rich Greenie.

But a more constrained economy is a good fit with what Barry is saying about personal finances. In the world he envisages, becoming secure financially is just part of a journey to improve the well-being of your family, your community, your country and your world.

His five-part formula for a better life is to understand how we can work shorter hours for a better financial return, avoid spending decisions that hurt us and our planet, spend to be rich in every way, use our money to change the world, and live a green and fulfilling retirement.

Barry’s own life is a good guide to what he advocates for the rest of us. When he left his home city of Melbourne in 1988 he set out to make his fortune, at first in Brisbane and Sydney, and then as a funds manager in the big-money centres of Hong Kong and Seoul.

He was well on his way to a stellar career in international finance when he took a break in 2003. He might have relaxed on a river cruise or sunbathed on a Mediterranean shore, but instead explored the back-roads of Europe – 10,000 km of them – on a bike.

Barry was taking the Himalayan air in Nepal when he met the girl of his dreams. She happened to be from Hobart, and persuaded him that this glorious backwater was the place to live. He married her and teamed up with local ethical investment adviser Bill Sharp before starting his own practice.

This hard-nosed international financier has made the most of the backwater. It gave him the breathing space to develop and apply his belief that achieving real financial security depends, like everything else, on a healthy biosphere.

The success of Scott Pape’s Barefoot Investor revealed the hunger of ordinary people for honest, down-to-earth advice on living modestly but well. The Rich Greenie expands on that idea. With step-by-step guidance on our changing financial choices as we pass through life, Barry makes a very convincing case that personal wealth and planetary health can happily co-exist.

The book will be launched at Fullers Bookshop, Hobart, at 5.30pm on Thursday, when Barry will be interviewed by GetUp founder Simon Sheikh.

Destiny day

SATURDAY will reveal who will govern Tasmania for the next four years – if it’s a majority government. Otherwise it will take a few weeks longer.

Since 2014, when we abolished the one national measure that actually curbed fossil fuel pollution – the carbon pricing scheme – federal climate policy has been utterly rudderless. South Australia and the ACT aside, no lower jurisdiction has made any real effort to plug that gap.

With its large hydro resource, Tasmania was well-placed to show other states how a vigorous abatement policy might work at a state level, but in government Will Hodgman signally failed to seize that moment. All he now promises is more of the same.

While Labor’s Rebecca White has more on offer, neither leader appears to grasp the primacy and urgency of strong climate policy. At no point in the campaign has there been any effective debate about climate, and a majority government will do nothing to sharpen that focus.

We already have a platform for good policies in the previous government’s 2013 strategic plan, Climate Smart Tasmania. Now, the best we can hope for is that one party or the other is pushed, post-election, into giving climate its rightful priority. That’s why I hope we get a hung parliament.

Posted in Adaptation, Australian politics, biodiversity, carbon emissions and targets, carbon pricing scheme, carbon tax, changes to climate, climate politics, economic threat from climate, growth, health, human behaviour, investment, social and personal issues, Tasmanian politics, workplace issues | Leave a comment