The National Climate Emergency Summit was held in Melbourne on the 14 & 15th Feburary. I was privledged to speak. Below is a roundup of my key takeaways.

I am surrounded with rational individuals. My father a fitter and turner who can build just about anything and always has the right tool for the job. My father in law an engineer who remembers every equation he ever learnt and can derive them from first principles. My partner an engineer who inherently suspects anything which is speculative. And not least my mother a trauma nurse who dealt every day with the practical realities of the risky decisions people made. You were not a healthy person if you were in my mums care.

So when Greg Mullins at the National Climate Emergency Summit says:

“110 years of observation of fire seasons are no longer valid”

my world rocks. Much like one of those balance toys that will bounce back up when pushed; my brain searches for the things that will bring us upright.

Key take away #1: Have conversations with those who, to date, have not been in the conversation

Michael Thomas a national security expert said ‘we need to have conversations with people who are not here today’. I couldn’t agree more. We are all in this together. We must approach addressing this with respect and humility. Support everyone to set themselves highly aspirational goals, from wherever they are starting.

Key take away #2: Human rights we hold dear are contributing to stifling action

There are basic rights which we as a community hold dear. But what if those same rights are impeding an emergency response and adaptation. Nicole Rogers confronted a reality I have heard few articulate.

The right to reproduce

Every child born has an additionally ecological footprint on our planet. Evidence exists that there is shift underway (link below). 

Freedom of movement

Allows the few privileged enough to access air travel to disproportionally create emissions. Flygskam (flight shame) coined in Sweden is sweeping the world with airlines beinging to feel the impacts (link below to read more) emissions. 

Freedom of speech

Causes much energy to be spent in defending, debating and debasing one another energy better spent addressing the root causes

Rogers was not suggesting we set these rights aside but rather we consider their application within the context of an emergency response. On a more every day level I reflected on breaking out of societal / community norms to take personal action. I am regularly confronted by people baffled at how we survive with one car or by the volume of compost I am able to process on our suburban block via Sharewaste. It is when we as communities change our norms; starting with behaviour change that I will know the momentum has truly shifted. 

Question: What norm amongst your family, friends and colleagues is holding you back from asking questions and taking greater action?

Key take away #3: We are capable of addressing this threat

I was asked after the summit “Was it hopeful?” I think there is a more fundamental question “Are we as a species capable of responding to an existential threat which has its origins beyond our generation and its resolution many generations into the future?” Thomas emphasised this is not the type of threat we are familiar or comfortable with. We can’t point at it. It is not defined by geographical boundaries. And yet we have recent practice at dealing with similar threats; SARS, Ebola and domestic terrorism.

To answer this question I will draw on wisdom shared via the Long Now Foundation.

“We are living in a reckless age. Our ability to predict the future, weather, climate, has never been better but having forecasts is not the same as having good foresight. The judgement to make better decisions about the Future.”

Bina Venkataraman

The people affected by Mt Vesuvius we’re not much better informed than the dinosaurs hit by a meteor. The same cannot be said for us. As a result I agree with Venkataraman that we hold greater responsibility than any generation before us. She offers 3 points of evidence for our ability to think ahead:

We are more than our biological impulses

Culture and environment influence the way we respond. We hold more control over these than we like to think.

The commons is not  always the tragedy

In recent history fishing communities restored to prosperity through catch share agreements. Indigenous Australian culture is the most sustainable culture on the planet; we have much to learn.

We have history and imagination

The risk with history is:

  • We don’t look back far enough
  • We tend not to apply multiple historical overlays; thus missing interdependencies and lessons.

We are heirloom keepers

We have demonstrated through our national parks, art, libraries and many more examples we are capable of keeping heirlooms. Heirlooms that are not time capsules. Heirlooms that are used and adapted by every generation of custodian.

What does this practically translate to? I have combined Venkataraman’s advice and what I heard at NCE Summit 2020. Into 7 action points that could be applied from your home to your work:

  1. Mind what you measure -> and extend the timeframe
  2. Use what you measure to prioritise -> engage others in this process
  3. Find other long term thinkers -> we all benefit from like minded people
  4. Focus on a shared goal -> have a shared view of what success looks like, it’s inspiring
  5. Commit to a shared heirloom -> removes any conflict associated with contributing to the present
  6. Plan -> you just never know, you might need some help
  7. Mobilise others -> there’s lots of people out there willing to help

If there is one thing I have learnt from being a coordinator of Engineers Declare it is that there are always those out there looking to be led. Not to be managed. But to be pointed at the priorities and engaged in resolving them. Luckily, with a shift in the time horizon that I consider, my rational influences hold me in good stead for taking practical steps towards the future.

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