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All hands to the green pump

Al Gore’s truth is becoming more convenient

Rachel Brown

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In mid-July I attended The Climate Project Australia Asia–Pacific Summit in Melbourne, all ready to be trained in the updated Al Gore PowerPoint presentation—the newest evolution of The Inconvenient Truth—and armed with the latest opportunities case for business in New Zealand.

My mission is now clear: increase awareness about the issue and opportunities—and fast.

The first day was devoted to bringing delegates up to speed on the science of climate change. How severe the impacts will be is still uncertain, but the stories of internationally renowned scientist Dr Graeme Pearman highlight the insidious long-term and global nature of the problem.

Scientists are now recording the effects of climate change, including a global temperature increase of 0.74 degrees Celsius, decreased snow cover, longer summers (by 12.3 days), Arctic sea ice reducing by 2.7 percent a decade and sea levels rising by just under two millimetres per year.

These observations, their impacts on societies globally and the associated economic burden, focused the mind and brought the reasons why we were there into sharp focus. They highlight the urgent need for global agreement at the December Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen around a target of reducing C02 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Longtime environmental activist Dr David Suzuki warned: “We are forgetting that what we are affecting is an interconnected system.” His message is a great reminder that protecting our ecological systems is in our own self-interest. Our economic systems are man-made and need to be improved to ensure the systems that provide all our goods and services for life are maintained.

Now that we knew the what, we wanted to find out the how. Day two was training day, time to be prepped on just how we could actively try to reverse the damage that is being done.

Oxfam presented the facts on how to achieve a fair outcome in Copenhagen in December. WWF explained the plight of the poor, who have been hit first and will be hit hardest by climate change.

The discussion in Copenhagen about the plight of the Third World will get very complicated—fast. If a nation is trying to survive economically by clearing forest for farming and is told to stop, should it should receive compensation for the loss of income, and if so, how much?

Sharon Burrow gave a standout presentation. As president of both the International Trade Union Confederation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, her focus is clearly on job creation and green jobs.

She enthusiastically told us about the ‘green gold rush’ where an estimated $6 trillion now exist in the green product markets for clean technologies, renewable energy, sustainable design, green buildings and more. Australia has been in a quandary in the past, with unions supporting coal workers, but the tide is now turning. “There are no jobs on a dead planet,” says Burrow. The push is for green careers in industries that are, funnily enough, not only better for the planet, but society too.

And then there was Al Gore. An incredibly inspiring speaker at first hand, he walked us through the updated PowerPoint. So much has changed since the launch of The Inconvenient Truth in 2006: where the film only offered suggestions on what to do as the credits rolled, the landscape is significantly different now, offering up a much more exciting and brighter future.

Gore points out there is a plethora of products and services already available that can turn things around for the planet. The global roll-out of plug-in and hybrid cars is not far away. Renewable energies have become a success story with examples like the Suzlon wind power group that provides energy for local economies in Australia, India, China and North America.

China, India and other developing countries are taking the lead with investment in renewable energy production. China has made vast inroads in wind energy alternatives.

More innovation is needed, but there is every reason to be hopeful that we can turn things around. Says Gore: “What we need is 350 parts per million of C02 in our atmosphere. What we need is a Copenhagen agreement to work towards a target of 40 percent reduction by 2020. And what we need is for you to return to your nation, your city, and talk to as many people as possible about the situation, and what needs to change. Inform people and empower people to inform your government. This will create change.”

So, look out New Zealand. Here I come!