The ABC of Carbon | BTalk Australia

Last Updated Oct 27, 2009 8:27 PM EDT

Podcast

(Episode 304; 16 minutes 04) This month author Ken Hickson released his book "The ABC of Carbon", which looks at climate change and the opportunities businesses have to help correct it whilst driving efficiencies.

The book has taken two years to research and write. The author is not a scientist or a politician. Ken's background is in journalism which, he says, helps him to provide a balanced view on the subject.

So what does he say to the climate sceptics, like the views of Ian Plimer, a recent guest on BTalk Australia? What should businesses and governments be doing to do the right thing and make a difference?

What do you think? Add your comments in the Talkback section at the end of this post.

See also:
The Great Climate Change Swindle | BTalk Australia
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  • Transcript
Phil Dobbie: Hello, I'm Phil Dobbie and welcome to BTalk Australia. Today the ABC of Carbon. Is too much of it really changing our climate and what should your business be doing about it?

Well it seems to me that when it comes to climate change, there are three categories of thinkers on this subject. There's the doomsayers, the sceptics and those people who sit somewhere in the middle, and I suspect Ken Hickson sits somewhere in the middle. He's just written a book called "The ABC of Carbon" that looks at how various countries are reducing greenhouse gas emissions so you're not a sceptic and you're not a doomsayer, you're one of those people who's looking at it objectively.

Ken Hickson: I am and I approach it as a journalist and that's my background as journalism and communications and I really go to the middle. I'm obviously not a sceptic and I do seriously believe that climate changes are real and that we humans have been contributing to the situation for some time, a hundred years or more or since the industrial revolution. So I very much believe what is happening and what we're being told and I believe that the science is pretty conclusive on this. And I accept that what United Nations and United Nations agencies have accepted and the research that's being done to show that in fact climate change is not something in the future, it's something that's happening right now and there's enough evidence, there's enough physical evidence modelling that suggests it's going to get worse. So yes, I'm approaching it as a journalist would. I've done two years of research, writing and putting a book together but my book is not a crusading manual either. It's one that really sets out what countries and companies are doing, what people are saying and what is really going on in the world today.
Dobbie: OK, before we look at what those are, let's hear from Ian Plimer. He was on BTalk Australia recently. He's a geologist from the University of South Australia. He's definitely a climate sceptic with clearly very different views.

Hickson:

For the bulk of time, atmospheric carbon dioxide has been much, much higher than at present. It's been up to a thousand times higher. During those times, we didn't have acid oceans. We didn't have a runaway greenhouse. We didn't have tipping points. Life went on as usual. So the principle criticism I have of the warmest side is that they must remove all time from any discussion and any equation.

Dobbie: Now that's an argument you've heard before, I presume? And you spoke about a hundred years. I guess his argument is if we go back a lot further, it's not an issue.

Hickson: It's true, but the general science and certainly the United Nations agencies and the research was done through our PCC and all the scientists who contributed show conclusively that it is happening. You can pluck sort of particular periods of time and say but things cooled down in that period or things warmed up but the evidence is there to show that there definitely has been a warming, definitely has been contributed to significantly by human sources from burning of fossil fuels. You can get into arguments on the specifics but the big picture is certainly there that climate change is happening. And there's evidence. To me some of the best evidence is where glaciers are melting in the Himalayas, in Europe, in New Zealand, the melting certainly of the sea ice in the Arctic has been quite dramatic in the last few years. So there's enough physical evidence and you're getting definite sea level rises, there are definitely temperature rises that are significant, more significant in different parts of the world. The average temperature has increased over a period of time but this is being experienced to greater degrees in some areas where there has been definite changes and definite increases and sea level rises. The Pacific Islands are certainly in danger and already have experienced loss of land through rising sea levels.

Dobbie: While we've got people like Ian Plimer around and he's obviously got some credibility, he's like a lot sceptics, he's a geologist. It seems to me that geologists often who are the first to talk out against climate change. Are people using that as an excuse? And by people I mean businesses who are saying well look we don't want to make any actions in our business that are going to cost the business, but similarly governments as well saying hey we don't want to do too much too quickly or you know we don't want to agree to anything that's going to damage our economy before anybody else does.

Hickson: That's true and unfortunately, we do have a global financial crisis to deal with as well. But what a lot of sensible businesses are seeing is that by switching to renewable energy as a source, by reducing their use of water, by cutting back on their energy use, by auditing their emissions, they're actually not only doing the right thing but they're also saving money. So there's a very good financial argument for switching from the use of fossil fuels and reducing your energy use. So you can show and this has been adopted and recommended by banks, by major insurance companies, by some very big companies around the world. Even News Corp made a commitment two years ago, Rupert Murdoch himself, that as an organisation worldwide they would become carbon neutral by 2010. Now Rupert Murdoch's obviously not a sceptic at the same time he's not an evangelist. He's someone that has accepted the reality of the situation and taken a business decision.

Dobbie: We can certainly agree that he's someone who likes to make money.

Hickson: That's right so if he can see that this actually will save him money and make him money, he's doing it. And this is the approach that's been adopted by a lot of business people around the world, probably more in Europe and more in America than it has in Australia at this stage.

Dobbie: Why is that? Why is Australia behind the eight ball on this?

Hickson: Certainly there's been an obsession with having an emissions trading scheme but my take on that is that it's gotten to the stage now where so many concessions have been given to industry, to bigger emitters, that it's going to be pointless to do it anyway because the emissions that we need to reduce are not going to happen and it's costing the country so much to pay off the emitters. You've got to take a bigger picture. You've got to look at how we can invest in renewable energy, how we can invest in energy efficiency, where we can definitely cut back on our use of fossil fuels and that's where I think the government has got rather pinned down and put all their eggs in one basket and that's the emissions trading scheme instead of looking at the bigger picture and saying we can reduce our emissions in all these other ways. And it's everything from deforestation to committing to saw carbon biochart, other methods that will improve agriculture production and still carbon in the soil and in the trees.

Dobbie: But this is getting back isn't it though to this question of commitment? We're happy to do it as long as it doesn't cost us anything and we have this big fear in the Australian economy that going green too quickly is really going to hurt the economy because we are so dependent on those fossil fuels.

Hickson: There is that and of course no one's suggesting that we certainly say we don't need coal anymore and even some of the large environmental organisations like WWF and Australia Conservation Foundation accept that there will be a need for coal for some time but let's invest in clean coal, carbon capture and storage, let's invest in renewable energy and there's a potential in Australia to get a lot more benefits from solar, from wind, from waves and we've got that resource available to us so let's make some serious investment in those areas. There's some happening. Some industries are investing. Some big companies are doing something but the government haven't really set out a game plan as to how this can be done. So there's not that leadership from the top that says this is the way we're going to reach our emissions target, restrict our emissions. It's investment in renewable energy. It's investment in energy efficiency on a large scale and we can, every business, every person can reduce their energy use and that will make a difference. So there's a lot of things that can be done but it needs to be pulled together in a master strategy and not being over reliant on just a carbon pollution reduction scheme.

Dobbie: We said at the very beginning that you're not an alarmist, you're not a doomsayer. You're trying to look at this whole thing with balance. Looking with balance, do you think there's not a need for a radical change? We can take an incrementalist approach or do we have to compromise our living standards to try to?

Hickson: We definitely don't have to compromise our living standards. Sure cutting back on our energy but we do waste a lot of energy, every one of us individually, companies do. There was some research done at the Monash University in Melbourne by a man who I know who's in charge of their IT Department and he looked at how they could have an automatic switch off for all computers in the university, 30,000 computers. And he worked out, and that's just in their down time, but making sure they were turned off, they weren't on stand-by. And this was a genuine reduction in electricity, energy use, but a saving to the University of $1.7 million a year. $1.7 million so there's money to be made by being more energy efficient in the way we use energy and that makes a definite difference in terms of reducing our emissions. So that seems to me a no-brainer but it's just not being adopted fast enough and throughout the economy. The economy's not going to suffer if we do that.

Dobbie: Right but measures like that, and I'm going to regret this analogy, is it a drop in the ocean given that the ocean's rising?

Hickson: Well it's not if everyone comes on board. If companies can see that they can save money at the same time save energy and reduce their emissions, I've described this in a magazine article as a triple whammy. This works and it works for the economy and there's also genuinely the opportunity to create green jobs and unfortunately at the Labor Party Conference the other day when it was announced they're going to create 30,000 new jobs weren't really new jobs at all. And this is a pity if the government thinks it can get across certain points that make it look as though they're investing in green jobs when they're not. We need that investment. We need the genuine commitment and it doesn't mean we have to suffer. It doesn't mean the economy has to suffer or people have to suffer or business has to suffer. There's money to be made and there's opportunities that exist and that's why I'm not a doomsday person. I believe that there are opportunities in this whole scenario of climate change and if we switch and do the right things, we can make a difference to our country and for the globe.

Dobbie: The example of Kevin Rudd giving a false number in the number of green jobs, this just shows how much spin there is on this subject and again that gets back to the question I've raised a couple of times about commitment. Do you think the red government, for example, really is committed or are they just going down an avenue that they think is going to get voter appeal?

Hickson: On paper they're committed and they made that dramatic Kyoto signing ratification they're really on but unfortunately we're not seeing it in terms of real policy and re-election. The CPRS, on paper, is great but it's very complex and as I've said, it's making so many concessions to the emitters that it's not going to achieve what it sets out to achieve. So it needs to be part of a bigger picture and a bigger policy that gets the investment in the right areas, that creates the jobs, creates the investment in renewable energy, has a national and stable level energy efficiency campaign that works for industry, business and the home.

Dobbie: So very quickly, you looked at a number of countries. Who's leading the way then? Who should we be looking at? Who's setting the model?

Hickson: Denmark is probably one of the best in the world. They're working towards 50 percent of their energy coming from renewable resources and this is a country that's relied on North Sea oil and gas for a long time. They've really made major investments in wind and solar and, of course, as a country that's host for the Copenhagen, the real important conference in December, they're setting a fine example. If Australia could even go halfway towards where Denmark is heading, it'd be great. So we're seeing some good examples. Since Obama came in in America, we're seeing America make some major commitments, getting all government buildings more energy efficient. Encouraging investment in renewable energy. Now America will have a cap in trade system as well but that seems to be structured where it's not giving quite so many concessions to the heavy emitters.

Dobbie: Yes, and the book, "The ABC of Carbon", the target for this, is it everybody or are you really trying to inspire businesses to make change?

Hickson: Well, I would like to inspire businesses and there are quite a few business case studies in the book from companies like Interface from what Virgin is doing and Richard Branson what News Corp and others are doing. There's good examples of investment in renewables, of energy efficient programs. There's a bit of science but it's easier to read. It is aimed at the man or woman in the street and I've had young people, I've even had a little girl age six the other day who was attracted to it and was reading it and she insisted that it's going to sit beside her bed and her father, a businessman, said well I want to read it as well. So I mean it is pitched at a wide cross section and it really is meant to be something you can dip into, read things that you're interested in and go on and learn as well as maybe result in taking some action as well.

Dobbie: Now, you're walking a lot more? You're using public transport? Maybe that's the next book, how you can actually make sense of the public transport system in Australia's capital cities.

Hickson: Well I do try and walk the talk and live out what I believe in and I rely on public transport, I offset my air travel, I've cut back my own personal energy use significantly in the last couple of years. I don't own or drive a car so there are a lot of things like this you can do personally. Now OK I can still use a car and use it carefully. I'm going to go get car or I can borrow a friend's car but I just believe that we can do things without drastically changing the way we live or enjoy life. We can still enjoy life but we can just be more careful with why waste the resource when you can do other things.

Dobbie: And you'll probably get fitter and live longer as a result of all of that as well.

Hickson: There's an item in the book on obesity and climate change, which basically says that. We can cut back our energy use and be more fit and healthier by doing the right thing.

Dobbie: OK, so you walk the talk, you bus the talk and you cycle the talk basically?

Hickson: That's right.

Dobbie: Ken Hickson, thanks so much for your time today.

Hickson: Thanks a lot.