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For Thought: Hope for The Planet

Can we save the world from the effects of climate change? Is it too late? Is there any cause for optimism? These were the central questions addressed by a panel of experts in a new talk series at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.

The event — presented in partnership with the University of Melbourne — was titled ‘For Thought: Hope for the Planet’ and marks new territory for the Opera House’s talks and ideas program. The novelty is that instead of hearing from one speaker there would be multiple speakers, each given 25-30 minutes to address the topic from their perspective. This is followed by an intermission before reconvening for a panel discussion and Q&A from the audience.

The evening’s panel featured David Suzuki (scientist, broadcaster and author), Naomi Oreskes (professor of the history of science at Harvard University and renowned geologist) and Australian Tim Flannery (scientist and Australian Humanist of the Year in 2007).

Ann Mossop, head of Talks and Ideas, envisages that the new format will allow audiences to ‘go deeper’ into one issue across an entire evening. So it was that the audience settled in for 3 hours of engrossing ideas exchange and conversation.

Coincidentally, three main ideas emerged from the evening’s discussion on how to tackle climate change.

We need to change our mindset

In his talk, David Suzuki framed the crisis as not a ‘crisis of climate change, but a crisis of the mind’. He argued that, in order to get traction on solving the problem, we need change the lens in which we see the world. That requires us all to reconnect with nature and to see that everything in the world is interconnected. Throughout history, humans have treated the environment with reverence. We understood, at least implicitly, that our survival depends on things that exist in the natural world. That has changed with the industrial revolution, a consequence of which is that have become disconnected with nature. This disconnection impacts the way we view climate change and our responses to it.

Our home on this planet is in the biosphere. The science is very clear that there are limits on what the biosphere can carry, and unfortunately, we are already beyond its carrying capacity. The first step requires us to agree that the health of the planet is worth fighting for, and then to elevate it above human constructs of economics and politics.

We need to believe in the science

Next up, Naomi Oreskes made a plea for us to believe in the scientific process. But how do we know the science is right? There is considerable debate in society and the media on whether the climate change phenomenon is backed by scientific evidence. Oreskes argues that we should not look to the authority of a single person, or a single study. Rather, we need to believe in the process. That process has involved a diverse range of scientist concluding that climate change is a problem through induction rather than deduction.

This accumulated and diverse knowledge tells us there’s a problem, and we need to act on it, because the consequences of not doing so far outweigh any cost of delaying action.

The revolution is already here

Tim Flannery rounded out the talks by arguing that along with climate change we will also need to be address another problem: population growth. Here, he argues that technology has the capacity to help us feed a larger population. For example, Sundrop Farms uses solar thermal energy to grow tomatoes and capsicums in the South Australian desert. According to Flannery, this technology is replicable and can be used to grow other sources of food.

On the climate change side, he argues that the revolution is already underway. In the last five years, there has been considerable growth in renewables and this will in the near future threaten the fossil fuel industries. With the right investments and solutions centred in big cities where most of the population resides, there is cause for optimism. However, the focus for the economy will need to centre around renewables and other technologies that help to draw gas out of the atmosphere.

Three is better than one

I thoroughly enjoyed this event and was very much a fan of a three-person panel format. It’s rare in our fast paced world to take an entire evening and devote it to thinking about one issue. While the panelists on this talk were complementary in terms of their ideas, it would be very interesting for future events to have panelists with opposite viewpoints. Nonetheless, the Opera House should be applauded for its innovation and I hope we will see more talks in this format.

David Suzuki & Naomi Oreskes will also be speaking at WOMADelaide as part of Planet Talks, 11-14 March.

Good International, through The Plus Ones, were invited guests of the Sydney Opera House.

– Khanh
Khanh grew up in Hoi An, a UNESCO Heritage listed village in Central Vietnam. He migrated with his family to Australia when he was 9. He has traveled extensively through Europe, South America and Asia. He is an academic, music lover, sports lover and a former table tennis (not ping-pong!) champion.

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