Business & Economy
February 24, 2020

Australia: Emergency? What Climate Emergency?

Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr).

More evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be, even after declaring a climate emergency and living through a national trauma that validates the urgency.  It is the gap between lack of action and the desire for strategic change that makes this story extraordinary.

The world’s largest coal port wants to transition away from coal – but because of government policy, can’t do it.

 

The world’s largest coal port State deal blocking world’s largest coal port from fossil fuel exit

The head of the world’s largest coal port says it must transition away from the fossil fuel and diversify Newcastle’s economy before it’s too late, but controversial NSW government policy is stopping it.

As the government worked to improve its climate policy following a summer of drought and bushfires, Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmody said $2 billion of private investment was waiting for the green light to develop a container terminal and move the Hunter away from coal.

However, a once-secret facet of the Baird government’s 2013-14 port privatisation deal – which would force Newcastle to compensate its competitors if it transported more than 30,000 containers a year – could keep the local economy tethered to coal for decades.

Mr Carmody said the port had about 15 years to transition away from the resource, which makes up more than 95 per cent of its exports. He added that a changing climate and struggling regional sector compounded the situation.

 

Here’s the kicker:

“It doesn’t really matter what governments in Australia want to believe, the money we need to do what we need to do have already made their decisions,” Mr Carmody told the Herald.

“There is a reason why businesses, particularly in the energy space in Australia, are saying, ‘Well, if the government won’t provide a policy direction, then we’re going to go off and do it ourselves’.”

 

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

Evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be after they approve motions and plans to respond to a housing crisis.

Slowdown in pace of housing developments unevenly spread across Sydney

Amid concerns about the scale of development, the government’s latest forecast shows 5700 fewer homes are set to be built over the next five years than was predicted two years ago. …

New dwellings at Ryde are forecast to fall by 10 per cent to 8550 over the next five years, compared with that forecast two years ago. The pullback comes after campaigning by Liberal Minister Victor Dominello against the scale of development in his electorate.

“I’m not against development – I’m against over development,” he said.

“If you start multiple villas and multiple terraces in suburbia, where are they going to park on streets? …”

The forecasts show 10 times as many homes are expected to be built at Blacktown (lower socioeconomic-economic status) over the next five years than the northern beaches (higher).

The 1950 new dwellings predicted for the northern beaches represent a 26 per cent fall on the government’s target for the area in 2017. In contrast, Liverpool in the south-west is forecast to have 12,750 dwellings built over the next five years, a 72 per cent rise on that predicted two years ago. …

Bill Randolph, the director of the University of NSW’s City Futures, said the change in forecasts for new homes likely reflected a slowdown in the apartment market, adding that it would still be a “big ask” to deliver about 41,000 dwellings annually in Sydney over the next five years.

Professor Randolph said a reduction in large industrial sites meant it would become harder to develop high-density areas in inner and middle suburbs of Sydney.

“It’s getting harder now to win the local political battle in getting urban renewal through now that we are running out of the big old industrial sites,” he said.

 

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

 

I’ve been following the news through the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the trip, and thought this was a particularly revealing item:

A conservative activist group – which bills itself as the right-wing version of GetUp – will target primary school children with a series of new resources designed to counter the “climate alarmist narrative” it says is being pushed in classrooms and the media.

Advance Australia’s national director Liz Storer said the resource packs being developed will be sent to schools, parents and grandparents, and could be used in the classroom or at home. The resources will say human-induced climate change “isn’t true” and “there’s a lot more to the story”.

It’s not so much that this initiative is new or unexpected.  The ‘counter-narrative’ strategy has been remarkably effective at seeding sufficient doubt to establish ‘both-sides-ism’ in media coverage and, importantly, delay any unequivocal action by government to address climate change.  Like the Harper Strategy described below, it doesn’t require outright denial, and hence doesn’t seem overly wingnut to those looking for the ‘moderate’ response to the issue.  Including those who decide what should be taught in schools.

Hence the response to this proposal by Advance Australia is what makes the story important:

But the New South Wales and Victorian governments have already indicated the materials in question would very likely be banned in public schools as they “would not be deemed objective”. …

The NSW Department of Education said Advance Australia’s resources would not be allowed in the state’s public schools because they would fall foul of the government’s policies and guidelines.

“This includes the Controversial Issues in Schools policy which says that schools are neutral places for rational discourse and objective study, and discussions should not advance the interest of any particular group,” a department spokesman said.

“Under the Controversial Issues in Schools policy these materials from Advance Australia would not be deemed objective and therefore not permitted to be used in NSW public schools.”

Likewise, the politicians in government feel comfortable in outright rejection:

Victoria’s Labor Education Minister James Merlino said he believed most principals in his state “will put this rubbish where it belongs – in the bin”.

“This organisation is a front for a group of ill-informed climate change deniers,” he said. “Our schools should not be used as a tool for a group like this to peddle their political agenda.”

A Labor minister of course.  But my guess is that the Liberals and even the Nationals will not run to Advance’s cause, much less say they would put their material in the schools.

And here’s why: doubt and denial can be planted and nourished when climate change is not catastrophic and unfolds slowly.  When catastrophic events do occur – fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes – and go beyond one-off extremes of weather, when the frequency of them becomes a pattern, and the pattern is consistent with prediction, denialists become irrelevant.  They have nothing to say in response to the reality of an existential threat – because that reality wasn’t supposed to happen.

The public and decision-makers then turn to those who have something to say about reality, and look to those who have a strategy of response.

That is where Australia is now, I believe.  And Ill be looking to see how it is playing out in real time with those engaged in “the reality that doesn’t go away.”

 

 

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When Prime Minister Harper visited the Arctic on one of his several trips – once for 16 days – the words “climate change” never passed his lips.  In the Arctic – where the manifestations of climate change are more evident and fast-changing than most places on the planet.

That was a very deliberate strategy: ‘Never deny climate change, just don’t recognize it as a priority.  Sign on to policies and protocols so long as the deadlines are decades hence.  And send a message: Government will not do anything disruptive, particularly with respect to the economy, especially the resource industries, like carbon taxes or game-changing regulations.’

That message was targeted to other leaders and decision-makers, public and private, as well as his own base.  In short: ‘I don’t believe climate change is a priority worthy of immediate or drastic action.  So you don’t have to either.’

The strategy assumes two conditions: (1) The public believes you’re doing enough to take climate change seriously (but not crazily).  That you are still taking care of us.  And (2) Nature does nothing too disruptive.

It worked for Harper.  Unfortunately, it’s not working for the Prime Minister of Australia and his coalition party.

Nature did not hold up its end of the bargain.  And so the public isn’t either.

 

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For the next month, I’ll be in Australia, returning to the island continent for the 11th time, and to the four cities in which I have spoken over the last two decades – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

In the past I’ve talked mainly about Vancouver, particularly about urban design and how we accommodate growth.  (Our Commonwealth cousins love exchanging views and advice on our similar cities.)

But this time, I’m there to ask the people I meet one particular question: How is Australia changing now that climate change is your new reality?  How are Australians changing?

I’m not the only outsider to be asking questions like that.

 From Damien Cave, the Australian bureau chief for the New York Times:

“We have seen …the unfolding wings of climate change,” said Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker … in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise. …

In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered. …

Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts. …

Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.

It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote.

Tourists in Lake Conjola, a popular vacation destination, took refuge on a beach on New Year’s Eve.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?

“If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said. …

Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.

“The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”

I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”

Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”

Full article here.

 

For the next month, I’ll be Instagramming my way across Aus (pricetags) and sending interviews back to be posted on PriceTalks and the blog.

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From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26 storey office building at 555 Cordova, shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver. Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station and the proposed building site has been the eastern access and parking lot for the Station since it opened in 1914.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The building, dubbed the Icepick, was turned down at City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original. Responding to design objections, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west and north, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor.

With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval at a Development Permit Board Meeting scheduled for May 25, 2020.

The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.

Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Should a private developer be able to sabotage a public planning and design process?

The proposal does not conform to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the suggested height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side and provides an uninviting gateway to Historic Gastown.

Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.

As the most important transportation hub in the region, this site is critical to the future of the city.

Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution.

Approving Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the current planning process and seriously undermine future options for the City’s waterfront.

Icepick 2 must to be stopped.

 

Community Open House & Feedback Session

Tuesday, Feb 18

3 –7 pm

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
900 Canada Place, Mackenzie Ballroom

 

 

 

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Another example from Ian Robertson.  From Commercial Real Estate:

As public transport usage among Sydney’s CBD workforce surges, and the number of cars entering the city each day falls, developers and landlords may soon face the challenge of figuring out what to do with basement spaces that don’t meet modern building codes. …

At the same time public transit patronage among the CBD workforce has been undergoing a significant increase.  Transport for NSW estimates that between 7000 and 8000 fewer cars entered the city each day over the three years to 2018 …

Developers and building landlords nowadays are less concerned with onsite parking provisions, opting to use more of the building’s floor plan for office space or building infrastructure like end-of-trip facilities or gyms in an attempt to future-proof buildings against declining demand for parking spaces. …The City of Sydney has planning controls which encourage the reduction of parking spaces as part of redevelopment plans for existing sites, allowing developers to pursue additional height levels in exchange for adaptive reuse of basement spaces.

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Go to Times Square on the Red Steps:

 

RENEWAL OF VOWS

Say “I do” all over again.

At 6pm on February 14, 2020, couples are invited to celebrate romance, passion, and each other in a one of a kind tour-de-love — the Vow Renewal Ceremony, taking place on the iconic glass Red Steps. Couples of all ages and backgrounds will profess their love once again, with a special invitation extended to lovebirds whose kisses bridge boundaries, be they religious, political, racial, or national, as well as couples in wedding attire.

Friends of Price Tags, Michael & Dianne, happened to be in NYC, so of course:

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Ian Robertson found one solution in Paris.  From Euroactiv:

In Paris, as in many European cities, the number of cars is declining, which is leaving a vast amount of underground car parks empty. With its start-up project called “La Caverne”, Cycloponics is reclaiming these urban territories and using them as a way of growing plenty of organic vegetables. …

At Porte de la Chapelle in Paris, the two have set up a 3,500 m2 urban farm located underground, in a former car park. …  Gertz and Champagnat responded to call for tenders from Paris, whose empty car parks were squatted by consumers and crack dealers. It’s been more than two years now since ‘organic has replaced crack’, and about fifteen jobs have been created. …

 

 

Small packets of water-soluble, sterilised and packaged straw are hung from floor to ceiling, and the mushrooms grow through tiny holes. Everything is calculated to ensure their optimal growth. The air is saturated with moisture, the endives grow in the dark, and the mushrooms get a few LED lights.

But the car park has definite advantages over the limestone cavities usually used to grow mushrooms, as there is a permanent and precise control of the weather, as well as better thermal stability. …  Farming in car parks also makes it possible to better resist the climate crisis. Parasites and other insects, for instance, are rather rare in the subsoil, even if endive tubers and straw bought outside can also be vectors of diseases, such as sclerotinia, which destroyed part of this year’s endive harvest. …

“In Paris, as in many European capitals, people no longer have cars, there are too many parking lots, especially in the poorest districts. But we also visited unused car parks on the Champs-Elysée. It would be possible to do something about it!” according to the entrepreneurs.

Full article here.

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