Is climate change a global challenge or a massive public relations opportunity?
A review by Dennis Rutzou
A new and welcomed addition to the growing list of books on climate change
joined the ranks at a book launch and seminar in Sydney recently and it presents
a different slant to many of those already in this rapidly expanding genre.
But the profound changes it foreshadows also highlights the immense public
relations opportunities it presents because PR thrives on change and the need to
inform and educate about those changes and what needs to be done to adjust to
The book is called 'Opportunities beyond carbon'* and is sub-titled 'Looking
forward to a sustainable world' and presents the opinions of twenty eight
authors who tell their stories of the opportunities they see for communities,
business, investors, nations and the world.
The book is edited by John O'Brien of Australian CleanTech and in the main the
authors take an optimistic view of a future world struggling to reduce carbon
The three-hour launch seminar featured nine of the authors who presented their
Right through every presentation my mind was ticking over about the public
relations implications, which is something that I am now hard-wired to do
whenever I am placed in a new situation.
The first session was introduced by editor John O'Brien with the following
message: "This is an unashamedly optimistic book. It aims to serve as an
antidote to the two contrasting types of mainstream coverage of climate change:
the no-hope horror stories inciting paralysing terror and the - happy ever after
thanks to science- approach offering an effortless solution".
This introduction and John's presentation set the theme for the seminar. I am
optimistic by nature and cannot see the doom and gloom picture of a climate that
kills a planet by making it uninhabitable. After all, how many can fit on a
space ship at our current level of technology.
I was raised on Superman comics and can always envisage the last baby super
human being shot in a rocket to a distant and inhabitable planet to provide
truth, justice and biff to the baddies.
The first author to speak at the seminar was veteran environmentalist Bill
McKibben with a video presentation recorded during his recent visit to
Bill, who wrote his first environmental book 'The End of Nature', published in
twenty four languages, spoke about the need for immediate action and the idea
that the world should move beyond carbon and 18th century technology to a stage
where we are no longer dependent on burning coal and using fossil fuels.
He also spoke about the worldwide movement to develop political pressure on
leaders to adopt positive policies at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. This
movement is called www.350.org and will culminate in an international day of
action on 24 October 2009.
The editor of WME magazine Garth Lamb presented his views on 'Communicating
complexity in the carbon-aware world' during which he targeted some of the
environmental reporting by daily newspapers, notably The Australian, but
empathised with the difficulty faced by journalists when they write about
complex technical subjects.
He also highlighted the problem of green washing and put the Australian market
for green markets at $15 billion per annum and the world market at $500 billion.
He singled out the green check list available from The Total Environment Centre
which has ten pointers on making safe claims, including checking the truth,
materiality, completeness and ability to back up claims.
Dave Sag of Carbon Planet gave his - Reasons to be cheerful- with an amusing and
upbeat presentation on future business opportunities in the world beyond carbon,
while other speakers covered the business case (Dan Atkins, The Shaper Group)
and investment opportunities (Mark Schneider, Investec Bank).
Stuart Taggart took out his crystal ball with - The best crisis we ever had-
during which he presented his grand vision of Australia as a clean energy
superpower after unlocking its solar, wind and geothermal potential to drive its
own progress, as well as export energy to Asia and Europe.
Finally, our last speaker, Amanda McKenzie of the Australian Youth Climate
Coalition 'Protecting today, promising tomorrow' told her story from the point
of view of a young person inheriting an uncertain world of climate change and
potential catastrophe for many countries with the prospect of rising sea levels
that could swamp their countries.
She strongly made the point that these were among the poorest people on earth,
who have not caused the problem and can do the least about fixing it.
Amanda- s address had a significant impact on the audience with many agreeing
that it was the most outstanding presentation of the morning. Perhaps the
audience had in mind that Amanda expressed the view of the coming generation
with a greater stake in climate change than many older people or that the world
will fundamentally overcome climate change through the ability of its young
people. One of the reasons for the audience's greatest optimism could also have
been that we have reached the greatest level of international cooperation we
have ever seen on this issue.
The use of public relations techniques has a key role to play in all of this
change. New products, processes and techniques will need to be introduced and
education and information will be a vital component.
I am not feeling smug at the prospect, but I am sure we will thrive on the
challenge and rise to the occasion.
Yes, you could say I am smiling at the future, but maybe that is also because I
am an optimist.
- Dennis Rutzou
* 'Opportunities beyond carbon' is published by MUP Academic Monographs and costs