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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 them.
Opportunities beyond carbon

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 emissions.

The three-hour launch seminar featured nine of the authors who presented their views.

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 Australia.

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 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 $49.95