A panel discussion presented by The Brisbane Dialogues and the Queensland Academy of Arts and Sciences
By Grace Nakamura
18th September 2021
In July 2021, in a month characterized by bushfires, heat, more lockdowns and floods in different parts of the world, The Brisbane Dialogues and the Queensland Academy of Arts and Science (QAAS) co-organised a panel discussion around the question “Climate Change – What Can We Agree On?”
At this latest event in a series of debates and discussions for The Brisbane Dialogues’ civil discourse project titled ‘Big Dialogues’, the panel was comprised of Queensland Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham, Dr Maia Schweizer, CEO of CleanCo Queensland, and Graham Young, the Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress. The debate was moderated by Julieanne Alroe, Chair of Infrastructure Australia and Queensland Ballet.
President of QAAS Emeritus Professor Helen Chenery, who acted as MC for the night, introduced the ‘Brisbane rule’, where all participants agree to listen carefully, speak civilly, and concentrate on the content of discussions, not on personalities – before, during and afterwards, online as well as offline. Nevertheless, a clear agreement between the panellists wasn’t an easy task.
Dr Maia Schweizer focused on the challenges for the future, by outlining that less than a decade remains until the world has used up its ‘carbon budget’ – a measurement that keeps the world under 1.5 degrees of global warming: “A tipping point has been reached where mitigation of climate change is advantageous on almost every front,” Dr Schweizer said. Her modelling with CleanCo shows that a net zero Queensland in 2050 can be achieved “without breaking the bank, and…without reducing our living standards.”
Professor Hugh Possingham brought his experience in modelling and decision science to the topic of climate change. He stated that if it weren’t for initial fearmongering, Australia could have embraced nuclear as the most effective and sustainable form of energy: “If you compare the deaths per unit of power generation from nuclear and coal, coal kills 10 to 100 times more people than nuclear,” he said. Professor Possingham also raised reforestation and geo engineering as potential methods of tackling decarbonization.
Graham Young provided an alternative view on the urgency of climate change, with his arguments mainly revolving around maintaining economic productivity. Mr Young said, “I think that just as important as dealing with C02 emissions is ensuring that human wealth and flourishing continues.”
Unlike the two other panellists, Mr Young argued that we should focus more on practical mitigation of the effects of climate change rather than prevention strategies.
He said, “If you’re worried about sea level rise, for example, we should be putting some of that money into making sure your city doesn’t flood rather than trying to stop the C02 going into the atmosphere.”
Throughout the evening, audience members texted their questions to the moderator: these predominantly responded to the economic solutions proposed by Mr Young.
Overall, the panellists agreed that taking a national focus to break down climate change into a series of economic and technological challenges within Australia would facilitate progress. Such challenges include private investment into renewables, decarbonisation in Queensland, and a debate on the value of agriculture versus reforestation.
Despite their differences, each panellist agreed that Australia has a responsibility as a wealthy nation to be a global leader in climate change discourse. Towards the end of the debate, the panellists came to unanimous agreement on a single point. Resilience – whether it be social, economic, or political – will define the course of climate change mitigation.