Monday 9 September 2019

What Bob Brown said (at the TravelDAZE sustainable travel event)

One of the highlights of attending Travel Weekly's TravelDAZE sustainable travel event a couple of weeks ago was seeing Bob Brown, former Greens senator and long-time environmental campaigner, in person, and listening to his inspiring keynote speech. In his trademark regional Australian drawl he didn't pull any punches about the predicament we earthlings are facing right now, but he was also full of informed hope and fired-up to do something about it. 

How great is Greta?
I'm thinking about Bob this week because there's a Global Climate Strike happening next week, on Friday 20 September 2019. Unlike other climate action strikes inspired by Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who kicked things off in August last year by skipping school every Friday to stage a one-girl protest outside Sweden's Parliament, this one isn't just for students. 

It's for everyone, of all ages, all over the world. And if earlier climate strikes are anything to go by, it's going to be huge. I'm going to the Global Climate Strike in Lismore, my nearest city (there'll be strikes Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane; find other cities worldwide here). I thought I'd share Bob's talk here, to get us all in the climate-action mood. 

Here's a lightly edited transcript of what Bob Brown said at TravelDAZE on 28 August with some of his own pictures of natural places he loves. (Who knew one of Australia's best-known conservationists was also an accomplished photographer?)


Bob Brown - pic by New Matilda
"I’m Bob. I was first hit by conscious awareness at Trunkey Creek on the old Coachy Road between Bathurst and Goulburn. My dad was the local policeman, my mum had come off a dairy farm and she said, 'Whatever you do, look after nature' and it’s been with me ever since.

The word ‘sustainability’ of course comes from Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norwegian Prime Minister, who was commissioned by the United Nations in the 1980s to look at the fact that humanity seemed to be overshooting its ability to live within the bounds of the planet. She talked about the need for us to have a sustainable relationship with this little earth of ours. Since then, we’ve had 2 billion more mouths to feed.

Some time after Gro Harlem Brundtland’s time, we reached 100 per cent use of the living resources of the planet. We’re now at 170 per cent. That's why every morning we wake to fewer forests, fewer fisheries, less arable land, more mouths to feed, to a million species facing extinction and the extinction rate now over 10,000 times the background extinction rate from natural attrition – due to the fact that the planet cannot deal with nearly 8 billion of us.

There were just two and a half billion of us when I was at Trunkey Creek and we're headed for 12 billion this century, with everybody wanting to consume more on a finite planet that simply doesn’t have more to give.

Bob & Stop Adani activists
So we’re in the greatest crisis of human time. It’s not coming. We’re in it. And yet today we have Australia’s minister for resources saying that coal is a great product and the more we can sell of it the better. 

While up at the Adani mine site in central Queensland, which has now been given the go-ahead by the environment ministers in Canberra and in Queensland, the Wangan and Jagalingou people, headed by elder Adrian Burragubba, are calling for people to go and camp with them on that site - I'll be going up there - to protect their sacred lands, which have songlines going right down the Darling River and through to the ocean, which the Adani mining operation will destroy if it goes ahead. 

And if the rest of the Galilee Basin is opened up, this will more than double the Australian greenhouse gas output into our atmosphere, when Australia is already the worst polluter per capita on the planet as we’re also the richest people per capita ever to have existed on this planet. 

I’m just stating the reality of the crisis that we are in because it is time for action.

But I want to come to the matter before us, which is tourism.

Tarkine forest, Tasmania
Pic by Bob Brown
Last year, a friend of mine took a busload of 17- and 18-year-olds from Shanghai out to the great forests of Tasmania and had trouble getting them out of the bus because they had never been in a natural environment in their lives and they were frightened of what might happen to them. 

We’re now in a world where there may be 50 cities of between 20 and 50 million people, most of them not able to get an experience in a true natural environment in the next couple of decades. What to do about this?

The spread of human beings across the planet is of course disastrous for natural environments, and if there’s one thing I do today it’s make a plea for our national parks. 

After decades of people putting themselves in front of bulldozers – Margaret Thorsborne, who was 91 when she died last year, there’s a famous picture of her, this woman with her handbag over her arm standing against the bulldozers at Hinchinbrook Island where a developer was coming in to clear the mangroves 20 or 30 years ago – today we’re not only needing to protect what is left of nature, and there’s quite a lot, but we need to consolidate the protection of the areas that are protected because they’re being invaded. 

Nature-based tourism is such a fabulous part of the human endeavour because it does bring us back to what's important. There are the great cultural icons of the world of course, the human-based manifestations of creativity, although Gaudi, the great Barcelonian architect who designed the Familia Sagrada, that great cathedral which after 120 or 130 years is nearing completion now, said that all human creativity comes from the great book of nature. It’s nature, of which we are part, on this finite planet, that we have to protect.

Bob Brown's tourism action plan
I've put together a list of things we might do (see pic, right). I’ll pick a couple out.

One is: Pay proper respect to the indigenous people left in their indigenous lands and that includes the Wangan and Jagalingou people who are calling on people around the world to sit with them, to protect their sacred lands [against the Adani coal mine] because it is part of the sacred planet for which we have no substitute.

Another is: Reward ourselves with starlit nights in the wild. It is extraordinarily important if we’re going to look after this planet, that we re-engage with it. I know as a campaigning conservationist, since I left my medical practice to get into the job of 'preventative medicine', that is protecting our environment, which is so important to the human soul and therefore human wellbeing, that it is imperative to spend time out under the stars at night – by the way Scorpio is right overhead at the moment, it’s magnificent. 

Bob & a bluegum, Tasmania
Pic by Paul Thomas
And of course that means days immersed in nature too, walking to where we camp, living close to nature, as our 100 BILLION forebears have done until this little blip in history where we’re technologically not only transforming the planet but transforming our own appreciation, or lack of appreciation, for the fact that we cannot do without this earth, which gives us everything. 

But it can do without us. As it’s done without the dinosaurs. The only difference is that the dinosaurs didn’t see that asteroid coming, 65 million years ago. We know what we’re doing and we can turn it around. We have the technological wherewithal. We have the ethical background, if we only take it on. We have the ability for restraint. We’ve shown in two World Wars that within three months of an emergency we can use 15 per cent of our gross domestic product to protect ourselves and yet 2 per cent of world domestic product put to it now would stop the climate emergency in its tracks. 

[At this point in his talk, Bob took us on a little trip by showing some of his own photographs of some of his favourite natural places, most in Tasmania, all threatened by tourism developments from resorts to roads. For brevity, I've omitted this section but included some of his pics.]

Bushfire haze near Huon River
Every second of every day, whether we’re in Sydney or Hobart or Timbuktu, is one degree Centigrade hotter than when I was a boy, due to burning coal, oil, gas and forests. And the prescription for our society at the moment doesn't seem to be 'let’s move to the technologically available alternatives of renewable energy' or 'instead of destroying trees, let's plant more' but to put the foot on the accelerator. 

There’s an enormous disjunct in thinking here and the tourism industry has a great potential role to play in getting us out of this wrong mindset into the constructive and sustainable mindset of the future. 

Another point on my credo for nature-tourism: Insisting that the people who destroy and injure nature are properly arraigned. That means, charged and penalised. We, for example, should not be a planet in which more whales are being harpooned. We should not be a planet in which more great forests are being felled. 

Not a black-throated finch,
but a fantailed cuckoo
We should not be a planet in which coal mines, as well as having the impact on climate change, are directly threatening species. 

This little bird on my lapel pin is the black-throated finch. At the Adani mine site there are 400 left, it’s the most important population as it heads towards extinction. They’re about to clear the woodland on which this bird depends, to open it up for coal extraction, to burn for profit – that’s all there is to it. It’s completely unnecessary. 

In India, as in Australia, renewable energy is now cheaper than coal-fired energy. But if you’re friends with the prime minister and when you build your power station to burn your Queensland coal next to the Bangladeshi border to sell across the border and your prime minister clears hundreds of people off that land and gives you tax breaks for putting the power station there, well, you’re sitting pretty. And when you are opening a coal mine in Queensland in which you intend to put $3 million into family or company trusts in the Cayman Islands, then you’re onto a good thing. But I don’t think the minister is going to take that on.

Bob & Paul's old house in Tasmania's
Liffey Valley, which they donated to
Bush Heritage Australia
What I do think we can take on, as people who respect and want to present nature to our fellow human beings, is to create a travel industry that is going to be ethical and able to survive into the future with pride in its chest and to back those environmentalists on the front line trying to protect national parks and threatened natural areas, knowing that it’s taking part in the protection of the planet upon which we all depend. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a beautiful planet, we’re a beautiful species, we need to bring out the best in ourselves and each other and turn around this ship of state so that our children, our grandchildren and everybody who is on this planet after us will thank us for having been here. Thank you all."

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Bob Brown, low-carbon travel & more from TravelDAZE 2019

Last week I did something that wasn't very no-impact: I flew to Sydney for the day. After weighing up the pros and (carbon) cons, I decided it was worth it. And it totally was, because it was one incredible, inspiring day.

Called TravelDAZE, this annual TEDx-style event is run by Travel Weekly and this year the theme was Sustainable Travel. So of course I had to go.

Oh, and one of the 21 speakers was Bob Brown. (If you're not Australian or don't know about this environmentalist and former senator and Greens leader, introduce yourself at I'll wait here.)

Walking the talk
It was great to see TravelDAZE walking the sustainability talk. For instance: it was held at the NSW Teachers Federation conference centre near Sydney's Central Station so there was easy access by public transport. Pre-event emails asked everyone to bring their own reusable water bottles (there was filtered water on tap) and coffee cups.

Frank Green's sustainable cups
There were also free Frank Green coffee cups, which are beautifully designed, recyclable, leak-proof (great for travelling) and made in Australia. (Too bad they're plastic, but I'd brought my own cup anyway; Frank Green also makes ceramic-steel cups).

The only printed materials were our name tags. Registration was done electronically. There were no promotional gifts (refreshingly unusual at travel events). And lunch, prepared by local caterer Relish Foods, was amazing: healthy, vegetarian (with two options for meat-eaters) and served in compostable bowls with corn-starch cutlery.

Why isn't every conference as creatively sustainable as this?

The stage was set for an epic day of short talks averaging 10-15 minutes each with a couple of longer keynotes. Here are a few snippets that inspired or resonated with me.

Good things are happening
The main takeaway from the day was that travel companies are increasingly committed to doing good - reducing their environmental impact, protecting human rights, reducing animal cruelty, promoting gender equality, giving back - in a multitude of ways.

A few standout examples, that go way beyond banning plastic straws and asking guests to reuse hotel towels, from a day that was positively bursting with them:
  • Intrepid Travel has been carbon neutral since 2010 and is planning to go "carbon positive" next year; that is, not just offsetting their carbon emissions but actually removing carbon from the atmosphere by working with The Climate Foundation and the University of Tasmania to develop Australia's first seaweed platform off Tasmania's east coast. 
  • IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) announced in July it's removing tiny toiletries from more than 840,000 rooms in 5600 hotels worldwide, replacing them with refillable bulk dispensers by 2021 to reduce plastic waste.
  • Virgin Holidays, United Airlines and British Airways have stopped selling tickets to captive dolphin "attractions" (unlike Qantas, which backflipped on its commitment this week), just one of the ways World Animal Protection, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is actively working with travel companies to end animal cruelty in tourism and promote animal-friendly tourism
  • World Resorts of Distinction created a Conscious Travel Checklist in July - which includes "offsets guests' carbon footprints" and "no single-use plastic" - and encourages guests to use it when planning their holidays. You can download it here
  • Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, set up in 1982, now supports 42 conservation, education, health care and social enterprise projects - in 22 countries, including a bike mechanic program that employs and empowers women in Tanzania (love this).
  • New Zealand is on a mission to lead the world in sustainable tourism AND become the first carbon-neutral country in the world and in November launched the Tiaki Promise, a Maori-based pledge to help travellers "care for people and place" when visiting NZ. 

Low-carbon travel
Darrell Wade, co-founder of Intrepid Travel, kept it real when he was asked about the future of sustainable travel. It's bright, he said - and bleak. In terms of travellers wanting to minimise their impact and travel companies stepping up to be more sustainable (see above), he's hopeful.

Darrell Wade, keeping it real
"The tourism industry, as much as we've got a big question mark over our heads for carbon emissions, in terms of the benefit to the world in the money we spend and the cultural bridge we make and the peace dividends, what our industry delivers is huge," he said, before talking up the value of "undertourism" (visiting countries that don't get many visitors).

About those carbon emissions... When it comes to aviation, the future is "pretty bleak". Although flying gets about one per cent more efficient every year per passenger-mile, aviation is growing at about 4.5 per cent a year "so the impact of aviation is getting worse every year... and biofuels may never be economically viable." It's travel's inconvenient truth, Wade said.

What can be done? Travel companies need to address the carbon emissions of flying when designing tourism products. "In our case, Intrepid has a legal presence in about 40 countries and traditionally we've always thought of each country as either an outbound market [such as Australia, the US or England] or an inbound market like Vietnam or Peru or Kenya. As time goes on, I think we'll have to flip that on its head," he said, by offering lower-carbon products in domestic markets. "We'll increasingly have to have a lower carbon structure built into tourism product at a global level."

Clean Travel founder Macartan
Gaughan with the UN goals
Small is beautiful
There was much talk about big goals, specifically the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include "Climate action" and "No poverty" by 2030. We also learned about small, grass-roots projects and partnerships making a difference.

The Myanmar Stove Project, supported by the Soneva Foundation, plans to distribute 200,000 fuel-efficient cooking stoves to reduce deforestation, carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution. Courier Luggage, a family-owned business in South Australia, recently launched a new range of wheeled suitcases made entirely from recycled plastic drink bottles for National Geographic.

A PNG child receiving
a new Solar Buddy
Solar Buddy, which has partnered with Flight Centre, provides portable solar-powered lights to beat "energy poverty" in developing countries.

Then there's Planeterra, a not-for-profit launched in 2015 by G Adventures to help communities around the world benefit from tourism. After reaching its target of "50 [projects] in 5 [years]" 18 months early, it now has a new target, Project 100: to support 100 local enterprises by 2020. Now that's big.

Bob rules, ok?
My personal highlight of the day was seeing Bob Brown, who gave the keynote address. He might have retired from politics in 2012 but he's still as passionate as ever, his words a stirring call to action about the urgency of protecting the planet and Australia's wild natural places.

The inspirational Bob Brown
He credits his mum with instilling in him a respect for nature: "I was first hit by conscious awareness at Trunkey Creek, between Bathurst and Goulburn [in central NSW]. My dad was the local policeman, my mum had come off a dairy farm and she said, 'Whatever you do, look after nature' and it's been with me ever since."

He talked about his credo for nature-based tourism, the disastrous Adani coal mine in central Queensland, the climate emergency - "We're in the greatest crisis of human time. It's not coming. We're in it." And his ethos: "Don't get depressed, get active."

Rules to travel by
To illustrate the importance of protecting national parks and World Heritage Areas, he showed us pics of some of his favourite places - Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island (South Australia) and Federation Peak, Frenchman's Cap and the South Coast Track in Tasmania - all at risk from private tourism developments, which should be built on private land, he said.

"National parks should be for the public, the infrastructure should be publicly paid for and amenable to everyone equally," he said.

His last words: "It's a beautiful planet, we're a beautiful species, [but] we need to turn around this ship of state so that our children, our grandchildren and everybody who is on this planet after us will thank us for being here."

A calmer Costa
Costa is a force of nature
Gardening Australia host and TV personality Costa Georgiadis livened up the post-lunch time-slot with his show-and-tell (instead of a "what do you call it, Powerpoint!" presentation).

Wearing a black T-shirt that read, when his beard wasn't in the way, "Giving is better than taking, Producing is better than consuming, Collaborating is better than competing", he wandered all over the auditorium and tossed us rolls of Who Gives A Crap recycled toilet paper (which helps build toilets for communities in developing countries).

He also showed off his reusables (apparently he hasn't used anything disposable for 28 years): a stainless steel water bottle, a reusable coffee cup, wooden cutlery, even a Boomerang Bag! "Free the leaf!" he said, holding up a glass jar of tea leaves he uses instead of tea bags. "Say no to convenience!" See Travel Weekly's story for more on what Costa said.

Not just lions
The Lion's Share
The day ended on an upbeat note: filmmaker Christopher Nelius talked about The Lion's Share, a Sydney-based initiative launched in September last year to "change the world through advertising."

For 150 years we've been using animals to help sell products, Nelius said, to convey messages of cuteness, security, innocence, belonging. "But there's a disconnect. We can put a tiger on a cereal box, but real tigers in the wild are in trouble." And not just tigers but rhinos, koalas, orangutans, snow leopards...

Pic by The Lion's Share Fund
The Lion's Share helps advertisers "give back" by voluntarily donating 0.5 per cent of what they spend on advertising every time they use animals (even cartoon animals!) in their ads. Last year, $US591 billion was spent on media globally; 20 per cent of those ads used animals. Backed by the UN Development Program and Mars Inc, The Lion's Share funds wildlife conservation, habitat restoration and animal welfare projects. They're aiming to raise $US100 million a year within three years.

Sir David Attenborough is even behind it, as a Special Ambassador, and has called it "a profoundly game-changing initiative".

What better way to end a thought-tornado of a day of inspiration and positive action?


Big thanks to Daisy Melwani at Travel Weekly - and event sponsor G Adventures - for the media ticket to TravelDAZE this year and to all the speakers for sharing their hard-won experience. So inspiring, invigorating and empowering. I learned a lot. Now to plant more trees to carbon-offset those flights...