My name is Ben Heard. Decarbonise SA is the vehicle I have created to help achieve, in my home state of South Australia, what needs to happen the world over: the rapid and total decarbonisation of our electricity supply. It is my researched opinion that we can only do this with nuclear power in the mix. I want to earn your support, and that starts with explaining the background and motivations that have brought this website to life.
It was shortly after completing my degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of South Australia that I heard David Suzuki, the renowned Canadian environmentalist, speaking on the radio in promotion of his new book at the time, Good News for a Change. The things he was saying resonated with me so deeply that I bought the book and read it. That was a life-changing event for me. I finally recognised, and could put into words my long held passion for building a healthier planet. I first learned and embraced the word sustainability, and there was no turning back.
While I worked in workplace safety and rehabilitation, I sought and read many of the other books and authors cited by Suzuki, becoming only more excited and determined as I read them. I realised though that passion and an impressive bookshelf were unlikely to open doors. My then fiancée, now wife, found a course at Melbourne’s Monash University; Masters of Corporate Environmental Sustainability Management. That was the one! I applied, was accepted, and moved to Melbourne with a new wife.
I worked two different occupational therapy jobs to pay the bills while my wife completed her PhD, and I took my Masters courses in the evenings. It was a (really, really) hard time, but I had never before been so enthused by my studies. I became one of the inaugural graduates of the Future Environmental Leaders program, which went on to become the Centre for Sustainability Leadership in Melbourne. I was quickly pushed forward by the course coordinator for my first consulting role. I was on my way, and it felt great.
I completed my course and walked away with a certificate covered in HDs (had never had them before in my academic life!). Things were going well. After some years of good consulting in sustainability and risk communication, I was realising the all encompassing nature of climate change and my passion for this issue. A move into a more specialised team of wonderful, talented and passionate colleagues brought with it the opportunity to work on some really excellent projects, and build a strong skill set in climate change.
But there was a problem… With every project I was learning more about climate change, and the news kept getting worse. It was getting wamer, faster, and the planet seemed to be more sensitive to change than had been assumed. Global growth was accelerating. That was actually mostly a good thing, because it meant a lot of people were becoming less poor. But it meant the demand for energy was outpacing anything we could implement to slow growth in greenhouse gases. Racing towards us over the horizon was the tipping point: that level of global warming from which there could be no correction, and to which there could be no successful adaptation. That level of warming at which we simply lost control, and doomed ourselves to global catastrophe.
The worst though was this: the logical part of my brain was telling me loud and clear that the broadly accepted set of energy solutions for climate change, namely renewable technologies and improvements in energy efficiency, had not a hope in hell of solving this problem on their own. No matter how optimistically my peer group and I talked them up, the reality of the scale of the climate crisis kept crashing the party. Things were getting worse, not better, and there was really no solution on my radar. Well, there was one, but I didn’t like it… nuclear power.
Quietly, I began to pay more attention to nuclear power, and one simple message got through quickly: this technology produces energy, in large quantities, for virtually nil greenhouse gas emissions. Ok, I wanted to confirm that, but that’s a big tick.
Moving home to Adelaide presented the opportunity to begin my own climate change consultancy, ThinkClimate Consulting. That in turn provided the freedom to look at nuclear power more actively. I still hated nuclear, for a whole bunch of reasons, but I was so appalled by what I knew of the climate crisis that I had to challenge my reasons for opposition. I assembled my reasons for hating nuclear, and began to explore them. I believed I may find it to be a necessary evil, but I didn’t. I found it isn’t necessary, it’s essential, and it isn’t evil; it’s actually a pretty darn good way of producing power, basically 99% better than coal. Even better, the coming generation of technology is nearly 100 times better than today’s. This meant…there is a solution!!! Hope was restored. We had the means. We just had to do it.
But so many people thought about nuclear power the way I used to. Specifically, that it belongs in the basket of technologies that have no place in a sustainable future, along with nuclear weapons, agent orange and land mines. So I made a presentation on how I changed my mind, advertised it through my business, and ran a free event. I paid for the venue, my wife baked cakes, and I did the dishes afterwards. Not many dishes mind you… only five people showed up, all prior acquaintances… one them my own father. It was an inauspicious start to be sure. But it was well received, and one of the five was with the Technology Industry Association here in South Australia, where I serve on an environmental committee. She was so impressed that she put the hard word on her colleagues that they must run it as a TIA event. I needed little persuading, and the deal was locked when I secured the excellent Professor Barry Brook as a co-speaker.
This time, 45 people showed up, and the response was phenomenal. I realised there and then that I had not thought of something: it’s all well and good to get people on side, but then what??? There was serious energy in the room but I had nothing for them to do, and no way for them to apply it. It was after that evening that I had the idea for Decarbonise SA, a vehicle to form a collective of concerned people to actually implement the changes needed to completely decarbonise South Australia’s energy supply. Which brings us to now.
But that is enough about me. I really want Decarbonise SA to be about us: the people who want effective action, not earnest conversation and piecemeal change. The people who fear for the future we are creating, but remain determined to create a better one. The people who believe in facts and science, rather than slogans and platitudes, as the basis for building a safer planet. The people who will put their time and skills where their morals are, get together and make something happen.
Decarbonise SA is here to give us structure, vision, goals and actions. It’s here to let us share and build ideas, communicate and collaborate. Above all though, it’s here to succeed in this little part of the world, and show others how we can regain control of the future. Please subscribe and stay tuned. This is only the beginning.