This morning the ABC received “intelligence” as it were that I am not really an environmentalist.

This is predictable. Discrediting the messenger is a well-worn tactic that has been leveled against, notably, Barry Brook over several years (ironically in his case, by both climate deniers saying he’s not a credible climate scientist and by anti-nuclear voices saying he’s not a credible environmentalist), James Hansen and basically everyone featured in Pandora’s Promise.

Well, am I?

Truthfully, what other people say and think about me is none of my business. My very first post to this blog was a wholly transparent bit of background on the journey that brought me here. I would never have presumed to advocate on this issue without first explaining who I am.

There is a lot about what I do in the environmental space that gets a lot less air time than the nuclear discussion. For me, that’s called “my job”. I don’t talk about it much here, in the same way that I don’t chew the ears of my clients about nuclear power.

So again, whether I am an environmentalist or not in the eyes of someone or someone else is not that big a deal to me. Below is some simple, objective information and, where available, links to publicly available material, that describe some of my other activities. I know what I do, I know what I believe in, I know what I am passionate about and I know what I want for our world. Others are welcome to form their own judgments.

  • 2001 Graduate of Occupational Therapy from the University of South Australia. Worked in aged domiciliary care and vocational rehabilitation
  • March 2007 Completion of Masters of Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management, Monash University
  • 2008 Greenhouse gas assessment/emissions reduction strategy/offsetting strategy for Tahbilk Winery (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • June 2009 City of Melbourne Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • 2009-2013 Annual mandatory reporting of greenhouse emissions, energy production and energy consumption under the National Greenhouse Energy Reporting System for Heathgate Resources
  • 2010 Greenhouse gas assessment, energy efficiency and emissions reduction strategy for the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. A major outcome from the work is discussed here 
  • 2011 Organisation wide greenhouse gas assessment and sustainability strategy and workshop for Minda Inc. covering waste, water, energy and greenhouse emissions
  • 2011 Development of comprehensive modelling of attaining carbon neutrality for the City of Onkparinga, largest local Government in South Australia, with write up in conference proceedings 
  • May 2011 Report to the Campbelltown City Council on the design and development of a rolling energy efficiency fund
  • August 2011 Dealing with Denialism presentation for RiAus Adelaide on strategies for dealing with climate change denial
  • 2011/2012 Greenhouse gas assessments, calculators and emission reductions strategies for the following local Governments: Alexandrina, Grant, Coorong, Tatiara, Robe
  • 2012 Review of potential carbon offsetting strategies for a large new infrastructure development
  • 2012 Development of a greenhouse gas calculator for assessing garbage collection options, Waste Management Association of Australia
  • 2012/2013 South Australian Freight Council Report Green Freight: Investigations and recommendations for moving towards sustainable freight in South Australia, summary write up here 
  • 2012/2013 Lecturer, tutor and course coordinator for the following units at University of Adelaide: Thinking critically about global warming; Climate change: Past, present and future; Sustainable Development: Concepts and Applications.
  • 2012-2013 Identification of opportunities and economic modelling for the attainment of a 10 % or 20 % energy reduction target by the City of Adelaide. This work supported a program of borrowing for investment in energy efficiency across Council assets.
  • 2013 Successful grant preparation for installation of three 99 kW solar power systems on three commercial premises
  • 2013 Research and editorial assistance for the production of a children’s learning book The Environmental Cycle by Amalia Sosrodiredjo

Currently I am focused on my PhD, responding to many and growing requests relating to nuclear issues, caring for my family and responding to other consulting requests when they arise.

Exploring Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. Anti-nuclear, and cherishing nature
With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations. Anti-nuclear and learning about the realities of poverty.
With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. We surveyed the mothers to identify the need. They often held their children close in protective postures which hindered their development of motor skills. This child had low tone in his torso but was quite good with his hands, if he could use them! Support around the hips gave him the freedom to explore and develop around his weakness. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations that they could keep when they had to return home. Anti-nuclear, and learning about the realities of poverty, lessons I would never forget.

22 comments

  1. In a perfect world, this issue would not arise because journalists would check their facts and their sources.

    It must have been a difficult decision for Ben to make whether to publicly respond to the accusation or to publicly ignore it. Given that it appears that the accusation has been made anonymously or at least privately, I suggest that this response invites more “playing of the man” rather than keeping the discussion on topic, which is to decarbonise our energy sources.

    There is very little to be gained from an open-ended debate about who is and who is not an environmentalist, or even what that term means. It has been claimed by everybody from farmers, foresters and commercial fishermen on one end of the scale to those with academic qualifications, to those who share personal beliefs about the environment. The title “environmentalist” has become a badge to be worn or a bucket of mud to be thrown.

    Could the emergence of this issue in Ben’s case be more than a last gasp from someone who lacks either the facts or the knowledge to back their stance? I imagine so.

    1. What I can say in this case is that the journalist has behaved responsibly, was perfectly confident in putting me to air, and is not cowed by this. Naturally, I have the information at my fingertips where a journalist might need to waste quite a lot of time on follow-up. So I don’t mind it being brought to my attention.

  2. You’d think in the Activist’s handbook along side the “Getting arrested” chapter is “The Art of the Ad hominem”.

    Although it is a long bow, I can’t help but see the eerie similarities between the steps to genocide and the actions of any movements to deny/eradicate Nuclear, Wind, Climate Change science etc. Although I think step 8 is moot as these people own up to the success of eliminating whatever they are against.

    1. Classification, 2. Symbolisation (stereotype), 3. Dehumanisation, 4. Organisation, 5. Polarisation, 6. Preparation, 7. Extermination, 8. Denial.

  3. I expect tree-sitting, chaining oneself to gates and shouting at bulldozers takes an admirable amount of bravery. Sitting at a computer, coordinating and publicising the efforts of such people while drawing a salary from the donations to an ENGO markedly less so, but it’s potentially very important to ensure such efforts have maximum effect. In contrast Ben, your work gets buildings, organisations and whole councils to function more energy efficiently and abate emissions, which is really what we must focus on. Sounds like environmentalism to me, but then we’re less concerned about owning the term than we are about cutting those emissions like the best science tells us we must. Far, far less concerned.

  4. I’m curious what evidence your accusers provided in their “intelligence”. Were you told?

    If I were trying to make such a charge stick against somebody, then I’d be going through
    their rubbish bins … looking for supermarket meat trays or chop bones 🙂

    Which reminds me, seriously, you missed a critical dot point Ben … “[date] became vegetarian”. That’s something that has an ongoing cumulative impact and show’s a personal level of commitment frequently lacking in people who call themselves environmentalists. But, but, but … talking about “personal level of committement” makes it sound far tougher than it is. It’s a small thing with a big impact. Probably the biggest single contribution within everybody’s capacity.

    1. Geoff, you are right. The fact that I left it out tells the story… I don’t even notice my meat-free diet day to day. Doing without meat is a cinch compared to doing without, say, electricity or a stable climate.

      For those who don’t know I eat a meat-free diet. It came about for similar reasons to my change to supporting nuclear energy, and was assisted by my wife suggesting it independently of me.

      https://decarbonisesa.com/why-i-am-vegetarian/

      1. @Geoff and Ben:

        Though I care deeply about the environment and want to leave behind a better planet to my children and grandchildren than the one we were born to, I do not understand the environmental impact of a moderate amount of meat in my diet.

        Many of the animals that humans have domesticated and used for meat eat plants like grasses or refuse that can never be a food source for humans. That is why even poverty stricken people would keep cows, sheep, goats, chickens or pigs as a supplement to their diet.

        I realize that factory farming of animals is horrendous, but so are a few other farming techniques used to supply the world’s growing population.

        Of course, I am always willing to learn.

        Rod Adams

        1. Being willing to learn makes you different Rod 🙂

          It’s basic arithmetic. Consider cattle meat. In the US & Aust, the per capita consumption (actually its the carcase production figure) is about 40 kg per person per year. The global average is about 9 kg per person per year. So for everybody to eat a modest amount (say 20kg) the cattle population will have to double. Chinese beef consumption is increasing but they’ll have to import more and I think they realise this. Anyway, the current 9 kg comes from about 1.4 billion animals weighing rather more than the entire human population, and they produce bucket loads of methane and keep a large amount of land cleared to do it. They either drive deforestation directly or move in after the first round of timber or cropping. In the US the major deforestation event was long past but cattle prevent reforestation both directly and indirectly … via feed production. Only about 15% of that cattle meat comes from
          pure grazing. So if you use the “beef comes from grass we can’t eat” you’re only thinking of a small portion of that 9 kg .. ~1.3 kg.

          The basic notion of global sustainability is that everybody should be able to use as much energy or meat as the first world uses, and if they can’t then the first world has to change. Nuclear can provide a sustainable first world sized energy supply, but nothing can provide that 20kg of beef without driving further deforestation and without keeping the high current level of “foregone carbon sequestration”. When Hansen talks about reforestation, that can’t happen with 1.4 billion cattle.

          Environmentally, chicken has the smallest footprint. Ethically, on the other hand it’s footprint is far larger than beef because of the sheer magnitude of the suffering … you have to make hundreds of animals suffer in a factory farm to get output equal to 1 cow. Producing chicken without factory farms would slash chicken production to a tiny percentage of what it is now.

          1. FWIW, I’m a vegetarian environmentalist too, for about 18 years now and counting, also for environmental and ethical reasons. I do eat fish once or twice a week and I’ll accept meat at business or social occasions when it’s not feasible to get something without meat. I’m not a fundamentalist for that matter. I also don’t mind others eating meat. My wife and kids eat meat. It’s their choice.

            In response to questions I sometimes get about the reason for my non-meat diet, I’ve always said that I would reconsider it if and only if there is credible and serious nuclear renaissance putting the world on route to solving AGW and energy poverty credibly and transparently.

            Using nuclear power in combination with GMO, factory farming and methane/ammonia capture would make meat production abundant, clean and sustainable for the entire world population, hence the most important reason for my current non-meat diet would disappear.

            Animal welfare is not something that I care particularly about, since I see the issue of animal welfare as mostly a hypocritical elitist concern. Besides, raising food animals under conditions of high levels of welfare appears to be far more environmentally damaging than raising them efficiently in factories. If we want to ensure sustainable meat production for all of humanity, the issue of animal welfare is not a priority at this time, sadly, in my opinion. Perhaps toward the end of the century when (hopefully) we will have solved many of the most important threats facing humanity, we can begin improving the welfare of animals as well.

        2. P.S. As I said, the “consumption” figures I used were actually production figures and for cattle there’s a big difference between how much of the animal actually gets eaten if you produce burgers or cuts. If you, as nutrition authorities recommend, only use lean beef, then beef’s footprint goes up … a lot. One study in NY state found that it about 40% more land to produce a kg of lean beef compared to normal beef. More generally, if you produce 20kg /person/year of carcase, then each person will get to eat about 65% of that … about 1 x 250gram steak per week. The CSIRO diet … which I wrote a book about … had it’s test subjects eating 7×200 gram lean steak per week. Hence my label of the most environmentally destructive diet on the planet.

          The industry loves burgers because you get to bury more of the animal in the patties than you could otherwise sell. When Europe stopped feeding carcase waste to other animals as a result of BSE, this had to be compensated for with increased imports of soy … which happened at the time to come from the Amazon. Waste streams in the livestock industry are a really big deal. Traditionally, people ate things like blood pudding, but in countries which still do this, you can see an impact on bowel cancer with as little as one meal of blood pudding per month. This is why I reckon heme iron is most likely contender (in a crowded field) for the principle causal agent in the red meat/bowel cancer link. If you can’t find a market for the various components in the livestock waste stream then they are expensive to dispose of. If they have to be rendered then this is very energy intensive (high temperatures for a long time) … and rendering won’t destroy prions. It’s interesting to compare BSE fear with radiation fear. Maybe I’ll investigate this more fully and write an article about it.

  5. Good topic lesson in fact intolerance and energy health/safety bias media hypocrisy.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    (I always eat fish Fridays.)

    1. Oh Murdoch, prepare for a trip into the rabbit warren of Murdoch mula.

      There was that group in SA that set up a business looking to change laws and develop Nuclear Power in SA: http://indaily.com.au/business/2014/06/26/old-buggers-network-fire-sa-economy/

      Mr Hundertmark was director at News International a part of the Murdoch group of businesses. He developed encryption of pay tv and marketed it to Mr Murdoch, got really rich. His business success and wealth is off the back of Mr. Murdoch’s business empire.

      Argument could be made from anti’s: “Boo look at these rich types of evil Murdoch money funding evil nuclear”

      Well, it pays to look in the respective backyard first.

      FoE and ACF have their Beyond Nuclear Initiative which is in partnership with the Poola Foundation.

      (http://www.foe.org.au/partners point 5)

      The Poola Foundation is managed by Eve Kantor. If Kantor sounds familiar it’s because it’s the last name of Rupert Murdoch’s sister Anne. Anne Kantor sold her shares back to Rupert in News Ltd and subsequently became quite wealthy. Anne is the mother to Eve.

      The Tom Kantor Fund a part of the Poola Charitable Foundations scope is named after Anne’s son who tragically passed away in 2001. This fund donated $10million to the Climate Institute. Eve is married to Andrew Wootton and in 2006 BRW estimated their wealth at $315million.

      (http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/05/30/murdoch-v-murdoch-in-climate-change-ad-stoush/)

      Therefore, in South Australia both the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear groups have their funding from money off the back of Murdoch’s success as a businessman.

  6. Few things irritate me more than having my own ethics questioned, as though they are reducible to only one of two positions. Many many years ago I asked at a meeting where nuclear waste should be stored, because surely responsible management required some solution or another, not just opposition, and I was literally shamed into leaving. I believe the consensus position on my presence was ‘What are you doing here if you think we should store it anywhere in Australia?’ I’ve since been very careful not to engage with ideologues of any kind, on any issue. It doesn’t interfere with my commitment to minimising my own impact in the ways that are meaningful and important to me. Keep on keeping on.

      1. Your article in The Conversation was what prompted me to check out your website. It’s not often I see an article from an Adelaide Uni affiliate. At least not within my realm of interests. Always a good thing.

  7. I notice it is Koutsantonis not Weatherill who sings the praises of uranium mining
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-25/four-mile-becomes-newest-uranium-mine/5549648
    The rationale seems to be to help China and India seemingly while SA has no need to use uranium.

    My understanding is that the ISL deposits other than Honeymoon are based on the outwash of the same slab of granite that Olympic Dam digs into. I also understand some ISL producers are going to enrichment ready uranium fluoride not yellowcake.

  8. The penny is beginning to drop that new mines in the arid north and west of SA could be a replacement for departing SA industries like car making
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/senate-approves-bill-to-open-sections-of-woomera-prohibited-area-for-exploration-and-potential-mining/story-fni6uo1m-1226968260593
    Slight problem; where will they get the power and water? Woomera township gets river water from 400km away but that source is maxed out. The nearest 24/7 generator Pt Augusta has reduced its output. Strangely the embedded video clip is about the decline of coal in Moranbah Qld due to lower Chinese demand. I’m waiting for a politician to suggest SA should use Qld coal to run the new mines.

  9. Ben, I’d be curious how your views on nuclear shifted in relation to the timeline. It doesn’t advance any public discourse I don’t think… but my communication efforts need to include how & why people opened up to nuclear power and so it is that inflection point (or period of time) which gives details like this more meaning to me.

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