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In Conversation With…Tim Nelson

An interview by Payton Osborne (Year 11) with Masha Petrovic (Alumni)

Amongst the generation that will inherit this earth, there is a consensus of concern for the future of our society, environment and global culture. But when the world is controlled by people whose priorities seem to manifest as tunnel-visioned on profit and economic benefit alone, sustainability – especially in regard to the earth’s assets and natural resources, appears to be disregarded and tossed to the side. Whilst it would be naïve to think that change is always immediate and incontestably effective, it must also be understood that all change starts somewhere, and with someone. Tim Nelson, an internationally recognised sustainably-aware economist, encourages us to be that someone.  

Tim Nelson’s biography to date is notable; influential leadership roles within leading energy companies, powering progressive policy, with a record of widely published Australian and internationally peer-reviewed journals and an impressive catalogue of theoretical academic and ‘real-world’ practical experience. Yet, what sets him apart, in an industry dominated by classical economic mindsets, is his progressive thinking; the relevance of which is making itself increasingly known.  

Climate change is not the mysterious threat many perceive it to be. It is not a future peril, merely foreshadowed by a paranoid society. Climate change exists here and now, and regardless of what some may consider to be its ambiguous and asymptomatic nature, it has never been a more prominent threat to our global future. As fortunate members of society, Tim Nelson encourages us to recognise that whilst our quality of life may remain consistent, if not improve, this is not necessarily the case for our counterparts in developing nations. Real dangers and issues exist outside of what we are aware of. 

However, climate change is also not to be considered an insoluble problem, apocalyptic in character. There are solutions available to those who govern us, and they are much more realistically applicable than we may have been led to believe. Tim Nelson advised that recent breakthroughs such as green hydrogen and hydrogen ammonia possess the potential to revolutionise energy usage and perception within a global culture. All things considered, there is much work to be done, none of which though, is unachievable. And if it is not the sounding bells of imminent environmental doom encouraging progress, let it be the desire for more financially advantageous industries; sustainability and profit go hand in hand. 

So, if scientific development is not a hinderance to action against climate change, then what is? Why are we yet to witness large-scale change? To understand this, it is crucial to look deeper, to analyse the underlying foundations of our society, that which encourages every correct decision and justifies every wrong one; privilege.  

“Inequality manifests unsustainability”

An inability to meet sustainability outcomes can be directly related to inequality, and it can be regarded through two major lenses; wealth and gender.  

To be frank, sustainable lifestyles are unaffordable for the majority of people. A family struggling to make ends meet will be unable to prioritise, let alone fund environmentally friendly and ethically aware behaviours. And if these outcomes are unachievable for middle-class citizens of ‘first-world’ countries, then what chance does a member of a developing nations population stand? Wealth inequality is a major global issue, threatening the quality of life for entire populace, and for every person in every generation that succeeds us.  

Similarly, gender disparities in society result in rapidly increasing populations, the magnitude of which arguably cannot be supported by our Earth and the finite resources it provides. However, when women are educated and given equal opportunities for viable career paths, birth rates decline and industries inevitably improve. 

But for every adversity these groups face, they are replicated, if not intensified, for people of colour, those of differing gender identities and sexual orientations, people affected by disabilities and anyone with religious values. 

In order for efficient change in the face of a climate crisis, it must be acted upon equally by every party involved, however equal action cannot take place until we are all equal. 

Inequality, when left unchallenged, presents drastic direct and indirect consequences for global populations, climate change being one. Needless to say, our current and impending contingency of total environmental collapse is not caused by inequality, however any positive progress and change for good is limited by a comprehensive inability to collaborate together, working collectively towards a common goal interrupted by social status discrepancies.  

With issues such as unsustainability, it can be easy for people to have a ‘trade-off solution’ mindset; the people blame the governments, and governments blame the other governments, hence offloading the entirety of the blame onto nothing and no one, inhibiting any possible momentum of revolution. Global inaction, by both government and citizen parties, is what initially landed us in this environmentally and socially precarious position, and it’s not going to help fix it. Nonchalance is no longer acceptable; the awareness of global issues is greater than ever before and now is the time to act. 

Although with regards to change, a limited amount can be done on a population level. Tim Nelson recognises this, discussing that all legal and constitutional power ultimately lies within the political frameworks of countries, yet he also encourages people to not discredit the value of people power. As citizens of a nation, we all have the opportunity and the duty to influence the decisions made by our municipal leaders, with our vote, our actions and with our speech. 

Tim Nelson encourages us to use the responsibilities we have, however insignificant they may be perceived, and to make change for good. By placing pressures on local governments, positive change can have flow-on effects to other governing bodies, encouraging them to implement equality measures within society, with the aim of achieving globally congruent societal values, and limiting the civil contributions to unsustainability. 

When asked whether profit or sustainability should be prioritised over the other in the context of a fragile economic and environmental setting we experience today, Tim Nelson said something that I feel is important to share: 

“To do well, is to do good.” 

No single member of society is required to decide on either-or, they are simultaneously achievable, if not inseparable from one another. Nonetheless, it can be daunting to try and figure out how you yourself can help create and assist the progress of change. Environmentally, you would have been encouraged to limit your individual greenhouse gas emissions by recycling, walking/cycling in replacement of private transport, or to replace your pre-existing goods with eco-friendlier, more sustainably feasible alternatives. 

But I would like to offer a different piece of advice. 

Attempt to make changes to the social construct of your community, no matter how large or small. Encourage discussions of challenges restraining equality, fight for the interests of people around you and see how you can contribute to greater societal outcomes, especially overseas. But most importantly of all, educate yourself. There are more informational resources available to us today than ever before, and they are at your disposal. To create change, we must first understand why we need it, before advancing onto the development of combative solutions, to fix the problem our predecessors could not. 

Fear can rule and control the lives of many, so let it be the fear of the death of our planet, our global economy and an equitable society that guides you. Change will not simply present itself to us, so let these concerns and these worries motivate you to create it instead. And whilst this may seem unachievable now, recognise that every small action account for a greater shift in ideological conscience and practical reality.  

So, with the theme of bank in mind, I ask for only one thing; preserve the courage that you now have. Maintain that desire for more, for greater, the part that doesn’t take no for an answer, and doesn’t surrender in the face of adversity. Bank these qualities of determination, diligence, selflessness and unbiased kindness for the people who surround you. Recognise your privilege and pay it forward to those less fortunate. Prepare for the day when our generation is the one in power, determining the fate of the Earth, and all those who inhabit it, and play a role in the inevitable difference that we will make. Change is coming, and it starts with us.  

The full interview with Tim Nelson can be found here.

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