Embracing the Necessary Transformation – Curtin University Graduation Speech

Last night I had the honour of giving the Occasional Address at Curtin University’s graduation ceremony. Here is what I said:

——-

Good evening Acting Chancellor Sue Wilson, Acting Vice Chancellor David Wood, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to give the Occasional Address at this evening’s graduation ceremony, and I would like to thank Curtin University for inviting me to speak.

I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Whadjuk Nyungar people and pay my respects to elders past and present.

University graduation ceremonies are wonderfully inspiring events. I can’t help but be reminded of my first university graduation ceremony which was around 20 years ago.

I remember excitedly printing out my last assignment on my Apple Mac SE. A beige square box with a tiny screen and a handle on top. It didn’t have a hard drive but came with floppy disk drives and a (not so) massive 512k of ram. In comparison your average computer today has 8 gig of ram which is almost 16,000 times as powerful.

But this was 1995 when Google didn’t yet exist – in fact its co-creators were yet to even meet. The first video was still a whole decade away from being uploaded onto YouTube. Mobile phones were both very expensive and very hard to fit in your pocket. If someone had of suggested to me in 1995 that in 20 years most people would own a hand held device that would not only make calls and take photos, but could hold 1000s of photos, your entire music collection and most extraordinarily could be used to find the answer to almost any question that came in to your head in a few seconds – for free – I would have thought they were dreaming the impossible. Today it’s just plain ordinary.

Over the last 20 years since I, like you are doing tonight, walked down to receive my graduation certificate, large parts of our world have radically transformed themselves. The information revolution, the internet and new media has gone from the big idea to how we understand and experience the world.  It has been a period of rapid change.

My challenge to you tonight is this – the world you’re about to graduate into is one that will need to transform itself even more dramatically over the next 20 years than it has over the last 20 years. Over the next 20 years we face the enormous challenge of transforming our society and economy by de-coupling economic growth and prosperity from increased carbon emissions, while simultaneously increasing prosperity especially for the world’s poorest people.

Let me explain further the magnitude of this challenge. Scientists tell us that we must radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over the next 20 years if humanity is to have a prosperous future. This is a huge ask because over the last 20 plus years we have instead globally increased our GHG emissions by over 60% despite us been fully aware of the problem.

Last year the American Association for the Advancement of Science said:

Climate scientists agree climate change is happening here and now. Based on well-established evidence, 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.

And it is happening in a way that left unchecked will change the world as we know. The World Bank says we are currently on track for a 4° C warmer world by this century end – marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems, and life-threatening sea level rise. The World Bank also goes on to say that “There is no certainty that adaptation 4°C world is possible”

Despite this stark warning I am not depressed about how much trouble the world is in. In fact I feel incredibly excited and optimistic about the future.  One of the reasons I remain hopeful for our future is because of graduates like you tonight. Without a doubt your areas of built environment, sustainability policy and education are going to be a vital key to this necessary transformation. Let me explain.

In the last few years humanity crossed a monumental threshold – now more people live in cities than outside of them – for the first time in human history. As Herbert Girardet powerfully said “The cities of the 21st Century are where human destiny will be played out, and where the future of the biosphere will be determined. There will be no sustainable world without sustainable cities.”

This means transforming our cities away for car dependent sprawl to denser cities linked by high quality public transport and cycling lanes and walking streets. This doesn’t mean cities of no cars however. In fact I got here tonight in what I believe will become an increasingly ordinary means of transport. It was via an electric car charged from the solar panels above my office at the City of Fremantle. It was quite strange to drive at first – gearless and completely silent. But it definitely feels like the start of a different future.

Australian buildings are also a major challenge and opportunity. They are currently responsible for around 20% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and without a major change in direction this is projected to more than double in coming decades. The good news however is that around one-third of building sector’s greenhouse gas emissions can already be eliminated at a no cost. In Fremantle we are working with researchers from CUSP here Curtin to design the first zero carbon housing development in Australia – one that my not even need to be connected to the electricity grid.

This is only possible because of the massive transformation that is taking place in the area of energy. We are now seeing more global investment each year in renewable energy than we are in fossil fuels and as a result the cost of renewable energy is rapidly coming down in cost. For example, the price of solar PV has dropped by 2/3rds over the last 20 years. As a result at Fremantle Council I no longer have to make the economic case for putting solar on the roofs of all our buildings because it is a no-brainer. Solar PV generally pays for itself in less than 7 years.

But perhaps the biggest transformation that is yet to come will be in the area of batteries which are rapidly coming down in price and are now close to the point where a combination of solar and batteries can provide 24 hour a day electricity more cheaply, cleanly and reliably to your home than what you would get down your power line from the coal fired power station. This is going to mean a transformation even more radical than we saw telephones go through over the last two decades. Electrical wires may very soon follow old copper phone lines down the path of an increasingly redundant form of infrastructure.

But technological change and the redesigning of our built environment alone will not be enough to see us through this necessary transformation. Education is also going to be a vital ingredient. Education is key to ensuring that our society has the knowledge and the lateral and creative problem solving skills that are going to essential as we approach a fast changing future. Independent, critical and informed thinking will be essential to this necessary transformation and enabling this change to occur.

Speaking of education, you have all already achieved far more in this area than most people. In Australia despite recent increases in attainment of tertiary education still only one in four people has a bachelors level degree. Internationally only around 1% of people have a university degree. Each of you is now part of that exclusive group. For those of you graduating with a post graduate degree tonight you are in even more rarefied circles. You are part of a privileged global elite and with that privilege comes responsibility. As of tonight you become the influencers, the change makers. My challenge to you is to use this influence to be part of the necessary transformation

Finally, it is customary at graduation event such as these to give advice for a successful career and life post university. Twenty years on from my graduation I still don’t feel qualified to offer it but I can give you a few small tips:

  • Do what you love and love what you do. Then put the time and energy into getting good at it. Competence and passion are a rare combination in this day and age.
  • The more you give to your community the more you’ll get back. A good life is not about getting what you can for yourself. It is about how you can best give.
  • Keep on learning – finishing uni is just the start –  stay open to new knowledge, new ideas and new things;
  • In this rapidly changing world also make sure you hang on to your friends. Some of those around you tonight will be your friends and companions for the rest of your life. Treasure that and look after them.

To paraphrase – Henry David Thoreau – “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined” and be the change-makers for the necessary transformation ahead.

I wish you well and congratulations.

 

 

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

12 Responses to Embracing the Necessary Transformation – Curtin University Graduation Speech

  1. Stephen Wells says:

    Hi Brad

    Nice address to the students and your bit about the massive RAM you had at your disposal when you completed your assignment makes us all realise how quickly technology moves on. The world’s total sum of knowledge supposedly doubles about every 18 months.

    Speaking of change and moving forward, congratulations to you in particular and the Council on your decision to support the lease of Victoria Hall to the Fly. You have been a champion for keeping the Fly in Freo so well done!!

    Regards

    Steve

  2. diana ryan says:

    Good speech.

    I’ll make the comment it is critically important we address just how many individuals are unable to access solar panels today because they don’t have the homes to fit them to. That is a huge gulf that has opened up, in terms of those who can reduce what they need to draw from the grid and those who can’t, and I’d like to this extremely important issue addressed first, over additional benefits supported [by govts] for those who already have solar panels.

    For instance, I don’t think it appropriate that solar batteries for houses should be subsidised, and a lot of thought needs to go in to who bears the burden of paying towards network maintenance costs in their bills.

    Actually, it will be interesting to watch what happens in Qld, now Labor has taken office, as they promised to institute a state productivity commission that will assess what is a “fair” price for mums’n’dad solar power feed in to the grid, but with the proviso that those without panels must not be disadvantaged.

    I’d like to hear you include equity considerations, as fundamental, in to any speeches you make promoting clean energy, Brad. Not to do so is to be unrealistic and unhelpful, as 2 every 10 households having solar panels still means 8 do not.

    Cheers.

  3. Mr Thian-Chin Lee says:

    Dear sir,
    My daughter is a graduate at the ceremony. Thank you for an inspiring and encouraging speech. I wish you well in your present endeavors as the mayor of a historic and beautiful Fremantle. My wife and I are returning to Malaysia soon, while our girl hopes to find a job here and contribute her bit to the growth of this beautiful country. Thank you again.

  4. dianaryan says:

    Brad, I’ve made a critical point above, and I’d like a response please – if you are going to push, as you did in the Curtin speech, for more facilitation for individual homes who already qualified for expensive mortgage-biased solar panel subsidies and subsequent feed in tariff schemes, to be further facilitated by govts and/or utilities to also benefit through solar battery/backup (which is what that section of your speech amounts to).

    It is at least possible that some will push for those homes to be subsidised again to help bring down the capital cost of installing battery storage/backup, and I’m sure you would support that.

    However, as you say, the price of battery storage is coming down, and I believe this added level of solar infrastructure should be paid for by the homeowners themselves, as it has already cost a fortune of everyone’s money to assist only some, principally those able to afford a mortgage, to have the first and second levels of solar facilitation (subsidies and feed in tariffs both inflated and now equivalent to wholesale price).

    Yet the yawning gap of whom can access these benefits and whom can’t is becoming more obvious. You surely must be aware of this.

    Will you embed in your “pro” speeches for more individual benefits from renewable energy for persons such as yourself, who have already significantly benefited from the subsidies on equipment that reduces what you need to draw from the grid and our water supply, that we must ensure alternative means are found for those who cannot?

    I note you also now charge your personal car at the City offices. Is there a charge levied on you for that, or are you receiving that benefit for free? How does this provide a specific benefit to ratepayers?

    Back to your speech, it doesn’t benefit anyone for this increasing gap in who can reduce their electricity bills via renewable energy infrastructure and who can’t. Those grads you addressed should be working on that issue, so it was the ideal space to call for it.

    It will cost us all if we allow a two-tiered residential electricity sector to entrench.

    PS: Working on battery storage for high-rises is going on, which presumably will alleviate some of the costs of strata fees (although lift maintenance is usually a far higher cost), but for now I’m focussed on those who don’t have mortgages urgently needing real facilitation to ensure they can afford the electricity they need, and there will continue to be a lot of houses without these benefits, especially given how many investors are snapping up properties for rental purposes now.

    I hope you reconsider merely pushing the pro-sumer argument for those who can afford to/will receive subsidies/facilitation to further their individual solar benefits.

    Its only fair and moving in to “long overdue”. As a former school of sustainability staffer, you know how often we harped on about what could have been done, when, and better.

    Your response on the deepening imbalances in who can have these personal solar panel benefits and who isn’t getting any closer to it, both here and in your speeches, would be appreciated.

    Cheers.

    • Diana

      I wouldn’t expect that governments and/or utilities would need to subsidize to the capital cost of installing residential battery storage/backup – as my point was that it is rapidly becoming market competitive.

      That said I could imagine a low cost finance approach for people on low incomes to avoid a two-tiered residential electricity sector as you put it.

      cheers, Brad

      • dianaryan says:

        Again, I ask the Q, Brad:

        Will you embed in your “pro” speeches for more individual benefits from renewable energy for persons such as yourself, who have already significantly benefited from the subsidies on equipment that reduces what you need to draw from the grid and our water supply, that we must ensure alternative means are found for those who cannot?

        Again, I ask the Q, Brad:

        I note you also now charge your personal car at the City offices. Is there a charge levied on you for that, or are you receiving that benefit for free? How does this provide a specific benefit to ratepayers?

        Again, I make the point:

        Your response on the deepening imbalances in who can have these personal solar panel benefits and who isn’t getting any closer to it, both here and in your speeches, would be appreciated.

        (At this rate, Murdoch will need to institute a School for Revisiting Sustainability – perhaps your disinterest in the equity of individual clean energy facilitation could be a cast study?)

        So again, I make the point:

        I hope you reconsider merely pushing the pro-sumer argument for those who can afford to/will receive subsidies/facilitation to further their individual solar benefits.

        IN RESPONSE TO YOUR “IMAGINING”:

        You cannot lead a community on energy issues if you don’t know who can afford what, in terms of benefits, buy ins, offsets, Brad.

        Can I suggest you start making yourself aware of facts such as how No Interest Loans Scheme lends for solar panels, but only to those who have a mortgage….

        You were able to afford a mortgage, because you bought your home at an earlier point, when we did not need to park the euphemism “affordable” in front of it. You were then able to partake in billions of dollars worth of subsidies and incentives to benefit personally from clean energy, energy efficiency, etc.

        You didn’t do that part on your own – you had help. Real, not “imagined”, and it came about through calls to ensure it did.

        I’d say you have a responsibility now, both as a member of society and a community leader to ensure that everyone else can have access to the means you enjoy today, courtesy of all of us.

        Or does innovative stop at the door of people without deeds for their home?

      • Diana
        For the record here quick response to your questions:
        Will you embed in your “pro” speeches for more individual benefits from renewable energy for persons such as yourself, who have already significantly benefited from the subsidies on equipment that reduces what you need to draw from the grid and our water supply, that we must ensure alternative means are found for those who cannot? I don’t think my speech said this if you go back and read it but certainly support ensuring that disadvantaged people in our community benefit from these changes
        I note you also now charge your personal car at the City offices. Is there a charge levied on you for that, or are you receiving that benefit for free? How does this provide a specific benefit to ratepayers?
        Well it is a pool car and I don’t own it the City of Freo does. We also offer all electric car users free charging at the Queensgate car park to encourage their take up.

        Overall I think we broadly agree that bringing together environmental sustainability and equity is an important task going forward. I don’t have all the answers but finding them will be part of the journey.

      • Diana Ryan says:

        We don’t “broadly agree” that eventually someone, somewhere might actually get the free money you helped yourself to, as Gareth Parker, State Political Editor, The West, referred to those, like Brad Pettitt, who hoed in to subsidies and incentives again and again and again to their personal and financial enrichment at the opportunity cost of so many people who cannot afford a mortgage to park these devices on to.

        Because they won’t.

        And they certainly won’t while you DON’T take multiple opportunities to promote that this should be the case NOW, not GOING FORWARD, now the MONEY’S GONE.

        You took it.

        Now, Brad, what will you – a personal beneficiary of so much benefit at the expense of others – now do to personally ensure the people of Fremantle also get those financial benefits made available to them – now, not “in to the future”, as you didn’t shout and scream “THAT’S NOT FAIR, IT ISN’T AN EQUITABLE OUTCOME” for everyone else when the money and opportunity – handouts, in other words, just handouts, not loans that you were required to pay, were just given to you. Given-to-you. You-didn’t-need-to-pay-that-[money]-back.

        A leader doesn’t say “we’ve already covered this”, or “I think we can broadly agree”, unless he’s just a politician. At the end of the day, you might as well never have been at the schools of sustainability if all you do is “I think we can broadly agree”…. that Brad Pettitt got money and benefits for himself, knowing that he would get it where others wouldn’t.

        School of Sustainability learning: FAIL.

        There are increasingly serious equity issues going forward in to this new, supposedly virtuous age of clean energy.

      • In contrast I think these technologies have the potential to be more equitable and sustainable if they bring the price of low carbon technologies down. The role of the state will be to offer the incentives so those on low incomes can access them too though schemes like low interest loans.

  5. freoishome says:

    25% of Australia’s population are tertiary graduates, not up with Canada at about 30%, but not bad, and getting larger.
    It makes me sad to see how politicians treat such a well educated and articulate population, as if their thoughts and knowledge were so inferior to the pollies.
    It doesn’t matter which level of Gov’t one thinks about, that is an incredibly large untapped, under recognised resource, at their figure tips.
    I attended a seminar where everyone in the audience was given a picture puzzle to complete, that type with two seemingly identical pictures where you need to find the 10 differences. We had 3 minutes, after that there was a show of hands for those that found all 10, 9, 8 etc. Nobody got close to 10 in the 3 minutes, but those who got the higher number felt very good about themselves. The more interesting outcome was collectively all 10 differences were discovered in next to no time!
    So lets hope politicians find better ways to actively listen to these one in every four who are so well educated.
    Paul

  6. Diana Ryan says:

    Brad, pls don’t ignore responding to my last comment, in order to skip over its serious implications that you, Brad Pettitt, personally benefited from a lot of non-repayable financial assistance to make yourself more sustainable but do not repeatedly and loudly now demand the same benefits are immediately extended to those without mortgages, but I did notice something else you danced around by putting your response in to segmented pieces:

    Re recharging your personally owned electric vehicle, which you have, as I understand it?

    If you personally own an EV, where do you recharge it?

    Do you use the free facilities provided by the council for only a very small number of EV owners, and therefore benefit from the alleviation of costs to recharge your own car, at least part of the time?

    In addition to that, do you have a recharger at your own home, by which you recharge an EV vehicle?

    • Diana
      I think these are answered above but to repeat:

      Re recharging your personally owned electric vehicle, which you have, as I understand it?
      See below

      If you personally own an EV, where do you recharge it?
      I don’t personally own one but I have access to a City of Freo owned electric car which is charged in the Queensgate carpark and at my house if need be.

      Do you use the free facilities provided by the council for only a very small number of EV owners, and therefore benefit from the alleviation of costs to recharge your own car, at least part of the time?
      Yes. Very proud to offer this free service to the early EV adopters as we want more people to adopt this technology.

      In addition to that, do you have a re-charger at your own home, by which you recharge an EV vehicle?
      The charger travels with the car and fits into any powerpoint including my house so yes

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