It takes a special kind of talent to stand before a lecture room of 250 people, disappoint them with your first utterance – and leave them wanting more, 40 minutes later.
Alan Kohler’s sheepish admission that the Challenge of Change Lecture would be sans graphs elicited a good-natured groan from a surprisingly large majority of the auditorium.
In Kohler’s defence, as he explained on the night, he was there to deliver ‘a lecture’ and not a fancy pants PowerPoint.
Besides, any real desire to see Australia’s GDP cross-referenced with 10 years’ coal exports to China on a graph was quickly obliterated by a rapid-fire romp through the corporate world’s response to climate change.
As UQ Global Change Institute acting director Karen Hussey explained in her introduction, there are few people more qualified than Alan Kohler to make intelligent observations about the way Australian business is dealing with climate change.
Since joining The Australian as a cadet journalist in 1969, Kohler has become synonymous with corporate Australia through his newspaper columns/editing and reporting, television programs and several successful (independent) business publications.
Admittedly, his imaginative charts and graphs have served to capture audience attention on the finance segment of ABC Television news for decades, but in a remarkable tour de force more akin to a sermon on the mount than a traditional university lecture, Kohler nailed it at the Global Change Institute on Tuesday night.
The lecture's official title: ‘Trump’s U-Turn on climate change: and what it means for Australian business’, was really just a skeleton on which to hang several pressing ‘big picture’ ideas.
The audience, comprising people concerned about the future and that of their offspring, was riveted.
Moreover, Kohler’s newspaper roots were evident from the outset.
“As a journalist, I’ve always been taught: don’t bury the lead,” he confessed, just as the final straggler found their seat.
“My central point is that ‘now is the time’ for Australia’s corporate leaders to step-up on matters of climate change.
“Their legal obligations require it, and the failure of politicians demands it.”
What followed was nothing less than a candid overview of climate change policy in the current Australian political landscape.
Kohler spoke of risks to business, the broad-based political failure to address the challenges of climate change, and the crushing need for leadership that can deliver stable policy.
As for Donald Trump’s impact on global policy, Kohler was equally frank.
“The president actually hasn’t announced his policy [yet],” he told the largely sympathetic audience.
“We think he’s getting ready to do the U-ie and, in fact, the presidential motorcade is probably driving back the other way … but we can’t be sure.”
In his dissection of the political class's failure to make effective headway on climate change policy, he was surgically concise.
“In some ways, the technology is overtaking the politics,” he said.
He railed against the proliferation of crony beliefs in a post-truth world and questioned the true long-term viability of coal in any form.
Was this preaching to the converted?
To some extent he was, but the important point Kohler pressed repeatedly was that corporate Australia is now on board and the mood for change is upon us.
After the lecture, discussions spilled into the night. The Challenge of Change had been unleashed.