November 18, 2009
Fellow of the Month: Leigh Ewbank
We are starting a new feature here at Breakthrough where we will be highlighting the accomplishments and thoughts of former Breakthrough Generation Fellows who are still acting as thought leaders and working to realize their visions for social change.
Leigh Ewbank was a Fellow during the summer of 2009 and was deeply interested in formulating a narrative of climate change that resonated here in the United States, but also in his home country, Australia. Leigh continues to contribute his insights on Australian climate policy to the Breakthrough blog and has also put much of what he learned at Breakthrough to good use in his efforts to impact the climate and energy discourse back home.
What have you been doing since the Breakthrough Generation Fellowship?
I've been back in Australia for about three months after a bit of travelling around the US and Asia. I've decided to keep on writing about climate politics in Australia. One way of getting my opinion out there has been to start a blog called the "The Real Ewbank" as a place to publish my analysis. Blogging is definitely something I picked up in the US through my experience with Breakthrough. In Australia, we don't really have a strong blogging culture, but I think there's a lot of potential to reach new audiences--especially using Twitter as a method of broadcasting--and contribute to the growth of blogging culture in Australia.
Ed. Note: You can follow Leigh on Twitter: @TheRealEwbank
In addition to blogging, I'm working as an Editor's Assistant at the Australian Institute of Architects on their publication, the Environment Design Guide. The Environment Design Guide is an academic journal for practitioners of the design professions that explores cutting-edge technologies and ideas in the field.
I've also recently joined up with an NGO called Beyond Zero Emissions as their Director of Online Communications. Beyond Zero Emissions is attempting to reframe climate politics in Australia and they bring more of a solution-based focus to the debate. They are in the process of developing a blueprint to transition Australia from a dirty-energy economy to a clean-energy economy over the next decade. My role is to ensure we can get as much online exposure as possible, and build support for the organization and their Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan.
How has Breakthrough informed the work you are doing now?
Breakthrough Generation built my confidence to publish analysis and encouraged me to seek out organizations that share my values and approach to policy and politics. This primarily involves looking at solutions that are consistent with progressive values and having the courage to challenge orthodoxies and commonly held assumptions. Breakthrough also inspired me to think creatively and innovate.
More broadly, working in America exposed me to the entrepreneurial spirit that we don't see as often down in Australia. Americans are very entrepreneurial people, so living and working in the US definitely inspired me to start my own blog and get more involved in politics in Australia.
What is one thing you discovered while you were here that you want Breakthrough Generation fellows - past, present, and future - to know?
I think that regardless of what happens with cap-and-trade and carbon pricing agenda, there is a critical need for complementary climate policies and I think Breakthrough has explored this space really well. So while carbon pricing is a key part of the policy debate now, in the future climate politics include industrial policy, technology policy, obviously implementing R&D programs and also the critical need for improved education. The role of education is something Breakthrough's Teryn Norris has been working on with his new advocacy group American's for Energy Leadership.
More broadly than climate politics, I think there is a critical need for progressives to keep on promoting their values and formulating innovative policy responses. And there are always new challenges emerging and always a need for progressive policy responses to those challenges.
What advice or encouragement would you offer to prospective fellows?
I'd recommend that they think hard about what they are saying and scrutinize their ideas. To test their ideas with each other and to let them evolve. Quite often you can have an idea and you really want to stick by it, but sometimes it's better to let it go or let it evolve into a stronger idea.
I'd definitely recommend people to just take time to enjoy each other's company and get to know each other. It's really important to build that social capital in addition to working hard on new ideas.
I'd also say for people that were unsuccessful in getting into the fellowship this time around, to keep at it. Keep thinking hard about climate policies and progressive politics, and keep on reading, writing and developing your ideas.
What was your favorite aspect of the fellowship?
That's easy. Collaboration was my favorite aspect. Having the opportunity to work with people of such high caliber. The Breakthrough team is made up of very capable professionals, writers, and analysts, and this obviously extends to the fellows who were some of the best and brightest in the climate and progressive scene in North America. Having the opportunity to speak with Michael and Ted and get a good sense of their take on climate politics was fantastic. The experience is definitely something that will continue to inform the way I think about politics in Australia.
What book are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading two books and I'm in the early stages of both of them. The first one is Stewart Brand's 'Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto' and the second is by Norman Doidge, called 'The Brain that Changes Itself.'
Brand has really interesting things to say about cities and population that are definitely worth checking out, especially for people that consider themselves environmentalists.
And 'The Brain that Changes Itself', this book has just blown me away with incredible stories about what neuroscientists are calling neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is actually more adaptive than previously thought and some of the stories of people overcoming learning difficulties and other problems resulting from brain damage are just incredible.
Of course I also read my Google Reader newsfeed and tweets that come in. There's a lot of reading to do these days.
Do you have any intellectual or political role models?
I think so. Philosophically, I've always liked Socrates. I was always really inspired by the courage he had to challenge commonly held assumptions and to simply question everything.
Politically speaking, I've always liked former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, even though I strongly disagree with his policies and politics. He was an amazing politician even though he had seemingly no charisma. I think having such a worthy opponent really inspired me, and a whole generation of young people, to get involved in politics. It can be good to have opponents. They can be just as inspiring as your greatest allies.
Recently, I'd have to add Dr. Richard Dennis of the Australia Institute, a progressive policy institute based in Canberra. He has been a proponent of effective climate policy in Australia and has had the courage to critique the Rudd government's deeply flawed emissions trading scheme where many of the nation's larger environmental groups have been unwilling to do so.
What is your favorite thing about the Bay Area?
My favorite thing about the Bay Area is the burritos. The burritos and obviously hanging out with some really good friends I made while I was living there. All of them who I miss deeply.
Go-to burrito joint?
El Farralitos on Mission, near the 24th St. BART. See, we don't really have burritos in Australia so it's something I miss.
Besides the Breakthrough Blog, of course, what's your go-to publication for climate and energy news?
These days it's not about having a 'go-to' blog, Twitter and Google Reader allow you to tap into a wide variety of sources. It's important to read material from the left and right just to keep up with their arguments and criticisms. Recently I found a pretty cool blog called Political Climate, based in London. It has a unique take on climate politics.
What is your favorite memory from your time with Breakthrough?
It's not one memory and it's related to collaborating with really exceptional people. During the fellowship, it was always really good to get encouraging feedback. Getting a positive comment on something you've written or just some acknowledgment of the hard work you're doing.
Check out some of Leigh's latest writing here.