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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wish I had a Melbourne Cup winner, but backing Sustainability Online

If we don’t have a virtual racing industry by 2050, are we backing the wrong horse? With ‘The Cup’ looming, Murray Hogarth has his money on long-shot Sustainability Online despite Carbon Uncertainty’s recent form. Read on (my latest column for BEN-global)

The race that stops a nation

It's Melbourne Cup time again. Australasia’s most famous horse race, worth millions for the winner’s connections, features in a month-long extravaganza of punting for a betting mad nation. The $6 million, two-mile (3200m) classic is a magnet for international racing industry heavyweights too, especially with the Aussie dollar sky high, causing a boom in equine air miles as well as track ones.

So how can you segue from that to a sustainability story?

Perhaps you’re thinking this story is headed down the path of the huge gamble that greenhouse gas intensive Australian industries now face over a price on carbon pollution. Should industry punters believe the government of the day and get ready to start trading carbon from mid next year? Or should they heed the shrill, ‘blood pledge’, buyer-beware warnings of the wannabe government that it will repeal the carbon price legislation at the first opportunity, with no compensation!

Carbon Uncertainty is the bolter!

Sure, the real prospects of this Carbon Uncertainty bolter are hard to pick. Fortunately, however, this big race story actually starts with the heavy TV advertising for, the young pacesetter of the internet-based gaming sector, whose bloodlines incorporate some of Australia’s greatest racing and bookmaking families.

Tom’s ads boast he was born to bet. He’ll cover racing or any sport with legal gaming opportunities, and you’ll never have to go near a racetrack, sporting ground or even a betting shop. Your money, winnings and losses, goes digital, with every bit of the transaction action happening online – although the horses, dogs or people still have to run around a track or a field.

Now of its self, Tom Waterhouse’s business is pretty unremarkable. These days we can do lots of regular things online, like buy or rent movies on smart TVs or computers without every having to visit a video shop or even physically receive a DVD by parcel. When you add up all of the physical activity that no longer is required per view, that’s a lot of dematerialising without any loss of viewer satisfaction (and no bloody late fees either).

This industry has a big footprint

Online gaming is a pretty modest saving, of course, especially when you consider how big the footprint of the racing industry is. All of those large herbivores, farms, feed, stables, racetracks, and all of the land and air transport that goes with them. After people, horses are the most frequent flyers among all of the world’s creatures, and a whole bunch of them have jetted down from Europe for the Melbourne Cup.

There’ll be no shortage of attention for the much-loved ‘race that stops the nation’ over the next few days. It even has a Hollywood movie, The Cup, running this year. So it’s no doubt a terrible time to advocate scrapping the whole horseracing industry, declaring its race has been run in a world that needs to go low-carbon fast.

While it’s easy to love the rich tradition of The Cup and the beauty of thoroughbreds at full gallop, you can imagine the carbon footprint of flying hay-burners around the world! So can that ever be sustainable? Especially if the whole thing can be replicated in computer-generated images, with randomised race results mimicking the sure bets and occasional dramatic upsets of the real thing?

And would the punters even care? Many gamblers rarely or ever go to the track, even less with the advent of online betting, and millions bet on the poker machines while knowing that computer chips control the outcomes, not pure luck, and that ultimately the house always wins.

Get on Clean Energy Future

It’s important to focus public and political attention on replacing physical products including services with virtual ones in the quest for a clean-running future that is both ecologically sustainable and economically successful. Confronting the very future of horseracing in the build-up to Melbourne Cup week (the race is run later today - author note 01/11/2011) is one way to prompt that discussion.

By the way, there’s a racehorse in America called Carbon Footprint. That had to happen, I’ll wager. As far as I know it’s not headed down under anytime soon for a Melbourne Cup, but we should all keep an eye on its form in 2012 as the Clean Energy Future Stakes is run here, along with overseas feature events like the Kyoto Protocol Handicap, the White House Plate and the Rio+20 Cup.

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