On November 1, Dr. Andrew Forrest AO, Executive Chairman at Fortescue, Minderoo Foundation, and Tattarang, delivered a special lecture at Yenching Academy titled “Lethal Humidity and the Upper Limit to Human Survival.” The session, hosted by Yenching Academy Associate Dean Fan Shiming, reviewed the impacts of climate change, providing a unique approach that stresses the lethal combination of high humidity and temperature. Also, the lecture examined the world’s greatest greenwash (and disinformation) about the climate crisis.
In a meeting with Dr. Forrest before the lecture, Yenching Academy Dean Dong Qiang introduced YCA’s China Studies program, noting the Academy’s interests in cultivating future global leaders to contribute to solving many of the world’s challenges, including climate change.
Dr. Forrest started his lecture by noting that the deadly combination of high humidity and high temperature is an aspect of the climate change discourse that has received very little attention despite the growing calls for climate research, solutions, and actions. He discussed the rationale for launching his global university tour across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. He explained that he aims to discover avenues for collaboration in the fight against global warming, especially between China, India, and the United States, and demonstrate the need for swift climate solutions to lethal humidity spurred by the “Positive Power” campaign.
The guest lecturer was critical of the prevailing idea that the public was responsible for global warming, calling it one of the greatest greenwashes. Instead, he placed the responsibility on businesses and corporations, who bear the brunt of leading the fight against climate change.
Dr. Forrest discussed the connections between global warming and the rapid rise in extreme humid heat events and detailed what happens to the human body at high degrees of humidity. “I’m using this to say to the political and business leaders across the world: This is not next year’s, next decade’s, or next political cycle’s problem... We have to address it now because lethal humidity is here and is becoming more severe and frequent,” Dr. Forrest noted.
The guest lecture clarified that air conditioning is not the solution. This approach is even more problematic given the unequal access to air conditioning across the world. Dr. Forrest underscored the need to accelerate the development, transfer, and use of technologies to drive the green transition. Turning the discourse towards his company, he talked about the work Fortescue is doing to fully decarbonize. He highlighted the company’s large-scale adoption of solar, wind, hydrogen production (electrolyzers) and storage and fuel cell battery technologies, and the transformation of fixed plants, trucks, trains, ships, and planes to operate on green fuel.
The Fortescue Executive Chairman stressed China’s competitive manufacturing advantage as crucial for nudging the world towards a full, strong growth economic solution. He hoped that China could lead the green transition in the 2030s. “The resource the world is missing isn’t the natural or technological; it is the character of industrial leaders. Where we have good leadership is here in China; hence, instead of lagging the world by 2060, I am encouraging China to use its massive economic opportunity in its next five-year plan... to set the future for its people … and shape the world,” he described.
Dr. Forrest proposed four key legislations he hoped governments across the world would implement to alleviate the impacts of lethal humidity: real net-zero carbon goals; removal of barriers to the green industry, including fossil fuel subsidies; matching policy settings to risk with carbon pricing (dis)incentives; and introducing economic stimulants to encourage green growth.
Dr. Forrest expressed his hope that nations will collaborate to solve the existential threats of climate change while smartly driving their economic self-interests on employment and GDP growth. “It is my life’s aim that in 2049, we not only celebrate the first Century of the PRC, but also that all children are growing up, not in an unlivable, polluted planet, but in a green, harmonious world,” he concluded.
Prof. Zhang Haibin, Associate Dean of the Peking University School of International Studies, commented on the lecture, emphasizing the need for global collaborative efforts regardless of geopolitical tensions and China’s role in leading the world toward a green transition.
Several Yenching Scholars raised questions. One question examined how the guest speaker rectified his strong vested interest in climate change whilst heading one of the world’s largest corporations with net carbon emissions. The Fortescue Executive Chairman responded that the heavy carbon emitters must lead the fight against climate change and global warming. He explained that while the industrialization process relied on the available means of fuel, changing times and global concerns require a new chapter – a green development chapter. “It is people like me who must go clean… it is not a conflict of interest; you’ve got to push and support us [the net carbon emitters] to go green,” he added.
Another question involved the roles and prospects of collaborating with Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to drive climate action. Dr. Forrest noted that SOEs across different countries should shoulder the responsibility of addressing their shareholders’ concerns about the climate crisis. This requires following international best practices and setting clear goals and deadlines to which governments and the public would hold them accountable in the near term.