Lord Ron Oxburgh’s peers would probably describe him as having an interesting pedigree.
Baron Oxburgh is a geologist who became a boss of the Shell oil company.
He is also an independent crossbench peer who sits on the UK Parliament’s select committee on science and technology and is a world-renowned climate change authority.
Equally at home in the boardroom, the classroom or the House of Lords, Ron, as he prefers to be known, has called a plain little room on the top floor of the Centre for Water Research ‘home’ for five weeks.
A guest of Professor Jorg Imberger and the Vice-Chancellor, Ron is taking time out at UWA to think, traverse Perth’s cycleways with his wife Ursula, a retired chemist, and “to be stimulated by bright young minds.”
He is due to deliver a lecture on people, energy and climate change on December 2 at 5pm in the Alexander Lecture Theatre.
Ron made international headlines during his reign at Shell, publicly worrying over the effects of greenhouse gases and the problem of climate change.
He was quoted as saying he saw “little hope for the world” unless carbon dioxide emissions were dealt with.
Asked how he reconciled being both an environmentally-concerned scientist and a corporate oil tycoon, Ron told The Guardian during his time at the helm of Shell that he didn’t think there was any conflict.
“I think it’s much better that people with my views are actually in companies like this. There is an enormous dearth of people who are interested in science, excited by science, perhaps even understand a bit of science in the corporate world.”
He said this month that spending time as an academic, in business and as a civil servant had given him a unique advantage in seeing things from different perspectives. One of his many honorary roles is president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (he was one of the first people to use the term carbon sequestration). In this capacity, he talks to people in oil companies, law, insurance and power generation, able to work between the communities to advise on environmental issues.
Ron is also involved in an advisory capacity with a renewable energy company and is an advisor to the Deutsche Bank, which, he says, is taking climate change very seriously.
He works a lot in Singapore, reviewing education on water matters and climate change. “I have spent a lot of time on energy, but I’m realising that water and agriculture are equally important,” he said.
He is calm about climate change sceptics. “I respect everyone’s view but I expect them to listen to the arguments,” he said.
“People are sceptical for different reasons. In North America in particular, business people tend to be sceptical because those who drew their attention to climate change tend to have a long history of confrontation with big business over environmental issues.
“Other sceptics say that geological evidence tells us that climate change has always been happening.
“But what’s happening today that makes it different from the geological past is the very much higher rate of change. It is hundreds of times faster than ever before. We can also see the big spike of CO2 that we have pumped into the air over the past 125 years, which has created the greenhouse effect.”