Three decades after John Candy delivered the prophetic line “It’s not so much the heat, it’s the humidity that’ll kill you”, as comedy gold, iron ore miner Dr Andrew Forrest has turned the old idiom into a dire warning about climate change in a speech to business leaders.
Candy said it as coach of the Jamaican bobsled team in the film Cool Runnings, in a blizzard, while the Fortescue Metals Group founder said it in a 24-minute clarion call on “the course of humanity”at the Boao Forum for Asia on clean energy and sustainable development in Perth last week.
His 120-slide “social media friendly… but backed by science” presentation outlined what he called “lethal humidity”, which is “rising much faster than temperature” and is an immediate threat that’s “already killing people”.
The marine ecologist (hence Dr Forrest) and billionaire went on to explain how sweat normally cools you down, but if it’s too humid, the sweat can’t evaporate and “you cook yourself”.
At 35C with high humidity, people can die within six hows, with the Fortescue boss describing in graphic detail how the body breaks down from humidity stress.
“Lethal humidity will be the next global pandemic,” Forrest said, adding that this time there’s no vaccine and “the only cure is stopping global warming”.
China, India and the United States are on the frontline of the issue, with Forrest pointing out are also major global food sources, hinting that it will lead to a catastrophic failure of civil society.
He said he’d spoken with the White House, Indian PM Narendra Modi and Chinese premier Li Qiang about the issue.
Forrest placed the blame for it all at his own feet – “blame me please… I’m putting myself forward to be held to account” along with the rest of the industrial wold – calling on the business sector to unite to address the issue. He said “most carbon credits are a sham” and warned the public not to be fooled by slick corporate advertising claiming that industry is addressing the problem.
No doubt members of the federal Labor government would enjoy the irony in that claim, given the billionaire used every trick in the marketing playbook over the past 15 years to sink policy proposals that had an impact on Fortescue and its profitability as he pivots with a mea culpa.
“We are the ones responsible for the deaths caused by climate change,” Forrest told the gathering.
“It’s business which is causing for global warming. It’s business which will kill your children. It’s business, which is responsible for lethal humidity,” he said.
“We are the ones responsible for the deaths caused by climate change…. Business, guided by government, will either destroy or save this planet. You [the public] have to hold us to account.”
Dr Forrest’s focus has shifted to alternative energy sources such as green hydrogen and he has been a vigorous investor in tech startups, and the speech in part was selling Fortescue’s switch to decarbonisation, as he called on the US, China and India to follow his company’s lead. In part, it was also a plea for more political support for his ambitions and projects globally on that front.
He wants business leaders to come together at the Boao Forum next year to strike “a simple agreement led by business” to drastically cut emissions in a bid to slow the climate change already here.
The speech was met with distain by some from the Conservative side of politics including a columnist with The Australian who said Forrest had a “monomaniacal obsession with green hydrogen” and “is sounding like the people who glue themselves to train tracks instead of the chair of Australia’s third-largest mining corporation”.
The speech came just days after Fortescue celebrated its 20th anniversary with a lavish dessert party that included Jimmy Barnes performing, but within 24 hours, the company’s new CEO Fiona Hick suddenly left the company after just six months in the role, with chief financial officer Christine Morris also departing on Thursday, on Friday, former RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle also headed to the exit from Forrest’s clean energy offshoot Fortescue Future Industries, He was a director, having stepped down from the chief financial officer late last year following a cycling accident.
You can watch his Boao Forum address below.