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Norman Pater’s vision for a frack free future

Norman Pater is an individual donor based in Perth. In 2011 he was invited to meet Al Gore and train as a climate presenter. This event was a turning point and in his own words “changed my life, my habits, politics and even diet.” Lou O’Halloran, AEGN NSW Manager, spoke to Norman about his grantmaking, key projects, and what keeps him awake at night.

What was the lightbulb moment that inspired your environmental funding?

I attended a Climate Reality workshop (Al Gore’s climate presenter program) in Melbourne in 2011 and was invited to stay with one of the organisers. Seeing how hard he worked to organise the event as well as his very modest log cabin home in Red Hill made me realise how selfless so many folks in the environmental movement actually were. They were (to my surprise) very different to the business community I’d come from, as they were not “in it” for themselves. And it made me want to help them. So my first donation was $50,000 to the Australian Conservation Foundation.

What is the most important environmental issue(s) facing the west at the moment that you think others should know about?

We have many issues in Western Australia, including ocean warming, coral bleaching, native forest logging, a drying climate, dieback disease, massive native fauna extinction, land clearing. The most important, and the common denominator throughout all the singular issues, is what I call Caucasianitis. This seems to be a condition of apathy and lack of understanding of cumulative impacts of modern human behaviour on the environment. The condition seems to be exacerbated by the unending pursuit of short-term wealth. The condition is not native to WA, and indeed was imported about 200 years ago.

The solution to the malaise is a long-term one, and it will come through education and changing value-systems which in turn will modernise our political outlook, priorities, funding and boundaries.

What are your main focus areas for grant-making?

The net cumulative effect of Caucasianitis is accelerating climate change. One obvious solution is to keep fossil fuels in the ground, hence this is the focus of my attention. The least desirable fossil fuel is fracked gas. WA has 280 trillion cubic feet of onshore gas, equal to 200 years of total current Australian consumption and, if developed, equal in total emissions to be at least double the Adani Carmichael coal development. That fact alone is worthy of investing in, with the potential of ten gigatons of CO2 being kept in the ground.

Most significantly, I estimate that $1million of further funding would be sufficient to tip the scales of the fracking battle, at an effective cost of 15 cents per ton – mitigation costs amongst the lowest in the world. So I implore fellow donors to assist with this important cause.

Important side benefits include a better chance of preserving the Kimberley region, avoiding gridlines of seismic testing throughout biodiverse hotspots like our unique Kwongan heathland and significantly minimising the contamination risks to our vital underground water sources.

How has your business background influenced who and how you fund?

Having been a small business owner I seek pragmatic solutions to wicked problems. Therefore I steer towards eNGOs which:

  • Have low overheads and low bureaucracy
  • Have creative and practical approaches to problem-solving
  • Will report back regularly and often
  • Encourage me to participate in the decision-making
  • Have leadership whom I can trust and relate to (and who can relate to me – I’m a maverick after all!)

Therefore I have funded the Conservation Council of WA for the past five years.

I see a huge need for much better enforcement of the law, so I have just agreed to start funding the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) of WA. A new full-time solicitor starts there in Jan 2017.

I’m a fan of Getup as an antidote to the mainstream media apathy towards important issues, so I would also dearly like to fund Getup to join us in WA in time for our March 2017 election. This effort would still seem to require more support.

My method is to fund directly, mostly from my own pocket.

What is one project that you have funded that has made a big impact?

The anti-fracking campaign is now starting to gather real momentum, with multiple and diverse groups coming on board with our vision for a Frack Free Future. It is my wish that this will become a decisive election issue in March 2017.

Why did you buy the farm in Corackerup?

  1. It is within the important Gondwana Link initiative of South West Australia which rebuilds wildlife corridors;
  2. Sold to me by Carbon Neutral (whom I supported because the funds would be used for new revegetation and carbon offset initiatives);
  3. It abuts on Nowanup which hosts a fledgling initiative to rehabilitate Aboriginal youths from the penal system back to traditional ways of country and which needs further support;
  4. It straddles two reserves, being Corackerup Reserve and Corackerup Creek Reserve and so is an important piece of the Link;
  5. It has allowed me to do further biodiverse plantings on unrehabilitated parts each year; and
  6. It was really inexpensive, being a total of $180,000, or $550 per hectare of prime revegetated bushland. To my simple mind, one couldn’t buy anything at 5.5c per square metre – never mind magnificent freehold land in God’s own country!

Is there a great success story you’d like to share from the EDOWA?

EDOWA has had some big wins over the years, especially the successful Supreme Court challenge  to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas hub at the environmentally and culturally sensitive James Price Point in the Kimberley (which was before my involvement). The court found that the Western Australian Environment Minister and the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority had acted illegally in the assessment and approval process.

I’m convinced that, with a new board and principal solicitor, the EDOWA’s best years are still ahead.

Do you think philanthropy in WA is different from other states? How so?

I’m merely a Concerned Citizen who can’t even spell the p-word, so I really don’t feel qualified to comment. However I’m keen to see AEGN establish a WA presence soon; if that happens (which seems likely) then time will tell…I believe that AEGN would very quickly be able to assess what the points of difference are, and how best to deal with them.

What have you learnt from your philanthropy that you could pass on to other environmental philanthropists about funding in Western Australia (or SA & NT)?

  1. Be very clear about the outcomes you are striving for
  2. Stay closely involved and engaged, or get someone you trust to do so
  3. Funding is extremely sparse, so my message to others is: Please help!

Do you have a view on the role of the ‘philanthropy dollar’ in the wider economy?

Only that it is way too small. In WA it is almost non-existent.

How do you think we can grow philanthropy?

We need to deepen and widen the sources of funding available. If we can attract more donors to get involved and be passionate about causes then they would encourage others to do likewise and more people will then feel safe to stick their heads above the parapet!

Do you have any tips for eNGOs looking to attract philanthropy?

Have a clear ask, stating the imperative and timing. It will be easier if:

  1. There is a fixed dollar ask
  2. A clear timeline of need is spelt out, and
  3. There is a trusted source who has already backed the ask to an extent.

Do you have a structured giving vehicle?. If so, do you plan to pass on your giving vehicle to others, or are you a ‘giving while living’ person?

No I don’t. It’s still early days for me and my thinking will evolve. I still wish to build my legacy to the planet in novel ways, and find ways of engaging my two beautiful sons in this thinking also.

You are involved in Future Super, can you talk about what that means to you and why you see ethical super as important?

  1. I guess my involvement stems from my adage of backing the leadership rather than the company. I have a high regard for Simon Sheik and believe he is well worth supporting.
  2. I’m a huge fan of the Divestinvest movement. It’s easy to divest, but not so easy to know where to invest. My investment in, and support for Future Super doubles down as it leverages others to invest in a non fossil-fuel super fund also.
  3. Future Super co-incidentally sponsors frack-free events and education in WA.
  4. I understand that businesses “have to be in the black to be green”, which means that they need to be profitable to be able to be sustainable. I’d like to see Future Super become a huge success which shifts the behaviour of the entire super industry.

What are the things in life that bring you the most satisfaction these days? 

I love being able to help passionate campaigners, and interact with them.

I especially love being part of an awakening which has the power to open eyes and change peoples’ behaviour – as slow and frustrating as that may be!

Does anything keep you awake at night?

I met a gorgeous Dutch lady while walking with the Climate Miles from Utrecht Holland to Cop21 in Paris last year. We share the passion of working in the environmental space – and keeping each other awake…

Do you have a favourite part of WA?

It’s hard to choose between the multiple islands a swimmable distance off Perth, the historic Abrolhos Islands which are world-class dive spots, tropical Cocos-Keeling where I learned to kite-surf or Coral Bay with all its diversity of aquatic wildlife. The deserted beaches near my Corackerup farm are incredibly beautiful too. The common theme is a love for beautiful warm beaches.

Do you have a hero?

Having the commonality of being born in South Africa and educated at the University of the Witwatersrand, it’s not a surprise that Nelson Mandela is my hero. The way he managed to change attitudes and perceptions was pure genius. My own environmental and social justice efforts are rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle, and there are indeed many parallels between that and the modern environmental movement.

My eternal regret is that I didn’t do more in the anti-apartheid struggle after graduation and that I became part of the system. I hope to make amends by walking a different path in future: remaining passionate and engaged in the struggle against man-made climate change – no matter how long the odds.

What is your favourite animal or plant?

Interestingly I often think that, if I am reincarnated, I’d like to return as a cormorant bird. It is almost equally adept at diving, swimming and flying and is a coastal dweller with great survival skills.

If you could write a book, what would it be about?

“How we solved the wicked problem of anthropogenic climate change on Earth”