It can’t happen to me (but it did)

There is a bigger threat to business growth than budget changes or tax system tweaking, and mostly we are doing nothing about it. LOUIS COUTTS

Louis Coutts

By Louis Coutts

There is a difference between knowing that things aren’t quite right and experiencing trouble when it finally hits. There is this tendency we have as humans to believe that it isn’t going to happen to us. Ever been in an accident? I have, and my last thought before it happened was “no, it can’t happen to me”. But it did.

I collect wine and have been collecting mainly French wine for years. The other day, a guy called Professor Jones (not Indiana as in the Raiders of the Lost Ark) but Greg from the University of Southern Oregon, gave a lecture at the botany department of the University of Melbourne on the impact of climate change on the wine industry. 

He had established the temperatures that had historically favoured different grape varieties such as pinot and chardonnay, which are the grapes used to produce the great wines of Burgundy which are so near to my heart and which I have been collecting for so many years.

As his graphs came up on the projection screen, my immediate thought was “it can’t happen to me”. But then I realised it had.

The increase in temperature in Burgundy since 1980 was such as to place the hotter years way over the appropriate temperature for the grapes that have been grown and used there for centuries. I then remembered that the distributor of wine from which I purchase a particular chablis year in and year out didn’t import the 2003 vintage. The other evening I realised why. It was so hot in that year that the temperature exceeded the appropriate temperature for chablis grapes.

Oh dear – the story got worse as Professor Jones methodically went through the other wine regions and grape varieties. Bordeaux and Champagne were all in the line of sight of the temperature cannon.

He then fast forwarded to 2049, which indicated on his methodically acquired data that the current grape varieties for producing wine in Australia would become largely irrelevant. My wine world came crashing down and I was grateful that I had cellared so many wines from past vintages that might see me out.

In a depressed mood, I got into my car and nudged my way into the evening traffic, turned on ABC FM to listen to some soothing music and edged forward every few minutes, merging into the thousands upon thousands of people in cars in traffic doing the same thing. As I saw this endless stream of traffic, that depressing mood from the meeting revisited me; that experience of being in an accident. I realised that I was part of the accident, right there in the traffic, and in fact I was causing that accident.

Climate change is with us and is already causing horrific events. Just look at Melbourne’s water storage or worse still that of Ballarat (6%). We have never seen anything like it. Professor Jones’s weather patterns for Australia in 2049 would suggest that the southern part of the continent will be water starved, and yet that is where the majority of the population lives.

There are people who argue that the relationship between climate change and human activity is not proven. That was similar to the argument used by the smoking industry when doctors first warned of its relationship to lung cancer. I am not prepared to take the risk, because if the majority of scientists who say there is a direct relationship are right, we are headed for disaster.

So, what has this to do with growth? The other evening in the botany department, I realised that the growth in the wine industry is far from secure. Growth has to be sustainable. We can think of hitting next year’s numbers and ignore the greatest threat to growth that perhaps has ever existed, which is climate change.

We know it is there and we talk about it a lot, but I suspect that we are all like the person who is just about to experience an accident, with the thought “it can’t happen to me!”

It doesn’t matter what industry we are in, growth will depend upon how we manage this calamity that is confronting us. We have the belief that the scientists will fix it up and come up with a solution (like artificially manufactured water) but we know in our heart of hearts that this is not going to happen.

We are stuck with climate change and our strategies for going forward have to factor his phenomenon into our planning. The wine industry will have to develop new grape varieties and different grape picking seasons; businesses that are water dependent will have to think of relocating; businesses that are dependent upon local trade might have to do the same thing.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary phenomenon which threatens our current lifestyle, and if most people are like me, we aren’t really doing a damned thing about it other than thinking “it can’t happen to me” as we fill up our tank at the petrol station.


Louis Coutts left law and became a successful entrepreneur. His blog examines the mistakes, follies and strokes of genius that create bigger, better businesses. Click here to find out more.

To read more Louis Coutts blogs, click here .



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