Simon Holmes à Court
December 11, 2023

The biggest impact you can have

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Buckminster Fuller, the mid-twentieth century engineer, inventor and philosopher, used to liken himself to a trimtab.

Bucky, as he was known, was referring to the tiny flap at the trailing edge of a rudder of a massive ocean liner.

When the ship is running full steam ahead, it takes immense energy to move the rudder.

But when the trimtab is activated, it builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around and points the massive ship in the right direction.

An illustration of a birdseye view of two cargo ships. One is slowly turning towards the words 'systemic change' with it's trimtab, the one is sailing straight towards 'status quo'.

He posed that “like this tiny sliver of metal can alter the course of a great ship of state, you and I as little individuals can change the course of humanity”.

Bucky’s gravestone carries the simple words ‘Call Me Trimtab’, and it’s after his concept that my wife and I named our philanthropic vehicle The Trimtab Foundation. We want any investment we make to efficiently drive the most effective system change possible.  

For me, Climate 200 is the epitome of activating the trimtab to catalyse urgent climate action.

We saw a confronting challenge: despite all the knowledge, research, funding, goodwill and community support, Australians were not able to stop environmental destruction and dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Or rather: it’s not that we could not, it’s that our leaders would not.

From 2009-2018 Australians made $1.4 billion in donations to 639 climate and environment organisations, but the Coalition government took us backwards on climate action. The carbon price was abolished, the Renewable Energy Target scaled back and climate change was ridiculed by ministers. All this, in the critical decade for climate action.

Meanwhile our political system was beset by a constant stream of corruption scandals and deeply disturbing behaviour against women. 

Climate 200 was founded on the realisation that Australian politics was out of step with the community’s values, and we wouldn’t get the change the community yearned for until we had the right people in parliament.

The 2022 election massively shook up the status quo. A historic number of independents — six new MPs and one new Senator were all elected on a platform of climate action, integrity and gender equity.

The past 18 months have seen great progress, but our country continues its commitment to fossil fuel development at odds with science. We still have a long way to go on other issues. 

I believed then and now: political change, driven authentically by the local community, and supported by a national movement, is the most effective, impactful and rapid way to see action on the climate, integrity and gender equality that Australia needs.

Between us all, we have many, many passions that need support — but whatever your primary passion, a well-functioning political system must be our first priority.


Simon is a senior advisor to the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University. Simon is also a cleantech investor, climate philanthropist and a director of the Smart Energy Council and the Australian Environmental Grant-makers Network.