Author Archives: Admin

Sustaining us all in retirement


See more here

Five Stupid Things About Climate Change Denial

A Rational Fear: Tony Abbott’s Green Army wants YOU! – video

I would commend the government if they were brave enough to run with this as their official campaign video. They are, after all, looking for ways to save money and I can’t find a fault with it.

How to create wealth from waste and reduce our landfill

By Anna Littleboy, CSIRO

While Australia’s rich stocks of raw mineral resources have contributed to the nation’s wealth and given us a competitive advantage we are also one of the highest waste producing nations in the world (on a per capita basis).

In 2009-10 we dumped 21.6 million tonnes of household and industrial waste in 918 landfill sites around Australia. Of all the waste we produced we recycled only about half (52%).

But can we do things differently? Can we change our production and consumption patterns to generate wealth from what we currently designate as waste?

The potential exists

Consider e-waste, which is the old TVs, DVDs, computers, household appliances and other electrical goods that we throw away. This type of waste has emerged as one of our fastest growing waste streams but only about 10% is recovered or recycled.

Obsolete computers and accessories shouldn’t end up in landfill when they can be recycled for metals and materials.
AAP Image/Alan Porritt

But e-waste devices also include valuable metals such as copper, silver, gold, palladium and other rare materials which means they are also ending up in landfill.

By 2008 we had already sent some 17 million televisions and 37 million computers to landfill, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

But if 75% of the 1.5 million televisions discarded annually could be recycled we could save 23,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, 520 mega litres of water, 400,000 gigajoules of energy and 160,000 cubic metres of landfill space.

Another way of looking at this is to compare gold yielded from an open pit mine with that from discarded electrical goods. Mining yields 1 to 5 grams of gold for every one tonne of ore. From the same quantity of discarded mobile phones and computer circuit boards, you can extract 350 grams and 250 grams respectively.

The new urban mines

In a world increasingly addressing issues of sustainability, it’s no wonder that such end-of-life products are now being seen as urban mines – valuable sources of above-ground metals which can be recycled and reused.

That is the concept of the “circular economy”.

There is already some extensive recycling activity in Australia, helped by schemes such as the national Product Stewardship framework which encourages people to reduce waste.

But we still lose significant amounts of valuable and recyclable materials into landfill and park valuable metals in tailings and spoil heaps.

Given Australia is already a global leader in primary resource production from the ground, it is timely to think about how we might also adapt and grow our expertise to mine and process above ground stocks and remain at the cutting edge.

Can we lead the urban mining revolution?

Globally, there is already growing capacity and innovation in recycling.

Some recycling of rubbish is being done, such as at the Visy recycling plant in Brisbane, but we can do more.
AAP Image/Dan Peled

New forms of manufacturing and business models are being developed that integrate secondary manufacturing of recycled materials.

So the potential is there to diversify and adapt Australia’s skills and technologies to support the new forms of processing and manufacturing in this circular economy.

Why don’t we do this?

A major challenge lies in the ability to persuade people and industry to see waste products as a resource rather than a liability. We need to create more responsive manufacturing, processing innovation and new business models around recycling.

This will challenge the way we currently operate as a nation and ask us to rethink how we relate to consumer markets around the world.

We can’t keep relying solely on our raw mineral resources. Some commentators are now discussing materials scarcity as a bigger issue than energy scarcity.

This scarcity is driving a move towards a circular economy – one in which the value created by inputs (materials, energy and labour) is extended by enabling a material life that goes beyond product life. So we go from mineral to metal, to product, back to metal and so on.

By understanding such economies and value of how this chain operates in Australia, we can begin to understand, at scale, the barriers and opportunities to more sustainable consumption and production in a resource limited future.

Looking for a new solution

That’s why CSIRO and its university partners led by University of Technology Sydney are today launching the Wealth from Waste Research Collaboration Cluster to do just this.

Too much rubbish – Australia leads the way in waste per capita.
Waste Atlas

Although the technological challenges of complex materials processing are fascinating, it is innovative business models that hold the key to unlocking the wealth in our waste.

We also need to understand more about the cultural norms to see what needs changing.

Clean Up Australia found that around 14 million phones sit unused in drawers or cupboards, that’s equivalent to almost one unused phone for every two people in the country.

Although 90% of the materials within a mobile phone can be re-used, globally less than 10% of mobile phones are actually recycled. So why when we already have a solution do we not act to recycle our waste?

The research programme will be about finding new ways of doing things that accommodate our relatively small domestic materials market and challengs the mindset that size matters when it comes to complex materials processing.

If we wish to add urban mining to our global mining reputation then we need to couple research, industry and policy transitions for success in a future where recycling is an integral component of resource productivity, not a niche specialism.

The Conversation

Anna Littleboy does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

On a personal note; I’ve long said that the most repugnant aspect that I see as inevitable about the future is that our grandchildren will be forced to mine our landfill. Our dumps will be where future generations will be forced to acquire essential resources.

If there is so much value in this material, how could we possibly justify our processing pathway (ie from people like Rinehart to the tip)? We can’t. It’s that simple.

I felt a little weird with the coined term “Urban mine” but at least the dialogue is moving forward and long before our children’s children have to uncover the mess we swept under the rug, circular processing might become mainstream. This is as fundamental to address as is climate change.


The government should stop throwing stones and answer the questions about the clash between naval personnel and asylum seekers

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Defence minister David Johnston has stepped up the attacks on the ABC for their handling of the asylum seeker burns story. AAP/Nikki Short

What’s happening in the debate over asylum seeker allegations of mistreatment by naval personnel is extraordinary and alarming, both for public accountability and for journalism.

It’s also hard to credit the way the issue has unfolded.

We’ve seen concerted government and News Corp pillorying of the ABC over its report of claims that people had been made to put their hands on a hot engine pipe.

Tony Abbott has accused the ABC of being unpatriotic. The Australian has run enough pieces on the public broadcaster’s sins to wallpaper a small house. The government has refused to release the Navy’s account. Navy chief Ray Griggs has taken to Twitter, of all places, to reject the claims. Labor has been too nervous to push hard. After being criticised by its own Media Watch program, the ABC this week acknowledged its original reporting should have been “more precise”.

Fast forward to Friday’s Fairfax papers, in which Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard reports his in-depth interview with Yousif Ibrahim Fasher, who made the original claim. The crux of his allegation is that naval personnel restricted when people could go to the toilet and, during an altercation about this, grabbed the wrists of three men and forced their hands onto a hot pipe.

Fasher, the translator, who says he witnessed the contretemps, claims he was told: “Say to anyone: if you want to go to the toilet again, we will burn his hands”.

Fasher also alleged that two navy ships taking the boat back turned off their lights when close to the Indonesian shore.

Bachelard says two of the three men referred to refused to be interviewed; the third agreed but Indonesian authorities would not allow the interview in the hotel where he was being held and he wouldn’t leave it.

Defence did not answer 21 questions put by Fairfax. Immigration minister Scott Morrison responded that “the government does not give credibility to malicious and unfounded slurs being made against our navy personnel”.

However, defence minister David Johnston did appear on Friday (in another context) and it was a truly remarkable performance.

He explained he hadn’t said much about the ABC commentary on navy personnel because “I was extremely angry and have required a period of time to cool off”.

On the latest story and why Defence hadn’t answered the 21 questions, Johnston said border protection “is a civil public policy issue. It is not a military exercise”. Why didn’t the government put doubts to rest by investigating the allegations? “Because the ABC has a responsibility. If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform, and investigation into the ABC, this is it.”

As the questioning went on, he said: “Let’s see the allegations first …. Let’s have more than just rumour, innuendo and hearsay”, adding that senior command had assured him there was nothing in the claims.

When asked whether he could explain the circumstances of the burnt hands, he said: “No I can’t. They are on-water matters that are not my responsibility because it is a civil public policy matter.”

Whatever the lines of responsibility in Operation Sovereign Borders, if the defence minister doesn’t have responsibility for the Navy, it’s a very odd situation.

The government has adopted the approach that if it simply denies everything, treats asylum seekers as people never to be listened to, and makes the ABC rather than the allegations the issue, it can get away with putting up the shutters.

Asked whether the navy should release material to settle any ambiguity, Abbott said: “What I am interested in doing is stopping the boats … I don’t want to do anything that might complicate that task.”

All usual practice is being flouted. Anyone who suggests more detail should be provided is apparently sledging stressed personnel who would never put a foot out of place. Yet when there were allegations of any irregular incidents involving Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, they were investigated by the authorities and reported on. And that was in a war situation. More recently, some personnel on a ship in Operation Sovereign Borders were taken ashore because of bad behaviour towards each other.

Morrison talks about “unsubstantiated claims”. Those sorts of claims are made all the time in different situations; if they are serious, they are looked into.

There are various possibilities here. That Fasher is a good liar (though as he said, it is not to his advantage to lie); that he’s a poor observer; or that what he says contains a greater or lesser degree of truth. The Bachelard story reinforces the strong case for having Navy release what it knows (including what inquiries it has made), and for Australian authorities to interview Fasher and properly investigate the allegations, making public the results.

Resorting to bluster, demonising, and flag waving doesn’t wipe away the questions. The government has succeeded in making this about the ABC’s credibility when its own credibility should be equally, and increasingly, in the frame. In these things the truth, good or bad, comes out in the end.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Abbott’s Davos Disaster

By Alan Austin                                                                                                      [h/t IA]

AUSTRALIANS WATCHED TONY ABBOTT fly off to Switzerland this week to deliver an important speech to world leaders with muted anticipation. Commentary in advance ranged between frank pessimism and outright dismay.

It is clear now the PM failed to live up to those expectations.

Fortunately, the damage done to Australia’s reputation was limited by most media declining even to mention the Abbott embarrassment.

The New York Times has extensive coverage of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, with a dedicated web page and many feature articles exploring the key themes and major players. None mentions Abbott — who, by virtue of the high regard for his predecessor, finds himself the accidental president of the G20 for 2014.

Le TélégrammeL’Humanité  and Le Parisien in France published stories from the WEF but completely ignored Abbott. L’Agence France-Presse filed multiple reports profiling the contributors, but excluding Abbott.

Le Figaro focussed on the speech by International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde who addressed constructively the new dangers – nouveaux risques – threatening global recovery. These are, she said, deflation in Europe, tapering of US monetary policy and distortions in global financial markets.

With an embarrassed cough, Le Figaro noted Abbott’s address as a footnote, quoting him as calling for more free trade, an idea that was a long way from the agenda – très loin de la thématique – of earlier gatherings.

Les Echos did mention the keynote speech, reporting that the thrust of Australia’s G20 presidency will be free trade. It noted it was odd Abbott didn’t mention the World Trade Organisation.

The Guardian in Britain headlined its piece “Does Tony Abbott always make the same speech?” andreported that it “struck a familiar tone and was criticised for being inappropriately partisan.”

Indeed, Abbott’s reputation as a buffoon appears to have preceded him to Davos.

The Financial Times UK’s economics editor, Chris Giles, tweeted:

‘Sign of the times. [Iran's President Hassan]Rouhani packed out the hall. Everyone is leaving before Tony Abbott explains Australia’s ambitions for the G20 in 2014.’

Abbott’s speech confirmed the nagging suspicions many have had since he assumed the prime ministership, following one of the most manipulated media campaigns in any democracy in living memory.

It repeated all the trite slogans that worked in Western Sydney:

“You can’t spend what you haven’t got.”

“Markets are the proven answer to the problem of scarcity.”

“No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity.”

“People trade with each other because it’s in their interest to do so.”

“Progress usually comes one step at a time.”

Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

Riddled with indicators of ignorance, the speech confirmed Abbott knows little about contemporary economics.

He quoted, for example, statistical measures from China:

“China’s growth is moderating, but likely to remain over seven per cent.”

He seems quite unaware that economists no longer trust statistics from China.

All economies today use strategic borrowings, at different levels, from different sources and for different purposes. Managing borrowings is a major challenge. Abbott’s glib admonition “You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit” displayed a dismissive attitude to this complex reality.

There was no sense of understanding the challenges the WEF faces in 2014, let alone having insights into ways forward.

What little strategy Abbott advocated seemed contradictory. He asserted that the global financial crisis (GFC) “was not a crisis of markets but one of governance.”

And then boasted of Australia,

“To boost private sector growth and employment, the new government is cutting red tape …”

Okay. That makes sense.

The prize blunders arrived, however, when Abbott directly attacked the stimulus packages of the Rudd/Gillard administrations:

“In the decade prior to the Crisis, consistent surpluses and a preference for business helped my country, Australia, to become one of the world’s best-performing economies.”

Partly correct.

In 1996, Australia was the 6th-ranked economy in the world. But by 2007, after 11 years of a Coalition government, it had slipped back to 10th place. Still, that is one of the best.

Abbott continued:

All economies today use strategic borrowings, at different levels, from different sources and for different purposes. Managing borrowings is a major challenge. Abbott’s glib admonition “You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit” displayed a dismissive attitude to this complex reality.

There was no sense of understanding the challenges the WEF faces in 2014, let alone having insights into ways forward.

What little strategy Abbott advocated seemed contradictory. He asserted that the global financial crisis (GFC) “was not a crisis of markets but one of governance.”

And then boasted of Australia,

“To boost private sector growth and employment, the new government is cutting red tape …”

Okay. That makes sense.

The prize blunders arrived, however, when Abbott directly attacked the stimulus packages of the Rudd/Gillard administrations:

“In the decade prior to the Crisis, consistent surpluses and a preference for business helped my country, Australia, to become one of the world’s best-performing economies.”

Partly correct.

In 1996, Australia was the 6th-ranked economy in the world. But by 2007, after 11 years of a Coalition government, it had slipped back to 10th place. Still, that is one of the best.

Abbott continued:

“Then, a subsequent government decided that the Crisis had changed the rules and that we should spend our way to prosperity. The reason for spending soon passed but the spending didn’t stop because, when it comes to spending, governments can be like addicts in search of a fix. But after the recent election, Australia is under new management and open for business.”

Two stupidities.

First, it was precisely that extensive rapid spendingthrough the GFC which saw Australia rise from 10th-ranked economy in 2007 to the world’s top ranking by 2012, a reality all those present with an awareness of the G20 economies would have known.

Secondly, attacks on domestic opponents are never acceptable abroad.

In New York last October, Abbott was roundly condemned for a political attack on Kevin Rudd.

American Academic Clinton Fernandes said he created an image of

“… coarseness, amateurishness and viciousness.”

Political scientist Norman Ornstein surmised:

“Perhaps you can chalk it up to a rookie mistake. But it is a pretty big one.”

Clearly, Abbott has learned nothing from that humiliation three months ago.

Abbott then continued to spruik domestic politics — the commission of audit, paid parental leave, cutting the numbers of pensioners, and infrastructure, especially roads:

“… because time spent in traffic jams is time lost from work and family.”

He concluded with a final hypocrisy — following his attack on Labor for spending so much on infrastructure during the GFC.

He gobsmacked anyone still listening with this:

“Then, there’s the worldwide ‘infrastructure deficit’, with the OECD estimating that over 50 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment is needed by 2030.”

Several questions arise.

Why such an appalling performance? Where are his advisers? Does he think he needs no advice? Or is the whole Coalition this amateurish and oafish — or worse?

And why, as ABC News highlighted, is he still battling Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard?

Does this reflect self-doubt about his capacity in the role? They had a vision for the nation; he does not. They had plans to improve the prospects for pensioners, students and people with disabilities; he does not. They nurtured the economy; he cannot. They had character, integrity and authority; he simply does not.

Perhaps it confirms that Abbott knows deep down that the 2013 ‘win’ was illegitimate — that it was secured only by deception and dishonesty.

Perhaps it is time for his party to consider the matter of leader.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

5 Alternative Fuel Companies Spearheading the Green Energy Agenda

By Zeke A. Iddon

The inconvenient truth about global warming has thankfully spurred a large number of environmentally-conscious companies to research, develop and commercialise alternative fuels that enable and empower us all to make a difference by playing an important part in aiding the planet.

1Alternative fuels can be created from all manner of materials, ranging from waste cooking oil to waste plastic. A vital part of the combined worldwide effort to lower Co2 emissions and reduce the global carbon footprint by finding alternatives to the non-renewable fossils fuels oil, gas and coal, the innovations within the alternative fuel sector drive the green energy agenda forward.

LS9, Inc.

Based in San Francisco, LS9, Inc is committed to producing renewable and cost effective fuels and chemicals to the world markets. Their innovative biotechnology converts a diverse range of feedstocks into biofuels and green, sustainable chemicals for industry through a cost and time effective single-step fermentation process.2

LS9, Inc also carries out commendable work to promote a worldwide culture of eco-friendly commerce.


Fresh to the alternative fuel sector is the innovative technology created by US company Poly2Petro. Founded in 2013, Poly2Petro has developed a technological process that converts waste plastic materials into clean, renewable biofuels. Given the large volume of waste plastics that amass in our garbage landfills, this is a crucial development that will reduce the demand of valuable virgin oil supplies used for other biofuel products.


Poly2Petro is focused on providing an extremely useful alternative to sending waste plastics to landfills that will save money and be very beneficial to the environment, reducing global garbage pollution and alleviating oil scarcity through cost efficient recycling and biofuel production.

Alternative Fuels Americas, Inc (AFAI)

 Alternative Fuels Americas, Inc (AFAI) is a green energy company that has developed and widely implemented an advanced stage multi-feedstock ‘seed-to-pump’ process, establishing grain fields to produce biofuels throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

4AFAI uses the grain from the fields to produce clean, renewable biofuels in their own specially designed oil refineries. Not only is their biofuel less environmentally harmful than fossil fuels, it can be produced at 32% less cost.


Based in Seville, Spanish sustainable fuel company Abengoa has a diverse portfolio of innovative green energy projects that span the globe.


Their commercial eco-friendly projects include large-scale biofuel plants, solar-thermal plants, solar-gas hybrid plants and desalination plants that can produce clean drinking water from sea water, a vital initiative for third world countries. Abengoa has extended its vision for greener commerce to more than 80 countries around the world.

Green Fuels

6Green Fuels is a British biodiesel company and the world’s leaders in the manufacture of biodiesel production equipment. It has 25 large-scale bio-refineries dotted around the world and an impressive global map of thousands of independent biodiesel processing plants. Every day the eco-friendly commercial technology created by Green Fuels produces more than 350 million litres of clean, renewable biodiesel, which saves approximately 2,500 tonnes of Co2 emissions.

For their next project, Green Fuels is developing technology to create biofuel for the aviation industry.

The Importance of Alternative Fuels

The alternative fuel sector is plays a vital role in the global green agenda. The companies above are working steadfastly to drive technological progress and commercialise alternative fuel production around the world, striving to promote a vast culture change within industry towards more eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. This is important work as climate change caused by Co2 emissions is one of the most pressing threats to our planet.
Take the time to visit the websites of these five companies whose excellent work is spearheading the green agenda in industry and providing effective and efficient alternative solutions to the use of harmful fossil fuels.

“Zeke A. Iddon is a British entertainer and advocate of improving global thinking on climate change and sustainability issues. In his capacity as a writer for Poly2Petro, he hopes to help educate the public’s understanding of plastic recycling (and its current failures), if only in a small way.”

To learn more about what Poly2Petro aims to do in pursuit of this – as well as to solve other environmental and consumption problems at the same time – see this page on ‘Our Solution’.

Australia makes a bad start at Warsaw climate change meeting

By Ian McGregor, University of Technology, Sydney

It’s been embarrassment after embarrassment for Australia at the Warsaw climate change meeting.

Former UN Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer, upbraided Australia for its failure to send a Minister. Australia was also criticised for its topsy-turvy climate policy in the opening issue of ECO, the non-government organisation newsletter produced at the talks.

Australia pulled a triple bad start by being awarded Fossil of the Day on the summit’s first day. The award is given by the international Climate Action Network to the country which has done the most to block progress at the climate change negotiations on that day.

Australia also topped the Fossil of the Day Awards on Wednesday beating out Turkey. This one was for seeking to repeal the carbon price (hence “hurling Australia back into the abyss of time”, as opposed to the more than 40 countries, states and provinces who have moved into the modern times with a carbon price) and also stripping $435 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and removing $10 billion of investment in clean energy.

Australia is blocking progress in a myriad of ways, but the outstanding one is its statement that it will not sign up to new finance commitments in Warsaw. Many would have thought Australia’s position at the climate summit could not have got much worse after the dismantling of its climate change department, abolishing the Climate Change Authority which provides independent advice on policy, ridding itself of the burden of a climate change minister and putting removal of its carbon price before Parliament during this summit.

But the lack of committed climate finance seems to do so. That it’s done in the face of the crushing losses suffered by the Philippines this week – a country which is a Pacific neighbour to Australia and needs international climate finance to build resilience against future tragedy – makes it even more telling.

It illustrates starkly this government’s lack of understanding about why climate finance is needed. Our Cabinet ministers apparently characterise climate finance as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”. But I have news for you: it’s not socialism, its equity – our fair share – and it’s our responsibility as one of the richest countries and highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

Perhaps Australia could do better on emissions reductions? The US and China have made important announcements on strengthening their climate action this year. And the Climate Change Authority has described our the existing emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 as “inadequate” and “not a credible option”. So it would have been good to see the Australian Government seeking to keep up with the ambition of other developed countries.

But instead our Government continues to prevaricate. Tony Abbott said yesterday:

Australia will meet our 5% emissions reduction target, but this government has made no commitments to go further than that. We certainly are in no way looking to make further binding commitments in the absence of very serious like binding commitments from other countries, and there is no evidence of that.

This statement is despite repeated assertions by both the prime minister and the environment minister Greg Hunt that the Coalition still support increasing Australia’s emissions reduction target to up to 25% under a specific conditions for global action accepted by both major parties.

And this is despite a finding by the Climate Change Authority that the conditions for a target higher than 5% had already been met.

The mood of the climate talks are clearly with the lead negotiator for the Philippines, Yeb Sano, whose hometown of Tacloban City was among the worst affected by last week’s typhoon. He said:

It’s time to stop this madness.

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific… and see the impacts of rising sea levels; … to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce… And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.

The science has given us a picture that is getting ever more focussed. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts are a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.

Australia’s reputation at these talks needs to change, and it will rely on Prime Minister Abbott’s political will and good diplomatic sense. If Abbott agrees with the science, and has confidence in his own proposed policies, it can’t be too hard to accept the independent advice about the level of action needed.

Ian McGregor is a Lecturer at University of Technology, Sydney and Official Adviser at the Climate Change Negotiations to the Government of Afghanistan. He is also a Steering Committee Member of Climate Action Network Australia.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

An Open Letter to George Monbiot

By Victoria Rollison

“The Rudd and Gillard governments definitely were not a waste of time. They wanted the NBN to be for all Australians, but Abbott has said no. Labor wanted Australia to do our bit to reduce carbon emissions via the Carbon Price, but Abbott has said no. And Labor wanted to redistribute the wealth accumulated by greedy corporate interests through the sale of Australian natural resources, but Abbott has said no. And now Abbott is handing power to the very same people who helped him to produce the political policies to benefit themselves…”

Read more here.

Election 2013 Essays: The philosophy of voting

The following is a great article I read on The Conversation, which sums up a lot of my feelings of late – my laments over consumerism politics etc. I found is a great slap to the face and have included emphasis on my favourite part. There were two points that I feel are wrong, which I discuss below.

By John Armstrong, University of Melbourne

Election 2013 Essays: As the federal election campaign draws to a close, The Conversation asked eminent thinkers to reflect on the state of the nation and the challenges Australia – and whichever party wins government – faces in the future. Today, John Armstrong ponders the eternal question of elections: why do we actually bother to vote?

There’s an anecdote about German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that gets quickly to one of the core problems of modern democratic voting. The great man had just been in council with the Duke of Weimar – they were trying, with immense difficulty, to work out how their small state should deal with its more powerful and quite aggressive neighbour, Prussia.

Goethe comes out of the meeting and goes for a walk with one of his friends who asks him what he thinks of the new idea of popular elections. Goethe is aghast – he looks over the gardener, trimming a hedge:

…if I don’t know what the foreign policy should be, what’s the point of asking him?

It’s probably an apocryphal story, but Goethe is right: in one sense democracy is an insane idea. He was thinking of voting as an attempt to reach the best decisions about what to do. In a boardroom the charm might feel that a vote is the right way to pool collective intelligence, and that the majority of experienced, well-informed people might be wiser than any individual.

But of course, in another sense Goethe simply did not understand the moral point of democracy. It is not about good decision-making but about legitimacy. A government gains its right to govern by the assent of the people. From that point of view it does not matter how wise or informed or intelligent the voter is, or voters in general may be.

In other words, modern governments face two quite different fundamental issues: they have to be legitimate – in the sense that they have to govern with the broad assent of the people, and on the other hand, governments have to try to find good solutions to complicated problems.

Simply put, there is no solution available to us which can succeed simultaneously in both fields. The fantasy that education could transform the electorate is a fantasy, because that could only be undertaken if the public elected a government determined to reorient society massively towards a re-education agenda; but there is no reason to suppose any electorate would collectively vote in such a humiliating way (in effect saying we recognise our inadequacy, please make us wiser).

Either elections can be just – you have a right to vote irrespective of how you use the vote, because this is part of the moral status of being a citizen. Or, your right to vote is dependent upon the quality of your insight into the tasks of government.

In the UK this transformation in the concept of voting – from decision-making to moral right – can be traced in the two principle reform bills of the 19th century.

The first bill, from the 1830s, was primarily designed to bring wealthy manufacturers – the emerging commercial elite – into the decision-making process of government. This was recognition that government needed to harness the knowledge and capacities of this sector of society.

Roughly speaking, the second bill from the 1860s extended the franchise to respectable artisans – but mainly on the grounds that if they were not included, they would cause trouble.

In Australia, we find such a history deeply unsavoury. We are so deeply committed to an egalitarian ideal that it is inconceivable that we should see voting as any kind of privilege. This means that we are locked into precisely the kinds of elections we have become familiar with – which to the serious observer seem (as elections tend to) shallow, vulgar, banal. That is what happens when democratic elections go well. Their rationale is not to find the best government (let alone to excite people); their function is to reflect the average, collective, widespread attitudes of the nation.

At root, democratic voting reflects a radical Christian attitude. In the moral sphere Christianity took the breathtaking leap of saying that everyone has a soul and every single soul is of equal value in the eyes of God – the soul of the shirker is as precious to God as the soul of the hard worker. The soul of the peasant weights the same in the divine balance as that of the king.

And this is the beautiful moral idea at the heart of modern democracy. It never looks at a person and says you are not worthy of voting. It says, instead: whatever you are like (almost), the vote belongs to you.

One problem, however, is that a vote feels like a tiny, fragile thing. Your single voice can hardly be heard. It takes another kind of faith to keep in mind that of course your vote does count – only it counts a very little. Of course you should have hardly any say in the government, because there are so many other people to be accommodated. This is maddening to the ego. Why should my vote be so tiny?

It’s in the end the thing we hate about democracy – other people and the fact that your considered, careful vote will count for exactly the same as that of someone you think utterly misguided or mean. This abasement is part of the ethical education that democracy seeks to inculcate. You are one amongst very many; society exists to satisfy average preferences, not to fulfil the longings of the best; a society is entitled to fail in its own way; the voter is always right – especially when you think they are wrong.

Government has such massive influence over our lives and yet we – of course – cannot feel that it is responsive very much to our own concerns. An intuitively appealing solution might be to have more elections. Suppose you got to vote every week: if enough people “liked” a proposed policy it would become law. One good consequence of this – if such voting were mandatory – is that we would learn how terribly difficult politics actually is. We would not be able to blame politicians, but would have to blame ourselves.

The relationship between government and people is becoming more intimate – which is what we mean by “presidential”. The concentration of power in the hands of one person, the prime minister, may be disastrous, but it is inevitable. It is produced not by scurrilous or ambitions politicians but by the ruthless activities of voters. Anyone can offer anything to the public – but it is up to the public whether they buy it or not. If they buy the presidential brand, that’s it: it may be dreadful but no-one knows how to make the public buy anything else.

Consumerism in politics is the logical result of mass democracy. All it means is that voters get to choose and that anyone who rails against their choice is out of the game.

This is the fifth article in our Election 2013 Essays series. Stay tuned for the other instalments in the lead-up to Saturday’s election.

Part one: Australia and the world

Part two: The state of Australian democracy

Part three: It’s the economy, stupid

Part four: What is government for?

John Armstrong does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

I emphasised that section because it’s so poignant in regards to environmental governance, including climate change. Democracy presents a massive hurdle to effective planning on such complex and abstract issues. Democracy is not in question, but instead we must re-frame such issues to have any impact within the average preference.

I think John was wrong on two counts;

Australians and egalitarianism

We may (or may not) have a founding egalitarianism philosophy in Euro-Australia, but that is all but a hollow ideal within modern Australia. From my experiences most Aussies seem aware of the growing divide between the haves and have nots. The majority have experienced exclusionary barriers designed to favour the wealthy, especially when it comes to health and education. This is growing and yet the attitude from the majority is fairly apathetic.

Over the past forty years especially, Australia has shifted further away from egalitarianism and this has not upset the majority.

Democracy and Christianity.

This is blatantly wrong. I wonder if John has ever read the Bible. Both the old and new testaments are littered with inequality. Women are not equal to men. The unbelievers are unequal to believers. Slaves ought to do what they’re told by their masters…

The American styled democracy was strictly secular and demanded a separation of religion and politics (even if that is impossible to tell nowadays).

Even so, women and non-Caucasians have faced a long battle for their equal democratic right, with Christianity appearing on both sides of the debate (as much as I detest most religion’s some of Mary Wollstonecraft’s most compelling arguments start from a Christian position, for example). Many of those fighting for equality have made powerful cases devoid if not intentionally attacking standing Christian arguments.

Christianity has a long history of manipulating states for the benefit of Christian leaders, going as far as to kill free thinkers and destroying the wealth of human obtained knowledge to preserve their privileged position.

Democracy is entirely independent of Christianity. Neither actually began with the idea that all people were equal, yet the former has come along way towards that point with the latter hindered by outdated philosophies set, effectively, in stone.