Category Archives: Blogging

Budget 2014: My advice to an aspiring uni student

Following the 2014 budget, I am glad that I’m no longer a tertiary student and that more than half of my HECS debt is repaid. As the first of my family to not only have a degree but to actually finish high school, I understand the fears this budget can incite within a ‘working class’ student better than most.

“But you don’t have to pay it back until you’re making money.”

This retort is idiotic. I find it repugnant that people shrug off the proposed deregulated course fees and increases to HECS interest rates (that begin as soon as you gain the debt, not earn enough to pay it back) with such a comment.

Debt is debt. My environmental science degree is likely to double in price. I know that I wouldn’t have selected it if I knew it would lead me more than $40k in debt. Of course, with higher interest rates, the cost of the loan would be even greater again. This actually means that those wealthy enough to pay upfront get a discount.

As for a career in environmental science….

For me, I have an excellent track record, for example;

  • having control of a project of more than $150k in which I built what became an exemplary environmental / climate research facility within the national academic research network,
  • I have designed new equipment to support the research objectives of PhD students,
  • Developed detailed spatial data packages of the aquatic flora assemblage of Victorian estuaries,
  • I have also developed much of the background project management infrastructure, such as project databases, Standard Operating Procedure Manuals (both of which have been adopted by other research groups) and various data validation and management systems

In short, my input to various projects have been valuable and my initiative has allowed for new avenues that soon become standard. Moreover, I’ve proven myself to be a successful science and policy commentator, now with articles appearing on various professional media outlets as well as my work being quoted even further. Alongside this, my promotion of research and ability to produce interesting multimedia content is also proven.

I am successful with wide ranging capacities beyond my core roles.

Still, I’ve known nothing but job insecurity. I have had contracts of as much as 3 years and as little as 3 months. I’ve done all I can to demonstrate my value, only to lose hours due to cut backs.

Since January, I’ve dedicated much of my free time to job searching (hence why NewAnthro is fairly quiet). Despite my wide ranging skills package, my very helpful networks and all the application assistance I’ve had on my side, I haven’t even had a single interview.

I can’t even scroll through the news of late without hearing of more cutbacks in research and natural research management, leaving me at a loss in a career that was suppose to be the industry of the 21st century (as I was sold prior to selecting my degree).

My advice

As for what I would suggest, it’s difficult to admit, but I wouldn’t take my path if I knew back before my uni days what I know now.

To a student currently hoping to enrol in an environmental degree, I would suggest a general science degree instead where you can major in courses that suit your interests, skills or desired career path as you go along.

If you, like me as a student, plan to work in applied science, choose something core to human activity.

For instance, instead of conservation, focus on primary industry. Instead of climate, focus on urban design or engineering or something relevant.

You can influence the same necessary behavioural changes, but under a different title which have greater employability.

Lastly, be clever with your protesting.

Hijacking Q&A when Christopher Pyne was a guest. The presumed violence towards Julie Bishop on a recent uni visit. These are worse than ineffective, they are detrimental.

Being an advocate for climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as equality for a number of years has led me to mull over this problem for some time.

In this case, the protesters could mirror the response; this has been to morally disapprove the behaviour of these students.

Collect the data and campaign on the fair and equal rights of all Australian students to develop their skills. Going to uni isn’t simply personal. Tertiary education improves the standard of living and revenue of the country as a whole (how else do you end up with skills shortages than through reducing support for education?). It is an investment where the individual and the Commonwealth both benefit.

The marching this month is great, but social media is a powerful tool as well. Education through concise multimedia and easy to understand memes can reach the voting public in ways that scuffling with politicians on uni grounds simply won’t.

Uni students are a large cohort of the public, with numerous resources at their finger tips (eg. libraries and access to research behind pay walls for instance) and being primarily Gen-Y, they are tech savvy.

These are the strongest weapons in the students’ arsenal.

General Update

Hi all,

sorry, but yet again I have fallen quiet over the past few months, as you may have noticed. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this, with two being the most significant.

Firstly, my wife and I are expecting our second daughter within the next few days. With a toddler and an increasingly pregnant wife, I’ve had fewer and fewer pockets of time around work to construct articles.

I’ve got some ideas and if I had the time I’d love to pursue them. There are some excellent sources for high quality public data and I want to work on material in the same fashion as I did the Direct Action analysis last year. This work had impact and if this style is my best work, I’d like to tackle that… when I have the time.

With that in mind, I have been approved for another article for the Australian science journal, Solutions. This would form a small part of a much bigger urban/social science project I have in mind. In this, I don’t want readers to simply digest my article, I want them to be able to walk along the streets of my vision for a sustainable future.

Secondly, back in January, I lost all job security. While I still have a position, I could have a meeting with my manager any coming business day to find out that this is cut in half or lost entirely. Being a single income family for the next year couple years has demanded that I place a lot of time and effort into job searching.

As most Aussies would be aware, technical research support / applied scientists such as myself are losing their jobs, not finding them.

It has been a tough gig from the very beginning for me in any case, regardless of the massive stamp on my CV that I achieve with the creation of the Calperum OzFlux tower and so, with any luck, I will move more into what I obviously have a passion for; science communication and advocacy.

With all this on my plate, there is a fair amount of weight on my shoulders.

I have been writing as much as I can (primarily on other outlets), but this is by no means up to my usual rate. More importantly, I am still paying a lot of attention to the media and science.

I’m thinking that I will, at the very least, provide a “Sunday Read” with some of the highlights I have come across over the past week, with a short blurb and links. It will at least help to remind me that NewAnthro needs attention and will continue to serve to provide share quality information.

Lastly, please don’t forget about the new forum I’ve put together. I’ve started populating in (if only a little bit), but without others it is not a community – it lacks dialogue. Please join and chat.

One thing I have noticed about it is that it might not be instantly obvious how to contribute (it took me a little bit of time to work it out). To contribute to a forum page, you press the “New Topic” or “Post Reply” buttons at the top of the list. For me at least, I would have expected the button at the bottom.

Thanks, as always, for your patience and interest in my endeavours.

The Anthropocene Blueprint Forum

As I wrote recent, I have been left with the conclusion that our public representatives have forgotten their role to the public, as public servants, with continual measures that favour the wealthy minority and short term self-gratification.

We need solutions that support climate science, biological science, agricultural science, social science, as we best understand it, and potential threats, today.

There is a lot of talk, but little action from a wide range of agents.

About the only place I have any faith restored is in the public itself. Occupy and the March in March show that many thousands of people are motivated towards change. They see the shortcomings of Business and Usual as well as the potential to a wide range of solutions.

Crowdsourcing

In the days prior to the Information Age the democratic process gave the best weight to the people. It was the original crowdsourcing through the election of individuals that would speak on their behalf. It has never been perfect. It has always spoken for those groups with the most influence, not necessarily the majority.

Modern technology provides the solution. People can be organised to take a stand, to change behaviours and to influence their local culture via social media.

Progressives, with their diversity views, can step in time on shared values and/or mutual disgust of the current power brokers.

With this in mind, I’ve started a forum.

There is no content yet, but for a topic on the forum structure, but it is the platform I wish to develop and take NewAnthro forward.

Welcome to The Anthropocene Blueprint

The new forum is The Anthropocene Blueprint.

It’s a simple, free, forum as the initial test bed.

As the name suggests, it is a place for those who recognise that our influence is lasting. We shape the world. We shape the atmosphere, the lithosphere and the hydrosphere.

Climate will continue to change. Population will continue to grow. Our economy, our technology, indeed our modern world necessarily plays a continuing fundamental role in our modern world. The only point in question is whether all of this will come at a massive cost to those yet unborn or if we can enrich the world through all our modern processes.

Let’s draw up the Blueprint.

The Anthropocene Blueprint thus is all inclusive. Any problem noticed by a member of the community or solution already applied in a personal situation is part of the process. It is the shape of the future we wish to design.

Through a forum, it avoids hierarchical influences and solutions are applied by the individual through their own means and desire (if it so exists). In this space, we can share and influence change than benefits us all and future generations through an entirely grassroots motivated approach.

More importantly, the forum must be the result of an engaged community of users. We need to be involved and we must also encourage others to as well. It is our blueprint and our statement to future generations that we recognised the need for change and worked towards it on their behalf.

I’ve created a new page above that you can use to directly find the forum should you need a quick and easy link to it for others.

The most important part of this project is that it cannot be left to a few of us. We must build a large and motivated community of users. We could, collectively, reduce the burden of living costs as well as our impact on our resources in a scale that would surprise observers.

We must live the example to set the example.

Re-pitching an idea; To do differently, we need to think differently

With the depressing by-election results in WA, we have reason for concern. The by-election handed over the balance of power to a government riddled with broken promises, doublespeak (eg. be careful if the PM wants to be your “best friend”) and agendas aimed at making life easier at the top at the expense of the rest and also the environment.

More concerning is how backwards this government is on a problem that the rest of the world is owning up to; namely, climate change. There are huge expenses that come with allowing climate change to continue unmitigated. Australia already has a harsh, fluctuating climate.

Maybe this government believes Australia will be sufficiently cashed up on coal money as a buffer. Maybe their perspective myopic; stuck on just the next three years.In any case, their attitude and policies regarding climate change is insufficient. We will suffer for it.

Many of us feel that these are not public servants, but private appeasers. They do not represent us, nor do they work for policies to ensure the Australia the average Australian would recognise.

They seem to have forgotten us.

A while ago, Mike Marriott and I built “Generation Adaptation”. While there was not yet enough inertia for the project, there are elements of GenA that could be of great value.

Primarily, the forum. It now seems clear that, at least for the next three years, we will need to fend for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we need to do it in isolation.

We can build a community.

I want to crowd source ideas and potential solutions to help individuals and communities reduce their living costs, their carbon footprint and improve their lives simultaneously.

I believe it’s possible – or else I wouldn’t have wasted all these years harping on about climate change and sustainability. We need to think differently. In my own life, I’m already making numerous steps in that direction.

Yet, for it to work, I pitch the following to my readership; If I was to make a type of forum on NewAnthro, would you help me make it a valuable resource and discussion platform for all? It would require not only interaction, but SHARING and encouraging others to also get on-board.

One person is a monologue. Two, a dialogue. This would need a community actively engaged in bucking the tend. While I focus on Australia, this platform would be international.

Case studies! If someone provides an excellent case study, it should also be a post (written by a reader, or by myself if it’s easier). The most important this is to show that this is possible, not wishful dreaming. I would think of this forum as proof that how we live isn’t the best it can  be. We can achieve more only if we are willing to think differently.

If you like the idea, please “like” this post or comment. Also share this page to encourage others to do the same. If I can get a small community ready to begin the project, I’ll try to develop the infrastructure required.

Climate Name Change

Just for a laugh. I can’t wait for cyclone Ian Plimer, Chris Monckton or Climate crap Tony…

Retail shopping; does it really help local economies?

With the annual season of mass spending back upon us, I’ve noticed a number of pop-news articles playing up to business. The general theme being that online shopping is killing retailers and that this is bad for local communities.

While I would agree with the principle argument, reality already fails to align with this point and so I’m drawn to implore to my readers to in fact shop online in the interest of preserving local wealth.

The money trail

Take a given CEO, say Bernie Brookes from Myer, in the fiscal year, 2011-12, he grossed more than a cool $3 million. Assuming a full time employee grossed $40k, which for memory was about the going rate a few years ago, this one bloke, in one city, makes more than 75 times as much as the general store staff.

And then there are the shareholders, that play their part for a share in the profits wherever they happen to be in the world.

Another massive overhead is the products themselves. These are sourced wherever they are cheapest and to get them the cheapest, manufacturing is done where people are poorest and obliged to accept whatever lousy wage on offer.

And then there is the tendency to maximise growth through the amalgamation of companies. Take, for instance Unilever. Look on the package of a range of competing products, say frozen food or hygiene products, and see how many are owned by Unilever.

Regardless of which you buy, the profits largely feed back to international shareholders and disproportionate wages heavily weighted to a handful of individuals, with a comparatively small amount staying local in wages (which themselves are then fed back to this process).

Shopping at retail outlets locally this season is largely draining local wealth away through the lion share of the profits distributed internationally, not locally.

And Brookes shamefully complains about holiday wages!

No, these retailers are not the least part interested in local wealth, except for what they can bleed from it.

Don’t shop at retail outlets if it’s cheaper to shop online. Keeping your bank account healthier means that more wealth is kept local.

How to buy special and buy local

There are also other ways you can give special gifts that helps to keep money in the local economy.

For instance, there are small retailers and farmer markets that sell their own goods, especially treats. These can make a great and unique gift. Another personal favourite of mine is experiences. Be it classes in cheese making or baking, dance classes for the aunty and uncle who have been married for decades and might not think about spending time like that together…

There is always something suitable for anyone and these opportunities can be life changing while supporting local business and, being not a material focused gift, can help reduce our tendencies for landfill

More in the video below that I made for last xmas.

(more thoughts to follow..)

 IMG_3834718605003

Political Correctness: another personal failing made virtuous

In my silence over the past week, I’ve made use of the internal monologue. I am in a state of transition, with many elements of my personal and professional self brought to the table for evaluation.

In my heart of hearts, I will admit to you, this is what I want most. I care first and foremost about our future. Whether it is the wonder I feel as I watch my children grow or the joy I find when I hear other children laugh, the future belongs to them and I believe I can offer something of value to the relevant discourse. Whatever that actual topic is, I’m yet to define.

The realist in me reminds me not to hold my breath however and enjoy what placing I have with NewAnthro. So, as the initial paragraph stated, I’ve been thinking whilst unable to write.

My attempt at taking a break was entirely without my enthusiasm. If anything, I’ve wanted to write more. However, it was at odds with my current situation and, as you and I are now aware, a futile act against my better judgement and will. I tried political correctness as a compromise, but like the new clothes belonging to the emperor, I felt uncomfortable and all who know me saw right through it.

One of the results of this has been my reflection upon political correctness itself. I won’t bore you with much additional detail but to say that I have heard a lot of it recently and come to the conclusion that the term “political correctness” is nothing more than a politically correct term for lying. In short, someone will ask, how best can I explain something to be bullshit, without saying so? Or, how can I say this is a great thing without sounding bias?

How to say without saying. Whether by choice or under coersion, political correctness is about avoiding direct accountability for ones beliefs and/or statements.

Political correctness has taken centre stage in most discussions, from human rights to environmental governance, replacing philosophy and empirical evidence with a muse. It nullifies the true message of the speaker and makes a mockery of any potential critical review. We talk of free speech, but while we are free to be politically correct in our speech, our speech is never free when politically correct. Our value in the discussion is well and truly lost.

By being politically correct, we trade honesty, disclosure and integrity for wordcraft.

How best could I frame the disgusting environment, terrible species lost and the level of pollution that we are handing to our children other than to say that it is inexcusable and repugnant, with a straight face?

We simply cannot if we wish to remain honest. Likewise when we talk about the level of human suffering, not only globally, but locally, with even the wealthiest of us wrapped up warmly in our nests while someone sleeps in rags under some overhanging infrastructure a short drive away.

While life choices remain unsustainable, allowing valuable resources to degrade, erode and disappear, we have failed. While we continue to turn a blind eye to human suffering, we have failed. We could be politically correct and say, well, look, the situation is complex and we are endeavouring to formulate a meaningful and ongoing dialogue on the subject… or we can be honest and say, this is not good enough and if we care about our children and our community, we better clean up our act and do so fast.

Otherwise we risk being a generation able to whitewash over some of the worst acts upon ourselves and those who follow. Political correctness is true doublespeak. Honesty is always the best policy.

My Statement

My writing is the independent and unsolicited work of my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer, whomever that may be at the time nor does it reflect any political leaning, as I do not align myself with any party.

My writing is entirely motivated by an interest in scientific evidence and policy. My aim is to play a role in the public discourse in matters that I feel are important to me, my family and all Australians.

I am not infallible. Mistakes occur and I am happy to admit to any that I make as this improves my overall understanding.

My aim is not to incite malicious antagonism, but where I disagree, I provide a detailed reply and do not apologise if, in debunking a belief, I hurt feelings.

I invite contribution and hope, where possible, that my writing is of value to my readers.

Anti-science arguments: How do we respond?

I’ve been very interesting with the problem of responding to anti-science. This is mostly due to the frustration that arises from taking them seriously only to be subjected to a cheap magic show rich with fallacious arguments. Diethelm and McKee (2009) provide excellent examples, including;

“The normal academic response to an opposing argument is to engage with it, testing the strengths and weaknesses of the differing views, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties obey certain ground rules, such as a willingness to look at the evidence as a whole, to reject deliberate distortions and to accept principles of logic. A meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects these rules.”

In seeking out certainty in reality, this objection to the best developed tools for obtaining high quality empirical data remains baffling. Moreover, anti-science provides no serious alternative, but instead dynamite to the dam walled placed up against the baseless ideation popular prior to the enlightenment.

Of course ignoring anti-science outright is not the answer as the anti-fluoridation campaign illustrates; while in essence it is fringe and largely based upon “Nazi chemical mind control” fears, packaged right, it has the power to infiltrate communities, leading to a decrease in dental health with no additional benefits, as has been witnessed in various towns in Queensland, Portland, Oregon and elsewhere.

We need to respond.

However, as Christopher Monckton illustrated with climate change, taking them seriously comes with the inherent risk of lending undue credit; he is now regarded as an “expert” in some quarters due solely to the fact that he has publicly debated with scientists and seemed to have won. That his waves failed to reach the shores of scientific endeavour is telling nonetheless.

What to do?

Recently, I analysed the components of an anti-science speech to show how it does not aligned within the same arena of critical thought to scientific methodology and thus presents a sideshow distraction rather than a rebuttal. Yet, what to do with a wordplay debate?

I provided the following basic questions to use to assess the quality of someone’s argument;

  1. Does the article in question refer solely to genuine scientific material?
  2. Does this material genuinely bring into question the validity of given conclusions held in the highest certainty within the scientific community?
  3. What have other genuine scientific material made of this conclusion?

Here, I will look at the comments of “Dan” who is an individual I’ve spotted haunting both NewAnthro and Watching the Deniers of late to give some suggestions.

Dan’s Stand

Dan takes an anti-science approach to climate science. This is not to poison the well, but a factual stances he must admit to simply because his position rejects the standing position held with high confidence within the scientific community, namely, he rejects the conclusion that CO2 can impact on the global climate.

His argument hinges on looking at the global temperature anomaly and atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1800 to today. He claims that no warming in the global temperature anomaly exists beyond 2001 while concentrations of CO2 continue to increase, which he uses to base his position.

His argument against the standing position within the expert community of climate science hinges on a quote he found on Wikipedia by, Richard Horten, editor of the Lancet, which is critical of the peer review process.

The Analysis

To answer the three questions above;

  1. No; Dan refers to Wikipedia and his own blog posts.

It fails on step one. Furthermore, rather than illustrating how the conclusions drawn within climate science are wrong, he instead attacks the review process. Yet, if the science is wrong and he knows it is, he should be able to illustrate as much, for the validity of a conclusion does not sit on the opinions of people, but on the merit of the finding. His argument does not challenge the the scientific conclusion itself.

Mainly, he relies on three fallacies; the single cause, composition and authority.

Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent energy. My old site at Calperum, SA

Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent heat. My old site at Calperum, SA

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to measure the volume of a pool by a sole measurement of the depth of the shallow end, it is a failure of understanding to assume that climate change is restricted to the temperature anomaly.

Add energy to a pot of water and the temperature will increase. Eventually, around 100°C, the rate of temperature will reduce, even if the energy input continues. This is because the energy is now going into a physical process not measured by a thermometer; the conversion of liquid to gas.

Climate change is dynamic, with energy going into the atmosphere, but also the oceans and ice, leading to latent heat; ice melt and water vapour, both ignored by thermometers, but measured by other methodologies, such as physical measuring and eddy covariance measurements respectively.

His quote also assumes that, as one person in a health journal is critical of peer review, we have evidence enough that the entire process is flawed. The quote itself is somewhat fallacious – ad populum – and how it is applied is fallacious through authority and composition.

As previously noted, rather than fault the conclusions, he attempts to fault the entire scientific process with this one small quote.

How to respond?

I know first-hand that pointing out these faults do nothing to the argument being presented – shifting goalposts may be applied or semantics may come into the debate, alongside repetition of the same fallacious claims. Eventually, the moral high ground will come up and your efforts will have been a waste as the individual goes on to continue the same debunked claims elsewhere unmoved by your exchange.

It may be useful to respond concisely;

Do the following claims by Dan seriously challenge climate science?

“No warming over the past decade while CO2 levels increase…” – No; warming is only one part of climate change, with energy also being taken up in processes not measured by thermometers, eg. latent heat.

“Richard Horten says peer review doesn’t work…” – No; in no way does this even critique the empirical evidence base for anthropogenic climate change, but is a fallacy of composition based upon appeals to authority, serving no purpose but to subvert critical reflection of the evidence base at hand.

Otherwise, praise the commentator on their prowess and let them know how much you’re looking forward to their radical findings overturning modern science as we know it – surely they will receive their much owed Nobel Prize once their ground breaking research is published in a respected science journal. After that, walk on.

You can waste your life replying to nonsense – fiction is limited only by imagination and our species is capable of many generations worth of imagination. Or less eloquently put;

090220111154

Climate discussions flat-line where they should be thriving

The climate science news, in reality, has waned in recent months, perhaps over the bulk of 2013.

Sure, the science is still trickling in but within the general media it’s really pretty much flat lined. Monckton’s last Aussie tour was a flop; a hopeful sign that his crackpot star is burning out. The “final nails” are rusted and forgotten…

Climate change is more or less left to the enthusiasts. The tone on the anti-science climate media is increasingly batty and fringe and arguably as drama soaked as any other conspiracy theory one may stumble upon for a chuckle. The lines in the sand have washed away and far fewer are selecting supposed “sides”.

Most people admit that anthropogenic climate change is real, but for the most part, the threat is trivialized by how intangible and far off it seems to the individual right here and now in a given city. The only real fight that seems to persist within the public eye is the rather extraordinary lengths we are going to, to find fossil fuels, be it fracking, offshore drilling or tar pits.

At the same time, the US president has finally joined the true dialogue of climate response policies, China is ever ramping up its activities in response to climate change and little Australia, with its massive per capita climate debt, seriously contemplates over two potential candidates for leadership; one of which goes from calling climate change “crap” to carbon trading “a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one”.

As an observer, I can’t help but sit back perplexed.

Does being the lucky country also mean the wilfully ignorant country as well? Are we so scared that changing our behaviour must mean degrading our quality of life? Of course, the longer we take to begin meaningful change the more dramatic and thus uncomfortable change will be. Being honest, this is what motivates me more than anything – I simply do not wish to impose avoidable hardship on those I care about.

Small steps earlier rather than big steps later to catch up.

Globally, financial concerns have only increased over the past five years, leaving many policy makers focused entirely on growth, with the long term impacts of climate change placed on the back-burner for future discussions. Hope and Hope (2013) have illustrated that this may be short sighted as this low growth is likely to lead to a poorer future population, thus less able to match the social costs due to additional CO2 emissions. Under the current global economic pressures, there is even more reason to attempt to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, not less, than if economies were healthier.

There  really is no justifiable reason for the lull. While anti-science groups may be giving communicators less material to respond to (I’ve argued before that this should be done sparingly in any case), we still need strong discussions on what we do now to curtail future emissions to ensure we provide our grandchildren and theirs a climate akin to that we have prospered within. There are many concerns that need to be addressed, to be sure, but climate change is still a high priority.

Furthermore, it presents opportunity for new markets and community-based behaviours that in turn could lead to financial benefits. If we simply get on with the task and demonstrate positives in changing behaviour, we will also erode the platform on which many anti-science communicators stand upon; it will be increasingly untenable to insist anthropogenic climate change is not real, uncertain or exaggerated when communities are progressing and thriving in low-carbon economies.

We never needed the momentum we drew from rebuking anti-science propaganda, but we have been doing it for so long that we have convinced ourselves otherwise. The dialogue belongs to science communicators now and we are not doing our part to assist with the necessary behavioural changes.