Tag Archives: Opportunities beyond carbon

Australian Spills in the Hope We Won’t Slip

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It was said that mining interest brought down the previous Prime Minister and it is probably equally true that the media helped to bring down the following one. More concerned with her fashion, personal life and internal party rivalries than her policies, it’s difficult to see how anyone could stand against such sledging and remain popular.

It’s troubling to think that the media can have such a biased sway over democracy, but it also provides a niche for independent media, with sections of the audience in search of transparent news sources.

Courageous?

While some within the ALP were calling themselves courageous for their continuous support of Julia Gillard, many observes were shaking their heads.

Firstly, this is not an attempt to kick Gillard while she is down – I’m finding myself defending her more often than I ever thought I would in personal conversations (on NewAnthro, I’ve provided my fair share of criticism of many ministers, Julia included). She did her job as best she could and was no better or worse than her predecessor. Both were better in many ways from Howard before them and are leaps and bounds above the current challenger; Tony Abbott.

Yet, for Gillard, there simply was no future. Gremlins within the media had chewed through the break line and if they stayed on that ride… annihilation. It is not courageous to give the country on a platter to an Abbott government.

Abbott Policies are not in our favour

Abbott’s Direct Action Plan is doomed to fail (perhaps intentionally designed to fail). Even if he relied upon the more robust method of carbon sequestration – tree plantation – the scale of the project would see annual wood production grow by more than 300% in the most optimistic measurements. Most concerning, the Direct Action Plan takes our tax dollars and hands it over to private industry for their benefit, not the actual tax payer (more here).

Should our tax dollars go to replacing the light globes in Gina Rinehart’s office? And we’re not talking about something as small as light globes, but millions of dollars.

The Great Northern Development again is a pipedream. Sure, it will not fail as the Direct Action Plan will, but like the plan, this development is entirely about funding profits for private industry.

Beyond the resource boom available in the north, the climate, soil and water security all ensure that whatever infrastructure is built up north – especially in northern WA and NT – will become too costly to maintain by a large community without further avenues of revenue accruement.

Put basically, farming will not be the cash cow for a large northern population, so with mining cash gone post-boom, how will this population afford to fix roads and dams (and there will be a lot of them to ensure enough water supplies in the harsh north) and maintain hospitals and schools? Most resources will need to be shipped in at greater expense (more here).

Soon, the climate and expense of life out there will become too much for most, who will then return to the south. So the infrastructure investment in the north will only be to support mining communities so that these resources can be extracted as quickly as possible. Not for the Australian community mind you – especially if Gina gets the mining tax removed – but entirely for private wealth creation.

And it doesn’t even stop there. Rinehart complains about sharing her profits with labours – implying that Australians don’t want to work because they cannot afford to for less than $10 per five-day week.

Why Mention Rinehart so much?

Why does this matter? An Abbott led government wishes to secure Rinehart’s profits, by removing taxes and making it easier for her to hire such workers.

So, not only are the Direct Action Plan and the Great Northern Development funded entirely by you and I to pay for the needs of wealthy private industry, these same industries, under an Abbott led government, will get tax-breaks and free rein to outsource labour; moves that would remove income to the commonwealth and Australian jobs.

This is why it is not courageous to grip onto your favoured PM as the ride hurtles towards destruction, but insane that someone would place favouritism ahead of a very troubling future where Abbott has no counter-weight to temper his, quite frankly, unAustralian policies.

The election ahead

While I don’t align well with any Australian party, I have to say that I share the sentiment coming from supporters of this Rudd-exchange that an Abbott led government is very concerning. It is a threat to our way of life and the general prosperity of this country. Apart from everything else, what remains is a serious challenge to maintain some resistance against the worst of his policies. If he cannot be defeated entirely, we will need to grit our teeth until the general public wake up to the reality of an Abbott government and vote him out again, but at least, with Rudd, there is a chance for a counter-weight unlike there ever could be with Gillard.

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”

I make it a personal rule to avoid anti-science blogs. Simply, it would be a pointless venture. C. H. Spurgeon had it right, long before the Internet was even dreamt up with, “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on”.

Any half-baked idea can be seriously entertained if one avoids scrutiny, hence why the web is a fertile landscape for the dreamer and mad theorist alike. It takes discipline to adhere to strict guidelines of quality control and even more on such a platform as the Internet, which is why I always back up any statements with citation and/or illustrated mathematics for review.

With that in mind, I have no doubt the anti-science dreamers commonly called climate change “sceptics” would no doubt be foaming over Obama’s recent disregarding statement of their movement. That, or the Monckton’s of the world would loftily stick their noses in the air and pompously write his statement off as the rant’s of an extreme lefty matching none other than Fidel Castro (seriously, Monckton has made this insane claim in the past on “Vattelevision”, about 6:25mins into this video; disregarding strong differences between the two’s idea of leadership – for instance, Obama will step down at the end of this term – economic structure, gay rights / marriage equality, etc etc etc).

It’s good to see not only the US finally getting on-board to tackle climate change, but also China – the “final nail” in the coffin* in the argument against action on the basis of the impotence of these two big countries so far. Further, it’s great that Obama understand the difference between equal and fair weighting of a debate – hopefully he can carry that on into the class rooms regarding biology and geology (in other words, another shameful Flat Earth Society: creationism / ID).

This is the type of action that is required from leadership, which helps to undermine frankly anti-science movements (identifiable in their lack of scientific support or criticism of the basic ideas being challenged by such groups). It’s better to be slow rather than late – it gives our children and those beyond the best chance of prosperity and comfort through the actions we take on their behalf.

* Sorry, I just had to use that cliché, so often used against anthropogenic climate change with every typo in an IPCC report or flimsy scientific paper.

Trimming the Green: How We Are Failing Sustainability

When I was looking into potential University degrees a decade ago, what sold it for me was the promise that the twenty-first century would be the green century; whole new fields of green jobs are just beyond the horizon, begging for graduates in the coming years.

So far, my career has had little to do with my field of study. If anything, I’ve tried to make the most of my ecological and natural resource training within chemical analyst and technical roles.

Of course, I haven’t let this stop me. Back in Adelaide, I communicated with anyone whom had a similar field of interest and gained some valuable experience from it. For instance, I undertook a training seminar provided by the SA EPA for businesses in Eco-mapping and developed a proposal for a joint business and state government development venture called “Young Professionals for Climate Protection”  which I submitted to the Department of Premier and Cabinet whilst contributing to The State of the Environment report for SA, 2008.

However, time and time again, over the following years these networks returned the same response to my desire to push my career towards what drives me, namely sustainability to human activity; “There is no money for future roles. If anything, we need to cut back.”

How, if green jobs are the future and we are continually told of the numerous green industries growing, is this sentiment so persistent? Moreover, why are we cutting back on efficiency and sustainability roles across the board ever more so over the past four years of economic uncertainty? After all, the aim of such practices is to lower overheads. Sustainability is not about luxury items.

I would argue that the green movement was quickly usurped by various façades and rendered mute at best.

Greenwashing is perhaps the best known example of this, where shelf items make claims that really do not provide the environmental benefits being suggested. The dedicated initiatives aimed to discredit the science behind anthropogenic climate change is yet another.

Over all, I find a lot of people now treat sustainability like they do politics and religion over the dinner table. It is simply taboo.

So now we are at a point, a decade into the “green” twenty first century, where the sustainability groups within large private and public bodies are the first and hardest hit when the belt needs to be tightened and, apart from the supermarket shelves, it is no longer “cool” to talk or advocate any point on resilience, environmentalism, sustainability or decarbonizing our energy supply. Often, such work is discredited as slightly evangelical.

I think we professionals have failed to articulate the message meaningfully. I also suspect that our aims have often translated to being less humanistic than we would like them to be.

In truth, we are not talking about saving species for species sake, but because we understand the value ecosystems provide us and that species form the nuts, bolts and cogs of ecosystems that allow it to function.

We are also talking about mitigation and adaptation with climate change not because we are anti-progress, but because we can see the only real avenue for long-term prosperity comes from buttressing up our human environments against storm surges and to ensure that the climate does not shift too far outside of the Holocene; which has been of immense value to the development of our species.

We may even speak of finite resources or resource renewal rates and the obvious limits to growth and thus concerns over population.

What we are trying to sell is the good deal and instead it has been treated with scepticism, some of which is expected – it is a relatively new theory after all, regardless how well researched – but not all of it is merited.

Like any revolutionary change, it will be fringe and so we should be happy to treat it as such – market it in the same way we would nanotechnology, robotics, space exploration etc, for all these topics come from the same place; our future. We should be excited. Case studies too set the scene.

Yet all of this requires ambition, long-term vision, creativity and, most importantly the entrepreneurial spirit willing to take a chance.

I like to think of cities where streetscapes are used to advertise just how astonishing we can be, if we allow ourselves to be. Think of vertical gardens or of a gutted building turned into a park. How about fruit trees down open walking malls or an unexpected ecosystem oasis in the middle of four million people. Even artists, willing to work with biology to produce strange new forms of expression. Or how about radical ways to handle water capture, treatment use for improved water security.

I have a few ideas of my own.

Everything we do should be placed in a humanistic way. It is about lowering our energy and water bills. It is about providing good quality fresh fruit and vegetables for our children. It is about improving our way of life so that we can enjoy it as much as possible. This is the fringing view we offer as the alternative to business as usual and we have yet to convince the general public of its worth.

If we want to see real change, it starts by setting the scene and selling a realistic future that is obtainable and more desirable than that we currently know.

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As We Sit and Wait for Political Action on Climate Change

Many of us comment merited scepticism regarding the global political will to address our economic woes, immoral species loss and unmitigated climate change.

All are symptoms of where progress over recent decades has led us. Arguably, it is a stale mate position that trickle feeds resources in growing exponential quantities as the given group becomes more defined by privilege.

In short, many of us realise that human activity, in its current fashion, cannot continue and we as a collective sit fixated, like the rabbit lost in the fast approaching headlights…

So how do we change?

I’ve spent a little time on this subject lately and I truly believe the battle starts with values. The committed sceptics on any given topic has a set of clearly defined and articulated values. They are nothing special, radical or perverse. They are simple messages that each one of them can agree on. Remove the illogical conclusions drawn on important subjects, such as climate change, the messages are, for the most part, the same as those most people would agree on.

Conversely, the values provided largely in the pop-media and from various activism groups, whether truthful or not, do seem self-righteous, radical and unfamiliar. Talk to many vegans and passionate vegetarians, for instance, and you will soon catch the whiff of, “I’m better than you, because I demonstrate that I care (or because I’m healthier etc).”

Whether or not this is the case, “environmentalist” topics comes across or are deliberately smeared like this in any of the dank and murky corners. Look at Jo Nova’s handbooks for instance.

The story playing out in essence is just a larger version of Easter Island, yet with one crowd concerned about cutting down the last forest and the local chieftain concerned only about having the biggest stone statue (today, the statue has been replaced with the suburban house and SUV).

Yet, we should never stop talking about our values, which are in fact largely about shoring up a future that will give our children and their own the best chance of fulfilment. It is about putting a rich wonderful world on “lay-buy,” and paying a little bit for it each day so that eventually it is our gift to them. Our basic “grassroots” values are key and ought to be the things that matter to every one of us, spoken in an ordinary way.

Next, it is unlikely we will see the types of changes that are needed to avoid the worst of expected biodiversity loss and climate change waiting for the global leaders to do anything constructive. Politically, we are still obsessed with the notion that growth will solve all our problems, which seems to be at odds with the last four years economically and far longer when we look at our resource bank.

So what do we do?

I see real potential in the “open” spectrum. Within the information era, the open shareware, wiki / forum styled developments, I find to be interesting. While people worry about the accuracy of knowledge in such arenas this is something I think is not worth much concern (see below). I like how they seem to happen organically. Where people are given access to communicate, communities develop and trade begins.

I believe we have the tools freely available at hand to circumvent the traditional leaders and providers. Think of Earth Hour and how easily an idea of that nature can travel around the globe in the modern age. There’s no reason why spatially irrelevant communities cannot coordinate such activities, trade ideas, shortcuts, improvements and values in the same way.

It needn’t be windbags like myself or the committed sceptics commenting on life and you, the reader, simply reading. Communities do not work like that.

Change doesn’t start with the individual. Neither does it start with our leaders – at least not anymore. I believe it will be communities working together, based not on location, but shared values, which will nudge us in the right direction.

* My blog is but a small example of this fact. It is little different historically that people shared their ideas with whomever may be listening. Today, the audience is just larger. But so too is the pool of critics. Lies used to have the advantage, but with the speed of a good search engine and global access to premium resource bases (such as online scientific journals), this edge is slowly eroding. With greater access, it is likely more difficult that unmerited and unqualified assumptions will be taken seriously. It will be; back up your claims with facts or be fed to the trolls.

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Vicki Arroyo: Let’s prepare for our new climate

The Road to Business as Usual! Are we Doomed to Watch?

In the recent article, CO2 emissions rises mean dangerous climate change now almost certain, the Guardian highlights the growing scientific concern that business as usual is being business as usual, leading us down that cliché nightmarish fork in the road; the higher estimates in the climate models, which will present future generations with a world as different from today as today is from the previous Ice Age.

To me, it points out nothing more than a turning point; where human physical capacity supersedes the natural range of the human mental capacity. That is to say, we can create more damage in space and time than we are able to comprehend. We can reasonably perceive the turn of events from smacking someone else in the face, but (as I know firsthand) we cannot perceive adequately the results of pouring PVC into the backyard of our operations, over-fertilising our agricultural land or, more close at hand, the long reaching impact from desiring a standard of living intimately entwined to greenhouse gas emissions.

There is some truth in the old saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” however, this is not a good analogy for the situation at hand, where one could say, “an fruit in hand is not worth five on the bush.”

It’s a concept that requires no deep powers of reasoning. It requires no philosophy. Even caterpillars and ants have worked it out.

Many caterpillar and ant species developed a mutualistic symbiosis where the caterpillar provides sugary syrup in exchange for ant security. The relationship is an ongoing one that provides new avenues for food access to the ants and reduced mortality for the caterpillar.

If the ants were like us, they would first attempt to farm the caterpillars to produce more syrup. Over time, the holding capacity for the caterpillars would have been reached and to continue this growth, the ant would need to turn to the protein provided by the caterpillars themselves, thereby reducing the overall return; degrading the wealth creator.

As always is the case, these additional resources went to increasing the population of ants; thus they are locked into such a high level of resource pressure – even as they watch it degrade.

However, it is absurd to think of ants in this way. Equally, it ought to be as absurd that our species would fashion wealth creating models on such methodologies. We tend to favour wealth we have at hand –the bird for instance – over wealth we have less security over – the birds in the bush, ready to fly away.

There is evolutionary justification for this bias, just as there is for many human behaviours nowadays deemed immoral (such as many base emotions).

Yet, where on Earth is a bird going to escape from our species? Even if it could escape to space, would it be free from us? The answer should be obvious; as long as the resource exists, it is either in our current capacity to obtain it or our reasoning to develop future methodologies to obtain it. Resource insecurity thus now only exists where resource degradation occurs.

Further, there is something in the first part of the hypothetical story I created for the ants. We are capable of cultivating the entire globe (yes, even the poles and harshest deserts). We can maximise productivity, just as long as we start and end with biophilia – that is, with resource exchange with ecosystems (current or engineered). Just as stated in the previous paragraph; our ingenuity removes resource insecurity where resource management is appropriate.

With high greenhouse gas emissions something that we are locked into for perhaps decades or more (even if we made aggressive measures to reduce them, which, it should be clear, we won’t), we must seriously contemplate harvesting atmospheric carbon instead. The most practical (and cheapest) option to achieve this is; let the plants do it. Photosynthesis stores carbon as energy. Without a doubt, this is the most logical method through which we can sink carbon and provide useful by-products. GM may even help us improve the rate of conversion if we are game enough to answer this pressing question of how we can realistically avoid 4 °C of warming.

However, the second problem of the hypothetical ant story is our reality; we are at a point where human activity has, firstly, encouraged us to secure more resources and secondly grow more numerous; so much so, we seem to be idly watching the slow decline of real wealth – the fruit on the bush.

This pressure of growing size and per capita consumption leaves us with my opening observation; our physical capacity is larger than our ability to comprehend it.

Whether it is climate change, as the Guardian article comments, biodiversity loss (and others), as noted by Rockström et al. (2009) or our inability to efficiently manage precious fresh water resources as I’ve mentioned previously, we demonstrate this fact with resounding monotony.

We are not capable of fair (or even realistic) judgement of risk on a scale that covers environmental governance. Economic discounting the future is philosophy of this principle.

For this reason, we cannot rely on our internal capacities, such as common sense. The human experience breaks down on such matters as it does geological time and in the realms of quantum physics. Global negotiations are inherently flawed and doomed to fail.

That does not mean that we must venture down this fork of business as usual. I have hinted throughout of the alternative; innovation. We must concisely outline universal objectives (such as a floor above which all members of a species must be maintained), how much resources are required for such objectives and methodologies to ensure such resources exist into the indefinite future.

To achieve the latter, I suspect we will need to change our minds and finally develop ethics that can incorporate geological and biological engineering. There should not be a problem with such techniques if they result in maximising prosperity of the flourishing of life – not simply our species. We would prefer an energetic thriving globe over a wasteland, but our current attitude to wealth paralyses us into disbelief as wealth slips away through our fingers.

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“I Wanna Be At a Loss So F’en Bad”

My attitude regarding “growth” obsession is pretty clear. I would argue that my points on the subject should be universally acknowledged and applied to human activity. It ought to be a no-brainer that you simply cannot avoid degrading vital resources with perpetual growth ideologies. The two are simply inconsistent.

It is fair to then ask, how can we otherwise prosper? Here’s a couple thoughts on that.

Resources

As discussed in my post on Wednesday, growth and resources in no way are compatible unless both are perpetually growing at the same rate with infinite spatial range. This, of course, is not reality. Limiting resource extraction to a certain upper threshold is the only way that we can manage to utilise renewable resources indefinitely. That a person requires a certain amount of resources to persist, thus demands that a maximum population much also be fixed.

I have argued in the past that, by maintaining a population far below this maximum subsistence value, populations would enjoy overall wealth in having more disposable resources allocations per capita.

Moreover, limitations provide motivation for innovation.

First and foremost, one can ask how best to obtain economic wealth from material resources. Two simple principles are efficiency (ie. more from less) and cyclic processing (ie. the waste from one process provides input for the following process). Yet, these measures can only go so far, being limited to limited resources and ingenuity.

A more radical approach comes from non-material resources. Our species produces an immense amount of it. This covers knowledge and arts. There are no limits to how many forms of art we can create or how much design we can add to the human environment. Coupled with knowledge, we can explore new ways of living as well (I would note, biophilia, which too, promotes resource resilience and abundance as well as access to ecological services).

Such non-material resources provide the greatest room for wealth creation and, in both cases, tend to be the hardest hit as luxuries when we have economic downturns, in favour of material resource extraction (think stimulus packages). This is something that is obviously counterproductive.

A booming, busy economy can enjoy greater activity, job prospects and overall prosperity where people have the time (ie. limited working hours) and money (ie. reduction of personal debt) to enjoy live shows, a dinner out with friends or an afternoon with the family are a fair, market or something similar (of course, such events can be heavily dependent upon material resources, but this is where ingenuity plays a role). Having a new wide screen TV that dies every other year is a sloppy substitute for economic growth.

Of course, this would also rely upon the following.

Equality

I do harp on about Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level and the Equality Trust for the points they raise are valuable.

Material growth depends largely on inequality. If the social divide was small and people did not distinguish themselves are very different from one another by what they have or don’t have, then the urge to have would not be so strong. That is to say, without Arnie in his Hummer and Oprah with her gold plated toilet, or more locally, Fred two houses down with the newest SUV, we would not feel as inclined to keep up with the Jones.

Status seeking means that we are never really happy with what we have (because someone else has more) and thus cannot be good for us. Status seeking drives resource degradation and so will not be good for the futures of our children and their own. It also requires downsizing overheads (replacing local workers for cheap foreign labour and robots) and provides profits largely to the top jobs and shareholders; all of which increases local loss of prosperity.

This is all contrary to the avenue for non-material resource processes discussed above.

For instance, the movement of money happens more freely and rapidly when more people have money to dispose with and others are locally accessible to entertain, provide a meal or coordinate activities than the current system. Where the social mobility is increased, thus social equality favoured, you provide fertilisation for the establishment of a community which is active and thriving. That most of the activities are non-material resource dependent, such prosperity is less hinged on resource acquisition. It also reduces the potential for debt creation.

We are on a road that none of us would vote for. We are creating a future that none of us would like to be provided to us. We are undertaking such behaviours because it favours a few and most of us want to be one of those few, “…so f’en bad.”

Of course, it is a situation that only exists if the minority remain the minority. We cannot all be billionaires without inflation working its magic, returning us to normality. All the while this behaviour is a sideshow, behind which the climate changes, oceans acidify and are stripped of life, forest come down and we start to contemplate doing things the hard (and expensive) way – think de-salination. We are going nowhere desirable and for the most part, we are ignorant to the fact.

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