Coronavirus; the hype, the risk and the wrong temperature to be monitoring

The coronavirus, COVID-19, is to date, a low risk to Australians.

Firstly, it’s spread is currently minimal.

Secondly, 80% of infections are mild.

And yet, a trip to any – and I mean any – suburban supermarket across the nation will tell you a story.

Toilet paper, tissues, wet wipes and hand sanitisers are in short supply.


A: Media.

There surely isn’t a single media CEO who would fail to smile to themselves when they see images of shopping isles devoid of stock.

Fear is great for the otherwise ailing traditional media outlets. Consumption of their product skyrockets, so of course they will capitalise on that. Its hype, which doesn’t match the scenario.

It would be easy for me to follow the long line of commentators who have mocked consumers for their lemming-like behaviour, but I see it differently.

With COVID-19 media has proven that it still has the potential to mobilise communities to take action.

Yet, despite the fact that;

…despite all this, the media flex their muscle to mobilise a mass runout of toilet paper.

It’s almost ironic.

Education isn’t the answer and it never was. A climate denier or scared consumer have access to the best information regarding the scientific reality, be it climate change or COVID-19 and they will still reject it or ignore it in favour of whatever their preferred commentator tells them.

And so, with the bushfires out and the smoky smell washed away by recent flooding, Australians flock to stock up on toilet paper, because, of course, we let journalists do our risk analysis for us.

Today, the journalist tells us how people need to travel further just to find somewhere still stocked with toilet paper – burning more petrol along the way. Tomorrow the journalist will tell us how sewerage systems across the nation are being blocked by all the wet wipes people have been forced to use in the absence of toilet paper.

And still, we do little to nothing to address the climate elephant in the room.


Divide and conquer: how climate rage is derailing climate action

Earlier this week I wrote how I believe climate denial has been replaced by climate rage – fitting the next stage of grief.

Following Greta Thunberg’s UN speech last month, I saw appear within my social networks a number of posts from people requesting that anyone who has an issue with her speech should defriend them now.

Jeremy Clarkson spat out a piece of fury against the 16 year old climate advocate and his daughter, Emily Clarkson, retorted back.

Friendships and families are strained by this climate rage.

It’s easily more effective than climate denial.

With climate denial, no evidence was ever good enough. There’s no point in improving air quality and finding cheaper sources of energy, after all, unless we’re 100% confident that climate change is real, that it’s going to make life harder for us, and is the result of our activities.

But the thing is, sure the denier couldn’t be convinced by the evidence, but anyone genuinely interested to learn about the science gained a plethora of resources online aimed at answering all the same talking points.

But climate rage…well, that totally shuts down the conversation. If you’re a rager, the nuances of climate science are irrelevant. It’s all about the activists and advocates who don’t provide the solutions. Until they do, they – and everyone else – should shut up, carry on and wait for someone somewhere to provide the solution.

There’s no room for discussion. Most just give up and some fracture all contact.

All the while, we sit on our hands as a collective.

But in truth, research and development is where we should go for the information about the situation and possible solutions. The public and private sectors are where we must go to drive for those solutions to be implemented.

The latter happens through our voting and shopping habits.

The individual who cuts their carbon footprint won’t address the problem. We’re not about to feed our families a vegan diet of whatever grows outside the fringe of our cave.

Regardless of where you sit on the question of climate change, we all want the same thing – for our communities to thrive into the distant future in healthy urban landscapes.

No-one wants our surrounding environments to be wastelands, our oceans to be devoid of everything by jellyfish and many of our famous landmarks to become popular diving spots.

We are, ultimately, on the same side. The climate denial and rage arguments divide us over points that really don’t matter when the end game is actually something we all want.

But until we recognise this shared goal, we will remained divided and weak.

Climate denial has moved to the next stage of grief and it’s truly ugly.

Let’s face it, climate denial is out of date.

The talking heads nowadays no longer use the standard dismissing, ill-informed, arguments. It’s no longer “climate always changes” or “the science isn’t settled”, no.

What we hear in 2019 from someone who people who once laughed about a broken hockey stick or to not be scared of a lump of coal is that “climate change is a matter we need to address…”

Okay, that’s redressing news.

“…but kids should be in school, so that they can do something about it.”

Or that Greta is a “spoilt brat” who owes the wonders of her life (the carbon intensive wonders, that is) to the boomers she now addresses.

Or that the Extinction Rebellion is a group of unemployed layabouts – and worse, hypocrites – doing nothing to solve the very serious problems we face.

Climate denial has moved on to the next stage of grief – climate rage.

It’s no less a distraction mind you. They don’t offer any solutions to an issue they seem to accept is real and pressing. All of their arguments come down to one dressed in a million hats;

A climate action advocate is not allowed to advocate unless they have given up on modern technology.

But I like a rebuttal I found to this in the article, The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons By Matto Mildenberger;

Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes reminds us, “[abolitionists] wore clothes made of cotton picked by slaves. But that did not make them hypocrites … it just meant that they were also part of the slave economy, and they knew it. That is why they acted to change the system, not just their clothes.”

The truth is, we’re advocates for the 21st – which recognises that the fossil fuel industry is outdated. It’s time to move on.

That of course is where climate grief is born. It’s difficult to face the mistakes we’ve made or that we need to change our behaviours. It’s hard enough on a person level to eat better, exercise more or drink less – think about the scale of change necessary and on a societal level.

It’s massive.

On my own personal social media, I’m even finding that I’m having argument with people I never used to.

It’s a very different argument, but in truth, it’s born from climate denial and it’s perhaps even uglier when we think of the language it’s willing to use, say, school children or a 16 year old advocate.

In defending a missionary, only condemnation can be drawn

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an opinion article by Michael Jensen, titled ‘Like Jesus, US missionary accepted death as the price of reaching out’.

To be frank, I’m surprised that it was accepted by their editors.

It’s an appalling article, poorly articulated, badly argued and ends abruptly with conclusion implied.

Basically, it argues that missionary John Allen Chau was at worst, naive and reckless, but ultimately not wrong for trying to teach the isolated North Sentinelese about Christianity, however the tribe were wrong for causing his death.

The main premise employed by Jensen for his argument is that;

“…there is such a thing as a universal humanity. The Sentinelese are not wild animals. They are not game for us to slaughter, nor are they an ecosystem that needs to be preserved under a glass jar so we can study them. Neither are they aliens – however weird they may be to us.

“No – that unknown people, who speak an unknown language and worship unknown gods, are our brothers and sisters in being human. Which means that they, like us, have rights and responsibilities, from which they cannot simply be exempt. “Thou shalt not murder” applies to the Sentinelese as it applies to us.”

Jensen states that this was a declaration of something we believe to be true.

But let’s get something straight – Chau is a US citizen. Chau is also a Christian, as is Jensen.

In the US, there are prisoners on death row – people whose crimes have been deemed punishable by death by the state.

Even throughout the pages of the bible, it not only outlines under what terms it is acceptable to kill a fellow human being, but also the preferred method of killing for the specific crime.

“Thou shall not kill” as a commandment in the bible, is simply one more example of a contradiction in a book of endless contradictions.

Let’s also remember that along the southern US border, children were recently hit with tear gas for attempting to enter the country.

If a missionary attempted to cross the demilitarised zone to enter North Korea, waving a bible and badly mimicking Korean only to be shot, would Jensen hold the same view?

I doubt it. We have a better understanding of North Korea’s rules of entry.

In short, a state defines the terms of entry for foreign people.

Reports from fishermen and from Chau’s own journal show that the North Sentinelese fired numerous arrows at him prior to him eventually being fatally hit.

Given that the tribe had bows and arrows on hand would surely indicate that they are in wide use o the island and if in wide use, they must be skilled archers. It is unlikely that the previous shots missed due to poor accuracy, but because they were warning shots that Chau decided to ignore.

Jensen when compares the actions of the tribe to “traditional cultural practices like female genital mutilation or infanticide or suttee.”

Again, this incident is more akin to boarder control by locals than a “cultural practice”.

Moreover, Jensen refers to female genital mutilation without sufficient retrospect, given that the Abrahamic faiths, such as Christianity, define male genital mutilation – that is, circumcision – as symbolic of a covenant between their god and mankind. This is a “traditional cultural practice” as is being a missionary. Jensen would certainly prefer that we give a moral leave pass to these activities.

Jensen then rounds up his opinion by asking “how could we (the rest of the human race) possibly connect with the fragile Sentinelese culture without destroying it utterly and without obliterating their right to walk their own way on the part of the earth they call home?”

The answer is simple: we don’t.

The North Sentinelese have made it clear for a very long time that they are happy to remain isolated. What value is it to them for the outside world to force itself upon them?

Chau believed it was in the interest of their souls for them to be converted to Christianity – something he made clear could very likely lead to his death.

Jensen is less forthcoming in his vague opinion piece. Through his defence of Chau, I am drawn to the conclusion that he also thinks favourably about the tribe’s conversion to Christianity.

But the North Sentinelese do not want to engage with the rest of the world. They do not want our technology, our philosophies or our gods. They are independent and fiercely protective of that independence.

To intrude on that independence made thoroughly clear to the rest of the world is to show that we have learnt nothing from history.

Are progressive arguments “radical social engineering”?

Two popular arguments have arisen in recent years from conservative voices to rebut any changes to laws that would improve the tolerance and morality within our systems. There two arguments are 1) to protect “free speech” and 2) to stop “radical social engineering”.

The first has been addressed many times in the past. The conservative voice doesn’t want to preserve free speech, or else this would be a non-issue. No, what they hate is that others reply (using their own freedom of speech) to tell the former that their views are pretty abhorrent by today’s standards.

That is to say that the person who screams loudest about the fear of the lose to their freedom of speech prefers a simpler time, when you could make a sexist joke and name-call the bloke who didn’t laugh “gay” and no one would think twice about it.

Of course, we’ve moved on from that.

Social engineering, on the other hand, is an interesting one. I’m inclined to say that it’s actually nonsensical.

What the argument implies is that there are agents attempting to change the fundamental views, ethics and behaviours away from some desired position for their own nefarious objectives.

There are two parts to this argument of interest, therefore; 1) that there is an ideal society, expressed through the views, ethics and behaviours of the society, which is already, or has previously been obtained; and 2) that there are agents dedicated to the destruction of this ideal.

Has the height of human morality been obtained?

In short, the answer is no.

Much of western culture comes from Greek and Roman roots, where it was commonly believed – even two thousand years ago – that the golden age of humanity was behind us. The Abrahamic faiths continue the same line of thought through the descent from the Garden of Eden.

It’s not too difficult to find someone who believes that we are living in a tired, if not entirely terrible time, regardless of the overwhelming data on premature mortality and various crime rates to the contrary.

That’s the danger in following the newsfeeds of media outlets dependent upon ratings.

Of course there are those who would point back not to some mythical origin, but to their childhood in the mid twentieth century. But we should excuse nostalgia and a child’s ignorance of the widespread racism, homophobia and domestic violence present at the time.

In fact, we can argue quite easily that attempts to anchor social progress to a desired previous standard are true forms of radical social engineering.

An extreme example of this is the Amish who largely (although not entirely) gave up on social progress with the industrial revolution. They may not suffer too much – primarily because they
can access the assistance of modern technology and medicine when required – but likewise, their societies are not morally superior either. Many might even consider their societies to be rather oppressive with rules based around every aspect of their lives.

In much the same way, the conservative voice drawn to any traditionalism, aims to shut down self-reflection on a societal level. Our beliefs, our ethical conduct and our behaviours are to remain unchallenged – even if it allows us to unfairly discriminate others based on intrinsic traits beyond their control.

The biggest influence on the changes to beliefs, ethics and behaviour over the past 10-15 years must be due to one class of technology – the smartphone. It has changed how we socialise, how we acquire – and even develop – news media, how we entertain ourselves and even how we document our lives and create an online identity, if you will.

Technology, therefore changes. News changes and leads us to ask questions about ourselves. Population changes through subsequent generations and immigration. Even viral global content influences the local society.

It can only be expected that societies too must change. They must be flexible within the flood of information or else they will break.

There is nothing radical about meeting such changes, only in denying them or refusing to address them.

Hence, those who champion new ideas are not dedicated to destroying some non-existent ideal, as the conservative voice would have you believe, but rather are willing to address a changing world.

In Australia, the question is currently about same-sex marriage. Our government doesn’t know whether or not the majority of Australians still accept what is, at a fundamental level, gender discrimination. That is to say that two adults in love should, or should not, have the right to marry based on nothing more than their corresponding genders.

Perhaps the most insidious part of this current discussion is that it sets up two unequal classes of people; the majority (i.e. heterosexual) have the voting power to decide whether or not a minority (i.e. the LGBTI community) deserve the same rights under common law with the majority. Should we lift up the LGBTI community to our level or not?

I’m ashamed of being asked to make such a decision on the lives of other people I’ll never know and have no right in questioning the validity of their love and commitment to one another. It’s none of my business, so why should I have such power, as a vote, in this question?

Ultimately, the complaint regarding social engineering is nonsensical, as I stated above.

Society is an ever growing and changing thing. We all collectively answer the questions raise by this natural process.

When one, or a group, provide an answer that we don’t like, it’s far easier to denounce it and frame it as something evil, rather than to tackle it head on with reason. In my view, when someone complains about the loss of free speech (most often in professional news media no less) or creates caricatures such as “radical social engineers”, they are doing nothing but admitting defeat.

They don’t have a rebuttal to the arguments presented, so they instead attack the individual or group presenting the argument. Name calling is a sign of intellectual weakness.

If they could find a flaw in the arguments provided to answer a changing society, they should provide them. It is essential that everyone does, because it helps us to make the best informed decisions.

It’s simply not enough to reject an argument because you don’t like it.

Alternative Facts: a new name for an ancient problem

“Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience,”

A warning from George Carlin. I have quoted this in the past, but in reality, I don’t like to apply it.

I tend to take others on face value and respect their arguments as a sound attempt to better understand the world.

The problem is that the main source of debate that I face comes from those who simply do not like a given conclusion, be it relating to climate change, vaccination or fluoridation of drinking water.

For a long time I refused to give up on the argument or in respecting the other as I believed that we could together reach a better level of understanding.

But experience has taught me otherwise.

These debates have forced me to learn about the philosophy of critical reasoning, not just empirical evidence. Today, I listen to the evidence provided as well as how the argument is being arranged.

I’ve come to realise just how defeating and exhausting it is to engage with those who simply reject evidence in favour of a preferred conclusion.

Recently, I decided to engage with the commentator. I stated that I’ve stopped debating such people because I’ve found most to be disingenuous in their debate, disrespectful and ultimately committed to their conclusion regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

After hours spent in research and a few thousand words in critical review of the arguments presented, I concluded with basically the same statement I started with.

“Alternative facts” have recently caused a small uproar among certain people. Yet, the more I’ve come to understand critical reasoning and debate, the more obvious it is to me that this view has been deeply ingrained into our societies for as long as we have had societies.

The rise of empirical methodology with the enlightenment has done little to impact our love for the fanciful – how we would like reality to be.

And contrary to common belief, we honestly don’t need to respect the groundless views of others – especially if those views can cause harm.

They could be oppressive ideologies or irrational fears leading to otherwise avoidable measles outbreaks. They could be charlatans selling magic water or “medicinal” turmeric. It could be the slow juggernaut of climate change. Each of these negatively impacts on the lives people.

I have previously been roped into a debate with an easy rebuttal to this conclusion; if I’m not willing to entertain a debate, I’m the real denier.

The commentator who initiates the debate is, in essence making the statement that they reject the scientific evidence – either through cherry picked evidence or blatant ignorance. The commentator demands I take their feelings seriously and engage with it or else commentator automatically assumes the high grounds for victory.

No, that’s not the case.

The reason for this is because we’re not engaged in an academic analysis of the evidence. There is a body of evidence that exists in the academic literature and not in a debate on NewAnthro. Debate here changes nothing – especially the minds of those who don’t like what science concludes.

Am I suggesting that we simply ignore them?

No. I don’t know what the actual answer is, but I know that leaving them to their own devices is just as bad and it leads to large followings on their pseudoscience websites.

I’m inclined to think that a lot of the older ones are lost to the absurdities. We can only truly tackle “alternative facts” through education – not what to think, but how to think. If we want to empower our democratic societies, each individual needs to have trained a finely tuned internal BS detector.

The alternative is that we will continue to be led by nefarious causes.

Hence I’m no longer going to be led into pointless exchanges on NewAnthro with anti-science advocates. I enjoy my life too much to waste it on the brick wall that they claim is their brain. If they want a debate they can do the academic hard-yards and contribute to the scientific literature.

Arguing here is pointless and I’m tired of my commitment to a fair and respectful exchange being used as a weakness by the dishonest and deluded.

The ‘Anthropocene’ was a nice concept, but in truth, it misses the mark

When I was an infant, I was ignorant of everything.

As a child, I was self interested, seeking what entertained me over all else.

As a teenager, I was arrogant and cocky about my knowledge.

As a young adult, I was sure I knew more than enough to succeed and leapt from the nest without a second thought.

I crashed. Time and time, I failed.

Eventually, I began to appreciate how much I didn’t know.

I understood, through my own trails, the real depth of empathy.

I learnt to anticipate the effects of my actions on others and strived to make them positive.

Patience. Patience has been the hardest thing to learn.

And today, I’m not angry, I strive to avoid too much self interest, I seek out what is necessary for a good life rather than listen to the wants of passing desires and I accept what I must work for over what I would like simply handed to me.

I began New Anthropocine with an idea. In short, there’s no question that our species is a force of nature. Daily, we modify the hydrological and chemical cycles, we reshape genetic diversity and natural landscapes and we even modify our climate. It’s the Anthropocine – an era where one species dominates everything.

By ‘New’ I’d like to think that we have reached a level of understanding that we are able to take responsibility for that dominance.

But we’re not at a point where we will willingly work for goals bigger than ourselves. We couldn’t care less for the necessities of a good life while the trinkets of want glitter from shop windows. We still expect an easy life – so much so that we utterly ignore the resulting social and environmental costs result from our actions.

We are impatient, selfish, cruel and heading for crash after crash.

The evidence for this has long been obvious in environmental degradation, debilitating social inequality and the resulting social impacts.

Yet, the political rhetoric surrounding the carbon price (here in Australia), refugees and ethnic groups have all grown more dreadful as they become further from the truth, to the point that facts have become irrelevant. Blind anger is a massive voting block.

From the vote against the carbon price, to Brexit and now, the next President of the free world, I’ve been left speechless. I feel like a mute prisoner stuck in the mind of my young adult self.

Collectively, we are moving down a path that is dangerous, isolating and irreversibly damaging to our resources, our prosperity and ourselves. Bad ideas dominate because they reward their messengers while the rest of us have failed to provide an effective rebuttal.

Hence, I can’t call this the New Anthropocine. I’m even tempted to say that it’s not even the Anthropocine at all.

Maybe, because we are simply the agents of potent ideas, it should be called the Memeocene.

100 Million Years Hence: a thought experiment

The inner cynic whispers to me a scenario:

The story is 100 million years from now.

A future species arrives at a level of intelligence great enough to develop self-flattering mythologies, empirical research methodologies, technology, distinct cultural identities and ideologies.

They dig.

In one geological layer, they find something striking.

It’s littered with the fossilised remnants of artificial origins.


Enough of these fragments point to a bipedal creature previously obtaining an akin level of intelligence, however, it’s impossible to tell whether or not they too were spacefaring.

Ice cores and geological assessment talk of their industries as well as hinted at their capacity to harness the energy in ionising radiation.

“At such a level of sophistication – something much like our own,” these future thinkers ask, “how is it that they disappeared?”

Of course, the answers too, were written in stone.

Climate research points to a radical global shift within a short time span – a few centuries at best – resulting from their burning of carbon fuels.

Species richness prior to the bipedal dominance layer was utterly gone within it. Genetic research likewise points to a bottleneck and later resurgence in species diversity around 90-95 million years ago. The loss of biological resources too would have led the bipeds to global poverty.

Yet the most damning line of evidence is found in the upper limits of the bipedal layer. It showed the strongest evidence of ionising radiation.

It was likely that their last chapter was one of winless war.

Of course, the reality of this story is too horrible to contemplate. For a long time, these future thinkers are cautious in drawing too many parallels. Certainly, the divine literature tell them that the world is theirs to harvest and cannot be over-exploited… but did the bipeds believe the same? Could the sacred texts be wrong?

And then there was the industries of these future thinkers, which likewise emit carbon dioxide. Can this trace compound in such low levels really threaten future prosperity and indeed life itself?

As these future thinkers dig deeper and look ever closer at the bipedal layer of junk and tragedy, the parallels become overwhelming.

The inner cynic asks me whether these future thinkers too would follow the same road to ruin, or is the story of their distant cousins enough of a forewarning?

I can’t answer the cynic. So I pose the question to you.

Vivaldi Lost: The Arts, “Lifestyle Choice” and sustainable, low-carbon economies


"expressionist violin" painting by Steve Johnson.
“expressionist violin”
painting by Steve Johnson.

In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi taught violin to female students of the orphanage school, Ospedale della Pietà, so that they may have an occupation in adulthood.

Today, the arts are deemed, so we are told in Australia, an unprofitable “lifestyle choice”.

Before we turn to judgement, I would urge that we take this statement in the appropriate context.

Given that, raw resource extraction, the exploitation of cheap labour in developing nations, increasing car dependency and the hunger for material consumerism and housing, among others, are so profitable nowadays, why should we support the training of free expression?

It’s true that artists throughout history have struggled. Some of the most highly regarded authors, poets and painters only received their honours posthumously, when a future generation was ready to hear their message.

Others never make it for all their efforts.

From a strict financial risk assessment view point, investment in the arts is unfavourable.

Further, with the danger of sounding patronising I must also add that it’s easy to conclude materialism is our primary motivator. Just think of the mindless rush on stores around December and post-Christmas January.

Why invest in the arts when you can reliably receive greater returns in consumer goods and services?

The local art gallery appeals to a loftier crowd (who can be, or at least appear to be, judgemental to outsiders – I know firsthand).

How many venues for live local music close down each year? Of course, such venues only appeal to “youths”, drugs / alcohol and the unmotivated (so the stereotype goes). New apartments on the other hand will bring in students and young families – the industrious types.

A son returns home to tell his parents he was selected for a Bachelor degree in Creative Writing, while the daughter was previously accepted into a Medical degree. How do the parent respond? What do they envision for the relative futures of their children?

We have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.

I’m not casting blame here, however. We were often taught about the arts as a token gesture within our schools. In truth, it’s a feedback loop.

We are so far removed from Vivaldi.

The Arts can be an excellent low-carbon investment

In a recent post, I mentioned how Tobis once discussed the value of the non-material markets in achieving low carbon outcomes. The arts are exactly that.

Consumerism is little more than the wants of entertainment, either directly or one step removed (i.e. labour saving).

What if our culture again held the arts in high regard?

What if, rather than congealing on the couch before the “idiot box”, there was a thriving night scene in the local area?

What if, rather than buying a new computer console for the children, there were interesting / quirky activities nearby or after-school options that combined the arts with play, tailored to a given age group?

Aristotle once said that one learns music not necessarily to become a musician, but rather to acquire an ear able to appreciate good music. One could say the same of any of the arts. Thus, such a hypothetical culture would necessarily treat the arts as fundamental in all education, thereby opening up the door to this new low-carbon market.

Such a culture may also help with expression for those who otherwise suffer in silence with mental health issues. It could also be the antidote to our growing loneliness.

Lifestyle choices

To repeat; we have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.

We do that through our cultural value preferences.

Do we choose the high-carbon, meritocratic-neo-liberal cocktail that leaves us lonely and uncreative? Or, do we start thinking about other solutions that may be more sustainable, economically, environmentally and mentally?

Antonio Vivaldi himself betted on the favour of a king who, subsequently died soon after. With that preference gone, Vivaldi fell into poverty and died a year later.

I can’t help but find an important life lesson in the life of this musical genius.

Art is not a lifestyle choice, but rather life itself. A life without art isn’t innately human. If it loses preference, we will lose something more valuable than all the smart phones, flat screen TVs – all the mass consumer items combined.

If you doubt me, press play below.