Slavery and Climate Change: the same question we were never good at answering

Carbon slaves

“…[if] the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”
Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, Part 4. (350 BCE)

Aristotle was correct. The day that brute human labour was no longer needed to achieve productive output, slaves would not be wanted.

I don’t believe for a second that there was a sudden uprising in human morality that led to the end of legalised ownership of people. In fact, in the quoted book above, Aristotle himself notes that, more than two thousand years ago, there were some people who thought slavery unjust.

No, our species has never felt entirely comfortable with slavery, but worked hard to justify it while they thought it necessary to reach a given standard of living.

For instance, Aristotle argued in Politics that it freed superior men from brutish toil, allowing them to become upright statesmen.

He wasn’t alone, of course. Many of the ancient thinkers and even The Bible not only condoned slavery, but provided guidance on how to most appropriately, that is, “morally”, master one’s human property.

There’s no surprised that it only went out of fashion with the Age of Enlightenment, the birth of modern science and the accompanying technological revolution. Rather quickly we had machines that methodically completed such tasks without the setbacks of slaves.

Indeed we could finally weave without guiding hands.

The end of legalised slavery was not a win for human morality, but merely a byproduct of changing technology and economic activity. Had advances in thought and technology been a century earlier or later, the results would be much the same, except with different names to the champions in our history books.

How does this relate to climate change?

It’s more than similes and parallels, but entirely the same problem.

For decades, academics have tried to argue the case, from evidence alone, as to why we should be concerned about growing carbon emissions and their impact on our fruitful (and very stable) Holocene climate.

Equally, the moral argument has grown ever louder for the rights of future people as well as the more vulnerable developing nations of today.

Yet, here we are, at 2016, with little more than token mitigation gestures to show for all the education and moral discussion.

The fundamental underlying problem is the same as with slavery: How can we maintain the standard of living we have, and expect to enjoy, without the cheap energy we currently exploit?

With human stock, the answer was only found when machines could fill the gap and business as usual could continue.

The underlying question took thousands of years to answer in the case of slavery. Why should we believe societies today to be any better with, again, answering the same problem, from a different energy source?

We must expect that the answer will be technological, not in education, or through morals or an uprising in, say, a minimalistic culture.

I know that many of us feel uncomfortable in betting on a “techno-fix” but human nature, as illustrated through our recorded history, leaves us with that as the most likely method for success.

To Supercede the Industrial Revolution…

Accepting that research and technological advancement are the only way to meaningfully mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to unavoidable climate change isn’t to handball the problem off to academics and industry so we can sit back and enjoy a cup of tea.

To act quickly requires, no, demands, public will.

Votes and the wallet don’t just speak, they shout.

Who we choose to represent us and what we choose to purchase both influence research and development. This is the democratic power we have in capitalistic countries.

Further, we know that climate change has, and will continue to have, significant impact on our global economy. To Invest in research and technology to replace the current carbon emitting systems is to invest in future prosperity.

We either let future climates make us poor or envision new markets, new niches and new ways of living for future wealth.

Thus the real champions to tackle climate change will come from the same group who led us to the problem – the entrepreneurs. Others might be remembered for great speeches and good policies, but it will be the entrepreneurs who will not only make these ideas reality, but also make them profitable, household names.

Slavery didn’t end because we worked to replace human hands with mechanics, but because of the reverse; new machines were seen to suit these tasks and were cheaper per unit of output.

Because our ancestors justified slavery, it wasn’t addressed until it was rendered unnecessary.

If we take a similar approach with climate change, we will be extremely poor before we face the question and thus be in a position unable to answer it. There’s a strong economic incentive to invest in finding the answer today.

Moreover, the so-called “debate” is rendered mute. We’re no longer pulling the moral or intellectual reins, but instead paving the path many steps ahead. That’s how progress is primarily achieved, as history teaches us.

Wars of ideology have never led us to prosperous futures. They only lead to a loss of life, wealth and intellectual freedom. The dreamer paved the way for the electrical light, radio and the aircraft.

The future is the entrepreneurs’ canvas while the ideologue does nothing but anchor us to the past. Climate change is the problem for the indefinite future.

If the car would drive and the city live without carbonised fossils to power them, the nation wouldn’t want fossil fuels nor the citizen the combustion engine.

Storrar and the redfaced middle: When we have it so easy that we forget how to do it.

It seems that everyone in Australia is talking about Duncan Storrar. A number of articles relating to him appear on my news feed. Without a doubt, his question has hit a sensitive national nerve.

Regardless of ones political or economic views, the fight that has erupted points out to me that we are universally unhappy with the current system.

I’m inclined to tip my hat to people, such as Wilkinson and Pickette, with their research behind the book ‘The Spirit Level’. In short, with moderate inequality, the nation’s economy flows more freely between all contributors than where we have super rich (who, by definition, remove significant amounts of the nation’s GDP into personal accounts) and entrenched poor.

I think of money like the blood of a nation. Clots are bad. Flow is good.

That said, one of the recommended articles in my new feed stood out;

OPINION: Is a family on $120,000 doing that much better than Duncan? Written by Johanna Morley

I had to read it. I can’t say that I was very moved.

Not only did the article rely on a range of fallacies and an inappropriate use of statistical data, but it also point out a lot of what is wrong with modern day Australia.

The sense of entitlement that various groups wax lyrically about is not restricted to a single cohort of the community. It’s wide spread.

To start with the simple errors – MS Morley’s article conflates rich with a household of two incomes of $60k. That’s by no means rich and not even part of the wage brackets likely to see much change in tax brakes.

To go further, while it sounds impressive to rely on ABS data, this data has limited use and is certainly erroneously applied to the article. For instance, two statistics used in one paragraph were the average grocery and transport costs for a couple with children. This is a blanket number for all couples with children (one has to assume because no link is given) regardless of household income. The greater the inequality within the sample, the less applicable this average would be to a single situation.

Ms Morley is likely to misapplied this data.

Certainly, Mr Storrar couldn’t spend the amounts provided in that article and so if these fictional families are, then yes, they are doing better than him.

But here’s my real grievance with the article; the phrase is ‘to live within ones means’ and not ‘to live to ones means’. Here’s my personal case study.

I definitely believe that I live a good life with my wife and two children.

My wife is a full time mother. With her background in early childhood development and our views on embedding our personal values on them prior to schooling age, it was a choice that we reached fairly early.

This of course means that I am the only earner.

She of course gets the FTB, but it amounts to pocket money because of my earnings. That said, our shared gross household income is significantly less than Ms Morley’s example families net income.

Moreover, I have a car loan and pay child support on my teenage son from a previous relationship. All of this is taken out of my payslip prior to addressing our own living expenses.

Even though I wouldn’t complain about my income, we probably have a little less than two thirds of one of her example families.

I would agree with Ms Morley’s example of Melbourne rent, but apart from that, my life is very different from her examples.

We have quality family holidays. We eat well. My children have everything they could ask for. Yet, we don’t live to our limits.

We budget hard and give ourselves a wide margin for the unexpected. We shop around and make the most of the variety of options out there.

We hunt op-shops. We budget annual memberships to places that our children love to visit often, meaning that weekend activities are exciting yet cheap.

And most importantly, we sacrifice what we don’t actually need (to be honest, it isn’t really a sacrifice).

To take mobile phones for example; you can buy a good phone for under $250 and pay for a sim only plan for $25-$30 per month, with unlimited calls and texts as well as sufficient data. This can amount to around half the cost of a phone-plan package that you buy from any retailer.

I also grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables to supplement our groceries (in a small space). We don’t watch (or pay for) TV and couldn’t care less about what is ‘the to-have item’ of the month.

Lastly, we aim to save at least 10% of our pay each week. This is the safety net that goes towards the unexpected and our holidays.

Through a careful eye on our income and critically evaluating our needs and wants, it’s possible to live well on a moderate income.

So to respond to Ms Morley’s question; is a family on $120,000 doing that much better than Duncan?

If they’re not, they’re doing it wrong.

One Reason Homes Cost So Much

I’ve moved a lot, by anyone’s standards, over my life. The reoccurring theme I’ve found in suburban landscapes is that it’s built for the driver. One’s home is an island within vast tracks of MAMBA. We can do it better. We have done it better. We’ll need to make human landscapes better if we’re ever going to make genuine headway on climate adaption and mitigation as well as increase resource security and waste reduction.

I found this video an interesting piece in the puzzle before us.

Converting from Conservation: growth before guard

About a decade ago, I had nearly completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biodiversity and conservation. It was on these subject too, where I excelled, based entirely on my passion for the subjects.

I even completed a third year project with a report titled, Fennel, (Foeniculum vulgare); an unappreciated weed in South Australia. I was inspired by a love of hiking which had left me acutely aware of how much of an impact weeds had on the SA landscape.

I despaired for the loss of our wonderful and fragile arid landscapes rich in colour and life to anyone willing to look beyond the “Scrub”.

Today, I grow fennel in my garden.

PSX_20160126_105033It was a slow yet inevitable fall from the concept of conservation for me.

Sure, where possible, we should protect remnant vegetation and, ideally, establish corridors between these islands – that is and forever remains sensible. But a devotion to a pristine landscape isn’t even remotely possible.

Avoiding goats in protected mallee woodlands and first-hand witnessing of olive seed dispersal by birds throughout SA has continually reinforced the immense scale of effort that would be required.

More recently, when I did research for what became the article, A Viking Legacy and Australian Cuisine, I solidified the growing realisation within me.

Conservation for conservation’s sake favours no species; ours included.

We already fight for access to water, land and other resources. No matter who wins these fights, eventually we all lose a quality resource.

Take for example water allocation on the Murray Darling system. Over time more and more water has been used for agriculture. We can’t fault this because agriculture ultimately feeds us.

However, every drop taken away from the system is one that is no-longer available to the surrounding environment. The only option with less water is to do less. Less evaporation from the waterways + Less evapotranspiration from the surrounding environments =  less rainfall recharge. We have a compounding water reduction system that no management scheme could possibly improve.

The realisation that I finally reached is that the commons itself is actually also a player in ‘the tragedy of the commons’ concept and not simply a bank.

We need to accept that old regimes cannot persist with existing criteria and so, for environments to prosper, new species and new ecosystems will need to be introduced to improve biodiversity, biological services and improved resource quality and quantity.

An edible “weed” that will happily grow in a heavily degraded environment is immensely valuable. We have food in an otherwise barren landscape.

….

Nowadays when I hike, it’s a lot slower. I have two pairs of tiny feet walking with me.

“Look!” my eldest daughter points out suddenly. “It’s fennel! It’s a licorice plant!”

I snap a few pieces off, handing one to her, one to her little sister and I keep one for myself to chew while we walk.

Fennel is, in my opinion, still unappreciated. But not as a weed.

Instead, it is an incredible plant that grows remarkably well in poor soils with very little effort. My own fennel was grown from a fennel seed tea bag that I tore open and sprinkled into a seedling tray (and one a being from a dropped seed that grew straight in the hard clay soil of my yard).

Looking towards the future, with an appreciation for the difficulties and uncertainties around our climate and resource security, species that ask the least of us, but serve a function (be it carbon sequestration, food production or water quality) will gain centre stage. They are our safety net.

Today, I’m a grower, not a conservationist.

The Anthropocene; too obvious to ignore but pointless to linger upon

Making the news over the last couple weeks as been that geologists are now saying that our impact is so great that it could be recognised in the geology in distant times as a distinct change – enough to make a change of times. From the Holocene to the anthropocene.

It’s better last than never, I guess.

At the end of the day, these geological eras are artificial creations that are agreed upon to define certain fragments of Earth’s history; all with shared long-term trends of some sort, beginning and ending with a break from this trend.

When did the Anthropocene actually start? Our species have dramatically altered landscapes, species distributions / genetics (and even extinction) as well as the atmospheric chemistry for longer than recorded history.

What I became interested in when I moved to this blog was not simply the recognition of the human-era, but instead the acknowledgement and ownership of the fact.

We can continue to deny, denounce and vilify the human influence on our biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and atmosphere or we can become worthy of our status as a force of nature. The former is to keep the blindfold on, press down harder on accelerator and ignorantly hope for the best. The latter can lead to a prosperous, entrepreneurial and unimaginable future.

I wanted to start to paint a picture of what the latter could look like. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to fall into the rabbit holes of insular thinking and politics. While a natural progression, as climate change influences both, it still wasn’t helpful.

We are a force of nature and one that has thus far remained blind and detrimental. I want us to own up to it and find the possibilities exhilarating, as I already do.

Now that the case is strong enough for the Anthropocene to be “official”, let’s rush from that to a new one; one that we create with the focus on a thriving, prosperous planet.

Fuel in the skies: has sequestration finally found its market?

I just came across an article stating that Audi have just done something pretty awesome.

Using water, renewable energy and atmospheric CO2, they have generated a synthetic diesel.

Read the article here.

Personally, I see it as a much bigger deal than simply a cleaner, more efficient fuel, which of course it is.

It’s actually sequestration. Moreover, it’s sequestration with potentially strong market influences. It’s also sequestration that brings a cyclic relationship to our carbon-based fuel.

Given strong global leadership on it, there is even a potential for us to modify the atmospheric CO2 concentrations to counter long term climate trends that could impact us negatively. Through controlling what we burn or store, we would be able to influence our climate for our benefit.

I recognise that I might be getting carried away with this news. However, depending on how this story unfolds, it could be a genuine game changer.

Sunday Reads #8: All things climate, environmental and politics

Firstly, I need to plug my survey again. I had a great response on Friday, but yesterday saw little movement. If the question and the answer matters to you, please try to get at least three friends or family members to spare 60 seconds to fill it in and a couple additional minutes to get three more to follow on.

Survey: Does the Aust Gov have a mandate on Chaplains in Public Schools?

Coalition’s Green Army passes the Senate

Having worked as a retail “trainee” when I was 19-20 in what was clearly a way to get around minimum wage restrictions, I am concerned by this, but not surprised at the bi-partisan support, sadly.

Carpark run-off cheaper to drink than desal water

Thinking for the 21st century!

Changing what we eat [relating to sustainability climate change]

Great to bookmark and refer to the future.

This Is What Your Grocery Store Looks Like Without Bees (PHOTOS)

Expect this message to become a bigger issue over the coming decades.

Fiji accuses global community of abandoning the Pacific on climate change, singles out ‘selfish’ Australia

Unfortunately, our leaders are not listening.

The jobs of yesterday: Abbott’s roads rear-vision

Sorry, second plug. This is my latest article on the Climate Spectator.

Power bills to drop 8pc in Tasmania if Senate approves carbon tax abolition

When the Gillard government introduced the carbon price, Abbott said people would pay thousands more a year in energy costs. He then said he would save people on average $550 a year in energy costs. Tasmanians’ are set to save $164 a year from the latest estimates.

For me, this is a clear indicator that reality is likely to be about 20% the estimate offered by our current PM.

Coal’s share of world energy demand at highest since 1970

And this is a genuine tragedy for the coal rich country down under, regardless what the short-term economics might say.

 

Economic Wealth is Tied to Ecology

Today I stumbled upon The Future Economy Group. Very interesting stuff, especially the following infograph. The biggest problem as I see it from my experience is that those you need to convince (typically conservative politicians) think that token gestures are enough (I’m thinking Direct Action and the Green Army, for example).

Farmers are often conservative, but they know better than most that symbiosis means wealth. “You reap what you sow” isn’t just a dated cliché, it is the unbreakable mantra of our relationship with environments. It is only through investing in environments that we can continue to obtain profitable returns.

This isn’t “Tree hugging” nonsense, but good business strategy.

The jobs of yesterday: Abbott’s roads rear-vision

The following is the start of an article that Climate | Business Spectator published yesterday.

The weeks are few and far between when there isn’t news of job cuts, be it primarily manufacturing, services or research. A few hundred here, a couple thousand there, a revamp (with a subtle job loss undertone) for the rest.

And our brave Prime Minister stresses with his Canadian counterpart that job and economic growth are his primary focus. He wants to be the “Infrastructure PM” after all, and if we would all just chip in for his fuel tax, he would open the doors to a plethora of roles in road construction.

There is just one problem with this logic. Just because they’re fruit, it doesn’t mean an apple and an orange are the same. Just because he talks of jobs, it doesn’t mean an out-of-work postie, ex-Holden worker or researcher will be suitable fodder for his new roads projects.

Keep reading here.

Sunday Reads #7: All things climate, environmental and politics

Why electricity prices continue to shock people

Something a lot of us have been saying for some time; the maths simply doesn’t add up. The costs of energy in Australia are not largely the result of the carbon price. We will not be better off with the carbon price gone. We certainly won’t be better off with additional fuel taxes and GP co-payments.

Hunting for Hunt’s Direct Action costings

This government clearly failed when they told us they would be one of “no surprises”. If they had told us they would be one of “no modelling” they would have been spot on.

The Liberals’ radical turn on climate change

An interesting back story the shifting Liberal ideology.

IR debate hijacked by the right

Everything you thought you knew about the supposed “wage explosion” is nothing more than spin designed to undermine workers rights.

Unleash metrics on the climate change sceptics! Met Office chief wants scientists to turn to poetry to promote research

Julia should spend more time exploring blogs and YouTube. There are plenty that have long known this.

Tony Abbott missing signs of world’s switch to carbon trading, experts say

No-one is convinced by the claim that countries are moving away from a market based approach.

Dear Millennials, We’re Sorry

I’ve wanted to write a response article to this, if time permitted. In short, great read, but I disagree with attacking the aged so heavily. Yes, a large proportion goes to them, but we have an aging population. More importantly, have we forgotten the point of “we are the 99%”?

There are massive problems with the distribution of money. More equal societies and a combination of super and taxation ought to support individuals throughout their lives. What kills that is when you live in a society that sees no fundamental problems with some having billions in personal net wealth among their communities.

People-Oriented Cities: Three Keys to Quality Public Transport

Another one to bookmark. The “Aussie dream” for the 20th just doesn’t work in the 21 centuryst. How we manage the expected population growth in Australia over the next century will make or brake our cities.