Tag Archives: Climate change

Man in charge? Turn-bull? Turn-coat?

Right now there’s an international conference going on in Paris attempting to get some agreement on what should be done to prevent dangerous climate change. Prior to the commencement of the conference Pope Francis made a speech to the UN urging world leaders to act decisively. During the speech he blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”

Australia’s new-ish Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, gave a speech in Paris that promised some Innovation:

We firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment.

Then, Turnbull refused to sign an agreement which would reduce subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.

So I guess he’s not all that interested in the clean environment. Looks like he’s more interested in the power and material prosperity the Pope mentioned. Was he listening to his Pope at all?

Just who is this Mal Turnbull? Is he a smooth man of expediency or is he driving a hidden agenda? What is his relationship to nature?

Turnbull says times have changed and there never has been a more exciting time to be an Australian. We’re going to be agile and nimble and we’re going to accept more risk. However most commentators and scientists, even Chris Berg, are hopeful but underwhelmed. This isn’t a lot of money spread over four years and there really isn’t anything very new in the package. It might help some people make some (more) money. And it might not. That’s risky, isn’t it?

Turnbull historically made his money out of Ozemail – risk or good luck? Is his reliance on cheap copper NBN visionary and/or risky? Is this government gambling? And there seems to be no mention of renewable energy in this fountain of Innovation funding. Surely the risk to Australia, to the world, is in continuing to support fossil fuels? How does Turnbull intend to manage that?

I was cutting my hair in the bathroom when I idly looked down at the newspaper spread in front of me. It was The Weekend Australian November 28-9 2015 open at page 20. A hank of hair landed on an edited extract from The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull entitled, ‘Behind Liberal leader’s apparent social conservatism, an embrace of Catholicism‘. The article reports that in 2003, Turnbull gave a speech to the National Population Summit under the catchy title, It’s the Birth Rate, Stupid.

In that speech Turnbull said,

‘The gravest threat to Western society over this century is therefore neither global warming nor international terrorism. Rather, it is the unprecedented, sustained decline in the birthrate in almost all developed countries … ‘

I checked. It really is in the ‘Stupid’ speech.

In 2003 Turnbull was very worried about the survival of Western civilization:

‘Great Western cultures including ‘Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan and Russia (to name but five) could become functionally extinct within this century.’

Turnbull continues:

‘It would be a remarkable irony indeed if at the peak of our prosperity and technological achievement the human race (or at least the most developed parts of it) lost the will to reproduce itself.’

Couple of questions, Malcolm: if the human race was at the peak of our technological achievement in 2003, what’s the point of the Australian government funding Innovation twelve years later?

Secondly, the human race has lost the will to reproduce? Watch the Earth’s population in actionWikipedia puts current population at 7.3 billion. The UN reckons it will be 11.2 billion by 2100. If you don’t like those numbers you could go with The Guardian’s guess that the world’s population would be around 11 billion by then. Here’s a breakdown of current population by country.

Clearly, it’s not ALL the human race Turnbull was worried about. He carefully avoided definitions of undeveloped breeding people leaving that to others. Instead, he concentrates on the reasons that women in developed countries (Western civilization) are choosing not to have babies. They’re educated, they have careers and they are not supported to have more children by the government. So he recommends ‘we’ alter all that with some pro-family policies.

In direct contrast, others try to educate all women everywhere, like Malala who no longer needs a last name, and, why, even the World Bank supports improved learning for girls.

Obviously, this Australian article (collecting my cut-off hair) was a piece to get people interested in reading the biography. Of course, Turnbull must have changed since then, although he hadn’t altered anything for his maiden speech (presumably 2005):

Can it be true that at the peak of our technology and prosperity the western world is losing the confidence to reproduce itself? Are we witnessing the beginning of the dying of the West? Certainly we are at a tipping point in our civilisation’s story. Unless fertility rates dramatically improve then, in a cycle of loss and dislocation matched only by the Black Death in the 14th century, societies with birth rates substantially below replacement level will either dwindle into an insignificant fraction of their current numbers or be swamped by larger and larger waves of immigration.

Paddy Manning, the author of the Turnbull biography mentioned above, is now producing a series of opinion pieces in The Drum about Turnbull’s politics, to help us get to know our new Prime Minister. The first attempts to understand where Turnbull is coming from – best summed-up as warm, green and dry. (A summer lawn?)

I am not heartened by his ‘Stupid’ speech. There are strange echoes today from Tony Abbott and Donald Trump and too much division in the world to feel confident that Turnbull is a true liberal. Mal is a man who protects spies and who spies on his citizens while using encryption himself. And guess who said this in 2010:

We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got….

Malcolm Turnbull’s objective is a mystery. Hopefully one of those startups his innovation stimulus manages to innovate will innovate a way to stop using fossil fuels. Otherwise, I can’t see how Turnbull has changed anything from the sad embarrassing days of Tony Abbott. Turnbull may be more urbane, civilised and better spoken but he’s still a clever, educated, rich mystery perceived as left by those in the right – and right by those in the left. So he’s smack bang in the middle? Malcolm in the middle. Does that make him a target?

 

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Cli-Fi at the Wheelers Centre last night – that’s right Climate Change Fiction. Cli-Fi.

Covers of Wrong Turn, Clade & Anchor PointTony Birch, writer and academic, introduced three novelists in a discussion entitled:

New Dystopias: Climate Change & Fiction

A full house of well-behaved Melbournians tucked into the Wheeler’s Centre welcomed Jane Rawson, author of A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists, Alice Robinson, author of Anchor Point and James Bradley, author of Clade.

Mr Birch remarked that all three novels were about the interactions between people, whatever the circumstances in their lives and added all the books displayed great storytelling featuring strong and engaging characters. The audience was amused by Mr Birch’s comments regarding surprises in Clade such as Bruce Springsteen’s apparent prescience with titles such as Thunder Road and Darkness on the edge of town and; the Australian Rules football team ‘Carltonwood’ resulting from a blend of two currently strong clubs. Thus warmed up, Birch commented asked the writers if it matters, what writers write about? Does their work make an impact? Did they expect or want their work to affect readers?

Jane began A wrong turn by just wanting to write a story but by the edit stage she really did want to make readers think about climate. She’s learned that as a result of her book, people do experience concerns when the days are getting hotter.

Alice began from the issue and had to construct story and characters to fit the cause. Essentially her book became a family story as climate is a family issue.

James stated the bar was too high for writers to imagine they could change the world. Perhaps the opening chapters of Silent Spring or Neuromancer might have succeeded but there are not many books that actually altered the way people thought. Climate change happens on such a scale that people might be able to engage intellectually but not meaningfully. He feels that writers are more like weather vanes, picking up on what is around them rather than making real change.

Tony thought these writers might be underestimating their knock-on effect and they should be pleased as they don’t know what effect their books might have. He went on to ask about time. The books are about people, memory functions and time. He pointed out each writer is interested in how we remember.

Alice spoke about her driving concerns. To think about the future means we must think about how we got here. To look back into the past means the story of settlement and the history of the land before Europeans. What are we going to do now? How do we live now?

Anchor-pt-title-page

James felt remarkable connections with Anchor Point. There were similar motifs – particularly around time – in Clade. Jane has a time traveller called Ray in A wrong turn, who happens to be Aboriginal. Tony congratulated her on this creation and also commented on her theme of homelessness and compared an essay he had written about the subject.

James drew heavily on science for Clade. As he began to write scientists were warning about the dangers of methane burps in the frozen tundra. As he edited, the craters came to public attention. As he wrote, he invented an idea about the planet’s shifting axis which, of course, has now become observable. All the writers agreed that it was indeed unsettling to see their writing bed down in actual events. But that is the nature of climate change. Scientists predict and then we see their predictions come true.

It was when Tony Birch commented about our relationship to nature I began to really feel part of this community! He asked the writers how they conceived of nature? James remarks the power of nature can’t be denied. In his book, in the north of England around Norfolk, the Fens were created to keep the ocean at bay. Now ‘the sea is returning’. The sea will not be denied. Laura, in Alice’s book, wants the land to return to what it was. Alice believes we must succumb to nature.

James says he didn’t want the land to mirror people’s traumas. He wanted to create a book saying on some level that the planet doesn’t care. He wanted to get away from the common anthropocentric view of the world. He commented that the line between the virtual and the real is becoming less clear. The same technology that can pry into nests and follow birds on migration, showing the world’s amazing natural life, can do nothing to stem the force causing the extinction of those very creatures.

Clade-title-page

Alice remarks the books all have positive points; James’s landscape is beautiful and Jane’s book is funny. Jane said that we are born into the world we’re born into. People in the future will have to deal with what lies in front of them. Alice said that people’s lives are so busy with their everyday children and dishes that trying to deal with the big issues while real life is so involving. Tony highlighted a quote from Clade that ‘normality keeps fighting its way in’. James felt that was more about grief than the everyday life lived facing climate change but he believes that people are smart, that we will not turn this planet into Venus. Of course he recognises there are massively entrenched interests protecting their power and money. He believes we are having the wrong conversations. It’s not about whether politicians believe in climate change but whether we can recognise who is being used as a shill for powerful corporations.

Jane commented that learning about the terrors of climate change can incapacitate a person but not acting … is just STUPID.

Wrong-turn-title-page

Alice really cares about climate change – it took her seven years to write the book plus have two babies. On the one hand things she felt things going terribly wrong with the planet and on the other she made an enormous investment in the future by having children. That’s galvanizing for her – she had to do something.

James also wrote his book because he’s got small children and he noted that most people are now alienated from the decision-making process. Australia is no longer run for the benefit of the many, particularly obvious after the debacle of the mining tax.

Tony wrapped up the discussion by bringing it back to the writers’ power to energise activists. He thinks they can nudge the reader and produce ideas that Tony, for one, can recycle out into the world.

The first question from the audience was about books around a dystopian future implying a moral judgement on those that came before. Jane said after the discovery that the majority of emissions causing climate change came in her own lifetime she can only blame herself. Alice agreed the blame can only be placed in the present. She thinks of what the children will have to carry into the future. James thinks the world is always ending for writers. Apocalyptic fiction is a way to wrestle with big ideas such as nuclear war in the eighties and terrorism ten years ago. Dystopian fiction tries to make great concerns and worries manageable. He added that worrying about morality makes him itchy.

The next question was about artists’ obligation to take climate change seriously. Jane agreed that for her climate change was the most compelling issue for nature and other species. She can understand that others have different priorities but says that writers shouldn’t cut themselves out of the world of politics. Alice is deeply ambivalent. She wishes she didn’t have to care about climate change but once engaged she feels a responsiblity to try to show that each individual and their children will be affected. James thinks that writing is a political act but is wary of saying to any writer, you should write about this or that. He doesn’t think artists have a political obligation.

The final question was about books like 1984 and Brave New World, what effect can they have? James says that fiction is a way of thinking about things in an incredibly powerful way. Alice says she knows books can change lives; for her Little Women and Anne of Green Gables showed her that it was possible to make a living out of writing. Jane thinks that those books that make us alert to those kinds of futures, showing us the signposts, act as a warning; ‘Oh, no, don’t do that, that leads to dystopia and rats on your face.’ But then, possibly, we don’t recognise other, newer threats …

Tony wrapped up proceedings by admiring the humility of these three writers. As far as Mr Birch is concerned they will all influence his thinking about climate change.

Clade-lined

 

You’ll be interested to see James Bradley signed his book twice. The first time, emulated by Jane Rawson, he calls the American way. Lined and signed. When asked why he crossed out his name, he did not know. So that’s why he signed again in the clear space of the title page.

It was the first time I’ve really been inspired by a group of writers. They were on my wavelength! I wish them great success and hope they do manage to nudge a few readers as Mr Birch suggested.

They could even take the time to read my book, Man of Clay, and see the themes of time, change and heat repeated therein!

Simran Sethi – For the love of coffee!!

Simran Sethi

Simran Sethi (image from the Asia Society blog page)

Simran Sethi, Environmental Messenger, is part of the barrage of the Wheeler Centre‘s 2015 questions to Melbourne. She gives a talk entitled ‘Endangered Pleasures; the slow loss of food we love’ on March the first. Simran is a petite woman with shining black hair that swings around her like a mobile halo. Her generous smile is a brilliant white. She gestures with her hands, moulding meaning into the air in front of her, giving, exuding, impressing influence into her audience.

cup of coffee

image taken from Bings Boba Tea site

The focus of her speech, as best suits cafe-cultured Melbourne, is coffee. A few years ago, on a research trip to Rome, she was side tracked by a novel concept (to her). She’d been writing a book about seeds when she discovered scientists were actually concerned with teetering bioagrodiversity. Remember the beginning of that very scientific film Interstellar? Where that geeky science boffin, Michael Caine, points out the blighted corn? Not so fictional after all.

It seems many of our staple food crops are at risk of extinction. Wheat. Cows. Chocolate. And coffee. (Simran didn’t mention bees.) Of course we know the threats. Loss of habitat, pollution, climate change, disease …

Only 30% of all species are used by humans. Basically we don’t care what happens to stuff we can’t eat, drink or wear. If it doesn’t act like a pest, we ignore it. If it’s a crop we choose the best of the best, breed it up and maybe add some spicy cells to a test tube to improve it further. Then we only farm that one species. All across the world. The same species of banana. And when that one species falls prey to one disease? All gone.

farmer in banana farm

(image from http://agrobiodiversityplatform.org/)

Where the scientists see genetic erosion Simran sees cultural erosion. She became animated as she described her fantastic global research project to understand the web of coffee making. To seek the hands that make the coffee.

farmer's hands with coffee berries

(image taken from http://blog.yellow-seed.org/65/)

From the calloused farmer to the tattooed barista, it is the sweat and toil of humans that intrigues Simran. Her coffee guru comes from Seven Seeds, a Melbourne coffee roasting cafe, educator and specialist. His coaching leads her to understand the taste of coffee for the first time. Now more than just wet brown stuff, along with flavours of lemon and hints of peach, she can discern the soil and the weather of Ethopia, or Columbia perhaps. The flavour of her coffee is mixed with farmers’ sweat and the swirl of dryers’ rakes. There’s packers, drivers, container loaders, ship crew, unloaders, more drivers, roasters, grinders, and the hiss of steam at the end. All endangered.

Simran pointed out that scientists use a combination of strategies to save plant species from extinction. There’s ex-situ conservation such as seed banks (struggling for funding in the main). There’s in-situ conservation such as leaving the plant to grow in the wild or at a farm. And there’s in-vivo conservation where humans eat it, drink it and keep it alive because humans like it. Love it.

l love coffee picked out in coffee beans

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/coffee/images/34484500/title/coffee-photo

If we all learn more about our foodstuff, Simran says, we will give thanks. She believes we can save our favourite plants by our very dependence. If we consider our coffee, we will save our coffee. Her reply to the question about an individual’s ability to affect the food chain was that we should all be kind, learn the provinance of our produce and revalue what is important. If only that was all it took, Simran.

The final question about population caused her to bridle a little. As an Indian she did not think that millions of brown people in subsistence living standards damaged the planet as much as the millions of fat people living in America, consuming fossil fuels as though they are going out of style. (Which they are.) According to Simran, consumption, not population, is the real problem.

frantic shoppers

Black Friday Sales Frenzy (image from Business Insider Australia site)

Simran is an extremely highly regarded academic, journalist and eco-activist. She is working hard to activate the audience’s ‘green brain’, the part of our brains that imagines the future, that might act to save our planet if it cares about something. I’m sure her book about Bread, Wine and Chocolate (due Nov 2015) will be very well received and completely ineffective. People in the Fair Trade and Slow Food movements have been saying these things, DOING these things, for decades. In my own files I have a report dated 1986 by the World Wildlife Foundation called The Wild Supermarket: the importance of biological diversity to food security.

I can’t believe that anything Simran can add, (even if she is The Environmental Messenger and an expert on engagement) will cause millions of people to stop buying cheap food from Woolies and rush to their nearest farmer’s market. I fear those under the verdant green plastic globule that is RMIT’s entrance to Storey Hall Lecture Theatre on Sunday are already converted.

If only Simran wasn’t busy flying all over the world taking photos of hands with her great big carbon footprint. Just because it’s self-confessed doesn’t make it right. Many activists now use Skype to deliver just such communications. (People such as Professor Mary Wood, the lawyer fighting for Nature’s rights.)

Simran’s pat reply to the inevitable population question stems from her heritage and from her heart, I fear, rather than her head. Any parent, anywhere on this beleaguered planet, will raise up their children as high as they can. It is in our genes. If they are in a tent in Somalia, a slum in Mumbai or the Dakota building overlooking Central Park, that parent will try to ensure their child can afford a fridge and a car and a mortgage. And a nice secure share portfolio with an eye to growth. Consumption is of course part of the problem. Human’s need to improve their lot drives it. Human greed drives the use of fossil fuels, habitat loss, climate change …

And, as no there is no effective action to slow any of it, then the species of greatest risk of disappearing is not coffee, or bananas or wheat.

It’s humans.

And you’d think people would care enough about them, wouldn’t you.

Click here to go to WWF’s footprint calculator so you can see how many planets your lifestyle is using up!

Link

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report – It’s happening

I’m sorry but isn’t the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

which begins by saying

“Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems”

important? Urgent? Shouldn’t Australia do something about it now?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott quotes from My Country:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

Dorothea Mackellar started writing My Country in 1904. Climate change not an issue then, Prime Minister.

Now?

What’s the worst that could happen? Remember that physics teacher? The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See? He’s still going strong.

Lord Deben is the chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory adviser. He is a former environment secretary and Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal. He writes in the The Guardian reports that the government should committ to halving its emmissions at 1990 levels before 2027.

Australia is aiming for between 5 and 20 percent.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry says costs of inaction on climate change will be “catastrophic”.

George Monbiot finds an allegory in Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People where Dr Stockman must lash out angrily at those who do not believe him, like Cassandra.

And in Australia there’s a gentle, chatty piece in The Age, enquiring about the level of risk we’re happy to live with.

I wish I could roar like a lion.

When does Australia stop digging up coal and start building a new, clean renewable energy industry? Beyond Zero Emissions has a plan ready to go right now. What are we waiting for?

You’ve been wondering what the Blue Man Group think of Global Warming, haven’t you?

I’m roaring like a lady. As much as I can.

Link

Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the people of 2088


what we know

In today’s Guardian, an article entitled Climate Change is putting world at risk reports a new study, What we know.

The world is at growing risk of “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes” because of a warming climate, America’s premier scientific society warned on Tuesday.

In a rare intervention into a policy debate, the American Association for the Advancement of Science urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations.

These scientists are trying to get past the deniers by not engaging with them, rather, they wish to get on with the job; encourage Americans to get moving to protect life as we know it.

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present key messages for every American about climate change.

1.  Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.

2.  We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.

3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.

(from the report, What we know.)

Do you think the fossil fuel industry will give up soon?

What did Kurt Vonnegut know about the environment? A lot.

Kurt Vonnegut

A wonderful website, Letters of Note has a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the Ladies and Gentlemen of AD2088. Ironically it was for a Volkswagon ad campaign. Ironically because Mr Vonnegut isn’t advocating more cars. It’s well worth a read in full here.

First, he discusses how terrible nature is and then points out that nature just wants to cut a deal with humans. Here’s the deal:

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

If we won’t hear it from 2,000 highly trained scientists, if we won’t hear it from millions of activists around the world, then maybe we might hear it from one of the most smart communicators ever. And so it goes.

 

What we know video - We Brake 4 Climate

Watch the AAAS video here!

 

 

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