Greenhouse response? Just ask the miners, bankers and power firms.

28 05 2007

This week will see the release of findings from Australia’s carbon emissions taskforce.

An appropriate time then to remind ourselves what the Sydney Morning Herald had to say about the PM’s self-appointed taskforce at its inception:

“THE Prime Minister, John Howard, has chosen miners, bankers and power industry representatives to advise him on a possible carbon emissions trading system……..”

“Mr Howard said the group’s “sole remit will be to tell us what the shape of a global emissions trading system might take“.

He said it would be “looked at against the background of preserving the natural advantages Australia has in areas like fossil fuels and uranium“.

The members include: Xstrata’s Peter Coates; the managing director of International Power, Tony Concannon; the director of Australian Pipeline Trust, Russell Higgins; the executive director of BHP Billiton, Chris Lynch; the chief of Alumina Limited, John Marlay; and National Australia Bank’s John Stewart.”

Despite the appalling lack of environmental, scientific and ecological expertise and representation on his taskforce the PM is making noises suggesting Australia will re-invent the wheel and implement its own domestic carbon trading scheme.  Yet another election year backflip – great stuff.

The real question will be targets of course.  Anything less than 60-90% reduction by 2050 is selling us short.


Its the ecology, stupid! – part 2

27 05 2007


Let’s have a look at some extracts from a recent interview on the ABC’s Lateline program. It features the Australian federal minister for employment and workplace relations. The emphasis (in bold) is mine and is added for effect.

…..We know the polls aren’t good, but we are focused on making decisions that are right for the economy….

…..The public wants to see us make the right decisions that are in the best interests of the nation, help to build economic prosperity. We make those decisions. You talk about Kevin Rudd’s industrial relations policy. It has been universally slammed because it will have a negative impact on the economy…..

..Now, the people who have had a good look at Kevin Rudd’s policy are identifying the vast number of issues that are going to cut to the chase when it comes to economic growth….

….We believe that we helped to create job security by keeping the economy strong. They want an opportunity to have a job. We believe that making hard decisions when it comes to the economy, such as tax reform, such as getting the Budget into surplus, such as paying off the Labor government’s – previous Labor government’s – debt, they’re the decisions that help to build a strong economy. They want us to retain our focus on the things that are going to keep the economy strong…..

……But from our perspective, the principles of what we’ve laid down are good and true for the Australian economy’s prosperity….

…..Now we’re not going to be irresponsible and go to the next election like the Labor Party is and say we are going to step into your work place and tear up your existing contracts. We’re not going to do that because we know that is bad for the economy……

…..Well Tony, from our perspective, we are trying to put in place laws that help to keep the economy strong, that help to create jobs, that may not have existed before. Do you know that today the economy is 50 per cent larger than what it was when we came to Government in 1996?…..

 Now, is it just me or does this sound like a government obsessed by “the economy”?  There is an unstated assumption here that if “the economy” is “growing” then society and citizens are much better off.   Mainstream media generally don’t question:

  1. how we measure economic growth.
  2. whether economic growth is truly desirable – benefits v.s. costs etc.
  3. whether the role of government is really the same as that of the CEO of a big company – or whether in fact there are broader priorities and responsibilities to the people they represent.

Have governments always spoken like this?  Probably not.  A quick web trawl on the entymology of the term “the economy” seems to suggest that the phrase really only achieved widespread usage in the first few decades of the 20th century.  Try reading the above passage again, this time replacing “the economy” with “Australian society” and all of a sudden it starts to sound much more reasonable and decent. 

Perhaps the public too are starting to see through the rhetoric now.  Modern wisdom has it that governments don’t lose office if the “economy is strong”.   Our prime minister has lately seemed perplexed at his terrible polling despite a rosy “economy”, and junior ministers are now urging him to stop talking about how great “the economy” is and start dealing with the people’s real concerns.

On a final frivolous note, have a look at this “management-speak” bullshit generator I found on the web today.  Give it a go and you’ll bluff and spin like a true management guru.

Image source: “Economy” from flickr user hollyoh7, published under a creative commons licence.

Assault on Reason – Al Gore

23 05 2007

An inconvenient truth

I reprint below a letter I received for those registered at .  Take a look at Al’s journal too at

Dear  [name removed],
In the months following the release of An Inconvenient Truth, I began to focus on why our democracy has been so slow to deal with the climate crisis. The unwillingness to solve this problem is not only the result of a lack of political will, but it has also been caused by the emergence of a new political environment dangerously hostile to reason, knowledge, and facts. In the long-term, this poses a threat to the very basis of American democracy: the ability of a well-informed citizenry to use the rule of reason to hold government accountable.

This Assault on Reason is the focus of my new book that goes on sale today. You can purchase the book at your local bookstore or by visiting:

When George Bush launched his preemptive war in Iraq, more than 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorists who caused 9-11. After the 2004 election, when asked what stuck in their minds about the campaign, voters in Ohio named two ads playing to the fears of terrorism paid for by the Bush Campaign. One pattern that has held true since 2001 is that this White House is less interested in openness and truth than any previous administration.

We are facing so many long-term challenges, from the climate crisis and the war in Iraq to health care and social welfare. To solve these problems and move forward we need to reverse the damage done to our democracy. We have little time to waste.

My goal in The Assault on Reason is to explore why our public forum now welcomes the enemies of reason. More importantly, the book focuses on what we can do together, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason to our democracy.

You can purchase The Assault on Reason by visiting:

My team will be emailing those of you who live in the cities that I will visit for book signings. I hope that I’ll have the chance to see you in person.

I’ll be back in touch soon.

Thank You,

Al Gore

Al Gore

Its the ecology, stupid! – part 1

21 05 2007


Stumbling around the net, I found an interesting essay on the website of MAPW (Medical Association for Prevention of War).  It’s penned by Andrew Gliksman, an Earth scientist from ANU (Australian National University).  The first paragraph alludes to an interesting point which I have been thinking about lately.

An asteroid is detected on a collision course with Earth. Attempts at diversion of the asteroid and massive relocation of populations from impact danger zones are deemed “uneconomic” by political and business leaders. A hired media campaign casts doubts on the science and discredit on the astronomers. Vital decisions are delayed by over 10 years. The asteroid hits Earth—millions die. In the aftermath, tribunals for crimes against the Earth are instigated by survivors.

Are any analogies with the activities of the climate change denial lobby during the late 20th century and early 21st centuy too far-fetched?

It is fascinating (and I believe, quite troubling) that concern over climate change has been often expressed in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.  Public comment from politicians, media, business lobbies and even on occasion environmental groups is very often expressed in terms of how little (or how much) it will cost to reduce greenhouse emissions versus how much (or how little) it will cost us if we fail to act.  So we have the UK’s Sir Nicholas Stern telling us that we should act because we’ll lose less money if we act than if we endure the effects of climate change.  The question I have asked myself is this – what if the actions needed cost the same or even a little more than the costs of inaction.  I wonder how this would change the debate over how to proceed?

When the alternatives are so terrible, it seems to me that there can be no rationalising cost comparisons in these circumstances.  In Glikson’s analogy it would be absurd to talk about cost in the face of massive meteor strike.  I wonder if the U.S. government thought long and hard about financial cost when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on their Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour?

It boils down to this.  Are we as a species prepared to accept:

  • increased floods, droughts, bushfires, and heatwaves
  • increased intensity of storms
  • mass extinctions, the like of which hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs vanished
  • famine, war, massively increased refugee numbers
  • ecosystem collapse

…and we’re only just getting started.

Myself, I can’t see how we can price these things, let alone the other events that we haven’t foreseen.

Sure, its important to attempt to work out costings for mitigation and adaptation for planning purposes, but to turn the question of whether to act into an economic decision is truly perverse.  And hey, I’m glad it makes financial sense to tackle climate change, but for me its not a “deal-breaker”.

(For an interesting critique of the inappropriate use of cost-benefit analysis, take a look over here.)

Image source: NASA visible earth, available at:

Rupert, I love you! (never thought I’d say that)

10 05 2007

Rupert Murdoch

There was an amazing speech by Rupert Murdoch overnight (yes, that Rupert Murdoch – international media baron).

It seems that his enormous company is to become carbon neutral by 2010.  Not only that, but is shifting into high gear to convince viewers/readers to do the same.

Read some more here and take a look at some commentary from folks who are unsure about his intent and ability to deliver at environmental e-zine Grist here.

..and meanwhile we slumbered

3 05 2007


Take a look at the following extracts from an article(1) from one of the most esteemed scientific journals – Nature. Many parts of it will sound fairly familiar.  The article is titled “West antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster”

 “……long been suspected, but only recently, as the implications of a continuation of the current near exponential growth of the industrial CO2 production have been realised, have many come to fear a disastrous climatic warming in the rather near future.  In a recent report on the climatic effects of energy production,  [omitted] et al. conclude that industrial civilization may soon have to decide whether or not to make the tremendous investment of capital and effort needed to change over from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.”

 and further in,

 “One warning sign that a dangerous warming is beginning in Antarctica will be the breakup of ice shelves in the Antarctic peninsula just south of the recent January 0 degree C isotherm;………….There is some evidence not yet conclusive, that such a southward recession of the ice shelf limit in the Antarctic Peninsula has already begun;…”

The article from which these extracts come was authored by J.H. Mercer from Ohio State University. 

The year of publication…….wait for it………1978.  Yep, before the  internet and mobile phones, before the PC or the Mac, before the space shuttle, cabbage patch kids or walkmans.

I set out wondering if I could shock myself looking for articles from the past…and I think I succeeded.   The truly scary thing is that I found a heap of articles on global warming in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Here’s some other happenings of 1978:

  • The World Health Organisation is formed.
  • The Bee Gees dominate music charts.
  • Jimmy Carter postpones development of the neutron bomb.
  • In Australia, the Hilton Hotal bomb is detonated.
  • Serial killer Ted Bundy is caught in the USA.
  • People born in that year like Audrey Tautou, Harry Kewel, Katie Holmes and Ben Lee are all just about to turn 30 yrs of age.

So why exactly did it take THREE DECADES to get this issue discussed around the BBQ?  I can’t say for sure.  Now, it’s true that there was still a high degree of uncertainty in 1978.  I’m not suggesting that the article’s predictions all hit the target.  But there was some significant concern in parts of the scientific literature and it beggars belief that we have been so careless and blind over this period.    My main point here is that we could have and should have acted earlier.  It is a misconception to think that this whole climate change thing has just come out of nowhere or is a passing fad-theory.

As for the predictions of antarctic peninsula ice sheets – the massive Larsen B ice sheet in this area broke up in 2002.

1.      Mercer, J.H. West antarctic ice sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of diaster. Nature 1978; 271: 321-5