What would a genuinely “empowering” #OpenState look like? @JayWeatherill

On Wednesday morning Jay Weatherill and 200 or so of Adelaide’s soi-disant cognoscenti gathered at Adelaide Oval, scene of triumphdisaster and foreigners hurling dangerous things at locals.

Everyone was there for the launch of the programme of the second ‘Open State’ festival, which will chart the potential triumphs and disasters of our species as it careens into the 21st century, with no brakes and a wonky satnav.  At the Open State festival – a series of talks running from 28 September to 10 October, some foreigners will hurl some possibly dangerous ideas.

Jay’s speech was everything you’d expect (and sadly not the alternative one I had suggested).  The words and themes were all there – innovation, inward investment, challenges of ageing, putting Adelaide on the map.   He extolled the use of citizens’ juries (without mentioning that the last one hadn’t gone the way he would have liked). He bigged up the attendance of international luminaries such as Richard Watson, Tia Kansara and Beth Simone Noveck.

He was followed by two presentations by entrepreneurs who had been given a boost during last year’s inaugural Open Event. The first, Daniels Langeburg arrived at the stage in one his Eco-caddy vehicles.  He explained his own heritage (ineligible at present for Federal parliament, thanks to Swedish and African heritage) who has been building up momentum for a couple of years

Eco-caddy has been transporting people and goods, and at the launch Langeburg announced the latest custom-built vehicle, which has a capacity of 350kg, and is designed for hauling things around the CBD.  (There is, of course, an app for people to order pickups and pay for them at the touch of a screen.)

He also referred to a recent foray into Melbourne to provide passenger transport at a local festival, at which his vehicles collected real time data on the travels and attitudes of attendees (anyone who saw Wednesday’s episode of Utopia, with Tony’s car survey difficulties will shudder at this).

There are, of course, reasons to be cautious.  Firstly, since so far eco-caddy has been replacing short journeys that would have been conducted on foot, the amount of carbon dioxide saved so far – and it is only early days – is, well, small (6.5 tonnes).  More seriously,  you can see them doing all the hard ‘proof of concept’ work and then being pushed aside by a fleet of electric vans with autonomous machine drivers with bigger capacity, longer range and deeper pockets to loss lead competitors into oblivion.

A bug not a feature

Second up was the founders of Post Dining.  Hannah and Stephanie.  With verve and humour, they took the audience through some of their work, in which they  “merge food with music, art and performance to create immersive and interactive eating experience” and  “meet the palate with an environment of possibility, through creativity.”  This then segued into a brief practical demonstration of Conversations around food entomophagy– eating bugs.  The attendees were treated to rocky road sprinkled with… crickets.

It was all tasty enough, but in the back of my mind was an excellent book by an American anthropologist, the late Marvin Harris. In his book Cannibals and Kings he argues that you can construct a story of humans eating all the easy to get protein, exhausting the supplies and then having to hunt up-and-down the food chain, developing new techniques of hunting and management.  And this is where – in a world groaning under the weight of Western excess and global overpopulation, we seem to have come to.  Earlier this year a shortage of lettuce in the UKwas treated as one of those jokey end-of-bulletin stories, a relief from tales of bombs, fires and elections.  But should it not have been seen as something sinister and full of foreboding. Next step Soylent Green?

The real problem with the launch though, was the programme.  And I don’t mean the glossiness of the impressively thick booklet that was handed out to all the well-heeled attendees.  I mean instead the superficiality of the ‘radicalism’.  It strikes me as a giant series of TED talk, where those with university educations, leisure time and the confidence to come along to listen to various actually-not-as-system-challenging-as-they-sound ideas without ever being able to connect in useful ways with the other attendees.  It’s the hub-and-spoke model, where the speakers are the stars and the audience is, well, ego-fodder.

This is not surprising, given who is sponsoring the event, and how it fits into the wider marketing of South Australia as a ‘happening place.’  If you think I’m being excessively undergraduate and self-proclaimed ‘radical’, well, maybe you’re right.  But incremental changes, which repair or recalibrate the existing patterns of behaviour and ‘governance’, are not going to get us out of the messes we’re in.

There’s nothing on the need for a post-growth economy, for example –that is still the topic that dare not be mentioned, even as we accelerate past 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide, as the Arctic melts and the reefs die.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the sessions on ‘new foundations for social change’ and ‘effective advocacy – what does it take’ will address the issues, but wouldn’t it be great if we had sessions which explored topics like, oh….

Citizens as Mushrooms – how bureaucrats and politicians use corporate public relations techniques and their own obfuscation techniques to prevent citizen oversight: and what to do about it.

How to make social movements effective –  how can social movement organisations overcome spin, secrecy, burnout and betrayal to be effective creators of good public policy that actually gets implemented.

Or something on how academics end up not being quite as useful to social movement organisations as they could be, and what is to be done about that.

Tell me I’m dreaming.

Turnbull’s Judgement – of Keating, Katter and Crabb #auspol

Annabel Crabb, in her book ‘Stop at Nothing’ about current Prime Minister (correct at time of publication) Malcolm Turnbull, recounts a phone call from ex Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating to then PM Kevin Rudd. The story originally comes from Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald (27 June) and here’s the grab-

When Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership of the Liberal Party, Paul Keating decided he had some useful insights into the man. He decided to offer them to Kevin Rudd.

The previous Labor prime minister told the incumbent Labor Prime Minister on the phone that he had studied Turnbull over the years. Rudd had to understand three key things about Turnbull.

First, he should know that Turnbull was brilliant. Second, that Turnbull was utterly fearless.

At this point Rudd, an irritated Rudd, demanded to know, ‘Is there any good news here?’ Keating replied with his third point: Turnbull has no judgment

Well, Turnbull famously came unstuck in late 2009.  He couldn’t get his party – nor the Nationals – to back his backing for Rudd’s monstrous ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.’  Already having kicked himself hard in the credibilities (over ”Utegate”) Turnbull was turfed.

Apparently, after being convinced not to quit politics, he spent some time worked on his arrogance and his peremptory nature and somehow convinced enough of his colleagues that he was the only alternative to Tony ‘People Skills’ Abbott in September 2015.

But judgement is, it seems, not something you can work on so easily.  Because his response to Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship foul up has taken a crisis and turned it into a catastrophe.  He and others tried to accuse Labor of treason for having had some minor discussions/info-seeking with New Zealand’s Labour Party.

To see the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, gamely but disastrously trying to hammer this home was uncomfortable viewing in the extreme.  But presumably she was following the agreed script to the hilt (one of her strengths). But then you have to ask yourself, what was Turnbull thinking in signing off on the batshit crazy script.  Because he is surely the one who dreamt it up, or signed off on Operation Tinfoil Hat.

Meanwhile, his tolerance of fools does not seem to have improved all that much.  This from today’s Saturday paper article by Paul Bongiorno

Katter’s immediate beef was with Turnbull’s treatment of himself as a potential kingmaker on the crossbench. Promised regular meetings, there has only been one. “It was scheduled for one hour and lasted 20 minutes,” according to Katter, who says the prime minister got quickly bored, frequently checked his watch, and called the meeting to an abrupt halt. “I mean, to do that to a person whose vote you might need to survive?”

So, not quite as much change as everyone pretended to believe, then….

(For more on Bob Katter and the skills needed for dealing with him, have a read of Rob Oakeshott’s memoir ‘The Independent Member for Lyne’ – especially on Katter vs Oakeshott/Windsor and his ability to drive even Treasury officials to distraction.)

What may Jay say? The alternative @JayWeatherill speech for #Openstate

The following document fell through a wormhole from an alternative universe, landing as a smoldering set of singed papers, with a comedy thump, on my desk. It purports to be an account of the speech given by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill at the launch of the “2017 Open State Program.”

Standing at the podium with his confident bantamweight poise, it is Jay, the Man himself. He flicks through his prepared speech in a manner not unlike the late Senator Bulworth in the documentary of the same name.
He can be heard muttering to himself (“South Australia based on ideas, check. Wakefield, check; token olive branch to Liberals by mentioning Playford, check; red meat to the True Believers by invoking Don, check; me and my mate Elon, check; Federal policy vacuum, check”). He looks up, seemingly surprised that everyone is there.

He casually tosses the speech aside.
“Yeah, look, you know why we’re here, or else you wouldn’t be here. We’re launching another “Open State” festival. Various events in (at this he does that annoying air quote thing) “pop up” venues, where men with pony tails and pot bellies swap the buzzwords. Collaboration and innovation and other soothing blandishments that help the neoliberal state cope with its legitimation crisis.

“You’ll come along, catch up with some people you haven’t seen in years, hear half-digested ideas that you can trot out at your dinner party. Feel like you’ve got your finger on the pulse, that Adelaide isn’t the backwater people who fled to Sydney, Melbourne and LA keep telling you it is.

“The adjective “future” thrown in for sex appeal and then followed some random nouns – what are they again? (He looks at his notes) – “Hmm.. Human/Planet/Cities/Food./Enterprise/Democracy. – yeah, that about covers it.”

He looks around, seeking familiar and friendly faces, and finds them. “Most of you were at this last year, along with other people from Norwood and Prospect, Toorak and Dulwich. 25 thousand of you at 60 events.

“But look, life is short and we’re all going to be dead a long time. So I want to take a few minutes to talk about a different kind of innovation. Because you all already know about technological innovation. You all know about the enormous battery up north. Course you do. But in case someone’s been living on Mars, waiting for my mate Elon to show up (nervous sycophantic laughter can be heard), then my government is spending 2.6 million of your bucks to explain our energy plan. The one we can point to if the lights and aircon go out this summer, ahead of next March’s election, and pin the blame on my friend Josh.

“But let’s put that kind of innovation aside. What I think we need – what I am introducing to day – is some relatively small but potentially hugely significant – social innovations. For way too long we’ve been using the standard chalk and talk/sage on the stage methods. Last year’s Open State suffered from that. So many of them were glorified TED talks, the audience as nothing more than egofodder for the speakers and organisers, bums on seats, brains in jars at home. Instead of a 2 to 1 ratio of talk and Q and A, sometimes we ended up with nothing but talk.

At this the audience seems divided; some looking relieved at the outbreak of emotional intelligence and plain-speaking, others alarmed by it.

“It’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it? We have this situation where we say we’re trying to create links between participants and get different things happening, but to do that we seem stuck on using methods that haven’t changed since at least the birth of the university in Italy a thousand years ago, before the invention of the printing press. A lecturer and acolytes. It’s all top-down info dumping followed by a Q and A which is actually a P and A – preening and asshatery.

“You might almost say that it’s the equivalent of using centralised coal-fired power stations to keep the lights on and the carbon emissions low and being surprised when it goes wrong..

“So today, I announce that my government is going to set an example and blaze a trail on the socialinnovation. And it won’t even cost 2.6 million to be advertised.

“Every Open State event is going to have four innovations. One is to keep greenhouse gases in front of our minds, and the three others are to break down the power of the speaker and the power of the confident.

Jay is onto the front foot now, getting that bouncy energy thing that he does so well, a family dog that realises playtime is about to begin.

First up, in addition to the welcome to country, we’re going to do an acknowledgement of Greenhouse gases. The MC will say something like

“We acknowledge that this meeting is taking place in an economy that has grown massively over the last two hundred years in large part from the burning of coal, gas and oil. We acknowledge that the increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm, and that other species and the poorest humans are suffering first, but that we will all suffer in the future. We acknowledge that as people who have benefited from previous burning, and as people who continue to burn fossil fuels above and beyond the global average, we have a primary responsibility to work to minimise carbon dioxide emissions in fair and sustainable ways, and to help the poorest among us adapt to the inevitable changes that climate change will bring.”

“I picked this one up while scanning an obscure activist website, which is my hobby when I’m not attending the book launches. Why are we doing this? Because it’s easy to get blinded by boosterism for the latest gadget, and forget the painful scale of the challenges we face.

Second thing, after the usual pleasantries, the welcome to country and that greenhouse gas thing, everyone’s going to be settling into passivity, willingly or otherwise. So here’s a disruptive innovation. : we’re going to have two minutes while everyone turns to someone they don’t know – beside them or behind them – and just introduces themselves.
Why? Because we’re trying to thicken the web of knowledge and friendship, reduce loneliness and help people use these Open State events as real networking opportunities. This two minute thing will give people more permission to have better wider connections during the longer breaks.

Third thing – we’re going to keep all the speakers to their promised time. We’re also going to empower our MCs to keep the speakers, no matter how prestigious, strictly to their allotted time. We know that this can be tricky, if it’s a young female or star-struck bureaucrat and a high status old male. Rather than add pressure on them, and see them fail a lot, we are going to ‘crowd source it, as the young people say. It’s called the ‘clap clinic’.
The MC will introduce the speaker and then say something like
‘I’ll give the speaker a one minute warning. Then, when their time is up, I will start applauding and I’d like you to all join in. Let’s practice now, giving the speaker the clap they so richly deserve.’

hm2-clap-clinic

This will mean there is proper time in every session for an actual Q and A.

“Fourthly and finally, we are going to do something about the Q and As, which tend to be dominated by old white men with a lot to say, with others pushed to the margins. Here is what we are going to do. As at the outset, we’re going to have a further two minutes for people to talk to each other.
We’ve trained our facilitators to say something like.
Let’s all turn to someone nearby you – ideally someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself and exchange impressions of the speech. If you have a question you are wondering whether to ask, find out if the other person thinks it’s a good ‘un. With their help, refine it, hone it and – please – for everyone’s sake, make it shorter. Women especially, your questions are just as good and welcome as men’s. You have two minutes…_

“The MC will then be able to draw from a wider range of ages, genders, skin tones than is currently the case.

“Look, people are banging on about the “entrepreneurial state.” They’ve been banging on about the enabling state  – though to be honest that was Mark Latham’s schtick, and we all know how that turned out.

“South Australia is already leading on battery storage and energy production. And now the CST thing. Well,  today is that South Australia starts leading on how to hold gatherings that get beyond the usual stultifying egofests to create genuine connections.

“So, let’s start now. Instead of you guys sticking up your hands and me asking the safest and most sycophantic person I can see, let’s have you talk among yourselves for a minute, to hone the most awkward questions you can.”

A minute passes. Jay looks around the room. He points to an oldish white male. Chris Kenny (for it is he) “Premier, one question…”

 

[The second “Open State” festival of innovation, collaboration, ideas and enterprise will be held in Adelaide from 28 September – 8 October.]

Open letter to Jay Weatherill on #fuckwitgate

Dear Jay,

we are both busy (you with trying to implement climate and energy policy while the Federal Government supplies only ridicule and chaos, me with finishing a thesis) so I will keep this as brief as I can.

When I read what was reported in today’s Australian (1)  ‘Jay says nay on right-wing remark‘  I was both confused and exasperated.  I do not understand why you would wait a week before claiming “I think I might have been misheard. I think I said…” 

I note there are lots of qualifiers there (and no outright denial) and it’s followed by a claim about background noise.  On that, I would point out that you don’t flag any problem with my hearing everything else you said – all those quotes which reflect (well) on your actions since the September 2016 blackout..

I wonder if you worry, that this Clayton’s denial – the denial you have when you’re not having a denial –  just feeds into the public narrative that politicians will try to wriggle out of things they said and that they later wish they hadn’t?

Clearly my prediction that this was going to be a ‘one-day wonder’  was misplaced. Oh well.  I have no interest in continuing this non-controversy, because in the absence of a sound recording, everyone can just say ‘no evidence’ and it goes all Rashomon.  The following  questions seem obvious though-

  • Why did you not claim that you had been ‘misheard’ at the time?  Why is that, as Giles Parkinson pointed out in the Australian article today,  neither you nor your office sought a retraction, correction or apology?
  • Why did you call the remarks ‘lighthearted’ if they were simply indeed ‘rightwing  sceptic’?  That’s not particularly light-hearted, simply banal.  By referring to your comments as light-hearted the day after, surely you were tacitly admitting what you had said?
  • Why did the  entire room burst into laughter and applause if all you did was describe Kenny as a right-wing sceptic?
  • Why did you offer a mock apology ‘oh sorry’ at that time?
  • Why did none of the other 100 people present at the book launch – fans of you and Mark Butler- come forward to challenge my account?  (Of course, some may now do so, now that you have signalled that this is something you want to bury)
  • Why did you call the event – and continue to call it – a private function? It was a book launch, or heaven’s sake!  If you can’t get that right, why should anyone believe what you “think” you said?

Am I surprised by your behaviour? A little. But I  am more disappointed – I thought you had more guts.  But perhaps you have to save those guts for challenging the Federal government’s egregious inaction on climate and energy, and water. If that’s the case, well, then, so be it, and good luck.
Marc Hudson

Footnotes

(1) Of course, the Australian has a very long (27 year) history of reporting climate stories badly. Examples available on request. On the book launch beat up they managed not to credit their source and then mis-identify the location of the book launch (it was at the Publishers Hotel, not the University of Adelaide.  Then, on Friday of last week its stablemate the Advertiser managed to get the day of the launch wrong.  So maybe you were ‘misquoted’ (oh the irony) or were speaking with your tongue in your cheek?

Weatherill lets fly at right wing attack against renewables

WHOOP!  My second stand-alone article on the excellent reneweconomy site

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was in a pugnacious mood at the launch of Climate Wars, the new book by Labor’s shadow climate minister Mark Butler, and let fly at the ‘rightwing f***wits’ (his words) that were keen to use any event to attack renewables.

weatherill frydenberg

Butler’s book (reviewed here and the subject of our podcast here) starts with an anecdote about a concert in Adelaide earlier this year, when the lights suddenly went out, and that is where Weatherill started as well. The English singer Adele announced a ‘blackout’ had occurred.

Weatherill admitted that his heart was in his mouth, and joked that treasurer and energy minister Tom Koutsantonis had “fainted in the corporate box” until Adele quickly explained that a roadie had unplugged the wrong cord. The lights were soon back on.

That didn’t stop ‘right-wing f***wits” from seeking to take advantage of the situation. He took particular aim at The Austraian commentator Chris Kenny, who had been sending tweets proclaiming another blackout.

September 2016 – five hours that changed Australian Energy Policy

Weatherill also talked in detail about the September 2016 “system black” that has kick-started an extraordinary process in policy-making, including the Finkel Review, the Musk tweets and South Australia’s energy plan.

Weatherill explained that since State Parliament had its own generator, he had only found out about the system black after being alerted by Koutsantonis telling him ‘we’re black’.

Weatherill took particular aim at Senator Nick Xenophon for spreading fear that “people will die” and that the “lights might be out for five days.”

He also was at pains to explain that while he had contacted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the same evening, Turnbull didn’t reply for two weeks, but instead lectured South Australia on its ‘irresponsible’ renewables policy.

Almost a year later, Weatherill is still clearly angered by this – he pointed to the fact that Turnbull had an Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report on his desk that clearly explained that the blackout was not due to renewables, but because the transmission towers had been blown over by high winds.

Turnbull not a fit Prime Minister

Weatherill then turned to hatred of renewables, the love of coal and the vested interest that sit behind that.

He lamented what he called Turnbull’s “Pauline conversion”, an ‘extraordinary change’ from a man who had said he would not lead a party that was not as committed to climate action as he was to one ‘completely capitulated to the rightwing of his party’.

Weatherill said that for this reason alone, let alone others, Turnbull had disqualified himself as being a fit prime minister, and had played politics while South Australians were stuck in lifts, and stuck in the dark.

Weatherill, to cheers, said he would remind Turnbull of this ‘the next time I’m stood next to him’ (a reference to the infamous Weatherill/Frydenburg stoush in Adelaide earlier this year).

Weatherill said that after the blackout the government could have capitulated, but instead decided to pursue what he knew to the right policy both environmental and economic reasons, and that he was proud South Australia had.

He then turned to the events of February 8th 2017, arguing that opponents of renewables were poised to strike. Although South Australia had the newest gas-fired power station, its owners had chosen ‘for financial reasons to stay shut’.

On the following day, New South Wales had had a load-shedding event, which thwarted the efforts at ridiculing South Australia.

‘The most extraordinary political period’

What happened next was what Weatherill called the most extraordinary period in his political life. ‘We got up and said’ we’ll take charge, not knowing quite what that meant.

“We went from laughing stock to leader in six weeks, with support in the state, nationally and internationally.’

In March the State announced its six point energy plan, and earlier in the month Elon Musk arrived, post-tweet, to announce the 129MWh lithium battery farm.

‘There could not be a more important issue, at the state, national or planetary level,” Weatherill said.

Weatherill is, of, course talking his own book, and faces a stiff election challenge next March. If the letters page of the only daily newspaper, the Murdoch-owned Advertiser, is anything to go by, it will be an uphill battle.

Marc Hudson is a PhD candidate at University of Manchester

Book Review: Clade – superior #climate fiction #clifi

cladeWhen – not if, but when – I reread James Bradley’s wonderful set of linked short stories, ‘Clade,’ I will be on the lookout for two things; his references to the seasons, and his imagery of flight (in every sense).

These short stories, which follow one family from about now, through roughly beyond the middle of the century, have the thread of climate change and its impacts running through them.  Contra Amitav Ghosh’s excellent ‘The Great Derangement,’ there are novelists willing and able to take on the big question of the 21st century (and the 22nd, should we get that far) – what will the world look like as the Holocene unravels/is unravelled by our actions and inactions over the last 70 years (see this from today).

The opening story starts, sensibly enough, in Antarctica, as a young scientist (Adam – the name may be overegging the pudding a bit?) takes samples and waits to hear from his artist wife in Sydney as to the latest bout of IVF.  Spoiler alert – it works, they have a child, called Summer.  And things go on, as they do.

The stories are linked, sometimes obliquely (think Hemingway’s Men without Women), sometimes clearly.  There is the obligatory pandemic, handled well, and other stories musing on bees, teenagers, astronomy, cancer and more.  Bradley knows what he is doing, as he dips in and out of lives. Sometimes the climate impacts are direct (as superstorm) sometimes they can almost be ignored as inconveniences (no more coffee).  Smells, tastes, memory, it all weaves together, as we follow Adam, Ellie, Summer and others through the decades.

“She nods, the spiced sweetness of the honey still burning in her nostrils. There is something fascinating about the idea of a substance that changes with the seasons in this way, a reminder of a time when the planet still moved in its own cycles.” (p118)

And these seasons (or lack of them) go beyond ‘permanent global summertime’.

“With the videos selected and sequenced, she turns to the other elements of the installation, allowing the project to absorb her, working long hours into the night. It is always striking to her how often these periods of creativity seem to be connected to the advent of spring, the strange timelessness of the warm evenings, although whether this is innate, a tic in the chemistry of her brain, or a habit ingrained during her time as a student, those formative years when the most intense periods inevitably coincided with the sudden explosion of spring, is unclear to her.” (p133)

This brings up two thoughts for me – I should re-read Julian Rathbone’s Trajectories, and I need to read some William Calvin

If you had to quibble, you’d say that Clade (the word means  “a group of organisms believed to comprise all the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor” occasionally falls into the ‘cosy catastrophe’ [warning: link to tvtropes] category – a term Brian Aldiss used to describe John Wyndham’s seminal novels, such as The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids and so on.  But that really would be a quibble – this is a very good book, one that can be read for the beauty of its descriptions, its well-drawn characters, or (as I am reading) as part of an exploration of the burgeoning sub-genre of ‘cli-fi’.

 

Disclaimer: I have had email correspondence with James Bradley in the past – he seems like a good bloke. If this book were pants, I’d have said so.

 

 

 

AMEEF – burnishing the mining industry

AMEEF was established in October 1991, as the Ecologically Sustainable Development Process was peaking.  One of the first things they did was a listing of all articles environmental, with a lovely cover.

1991 ameef

Ten years later, it was still going (but would be shut down a bit later).  I stumbled across its magazine, Groundwork, recently.  Not much of interest, but they did get a new logo. And they were run by someone who had done green stuff for the Business Council of Australia back in the early 1990s.  A small world, of course, this green capitalism gig…

2001 ameef logo

and who was stumping up?  The usual suspects…

2001 ameef supporters

Words, ideas, videos