The tyranny of small decisions…

A transformational change in Australia’s assessment of cumulative impacts is required, including the comprehensive assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of coal mining, if the Reef is not to suffer from the “tyranny of small decisions.” As described by Odum (1982), this phenomenon involves a big decision arising post hoc from an accretion of small decisions, without the central question being addressed directly (in this case, how to maintain the values of the Reef) and without constraints or guidance from an effective high-level authority.

(Grech et al. 2016: 205)

Grech, A., Pressey, R. and Day,J. 2016.  Coal, Cumulative Impacts, and the Great Barrier Reef. Conservation Letters, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp. 200–207 doi: 10.1111/conl.12208

My first actual academic article?! On hostility to renewable energy…

This one started life as a “Conversation” article (never published) and was expanded into a perspectives piece for the journal Energy Research & Social Science.

Many thanks to the editor, the peer reviewer and to Sarah “The Wife” Irving and Joe Blakey for their careful proof-reading.

Wind beneath their contempt: Why Australian policymakers oppose solar and wind energy”

The following link is live until the end of May 2017.

PS To the person who said last year that  I lacked academic independence: “how you like them apples?”

On anxiety, social class and who feels comfortable at “top-down” meetings

On anxiety, social class and who feels comfortable at “top-down” meetings

Published on 15 Dec 2013

Some not quite fully thought through speculations. As well as social class, of course, there’s gender, ethnicity, age, ideology to put into the mix. But as an initial stab at answering the question “why are people content to continue with formats that encourage and enforce passivity, even when they proclaim the importance of activity and participation?”, then it will do. For now.

RIP Machiavelli the allotment cat, 2004(?)- 31 March 2017

machiavelliMach the allotment cat has died. He was, we think, about 13 or 14, which is an astonishing knock for a stray with FIV. He came into our lives in about 2004 or 5, as a stray who would sneak in the cat flap and steal the food of Cassidy and Delilah. While Cassidy might have been up for a fight, he was scrawny and three-legged and simply no match. Delilah was delightful, but astonishingly dim. So Mach (short for Machiavelli) got what he wanted, and desperately needed – food. Fortunately for him, life became much easier, but not until further trials and tribulations.

We ended up, after several failed attempts, at catching him (Accidentally locked in overnight, he hid in a bookcase, a true ninja move, which may well have been how he got the name; a tough, smart survivor. We took him to the vet, had him chipped and relieved of his testicles. He stayed with us for a little bit, (there’s a photo of him on my chest) but Cassidy and Delilah were underwhelmed, and he wanted his freedom. He escaped, and for two weeks we didn’t see him, thinking he had left town or been run over or the normal stuff that happens to strays.

Then one Sunday evening I came downstairs and did a double-take; there he was on the chair. He got up, took three steps and fell over. I looked at him and saw that he was basically skeletal. We speculated that maybe he had got into a garden shed and had been unable to get out until he was much skinnier, and had come back to where he knew there was food. We put him on a cushion, put him in the bathroom with a tiny amount of food and water nearby. I fully expected him to be dead when I came down the next morning – I remember bracing myself as I opened the door. Instead, there he was, looking up at me, the worse for wear.

We took him to the vet, who said he would probably die, but they would run liver tests and if it was an infection they might be able to slap enough anti-biotics in him to pull him through, but if there was liver damage, they would have to put him down. Was he insured they asked. No, we said. They phoned back that afternoon. No liver damage… what did we want. I took a deep breath and said ‘try to save him’. It cost £400 in the end, but after about 5 days on an IV drip and a lot of antibiotics and diarrhea, he was back with us. The staff at the vet had loved him – he had become very affectionate with them.

He stayed with us again, and escaped again. At some point after that (weeks?) there he was on the local allotment, where we had a plot. We started feeding him and for a while he became pretty fat- he had decided perhaps to never feel hungry again.

Another allotment holder started feeding him, for years. Mach became a bit of a sook around that man, and slowly lost his distance from others. When events were held at the allotment he would happily take ownership of complete strangers’ laps.

He did lose the weight, over time, and became a normal healthy cat. I took over feeding him a few years ago. Every morning and night I would go down and feed him, a mix of wet and dry. If I was away, Phil would kindly feed him. One time we had to retrieve him from a cat sanctuary (some busy-body, even though they knew he was fed regularly, had had him captured – his chip saved him. Get your cats chipped, people!!).

He became quite affectionate with me too, running to say hello sometimes, walking at others. Basically, I was wrapped around his little claw, right where he wanted me.

Over the last year he had lost weight, especially around the hips. My wife, who knows about these things, thought his kidneys were probably going. She ordered special cat food for him. He loved it.

I saw him last night, and he was not eating – but that wasn’t entirely unusual – other people fed him too. I saw him this morning and his appetite was fine- he had a mix of wet and dry.

I went this evening, called for him, no reply. Then I found him. He was not warm, but not cold, lying dead on a pathway. Not hit by a car and staggered in I think, thank goodness.  No, it was just something – his heart? – that had given out.  At last, the great survivor had breathed his last.

[Update – Phil tells me that he saw Mach this evening, about 6pm, running about.  So, a quick end, no sickness- lucky to the end, our Mach.]

I lay him down next to the food bowl where we had spent years – me stroking and scratching him while he ate, him purring and head-butting before settling down to the serious business of stuffing his face.

I will bury him tomorrow morning, and always remember him.

With thanks to the vets who save his life, and all the other people (Especially Peter, Phil and Sarah) who have fed him, taken him to the vet and fetched him from strange places.

Vale Machiavelli, 2004(?) – 31 March 2017.

The Hot Mess – How we are failing the ‘greatest moral challenge’

Ha, I now have a column at The Conversation, called “Hot Mess:  Unravelling the climate challenge paralysis”  (I wanted “unravelling climate (,) policy paralysis” but knew that it would look too tricksy).

Anyway, you can read it here.

Ten years ago today, Kevin Rudd spoke at the National Climate Summit at Parliament House, in Canberra, famously declaring climate change to be “the great moral challenge of our generation”.

One of Kevin Rudd’s most famous quotes.

Rudd, in alliance with Julia Gillard, had toppled Kim Beazley as Labor leader the previous December. This focus on climate change was part of Rudd’s brilliantly executed electoral assault on John Howard, who had spent his period in office kicking climate action into the long grass.

Malcolm Turnbull, then Howard’s newly minted environment minister, was underwhelmed by Rudd’s speech. “It’s all designed to promote Kevin Rudd. I mean, he doesn’t care what the summit says. He’s having his media conference at 10 o’clock. The conference delegates will have barely had their coffee and had the first session,” he sniffed.

On the same day Ross Gittins published a piece titled Carbon trading v taxes — a winner eases ahead in the Sydney Morning Herald. A decade on, it makes for painful, and eerily prescient, reading:

A key question – for advocates of action as well as politicians anxious to keep their jobs – is which instrument would be harder to introduce politically. This, I suspect, is the reason so many governments favour trading schemes. The trouble with a carbon tax is that everyone hates new taxes, whereas a trading scheme doesn’t sound as if it’s a tax.

The dizzying and stomach-churning backflips over the past ten years have been described as a “power failure” and a policy bonfire.

While hopes for bold and timely action in Australia may have bleached like the Great Barrier Reef, the question that Rudd raised – one of climate change ethics, of how we navigate “the perfect moral storm” – remains alive.

Debts to pay

From my point of view, the key questions are: what do we owe to future generations; what do we owe to other species; and how are we living up to those obligations?

The thinker and novelist Alice Walker once described activism as “my rent for living on the planet”.

The celebrated linguist and US dissident Noam Chomsky agrees. In September 1991, during an interview in which he was asked what motivated him in his tireless work decrying US foreign policy and the influence of the mass media on democratic societies, he replied: “Looking in the mirror in the morning and not being appalled.” For Chomsky, intellectuals have a responsibility, “to speak the truth and to expose lies”.

But of course some would say that this is not enough – the point is not to describe the world but to change it.

There are costs, however. Consider this passage from Marge Piercy’s extraordinary novel Vida, about a Vietnam War-era activist on the run from the FBI:

Yet she had no feeling of accomplishment, because every morning in the Times, every evening on television, the war was stronger, and she was closer to exhaustion. They had not done enough, they had not risked enough, they had not tried everything, they had not fought hard enough, they had not, because the proof was before her every morning and every evening the war went on. It was raining blood outside whether she looked out the window or not; the blood was splattering down, and the hot wind that blew across the city smelled of ashes, of burning flesh. Obviously they had not tried hard enough if the war still went on.

Personally, I have tried activism (and usually done it badly, if persistently). I found that if I stopped altogether I felt worse and “acted out” in silly ways, so now I do just enough to avoid that, but with zero expectation that anything will change

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht combined the Latin word solacium (comfort) with the Greek root –algia (pain) to create the word solastalgia, which he defined as:

The psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change, such as mining or climate change.

That grief and anxiety is catching up with many of us. For a psychoanalytic perspective, see this interview with Rosemary Randall.

What should we do?

So, reader, I’m interested in finding out your coping strategies, since mine are often inadequate and maladaptive. I’ve a few questions:

  • Where do you think your environmental concern came from?
  • How many of you spent significant time in unstructured play in natural environments before the age of 11 (so-called “significant life experiences”), as I did?
  • How do you who try to stay active on this mother of all issues cope with the seemingly uninterrupted flow of ever greater defeats?
  • How do you cope with the guilt of having failed (thus far) to have done enough?
  • How do you cope with the grief for the things we are definitely going to lose, no matter what (starting with coral on the Great Barrier Reef)?
  • And for the climatologists and climate writers out there, how do you cope with the anxiety of knowing that conveying the end of human civilisation is your day job?

Over to you – answers in the comments.

Motorcycle Emptiness and emotathons

Too tired (long story) to do any creative work on the Thesis, and having done enough grunt work on it too, for today, I am in the process of writing a paper for a conference here in Manchester about alternative futures and popular protest. It will not be a popular paper. It will slag off the social movements, who are apparently the ones we are relying on to lead us out of the slough of despond to the sunny uplands.

Yeah, right.

And one of the concepts I am deploying (one of my own) is ’emotathons’. I came up with it a few years ago.



I am process of changing this one  (which captures the dreary plodding longevity of it) with the term Emotacycle, which captures the circularity (but loses the drudgery aspect a bit).  Still, aesthetically, it allows cringeworthy “pop culture” references to two songs.

All Revved Up With No Place To Go (by Mr M. Loaf)


Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manic Street Preachers.

Which is extraordinary.

Culture sucks down words
Itemize loathing and feed yourself smiles
Organize your safe tribal war
Hurt, maim, kill and enslave the ghetto

Each day living out a lie
Life sold cheaply forever, ever, ever

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

Life lies a slow suicide
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power

Just like lungs sucking on air
Survivals natural as sorrow, sorrow, sorrow

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us
All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness

Drive away and it’s the same
Everywhere death row, everyone’s a victim
Your joys are counterfeit
This happiness corrupt political shit

Living life like a comatose
Ego loaded and swallow, swallow, swallow

Under neon loneliness motorcycle emptiness
Under neon loneliness everlasting nothingness

Words, ideas, videos