Womjep plotholes

What’s womjep?  “Woman in jeopardy,” in which our heroine is beset on all sides by untrustworthy men, and is (usually) saved by her own nous but also seen and unseen heroic men. [I think I may owe it to Christopher Buckley, in his awesome ‘Thank You for Smoking’). The go-to example is the Julia Roberts film ‘ The Pelican Brief’.

I just read a book (when I SHOULD have been working… I feel guilty) called ‘Freefall‘. It’s one of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels, and of course it is fine – well-written, pacy etc.  But there is a gaping unexplained gap, one shared by the even more enjoyable film ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’.  What happens, at crucial moments, to the guy you’ve been lead to believe would rather go down in a hail of bullets than let harm befall the female?

In Freefall, the baddies get the girl when Joe Pike … well, it’s not explained. Was he getting his arrow tattoos on his deltoids retouched?  Were his sunglasses scratched?  In The Bourne Ultimatum, what happens to Tom?  Does he have to go collect the kids from school, leaving Pam Landy to do all that faxing herself?  Eh?

To be fair, these guys have plotted a few more air-tight thrillers than I have!

Right, back to work…

With the benefit of hindsight – final paragraphs of 9 year old books about #Australia and #climate

You’ve slaved over the book (either as the writer or the reader!).  There have been bits where you’ve wanted to scream (as either the writer or the reader…), bits where you’ve gotten bored and skimmed over what should have been taken slowly (either as…) or gone slow when you should have gone quick (…).  There’s normative bits, there’s bits that are ‘objective’ (cough, cough).  And now, the final page.

Especially if it has been a tale of woe, you are hoping to end on a positive note.  And there is an unwritten rule that the final paragraph(s) can be a bit more expansive, forward-looking.  Go on, you’ve earned it…

Which is all well and good, but sometimes those final paragraphs (and you could really make an entire book of nothing but those final paragraphs. We could read on, readers against the current state of affairs borne back ceaselessly into the past) are unintentionally schadenfreudic (is that even a word? It should be) with the benefit of not-all-that-much hindsight.

exitrightHere’s two examples, of books (well, a book and an essay) that are principally about the (end of the) reign of Australian John Howard, who was in office from March 1996 to November 2007, and managed, among other stellar achievements, to delay Australian action on climate change until, well, it was Too Late™.  Both authors, Judith Brett and Clive Hamilton want to believe, want the reader to believe, that there is a new dawn, that there might be a new guy, say, from Queensland, who would be here to help.  Both books were written in the heady days when it seemed Australia might figure out how to rise to the greatest moral challenge of its generation™.

The challenge for Rudd will be to give us a few years of national consensus to harness our energise and develop some bipartisan solutions to the problems of the new century, before the next partisan cycle inevitably starts up
(Brett, 2007: 89)


A decade has been lost, and we will pay dearly for it: but the next decade will see the beginning of the transformation of the world into one resolved to protect the Earth for future generations.
(Hamilton, 2007: 230)



Brett, J. (2007) Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard Quarterly Essay 28
Melbourne: Black Inc.

Hamilton, C. (2007) Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change Melbourne: Black Inc.


Of eagles and geese – capitalising Aesop’s fables for capital accumulation

The word ‘natural’ is one of the busiest and slipperiest in the English language. One of its many shades of meaning is that something ‘natural’ is ‘right’ and ‘normal.’

Naturally (!), powerful actors hoping to become still more powerful will try to convince those who might constrain them that they are ‘natural’, and should be allowed to do whatever they like, free from ‘artificial’ (i.e. ‘unnatural’) regulation.

Two examples from the Australian mining industry (oh come on, you knew I was going there).

The first I only stumbled upon yesterday, in the State Library of South Australia. It is a 1992 publication by the Institute of Public Affairs, an extremely neo-liberal ‘think’ tank and policy mill based in Melbourne.

1992 clipping wings

The second is Rio Tinto’s submission to the 1998 Productivity Commission investigation of the Australian Coal Industry.


Bless you, Mr. Aesop.

Judging books by their covers, or ‘act naturally’- Australia’s Coal Export Industry

Young folk today, eh?  They think if it isn’t on google’s first or second page, it’s not worth knowing. Fossils like me, fueled by the thrill of the chase, pace the library shelves.  And you stumble across the greatest stuff.

So, I didn’t know that the Federal Government, for a period between 1993 and 2001, published glossy booklets bigging up ‘Australia’s Coal Export Industry’. Presumably these were dished out at trade fairs, and gathered dust in Embassy book racks for years. There were various editions, and I’ve managed to get hold of all but the 4th (and I will Keep Looking).

I intend to do a deeper analysis of the contents soonish, but for now, as part of my ongoing fascination with how a picture tells a few stories, have a look at the five editions I’ve got access to.

It starts innocuously enough in 1993…

1993 aeci cover

By 1995 we’ve moved from mine to port.

1995 aeci cover

And things stay the same for the 1996 edition…

1996 aeci cover

Don’t have the 4th edition (yet), but issue 5, 1999 is thus, now with the tagline ‘Competitive Australia’ –
1999 aeci cover

And, drumroll please – the 6th edition – they’ve seriously gone for green!! (see also this post)
There’s forests, and a… gasp… woman. So, that’s, um, progress…
2001 aeci cover

Australian Coal Association advert and also awesome librarians again

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will say it again – the librarians at the Barr Smith library (University of Adelaide) are awesome.  They fossicked out hard copies of the Business Council of Australia Bulletin from the early 1990s.

I spent a few hours today systematically going through them for any articles even tangentially to do with ‘greenhouse’ issues.  Australian businesses spent the early early 1990s worried about what actions the Australian Federal Government might take, what international agreements it might make.  After the Rio treaty (June 1992), they relaxed a bit.

And I found an advert that…

As best I can tell it was the Business Council of Australia that did the heavy lifting. Partly because it was a real issue f (or many businesses, who were under a lot of pressure on other environmental issues too.

The Australian Mining Industry Council (AMIC, since rebranded as MCA) I think couldn’t punch at its weight because a) it was too easily dismissed as vested interests and b) they were well on the nose because of their position on Aboriginal Land Rights.

Meanwhile, the Australian Coal Association, as best I can tell, really was little more than a hold-the-ring outfit for the Queensland and New South Wales coal associations, and so couldn’t do a lot more than make the case for more export infrastructure and facilitate some workshops.  Because when they DID venture into the world of public relations…

Well… this…

auscoal energy for the future

From the March 1993 Bulletin, btw. I think they were aiming for this –

arena man and baby

Technology and the PEBCAC problem, as elucidated by Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher”

No system, as the adage goes, is fool-proof to a sufficiently determined and talented fool.  Computer help-desk people have an acronym for it – ‘PEBCAC’, which stands for Problem Exists Between Computer And Chair.

A serious amount of mental effort gets spent on human-computer interfaces (there are journals, conferences etc etc).  In another life, I’d have liked to study that. In this life, I am reduced to sharing an amusing clip from the latest ‘Jack Reacher’ novel….

‘What do you remember about the Soviets?’

‘Lots of things.’

I said, ‘Above all they were realistic, especially about human nature, and the quality of their own personnel. They had a very big army, which meant their average grunt was lazy, incompetent, and not blessed with any discernible talent. They understood that, and they knew there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. So instead of trying to train their people upward towards the standard of available modern weaponry, they designed their available modern weaponry downward towards the standard of their people. Which was a truly radical approach.’


‘Hence the AK-47. For instance, one example, what does a panicky grunt do under fire? He grabs his rifle and hits the fire selector and pulls the trigger. Our guns go from safe to single shot to full auto, which is nice and linear and logical, but they knew that would mean ninety-nine times in a hundred their guys would panic and ram the selector all the way home, and thereby fire off a whole magazine on the first hasty and unaimed shot. Which would leave them with an empty weapon right at the start of a firefight. Which is not helpful. S the AK selector goes safe, then full auto, then single shot. Not linear, not logical, but certainly practical.  Single shot is a kind of default setting, and full auto is a deliberate choice.

Page 132-3 of  Child, L. (2014) Personal. London: Transworld

Of Garnaut, geosequestration and the (non)belling of the neoliberal cat

Professor Ross Garnaut is a highly intelligent, tenacious and formidably well-informed public intellectual,  and I’m not just saying that because I want to interview him for my PhD research. Because look, in my very next sentence I say ‘I think he is wrong about the future of energy.’

He was speaking tonight in Adelaide, giving the 2015 Luxton Memorial Lecture  (Russell ‘Sam’ Luxton was a major renewable energy figure in Australia).  The topic was ‘Australia: Energy Superpower in a Low-Carbon World’. There were about 120 people present, overwhelmingly white, mostly male, mostly the wrong side of 50.

Garnaut’s cv is formidable, and for the last eight years – since the Australian Labor Party asked him to turn his attention to the policy nightmare that is climate change – he has been thinking, writing and talking non-stop about what to do about Australia’s carbon emissions, within a framework of market mechanisms. [For a critical view on all this, see Beeson, M., & Stone, D. (2013). The Changing Fortunes of a Policy Entrepreneur: The Case of Ross Garnaut. Australian Journal of Political Science, 48(1), 1-14.10.1080/10361146.2012.760526]

I don’t intend to give a blow-by-blow account of his talk; the organisers of the event have, bless them, filmed it and will be uploading it onto the web very soon (this in 2015 should be totally standard practice and unremarkable.)  Here’s the transcript.  A few things that leapt out at me

Garnaut set great store by two recent documents/pronouncements-

Australia as a source (and refiner?) of rare earth minerals that will be needed for renewable energy infrastructure.  And uranium, natch.

Australia as blessed with huge amounts of wind, solar, geothermal, ‘excellent geosequestration in a few places.’ (see below)

Garnaut calling on individuals to challenge bad information on the health implications of energy policy, setting store on the ‘scientific evidence being examined by independent experts’.  Ditto, Garnaut hopes to see denial of climate science lessening in its impact and frequency.

What was interesting was that these were framed as individual responses, rather than societal ones, channeled through intermediary organisations like trades unions, community groups, NGOs etc.

At various points Professor spoke approvingly/casually/optimistically about ‘geosequestration’, aka ‘carbon capture and storage’, in its various iterations (liquefy the co2 and pump it underground, do stuff with algae etc).

The central dilemma for CCS is, imho, this – even if you could get all of the technological problems and uncertainties ironed out, all the ducks in a row, even if you could sort out all the formidable legal liability issues, the only way (other than state fiat) that it could be economically viable is with a carbon price that was astronomically high.  And if the carbon price were that high, then the investment would surely flow to lower risk ‘proven’ technologies like wind and solar, and to energy efficiency.  So as far as I can see, outside of very very niche experiments like the Canadian CCS project known as Boundary Dam (where they got grants, wanted to slide down the learning curve and had enhanced oil recovery to soften the blows), then it is a non-starter; the clue in the name Zerogen is in the ‘zero’

I asked a question (well, two), after pointing out that we’ve been talking, in Australia, about climate change since the late 1980s. Like an alcoholic, we know what we are supposed to do, and we promise again and again to do it, but….

I asked about CCS (see above) and then a bit of a peanut gallery question – what does Garnaut say to prime denialists Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton when he sees them? It got the appreciative audience chuckle that I was aiming for.  But agnotology – the intentional creation of ignorance – is no laughing matter, of course.

There were other, good, questions, and Garnaut dealt with them well (giving long answers can be a way of limiting exposure to potential embarrassment – you see politicians do it all the time. In this instance it worked, because the answers included gems and nuggets like reference to the joint Chinese and US Academies of Science report on the causes of lower life expectancy north of the Huai river (turns out giving people free coal isn’t an unalloyed blessing).

The age-old question is ‘what is to be done’, and it was fitting that the final question of the night, which cited an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today in which Nobel laureate Peter Doherty described Tony Abbott as global climate ‘wrecker’, was ‘what do we do about it?’

It’s worth remembering that a generation ago Australian policy-makers proclaimed themselves open to ‘Ecologically Sound Development’. (This was after Australia had promised to reduce its carbon emissions 20 per cent below 1988 levels by 2005 – the so-called ‘Toronto target’.)

esd energy production

As late as 1996, the Australian Conservation Foundation was trying to get the then-new Howard government to listen to it on the subject of budgeting for environmental protection –

1996 funding future

Professor Garnaut’s answer was perhaps quite revealing – he said (correctly) that the pain of staying in our current state over the long-term is higher than the making a change.  The implication, I think, is that it is logical for us to pursue a lower-pain path. But if the last 25 years of climate policy failure, stretching back before Abbott through Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Howard, Keating and to Hawke, has taught us anything, it’s that there are powerful vested interests able to make other people feel the pain while their pleasure is protected.

These vested interests can (and hopefully will) be defeated, but it will be quite a job.  The mice can’t just agree the cat should wear a bell– some constellation of forces is going to have to get out there and bell the neoliberal cat.  Fur will fly. Or pigs.