All posts by marchudson

Ex- health care professional, ex-ing activist and ambivalently aspiring academic. Climate doomster. We are so toast.

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

Climate change? Eh? 1998 Labor Essays…

So, by 1995/6 the whole idea that you might be able to ‘green’ the Australian Labor Party had kinda fallen apart.  The 1993 election had ignored the issues (with Keating particularly aggressive, blah blah true believers blah blah), and despite Environment Minister John Faulkner’s best efforts, the proposed carbon tax/levy in 1994/95 died an ignominious death (there’s a quote from Cheryl Kernot’s memoir coming up, btw).  And how best to demonstrate this, beyond mere assertion?  Well, this book –

1998 labor essays


has 17 chapters.  Not a one of them on environment, or climate change.  And here are the relevant pages of the index. Nowt on carbon dioxide, climate change, greenhouse effect or global warming.  Two tiny mentions of ‘environment‘.

1998 labor essays index 1

1998 labor essays index2

The media, the environment – lessons from South #Australian history…

Right-winger sometimes try to ‘catch out’ Noam Chomsky by saying ‘well, you critique the mainstream media saying it helps manufacture consent, but you at the same time rely on journalistic accounts to put together your arguments.  Are you a hypocrite or what?’ (I paraphrase).

Chomsky replies that there are many hard-working and diligent journalists who are what the young people used to call ‘woke’ (I think the term is jumping the shark, fwiw). That is, journos who know how the control -via ownership, advertising, editors – works. And they know that there is sometimes a certain amount of wiggle room, if they are clever and lucky and get the timing right.  They can be stainless steel rats in the wainscoting.  Chomsky, from memory, points to Charles Glass as an example of this.  (yep, memory not yet destroyed).

All this came to mind today while I was doing some research (yes, at the end of my third year of my PhD) at the Adelaide University Library.  One of those silly coincidences that happens, I saw the name of the same journo pop up twice in two different places.  Firstly, in 1982, in a newsletter of the SA Conservation Council  (and these people were, well, ‘woke’).

1982 08 13 sa conservation council p1

The second was from a speech given by Don Hopgood, a former South Australian Environment Minister, published in Xanthopus, the newsletter of the Nature Conservation Society of SA (Vol 12, 6, December 1994) (A xanthopus, as well as being a fantastic scrabble word, is a yellow-footed wallaby).

1994 12 hopgood on kym tilbrook


New element – Administratum – discovered

from facebook – here, originally.

“This bit of humor was written in April 1988 and appeared in the January 1989 issue of The Physics Teacher. William DeBuvitz was a physics professor at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey (USA). He retired in June of 2000.”

‘The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by chemists. The element, tentatively named Administratum, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However it does have:

1 neutron
125 assistant neutrons
75 vice-neutrons
111 assistant vice-neutrons

This gives it an atomic mass of 312. The 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

Since it has no electrons, Administratum is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every action with which it comes in contact. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of Administratum causes one reaction to take four days to complete when it would have normally occured in less than one second.

Administratum has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not actually decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice-neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that atomic mass actually increases after each reorganization.

Research at other laboratories indicates that Administratum occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities and can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

Chemists point out that Administratum is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate.

Attempts are being made to determine how Administratum can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.’


While we wait, we could all learn the words to Tom Lehrer’s classic…



Blog- Thurs 6 to Sun 9 July

Thursday 6
Around the park  five times
Two hours at microfiche tracking down crucial newspaper articles for the carbon tax 1994/1995 story. Dead useful, developed a couple of new tricks of how to get the info v. quickly
Good meeting with a research librarian, who was super helpful, and put me onto an academic I am meeting up with on Thursday.
Scanning some important stuff (and also pages from John Howard’s  memoir ‘Lazarus Rising).
Cycled home and had three games of scrabble with dad, won two lost one.
Did lots more  grunt work around the stuff I collected earlier today (this matters – if I have learned anything it is the importance of doing the grunt work as you go!!)
Reading Anna Krien’s excellent Quarterly Essay on coal, coral and climate change.  We’re toast, and she is almost as good as Elizabeth Kolbert, which is High Praise Indeed.

Friday 7
Insomnia – working on thesis at stupid o’clock.  Then, in the morning,  one game of scrabble with mum Lift into town (raining!)  Two hours in State Library – got the hang of some software/hardware, scanned some useful stuff. And some trainspottery stuff. It’s not always possible to know in advance which is which.
Very little/nothing in Keating biographies about climate, which is telling re: what a low priority it was – I don’t think he got involved at all in the spat over the tax itself.  And forestry took up all the oxygen.
Then fantastic meet up with lovely chap who it turns out I had met once before.  Really inspiring and energising to meet someone on the same wavelength.  He’s into Arendt, and a whole lot of other stuff. Looking forward to introducing him to various folks (inc The Wife).  Walked home, making it ahead of the rain.
Meanwhile, that March tweet by Elon Musk was coming true – the one about building a 100Mw power storage facility ‘or it’s free’.
More work (typing up bits of a book I read, then tracking down the relevant factoids. Never underestimate the willingness/brass neck of trade associations to just MAKE SHIT UP.

Saturday 8
Walked around the park times five, followed by scrabble tournament with my ma.  Played 6, won 4 (one by a single point). Got totally totally thrashed in the first game.  Largely enjoyable. People are strange.
A bus up to somewhere to see a film (not very good) and endure a truly excruciatingly bad meeting.  We will never learn, it seems. It was heart-breakingly bad.  Then long wait for a bus back, but that is a first world problem, and one of my own making (I shoulda left earlier).
In the meantime, read a lot of Mark Butler’s Climate Wars, and will be late getting the review written, but only by a day, so not the end of the world…
Got up to watch some Federer, but fell asleep towards the end of each set…

Sunday 9
Backpain, possibly from all that walking with a backpack…  I never learn.  Watched The Insiders, with Lenore Taylor, Shane Wright and Mike Seccombe (all journos I am referencing in my thesis) talking about the week’s events.  Barnaby Joyce trying and failing to minimise the significance of the Weatherill/Musk announcement.  That %#$* Chris Uhlman ripping into Trump (apparently it went viral in DC).
Turns out my Gunther Anders conversation piece has been popping up in different places. Currently over 28k views, putting it second in my most-viewed conversation pieces. Odd.
Then off to the library. Got a bit of reading of Senate stuff done (from the mid-1990s) and borrowed some books I will probably only read about ten pages of  (e.g.  a Joe Hockey biography. Srsly).  Then went through the print-off of the 94/5 chapter and then made changes, added bits etc. This took hours, but was worth it, because now aged female parental has a hard copy that she is very kindly reading. Must iterate, basically.  This can guide what else I do, research wise.  Actually would like to do a couple of interviews….
Thank goodness I had no money on me today, otherwise I would have bought an anthology of Meanjin for $2 and a zombie comedy memoir for 50c.  Cough, cough.

Blog Days 4 and 5

So, Monday night I got the parentals, both former hacks, to proof read an article about the interesting comments of a renewables engineer. They did this with aplomb, and I sent the thing off.
Tuesday 4th

Walked around the park again (5 laps, this time with three logs in the backpack) and then got on with more ‘grunt’ work on the thesis.  Good news then followed – the editor of reneweconomy said yes to running the piece.  Kept gruntworking on the thesis, then cycled in to meet my very smart and kind friend Heather Smith.  A good chinwag ensued about the state of play with renewables in South Australia.  Anyone who tells you that I then went to the Oxfam bookshop on Hutt Street and bought, for two bucks in toto the following

  • Vance Palmer, National Portraits: 25 Australian Lives
  • Nevil Shute, Requiem for a Wren
  • Frank Hardy, But the Dead are Many
  • Blanche d’Alpuget, Turtle Beach
  • Fred Pearce, Green Warriors

And, for $3.50, Best Australian Political Writing 09

is making an outrageous allegation, as the wife used to say.

Then I got on a train. Not quite the right train, it turned out, and thus had some extra cycling and navigating of suburban cul-de-sacs to do, before arriving at the site of an old car factory which is being repurposed (palimpsests, eh?) for the next economy.  An hour and a half of thesis reading followed by a two-part tour.  The building was 11 hectares, now reduced to 8.  There will be mixed used, student accommodation, better transport links etc.  The tour guide was understandably cagey on when the site might finally have 6,000 employees, but that’s the (aspirational) target.  The other tour guide, showing us around the other half of the building was much more blunt, and pointed out a series of decisions/actions which undercut the general green patina.

The point of the evening though was the hosting of a ‘conversation’ about sustainable buildings and the circular economy.  Hmmm.  If you only schedule an hour, then having a late start, a long lead in and then five (rather than the three advertised) speakers, means that there ain’t gonna be much conversation, now is there?

I stuck my hand up first, because I had to be on the (last) train out at 7.10.  A two header, offering speakers the chance to pick either the easy or hard one.  Easy one – “how is circular economy anything new, compared to typical make-do and mend, traditional ‘conserver’ economies.”  Hard one- “where is the sense of urgency, I heard nothing about changing the rules of the game. We’ve lost the reef, the arctic, the Antarctic is going…”

One chap chose the hard one and said yes, economic growth can’t continue.  Another person answered a totally different question. The author of a report on the Circular Economy went for the hard one and the answer is worth relating and commenting on.  In precis – yes, accepting the scale of the problem.  But Rachel Carson predicted doom, Ozone people predicted doom, didn’t happen. Therefore we need to work ‘with’ business to get anything done, can’t go around scaring people.

Hmm.  Actually, Carson offered possibilities, then action followed. Ditto on Ozone- if we had kept spewing CFCs up, then there would have been real trouble.  But beyond this historical inaccuracy, there is the point that it cuts both ways. “We” have been sucking up to business since the 70s, and where has it got us other  than [redacted on legal advice].  Where is the step change? Where is the game changing? Because on current trajectories, we are toast.

So, had to walk out during the  answer from a panellist, which was awkward, but there’s a podcast apparently… Train then cycle home, more grunt work.

Weds 5th

Walk around park again, scribbling on my thesis – first empirical chapter.  Then work at home.  Then went to this event in the city centre.  It was rather good. Home via shops (there’s only so long you can use an airline provided toothbrush).  Was supposed to be going to a community energy event with Heather, but I stuffed up the address, she couldn’t find me, so had to head on.  Pretty groggy though (a bit of jetlag) and probably good I wasn’t there (snoring in the front row a bad look).  So, a bit more grunt work on the thesis, and to bed…

Technology as fetish? South Australia and the Social Economy.

A rather interesting event today, high above the mean streets of Adelaide.  What place might “technology” (we will come back to the scare quotes) have in helping Adelaide (and South Australia more generally) cope with the slings and arrows of deindustrialisation and globalisation?

The event was organised by the Dunstan Foundation (named for the last SA Premier to properly shake things up. He stepped down in 1979), and sponsored by “Connecting Up”. The Dunstan Foundation is revivifying the ‘Thinkers in Residence’ programme, which started 15 years ago with the late great climate scientist Stephen Schneider.  The theme these days is ‘Social Capital’, and it was this context which brought people together to listen to (and engage with) Suzi Sosa. Who she? She is  ‘Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verb, a global social enterprise producing large-the competitions focused on pressing social and environmental issues.’
And she’s a pretty good facilitator, when it comes down to it.  There were twenty of us, apparently a younger crowd than the previous roundtables that have taken place over the last few days (Adelaide as gerontocracy? Who knew?). The specific question was “Social Impact and ICT.’

As the chair said in his opening comments explaining the re-birth of the Thinkers in Residence programme, the ‘social economy´ matters; in the aftermath of a major employer shutting down, a report revealed that it is a significant employer, and the Dunstan Foundation is interested how to make the social economy work for SA, how to speed it up (with technology).

Ms Souza made some brief opening remarks – South Australia at fork in road, question of whether to try to entice a big employer or try for local entrepreneurship (that ‘endogenous growth that Gordon Brown used to talk about).  And meanwhile, Gen Y and Z types are restive – with 70% saying they are looking for purpose/meaning in their daily work.  There was a certain amount of buzzword bingo- cutting edge/going forward/DNA- but I think I detected a little self-knowingness in them.

We then had a name-go-round and brief self intro of the 20 of us.  I outed myself as a skeptic on ‘social capital’, saying at the time that my scepticism was down to the buzzword nature of it (compare sustainable development, participatory etc.). I didn’t say it’s because it’s part of the constellation of terms – resilience, continuous professional development/lifelong learning – which add up to the subjectification under neoliberalism, what Jurgie Habermas would call the colonisation of the life world. Why not? Time, cans and worms etc; see also.)

The conversation was relatively ahistorical, not-informed by sociology/ anthropology/ science and technology studies. The term ‘technology’ didn’t get thoroughly unpacked/critiqued, and there was uncertainty about who this ‘we’ was who was doing things, or planning to do so.  Nothing on hype cycles either. After a while, thanks to a couple of the women (especially the one sat opposite me) it picked up, with mention of participatory democracy.

At this point I pitched in and asked if anyone remembered the 1995 essay ‘the Californian Ideology’, which critiqued the rhetoric of empowerment around the coming of the World Wide Web and dotcom neoliberalism  (I might also have mentioned Clifford Stoll’s excellent Silicon Snake Oil).  I pointed out that each new technology – television, radio, newspapers, the printing press – came with expectations that it would solve social problems (poverty, ill-health etc) but that mysteriously they don’t, that questions of power and privilege cannot be buried under boosterism.

(I could have mentioned the Sustainability Fix,

but I didn’t want to give the (completely incorrect) impression of being an arrogant know-it-all.)

Ms Souza pushed me to explain what I thought about entrepreneurial ecosystems and how to help them along.  I suggested that there needed to be Devils’ Advocates and unusual supects  baked into the process, or else it would be a smart club which came up with some good ideas but didn’t reach its potential. I pointed out that there was a huge expat community of Adelaidians scattered around the world (not just in Sydney and Melbourne) who care deeply about the city, would like to come back, and that the technology surely existed to make them part of this conversation.

The conversation moved on in interesting ways; Adelaide is less staid than it was/young people no longer asking permission, there is still a braindrain, one of Adelaide’s advantages is that everyone knows everyone (1.5 degrees of separation), of the opportunity to something other than ‘catch up’ with Sydney, e.g. Austin’s “stay weird” slogan, human-centred design, volunteers as both asset but also inertial block, millennials wanting their superannuation to Do Good In The World., the problem of matching those with the skills and those who need them.

Ms Souza kept the conversation going in useful ways with a gentle nudge here and there. She told a good anecdote of having to switch a pitch from CSR departments (no money, risk averse) to HR departments, and the need to learn a new language and sell what was offering as talent retention rather than Doing Good in the World.  Her closing gambit was to do another systematic go-round of what should be in her report of recommendations of what is to be done.

Lots of useful ideas – including about the importance of business models, the risk-aversion of NGOs when their funding is on-the-line and much else. I pitched in the warning ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails and that there might be space for a monthly ‘lek’ complete with skype/facetime/livestreaming for people in the provinces. It would need to be well-designed, facilitated and enforced so people can actually properly meet and connect If it’s not, if those with the greatest social capital dominate, others will quickly vote with their feet, and things are worse than they were before…

Thoughts on the event.  Nicely done.  Good format, input from some very smart people.  However, nothing on the downsides of Big Data, on the downsides of meritocracy, the risks of volunteering as downward pressure on wages, the old saw ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’  A touching faith in the power of our tools…

There was  a good practical focus on where is the money coming from/getting investment (and someone smart said afterwards, the impact of the State Bank collapse in the early 1990s has not been mentioned/understood).

There was, inevitably,  a game of buzzword bingo to be had-

Social imaginary, start-ups, tech savvy, siloed, entrepreneurial ecosystem, activate, leverage, hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure, technology as enabler (nowt on how technology can disable)

I’ve been to three things so far this week, (see this) and despite its silence on the pending ecological debacle,  this was by far the most interesting and fruitful.  It will be interesting to see what is in Ms Souza’s report, and what South Australia does next…