Category Archives: Australia

“Stop building coal-fired power stations” say green groups. In 1988. #auspol #climate ffs

This species. I mean, seriously.


1988 11 07 greenhouse switch

Anon, 1988. Greenhouse Switch. Australian Financial Review, 7 November, p.4

Australian governments should stop building coal-fired power stations as a start to combatting the greenhouse effect, conservation groups said yesterday. A group of 25 conservation, consumer and other community organisations said brown coal was the “dirtiest” of the fossil fuels and produced higher levels of carbon dioxide than black coal, oil and natural gas. Increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide, have been blamed for a forecast gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere. The group said Australia should start switching power generation to the cleanest fossil fuel – natural gas.





Save the earth? Yes, but not if it costs…. #auspol #climate history 1982

So, there was this thing called the Australian Environment Council, made up of Federal and State ministers of the environment. It was set up in 1972 and had a long-ish run.  And, as is the nature of these beasts, it produced Reports.

And number 7, published in 1982,  was on the public’s willingness to pay for clean air.

1982 aec public willingness cover


And this on page 4 (part of the executive summary) is (pardon the pun) priceless.

1982 aec publiic willingness p4
Plus ca change….

(And no, I am not falling for the regressive/reactionary line that individual consumers are to blame, that there is no such thing as capitalism/state constraint of ‘choices’.  I’m just saying that unless civil society organisations work harder and smarter than they have done then these sorts of ‘tragedy of the commons’ things are very likely.)

What we knew on #climate in 1971… #auspol

A couple of years ago the folks at the Conversation asked me to bash out a piece on what Australians knew about climate change in the late 60s, early 70s. I did an okay-ish job, but have since radically expanded my knowledge of that period.  What we have below is not the first mention of climate change in books (you could see A Dirty Story and The Effluent Society both published 1970), but this is one of the more detailed ones, and was written by a couple of well-respected scientists.

I plan, #afterthethesis (which is imminent), to do something more systematic about who said what when (and it went all the way to the top – Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony, in 1971, f. ex).  For now, this – climate change was being spoken of in terms of foreboding back in 1968-9 by Australian scientists…

1971 conservation cover

but don’t judge a book just by its FRONT cover…

1971 conservation back cover

and then there is a mention in the first chapter…

1971 conservation page 27

1971 conservation page 28

Costin, A and Marples, T. 1971. The Nature and Quality of Resources in Costin, A and Frith, H. (eds) Conservation. Ringwood, Victoria: Pelican pp.  11-42.

We’re so toast.

WTAF ABC? Deafening #climate silence on Radio National. #frydenberg #auspol #chomsky

‘The Australian Energy Market Operator has just released a report on the future of the Australian energy market.  Giles Parkinson over at has probably already got a 4000 word forensic demolition of it posted [sort of].  It is clearly going to be used by various shades of fossil fuel friends to say “only coal can provide reliable cheap baseload power,” their dominant (and false to the point of hilarity) meme.

But this: This morning as I walked around the park with the backpack full of logs and bricks, I had my transistor radio with me.  And I heard an extraordinarily poor interview on the flagship RadioNational program by some guy called Hamish McDonald, interviewing the energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg about the AEMO report.  It went on for about fifteen excruciating minutes.  Here are some words that never were uttered: climate change, carbon dioxide, emissions, Paris Agreement.

I can understand Frydenberg not wanting to bring them up (every time he does, the Nationals have a hissy fit), but the craven surrender by the ABC guy (the ABC is being bullied into submission much as the BBC has been) will be very hard to explain to kids 20 years from now, as the really serious shit is hitting the fan.

Chomsky nailed this when he and Edward Herman talked about the manufacturing of consent, of thought control in democratic societies.

And here, courtesy of a brilliant friend of mine, is a twitter thread from Alex Steffen

It is very difficult for most members of the American press/academia/punditry to accept the idea that their core thinking on climate change and the planetary crisis has been bounded and shaped by Carbon Lobby propaganda… much less grapple with the implications of that fact. 1/

Fear and the capture of new markets #transitions #energy

Oh I want a post-doc.  Not just for the paying of the bills: I actually know what I want to study too. I want to study the mobilisation of emotions (fear, greed, hope etc) by entrepreneurs and contrapreneurs to

  • create new markets
  • capture existing/emerging ones
  • prevent new ones forming because it offends your a) worldview and/or b) balance sheet.

solarpower feasibleI know how I’d study it too, conceptually: I want to combine institutional theory (my new intellectual crush – but I’m not blind to the critique of it from the critical management studies types) and transitions studies (I’m probably ready to move from the MLP – clunky, undercooked and overegged – to Strategic Niche Management.  And that would also take in social movement studies, I suppose.

While of course not losing sight, a la Benjamin the Donkey in Animal Farm, that it is all futile anyway because Oh Susie we ran out of time, as Bill McKibben just said about The Donald.

Where does all this exuberance come from?  From the incumbent tactics on display in my ‘home’ country of Australia.  Basically, the guys who like and/or own centralised fossil development realise that they need to slow down the move towards renewables and grid fragmentation (the two overlap, but aren’t the same thing).

And so they’re beating up all sorts of stories about inevitable blackouts.  This is standard operating procedure when a new technology threatens the interests of people currently making a packet: you’d only be surprised if it wasn’t happening.  But here’s what someone told the fantastic Reneweconomy site. about the emerging market in peer-to-peer electricity trading etc (emphasis added).

The networks, initially, for convincing the regulator to allow them to spend tens of millions of dollars on IT systems and research, and further out because they might see a role for themselves in aggregating this demand and playing in the wholesale or grid services market.

Greensync and co like it because they want to be the traders of this new commodity. As we reported on Wednesday, in our story devoid of blackout threats, we will get some idea of what this DSO and orchestration might look like, and who might control it, when AEMO and the ENA release a joint report next week.

And as one wise soul pointed out to RenewEconomy on the sidelines of the conference: “A lot of companies are hanging their hat on this. There’s a lot of money to be made for this, they all want boxes in houses, and they want it to be their box.”

And, this good person further noted, the best way to get things moving in Australia – and grab control of a citizen’s asset – is to spread alarmist rhetoric, confect crisis, and then look like you have a solution.

It’s the old “stampede” tactic. To be studied in real-time.  Looking at the cultural-cognitive and normative pillars, rather than (just) the regulative one. Looking at the competing institutional logics and resulting complexity, and how different actors engage in different types of institutional work/entrepreneurship/convening/partaking to manage that complexity.  Ya basta with the tedious regime (in the MLP sense)  stuff, based as it is on structuration and a fudge of monumental and consequential proportions…

Onwards (and “Death to Humanity”, as Napoleon the pig would say. Obvs).


#TomLehrer in #Australia (also, happy 90th…)

Tom Lehrer celebrated his 90th birthday today – he’s definitely old and grey.

Born in New York, Lehrer began studying classical piano aged seven. However, popular music caught his eye, and he began writing show tunes . A prodigy, he started at Harvard aged 15. There he began to write comic songs, including a spoof football fight song –  “Fight Fiercely, Harvard” – which has been performed ever since.

By 1953 he had enough songs to release a 12 song album ‘Songs by Tom Lehrer’, which included classics like “The Old Dope Peddler” (“he gives the kids free samples, because he knows full well, that today’s young innocent faces will be tomorrow’s clientele”, a song telling boy scouts to “Be Prepared” (culminating – spoiler alert – in the invocation to always carry condoms) and other songs from the silly to the downright macabre.

Since US radio stations wouldn’t play songs about murder, racism, plagiarism and worse, the album was a ‘sleeper hit’ – spreading by word of mouth. Lehrer later recalled “lacking exposure in the media, my songs spread slowly. Like herpes, rather than ebola.”

Lehrer spent the next few years working as a researcher at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and was drafted into the Army from 1955 to 1957. He continued to play nighclubs in Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco, His musical “career” then received a huge boost from…. Princess Margaret. The oration accompanying her honorary doctorate in music from the University of London mentioned her liking for Lehrer’s work.

(Lehrer ended up performed in front of the royal family, and afterwards Prince Philip shook his hand and said he’d always enjoyed listening to “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”. Lehrer asked if the Queen liked it too. “Oh, she thinks it’s horrid. She leaves the room if we put it on”.)

The BBC was less shy than American radio stations about playing his songs, and Lehrer became well known in the UK, having sold 370,000 records by the end of the 1950s.

And then, in 1960, taking the opportunity that his new-found fame allowed him, he visited the Australia of Robert Menzies….

On tour in Australia

Lehrer’s music was already on the Australian radar. The previous year a Labor MP had asked the Prime Minister if he knew any of Lehrer’s work, which had been withdrawn by the record company EMI from sale for fear of offence (and possibly banned).

Menzies denied knowledge – “Do I gather that these songs are romantic or what?”

During his tour Lehrer made mock efforts to set the record straight.

When he performed in Brisbane, the chief of police tried to prevent Lehrer singing Be Prepared (aside its condom advice it had also advised “don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice, unless you get a good percentage of her price”).

While audiences in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney got the full benefit of Lehrer’s decidely cynical and bleak worldview (surely influenced by Yiddish sensibilities), Adelaide was not so lucky. Ruled with an iron fist by Thomas Playford, South Australia was not ready for Lehrer.

A young ALP MP called Don Dunstan asked questions of Playford about censorship, but to no avail. During his two nights of performing at Adelaide Town Hall, there were five songs which were off-limits. His audience knew those songs, and at one point he teasingly began to play one of them. Lehrer apparently quipped that South Australia had the “finest 18th century government in the world”.

Lehrer took it all in his stride, saying that having been “banned, censored, mentioned in several houses of parliament and threatened with arrest” was “the highlight of his life”.

tom lehrer discovers australiaThe tour resulted in an album of live recordings “Tom Lehrer discovers Australia (and vice versa)” (the cover shows him in a staring contest with a kangaroo). Lehrer also debuted a song that couldn’t be banned- “The Masochism Tango” (“I ache for the touch of your lips dear, but much more for the touch of your whips dear…”)


After Australia Lehrer briefly taught political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (and presumably got confused with Noam Chomsky, who is exactly the same age.)

He then produced a flurry of brilliant topical songs for a short-lived satirical TV show called ‘That was the week that was’. The album (That Was the Year that Was’ covers smut, the teaching of ‘new math’ and – infamously – a song about the German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun (‘once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down, that’s not my department says Werhner von Braun’.)

And then – tired of touring, tired of singing the same songs, and with real life becoming ever less funny, Lehrer basically retired from performing. His last gig, in 1972, was a fundraiser for the doomed Presidential candidate George McGovern.

He then spent 40 years teaching math and American popular music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1999 the British historian Martin Gilbert named Lehrer as one of the 10 great figures of the previous 100 years. “Lehrer was able to express and to expose, in humorous verse and lilting music, some of the most powerful dangers of the second half of the century … Many of the causes of which Lehrer sang became, three decades later, part of the main creative impulse of mankind,”

Indeed, for a man who hasn’t really performed since 1972, Lehrer’s fan-base remains enormous (full disclosure: my one appearance on the UK ‘Mastermind’ hinged on my specialist round -the songs of Tom Lehrer.)  In 2012, when the rapper 2 Chainz, a rapper, asked to sample “The Old Dope Peddler” in one of his tracks, Mr Lehrer was keen to help. “I grant you motherfuckers permission to do this,” he supposedly answered. “Please give my regards to Mr Chainz, or may I call him 2?”

So, to celebrate this man, have a trawl through his (remarkably small number of) songs.

I guarantee there will be something to delight, horrify and amuse, as you slide down the razor blade of life…

Nice power/authority distinction

I have been – by wiser heads than mine – warned off trying to bite off much more for The Thesis, and we all agree with the imperative to Get The Damned Thing Finished.  So, am not going to open up the box marked “power” more than a little peek…  That’s for a mythical post-doc…

Meanwhile, Gerard Henderson (I’m not really a fan, but “stopped clocks” and all that) had this to say this morning about the Barnaby Joyce fiasco (the latest one, I mean) on ABC’s Insiders this morning (18 February 2018)

“As we know in politics, politicians often think they have power.  They don’t really have power, they have legitimate authority. They may make powerful decisions, but what they have is authority. Once you lose your authority, once you’re de-authorised, like Barnaby Joyce is, it’s very difficult to hang on….”

Reminds me of Somerset Maugham‘s observation in Then and Now (his imagining of Machiavelli past his prime) about the thing politicians not being able to survive being ridicule/mockery….