Category Archives: our doomedness

“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.

 

 

 

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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 reneweconomy.com.au 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/

Can we see right? With C. Wright, maybe…

I’m going through my unread gmail messages, tracking down notes to myself about the four empirical chapters of The Thesis  (which is all but done).  And I’m stumbling on stuff that I always intended to blog/think more about.  Here’s one (should probably turn into a video!)

“The first rule for understanding the human condition is that men live in second-hand worlds. They are aware of much more than they have experienced; and their own experience is always indirect. The quality of their lives is determined by meanings they have received from others. Everyone lives in a world of such meaning. No man stands alone directly confronting a world of solid fact. No such world is available. The closest men come to it is when they are infants or when they become insane: then, in a terrifying scene of meaningless events and senseless confusion, they are often seized with the panic of near-total insecurity. But in their everyday life they do not experience a world of solid fact; their experience itself is selected by stereotyped meaning and shaped by ready-made interpretation. their images of the world, and of themselves, are given to them by crowds of witnesses they have never met and never shall meet. Yet for every man these images – provided by strangers and dead men – are the very basis of his life as a human being.

“The consciousness of men does not determine their material existence; nor does their material existence determine their consciousness. Between consciousness and existence stand meanings and designs and communications which other men have passed on – first, in human speech itself, and later, by the management of symbols. These received and manipulated interpretation decisively influence such consciousness as men have of their existence. They provide the clues to what men see, to how they respond to it, to how they feel about it, and to how they respond to these feelings. Symbols focus experience; meanings organize knowledge, guiding the surface perceptions of an instant no less than the aspiration of a lifetime. Every man, to be sure, observes nature, social events, and his own self; but he does not, he has never, observed most of what he takes to be fact, about nature, society, or self.

“Every man interprets what he observes – as well as much that the has not observed: but his terms of interpretation are not his own; he has not personally formulated or even tested them. Every man talks about observations to others: but the terms of his reports are much more likely than not the phrases and images of other people which he has taken over as his own. For most of what he calls solid fact, sound interpretation, suitable presentation, every man is increasingly dependent upon the observation posts, the interpretation centers, the presentation depots, which in contemporary society are established by means of what I am going to call the cultural apparatus.”

C. Wright Mills, “The Cultural Apparatus,” in Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills, p. 405-406

#climate justice or just us? Of learning, time machines and the “what should have been done”#AFoI2018

May as well put cards on the table. I think we’re fubarred. I think that we’ve now left it “too late” and a grim meathook future is all we have to look forward too.  There is probably still time to learn a bunch of new skills, use our technology specifically to soften the coming climate blows.  But we (and by we I mean entirely culpable middle-class people like me with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of information) seem more interested in diverting ourselves, and in believing the soothing bullshit about the Paris Agreement and shiny new technologies.

Right, that said, I went to a bunch of mostly excellent sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas today. (Saturday 14th)  One of them was on environmental justice (forms of justice – energy, climate, transitions, are a big topic with academics, btw).   With my “even though we’re fubarred we have to act as if we’re not blah blah Gramscian optimism blah blah” hat on, I asked the panellists my curly “if you had a time machine and could warn your younger self” question.  The answers were interesting, but imo incomplete.  So this blog post will take you through

  • the outline of who said what during the panel
  • my question and the gist of the panellists’ answers
  • the answer I would have given

oh, there’s also

  • how the panel could have been done differently
  • an appeal from GetUp! about the Federal Government trying to bully them into silence

The panel was chaired by Andrew P. Street, and the panellists were Peter Owen, (who heads up the South Australian Wilderness Society), Mark Diesendorf (who has been working on renewable energy – as a scientist, activist and policy wonk – for four decades), Professor Fiona Haines (a criminologist, has written The Paradox of Regulation) and Miriam Lyons (who has worked for various outfits, is now with GetUp! Of which more later).  The format was simple – questions from the chair to each of the speakers, and then the floor would be open for questions from the audience (which was very white, and very old – where are the young people?  Does a Festival of Ideas not appeal? Are they all working second and third jobs to pay for their smashed avocado toast?)

Street started with a very good question – “what got you involved in environmental action/activism?”

For Diesendorf  it was the realisation that his PhD thesis – on the physics of the centre of the sun – was being used by hydrogen bomb makers at Lawrence Livermore. That led him into activism with groups like Scientists for Social Responsibility.

Fiona Haines had started out looking at white colour crime – her PhD had looked at how companies responded to the deaths of workers, and she then looked at the impact on trade practices from mass She made the (entirely valid and frankly terrifying) point that we are at a tipping point, with the oceans emptying of fish while filling with plastic, heatwaves getting hotter… (see blog post about Wednesday’s event at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre).

Peter Owen told of playing on the (closed) mouth of the River Murray in 1981, and later realising birds and dolphins were disappearing.  His father getting sued over Hindmarsh Island bridge protesting led to an interest in law.   (This is the clearest case of the four of  how “significant life experiences affect environmental action”, i.e.  unstructured and unsupervised play in  ‘nature’ before the age of 11 may well lead to a life long passion for “the environment”).  He and the Wilderness Society are now trying to stop oil companies taking a great big and very unhealthy bite out of the Great Australian Bight

Miriam Lyons said that she was an environmental activist – taking examples of “pollushun” to school show and tell before she could spell, and sending a protest letter to Indonesian dictator Suharto about rainforest destruction when she was 6 or 7.  Contact with legendary public servant John Menadue and mutual frustration about the left being good at saying what it was against but not what it was for led to the creation of the Centre for Policy Development.  Frustration with the ALP’s ability to adopt progressive rhetoric without the policy follow through has led her to other work, including Get Up! She gave a shout out to its work on a policy blueprint to make the energy transition fairer. (Not sure if she was referring to the 2016 Homegrown Energy Plan, done with Solar Citizens, or something newer).

Street then mentioned that lots of things don’t work when trying to get change, and asked the panellists to talk things that DO work.

Lyons gave the example of what Get Up! did after the 2016 election when the Turnbull government tried to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (history lesson – it had been set up under the Gillard government as part of the Clean Energy Future package – both ALP and Greens claim credit for the idea. Crucially, the Greens insisted it not be under the control of the then-Energy minister Martin Ferguson, who now chairs the advisory board of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association).  GetUp! took a decision to make ARENA’s work tangible, putting up billboards in the marginal electorates where ARENA had funded projects, getting supporters to do emails, phone calls and the physical delivery of reports to the MP’s office.  She said “whenever you’re being told that you’re being counter-productive/you’d catch more flies with honey” it’s not true and you’re very close to winning if you go a bit harder.”

Owen mentioned that TV media matters for ‘maximum impct, with actions that are bright, colourful and positive.  Commercial TV coverage is worth far more than ABC. He pointed to the Wilderness Society commissioning its own oil spill impacts study when BP refused to release the work it had done, which was expensive but worth doing.  He argued that both the Coalition and the ALP have been captured by the fossil fuel industry.  He referenced a UN SDG report in the last week that shows Australia as the worst country in the world when it comes to climate action.

Fiona Haines said there were two things that make a difference. Firstly, understanding the importance of political risk. Government responses to disasters (not just environmental – could be a factory fire/collapse etc) is framed by political risk i.e. dealing with the political and economic fallout from the disaster. This they do in two ways (1) by reassuring people that they are safe and secure (or that they are the only party that can do so) and (2) by protecting their revenue and the conditions for capital investment. Dealing with the physical, technical and engineering elements is secondary to this and gets pushed aside.  We can’t expect governments not to do deal with political risk (it is part of a capitalist democracy’s DNA) .– but the challenge is making sure they see that they do so in a way that also deals with the physical aspects of the disaster. Understanding this can help direct public campaigns and outrage a little better. Secondly, Secondly she spoke on CSG protests and AGL’s divestment, saying that it’s a complex story, including the fact that AGL only had limited exposure in any case, and that investors guides to the market had made a difference. (See Haines et al. 2016.  Taming business? A critical analysis of AGL’s decision to divest from coal seam gas). For Haines, it’s not about individual pressures/tactics but how the pieces fit together (exactly.  It’s synergies and consistent/persistent pressure(s) not singular moments).

Mark Diesendorf related the story of Franklin Roosevelt telling a civil society pressure group “you’ve convinced me, now get out there and make me do it.”  He said that lobbying is useless without further pressure, with positive results coming from community groups (Solar Citizens, 100% renewables, ACF, Greenpeace, Get Up!)

So, that all took rather a long time.  There was only time for one question and I got lucky (i.e. I am a huge white middle-class male who put up his hand early and made eye contact with the chair).  What I said was something very similar to this:

Thanks to the panel.  In 1988 there was a Greenhouse 88 conference that many people in this room probably remember. We’ve known about this problem for thirty years, but it’s getting worse.  So, if the panellists had a time machine and could go back then, what advice would they give?  Do we need to do more of the same – more marches, more people dressed in penguin costumes, or do we need to do something ELSE, something different?

Here’s my best approximation of what the panellists said. It’s followed by my critique/attempt at an answer to that question.

Lyons: Be unafraid about how risky our situation is Don’t worry about frightening people into inaction if you have a proportionate action to suggest/help with.  “The world is burning – change your light bulbs” is no good, but “the world is burning we need to get the right promises from politicians and then hold them to account” is better. Honesty about the scale of the problems and the scale of the solutions is needed.  If we go through the lens of politicians and CEOs about ‘achievability’ we get nowhere. We need to drag the political opportunity structures over to the physical activity level.

Owen:  Incrementalism has been wrong. We’ve got to go flat out.  There’s no future in 20-30 years if not dealt with immediately.  We’ve been in a ‘transitions’ phase for three generations.  When war approaches, we down tools and act, collectively.

Haines: I was at a community event in NSW, where the town was split on the subject of fossil fuels excavation nearby and someone said “why is it wrong to care about the Great Barrier Reef?” The context was that they were getting grief from other people in town who thought caring about the environment meant not caring about human well-being. So, we have to have justice as part of  what we talk about.

Mark Diesendorf was cautious on the war mobilisation analogy (see his work on this, with a former PhD student, Laurence Delina– “Is wartime mobilisation a suitable policy model for rapid national climate mitigation?“), and pointed out that social change is slow and hard, that social movement activity is hard.

So, good answers in as far as the y go, but mostly addressed to ‘messaging’ and ‘mobilising’.  Here’s what I’d have (tried to) say.  Underneath are some hyperlinks to other things I’ve written.

Over the last thirty years we’ve made a series of what can be termed mistakes, but seemed like good ideas at the time.  We’ve spent time, credibility and energy within ‘consultative’ policy development processes which ended in minimal and tokenistic action or NO action, leaving us demoralised and discredited.

We’ve tried to build common cause with some unions – see the Green Jobs Unit, the Green Goldrush campaign – but have been naïve about the power of a few unions who see coal jobs as basically sacrosanct.

Above all else, we’ve confused mobilising with movement-building. It’s easier to get people out for a march or a protest.  These can invigorate, give hope. But they can also lead to people thinking ‘I’ve done my bit’, and they suck up enormous amounts of time and bandwidth. They can lead to a cycle of emotathons

It’s even more important to grow social movement organisation groups, so they can hold meetings that are welcoming, appealing to new people, that can absorb the energy and skills of people who can’t come to endless meetings and don’t necessarily want to be part of activist subcultures.  This panel is an example of this – a set of experts at the front of the room, telling the assembled rows of ‘ego-fodder’ the truth. We should have been more interested in creating links among you, and finding out what skills, knowledge and connections you have, and what skills, knowledge and  connections you need to become powerful active citizens. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.

We need to go to people – especially old people, poor people, minorities etc and listen, and work with not at or on.  And we are doing that – “powerful conversations” – but we needed to be doing it 30 years ago.

What could have been done differently?

 

Marc Hudson is finishing his PhD.  No, honestly. His writing on (on climate policy, renewables etc) has appeared in The Conversationreneweconomy.com.au and in various Australian newspapers He is researching an article on the “Greenhouse 88” conference (especially the Adelaide element). If you were at it, he would love to hear from you. Also, please pass this on to anyone who was at the event.
Email: marcmywords@gmail.com
Phone: 04979 32031

That GetUp! Email.

We haven’t seen anything like this before.

The Turnbull Government recently passed new police state laws that threaten our movement’s ability to campaign for a fair, flourishing and just Australia.1,2

Actions that merely harm the government’s reputation on political or economic matters can now be prosecuted as serious national security offences. So peaceful blockades of Adani coal operations, or exposing the truth about child abuse on Nauru to the UN, could carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.3

Don’t think they’ll do it? Well, in what independent MP Andrew Wilkie has called “an act of bastardry”, the Turnbull Government just authorised the prosecution of ‘Witness K’ and their lawyer for exposing potentially illegal actions by the Howard Government.4,5

It’s all having a huge chilling effect on GetUp’s campaign plans. That’s why today all of us, as GetUp’s lead campaigners, are taking the unusual step of contacting you, together. 

We urgently need to build up our people-powered Civil Defence Fund to get the best, ongoing legal advice on how these new anti-democratic laws apply to our campaigns. But it doesn’t stop there, because if we can gather enough ongoing support we’re going to prepare for a potential constitutional challenge – that could see these laws struck down in the High Court. 

But in order to take on the power of a government hell bent on suppressing truth and dissent we need a fresh new tide of members to join our GetUp Crew, who make a weekly contribution to support our work.

Can you help fund this legal fight by joining the GetUp Crew with a regular, weekly donation to our Civil Defence Fund?

Last night we held frantic teleconferences with whistleblowers and activists who want to shine a light on the abuse of children in Australia’s detention camps on Nauru. The question we asked each other was: could we face a 25 year prison sentence for doing so?

And if Stop Adani activists blockade roads to coal ports or mines, Attorney-General Christian Porter may decide to prosecute this peaceful act of protest as “sabotage” – punishable by up to 7 years behind bars. He could do the same for protests against the secretive TPP trade deal, breaches of international law or even people protesting against Australia going to war.6

This is the same Christian Porter who authorised the prosecution of Witness K, and their lawyer, for exposing the Howard Government’s dodgy spying operation against East Timor, to swindle the impoverished nation out of billions in natural resources.

That’s why we need to build up a people-powered fund to give us access to the best legal firepower available, to ensure these laws don’t erode our ability to campaign, or indeed our democracy.

Can you join the GetUp Crew by making a weekly contribution to our Civil Defence Fund?

We urgently need to know how these new anti-democratic laws could impact our campaigns. And we have a legal brief ready to put into the hands of a high-powered law firm with a track record of beating back abuse of government power.

We’re also in this fight for the long haul. We’re ready to talk to some of the best barristers in the nation about a possible constitutional challenge. Can you imagine being part of a landmark High Court case to defend the freedom of political speech?

But we’re up against the full might of a Federal Government that’s on a mission to bully, silence and raze its political opponents to the ground. We can’t do any of this without a brave new tide of supporters joining our GetUp Crew.

Can you make a regular weekly contribution to defend everything we do together? 

Film review; Bag It

How many innocents lose their lives,
In the gloss of the packaging?

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, by the great British punk singer TV Smith.

bag itBag It is a good documentary, in the vein of Roger and Me (where Michael Moore tried to get a face-to-face interview with a General Motors chairman), Supersize Me  (where a now-disgraced film-maker ate nowt but McDonalds for a month) and No Impact Man (guy minimises his waste footprint).  A “naïve” (that’s evian spelt backwards) everyman begins by investigating plastic bags, and as he goes, the scope gets wider and wider.  Meanwhile, his partner is pregnant.

Along the way he speaks to various experts about plastics’ impact on wildlife (especially in the oceans – it’s in these scenes that one’s loathing for the human species in all its grotesque vandalism could get on top of a viewer), the human impacts (phthlatates  and bisphenol A , and the awful conditions for people in the so-called ‘developing world’ as they cope with Westerners’ waste) and the counter-attacks of incumbents (hello American Chemicals Council) in defeating efforts to price or regulate plastic bags.  Essential2living my fat arse.

There’s stuff on the horrific carbon footprint of the production of and transportation of bottled water, talking heads with Elizbaeth Royte of Garbage Land, Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff), Peter Coyote  (who is a great activist as well as a great actor) and a bunch of different scientists whose day job is to catalogue the demise of the species and ecosystems that they love.

There are a couple of dud notes (the ‘I like my lettuce like my ladies – loose’ told with a  winking leer is clearly a pre- #metoo moment (though I will be using it with the long-suffering Wife). Would it have killed them to have given a shout out to Rachel Carson  who warned about ocean pollution and human impacts, or to namecheck Barry Commoner as the originator of the oft-repeated line ‘there is no ‘away’’.  More seriously (and predictably) the ‘what to do’ list is crushingly individualistic, atomistic, largely apolitical.  Despite the film containing several examples of the nefarious anti-democratic actions of corporations and their trade associations, there is nothing in the list about being an active (and organised) citizen, of contesting the grotesque and ecocidal power of the corporate lobbyists. So it goes.