Category Archives: our doomedness

Two different papers on the history of #Australia and environment may be of interest.


Ward (2015) “Tea Party imitators? The campaign against the carbon tax, the media and a new uncivil politics”, Australian Journal of Political Science, 50:2, 225-240,

there is a very handy account of the bizarre and distasteful year of 2011, when Julia Gillard as Australian Prime Minister skilfully steered the ‘Clean Energy Futures’ legislation through parliament. This package included the emission trading scheme that Tony Abbott, in his two years too long tenure as Australian prime minister abolished, but also created the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Authority (ARENA), all of which Abbott tried to kill off, but couldn’t manage (and have been moved from Industry to Environment by new Aussie Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull”

Ward recaps the growth of the American Tea Party and the ‘outrage industry’ that is cable television and talkback  (and remember, outrage is an anagram of ear gout) before giving detailed accounts of the Marrickville protest where Labor MP (and possible replacement for Bill Shorten) Anthony Albanese was confronted by a mob happy to call him liar, but not so willing to listen to a word he said) and the infamous ‘Ditch the Witch/Bob Brown’s Bitch’ rally of 23rd March, and tying it to the activism of media personalities (especially Sydney’s 2GB radio station.

Some might quibble with just how rigorous Ward’s of finding pictures online, randomly selecting and counting faces is, but absent a time machine to be at the rally, it will do. His broader points stand.

What could be added (but then, it would have exceeded the word limit!  You can only do so much in any given article);

  • The broader context of why Gillard had to go back on her promise, the MPCCC situation, the protests at the passage of the legislation.  (All covered in Philip Chubb’s (2014) Power Failure.)
  • The demographics of the anti-carbon tax brigade and the ‘anti-reflexivity’ framework propounded by Dunlap and Mc…
  • The huge mining industry advertising campaigns of 2010 and 2011 (including the Trade and Industry Alliance
  • The broader nature of the Australian media and the invisibility of the coal industry – Wendy Bacon and Chris Nash PLAYING THE MEDIA GAME The relative (in)visibility of coal industry interests in media reporting of coal as a climate change issue in Australia Journalism Studies

While Ward is focused on the peak year of 2011, Rootes has more years and more countries in his frame.

Rootes, C. (2015) “Exemplars and Influences: Transnational Flows in the Environmental Movement” Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 61, Number 3,, pp.414-431.

He’s looking at the how of how ideas travel (not always in straight lines!) and specifically at the genealogies of Green parties, Friends of the Earth and ‘Earth First!’, looking at the US, Australia and Europe.  I’ll declare an interest – I lived through a bunch of this stuff, and I know (fairly tangentially) one of the people written about).

It’s a good piece, full of rich detail, and some minor de-mythologising –

It has sometimes been claimed, usually by Australians, that it was developments in Australia that exported the “green” label to environmental politics in Europe.2 In particular, it has been claimed that the German activist Petra Kelly was inspired, after her 1977 visit to Australia, by the Green Bans imposed by the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) in Sydney to campaign for the formation of a Green party in Germany.3 Perhaps what most impressed Kelly was the spectacle of working men campaigning for environmental protection in practical and effective ways, in response to calls for protection from local communities confronted with threats to their environment, but it is improbable that that could have inspired the formation in Germany of a new party or, indeed, the decision to label it “green”. After all, there were plenty of other factors driving in that direction in the ferment of German extra-parliamentary politics in those years.

And lots of things I didn’t know about American environmentalism-

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has become the most extensive network of autonomous environmental NGOs in the world.17 It had an unambiguous single point of origin as the brainchild of David Brower, who had resigned as executive director of the Sierra Club, the organisation established in California by John Muir in 1892 to promote the preservation of wilderness areas in the American west. Brower fell out with the board of directors of the Sierra Club over finances but also over his opposition to nuclear energy, and his expression of regret that the Club had voted to accept construction of a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.

And UK FOE’s history –

FoE was committed to action that was not only non-violent but legal, even to the extent of frustrating supporters who wanted to be more directly active. Such discontents were crystallised when, despite FoE’s long campaign against nuclear energy, the 1978 Windscale nuclear reprocessing inquiry report dismissed FoE’s arguments. Many supporters were disillusioned, and some defected to Greenpeace.19 Nevertheless, FoE survived this and subsequent financial problems that precipitated an office revolt that ended in the empowerment of officers and its 250 autonomous local groups.

Things I need (or rather, want!) to look into more;

  • The Terania Creek blockade and the following victories.
  • The Wran government’s decision to create national parks freed up activists to help fight the Franklin Dam battle in 1982-3. (Wran was an interesting character – supported the White Cliffs solar energy plan, was head of CSIRO in late 80s and seems to have clocked the threat of climate change)
  • John Seed

When will we give up on “two degrees”? And what will that mean?

Climate change is going to be an unmitigated disaster.  It already is, in fact.  But for all the talk of solar panels from 3-D printers this, and Paris that, we miss the big picture.  The big picture is that we are screwed, more and more people know that we are screwed, and that it won’t be long (2 years? 5 years?) before a bunch of reputable scientists sigh and say “We’ve been warning you mo-fos for Thirty Fricking Years.  Well, it’s too late now.”

THAT will be interesting. Not “fun to watch,” but interesting.  As the pennies drop, as the illusions shatter, there will be pleas for god to intervene, for geo-engineers to intervene.  For all sorts of stuff.  Here’s a flow chart I put together almost ten years ago. Anyone want to argue the toss with me?


The Fujimoto Imperative

My, doesn’t that sound like a particularly bad Robert Ludlum novel (three inch thrillers with three word titles)?

It’s about being able to blot out the horrible thing that is inevitably coming, and do what you have to do in the meantime.  Sisyphus blah de blah, yadder yadder yadder.  In case you don’t know the story;

Shun Fujimoto (藤本 俊 Fujimoto Shun?, born May 11, 1950) is a retired Japanese gymnast.

Shun Fujimoto
— Gymnast —
Discipline Men’s artistic gymnastics

He represented Japan at the 1976 Summer Olympics, where he won gold in the team competition.

Fujimoto achieved fame by continuing to compete in the team event right after breaking his knee during the floor exercise. He scored 9.5 on the pommel horse and 9.7 on the rings with a broken knee, dismounting from the rings from eight feet above ground and keeping his balance after landing on his feet. He “raised his arms in a perfect finish before collapsing in agony”.[1][2] The dismount worsened his injury, dislocating his broken kneecap and tearing ligaments in his right leg. Doctors ordered him to withdraw from further competition or risk permanent disability.[3][4] One doctor stated:

“How he managed to do somersaults and twists and land without collapsing in screams is beyond my comprehension.”[5]

Fujimoto stated that he had not wanted to let his team down by revealing his injury.[6] His completing of the pommel horse and rings events enabled the team to win gold, defeating the team from the Soviet Union by a narrow margin.[7] Later, when asked whether he would do what he did again, he replied frankly, “No, I would not.”[8]

#Australia and #climate – a book, ‘Environmental Boomerang’ warning in 1973…

So, when climate change burst onto the scene in 1988, I doubt too many hardcore environmentalists were surprised.(1)

Carbon dioxide gets a few pages in the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ book, which went through numerous printings.  The earliest Australian book I have been able to find (so far!) is this –

‘Environmental Boomerang’, published in 1973 by Jacaranda Press, who may well now be owned by Wiley. was written by Len Webb, a giant of Australian rainforest science, and by all accounts all-round good bloke.  His account of the state of the knowledge at the time is fair and succinct (see below)

1973 environmental boomerang cover

Here’s the relevant bit-

1973 env boomerang page 63

1973 env boomerang page 64

In 1974 a senior Australian civil servant asked some scientists to look into climate change.  ‘Nothing to see here’ came the answer.  Then, the following year a more formal request was made, more work done and ‘probably nothing to see here’ came back in 1976.  Of which more another time…

(1) Personally, in 1982 I remember my class teacher talking about some television show that talked of atmospheric pollution lasting 1500 years.

Medical hubris and arrogance leads to “iatrogenic” agony…


“There was a period of about three years (1987-1990), however, when it became fashionable for physicians to reduce the rather long MR imaging times by using anisotropically shaped (i.e., non-square) imaging pixels in studies of the spine. As it turned out, this resulted in a prominent dark line appearing within the spinal cord. The dark line was a Gibbs ringing artifact. Unfortunately clinicians, not aware of this kind of artifact—for not being conversant with the mathematics used to transform the instrument signal into an image—at times interpreted this artifact as a disease process: a fluid-filled lesion known as a “syrinx” requiring aggressive medical treatment. Ultimately, the artifact was detected and explained by an individual (Bronskill, McVeigh et al. 1988) whose knowledge bridged medicine and physics. Unfortunately, this did not happen until a great many patients had been misdiagnosed and treated. Once the nature of the artifact was recognized, and its implications appreciated, later researchers identified it too as the cause of misdiagnosis of different disorders, for example, spinal cord atrophy (Yousem, Janick et al. 1990).”

Baird, D. & Cohen, M.: 1999, ‘Why trade?’, Perspectives on Science, 7, no. 2, 231-254.

Translation – a bunch of cocky doctors think they are clever taking short-cuts (to be fair, probably under-pressure from cheapskate hospital administrators).  They fall in love with their images.  And then the false positives mean a bunch of people undergo spinal taps (mildly painful) and get told they have spinal cord atrophy.

It’s almost as if we are a species that has fallen for our own propaganda, and have forgotten all the Greek myths etc that warn about hubris.

For “success”? Timing and conformity as key. Barry Jones, #Keynes and #climate

Barry Jones was the Australian Science Minister between 1983 and 1990, and a key figure in the coming of climate awareness to that country.  He is also a pretty smart guy (didn’t help him as a politician, naturlich).

barry jones timing is everything

Keynes said something different but similar –


We needed to be transruptive [another of my shoddy neologisms], but we weren’t.  Now we get to watch it (habitable planet, formal freedoms) all judder and spasm on a jagged downward trajectory, a kind of horizontally mirrored Keeling curve….

To quote myself (cough cough) from Facebook – Herd species. “Had to be, or else you’d get eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Stone age brains in space age bodies in a carbon (c)age of our own devising… Oh well. #funwhileitlasted

Emancipating who from what? Risky business around “emancipatory catastrophism” and #climate change.

Beck, U. (2015) Emancipatory catastrophism: What does it mean to climate change and risk society?  Current Sociology Vol . 63 (1) 75-88.

Didn’t like this.  Sorry to speak ill of the dead (and seriously, RIP Ulrich Beck), but this to me smacked of palimpsesting some wishful (millennial?) thinking onto the ugly “facts” (yes yes, Latour this, Haraway that blah de blah) of climate change.

Beck, who gave us “risk society” and “reflexive modernisation”

and much else was an interesting and fruitful thinker.  When I first heard of this article, I was intrigued and hopeful.  Here’s the complete abstract ;

The metamorphosis of the world is about the hidden emancipatory side effect of global risk. This article argues that the talk about bads produces ‘common goods’. As such, the argument goes beyond what has been at the heart of the world risk society theory so far: it is not about the negative side effects of goods but the positive side effects of bads.
They are producing normative horizons of common goods. This is what the author defines as ‘emancipatory catastrophism’. Emancipatory catastrophism can be seen and analysed by using three conceptual lenses: first, the anticipation of global catastrophe violates sacred (unwritten) norms of human existence and civilization; second, thereby it causes an anthropological shock, and, third, a social catharsis.

[Catharsis?  Well, there will be some letting of fluids.  Oil and blood mostly.  We’ve been doing it to other species and our own for a long time.  Now we are doing it to generations as yet unborn…]

Beck and his ilk, children and peddlers of the Enlightenment, need to believe, ultimately, that their fellow hairless apes will see the (secular) Light.  It’s a belief that helps them get out of bed in the morning and keep scribbling.

Perhaps the topos of climate change is even a form of mobilization thus far unknown in human history that breaks open a sanctimonious national autistic world with the vision of the impending apocalypse. The global climate risk, far from an apocalyptic catastrophe, is instead – so far! – a kind of ‘emancipatory catastrophe’.
(p. 79)

Which is merely, surely, the “information deficit model”.  Beck knew better than this, but apparently couldn’t bring himself to look the gathering storm in the eye.  Better to have your back turned?

He concedes that it won’t happen automatically –

The social catharsis, however, must not be misunderstood as something that automatically happens and is inherently caused by the event as such. It is the product of carrier groups engaging successfully in ‘cultural work’, in ‘meaning-work’, in transformative work of activists in witnessing the (distant) suffering of others (Kurasawa, 2004, 2007).
page 80

But is unwilling/unable to admit that the historical actor does not exist (or maybe he does.  The stuff at the top of page 82, “Verwandlung” and all that, becomes no clearer after multiple readings.)

There’s some interesting stuff where he drags up Karl Mannheim

Mannheim talked about utopia as a transformative force for generations. The difference is that global risk is dystopian vision, which, however, has a significant power of mobilization because it is about the existence of humanity. As discussed earlier, global risk has unintended side effects beyond ideologies and political programmes. The key to the ideas of global risk is that bads produce normative horizons of common goods…. However, what keeps the cosmopolitized fragmented generation together is the reflexivity and reflection produced by global risk. This reflexivity and reflection in the face of global risk, i.e. in the face of the existential threat to humanity, stands for what Mannheim calls ‘entelechy’.
(Page 85)

I’ll put this article aside, come back to it in a month or three and see if there’s more here than I currently think. If so, I’ll blog again, and link from here.

If you aren’t so theoretically inclined you could try “A Paradise Built in Hell,” a big fat hopeful book by Rebecca Solnit.  Meanwhile, the 2008 article  “Elites and Panic: More to Fear than Fear Itself” by Lee Clarke and Caron Chess, Social Forces 87 (2)  is a MUST READ.

Beck didn’t mention it, but this narrative of climate change as an opportunity for a radical transformation/renewal is an old narrative, stretching back far beyond Naomi “This Changes Everything” Klein all the way to the 1980s, when environmentalists saw it as a potential master narrative for replacing the anomie, sterility and wastefulness of suburban living and consumerism with something better.   They lost.  We lost.  And pretending or ignoring that we lost helps no-one and nothing, except perhaps the rich, clinging by their fingernails, bodyguards and pet States to their precipice. For now.