Foreword from a draft non fiction text

A photo of a firefighter in the fassifern area of SE Qld. Photo is property of fassifern Guardian.
Photo is from 8th January publication of Fassifern Guardian

The fossil fooled

I began to write this book on the first of January 2020, hoping this will be a year and decade of better vision than we have shown so far (forgive the pun).

As I write, much of Australia burns. This fire season began in August 2019, some say July. The fires are unprecedented. Most people are convinced that this fire regime is undoubtedly related to climate change, as is what may be our worst ever drought since European occupation (invasion) in 1788.

At the time of writing this foreword, our government does nothing effective about the root cause of our climate problems and little effective in terms of managing and fighting the fires. (One could write a book about the Morrison government ineptness in this time of natural disaster – I won’t.)

This book addresses a perspective on not only this sequence of natural disasters in Australia but on natural and human disaster related to climate change.  The reality is that we are all complicit in this catastrophic era, at least indirectly, some of us, I will argue, more directly. There are some who have known that fossil fuels are a dangerous energy source for a long time and there are those in government who have aided and abetted the men (they are probably mostly men) who have known and chosen to do nothing but we are, most of us, complicit. We are the fossil fooled.

 

Greta and the trolls

Isn’t it fitting that Greta should hail from a nordic region, more-or-less the homeplace, I think, of trolls and other things nasty, like Ragnarok. What is it that brings them out whenever she gets a post or mention on social media.

This article makes clear how much nonsense is being spruiked about her. The real issue of course is that this is fundamental denialism. Discredit the messenger in order to discredit the message.

See also this post by me.

Figment of imagination

I once could not imagine that someone human could not respond somehow, at some time or another, to the natural world. Impossible, I would have said. No matter how entrenched in the urban one was, how enmeshed by the artificial, surely the whir of a bird’s wings, the flash of a butterfly’s colour, the shape of a cloud in the sky, green grass nodding in a breeze; something would drag one’s attention away, for just a moment. Distract you for a heart beat with the rhythm of a firebug’s light pulse, an SOS in the night.

Now I know the unimaginable is real. It is named Trump, or Bolt, Devine or Bolsonaro. Or Adani, or Palmer. It views any natural thing – movement, noise, colour, light – as distraction from the real business of living, which is, of course, the business of power. Of MONEY. They are not figments of my imagination, alas.

Are we locked in a dance to the death (economically anyway) with fossil fuels

The key rationale given for why we must persist with business as usual is an economic one. It is an appeal to Homo economicus, but is this appeal to economics an accurate one? Do we need to give up all the toys our neoliberal capitalist fossil fuel dependent society says we’ll get? One must question the actual sources of much of what one finds on-line about this. Is the commentator and/or opinion unbiased?

Here are some NO’s.
The Shell company offers a perspective on whether and how soon renewable sources could replace fossil fuels in this article . Naturally one might be a little suspicious of Shell as non-biased.
This article  is also negative about the likelihood that renewables can replace fossil fuels. See, also, for alternative pro-fossil-fuel info

Here are some YES’s.
Cosmos magazine writes of Australia’s renewable future in 20 years.
Science Direct offers a less time specific and more cautionary piece but still suggests that the economics of fossil fuel production are essetnially favourable. If we factor in environmental concerns then renewables make great sense.

Summation
This article sums up the pros and cons of fossil fuels and renewables.

Et moi

I do not own enough scientific and engineering knowledge to make a conclusive YES or NO. But I think factors other than the purely economic must be taken into account. The problem with our purely economic thinking is that it is tainted with neoliberalist assumptions about worth. Humans, certainly all the ones in the first world, have been programmed to accept the notion that economic growth, most particularly at the personal level, is essential. To challenge this paradigm is to adopt the denialist annoying Greta Thunberg ‘how dare you’ stance. But in fact what we do need to do – if you factor anything other than pure temperature-anomaly thinking – is to do away with stuff. Perhaps take a significant dip in our GDP rich life. Give up some goods, some cargo, some economic cudos. Will we be poorer for it? Will our health go into decline? Will our world become much smaller? Perhaps we’ll travel less, the carbon load of flying is prohibitive. But will we be poorer? Will our air and waterways be cleaner? Will some of the wilderness be restored? Will we rediscover community? I don’t know, but I don’t think we can continue with business as usual. Because business isn’t (despite what they tell us) everything. We can choose to remain fossil fooled or we can choose not to be.

Letter to our first grandchild…

To M.S., born December 2019, welcome. Then I must say sorry.

Isn’t it sad, that my next significant offering to you is an apology! An apology that should not be from just me but all of us, all who are about our age. We have given you a mess to clean up, or simply, perhaps, to live with as best you may. Not sure if our human ingenuity will stretch to fixing this one. A soiled and unhappy planet, deprived of reason, dirty, seemingly mostly determined to be corrupt.

The planet is not in the state it was when I was born (1956), nor when your grandmother was born (1957). The population then was less than 3 billion. Carbon dioxide levels were less than 300 parts per million. There was a lot more forest and places where you could see the wild, if not exactly wilderness, and seas were less polluted as were rivers, more or less. It was cooler and – where we come from – wetter then.

Cooler then…

I might perhaps have told you a lie with my ‘less polluted’ above. The rot had already set in. Rivers were polluted (if not, at that time, with the plastics that will come later to haunt our waterways and seas) as was the air. We were already significantly impacting the natural world. Rachel Carson wrote a book about it in 1962. Silent Spring is its name. Read it (and think about what that silence conveys), if it’s still available. And in another book the Club of Rome warned us, in the 70s this one, that there were indeed limits to growth.

And thus why we need to apologise. We knew. We’d been told. We’d been warned. Even, if you care to look into it, back in the 19th century and early 20th. A. S. Byatt, in her excellent 1970 book, Unruly Times , observed that both Wordsworth and Coleridge, early in the 19th century, commented on the effects of industrialisation on the northern landscape: ‘Iron bridges, canals, aqueducts, new metalled roads…’, thus noting the beginnings of significant and permanent change in Britain’s landscape and in humanity’s relationship with nature. Coleridge, in fact, had written in 1803 of ‘a plain of ugliest desolation… a Sodom and Gomorrah cotton Factory’. The World Economic Forum tells us that ‘the first three industrial revolutions led to many of our current environmental problems. Unsafe levels of air pollution for 92% of the world’s population, climate change, the depletion of fishing stocks, toxins in rivers and soils, overflowing levels of waste on land and in the ocean, and deforestation can all be traced to industrialization.’

The vicious truth is that that very industrialisation that brought us environmental decline also brought with it an Aladdin’s carpet ride. The great demographic transition of industrial Britain and Europe and the US and other parts of the world, spilled across time (slowly, oh so slowly) into Asia and Africa and Latin America and brought with it better lives and higher life expectancies, falling birth rates… and Goods. Goodies: fridges, cars, TVs, AC, bigger, better things. Falling birth rates, smaller families and with it – the creation of the human as consumer; Homo economicus, a greedy entity interested primarily in self. Neoliberalism and its lies and dreams. Mephistopheles. The cargo cult.

I can’t say I didn’t listen to the dissenters. I flirted with socialism (but as a practical experiment it obviously failed) and attempted to resist. Unsuccessfully, I fear. I read Silent Spring, parts of it anyway. I read Limits to Growth. I wrote articles and stories and textbook chapters praising the natural world. But what else did I do? Did in invest myself in the politics of protest; not really. Did I adopt a hippy lifestyle? No. Did I stop using cars and electric conveniences and computers – on which I write this very thing. Obviously not. Certainly I installed solar panels on our roof(s) and divested myself (eventually) of plastic wrap and other unnecessary stuff. We started to compost et al. Too little, too late, I suspect. I went fishing and deplored the slow decline in those creeks and rivers I loved. But does complaint make of me someone who did something meaningful? I’m fairly confident it does not.

And this brings me to my second great apology. That we have left you a world currently apparently run by fascists. Deniers, neoliberal do’ers of business as usual, people democratically elected by the people but not for or of the people.

Corporations run governments. That seems to be a truth pretty much universal. Corporations determine policies; the chief democratic will of most nations at present is one which does not want to divest itself of the making of profits and greenhouse gases. Our economies are well oiled. Coal seamed. Denial of our climate emergency is a well-funded industry.

Should I have become more interested in the political process? Should I have marched more often than I did? Should I have written to, spoken to politicians, and protested publicly over poor politicking, that has NOT the interests of the community at heart, more than I did? Government is not to be treated as irrelevant. I ignored it for much of my adult life. saw it as white noise.

If we do that, I’ve learned, we risk inviting in those who realise that government is about management, control. And control at the moment is also about convincing those they call quiet that this government, that does not care a damn for them, does… care, have their interests in mind, act for them. I did not vote for our current government but I did not do enough to ensure they did not get back in. I am sorry they rule (misrule) now.

Our current Australian government has overseen a crisis, not with care and concern but with indifference. Helped brew it with policies that increased our greenhouse load, did not take immediate action to mitigate the costs and consequences of fire and drought, played politics with carbon. I have vilified them on social media but I cannot help but feel it may be too late. It’s at least two more years to the next election; besides, can another election fix our problems in time? Again, apologies.

Can you and your generation fix this? That is what we have left you with, a key question – do you have the will, the ingenuity, the resources to fix this mess. It’s true that there are technologies now we could invest in. There are signs of change, particularly in the EU. Maybe in Britain… but with Boris Johnson in, I am not convinced that anything good will come from the old dart. Renewables, community gardening, divesting itself of agribusiness, better urban spaces, cleaner transport – we have pretty much most of what we need, except perhaps the political will. It comes back, I think, to my – our – lack of faith in our political process. The sad erosion of belief in democracy.

Are you already living in dystopia? Have we collapsed into religious states something like The Handmaid’s Tale. Has Modi made of India a Hindu state, has Erdogan ensured Turkey has become a fascist dictatorship, is the US – god help us – still under the thumb of a Trump or one of his ilk? Has religious discrimination become the norm? Law? Are you just another brick in the wall. Is the world Soylent Green?

By the great celestial teapot, I hope not. I am sorry it has come to this.

Capitalism: the neo-liberal way to sin

Capitalism is the world’s dominant ideology. Despite assuming several different political guises, it is, so any examination of the majority of the world’s ‘economies’ would reveal, the main organising principle by which most nations in the world are run. It may, for example, be part of welfare state capitalism, such as you might find in Australia[1]. It may be integral to modern Chinese ‘communism[2]’ (Martin Hart-Landsberg, in the Monthly Review (2012), notes that the Chinese economy is ‘a capitalist one…with Chinese characteristics’), it may be Adam Smith’s essentially laissez faire economics, as is perhaps the chief practice of the U.S.A. Furthermore, if capitalism is NOT the dominant system in a country, I shall argue, particularly for many developing nations, it is the principle by which that country wishes itself to be run. The ruling cartels of that country want capitalism in some form to be its dominant ideology. Neo-liberalism loves to enrich dictators.

Neo-liberalism adherents favour small government and demand that government regulation of economic practice is reduced or absent; neo-liberalism demands an allowance of business as usual because business knows best and will do best, eventually, for people. Neo-liberalists prefer no counterweight of unionism, or organised workers’ counterweights to the practice of business. What neo-liberalist capitalism permitted in the 18th and 19th centuries – and increasingly now – is an exploitation of workers and growing inequality. The natural world was deemed [biblically justified] the dominion of man, available for our use and so we see the exploitation of natural resources.  Neo-liberal capitalism is the key ideology of a globalised world; as a principle it is idealised, glorified and desired.  This is because it is NOT merely an economic phenomenon; its values and motivations tend to pervade most people’s thinking and decision making processes, whether they are essentially economic, social/cultural or environmental. It is associated with democracy and individual freedoms; private business has become the way we organise life. It is, for many, the only way to run a country. In some way, we have become Homo economicus. Homo economicus, him or herself, is the CONSUMER given life—not as entity but as operating principle—in our modern-neo-liberal-capitalism; both reminder and reminded, so Kath Kenny (2017) reminds us,  ‘that we [certainly in the first world] are always at work now: even if it’s just our online avatar promoting the work we are doing, or sending out round-the-clock signals we’re looking for new work.’ The human has been reduced to an isolate, a competitive individual. This has occurred via a seduction regarding how we think about how to live. Foucault (2008, cited in Kagan, 2016) argues in The Birth of Biopolitics that our way of life has become something based on ‘the rules of competitive market capitalism; no longer rights, laws, ethical considerations, and kinship loyalties, but interest, investment, and competition’: we (think of the collective I’s) have become homo economicus; entrepreneurs of self.

Capitalism was born out of various industrial revolutions that began sometime around 1750 CE. It is – at least originally – that factory-based, technologically-innovative, profit-driven, labour-exploiting and inequitable form which grew up in Europe (first in the United Kingdom) and later the USA. As it has grown it has mutated and changed — these transmogrifications and re-configurations are part indeed of its historic permission to keep sinning.  Its history is a series of enthralling reinventions of itself. Neo-liberal principles are near and dear to its heart.

What is the sequence of transition from pre-industrial to industrial capitalism?

The ways in which most of the world shifts from preindustrial capitalism to industrial capitalism is debated. Contested, to use the historians’ term. Why did it begin in Britain and not say France or Germany? (Some historians even ask why capitalism of the technological industrial kind did not begin in China, in the 14th century – see the OPINION BOX: Why didn’t China experience an Industrial Revolution before Britain?)

Art by Joh KIMBER 2013

Opinion Box

Why didn’t China experience an Industrial Revolution before Britain?

Professor Lin (Peking University, Australian National University and Duke University) wrote in the introduction to ‘The Needham Puzzle: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in China’ (1995) that,

 ‘One of the most intriguing issues for students of Chinese history and comparative economic history is: Why did the Industrial Revolution not occur in China in the fourteenth century? At that time, almost every element that economists and historians usually considered to be a major contributing factor to the Industrial Revolution in late eighteenth-century England also existed in China.’

Professor Lin further notes that:

  • China had a lead over the west in technology until around the age of European exploration, China, for example, had invented key elements of advanced civilisations:  gunpowder, the magnetic compass, paper and printing.
  • China had high agricultural output.
  • Its ‘industrial’ developments had facilitated urbanisation.
  • Commerce, food production and markets were linked.

‘Many historians agree that by the 14th century China had achieved a burst of technological and economic progress… it had reached the threshold level for a full-fledged scientific and industrial revolution.’

So why didn’t it happen?

Was it what is known as the high level equilibrium trap: an unfavourable man-to-land ratio?

A high population meant that China, according to this theory, had too large a population for its resource base. Because labour was cheap and plentiful there was no incentive to solve problems with innovative technologies.  Demand for labour saving technology declined in China because a ‘high man-to-land ratio depletes agricultural surpluses as a source of capital formation’.  

With Britain, by contrast, man-to-land ratios were not so high. Furthermore, Britain’s and then Europe’s and the USA’s industrial revolutions were fuelled by ‘sustained high and accelerating rates of technological invention’. China had had , according to Lin and others, an early technological lead  as a result of experiential innovation (more people willing to experiment) but China lacked a scientific experimental basis for innovation such as Europe developed in the 17th century.

Modern science did not arise in China. Why not?

Two key arguments are given for China’s lack of a scientific revolution. These are summarised in the diagram at the end of the Opinion Box; here they are in text form:

Chinese bureaucracy did not give rise to a mercantile class as happened in Europe with feudalism. This mercantile class provided the capital [finance] needed to fuel the onset of Europe’s industrial revolution.

Wen-yuan Qian and others argue that ‘it was China’s imperial and ideological unification that prohibited the growth of modern science in China’.  In other words, it can be said that friction and tensions in Europe provided the dialectic to scientific invention; China’s wholeness, its unity, worked against it.

Contrast this with:

A text based image contrasting China with Europe c. 18th-19th centuries
Contrasting China with Europe c. 18th-19th centuries

Coming… part 2: Why neo-liberal capitalism should have died circa 2008.

How do we solve the problems caused by industrial capitalism and its corollaries? What alternatives exist?

[1] Welfare state capitalism is under threat in Australia, as in many other countries. Neo-liberalism erodes the welfare state.

[2] China’s communism may better be defined as a mixed, state controlled, private enterprise economy.

Thoughts on the climate deniers

Have recently chosen to engage with the deniers. You do not, of course, need ask which deniers I refer to.  So here is a list of my replies to some of their unreasoning; names have been changed to protect the approximately ignorant. I’ve used headings to cluster my replies.

Greens started/promote bush fires:

Duane, I think most of the experts agree that the current fires are not a direct result of Greens policies or the ‘locking up of national parks by greenies’, as is often cited on strings related to climate change, our current drought and bushfire regimes. I suspect that is a truth many denialists find unpalatable: see

The ABC

Thank the great celestial teapot you told me, Tiny. Otherwise I might listen to these expert commentators:

Former fire chiefs

NASA

Certainly it matters that fires start, regardless of how. Some (but not most, as has been suggested) are the work of arsonists but more are inadvertently begun via human agency and some originate with natural causes.

More from the ABC

Dougy, the article you sourced from the volunteerfirefighters organisation was in fact written by Miranda Devine and we all know what her stance on climate change (& in fact anything that smacks of humanism or reasoned science) is. Wikipedia (2019) notes that “Miranda Devine is a conservative Australian columnist and writer. Her column, formerly printed twice weekly in Fairfax Media newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald, now appears in the News Limited newspapers Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun and Perth’s Sunday Times.” I certainly know her from her stints on the notorious Sky News. That the Volunteer Firefighters group seem to differ in their views from “former fire chiefs from across Australia (who) have urged the federal government to declare a climate emergency amid catastrophic bushfires which have roared across NSW and Queensland” puzzles me. Most of the sources I have read on the fires do NOT blame Greens policies and a lack of controlled burns in forested areas (including by national parks officers) but in fact lay the blame squarely at the feet of excessive and prolonged heat at times when burning normally occurs. Coupled with unprecedented winds this narrowed the window of opportunity for fuel reduction strategies. Those conditions have been strongly correlated with climate change. Has the less than divinely perspicacious Miranda dealt with any of this in her climate change denying piece – I think not.

Stereotyping of protestors:

Do you have to know them (I assume [the protestors] are who you meant) and are you wrong in your character assessments? Phineas, if I say yes will you take offence and adopt a stance of umbrage. Stereotyping, categorising based on boorish anti this and that mindsets and so on serve no purpose in any real resolution of an issue. Does the world have an issue with climate change? I obviously believe we do. So do most of the worl’s reputable climate scientists, a number of engineers, politicians and, I suspect, the majority of thinking humans. What is sad is that Australia’s recidivist and inept government apparently do not, or at least don’t care enough about such a belief to DO ANYTHING significant about it. Ciao.

The eternal Jew
Here’s a stereotype for you. It’s from a Nazi publication of 1940.

Fraudulent evidence/right-wing views:

John Stossel is a libertarian journalist who has worked for a number of networks, among them Fox. He supports Donald J Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. According to Wikipedia (2019), ‘Stossel has written three books. “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media” is a 2005 autobiography from Harper Perennial documenting his career and philosophical transition from liberalism to libertarianism. It describes his opposition to government regulation, his belief in free market and private enterprise, support for tort reform, and advocacy for shifting social services from the government to private charities. It was a New York Times bestseller for 11 weeks. “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel – Why Everything You Know Is Wrong,” published in 2007 by Hyperion, questions the validity of various conventional wisdoms, and argues that the belief he is conservative is untrue. On April 10, 2012, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published Stossel’s third book “No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed”. It argues that government policies meant to solve problems instead produce new ones, and that free individuals and the private sector perform tasks more efficiently than the government does.’

Note the following; ‘his opposition to government regulation… belief in the free market… advocacy for shifting social services from the government to private charities.’ In short, he is a neo-liberalist whose values are those of the 1% of wealth holders. Apart from the danger of listening to the homo economicus selfish rantings of the neo-liberal perspective I often wonder why so many of the alleged ‘quiet Australians’ – who are NOT among the world’s monetary elites and are NEVER really served by the ruling elite policies – give heed to them and trot them out when any debate about human rights is being aired.

A fraudulent image used to promaote denialism

A fraudulent image used to promote denialism

Ottmar Endenhoffer is one of the world’s leading experts on climate change policy, environmental and energy policy, and energy economics. Edenhofer currently holds the professorship of the Economics of Climate Change at the Technical University of Berlin. He is designated director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) as well as director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). From 2008 to 2015 he served as one of the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III “Mitigation of Climate Change”.

Among other functions, he is a member of the OECD Advisory Council “Growth, Investment and the Low-Carbon Transition”, a member of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices,  a member of the Advisory Committee of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP), and a member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech). I Edenhofer says that his interest in philosophy and economics was influenced by his readings of the works of Henry George,[10] Karl Marx, Max Weber, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and John Dewey. Regarding climate change he says: “Denying out and out that climate change is a problem for humanity, as some cynics do, is an unethical, unacceptable position.”

Edenhofer favours cap-and-trade over a direct carbon tax as the most efficient method to reduce greenhouse emissions and encourage innovation to preserve the climate. He feels strongly that moving the global economy to a low-carbon threshold requires huge increases in the use of renewable energy across all economic sectors.’ [Wikipedia, 2019, and the article is refernced and peer reviewed.’] Can you tell me where you sourced the image and text used above and reproduced by me below; I strongly doubt he ever said such a thing and suspect it is fraudulent.

Regarding other problems (Chinese imperialism, child porn/grooming):

Distractions, Bronwyn and Kyliie. Yes, both are important issues but most people put the climate emergency at the head of their list. It is an existential threat to everyone (even the naysayers) while China’s alleged imperial motivations (just like Britian and France’s and the USA’s of the past) offer a lesser threat. The grooming and abuse of children is an evil, yes. From a purely logistical perpsective, though, it is not as great a problem as climate change is now and will be in the immediate future. We are tipped into climate anarchy already and everything might go if we do nothing much about it

Re general exhaustion over the climate denying trolls:

Aagh, if I have to read one more ‘why aren’t they in school, AC mustn’t be working in their classrooms, wouldn’t happen on a weekend, arsonists started all/most of the fires, the Greens stopped them back burning, it’s a left-wing/UN conspiracy…’ and so on and on and on, you’ll regret it. You’ve driven me to poetry.

We’ve sown the tapestry of our own unmaking,

all sooty black and coal seamed.

Tipped ourselves into misery,

while oily Nero fiddles with the national accounts

and trolls make merry with truth’s wan body

under damaged bridges.