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Inconvenient truths for Al Gore

Bjorn LomborgBjørn Lomborg is Director for the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Adjunct Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. His most recent book is How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place, and The Skeptical Environmentalist. Previous Webdiary pieces include How would you spend $50billion?

by Bjørn Lomborg

Cinemas everywhere will soon be showing former US Vice President Al Gore’s film on global warming. “An Inconvenient Truth” has received rave reviews in America and Europe, and it will most likely gain a large worldwide audience. But, while the film is full of emotion and provocative images, it is short on rational arguments.

“An Inconvenient Truth” makes three points: global warming is real; it will be catastrophic; and addressing it should be our top priority. Inconveniently for the film’s producers, however, only the first statement is correct.

While it’s nice to see Gore bucking the trend in a nation where many influential people deny that global warming even exists, many of his apocalyptic claims are highly misleading. But his biggest error lies in suggesting that humanity has a moral imperative to act on climate change because we realise there is a problem. This seems naïve, even disingenuous.

We know of many vast global challenges that we could easily solve. Preventable diseases like HIV, diarrhea, and malaria take 15 million lives each year. Malnutrition afflicts more than half the world’s population. Eight hundred million people lack basic education. A billion don’t have clean drinking water.

In the face of these challenges, why should stopping climate change be our top priority? Gore’s attempt at an answer doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Gore shows that glaciers have receded for 50 years. But he doesn’t acknowledge they have been shrinking since the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800’s – long before industrial CO2 emissions. Likewise, he considers Antarctica the canary in the coalmine, but again doesn’t tell the full story. He presents pictures from the 2% of Antarctica that is dramatically warming, while ignoring the 98% that has largely cooled over the past 35 years. The UN climate panel estimates that Antarctica’s snow mass will actually increase during this century. And, whereas Gore points to shrinking sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere, he fails to mention that ice in the Southern Hemisphere is increasing.

The movie shows scary pictures of the consequences of the sea level rising 20 feet (seven meters), flooding large parts of Florida, San Francisco, New York, Holland, Calcutta, Beijing, and Shanghai. Were realistic levels not dramatic enough? The United Nations panel on climate change suggests a rise of only 1-2 feet during this century, compared to almost one foot in the last century.

Similarly, Europe’s deadly heat waves in 2003 lead Gore to conclude that climate change will mean more fatalities. But global warming would mean fewer deaths caused by cold temperatures, which in most of the developed world vastly outweigh deaths caused by heat. In the UK alone, it is estimated that the temperature increase would cause 2,000 extra heat deaths by 2050, but result in 20,000 fewer cold deaths.

Financial losses from weather events have increased dramatically over the past 45 years, which Gore attributes to global warming. But all or almost all of this increase comes from more people with more possessions living closer to harm’s way. If all hurricanes had hit the US with today’s demographics, the biggest damage would have been caused not by Katrina, but by a hurricane in 1926. Allowing for changes in the number of people and their wealth, flood losses have actually decreased slightly.

The movie invites viewers to conclude that global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, with Gore claiming that the warm Caribbean waters made the storm stronger. But when Katrina made landfall, it was not a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane; it was a milder Category 3. In fact, there is no scientific consensus that global warming makes hurricanes more destructive, as he claims. The author that Gore himself relies on says that it would be “absurd to attribute the Katrina disaster to global warming.”

After presenting the case for the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, Gore unveils his solution: the world should embrace the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to cut carbon emissions in the developed countries by 30% by 2010.

But even if every nation signed up to Kyoto, it would merely postpone warming by six years in 2100, at an annual cost of $150 billion. Kyoto would not have saved New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. But improved levees and maintenance could have. While Gore was campaigning for Kyoto in the 1990’s, a better use of resources would have been to bolster hurricane defenses.

Indeed, the real issue is using resources wisely. Kyoto won’t stop developing countries from being hardest hit by climate change, for the simple reason that they have warmer climates and fewer resources. But these nations have pressing problems that we could readily solve. According to UN estimates, for $75 billion a year – half the cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol – we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care, and education to every single human being on Earth. Shouldn’t that be a higher priority?

Recent hurricanes killed thousands in Haiti, and not in Florida, because Haiti is poor and cannot afford even basic preventive measures. Combating disease, hunger, and polluted water would bring immediate benefits to millions and allow poorer countries to increase productivity and break the cycle of poverty. That, in turn, would make their inhabitants less vulnerable to climate fluctuations.

At the climax of his movie, Gore argues that future generations will chastise us for not having committed ourselves to the Kyoto Protocol. More likely, they will wonder why, in a world overflowing with “inconvenient truths,” Gore focused on the one where we could achieve the least good for the highest cost.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.

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Sustainable sustenance

Jenny, I'm actually not the insatiable carnivore I've made myself out to be here. We eat quite a lot of pulses and eggs rather than meat. You're right about the feedlots and piggeries, (though I think there may be a proper place for free-range grazers.) I'm trying to use my backyard to produce more of our food, too, and encourage others to do the same. Some of the best soils in the country are located right under our houses, but we use fossils fuels to transport our food over huge distances.

Moo v roo

I don't know when you would judge that it has "taken off", but roo meat is freely available in supermarkets in SA, so there must be quite a few people eating it. I used to buy it a lot because it is so lean and it was cheaper than beef and lamb, but that's not so true recently. I wouldn't like to try "farming" them either, but if we were eating more roos it should be possible to harvest lots profitably from the station country rather than graze so many cattle. Meanwhile I'm sorting out my freezer then I'm off to the butcher for part of a beast (but I might wait for a time in the day when the young vegetarian in the house is not around to be shocked and horrified - and then lecture me!)

Better stiil, eat no meat at all

Robyn: Better still is to eat no meat at all, or for those who cannot help themselves, over time to cut down. Animals are poor converters of energy into edible food and the world cannot really afford to be trying to feed billions of farm animals. Those big intensives, including piggeries and feedlots, are enormously wasteful. The research has all been done on that. Look at all the fat on those intensively raised pigs, which most people cut off anyway, and think of the waste of grain that went into generating that fat.

But, yes, given the current situation, all should stock up now, and when this is over, cut down so that we keep the numbers down. Roo meat, yes, I did notice it was quite available in SA, but not so much in the supermarkets over this way that I have seen. My sympathies to your daughter. What meat eaters don't realise is that once someone has given up eating meat on philosophical grounds, the very thought of it becomes as abhorrent as the thought of eating human flesh. But one must not try to force one's views, so I feed the man meat here, well about three times a week anyway! Cheers and happy shopping. Let me know if the price has fallen of late.

Freeze 'em now

Every meat-eating city-dwelling household stuffing as much as they can of a sheep or cow into their freezer right now would move a few more through the system and save some distress in the next few months. Better a quick death in the slaughter-yards than starving in the sun.

Robyn: A good idea

Robyn: That is a good idea if everyone did it. Not sure what the effect would be down the track, but in any case the rate animals are being sold off there will be a shortage anyway. And you should all get your steaks a darned sight cheaper than you were six months ago, though it is probably like the price of fuel. Not everything is like an arrow in the air. If you still pay $15 for a steak I would be asking why? Let me know what the butcher says! But it does make sense to stock up now.

Geoff: Nice thought but impractical. When you have 60 000 sheep going into one saleyard alone in one week, the logistics are horrendous. Not only that, have you seen most backyards lately? They are not much better off. The best thing is to get as many animals slaughtered as quickly as possible if there is no rain in the next three months. Hopefully good breeding stock on farm can then be maintained but I do believe fodder subsidies may be necessary, and better organised than last time, when merchants simply raised their price to equal the subsidy.

In the 90s the Govt also met the cost of emergency slaughter on farm and it may have to do that again. It paid farmers to simply shoot and bury the sheep. Cattle too in the 70s as I recall. I think we got a $10 subsidy for every cow/steer we sent to slaughter.

Cheerful topic I must say. But have today started speaking to rangers and discussed where the resource gaps are, and as I suspected mostly inspection capacity, and lack of formal powers. But I would rather see action before it gets to the stage where cruelty to animals becomes the central issue.

Of course, if it rains everything will turn around within a month. But they keep telling us El Niño is on us which may mean no rain before next winter. If that is the case, I am out of here. Let the roos have what's left. They are arriving here in droves already, big red plains roos that normally live further out. Tells its own story, I am afraid. And they are not ones to be messed with, I've discovered. There are times in life when it pays to just back off.


Jenny, something that has been preying on my mind for a long time with particular reference to those of us who feel that we must have our meat is, why the hell don't we farm roos? Delicious, very low fat, and specifically designed for this dry brown land. And they don't have hooves, thus reducing soil erosion.

Much of the world has embraced roo meat. Why haven't we?

Farming kangaroos

Fiona, I agree with you about the positive qualities of kangaroo meat and their minimal impact of roos on the environment. Surprisingly few of the vast range of animals known to science have ever been domesticated. Perhaps not so surprising when you do a bit of in-depth study of any particular candidate species.

To be 'farmed' by any of the systems of animal husbandry that have been developed to date, each animal has to be ownable on some basis. A few years ago, working with a university-based vet, I had a go at developing a system for 'farming' kangaroos, based on the assumption that they would never be able to be fenced in to any one particular property. (The system relied on appropriately supervised abattoirs receiving kangaroo carcases from licensed shooters, and paying registered property owners for each carcase based on a sliding scale of distance from the centre of the property where the animal was shot. Not so hard using computers.)

The best we could hope for with kangaroos as they are at present as wild populations is something between hunting and what we might call grazing. The document I prepared as far as I know is now in a filing cabinet somewhere in the Department of Primary Industry.

Our species of large macropods are not territorial, and range over wide areas, particularly in response to drought. No farmer will tolerate them in a crop, and none are too happy about letting them graze with sheep or cattle either. Licensed shooters can cull a quota, but the only reward the property owner gets is removal of the offending animals. Many landholders supplement this legal activity with a fair bit of private shooting of their own, and the wildlife conservation laws tend to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Though I read the rural press fairly closely, I have yet to read of anyone being prosecuted for shooting roos, or any other protected species for that matter.

Of course, bizarre short legged breeds of red and grey kangaroos might one day be developed that can be kept in paddocks and put through yards and up ramps and onto trucks like modern sheep and cattle. Not so crazy perhaps when you consider the formidable aurochs our distant ancestors managed to source our modern cattle breeds from. (It would be a very brave stockman indeed who got into the same yard as one of them.)

Two present trends are running in favour of eventual roo farming. Greenhouse restrictions and steel production limits are likely to see the price of steel rise at an ever increasing rate, making a whole lot of things more expensive, including fencing wire. (Other more durable metals such as titanium may become cheaper, but that is a fair way off.)

We may also reach a point where animals are confined within limits defined by map coordinates, GPS satellites, and individual saddles capable of delivering graduated electric shocks under GPS mediation: a variation if you, like on the common or garden electric fence. GPS is now widely used to control fertilizer distribution in cropping.

One thing that concerns me about present methods of kangaroo culling (which incidentally, I accept as necessary, though not on the present scale) is its effect on kangaroo genetics. It is well known that both prey and predator species under ‘natural’ conditions select out each others’ least fit individuals. (The slowest lion doesn’t eat so well; the slowest zebra has the best chance of being eaten.)

A modern roo shooter, with spotlight and high velocity rifle, can select the biggest and best individuals to load on the truck and take to the abattoir. This is the exact opposite of established animal husbandry practice, which is to cull the worst and retain the best for breeding stock. The long term effect will be gradual selection in of the genetically poorest, and selection out of the best, in terms of ability to survive in the wild.

It is no accident that we do not have wild sheep in Australia, even though so many have been bred and kept by graziers. The domestic breeds are totally dependent now on humans for their very survival.

A bit touchy that issue Fiona

Fiona, the issue of killing kangaroos is a bit touchy in this household.  I simply will not agree to them being shot, but Ian has other views on this whole issue.  So I have told him he can argue the case for farming roos with you!  We had an expert up here from one of the Unis at one stage wanting to start a pilot program, but I could not come at it.

I do not see however that they could ever be farmed in the same way as sheep or cattle. Can you imagine a truck load of roos going off to the meatworks, even fairly tame ones? It would be an animal welfare and slaughtering nightmare. Emus are not much better, even though they are bred in captivity. Even deer present terrrible animal welfare problems in meatworks. They are too easily stressed.

I have found wild roos can be herded, (keeping a distance of around 300 metres) and I do muster this place from time to time and push them back off the crops, when we have crops. But they are very difficult to herd, and if cornered will go quite beserk. People who have fenced them out have had to build fences 8 feet high, so fencing costs would be around $5000 per kilometre at least to keep a population in. I think the current shooting by night on the open range by professional shooters, and then straight into chiller vans, is probably the only way they will ever reach the dinner table.  

And yes, the world will and does take our roo meat, though the animal rights movement has put the kybosh on it from time to time, and I have been party to that pressure on the grounds the industry is not always humane.  Roo meat has never really taken off in this country.  Maybe due to all the negative publicity about the industry.  Roo shooters I know do not appear to me to make much of a living out of their work. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.  Of course as the drought progesses, roos also lose condition. Those I saw out near Cobar last year were quite pitiful. I doubt they would be edible at all.

Suffer little lamb

So the livestock catastrophe begins, with all those sheep being almost given away in Bendigo today. "They have to make three dollars to cover the cost of carting them in and selling them", said the agent.  I could see, even on the TV, the poorer sheep in the mobs. They would be lucky to make it to the meatworks alive. They go down on trucks and get trampled to death, or are thrown off half dead at the other end. I have seen it all too often. Without the rains, within a month you will not be able to give sheep away. In Narromine this week some farmers simply took them home again. Sometimes they leave it too late to sell. They put too much faith in hope. Without rain, the mass shootings will soon begin, if they have not already.

As for that little lamb on our screens, born into the saleyard, shaking and lost. Well it will be lucky if it gets hit over the head, a quick end to its suffering.  At worst it will be trampled to death by the adult sheep either in the yard, or on the truck. I hope someone took it home, but it would probably die anyway. They usually do. But hopefully it had a soft bed to die on. 

Rather makes those images on Playschool and in the nursery rhymes, and the pictures in those toddlers' books a bit too rosy. Why dont we take the kids to the saleyards and show them the truth. Why let them live with a lie.

Yes, suffer little lamb. I did notice, but I was not there to help you, and that made me cry. 

Would anyone living near a big city saleyard like to start a lamb rescue service?. I did it once, it can be done. Just find out when the sale is and turn up. You will soon see what needs to be done.  Even if you take them to the local vet and have them put down humanely. And don't let any rednecks in the saleyards bully you. Most people are decent, but if you run into the other type, just stand up to them. You'll soon find that others stand with you. There are decent people, even in hell. 

Sorry if I depress you all. It depresses me too. But that is how it is right now. The people suffer in drought, but the animals suffer more. Let us not forget that. And we can help, even if it is only one lamb.

Richard: Jenny I'll forward the link to this post to as many folks as I think can help.  Hopefully other 'Diarists might do the same in their areas. 

God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb

I'm not ready to reply to Ian's post, Jenny Hume (that will take a bit more thinking) but here's my thought in reply to yours.

Zipping around the burbs the other day, I was struck at how untidy they were compared to my childhood - lots of neglected nature strips.

Why don't we use them to agist stock?

You know the logistics better than I do - how do we make it happen?

Give me a bell (0415 495 214) and I'll take it up with the Agriculture Minister.

PS: Take care with the blabbermouths you encounter: my ego indeed.

Saving The Animals. Saving The Country.

This is something I've never been able to understand. I have a 880 sqm block and would be delighted to take on a sheep or two. No charge. Just tell me what they need and I will provide it. The sheep can be ear -tagged or branded or whatever and when the farmer is ready they can have them back.

I might even be persuaded to pay a reasonable transport cost. I am certain there are hundreds of thousands of people just like me. Probably millions.

This one is easy. Pretty basic really. Where's the organising?

Common weal and community

Geoff, from what you have occasionally said I think that you live in one of the lusher parts of NSW, so your proposal may well be sensible - but it has to be on an area-by-area basis.

I've been extremely busy for the last week, but I do recall hearing something on ABC radio about a farmer in Victoria who has offered to look after dairy herds from drought-affected areas. Apparently this particular chap has plenty of feed and water.

People in RARA have always been excellent at looking after each other. It will be interesting to see whether city dwellers (at least, those on the fringes), hobby farmers and others who have done the sea- or tree-change bit and are in climatically blessed areas are prepared to remember community. Oh, I forgot, didn't Margaret Thatcher, that icon of Little Johnny's, have something to say about community? Nah, old-fashioned stuff, that...

Bearers of gifts; ewers of men

I didn't know this guy was Greek.

Malcolm: What I see as the need

Malcolm B Duncan: Thanks for your response. I will leave the intellectual stuff to Ian. I am more concerned with the immediate implications for livestock if this drought continues.

Given the numbers of livestock involved that are going to be in distress if the rains stay away, and given that the cities are also in rainfall deficiencies I do not see any practical way livestock can be agisted across urban nature areas. It would require loading and unloading facilities, yarding facilities, electric fencing, herd minding, water troughs and substantial water supply. A lot of stock are fed along the stock reserves and some regional roads in this way with drovers and mobile units. But it means keeping stock on the move as they rapidly eat out the roadsides and reserves. They are then travelled on foot to the next reserve, something that would not really be practical I would think in urban areas.

What I think is more important is that the Minister recognise the potential for the animal welfare disaster this drought poses, and ensure that there is capacity and procedures in place to deal with it. The legislation is there, but all too often the will, (due largely to lack of resources), to enforce it is not. Importantly it requires much better co-ordination across the various agencies; selling agents, meatworks, RLPB vets and rangers, RSPCAS inspectors, police, farmer groups.

With feed grains and hay reaching astronomical prices, (eg: the price of feed oats alone has doubled in the past month to $300 per tonne); with prices for livestock in the yards now in free fall, and with meatworks saying they are nearing capacity, farmers are being backed into corners, and when that happens livestock can finish up being shot on arrival at the saleyards, as happened with cattle in Dubbo in (as I recall) 2003. They were in such appalling condition.

I expect livestock condition to start to deteriorate rapidly from here on as summer progresses and the failed wheat crops are grazed out. I see a lot of stock already falling to store condition (ie unfinished). Those sort of stock are already becoming unsaleable. They are the most at risk in the coming months as this is an indication now of less than optimal feeding of them. Paddock feed is at an all time low across the three southern states and hay making in the traditional hay belt is almost non existent. So hay is becoming unobtainable, let alone at affordable price. Import parity I suspect has now been well and truly passed. But imported fodder will not be cheap due to crop failures overseas also.

In every drought I find there is a serious breakdown in communication between the agencies that should have responsibility for animal welfare. Every time I ring the Police to report dying animals on a property I get told to call the RSPCA. There is a distinct reluctance on the part of police to deal with animal cruelty issues, and many officers do not even know how to put an animal down. On the last occasion I called the RSPCA(after sitting for up to an hour listening to a recorded message), I was told by some moron in the city Head Office, "There is a drought on you know", and I had great difficulty getting him to agree to even record the complaint, let alone do anything about it. Then I was told there is only one inspector to deal with complaints over a vast area from Dubbo to the Queensland border, be it a suburban dog in Dubbo, or a half dead cow near the border. It is a ridiculous ask of one human being. So in that one case, it was a week before the starving cattle got intervention. This is not good enough.

One rings the Rural Lands Protection Board Vets and rangers, and often gets a similar run around. Though they are more active around the saleyards. But they should follow the trail back to the farm.

I put together my views on all this in as I recall 2003 and sent it to the various authorities asking that something be done to sort this out, as livestock were falling, (one could say literally) through the cracks, and suffering appallingly. I got no reply.

I will dig it out and maybe you can get the Minister's ear. I will email it to you or post it, rather than ring, if you give me a contact address via the Moderator. In the meantime I intend to get around at least the local saleyards as much as I can to assess the situation as it unfolds.

Cheers, and don't worry about the loud mouths. I can deal with them. The worst that has ever happened was some fellow swinging a stockwhip at me and using language uninviting. He missed. He had been bashing into a cow that could not get up when I tackled him. Charming individual. And people ask me why I no longer eat meat!

Now it can't go on forever.......

Well the weather pundits told us Thursday the rains would be here. Well there is not much time left and there's a howling hot northerly out there crisping the place up a bit more. It seemed the third world war was being waged by the Gods over our heads night before last. A nice display of fireworks across the plains till it got too close.  I could tell they were in a nasty mood, and I prayed hard for rain, but they seemed more intent on burning the place out. They were not in the mood to give the trees a drink. But the worst they managed to do was scare the hell ouf of me, and deny me my midnight cuppa, by spitefully knocking the power out as they left.. Though it could have been all those peacocks the neighbours thirty ks down the road keep, that roost on the power lines. Unlucky things peacocks. They think so too, but someone gave them a pair, and...well you know the rest. 

Now, the SMH tells us how bad it is getting, as if we didn't know. And it is great to hear that 85% of you city folks who called in on the air, thought we should be supported. Clearly there is some empathy and sympathy left for your country cousins, notwithstanding Roslyn's view (and I guess she is not alone) that we should not be supported, and we are only whingers. 

Well you can't win them all can you? Empathy can be rather selective with some.

With one farmer taking his life every four days, things are not good. It's been six years for most of them, and if that is not a natural disaster, deserving of the nation's attention, then I don't know what is. Floods come and go, fires burn out, cyclones run out of steam, but this thing is hanging around far too long. Wait and hope, wait and hope, year after year. It takes and awful toll on the mind and family life.  I know from bitter experience. People, good people are in a bad way, and not just farmers. Bank managers commit suicide and have heart attacks too, cursed with the task of telling a bloke in front of him/her that there is nothing more can be done, and knowing he/she could be dealing a death blow. And the folks in all those country towns, whose businesses are so dependant on us keeping them going. They are doing it hard too, very hard. They get depressed too. They and their families suffer too.

The butchers say they can't take too much more meat. So prices are tumbling. I fear a return to those horrible scenes of mass shootings on farms. That really destroys a man, and a woman, and it is hard to explain to the kids why Dad is covered in blood. Sometimes it is the kids that have to force the animals up the race to be shot. Not much fun for a kid.

So, let us pray, dance, sing for rain and turn off the tap and the lights. We are all going to fry in this country if we don't get a grip.

Now it can't go on forever, so they say around the yards

As the stockmen gaze forlornly at the sky,

But this drought is like a curse, it gets worse and worse and worse

And stone the flamin' crows the country's dry.

Chorus from the Drought Song: by Ian MacDougall in the 1982 drought. If you would like the rest, say so....

Malcolm, what I would do about climate change, CO2 etc

Malcolm B. Duncan, sorry about the delay. Down there in the Precambrian sediments of this thread you asked me what I would do about climate change. (If you are still interested in running for the NSW Parliament, it will be an issue, just as it will be at the other 2 levels of government from now and increasingly on.) The Other Reader may also be interested.

In my opinion the Precautionary Principle lies at the heart of the politics of all this. There is general consensus amongst the world’s climatologists that not only is the climate changing via increasing energy content in the atmosphere, but that humanity is at least in part responsible due to burning of fossil fuels and such activities as the clearing and burning of tropical forests. Bjorn Lomborg might be right, and I for one would not mind at all if he was, but he will be reduced to a much abused footnote in the history of ideas if he is wrong, particularly if his writings continue to persuade climate change deniers such as J.W. Howard, Exxon-Mobil and its customers that business should be as usual. Every passing day brings fresh evidence that Lomborg at least needs to review his position.

At rates projected from present consumption, the world’s oil will last less than 100 years, and its coal maybe 250 years: till a time as far into the future as Captain Cook and Mozart are into the past. Sydney Harbour may well change a bit in that time. Shags could finish up sitting not only on harbourside rocks but also on the highest point of the Opera House, ie a couple of metres above high tide level. They may be able to hear the sound from below, as opera lovers in scuba gear attend say, a most novel production of the The Pearl Fishers, while ferryloads of fun seekers cruise past on their way to Vaucluse Island or Chatswood Beach.

None of the following is set in concrete, and I am quite happy to be persuaded into an alternative stance on any point. I also find much in the alleged links of (1) CO2 with global warming and (2) global warming with climate change (vide the current Australian drought) to be both counterintuitive and puzzling. The views of this particular member of the skeptical minority of climatologists are interesting as are the writings of this critic of those views. However, I will definitely defer to the mainstream of those more learned than I in this matter, and until they are proved wrong, I will assume they are right.

First: reduction of greenhouse emissions.

Unlike certain of their other policies, the Greens International Environmental Sustainability policies are not bad. Their NSW policy on coal has to be a work in progress, but is probably better than those of the other two parties. Of course, an independent, with no party line to toe, can choose to cherrypick from the others, and get away with it.

The recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are here. Each report contains a Summary for Policymakers  and a variety of scenarios is offered. Unfortunately climate and weather are international phenomena requiring us to think globally while only being able to act locally.

That having been said, common sense says that if burning fossil fuels leads to adverse climate change, then fossil fuel consumption has to be reduced. Finding of alternatives capable of doing the job as well as the present sources of energy do in appliances like cars may never happen. We could switch from a carbon economy to a nitrogen one, using ammonia as a fuel, for example. But while nitrogen in ammonia is 75% as good as a hydrogen carrier as carbon, industrially produced ammonia at present requires fossil fuel to both drive the synthesis reaction and serve as feedstock .

We have in the last few days seen the premiers all pointing their fingers at the federal government over drought, and the Minister for Drought (The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MHR) pointing straight back at them. State premiers and the Federal Government can help heat the planet up, and help promote disaster by failing to agree on united measures. Helping people buy solar water heating (water heating is a big user of electricity) and solar and wind generation equipment (which can enable them to sell power to the grid system) involves spending money sourced as taxes in one form or another, and foregoing some revenue from coal fired power generation. Alternatives also have their down side, as they do not guarantee the short term continuity of supply that coal fired power stations can offer, as long as the latter stay above the oceanic high water mark. One can only in part disconnect from the grid and remain 24/7 comfortable.

The good old price mechanism is helping here. As fuel prices go up, gas guzzlers are losing their appeal, and sales of them are falling.

In my view, fossil fuel consumption should be scaled down and renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel need to be phased in. (I do not think that geosequestration of carbon is likely to save the coal industry, at least, not on present indications.) But as their supply can vary with the weather, this reduces the ability of producers and politicians to assure certainty. Unfortunately, what humanity needs and what politicians need are often separated by seas between them broadly roaring, as Robert Burns might have put it.

As there is huge money to be made now from certain technologies such as fuel cells, the private sector can safely be left to develop them. However the CSIRO and the universities still need massive injections of funds to counter the damage done by the ‘economic rationalists’ of both the Hawke-Keating and Howard governments. It is a federal issue that impacts on the states, as the present shortages of skilled workers, doctors, dentists and applied scientists like agronomists makes abundantly clear. I find it beyond belief that no minister saw this coming.

Australian suburbia is not badly placed for energy self-sufficiency in a country decreasing in cloudy days.  Ideas for Australian Cities by Hugh Stretton (1970) is a good place to start, but needs updating in the light of the developing energy and climate crises, and is certainly at the opposite pole from the lamentable vision recently offered by Meriton Czar Harry Triguboff.

People will probably support measures aimed at global salvation as long as they are seen to apply evenly across all classes and income groups. But the fate of John Hewson and his 1992 GST campaign should be borne in mind. ‘Pragmatism’ generally beats principle, sad to say.

Removal of CO2 from the atmosphere:

On the Webdiary thread Changing Climate Change of 22 November 2005, I set out my reasons for skepticism over proposals for geosequestration of carbon dioxide. I believe that removal of CO2 from the air, and its storage in stable form for long periods of time, is best done by forests. (Cereal crops and pastures are good at it too, but only in the course of very short rotation.)

The best type of forest is rainforest, and all types of rainforest are good at it.

While photosynthesis is easily the biggest industry on Earth, and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the limiting factor on the growth of plants when their other physiological needs are met, the existing plant cover of the world is not removing the CO2 from the air as rapidly as it is being added. Hence the measured rises in concentration. Rises in oceanic acidity due to dissolved CO2 are also a cause for concern, as one would expect marine plants to remove it rapidly.

Consequently, I want to see the immediate cessation of all rainforest logging, in NSW, Australia and the world, with local timber mills being offered alternatives wherever necessary and possible in Australian eucalypt forests (preferably plantations). This probably also means massive expansion of pine and eucalypt plantations in NSW under State Forests NSW or the DPI. Eucalypt forests are good at CO2 sequestration too, if they can be maintained and not totally wiped out by wildfire.

The sort of conflagration that swept across the Snowy Mountains in 2002, destroying 500 houses in Canberra as it went, looks like being a feature of the coming summer. This is where the ‘economic rationalists’ start tearing their hair out, because controlled burns and other such maintenance activities, which are grossly inadequate at present, require public funding, as does all other forest management. And that requires (shock, horror) taxation.

We should also take measures to discourage sale in Australia of rainforest timber from SE Asia unless bona fide plantation grown. (Old rubber trees make excellent furniture timber.)

Eucalypt forests are designed by nature to burn (‘pyrophytes’ is the broad term covering their constituent plants) whereas the rainforest flora are ‘pyrophobes’.) Since about 1927, Australian botanists have been aware that the pyrophobes and pyrophytes of Australia (and those in some other parts of the world) have for eons been waging war on one another, using fire as the attack weapon (pyrophytes) and moist soil, stems and foliage (pyrophobes) as the defence. Needless to add, the development of fire making techniques by Homo erectus at least 300,000 years ago put members of our genus into alliance with the pyrophytes, where we have been ever since, to our eternal shame. (More here.)

Milled timber is sequestered carbon, as are such items as books and furniture. Provided they are all kept from reentering the atmosphere as CO2, they have their place. But the best is standing rainforest, left unassaulted and able to expand wherever possible. However for the rainforest states of eastern Australia to raise the money to buy back the land where rainforests formerly grew, and help it to revert, there would need to be yet another overhaul of Commonwealth-state financial relations.

Farming and grazing, the industry I am presently trying to be engaged in, is as you would know in a massive drought crisis at the moment, with this drought shaping up as the worst ever. Farming has been well defined as “using land to turn petroleum into food”, though I don’t know who originally said it. James Lovelock has noted in his most recent book that the chemical industry now produces roughly the same mass of fixed nitrogen per year as do all the world’s nitrogen-fixing bacteria (the only living organisms that can do it). As noted above, the energy to drive the industrial process comes from fossil fuels, as does the hydrogen to react with nitrogen from the air to make ammonia. That strikes me as ominous. The plants, as the future unfolds, are going to be increasingly called upon to supply our fibre, oxygen, fuel, building materials and probably our bacterially-fixed nitrogen (for protein, explosives, dyes etc) as well as much of the rest of our food, at the same time as global warming decreases the Earth’s area of farmland. Not just through drought, but through swamping by rising seas.

I do not see nuclear power as even a short term answer. I concur with Alan Roberts: it is a ‘phantom solution.’

Even if prophets like James Lovelock are only part right, then we need an overhaul of social priorities as least as radical as the one the country had in 1940-45, when we faced our last great national emergency.

It may be that Sydney Opera House has to go under water before these problems are seriously tackled. John Howard over at Kirribilli House may finally be dragged splashing and spluttering into the greenhouse future, along with the rest of us.

As the old saying has it, you have to cut your coat to fit your cloth.

Why not have a whinge

Well, since Roslyn Ross has told me of late farmers are just whingers I thought I might as well have a bit of a whinge.

So get this. Having spent the best part of two years of our lives sloggin' away chopping the old gal burr on the place (reminded as we were of our obligations by the local noxious weeds cop), what do the bureaucrats now do? They stick a half page ad in the Land informing us that: Galvanised Burr is removed from the noxious weed list. Farmers will now require permisssion to remove this native plant from their properties!

Too bad the Ag Dept spent all that dough on their recent trials on eradication. Did no one think to tell then not to bother?

Now, if they think we have done all that sloggin to reclaim the place, just to now stand back and let the burr back in, then they can all think again. We are going to do whatever takes our fancy. If we want to chop, we will chop. If we don't want to chop we won't chop. But one thing is for sure. If any bureaucrat comes calling down our track counting burrs, he'd better make sure his head is well and truly fixed to the rest of him.

Warp Drive, When? (never say never...)

As a toadal® distraction, it probably doesn't get better than "Escape to the Stars!" (Made for TV in Hollywood; by cretins, for cretins; each one even more cretinous than the other.... or, was that fatuous? Step right up; get your tickets (to "Mind as mush") here, fer, fer, folkes!)

But, as we note from 'Bringing up Baby': "Do what you want! (I know you will anyway.)"

Sooo, y'could start here: "Warp Drive, When?" by NASA

Belief and futurology

1. Posit: that all men are created equal.

2. The wide (wider, widest) differences in belief continue to astonish.

3. That the US represents the most advanced state of humans - if not, why (the bloody Hell!) does the rest of the world try to emulate the US so closely - when not actually trying to scramble in? Emulators including, to our very great shame, great swathes of Aussies, queuing up at Hardly-Normal's for flat-panel, 5.1 channel surround-sound, DVD driven, Hollywood-fuelled 'home-entertainment' (aka mind-corruption) systems.

4. 40+% of the US claim to be 'born again' - it means Christian Fundamentalist, and most are thought to be waiting for some sort'a "Rapture," 'led' (as sheople) if not actually inspired by GWBush.

5. 40+% of the US 'believe' that Saddam was responsible for '9/11'. (An overlap between points 4 and 5 approaching 100% is postulated as most probable.)


On the one hand, the alleged 'Saddam-9/11' link is known to be an outright lie.

On the other, the 'rapture' belief depends in turn on the belief in some deity, (IMHO!) a toadally® unknown, even unknowable and theoretically inaccessible to all science (even though some scientists 'believe'), most probably an utterly fictitious and tautologically non-existent deity.


People are assumed to be internally consistent (well: should be); the erroneous, tending to impossible 'beliefs' mentioned above are assumed to be sincerely held, and occur in the world's (assumed!) most sophisticated culture; those 'beliefs' being actively, visibly supported by the so-called 'leaders' (on both sides, i.e. Rep/Dem over there, also here by Lib/Lab), all not just transmitted by, but actively aided and abetted by the (corrupt!) MSM.

Whatever, I hear you say?

These 'beliefs' are a) integral to the current 'ruling electoral-base' which supports b) the current 'pushed-paradigm,' which includes the 'murder for oil' situation in Iraq (and soon to be 'murder for oil' in Iran?) - and not just BTW, this 'pushed-paradigm' being also supported by some rabid-rightie larcenous-murder-by-proxy apologist/agitators[1] 'in here.'


Both the beliefs and the pushed-paradigm, daaarlings, are wrong (Oh! But always only 'IMHO,' of course!)


Then, there's this Lomborg's anti-greedastrophe® arguments - also part of the pushed-paradigm; should anyone believe them, or not? (Ask Q: Who profits?)

In the long term (getting quickly shorter), the Earth is f**ked. Bets?



[1] I wish to highlight the positive contributions of Roger Fedyk's (Grüezi) "A General Or Special Theory of Relativity" and "Pas de Deux" and Timothy Wong's (g'day) " ... yes, of course" all over at "Looking for John Wojdylo;" (neither of the mentioned gentlemen being of the above referred-to proxies). Although I have always maintained (and always will) that the illegal invasion of Iraq was primarily "murder for oil" (with daylight second, as they once said about Brock), I can - and occasionally do - acknowledge a few slightly more subtle "nuances," like the maddie-neoCons' democratisation/free-market (aka rip-off) ideologies and (worse) "The Israel Lobby"-influenced forpol possibly putting non-US interests before even the US' own. As well as well, well, well, three (oily!) holes in the ground, there are the similarly corrupt motives to do with further supporting/enriching the US' military/industrial complex - the list of (criminal!) reasons is looong. We all know that it wasn't WMDs (how many times?) - but there are still people (also 'in here') clinging to the chimera of an 'humanitarian' intervention. Here's something that might help eliminate this 'argument' once and for all: HRW's "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention" from January 2004. As for the rabid-rightie larcenous-murder-by-proxy apologist/agitators (no g'day), well, they know who they are.

With friends like the left, who needs enemies?

Michael de Angelos "The Bush/Gore outcome, at which Gore was the undoubted popular vote winner, was decided by the judges of the Florida Court, who were (of course purely by co-incidence) appointees of his brother Governor Jeb Bush". 

He (Gore) was the popular vote winner because he won the larger States. This though is not how the system works. He (Bush) was not the first President elected losing the popular vote.

The Supreme Court decided the final outcome. They were not put in place by George Bush because he was not President. Supreme Court Justices owe no allegiance for their placement in this postion.

Fact- without the extreme left destroying his vote he would have been President. And to think they did this because they did not like his enviroment credentials.

Michael de Angelos "Gore decided against further legally challenging the result-against advice from his own people as he believed that the result would be "blood on the streets"; being somewhat prophetic, but in a different way".

"Blood on the streets"? HAHAHAHA I think you over estimate the power of passion for the very dull Al Gore. Staying awake through a Gore speech is a special art in itself.


Nature needs to listen

At YouTube, Will Ferrell as Dubya on Global Warming.

It's 28 deg. in Melbourne, with the hot blustery northerly that used to arrive the first weekend in November.  

Runing hot and cold, and always dry

Trevor, don't complain too soon. We just dropped by bleak city for a couple of days or so, heading back to northern NSW from Adelaide. 27 Degrees you say?  Must have been a one off. It was blowing a gale and snowing at Ballarat last Sunday and freezing in Melbourne.

But you are probably right. Indications are it is going to be a very hot and dry one this year. And how depressing can it all get? In all that way across three States, (in total a round haul of some 3600kms) the number of wheat crops that might be worth stripping, to allow at least cost recovery by the farmer, could be counted on two hands. Some 5 billion has already been wiped off the economy and rising by the day.

I guess the one bright spot is that with the predicted very bad fire scenario this summer, the open rural areas will not be a major conduit for fires this year as there is so little grass to burn. 

It seems to me that if we are to accept that global warming is going to mean a drier and hotter Australia, and that we are now heading right into it, then there has to be some serious economic planning in this country. With falling western river flows, irrigation dependant industries  are coming under serious economic pressure, and the country towns around accordingly. 

The proposed purchase of rural water allocations by the Victorian Government, (thus diverting water away from agriculture) through multi million dollar pipelines for such centres as Ballarat is likely only the beginning and seems to me to yet another ad hoc solution. Clearly when the crunch comes, the cities are going to get water priority followed by the larger rural towns. Yet many of those large rural centres are highy dependant on a viable rural industry which in many areas is dependant on its water allocation. It is a simbiotic relationship. There is no point spending millions trying to save a country town if you are going to take away its life blood, or if declining rainfall causes its rural base to collapse. 

Clearly a national approach to the problem of diminishing water reserves is essential and urgent and State squabbling will have to end. A drying regional Australia will mean further and likely accelerated population drift toward eastern and coastal areas with increasing pressure on rural land and infrastructure in those areas. That will bring its own issues and challenges.

We will have to look closely at the viability of water guzzling rural industries such as cotton and rice and decide how sustainable and justifiable such industries can be in this continent. I could not help but feel that those huge travelling irrigators on the Murray system will ultimately have to go, and sooner rather than later. But there are big interests out there now, with water allocations being bought up from small farmers and amalgamted by big businesses. If Mr Bracks wants to buy allocations for urban areas, then he had better move fast. Those Concerns will not resell cheaply I would think.

I cannot help feeling when in the city that city folk have very little appreciation as to how serious this whole issue now is. Not in Adelaide, not in Melbourne, not in Albury, not even in Ballarat which is supposed to be in dire trouble. No big signs as you drive in (as with Goulburn in NSW)  that restrictions were in place, no warnings to tourists to save water.  Nothing. In Albury, (with the Hume Weir now only 18% full, and being one of the major supply dams to the Murray system), you see people liberally hosing gardens and lawns. If we keep on this way, then we only have ourselves to blame.

The old cry of populate or perish is starting to have a rather hollow ring about it. Seems more like we have populated and as a result, risk now dying of thirst.  And most cannot even see it staring them in the face. 

But as I look at the willy willys stirring up the dust out here and contemplate the seventh year of drought I cannot escape reality. I have come to accept that it may never rain out here properly again and this once favoured region with once good rainfall, may ultimately have to be abandonned. The thought of leaving the land once appalled me. But not anymore. Living in a desert would have little to offer.

Cheers Trevor. Hope you get a very wet summer down there.  

Nationalisation of Water Must Come

Jenny, the idea that water can become a commodity, a vehicle for private profit, is a peculiarity of Right thinking.

Now, we have Malcolm Turnbull as Water Czar. Does that fill you with confidence in the sustainablilty of rural production in high risk areas?

Not particularly Roger

Roger, no, not particularly to your question.  But at least it is a start toward the Federal Government taking some initiative on this issue, but of course far too late in the day. This should have happened three or more years ago. A lot of time and precious water has disappeared over the last seven years for which this country may well pay very dearly. What will be achieved remains to be seen and Turnbull had better think quick as the saying goes. One close look at the reality out there should be ringing alarm bells the length and breadth of this country.  It is just possible that this country could face a catastrophe and most people are asleep at the wheel.

But Turnbull is very ambitious. If he can sort this all out, he will gain a lot of power for himself. So he has some incentive to get moving. 

We need a national water audit, and planning on a national basis to deal with the crisis, if it is not too late. A hot dry summer with an emerging el nino will likely result in dams like the Hume Weir runnning dry. Nationalisation of water as you say must come, and is long overdue. And that should include in ground water as well. Any notion that aquifers never run dry is just plain stupid. Just try pumping from some of the bores west of here and they have to go down hundreds of metres to even try.  It cost us 20 grand to sink and equip a bore 70 metres in depth. Then there is the on going cost of running a pump. Bore water is not cheap by any measure, and it is finite.

Nothing can be done for the more marginal rural areas. Without rain they will simply be abandonned. We have friends in the Mallee just north of Murray Bridge in SA, basically now just squatting on a large slab of country. They said they would never stock it again and that it just needed to be allowed to recover and be left as native scrub. Makes sense to me. That Mallee country should never have been cleared and anyone can see from the remnant areas that that was sheer folly as it is clearly one wombat and acre country. It is country to lose your soul in.  Loss of such areas to production will not cause too much economic disruption.  

But the areas that will, if they fail, cause serious economic disruption are in the relatively highly populated rural areas and towns in the eastern hinterland where high productivity on good soils has been and is possible, provided it rains, and at the right time. These areas make up the greater part of the rural industries in all States and they are now in crisis.  But again, nothing much can be done for those large rainfall dependant areas. Drought assistance measures, both State and Federal are basically bandaid. With any permanent reduced rainfall they will ultimately decline at an accelerated rate, and there will be massive population shift as a result.  This is already occurring to some extent with the drought affected sheep/wheat belt in NSW and Victoria being the areas currently most affected by population drift. 

Of course we have lost valuable farming land already in the East to urban sprawl and lifestyle type subdivisions and any major population drift from the more densely populated hinterland will exacerbate that, and put increasing pressure on coastal areas and already stretched water supplies on the Coast. The dairy industry, once highly productive on the NSW coast and highlands around Camden, where water and rainfall was abundant, was forced out over the past 25 years by increasing urban pressure and moved to irrigation dependant areas west of the Divide, around such places as Cowra and Narromine. But the western river systems are now in crisis and in any permanent drying scenario they could never sustain large water extractions for water intensive industries such as dairying, rice or worse, irrigated wheat crops. Without irrigation those production areas and their towns will go into rapid decline. And the people wil be looking to move elsewhere.

I note the big dairying areas of northern Vic are also under pressure over water allocations with Bracks already looking toward the Goulburn Valley to buy out rural water allocations down there for urban centres. I guess we could import our dairy produce from NZ and it may well come to that.  

As for trading water between farmers. The water liscence is a valuable part of the asset of irrigation dependant properties but allocations are only as good as the river and the Government will allow. Few farmers these days can draw their full allocation, or anywhere near it. So production declines accordingly.

The trend toward big business buying out water liscences from smaller farmers and concentrating water ownership in the hands of a few is to me truly alarming. I believe at his point that a state of Emergency shoud be declared, and all water trading should be suspended. And I believe that State governments at least, should move to buy out all dormant liscences. We hold one, but have not used it since we closed our large dairy on the highlands in 1995. Most former dairy farms still hold them in the Sydney Catchment and it would make sense for the SCA (Sydney Catchment Authority) to permanently secure that water as a first step.

But at the end of the day Roger, it all comes back to God (keep your hair on!) and if He does not favour us with rain, you can own all the land, property and water liscences in the world, for all the good they would do you.

I may sound pessimistic, but I have a bad feeling about all this at each passing sunny day and year. I just thank God that we are no longer trying to run a dairy farm. Ironic though that it was catastrophic floods that lost us our original farm on the north Coast of NSW in 1950. Now we just battle never ending drought on the western plains. 

It just seems to me that this country should be, in planning how to conserve and allocate its diminishing water assets, also planning how it would deal with major economic collapse in the more densely populated eastern hinterland with associated major demographic shift.  We have populated this country as it has never been populated before. There have been long dought periods in the past and this may be just one more such period. But in the past the country was never expected to carry 20 million people with a lifestyle like ours.

Better go. Must bring the washing in case it rains while I rabbit on about water.  Cheers Roger. Thought of you while in bleak city with our muso friends. Wondered how your studio was going.

El Nino Hairless

Jenny, too late, the hair departed the scene some time ago. Whether God favours or doesn't seems moot when confronted with bureaucratic stupidy and myopic political one-upmanship.

The true seers have been ringing alarm bells for some time now but the political wallies have not strayed very much from their master's dictum.


I see that we are experiencing a huge and disturbing re-alignment of the means of food production. Australians may well see, within a generation, that most food produced for our table comes from overseas and our ability to be self-sufficient, severely curtailed. Today I saw Navel Oranges selling for $5.98 each at the local Coles.

Perhaps this could be a topic for discussion in its own forum.

The recording studio endeavour is coming along nicely.

Navel gazing and water politics

Roger, as I recall the orange growers dumped their oranges in the truck load last year, even feeding them as drought fodder! No doubt many also pulled their trees. Now, are you sure? $5.98 each? I suppose some of the Toorak and Potts Point push might wear that. I must check out our neighbours up here who usually have them falling off the trees in the bucketful and see if we can't go into business together. Hell I would pick the lot for him at that price and cart them all the way to Melbourne.

Malcolm B Duncan, don't know if you are still interested in the water issue but I note in The Land this week, what I flagged the other day to Roger as happening in Vic, is also now on the table in NSW. The Land reports that the Government has been advertising for farmers who would be prepared to permanently sell their irrigation licences on the Murray and Murrumbidgee systems. Most farmers just trade them on a temporary basis, not permanently. Anyone would have to be a fool to sell permanently with the big dry showing no signs of having an end date. No irrigation farmer would want to end up with stranded assets. I could not think of a greater way to permanently devalue your asset in the irrigation belt. The response in The Land was hostile, and it touched on the point I raised, that any permanent loss of water to the irrigation belt would see rapid productivity decline, resulting in population drift away from the country towns that rely on a viable irrigation based rural industry along the western river systems. I doubt there will be many takers without some sort of exit incentive, as exit those farmers would ultimately have to do. Mind you, if the dry continues for years to come, all this will be largely academic.

In the Sydney Catchment there are I know a number of dormant water licences on former dairy farms which it would make sense for the Government to acquire. One thing that would militate against farmers selling in that catchment will be the current foray by the Dept of Agriculture into the local council environmental plans which are being redrawn. Those farmers who still hold small dairy farm areas in the catchment, (and which have not been subdivided and sold as lifestyle blocks) would not be inclined to sell I would think until this issue is resolved. I understand The Dept is trying to dictate to councils as to what should be the minimum subdivision of rural land. I can understand why but really it is a bit too late in those former dairying areas. The minimum area being proposed would preclude those small former dairy farms from further subdivision, yet they became agriculturally unviable with the closure of the dairy industry in the region. Most however kept their water licences going. So if Mr Iemma ever starts wanting to acquire water licences in the Sydney Catchment then he had better get real about the rural subdivision issue in relation to agriculturally unviable small farms. Would he really like those farmers to go back into dairying or other intensive forms of farming, thereby collectively taking massive amounts of water out of that stressed catchment?

No, the NSW Government is going to have to do much better than this.

Sadly Jay White

You live in a world viewed through rose tinged spectacles if you think election fraud isn't perpetuated. Certainly our land has been awash with it and I shudder at the thought of computer voting in the US (and if it should ever come here).

The Bush/Gore outcome, at which Gore was the undoubted popular vote winner, was decided by the judges of the Florida Court, who were (of course purely by co-incidence) appointees of his brother Governor Jeb Bush. 

They were acting completely impartialy when they simply cut off recounting with no legal precedent, at a certain point thus declaring George the winner.

Gore decided against further legally challenging the result-against advice from his own people as he believed that the result would be "blood on the streets"; being somewhat prophetic, but in a different way.

You will pleased to know Malcolm Duncan that I have just received an email from a close Astronomer friend in New Zealand who tells me he has been appointed as an adviser on a huge Hollywood production of Arthur C.Clarke's "Rendevous With Rama" to be produced in NZ and starring Morgan Freeman!


Rama will be a cinch with today's level of CGI technologies.  It will, as has been suggested here, raise again the concept of living in off-planet environmental habitats.

Science fiction and fact get close at times.  Yes, Asimov's definitions of the ethics of robotics have no doubt been floating in the subconsciousnesses of techoconceptualisers for decades, along with Arthur C. Clarke's theorising of communication by a string of geosynchronous satelites in the mid 1940s.

The only thing Clarke got hideously wrong was in assuming in his early work that Britain would become the world's superpower through it's control of Woomera, the best spaceport in the world.  NASA's got things under control now, and if Australian nuclear expert Professor Leslie Kenemy's claims that he is acting as consultant for a a three billion dollar reactor there(sorry can't get the Newscorp link, only my ineffecient blogging at the time)  are true , Woomera will  have an on-hand source for nuclear-powered extraterrestrial propulsion available ASAP.  As Australia's vertical territory goes to 100km, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if atomic extraplanetary propulsion wasn't being tested 101kms and upward above the desert as we speak.

The relevant comparative issue regarding Rama is that in these stories the technology is alien created.  When we go into space, whether to stations or travelling enviro-habitats (perhaps trams-generational trans-system odysseys might be the only way to cover the distances, to whose technological prowess will we be obligated?   Would that of a Government or a Howard Hughes/Dick Cheney be preferable? It'll be important in determining who owns which resources when we step off "Rama".

I never discount old sf theories, especially when you consider how close Frank Herbert's Dune, published in '67 came to nailing what is currently occuring in Iraq

Then again, Herbert's universe of worlds controlled by famy corporations ended up falling to an interplanetary Jihad... 


Michael, that's fabulous news about Rama. I've just re-read it after many years and also the two sequels. One of my favourite stories of all time. It always leaves me feeling peaceful and happy for some reason. Geez I hope Hollywood is capable of doing it justice. Don't spose they could get Peter Jackson involved??

Stranger in a strange land

I wouldn't dream of it, Malcolm. The only sci-fi I can stomach is Asmiov. One would have thought, judging from your comments that you were already... well, you get the picture.

Just a solution will do, Malcolm

My text for today: "No, kiddies, I'm afraid we need a technological solution or to get off the planet. "

Malcolm, I hope, that the climate change skeptics are right, particularly if they keep the hold they presently have on policy formation. Because if they are wrong, and not professional climatological opinion, then the Australian coal industry will be saved, and China, India et al industrialised, at the cost (just for starters) of every port city in the world.

Not too much further into your hopefully long life, you will likely need scuba gear in order to join an audience at Sydney Opera House.

A solution, technological or otherwise, will observe the precautionary principle and reduce the carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere. That the latter is rising seems beyond doubt. That implies in turn that CO2  is being added faster than it is being removed. Slowing down the addition and/or speeding up the removal is the obvious, and ultimately the only, way out.

Nero is up there on the balcony with his lyre. If time is critical, then there might not be as much left as we think.

As for getting off the planet: by some accounts Mars is warming too. The sun may be at least in part responsible, by itself getting hotter. In which case it would seem prudent to strip as much CO2 out of the air as possible, down to an ice age concentration. 

We are in uncharted waters here, but I can think of no policy issue of greater global importance.

Geared up

I did my open water course in March 1996.   Got everything but haven't learnt nitrox yet.   At least I'll be able to get from the garage to Level 7.

 Well, what is the solution Ian MacDougall?

I've always thought we need to get off the planet for a number of reasons: it will die, or we might when the sun goes (long time coming - we hope); it is in the nature of the species to expand to procreate and explore - we did a planet, why not a solar system, why not an universe?; and I've read huge amounts of science fiction some of which I have seen come true.

Remember where you were, not when Kennedy was assasinated but when Glenn (or whoever it was) fucked up his one great line when he first set foot on the moon?   I do - we were all watching it in the assembly hall at Scots for heavens sakes.

To the policy issue: what do you think it is?    I think it is this: either we take a zero sum view (which may last some centuries yet) and capitulate to the atmospheric sphere, or we get out and do it.   I have always loved Heinlein's hard science fiction (and no Solomon, this is not an invitation for a review) but Orphans of the Sky and Clarke's original Rendesvous with Rama have always had a profound effect on my thinking.

I thought we would, as a species, have launched an intergalactic expedition by now or at least have established colonies at Le Grange Points but we don't even seem to get a shuttle programme running properly while we still bomb the shit out of the plebs.

As to the CO2, I agree it seems sensible to try to reduce it.   How then do we stop the next volcanoe erupting? Heard about Krakatoa?

Well, what's your solution?

 You farm - your plot son.


Preliminary response to MBD

Malcolm: Hope the next volcano holds off till I can get back. I am down with an inner ear viral infection at the moment. Quite nauseating.

Fiona: Commiserations, Ian - get better quickly.

How Nature Works

Yes, it is pretentious but it is actually the title of a book by the late Per Bak who studied a phemonenon call Self-Organized Criticality at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

It is, at its core, a mathematical treatise and so is bit of a slog for those for whom maths is a foreign planet.

Nevertheless some rather amazing insights are available and once somewhat understood one can never look at nature the same way again.

It is not Chaos Theory, but, in essence, describes the range of possibilities for all sort of natural energy systems using a simple formula called 1/f (1 over f). Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, extinction events, asteroidal collisions, avalanches are just some of the natural events that find a range cursor in SOC.

Some of it is plain commonsense when you get the hang of it. It helps to straighten out folkloric interpretations of what the whole earth system throws up (God/gods did it, for example).

If you asked the average person in the street what scale is used to measure earthquakes, you would likely get the answer "the Richter scale". Most people know at least that much. If you pressed on and asked what are the lowest and highest values, you may get the answer 1 and probably 10 (no one alive on earth has experienced a 10 yet). In truth, the limits are just above 0 (the moon is (perhaps) completely inert) and an  upper limit that involves the total sum of all the energy contained within the earth tectonic system, a number that is huge.

SOC science predicts that we will experience 10, 11, 12, 13 14, 15 and higher Richter scale earthquakes. Any earthquake above 10 would devastate a continent and above 12 would obliterate the whole face of the earth. What SOC cannot predict is when, but it will happen. It is our guaranteed future.

Violent climatic events also are SOC events. The danger for us is that SOC rarely has a gradual indicator of disaster. SOC phemonena exhibit stasis punctuated by an instantaneous switch state when all the energy built into the SOC system is released. There is usually little warning when the unthinkable happens as shown by the Mt St Helen eruption, the Boxing Day Tsunami and the myriad killer earthquakes.

In the cruel light of our impotence when confronted by the world's biggest killer, Mother Nature(not very motherly)/God, it is bizarre, mentally-deranged thinking by those who bleat the lie that we cannot really make a difference by what we do. Per Bak's research showed that we can influence the energy systems of the world by our interventions in ways that we have no means of understanding at the moment. What is certain is that the sneakiness of SOC phenomena will delude us until it is too late. Once the energy realignment comes it maybe "Goodbye and thanks for all the fish".

stop the world, I wanna get off

MBD's science is impeccable.

1. It was Armstrong.

2. The pictures coming from the moon were of a 'standard' so completely incompatible that they could not otherwise be rebroadcast (except by pointing a TV camera at a NASA screen - now you know why the pictures were just sooo bad.)

3. The tapes (the 1st moon broadcast at least, if not all Apollo) have since all been lost.

4. Plane crashes have happened and space-craft have been lost due to idiotic arithmetic errors (often (non!)metric conversions) - the world can't agree on how to measure, let alone what. (And Lomborg is a toadal® con or shill, probably both.)

Oh, yeah: let's aim for the stars. The closest is Proxima Centauri, 'only' 4.22 light-years away (no planets so far detected; it's possibly a remote 3rd to the close binary Alpha Centauri A and B). Mars has as good as no air. Go for it, MBD. Heinlein's almost pure crap. Lemme know when FTL turns up, 'Kay? In plain text: it's all too far away; were stuck here. Make the best of it; enjoy every pico-nano-sec.


1. Fire any/all economist(s) who can't see past 'growth.'

2. Institute a 'steady-state' theory; only replace (efficiency upgrade; make durable goods really durable) what you've already got. Recycle everything possible; it's pretty easy (even cost-effective. Aluminium cans cost 14¢ each while re-using a bottle cost .5¢, by one costing I saw).

3. "One-child" policy everywhere, at least until 'sustainable.'

(4. Oh yeah: turn your TVs off - rots the brain, you know.)


Of course, (from 'Bringing up Baby':) "Nobody listens" (natch). The 'power-possessors' will continue to thieve and gorge, coal will burn till there's no more available (or the O2 runs out - ouch!) Long term (getting shorter), the Earth is f**ked. Bets?

Michael de Angelos when does myth become legend

Michael de Angelos, by the use of the term "usurper" I take it you have bought into the popular fable of election rigging? Surprisingly the Republicans have not dealt with this nonsense more sternly, however I think they have their own reasons for this, which I will come back too.

Firstly lets go to the start of the 2000 election race. Al Gore having been VP for close to eight years should have been an easy favourite. He was from a very well to do political background similar to Bush. He was well known in national government from coast to coast unlike Bush. He also had the very lucky position of being untarnished in a reasonably liked government during a economic boom. Should have been a cakewalk only it was made difficult by him and him alone to begin with.

Being at least on paper a southern Democrat he should have been expected to win at least his own southern state, giving him election victory. I mean EVEN Walter Mondale in his election drubbing won his home state. But no this would have been to easy for good ole Al.

Al firstly decided to turn his back on a massive percentage of his very own voters for the high life. Much easier to rub shoulders with new money techies and venture capitalists in give me states both east and west.

Al secondly in all his wisdom decided not only would he not support the NRA and old southern industry he would directly take them on! Now I know the "Jewish lobby" is flavour of the month round these parts however one would be sadly deluded to ever think the NRA does not have a little more stretch in American politics. And down south old industry is not a lobby group but a lifeblood for many southern voters. It is their JOBS!

Bush had one chance and one chance only of winning. That was to take all the southern states. Al Gore was doing his level best to help along his chances.

Enter stage right the lunatics, best exemplified by this peanut.

Fact is in a tight race in a first past the post system every vote for this lot, was a vote for Bush. The funniest thing of all about the whole episode now lost to legend was why they were running against Gore, now denied. It was because of his “sucking up” to corporate America and his disregard for the environment.

Anyhow lets just say at the time there were VERY strong rumours that the Bush people were not only giving them money they were giving them hands on help. Working phones etc…… Heard no complaints from Mikey at that time though, did we?

Anyhow to cut a long story short the election was had and now moves into history. Green votes if they had gone to Gore were enough to win in two states hence the election. One of those states being Florida. The Green vote in Florida was around 90 000, the Florida election won by Bush was by around 500. Effectively the Greens had gifted Bush 90 000 extra votes he would not have received.

And that’s not all. After this complete political bastardtry does the pinup boy Mikey Moore take credit on behalf of those concerned citizens giving it to the big end of town in the form of Al Gore? Of course he does not, he merely deletes this from his resume and heads down to Florida to libel all and sundry, including the entire electoral system he had only just finished taking advantage of. On top of this making a s### load of dollars and being quoted as some type of leftist hero.

Now the thing that amazed me most about this guys front was when in one of his scenes he alludes to the fact Bush would not concede Florida because somehow he knew he had it in the bag. Well of course he knew he was a big chance. The race was always going to be neck and neck there, and it was always going to come down to how many voted for the Greens. Do people think that somebody like Carl Rove would not be aware of this? The Greens were the very same party Mikey was campaigning SO strongly for. Quiet successfully as it turned out.

Anyway it is just much easier to blame seven up standing citizens that have made the law their entire life and have reached the pinnacle of their profession. For some reason they were in awe of Bush and co even though their jobs are all but untouchable.

My belief is that the Republicans never talked up this simple fact of election victory in a attempt to destroy the myths because they had eyes on the future. Frankly they hoped these dopes would do exactly the same thing in 2004. As it happened that was not needed and the rest as they say is history.

Just hearing the true US president speak-Al Gore, as opposed to the current usurper, things could have been so different. I suppose we can only console ourselves and say "we live in interesting times!

Howard's line on climate change

John “flat earth” Howard was answering questions on climate change in parliament yesterday (Tuesday 12th). The question of Al Gore and inconvenient truth came up. His response was in part a slap at Gore with an aside about the film The Path to 9/11 and it showing the Clinton administration in a bad light. And that Gore had noted defensively that it was not entirely factual. Likewise Gore’s film, Howard implied.

But then he switched to his main defence, jobs, very much the government line, as evidenced by Downer’s reply to an earlier question about Kyoto. Basically Howard stated Australia can’t afford to do much on climate change that might involve drastic and mandated change in industry and consumer carbon emissions.

(From Hansard)

Mr HOWARD—The argument over climate change is not whether there is a threat posed by climate change; there seems to be broad agreement on that, although there is a lot of legitimate debate about the speed of that change and the nature of the threat, and I do not think it is right to say that there is total unanimity about that in the scientific community [if policy makers waited for total unanimity nothing would ever get done but it’s a standard denialist’s clause. TP]. But that is one part of the debate. The other part of the debate is how best to respond to it. I have made it very plain on behalf of the government that we do not intend to sign a protocol which would export Australian jobs to other countries. Those from the other side who interject so vociferously do not include the quiet, contemplative member for Batman, whose views on this subject are a little closer to reality than the man who sits immediately on his left—that is, the spokesman on this area.

This is what the member for Batman [Martin Ferguson TP] correctly had to say on this issue—

 Mr Rudd—You’ve already signed it!

 The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Griffith!

 Mr HOWARD—He said in the Australian of 13 January 2006:

It’s time to abandon the political correctness espoused by the green movement. Let’s be real: without getting business on board we cannot achieve anything.
… … …
... the
Asia-Pacific Partnership ... offers Australia not only an opportunity for economic growth, but also allows us to be part of the solution to the environmental consequences of what is happening in our region ...

They are the sorts of arguments—

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Sturt is warned!

Mr HOWARD—that I would play back to the former Vice President of the United States. They are the arguments that I would use in response to the shadow minister. They are the arguments of one of the few people on the front bench of the Australian Labor Party who has an interest in preserving Australian jobs. He wants Australian jobs; the rest of them want them to go to China or Indonesia, but we agree with the member for Batman.

It was good political tactics but policy junk. The jobs furphy is largely a position taken only by the government and the fossil fuel lobby and an ALP shadow minister playing to a fossil industry union. Taking both a macro and micro economic view Australian business doesn’t seem to agree at all. See, for example, regarding the costs to Australia of climate change and benefits of doing something about it,

The summary of The Business Case for Early Action Report from the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change or :

The Frontier Economics report Options for Moving Towards a Lower Emission Future

For some links to global business perspectives see this page

Overall the Howard govt approach to climate is very reminiscent of their approach to the internet and telecommunications. Resist change, issue denials, and protect the vested interests. None of which does anything to address the challenges of the short to medium term future, or act in the long term good of Australia.

Like George W Bush back in 2001 justifying his refusal to sign up to Kyoto because it might impinge on the American way of life, Howard's position is foolish, immoral and a betrayal of the interests of Australians, particularly Australian children. Forget about the debate about smacking children, shouldn’t voting Liberal be deemed child abuse?

the only inconvenient truth

With The Sun newspaper in the UK going all green and The Australian pounding Al Gore and his fellow travellers ( 99% of the world's scienctists) it looks like Murdoch has finally realised how to straddle the fence and chop down any remaining trees to promote both views with the Bjom Lomborgs of the world happy to go along for the ride for a buck. It's all so depressing and God only knows where all this is going to end with the current leadership.

Just hearing the  true US president speak-Al Gore, as opposed to the current usurper, things could have beed so different. I suppose we can only console ourselves and say "we live in interesting times !"

inconvenient truths indeed

Hi Bjorn. You're an adjunct professor in a business school. Does that mean you're not a professor? Perhaps you're not a scientist too. Well I am. I have a PhD and 6 years' worth of undergraduate science. Enough to realise the bleeding obviousness of global warming and the overwhelming scientific arguments for it (such as those from Steven Schneider: http://cesp.stanford.edu/people/stephenhschneider/). I'm also old enough to see the vested interests of people who attempt to deny global warming on the grounds of statistical undertainty. It is an "inconvient truth", as you put it. Very inconvenient when our ice caps are melting, glaciers receding and sea levels rising. You wouldn't call that global cooling now would you? Movies aside, no scientist worth his salt would take one set of phenomena, eg increasing frequency of natural disasters caused by increased atmostpheric disturbance, and argue that this confirms global warming. NO, you have to look across the whole spectrum of natural phenomena. This is exactly what scientists have been doing, and the weight of evidence points unambiguously to global warming due to human activity, not due to some poorly understood cyclical fluctutation of the earth's weather. So get with it Bjorn, your background in stats should help you to understand what's going on rather than just muddying the waters for others with far less education than yourself. Let's not lie with statistics.

Inconvenient bullshit morelike

Well, gpulford, I've checked your link.   As usual, the standard self-referential research and voodoo projections more akin to economics than science.

I don't have a PhD in science, I just read things and, even though I'm only part-way through Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers  the diagram on p 21 is enough to satisfy me that ther is no credible evidence for global warming whatsoever.   That is not to say that there might not be good sense in reducing carbon emissions or doing more research or just being a bit more careful but could all you Kyoto supporters please tell me why an island nation with a tiny population should impose upon itself immediate anti-competitve constraints while India and China  keep burning oil and coal like there was no tomorrow.    And who can blame them?   Everyone would like a better standard of living.   Some might even like clean water and the infrastructure necessary to provide it.

Do you suggest, perhaps that we should stop selling coal?   Gee that would get them to wake up to themselves wouldn't it?

No, kiddies, I'm afraid we need a technological solution or to get off the planet.    Luckily, I've only got another 94 years to live.

Malcolm, do you still

Malcolm, do you still feel that global warming is all bullshit? Check out this link if you didn't like Schneider's stuff: http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1876540,00.html

Schneider is no economist, but if you aren't a scientist, maybe it's difficult to judge the quality of his work. Are you going to call the Royal Society a bunch of quacks too?

I have nothing at all against Tim Flannery, but he is not a climatologist. His background is in the biological sciences, which is a poor skills match for the physics, chemistry, geology etc that you need to understand the arguments for human-induced global warming (I don't call it climate change). All the same, if I had a bit more time I might read his book.

Next you'll be saying that we have to put our waste into orbit. Great idea, it would take more energy than it yields to do that, but if you're a pseudo-scientist, it just might work. Why not solve cold fusion while you're at it?

Bye for now, "kiddies".

Still still

When you reply to my substantive questions, I'll reply to your post.

Some inconveniences for Bjørn

Bjørn Lomborg, it should be noted, is a Political "Scientist" and Statistician who is operating way out of his areas of expertise when assessing the significance of climate change. His use of evidence in his well-known 'Skeptical Environmentalist" book was noticeably biassed, tilting conclusions in the direction that those with Money, Power and investment in the Status Quo would wish to hear.

See URL's such as: Lomborg Errors, Lomborg, and Correcting myths from Bjørn Lomborg for much more detail.

Of course, when Greenland melts down, the Gulf Stream deflects and Denmark freezes over, we don't have to let him in as a refugee...

Murdoch turns?!!

So much denial, so little time. I'm not going to debate just now the piece above, except, in homage to the 99% of scientists in the area who agree (a) that climate change is real and happening at an unprecedented rate and; (b) that it is man-made, to repeat Galieo - that  "yet it does move".

More importantly is the apparent seismic shift from Murdoch.

Two quotes from the editorial in yesterdays UK Sun read:

"Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible: Searing summers and dry winters in the UK; increasingly frequent tornados and hurricanes worldwide; the shrinking Arctic ice cap."

"Only the severity and immediacy of the threat is open to debate. This week The Sun will present the evidence and suggest how every one of us can help."

The Sun is running a massive greening campaign all this week.

So Murdoch seems to have decided (a) there's dollars to be made; (b) perhaps there's dollars to be lost from doing nothing as well.

We can look forward to the reactions of the likes of Andrew Bolt, Peter Blunden, Piers Ackerman and John Howard to the sound of the masters voice.

Oh and a good substantial piece on Al Gore's film, and global warming generally, is "The Threat to the Planet" over at the New York Review of Books

The transcript of Gore's interview with Andrew Denton can be found here. I  was pleasantly surprised at how inspiring I found his positive can-do American liberalism.  Did others feel likewise?

Did others feel likewise?

Yes I did Tony and I couldn't help but ponder what the world might have been like today if not so many butterflys had been confused and hanging chads held sway.

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