The Little Paper That Shames the Dailies

Write a letter to The Age or SMH expressing doubt about global-warming theories and your missive will very soon meet the sharp end of an editor’s spike as a matter of editorial policy. In Geelong, by contrast, a free suburban weekly actually believes in free speech and open debate

spikeTo the ranks of the world’s great newspaper editors — Ben “Watergate” Bradlee  of The Washington Post and my late, respected and feared ex-boss Graham Perkin of The Age spring immediately to mind– we must now add Tony Galpin of the Geelong Independent, the local rag delivered free every week to 80,000 residents of Victoria’s second-largest city.

Galpin is not yet a synonym for editorial guts, but he deserves to be. He’s happy to give a fair go in his news and letters pages to both believers in climate change’s imminent global catastrophe and to sceptics. In rejecting demands from a certain Dr Ray Black, a former environmental teacher at Geelong’s Gordon TAFE, that sceptics be banned from the newspaper’s news and letters pages he has set an example that shames his counterparts at The AgeSydney Morning Herald and ABC.

The global controversy over censoring sceptics in the media (which I’ll get to to in due course) has been playing out in miniature in Geelong (pop 200,000). The distinguishing feature is the Independent‘s refusal to buckle under pressure and toe the warmist line by spiking all other views.

Editor Galpin says,

“I publish Dr Ray Black saying that [local sceptic] Alan Barron should be banned from my pages. I have published others who feel sensitive about suppression of free speech.

“I was away and came back to read personal emails asking that I ban sceptics to help save the planet. My job is not to save the planet, it’s to make the Letters page attractive for our readers. The next day was the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and that confirmed to me that my policy is right.

“I’ve had floods of letters on all sides of this controversy, way too many to publish. Many claims on both sides have not been borne out by the facts. The debate is far from over. If our local sceptics write in with new observations that defy the theory and models, I’m happy to give them a run, and also give a run to those who can refute the sceptics.

“I mix with ordinary people around here, and some of them say that anyone wanting to shut their opponents up must have poor arguments  or are perhaps closet totalitarians.  I have noticed that some of those wanting bans, also make claims about Murdoch plots and Big Oil conspiracies.”

Galpin ran a half-page news piece in his January 23 edition under the headline, “Free speech our burning issue – Local temperatures flare over calls to silence sceptics” accompanied by a heap of pro and con letters to editor.

There has been long-running ferment in Geelong over global warming claims. In early 2013, Black accepted sceptic Barron’s challenge to debate in the Gordon Institute’s auditorium, which was then  booked and the coming encounter advertised. One day before the scheduled event, on May 1, 2014, the Institute withdrew its permission to use the auditorium, giving no reason.

Black told Quadrant Online he imagined the TAFE had decided it was  unwise and/or politically inexpedient to allow the debate. He and Barron attended the auditorium to apologise to the handful of people unaware of the cancellation who showed up, after which everyone moved to the café  and had a discussion there.

Sceptic Barron, a retired tax official, says that Black told him immediately after the venue was withdrawn that Barron had no right to push anti-science views on impressionable students Black was teaching to be environmentally responsible. Black says he has since decided against having any debate because, whereas he would be explaining the  pure and clear science, the other side would be pushing unscientific and organised denialism.

Quadrant Online emailed the Gordon Institute’s CEO, Lisa Line, as follows:

Hi,
…A day before the debate was to be held, Dr Black says Gordon Institute withdrew permission for the use of the auditorium, forcing cancellation of the debate, and causing some embarrassment all round.

Is it correct that Gordon did that cancellation?

If so, why?

Ms Line’s spokeswoman came back with a reply so ridiculous that I have no option but to paste it here as a case study in gobbledegook:

Dear Tony,
Thank you for your email.

As a leading vocational education and training provider, The Gordon is focused on providing a broad range of positive and engaging learning experiences to its students through industry excursions, scholarships, access to industry experts and use of the latest industry specific equipment and technology.

On occasion, the Institute may host seminars or workshops of interest to our students and also to the general public.  We have a very strong reputation for supporting community initiatives in the Geelong region over many years.  A relevant example is the Climate Reality Project hosted by the Institute as part of a broader Geelong event in 2012.  It was run by a local business peak body in conjunction with other community-based partners.

In relation to your enquiry, the event did not proceed due to timing issues and careful consideration about the allocation of resources during a time of significant change for the Institute and the VET sector as a whole.

Kind regards
Raelene Woods
Marketing Manager

Black says that the body of climate misinformation is originating from Big Oil and Big Coal and the  Heartland Institute in US. To put that claim in perspective, Heartland in 2011 spent about USD1.5m on sceptic advocacy. WWF’s annual revenue, by contrast, is about USD700m a year.Sceptic Barron claims he has not yet received any funding from major oil or coal companies for his global warming sceptic advocacy in Geelong.

Black’s Melbourne University PhD is in biomedical engineering.

Samples of Black’s former teaching style still on-line include his 2010 video case study of an environmentally-conscious student mother who was requiring her two children to have a lights-off Earth Hour every Saturday. In the course of putting her family on a meat-free diet five days a week, she says they gained health and she lost 20kg.

Black said his student’s on-going Earth Hour on Saturdays was her idea, not his.

For the Independent’s story, Black posed for a picture (below) against the seven-metre cliff fronting Western Beach, which he said would be topped by rising seas over time because of climate change. He was drawing a long bow, as the IPCC’s mid-point estimate for sea level rise by 2100 is in the range of 40-to-75 centimetres.

warmist at the drowning cliffs

The Independent quoted Black saying, perversely, that Barron was “hijacking” the public’s “inalienable right to free speech”.

The story then quoted Barron:  “The Bureau of Meteorology homogenises figures, climate modelling all depends on the parameters you use, and data can be manipulated. There’s been no heating in the stratosphere recently and the idea we should panic about CO2 is complete and utter nonsense.”

Black told Quadrant Online,  “Many in Geelong have written to me agreeing that sceptic letters should not be published. Many would have been horrified at the idea  of a campaign via the newspapers to minimise the health risks of smoking. I put climate denial in the same category.  I am from a democratic country and we value free speech, but this denial is orchestrated.”

Dr Black, asked whether non-consensus scientists such as Dr Judith Curry of Alabama University should also have their critical views banned,  said there would always be outliers. “We have them in this country, people well educated and trained and holding chairs in geology, like Robert Carter and Ian Plimer. I am not sure whether to ban them;  I might be interested in what they have to say.”

Asked about the halt to atmospheric warming of between 14 and 18 years, depending on which set of figures you consult, he said the extra heat was going into the oceans and that it was not possible to explain recent global warming except by CO2 increases. “The modelling is in line with the reality,” he insisted.

Quadrant Online referred him to the 5th IPCC report, which said that 111 of 114 “runs” of the climate models had over-estimated actual warming. He replied that this was just hair-splitting as the planet was now holding more heat.

Asked from where he got his quote that 97% of climate scientists backed the consensus, he said, “In a number of surveys.” He seemed not to be specifically aware of the Cook and Nuccitelli paper — now comprehensively  debunked –  which is the latest cock-and-bull study to present the 97% figure, but said that if the activist researchers had arrived at that figure they must be correct. A man of many catastrophic proccupations, Dr Black went on to alert Quadrant Online to numerous other threats to the planet, from deforestation to ocean acidification and the “potential wholesale collapse of the earth’s ecosystem”.

As I remarked earlier, the Geelong censorship fracas is a microcosm of the global fracas, and in this respect The Geelong Independent’s editor’s stand contrasts with that of Sydney Morning Herald Editor-in-Chief Darren Goodsir, who advised in October, 2013, that (reading between the lines) global warming sceptics needn’t bother writing in.  The SMH took its cue and wording from the Los Angeles Times, which presented a sleazy, straw-man argument that only “factually accurate” letters would be published. Therefore, the two papers said, they wouldn’t publish ‘deniers’ who said humans hadn’t caused any climate change.

Well duh — of course humans have caused SOME climate change. The sceptic case, broadly, is that humans have not caused MOST of the past 50 years’ warming (the IPCC assertion) and that forecasts that human-caused warming  will fry the planet by 2100 (as claimed by official climate models) are based on bad science and bad arithmetic.

In case anyone missed the point, the SMH illustrated its bromide with a Photoshopped depiction of a city enveloped by scorched earth in a sea of orange heat, with the, ahem, factually-accurate (sarcasm alert) caption: “Five degrees hotter… our climate in 90 years.”

Fairfax fact-checking doesn’t extend to NASA claims last month that 2014 was the hottest year on record, which even the space agency belatedly admitted was only 38% likely to be correct.

The Los Angeles Times’ bar against sceptics brought other green totalitarians out of the woodwork, via a petition  addressed to newspapers the world over:

“We do not see letters published asserting that we didn’t land on the moon, or that tobacco smoking is not linked to lung cancer. It’s my hope that soon we will no longer see climate denier letters published in newspapers. Thank you so much for your consideration.”

At least a dozen US newspapers followed the lead of the Los Angeles Times (and SMH), to the delight of journalism academia, as expressed by Columbia University’s Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology:

“I think the policy is healthy — if they tailor it properly, that is, if it’s properly discriminating — I think it should actually be emulated by the other papers.”

(editor’s note: To get a glimpse of how they teach journalism at Columbia, read this piece by Liar’s Poker author Michael Lewis, who sat in on classes and left less than impressed. In Australia, a sheepskin from Columbia J-School figures prominently in the CVs of quite a few newsroom stars, which may well explain why circulations are witnessing Himalayan declines.)

Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environment writer, has the toughest gig in Australian journalism, as he is fearlessly running both sides of the global warming debate. Bravo, Lloyd.

Meanwhile, in the US a new academic study of environment reporters and their methods has found the practice of ignoring sceptics “was largely supported by their managers and editors. In fact, one reporter’s news organization had recently developed an explicit editorial policy discouraging reporters from quoting climate change deniers in environment or science coverage.”

Similarly, the university- and taxpayer-funded Conversation blog, run by ex-Age editor Andrew Jaspan, warned a year ago that sceptics’ input via comments threads will not be published. The rationale was that in discussing policy responses to predictions of catastrophic global warming, comments saying such predictions are exaggerated are “off-topic”. Again, Jaspan’s people use the straw-man term “denial of climate change”, as if sceptics argue that climate has never changed.

The once-respected BBC, in its campaign to keep sceptics off its airwaves, was caught telling lies of a kind shocking even in the ‘climate science’ arena. In 2007 it announced that, as a result of a “high level” seminar with “some of the best scientific experts”, it had decided the weight of evidence justified blocking sceptics from being given an airing on Britain’s national broadcaster. The Beeb also resolved as policy that the green mantra should be washed through all BBC programming, even comedy and drama.

Challenged about who the ‘best scientific experts’ were, the BBC fought for five years in the courts, at vast taxpayer expense, to avoid naming them. Eventually a sceptic discovered their names via a loose web link, and the 28-strong group turned out to hail mainly from Greenpeace and similar activist fronts, with only three scientists present.

The BBC saga continues. Last July, it paired warmist Brian Hoskins with sceptic Nigel Lawson in discussion on man-made warming and recent UK floods. This drew a barrage of warmist complaints that Lawson should not have been heard — gripes the BBC upheld, responding  bizarrely, that “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modeling…” The same month, the BBC sent 200 of its journos to workshops to train them against ‘false balance’ on global warming.

The ABC handles sceptics as one would funnelwebs. When, in 2007, it ran the sceptics’ Great Global Warming Swindle film, it bracketed the documentary with ‘health warnings’ and hostile interviews. As The Age’s reviewer put it, “Rarely, if ever, has a documentary shown on the ABC been surrounded by such an elaborate buffer zone.”

But it was quite OK for Robyn Williams, compere of Radio National’s Science Show, to liken sceptics to paedophiles and crack pushers.

The ABC last year, in response to an edict from Chairman Jim Spigelman, set up an audit panel to review its science (especially climate) coverage, headed by warming catastrophist Fiona Stanley AC and featuring such science experts as retired Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, who frequently takes umbrage with Quadrant Online and once explained that his disdain for climate scepticism is based on no greater grasp of the subject than  “the climate scientists I know tell me it is drivel“.

There has been no output so far from the Spigelman-appointed panel. Don’t expect much.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com

COMMENTS [3]

  1. Peter OBrien

    Plaudits also to Carmen McIntosh of the Batemans Bay Post, which is a Fairfax publication, and who has also resisted calls from warmists to ban letters from skeptics. She regularly publishes letters from myself and Neville Hughes.

  2. Jody

    I’ve submitted many letters to the editor of SMH and written many times on the “comments section” under articles. Most of these are knocked back – not because they are offensive, but because they do not tow the party line. These people are about as opposed to free speech as it’s possible to be.

    The other day on “The Drum” a News Limited journalist reminded David Marr that Fairfax only pays 16c in the dollar tax because the paper had criticized other organizations for not paying their fair share. Marr shot back, “that’s rich coming from somebody who works for Rupert Murdoch”! It seems readers are all up to their eyeballs in this conspiracy and I feel to see how an accusation can negate the fact that Fairfax pays on 16c in the dollar tax!!! As always, shoot the messenger and shut them down – the conventional Fairfax/Green left response. Well, it’s sheer hypocrisy.

    • Alistair

      The media have generally done a very bad job of explaining even standard IPCC views of the science, let along allowing for criticisms of it. Most people have never heard that CO2 alone would produce only about 1 degree C of warming for a projected doubling. The scary scenarios come from an assumption of positive feedback from increased atmospheric water vapor as a response to modest CO2 warming. This is a quite legitimately questionable assumption.
      If the public broadcaster was doing it’s job, the media generally would have to be abreast of this fact, and it would be common knowledge by now. Questions would then mainly revolve around the evidence for this enhanced warming feedback. Of course, any other aspect of the science should also be discussable. The idea that the science is settled is propaganda.

Warmists Take the Hardest Hits

Anyone can be a prophet of doom: Pick a spot on the globe, any spot, and state with oracular authority that it will suffer most from runaway climate change. Tim Flannery fancied Perth, for example, which has yet to become his predicted ghost town, but he has plenty of company in the dunce’s corner

dunceWhy can’t the global-warming catastrophe industry convince the public that the scare underwriting its meal ticket is real? Even the CSIRO’s  annual survey last year  showed that 53% of Australians reject the official story. And even on the CSIRO’s figures, Aussies rank climate fourteenth out of sixteen concerns overall, and we rate it only seventh out of eight even among environmental concerns. In Britain, more of the same, with a new survey showing those who describe themselves “very concerned” about climate change falling to 18%, down from 44% in 2005.

Partly to blame is that dratted 18-year halt to global warming, even as man-made CO2 continues to pour into the skies. But my theory is that the global warming industry has made itself so ridiculous over the past 30 years, so hyperventilatingly ludicrous, by predicting ever-more-dire catastrophes by the year 20XX.  But then year 20XX   comes and goes and life continues as normal.

Take the The Guardian ‘s corker of a scoop in 2004, when it obtained a secret and suppressed Pentagon report on ‘climate wars’ intended for an unimpressed President George W Bush. As The Guardian breathlessly reported,

“…major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020 [editor: because the Gulf Stream will have stopped flowing]. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

‘Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,’ concludes the Pentagon analysis. ‘Once again, warfare would define human life…’

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is ‘plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately’, they conclude. As early as next year [2005] widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.”

The report went on to predict “catastrophic” energy shortages by 2020 (current oil price: about US$45 per barrel). The authors in 2004 thought it was possibly too late even then to prevent such disasters.  “It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years [2009],’ they said.

Some sane bloggers, e.g. Anthony Watts of WUWT, have always enjoyed compiling amusing lists of dud warming-catastrophe predictions. But a new blog entrant is specialising in the genre and, by sorting and classifying, turns the scare-a-minute soothsaying into spectacular entertainment.

One sub-genre on the site specialises in which particular countries or places have variously been spruiked as most likely to suffer most when Gaia cranks up the thermostat and takes her revenge. Australia, of course, will be hardest hit by climate change.  If you live in Perth, well, Perth will be hardest hit by climate change, perhaps becoming a ghost metropolis, as climate comedian Tim Flannery puts it.

But Australia is not alone. Pick a country, any country, say Malta or Bulgaria, and you’ll be sure someone has claimed the ‘settled science’ is in no doubt that, yes, Malta or Bulgaria will be hardest hit by climate change. Alternatively, if your country is thought to have a chance of surviving climate change, it will become a lifeboat state flooded by teeming millions of climate refugees. For example, see here and here.

So keep a straight face as you read below, courtesy of climatechangepredictions.org

Mr Dunlop, who’s now with the Association for the study of Peak Oil and Gas, says Australia will be one of the hardest hit by a rise in global temperatures.”We’re one of the driest continents on the earth and the effects on Australia will be more severe than elsewhere.” – ABC News, May 2013

Australia’s top intelligence agency believes south-east Asia will be the region worst affected by climate change by 2030, with decreased water flows from the Himalayan glaciers triggering a ‘cascade of economic, social and political consequences’. The dire outlook was provided by the deputy director of the Office of National Assessments, Heather Smith, in a confidential discussion on the national security implications of climate change with US embassy officials. — Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 2010

The effects of climate change will impact more severely on the economy of Papua New Guinea than on any other in the Pacific, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank. –ABC News, Nov 2013

Research reports that Bangladesh is one of the hardest hit nations by the impacts of climate change. — UK climate4classrooms.org website

There seems to be consensus in the developed world that Africa will be the hardest hit or most affected region, due to anthropogenic climate change. – YouLead Collective, a young generation of climate leaders, Nov 2014

Vietnam is likely to be among the countries hardest hit by climate change, mainly through rising sea levels and changes in rainfall and temperatures. – International Food Policy Research Institute, 2010

Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim stated today that “The Small Island Developing States are among the hardest hit by climate change.”  — as reported by the Norwegian media, Nov 2011

Maldives’ economy hardest hit by climate change: Asian Development Bank. The Maldives is the most at-risk country in South Asia from climate change impacts, said the report titled ‘Assessing the costs of climate change and adaptation in South Asia.’ – Minivan News, Aug 2014


According to the latest data modelling, climate change is likely to have the strongest impact on Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden – planetearthherald.com

Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are the countries that would be worst affected by global warming, according to a European Union report. The EC Joint Research Commission (JRC) report, released on Wednesday, takes into account four significantly sensitive factors: agriculture, river flooding, coastal systems and tourism. — Sofia News Agency, Nov 2009

The economies of southern Europe and the Mediterranean, including Malta, are forecast to suffer the most adverse effects of climate change, according to a new report drawn up by the European Environment Agency. — Primo-europe.eu, July 2010

Climate change is faster and more severe in the Arctic than in most of the rest of the world. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average — panda.org

China’s Poor Farmers Hit Hardest by Climate Change. Declan Conway, a University of East Anglia researcher who has studied climate change’s affect on China’s farmers, told Reuters that people in remote communities in China’s poorer regions are particularly exposed to climate hazards. — Circle Of Blue, Dec 2012

Report: Middle East, African Countries to Be Hardest Hit by Climate Change — CommonDrams.org, Dec 2012

Googling “hardest hit by climate change” is endless fun. For example, cuddly koalas, those really-cute Clownfish and pretty staghorn corals are all going to be “hardest hit by climate change”. For some reason, redback spiders, warthogs and piranhas never make the cut as top climate-threatened species.

But that’s an article for another day.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com

World Leaders Face the Foe, er, Faux

That recent Paris march with its retinue of presidents and prime ministers leading the hoi polloi sure was an inspirational moment in the crusade to defend free speech. What a pity the ABC footage was spliced, edited and nothing like the sequestered reality of a stage-managed photo op

hypocrites on paradeThe iconic TV image to emerge after the Islamic massacres in Paris was the 40-plus world leaders marching   at the head of millions of Paris demonstrators. The footage said it all: Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, etc etc throwing personal safety to the winds as they led the masses through the dangerous avenues of Paris. Thus they showed Islamists that our national leaders can’t be cowed.

Let’s take a look at our ABC’s taxpayer-financed coverage. Exemplary, I’d assume, especially as the ABC boasts a dedicated fact-checking unit run by ex-Age journo Russell Skelton and financed by a $10m handout in 2013 from then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I can’t retrieve ABC TV 7pm News coverage for the day (perhaps I’m just incompetent), but a clip from Leigh Sales’ 7.30 on January 12 is illustrative.

Spliced into footage of the mass march, we see the tranche of world leaders marching shoulder to shoulder (from 3.20 to 3.40) with a voice-over hailing their solidarity with victims and determination to ‘show support’.
It would take a particularly alert viewer to notice that no ordinary marchers are in these grabs, that the street is actually empty of other life, and that there is not a soul to be seen hanging out the windows of the five-storey apartments on both sides. In fact, if you look hard, you will notice that the camera angles are specifically framed to conceal the fact that no other marchers are around.

ABC transcriptions show that the national broadcaster on January 12-13 was happy to go along with the fake symbolism. Here’s ABC’s PM  fibbing:

President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Britain and the Palestinian territories among others moved off from the central Place de la République ahead of a sea of French and other flags.

Then there is ABC News recycling the same fib, this time via wire service Associated Press:

“More than 40 world leaders headed the somber procession”.

And ABC AM fibbing: “Dozens of world leaders also answered the call, linking arms as they walked along the rally route.”

Yet more ABC News fibs:

President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Britain and the Palestinian territories among others moved off from the central Place de la République ahead of a sea of French and other flags.

And ABC AM fibs yet again:

BARBARA MILLER: Before the mass rally got going dozens of leaders, including from the UK, Germany, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey, walked the route.

This report, interestingly, seems to separate the national leaders from the mass rally, but leaves us believing that the leaders marched the 3km route from  Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation.

ABC TV’s Mary Gearin also deviated slightly from the script, saying

“This was a special moment; the people leading a million others through the streets of Paris were not the super group of foreign dignitaries but a tight group of surviving workers from Charlie Hebdo and the families and friends.”

So Gearin, though confined in the ‘media pen’, managed to notice that the march was not ‘led’ by those heads of state. She did imply that the leader group was in the thick of it all, but not at the forefront.

Time now for the reality show. Below is a screen grab taken, taken from YouTube, of the dozens of heads of state pretending to be marching with Parisians for free speech and the Western way of life. Their pretendy-march is taking place in a side street blocked off and cleared of ordinary people. The regularly spaced   dark figures in the background represent the security contingent. The pic is a grab from this video, and comes to Quadrant Online via the estimable Pierre Gosselin of Notrickszone:

paris nobsThe video beginswith the fakery and then illustrates how the faux march was spliced into various German TV news reports. In this video we can enjoy the sight of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vigorously waving to non-existing supporters (2.56); plus a “whoops” moment when a bad camera angle almost exposes the faking (9.11); plus an announcer summing up, without irony: “Politiker wie Demonstranten” == “Politicians as Demonstrators”. 9.20).

Gosselin comments:

“The reality is that these world leaders were in fact too afraid to appear ‘arm-in-arm, should-to-shoulder’ with the masses. In effect they actually demonstrated their capitulation to terrorism, admitting the terror worked and that they are now too afraid to appear with the public. Congratulations terrorists, your aim has been achieved – at least among our leaders. Obviously real courage is something only for the masses.”

He continues:

“The topping on the cake comes at the 10:00 mark, where the ZDF correspondent even asks:
When was there ever a time where government leaders, or leaders of 50 nations, have come onto the streets as demonstrators, over a kilometer-long stretch that was not even completely safe? That was something particularly special.”

We can also assume from the very restricted clips of the leaders’ march that it was official footage, shot and released to the ABC and other media, not done by the media themselves. The media/ABC went along  by judiciously in-splicing the official footage with footage of the mass demonstration.

I had a go at counting the actual steps marched by the leader group. It looks like somewhere between a dozen and twenty (based on a close viewing of two clips), assuming the leaders didn’t continue stepping out once the cameras had their shots.


The Settled Science of Ignoring Facts

Australia’s Academy of Science is overdue to clarify its position on global warming, but don’t expect that much-delayed document to be written in the ink of rational objectivity. Despite doubts creeping into the pronouncements of overseas counterparts, local warmists remain determined to defend the faith

the end is nighThe position of the Australian Academy of Science on global warming was last stated in August, 2010. It basically regurgitated the 2007 findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with some Australian temperature trends thrown in – from 1910, thus eliding the inconvenient 19th century heatwaves.

But the Academy has  had  problems with its promised update for 2014.   Kick-start funds for printing and production, undisclosed but modest, arrived from the Labor government in June, 2013.

By October, 2014, the text was finished  and the project moved to the design phase, in readiness for publication before the Lima climate fest, which started on December 1.  The booklet missed that bus and now the publication date has been put forward into 2015.  I gather that the delays reflect the usual problems of committee work, plus the illness of a key author.

The 2010 Academy document was called “The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers”. Its influence was profound – it has had about  a million readers, largely teachers and students. Not everyone loved it: one distinguished meteorologist complained of “woefully trite and misleading” statements. Even a top Academy man confessed that it was “not a great document”.  The new document will help massage public opinion towards action at the Paris climate conference next December, although guidelines from the top are to lay off advocacy this time.

In 2009, the Academy’s then-president, Kurt Lambeck, went to the Rudd Climate Change Department and extracted a $55,000 contribution towards the 2010 booklet. (Bang went the perception of Academy independence!). Amusingly, that document in August, 2010, forecast rainfall decreases in Victoria. Within three weeks, Victoria was awash with massive flooding. (As for NSW, 2011-12 saw 3350 official flood warnings and predictions).

The Academy did no  polling of members about support for the IPCC line, neither in the 2010 nor the 2015 exercise. Someone – the Academy doesn’t say who – “assembled”[i] a team to do the job. Nothing is known of Academy members’ views, as distinct from the views of the Academy leadership.

The Academy did however seek limited independent assessment of the draft from qualified scientists outside its drafting-review process. One of those approached received the draft  late last  June with a two week deadline for a review. His review was almost as long as the document and highly critical of egregious statements in the draft. He’s had no further feedback from the Academy.

By the way, don’t buy the “97% consensus” meme:

  • When the American Meteorological Society did poll its professional members in 2013, the results  came out 52% warmists, 48% sceptic.
  • The  US physicists’ body, the  American Physical Society (APS), issued a warmist statement in 2007 which caused resignations of some top people. The APS put out a toned-down version  in 2010. A year ago, it started a new review, including a highly-critical interrogation of the IPCC 5threport’s weak links in methods and findings. The whole review process is publicly transparent, not behind closed doors as per the Australian Academy. One workshop involved three top warmists and three top sceptics (Lindzen, Curry and Christy).

The APS reported last year:

“The APS Council will review the statement in November, followed by the APS Board of Directors. Consistent with APS by-laws, all APS members will be given an opportunity to review the statement and provide input during a comment period. The Climate Change Statement Review is a deliberative process. As a membership organization of more than 50,000 physicists, APS adheres to rigorous scientific standards in developing all its statements.” (My emphasis).

Could there be a bigger contrast with the Australian Academy’s closed-door procedure?

The toughness of the APS audit of the IPCC is suggested by its question about the prolonged halt to warming.

  • “If non-anthropogenic influences are strong enough to counteract the expected effects of increased CO2, why wouldn’t they be strong enough to sometimes enhance warming trends, and in so doing lead to an over-estimate of CO2 influence?
  • “What are the implications of this stasis for confidence in the models and their projections? 
”

Across the Atlantic, the Royal Society (UK) put out a warmist manifesto in 2007, then had to tone it down in 2010 after a   revolt by 43 members.

Closer to home, the Geological Society of Australia put out its own conventional statement in 2009 on global warming, written by a six-member management committee, which demanded emissions reductions. The executive claimed it enjoyed the authority to make such statements ex cathedra. This caused internal uproar  between believers and sceptic members, such that the Society decided to survey the membership about it. In 2012 it issued a more cautiously-worded statement (“The critical question, however, is the direction, rate and scale of change…”). This again caused such fury among members that, last March, the Society’s president, Laurie Hutton, announced:

“After an extensive and extended consultation with Society members, the GSA Executive Committee has decided not to proceed with a Climate Change Position Statement. … Society members have diverse opinions on the human impact on climate change. However, diversity of opinion can also be divisive, especially when such views are strongly held. The Executive Committee has therefore concluded that a Climate Change Position Statement has the potential to be far too divisive and would not serve the best interests of the Society as a whole. ..In many ways, the diversity of our membership is its strength… Long may it be so!”

The  GSA has never disclosed the results of its member survey.

The Australian Academy’s 2010 working group of climate scientists, assembled from around the country, and its “oversight” panel of academicians are unchanged for the update, except that Lambeck has joined the oversight panel, substituting for the lone sceptic, Dr Garth Paltridge.  Paltridge walked out after Lambeck insisted at the last minute that the oversight panellists, who had been specifically told that they were to be reviewers, not authors, be named in the document. Paltridge did not want to be seen as publicly endorsing the document in any way.  (Reviewers of scientific papers are generally anonymous, precisely to protect those who find themselves in precisely that situation). One of the drafting authors, Professor David Karoly, only ten months later claimed that Paltridge had approved the document. But Karoly was in error.

The 2010 and 2015 working group is Dr lan Allison (Co-Chair)
, Professor Michael Bird
, Dr John Church FAS
, Professor Matthew England FAS, Professor lan Enting, Professor David Karoly, Dr Mike Raupach  FAS (initially co-chair in 2014), Professor Jean Palutikof
, and Professor Steven Sherwood .

The new oversight panel of Academicians is Professor Kurt Lambeck , Professor Graham Farquhar, Dr Roger Gifford
, Professor Andrew Gleadow, Dr Trevor McDougall, Dr Graeme Pearman 
, Dr Steve Rintoul
, and Professor John Zillman.

The oversight panel for 2010 – and presumably for 2015 – was toothless. Paltridge quotes Lambeck as ruling that the panel   “could advise, but not insist on, alterations”. Of the 17 people involved with the booklet only one is not an IPCC author. At least four would be classed as IPCC stalwarts, having been cited more than a dozen times in the fourth report alone.

Further, seven[ii] signed the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration asserting “millions of people will be at risk from extreme events such as heat waves, drought, floods and storms, our coasts and cities will be threatened by rising sea levels, and many ecosystems, plants and animal species will be in serious danger of extinction…” The signatories went on to demand that “global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose.” Since the 18-year warming halt continues, we can conclude that things aren’t quite so catastrophically urgent.

Three on the Academy exercise (England, Karoly, Sherwood) also signed the Feb 1, 2012 Wall Street Journal petition. This said,

“Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. .. Research (sic)  shows that more than 97 percent of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused.”  (My emphases).

A bare three weeks later, one of the 38 signatories, Dr Peter Gleick, made a grovelling apology for  obtaining by false pretenses internal documents of the sceptic Heartland Foundation. “In a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name…”

The new Academy document seems to run to 50 pages, three times the length of the original. (Pages are normally padded with “climate change” pictures of bushfires, floods, cracked earth and dying reefs, none of which apparently occurred before 1950). At the time of the 2010 Academy essay, the halt to atmospheric warming had lasted between ten and fourteen years, depending on whose figures you go by. That hiatus should surely be worth the Academy’s attention. Instead, it set up a question — and a straw man:

“Has there been a global cooling trend since 1998?” (My emphasis).

Few or no sceptics claimed there’d been a “cooling trend”. What sceptics actually claimed, correctly, was that there had been no statistically significant increase in temperatures for what was then a decade or more and is now between fifteen and eighteen years. The IPCC itself grudgingly admits to the ‘hiatus’.

With its straw man in place, the Academy robustly answered its own question  about ‘cooling’:

“No, 1998 was an extremely warm year but 
the overall warming trend has continued over the past decade.”

The Academy  went on to discuss warming averaged decade by decade, an illogical treatment designed to mask the 21st Century warming halt.

Note also that the Academy’s metric was “global temperature trends”. Since this metric now shows a warming halt, true believers are instead citing (unmeasurable) “deep ocean heat content”. Will the Academy stick with its original temperature metric? And which of the 66 excuses in the recent literature (as of last November) will it use  to explain the lack of CO2-caused warming (other than that the theory about the CO2 control-knob is wrong)?

Kurt Lambeck wrote in 2010 that  “considerable progress has been made in understanding climate change and 
why it occurs.” What the Academy’s booklet did not mention was that in 1980, 34 years ago,  climate sensitivity to a doubling of C02 was put at  somewhere between 1.5 degCand 4.5 degC. The low figure implies no problem at all for the planet. The high figure implies death and disaster for humanity. After five IPCC reports and  tens of billions of dollars spent on climate  research, the estimated range continues to be between 1.5 degC and 4.5 degC.

Here we might pause to ask ourselves in what other field of science has comparable research spending generated such a farcical absence of progress in narrowing a vital range of estimates?

A question tackled by the Academy in 2010 was

Could the 20th century warming be just a part of the natural variability of climate?”

The Academy confidently claimed that natural variations, such el Nino ocean oscillations, “typically change the global average temperature by no more than a few tenths of a degree, and only for a year or two.” The Academy conceded that some natural fluctuations could be on a century time scale. But it said recent warming was unprecedented in the past 20 centuries – citing, remarkably, the debunked Michael Mann hockey stick graph as evidence.  Those Academy people could easily be sold the Sydney Harbor Bridge. (The inability of Mann’s tree ring proxies  to replicate late 20th climate led to the “hide the decline” confession in the 2009 Climategate emails).

Moreover, the global warming of the past 100-150 years, far from being a “clear trend” (AAS 2010)  is not statistically significant, ie., it is within the limits of natural random fluctuations. This was established by answers to a series of questions to the minister for energy and climate change, i.e. the Met Office, in the House of Lords in early 2013.[iii]

The Academy’s bold statement against natural variability in 2010 will handicap the current Academy team in explaining away the warming halt via ‘natural variability’, assuming they don’t disappear their past position  down the memory hole. The IPCC admits to having no idea of why the halt continues – note that in IPCC-speak, ‘internal variability’ means ‘things we don’t know about and can’t model’.  As the IPCC put it,

… an analysis of the full suite of CMIP5 historical simulations [computer models]   reveals that 111 out of 114 realisations show a [temperature] trend over 1998–2012 that is higher than the entire HadCRUT4 trend [actual temperatures] ensemble. This difference between simulated and observed trends could be caused by some combination of (a) internal climate variability, (b) missing or incorrect radiative forcing, and (c) model response error. (My emphasis). [iv]

Thus, the ‘settled science’. Even Lambeck admitted  when launching the Academy’s 2010 booklet that he had no idea what level of negative feedback clouds exert on CO2 warming: “If temperatures go up, there is going to be more evaporation, and that will produce more clouds,” he conceded. “That could produce a negative feedback, but to quantify that is a very difficult thing.  How do we put that cloud cover into the models? That’s where uncertainty comes in, but that’s not going to change the basic outcomes.” So Lambeck didn’t know the facts, but was sure of the conclusions.

The 2010 booklet was dismissive of the sun’s role in warming since the end of the Little Ice Age 200 years ago. It said:

“While there have been some suggestions of a significant solar contribution to the observed warming over the past 20 years, all the trends in 
the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global average temperatures.”

The source for this was two papers written by the same two scientists, Lockwood & Frohlich. The revised 2015 paper will have to be more respectful of the new body of scientific work suggesting that sunspot fluctuations could be indirectly seeding cloud formation and hence climate cycles.[v] The problem for warmists here is that the more weight is given to non-human climate forcings, the more the hypothesis   that   human forcings are dominating climate is put under question. The same goes for natural climate impacts of giant multi-decadal ocean oscillations in the Pacific and Atlantic, which are not included in  climate models.

Here’s a theory on the delay to the Academy paper: Any discussion of the 15-to-18 year warming plateuat and the newly-arrived importance of ‘natural fluctuations’ will be cross-checked against the 2010 paper’s dogma, provide ammunition to the dreaded ‘deniers’ and undermine the ‘cause’ at Paris next December. But since the InterAcademy Council audit of the IPCC in 2010 has forced the IPCC into a more balanced treatment of ‘the science’, how can the Academy document keep pretending there’s nothing to debate with sceptics?

The authors probably wish they’d never signed on to this no-win review.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com


[i] 2013-14 AAS Annual Report, p66

[ii] Allison, Church, England, Enting, Raupach,  McDougall, Rintoul.

[iii] http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2013/5/27/met-office-admits-claims-of-significant-temperature-rise-unt.html

[iv] [chapter 9, text box 9.2, page 769]

[v] The current sunspot cycle is the weakest for 100 years,  which on past correlations, points to a cooling influence.  http://www.climatedepot.com/2014/06/29/scientists-and-studies-predict-imminent-global-cooling-ahead-drop-in-global-temps-almost-a-slam-dunk/

COMMENTS [1]

  1. Peter OBrien

    Tony,

    Your point about the uncertainty range for climate sensitivity is well made and effectively gives the lie to the ‘science is settled’ mantra, but more than that it begs the question of how the hell governments are supposed to set CO2 emission reduction targets to ‘keep warming below the dangerous level of 2C’. If the ‘scientists’ can’t tell us how much CO2 produces 2C warming, what is the basis of the (admittedly highly unlikely) Paris treaty? What guidance have governments been given? It’s just feel good rhetoric and we know that most governments will act in their own national interest (as they should) so why they continue to genuflect at this tinfoil altar baffles me.

A Book Without Peer

In the third installment of Quadrant Online’s series on the curious institution that is Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute, Tony Thomas takes up one of its publications and finds not enlightenment but bafflement as to the definition of “peer review”, not to mention federal funding guidelines

empty bookLast October, Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI), with the usual fanfare, launched a free, 140-page, peer-reviewed e-book called “Melbourne: What Next – A discussion on creating a better future for Melbourne”. Editors were Professor of  Urban Planning Carolyn Whitzman (lead author), Professor Brendan Gleeson (Director of the MSSI) and Alexander Sheko (research assistant).

The e-book is a nice riff on ideas to make Melbourne nicer, but it seems a bit lightweight for an academic production.

I ran a check and it was still being promoted by MSSI as “peer reviewed” on December 8.

In fact, the book is mainly transcribed talks delivered at Fed Square public meetings, plus “ideas shared by the public on the Future Melbourne Network [blogsite] and at the seminars.” Hence the peer-reviewed book includes Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s familiar shtick on council initiatives, and something about Post-It Notes in an essay by The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden.

Part I: Melbourne University’s Watermelon Patch
Part 2: The Joy of Yurts and Jam-Jar Glassware

What really took my interest was an essay by dark-green junior activist Kirsty Albion, a national co-director of the Youth Climate Coalition. I’d previously heard her speak at a Moonee Valley City Council pre-election function.  Her topic then was how to undermine the Australian coal industry.

In the MSSI peer-reviewed book, her essay was “People Power for a Renewable Energy Future”. In it, she described how she and her team went to Lend Lease’s annual meeting dressed as fish to dissuade the company from financing coal loading at Abbot Point, near Bowen.[i]

I imagine the Age editor and Kirsty were chuffed at the recognition by Melbourne University of their scholarly ways.

But my b/s detector went off and last month I sent the following query to Melbourne University Press Office on December 8:

I’m a bit puzzled. “Melbourne: What Next?” is described as a “peer reviewed” book but seems to bear no resemblance to any peer reviewed work I have seen. It is a collection  of talks put into book form. 

My questions are:

1. Is this book a peer-reviewed work, as described?

2. If not, will Melbourne University issue appropriate corrections?

3. If yes, can you please provide details of the peer review process, e.g. number of peer reviewers, their fields of expertise… how   speeches by lay persons, journalists, activists, bureaucrats etc can be peer reviewed given that they make no claims to participating in the scientific method; who took responsibility for assessing the peer reviewers’ comments and publishing the book.

 With commendable speed, the press office obtained a response by Professor Whitzman next day:

“The following five research chapters were peer reviewed, using the criteria developed by the Commonwealth Department of Education…(HERDC)  specifically: “an acceptable peer review process is one that involves impartial and independent assessment or review of the [individual chapters in this case] before publication, conducted by independent, qualified experts.” (p. 13)

(1) A Vision for Metropolitan Melbourne (Carolyn Whitzman and Chris Ryan)

(2) Jobs and Housing: making ends meet (Kate Shaw and Bryn Davies)

(3) Cool Melbourne: towards a sustainable and resilient zero carbon city in a hotter world (John Wiseman, David Karoly and Alexander Sheko)

(4) Building Confidence in the Future of Melbourne’s Public Transport Systems (John Stone and Jan Schuerer)

(5) Implementation: Getting Our Act Together (Crystal Legacy, Brendan Gleeson and Jago Dodson).”

The rest of the book was not peer reviewed, she said:  “It is not uncommon for a book or an academic journal to include both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed contributions. I hope this answers Mr. Thomas’ questions.”

No, it obviously didn’t. The university still seemed to be defending its marketing of the entire book as “peer reviewed”. Dr Whitzman made no mention of retracting the claim, as I had proposed.

In the commercial sector, the ACCC reacts fiercely to misleading advertising – hence those groveling apologies by supermarkets over tiny mis-statements about pricing  and labeling. They risk fines of up to $1.1m. Even newspapers volunteer to correct their errors. So  I emailed back on the same day:

1.     Would you concede that MSSI describing the book as “peer reviewed” is not accurate, given that only 5 of about 25 articles in it were peer reviewed?

2.     I can find no reference to “peer review” anywhere in “Melbourne: What Next?”  Would it be useful to amend the e-book to distinguish the peer-reviewed content from non-peer-reviewed content, so that readers are better able to evaluate the contents?

Three days after my initial inquiry, the university replied:

“The authors have taken on your suggestion and have made an edit to the promotional wording about the e-book.”

However, there is no correction (they did what’s called a ‘stealth edit’), and the new wording strikes me as ambiguous verging on the misleading:  “An e-book, featuring peer-reviewed chapters written by leading academics…”

In fact, none of the five “chapters” are peer reviewed. They all contain a big majority of non-peer-reviewed essays. Only the first essay in each chapter is peer reviewed. And no essay in the entire book is labelled as peer reviewed or otherwise.

According to the university’s own guidelines, non-commercially-published research books require clear statements about which of a book’s elements involved peer review. The MSSI itself doesn’t seem to be a commercial publisher, given that of its five books to date, two are free and three are actually published by Routledge.

Moving on to a related issue, I was perplexed by the non-academic tone of the peer-reviewed research essays. They seemed a cross between advocacy and description. Take the conclusion in the final peer-reviewed essay, by authors Legacy, Gleeson (MSSI director) and Dodson:

“The MPA [Metropolitan Planning Authority] has the potential, if it decides to embrace an open, deliberative model, to facilitate a similar kind of ‘new’ thinking about Melbourne’s future. We commit to working with it, in both critical and constructive conversation, to realising better planning for Melbourne.”

How can such a ‘commitment’ be audited via peer review? As the book’s subtitle suggests, this essay seems more like “A Discussion”.

In the peer reviewed essay in the Transport Chapter, two authors conclude,

“The next big public transport investment will need to be more than just a piece of headline-grabbing infrastructure. It will need to be a total package…  After generations of decline and failed promises, successful pursuit of these new directions will require … professionals and politicians willing to work with the community to re-build public confidence in public transport.”

In style and content, this is most unlike any peer-reviewed literature with which I am familiar. Again, it seems like “a discussion”.

Now try Chapter 3, “Climate + Design” and its opening peer-reviewed chapter by Wiseman, Karoly and Sheko. The last  of its opening “Key Points” reads:

“A variety of policies relevant to climate change exist at the local and state government levels in Victoria. While state government policies such as Plan Melbourne appear unlikely to ensure effective action on climate change, more promising directions are taken by local governments such as the City of Melbourne. This chapter provides some recommendations for how Victoria can transition towards a resilient, zero emissions city.”

And at their conclusion, we find that

“…This chapter concludes with suggestions on how governments at the state and local levels can take action to plan for a city capable of delivering both emergency speed emissions reductions, and resilient, adaptive social and technological systems.”

Again, can peer reviewers audit political recommendations and ‘suggestions’?  In the university’s own definition of  “research activity”, the essential characteristic is “that it leads to publicly verifiable outcomes which are open to peer appraisal.”

I referred the peer reviewed material in the book to an academic at a different large Melbourne university  (who has no political/climate axe to grind), and asked her to peer review it. She responded that the peer-reviewed pieces were descriptive and lacked rigor, sometimes using two-sentence paragraphs which failed to display critical thinking. Some of the pieces would in her view fall below “C”-journal standards and more resembled graduate-student essays, she said. She found it very unusual that peer reviewed and lay material was mixed together in the book (remember, lead author Whitzman describes such mixtures as ‘not uncommon’).

I also referred the MSSI’s output of “Voluntary Simplicity” (i.e. back -to -Nature) tracts to another arm’s length academic, who responded,

“Voluntary simplicity is getting some traction in the literature, I have referred to it myself in an old publication. I would agree with you that the arguments used are weak and exaggerated and unlikely to be evidence based. They do not belong in academic publications but should be presented as opinion pieces or discussion papers.”

Academics live or die by their output of peer-reviewed research. Such output is also a significant input into university funding and ranking against rival universities. As Melbourne University puts it:

“The [research output] data provides the university with valuable information on the research activity of its staff and uses the publication data as a key performance indicator in the analysis of research performance across departments and faculties and in benchmarking with other research intensive universities. Research publication data is also used in strategic planning and the allocation of internal and external funding resources.”

The research outcomes “are very important to the university” partly because they influence funding that arrives from the federal Department of Education (HERDC).  The Department of course is alert to the risk of a university gaming the system and sets up quality-control mechanisms.

For Education Department purposes, “research publications” need to be authored research books, chapters in research books, refereed journal articles or refereed conference publications. I can’t work out which category is the right one for MSSI’s free e-book including transcripts of    public meetings and ideas from blog posts.

The guidelines also say,

“For the purposes of the HERDC, an acceptable peer review process is one that involves impartial and independent assessment or review of the research publication in its entirety before publication, conducted by independent, qualified experts. Independent in this context means independent of the author.”

MSSI and the university then declined to answer a Quadrant question about whether the parts of the book that had in fact been peer reviewed, had been peer reviewed by any  reviewers staffed at Melbourne University.  (Such reviewers would have a common commercial interest with the authors in boosting the university’s research tally). Perhaps the university was correctly protecting its peer reviewers’ anonymity.

A few days earlier, MSSI put another erroneous claim on its website, that Al Gore is a “Nobel Prize winner”. Gore won only half of the 2007  Nobel Peace Prize, previously shared by the likes of Yasser Arafat and the European Union.

Summing up these three Quadrant essays (see the featured links above), MSSI is a possible case study in what is described as the Left’s “long march through the institutions”.

The university has its own Fairness and Diversity Unit which polices the policy of “maintaining and strengthening a vibrant and inclusive institutional environment in which cultural diversity is recognised, valued and celebrated.”

Perhaps the unit could look into the under-representation at MSSI of the minority group comprising conservatives.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com


[i] Terrified by the anthropomorphic fish and other activist ploys, Lend Lease caved in last February.

The Joy of Yurts and Jam-Jar Glassware

In Part Two of our series on Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute we visit the enchanted isle of Entropia, the eco-aware settlement where bad poets and oboe players celebrate the death of capitalism with lentil casseroles, home-made port, free love and no small amount of green-haloed self-regard

dirty hippyFuturology is a mainstay in the writing about global warming, not just forecasting but the more difficult art of time-travel. 

We’ve had a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, discovering  in 2004 that our own Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, was killed by a warming-caused disease in 2039. Then we had Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes writing  last July that global warming in 2023 would kill our puppies and kittens, our ‘faithful and trusted companions”. And three months ago, the scienc-y World Meteorological Organisation lined up real-life TV weather presenters who pretended to be reporting in 2050 about tornados hitting Berlin, a 50-day heat wave in Tokyo and so on.

Closer to home, we have Dr Sam Alexander, research fellow of the Melbourne University’s Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) and lecturer with the university’s Office for Environmental Programs. Last year he wrote a book Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisationabout someone looking back from a post-apocalyptic year 2099. It is published ($21.99 in paperback) by the Simplicity Institute, of which he co-founded and is a co-director.

PART ONE: MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY’S WATERMELON PATCH

I don’t want to give away plot twists, but the narrator  describes a   low-energy, simple-life community of poet-farmers on an isolated island off NZ after civilization collapses about 2035. They were “determined above all else to transcend the materialistic values of the Old World.”

The book is “an insight into the possibility of a much saner and more satisfying world” according to blurber Ted Trainer, of UNSW, who happens to be a fellow-member of Dr Alexander’s Simplicity Movement; a co-author of a paper with Alexander; and subject of a paper by Alexander.[1]

Here, from his institute’s website, is the low-tech housing favoured by Alexander.

hut

The successfully-simple poet-farmers become a model for contemporary society.  As reviewer Paul Gilding, a former Global CEO of Greenpeace, puts it, “This is no escapist fantasy, however, but rather a practical and inspiring reminder of what we humans are capable of – and a wake-up call to action.”

Dr Alexander is  a doyen of the Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute, judging by the five of his papers on its “Publications” website menu. They are “Post-growth economics”; “A critique of techno-optimism”; “Disruptive social innovation for a low-carbon world” — you get the idea. For his Simplicity Institute, he’s written lots along the lines of Planned Economic Contraction: The Emerging Case for Degrowth .

He co-edited a new book  last year, writing in the preface: “As the consumer class expands, we see the face of Gaia vanishing.” Consumerism is a “fossil-fuelled perversion that has no future”

Readers may be surprised to learn that promoting Western economic contraction is a respectable academic field. Dr Alexander describes in an MSSI publication how  the “Paris Declaration” of 2008  called for ‘right-sizing’ of all countries’ economies, meaning contraction in the West and expansion in the third world, but only to consumption levels ‘adequate for a decent life’.  (Wealth transfers from the West are the preferred choice for them). After global right-sizing, world growth should cease.

Alexander further explains:

“The primary contribution made by degrowth scholarship is the explicit acknowledgement that sustainability implies… initiating a phase of planned contraction of the ‘scale’ of developed economies. That is a position entirely absent from mainstream environmental and political discourse, where the ideology of growth still reigns supreme.”  (His emphasis).

His paper’s bibliography includes nine self-citations, one of which is Entropia, his fantasy tract.

Dr Alexander’s 2011   grant and scholarship-supported Ph.D. thesis (Melbourne University Law School), was “Property beyond Growth: Toward a Politics of Voluntary Simplicity”.  One of its five chapters is written from the future, as follows: “Looking Backward from the year 2029: Ecozoic Reflections. Lennox Kingston, Possibility 81(4) (2099).”  (Kingston,just so you’ll know, is Alexander’s future alter ego).

Dipping into the thesis chapter, one reads:

“By the end of the 2020s, the Simplicity Movement had become a significant oppositional force, and it would continue to strengthen and expand every year… Furthermore, simple living had become a socially accepted alternative lifestyle, which made stepping out of materialistic lifestyles much less isolating, thus hastening the demise of consumer culture. These changes resulted in discernable social and ecological benefits.”  P209-10

But what are his conclusions? For his post-growth world, he recommends

  1. A guaranteed minimum basic income for all
  2. A highly-progressive income tax ensuring a “democratically determined ‘maximum wage”
  3. “Worker cooperatives as the dominant corporate form in the economy”
  4. Tougher environmental laws
  5. “Curtail the laws of inheritance and bequest through high levels of taxation or abolition”.
  6. “Redesign labor laws to encourage systematically the exchange of income/consumption for more free time”

 Who could guess what you find in Melbourne Uni’s  Ph.D.  theses these days?

Alexander explains,

“Although I acknowledged that these proposed reforms may well slow an economy’s quantitative growth – even to the point of inducing a phase of degrowth – and thereby not maximize a nation’s GDP per capita, the underlying argument of this thesis has been that the reforms would at the same time: (1) increase human well-being; (2) promote social justice; and (3) enhance the health and integrity of the planet’s ecosystems. This is the potential ‘triple dividend’ which makes a post-growth property system such an alluring and promising prospect.”  P237

He notes (p vii): “A profound debt of gratitude is owed to my doctoral supervisor, Professor Lee Godden, who spent countless hours reading and discussing this thesis.”

Alexander’s thesis bibliography includes Alexander, Samuel (ed), Voluntary Simplicity: The Poetic Alternative to Consumer Culture; Alexander, Samuel, ‘Looking Backward for the Year 2099: Ecozoic Reflections on the Future’; and    Alexander, Samuel, ‘Deconstructing the Shed: Where I Live and What I Live For,’ Concord Saunterer (2011, forthcoming).[2]

In his 2013 future-book Entropia, Dr Alexander’s narrator just happens to be a part-time lecturer in philosophy and culture  at the island’s academy, as well as assistant editor at a  community newspaper, “The Saunterer”,  when not binding books and picking fruit.

In the 2035 Great Disruption (p24), we are told the island’s beautiful Tibetan violin prodigy Nishka, unable to find solace “even in our warm community”, sat in the bath with her violin, and with slashed and bloodied wrists, died playing a beautiful, tragic composition (p24 – Kindle). The others remained positive while dining on beans, potatoes and lentils. Although there were a few arguments about how to stay alive, “generally these were measured, mature conflicts. Everyone knew that there was no place for childish egotism…” (p27)

For a couple more pages, the narrator describes the non-realisation of Karl Marx’s vision, due to the working class becoming distracted by consumerism. Capitalism marched on, ‘brutally shaping the world according to its cold logic of profit maximisation.’ (p28).

But good news! Capitalism collapsed anyway, growing itself to death ‘like a cancer cell’. (p30)

On the resource-poor island, the citizens only need  65 litres of water per person per day (from wood and clay storage tanks), and if they use  more they get a visit from a  social educators “and as such, they are never resented”.

Citizens in their densely habited mud-brick and yurt compounds, converted containers and tepees (p66-7) cut back severely on cleaning themselves and their clothes, since hyper-cleanliness is ‘fetishistic’ (p58).They limit showers to 90 seconds, “and often simply wash themselves with a bucket and some soap”. In summer they jump into rivers and ponds, a mystical experience “as the sun rises like a warm god over the eastern mount”  (p57).

Their clothing is made from “functional, easy to grow, low-impact fabrics…derived from such things as agricultural hemp, nettles and wool…a new aesthetic of sufficiency” (p65).

Dr Alexander doesn’t remark on the aroma of his community of minimally-washed, hemp-clad, yurt-dwelling bean-eaters who drink from old jam jars (p81).[3]  Nor does he mention the rigors of low-tech dentistry.

People take on a succession of roles. A person finishing school might become a potter, a carpenter, “a blacksmith, a music teacher, a lecturer, a tailor, a doctor or some mixture of such roles” (p86). My women friends are apprehensive  about getting a procedure from a blacksmith-turned-medico,b ut the author assures us that the isle’s vegie diet and work-life  balance minimise health issues anyway (p88).

The community, run by the “People’s Council” (p103), involves home-grown food etc, and “artisans also produce specialty goods at the household level, such as musical instruments, paintings or various tools” (p73). (Preferred painting styles are chocolate-box scenery and “a revolving series of mostly colourful abstract works”).

Women delight in use of long-lasting treadle sewing machines (p82), pausing to welcome friends over to share a nutritious bean meal and play the musical instruments.

The booze on tap is suggested by one lady’s diary. During a stroll she met an 83-year-old “full of poetry and wisdom”, who played the ukulele to her. Arriving home she bottled pears, “worked a little on my novel”, mended a hole in her sweater and then joined some friends in the garden “where we sipped on home-made port and threw ideas around about organising a series of dawn plays in the summer” (p84). The home-made-port-sipping continued till midnight so the play scripts probably got a bit ragged.

However, the narrator is convinced that the community “is awash with the most thrilling novels, plays, poems, music, sculpture, paintings, tapestries and all other forms of art, beyond historical precedent and beyond historical imagination” (p87).

Dr Alexander’s narrator provides a sample of the thrillingly-beyond-imagination poetry, which I think would do credit to William Topaz McGonagall[4]. Here we go:

“Witness O mysterious other,
Who wanders in from beyond,
Like mist emerging from the woods,
To settle on the pond,
With etiquette poetic,
Charm refined without pretence,
You seem a gentlemanly brother
With many dollars, but fewer sense”
 (p94).

It goes on for four pages and ends with the audience entranced and ‘eager to hear more’. But instead they get an oboist. “Thus in our simplicity, we are happy”, the chapter concludes  (p100).

The narrator says, “While strict equality is not enforced on the isle, we recognise that significant disparities of wealth are socially corrosive and politically dangerous”  (p78). The narrator seems to have studied not only Marx but Marx’s famous interpreter J.V. Stalin, who knew exactly what to do with socially-corrosive elements, such as millions of slightly-wealthier peasants (kulaks) and their families.

I took a prurient interest in the sex lives of this community. For starters, marriage has been dumped because of all its ‘baggage’ marginalising gay relationships.   Relationships are open or closed, according to what anyone wants (p90-1). “Expanded relationships that sometimes form on the Isle raise no eyebrows and certainly draw no moral censure.”

I visualise an Entropian dinner party: “I’d like you to meet my three partners Trent, Noah and Roslyn, and Daisy my cocker spaniel. Do let me pour you a jam jar of port.”

The narrator/Alexander is a bit weak on the essential task of  controlling the island’s population. To have more than one baby poet-farmer, you need a permit, but what if a couple has an accident (quite likely in the absence of latex factories and pill laboratories), or tells the People’s Council to get stuffed?[5] The narrator says lamely that social disapproval of multi-birth families tends to bring the fecund poet-farmers into line. (If dad heads off to join someone else, the new couple gets an extra-baby permit).

The book ends unusually, “Would you be interested in helping to fund and participate in the creation of an Entropia Ecovillage outside of Melbourne, Australia, based on the ideas in this book? If so, please register your interest at www.bookofentropia.com/ecovillage.

I therefore emailed Dr Alexander:

“Hi Sam, I have just finished reading your book Entropia and was bowled over by the ambition of your vision.

I think the idea of an eco-village near Melbourne including yurts, tepees and shipping container housing could be the answer to affordable housing.

I own (with my wife) a  house near Coburg that is really more of a burden because of all the unnecessary appliances, like washing machines and dishwashers, that are always breaking down, and if my wife agrees, we could sell the house and sink the proceeds into sustainable housing in your village project, without wasteful appliances, especially as I for one, like you, see industrial civilisation soon to collapse under the burden of ever-more-expensive oil.  All the best with your project, Tony”

Forty minutes later, Dr Alexander responded enthusiastically to my conditional offer, “I’m heartened to hear that my book spoke to you.”

In fact, the ecovillage is not only well underway but, in the past 18 months, the founders have built “a small Earthship, a mud house, an earthbag abode, and a ‘tiny house’ from reclaimed timber and iron.” They have a yurt in transit from WA and have started an orchard, chicken coop etc.

What’s more, a documentary film-maker (sounds like the ABC, but I may be wrong) is onto their case, and up to 10 people will stay at the property to film a ‘simpler way’ documentary based on the ideas in his Entropia island book. The film would present a deep green alternative to mainstream life and illustrate ‘one planet’ living.

I was invited to sink the proceeds from my (conditional) house sale into buying neighboring blocks for $215,000 or $485,000. A nearby $900,000 block was mentioned, but probably out of my price range. “Having someone like-minded buy the neighbouring properties would be absolutely amazing,” Dr Alexander wrote.

Soon after, he did a bit of googling and was disappointed to find that I am a Quadrant writer and as such, unlikely to be a genuine sympathizer with earth-bagged earthships, tiny houses and home-made contraception.

[1] Trainer wants his followers to infiltrate and proselytise to people in community gardens (there is one at the bottom of my street). The gardeners should be educated that “reforms to consumer-capitalist society cannot achieve a sustainable and just society. … Our efforts in these local initiatives are the first steps to the eventual replacement of the present society by one which is not driven by market forces, profit, competition, growth or affluence.” He posts that creed on a UNSW website.

https://socialsciences.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/TransBkOutline.htm

 

[2] Karl Marx gets only a single guernsey.

[3] Alexander seems aware that glass production is too high-capital and high-technology for the island’s tailors and blacksmiths

[4] Acclaimed as the worst poet in British history – see The Tay Bridge Disaster, e.g. ‘For the stronger we our houses do build,

The less chance we have of being killed’.

[5] The narrator talks of “easily available” contraception without specifying its nature

Tomorrow: The MSSI peer reviewed book that isn’t.

Melbourne Uni’s Watermelon Patch

They’re big on painting the world a glorious and sustainable green at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, where sundry academics, together with alleged comedian Rod Quantock, preach climate doom while quoting Marx and yearning for the day when Havana sets the standard for urban life

clown professorAustralia’s top tertiary institution is Melbourne University, most recently ranked as the thirty-second best in the world. Actually, it’s like the curate’s egg: good in parts. Some MU people cure cancer and poke atoms. Then there’s the university’s Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI). 

This institute is not housed near the student cafe in a room with unwashed coffee cups and a Che Guevara poster. The MSSI’s advisory board includes Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty (1996: medicine/physiology). Others on this board include a former State Governor (David de Kretser, 2006-11), two professors, a heavy from the National Australia Bank, and a Melbourne city councillor.

MSSI lists five professors as staff (including Tim Flannery). The MSSI executive committee boasts 14 professors, including the doyen of global warming science, David Karoly. Officially-titled “associates” are of similar lustre, although I do note that this team of 16 since last April has included 18-year Captain Snooze mattress salesman Rod Quantock, described generously as “comedian, activist and climate-change researcher”. Quantock’s academic qualification, just by the way, is having failed Melbourne’s Bachelor of Architecture degree after spending five years getting to Year 3 of the six-year course.

Quantock, father of two, says his role at MSSI is “researching impacts of climate change, resource crises and population overshoot on the day-to-day lives of Australians.” His big project of late has been “Peak-a-boo and catch CO2a multi-platform investigation into the Limits to Growth and the impossibility of building a carbon neutral world without burning an awful lot of carbon to build it thus defeating the purpose: Catch CO2!” You can watch Quantock doing his doomsday schtick in the clip below. Try not to laugh too hard, especially at around the 3.40-minute mark, when the funny man launches into an extended rave about how, because oil is running out, petrol will soon be too expensive for audiences to attend his shows. Successful comedy demands keen timing, but Quantock’s was sadly out of whack when making that prophecy.

Given that he is a “Climate Change and Resource Futures Expert”, he  might finish up as “IPCC Working Group 11 vice-chair Rod Quantock”. Who can tell? In the strange world of climate politics, anything is possible.

Here’s  an example of of Quantock’s recent climate-research expertise, drawn from 37 minutes of mutually pleasurable intercourse with Radio National’s Philip Adams:

“Tony Abbott said coal is good for humanity, really that is criminally insane…  absolutely ignorant…these people are mad.”

The sort of climate talks he gives include (follow the link and view the clip):

“We are about to open the gates of hell and throw our children through them…   in the gas chamber of our choking atmosphere (f)orests and reefs will become deserts and icecaps will melt… Everything from worms to civilisation will be extinct within the lifetime of a child born today… 

“These are not the rantings of a madman. If you want the rantings of a madman, you’ll have to go to any one of the many deluded fossil fools and unctuous toadies who swing from the teats of the Dark Lords of Carbon.

“There is no time for the denier, no room for the sceptic and no punishment too great for the liar…”

Generally, MSSI’s output is unusual.  While many bits of universities, e.g. science, education, engineering and medical faculties, set out to promote the country’s growth, MSSI research can be found respectfully citing the Communist Manifesto and campaigning for “de-growth” , i.e. economic contraction. Indeed, it even advocates Cuba as a template for Australians to embrace growing their own food at home. MSSI people proudly let the cat out of the bag by  acknowledging that “greening” our energy will drop living standards severely, thus putting themselves to the left of the Greens, who always say the economy will do just fine because of all the alleged new green jobs.

Another MSSI stalwart is Dr Sam Alexander, who writes:

The “world’s shrinking carbon budget requires degrowth and reduced consumption in high consumption societies. That is not an implication many are prepared to accept, even amongst many or even most participants in the broad environmental movement. Indeed, this blindness – it might even be wilful blindness – is arguably the environmental movement’s greatest short- coming.”

He approves of another (non-MSSI) scholar, Steb Fisher, recommending that Australia and  other developed countries drop their overall consumption to something like 1/16 of current levels. Alexander writes,

“Living sustainably on a full planet does not merely mean recycling, composting, and buying efficient light bulbs …. Rather, it means fundamental lifestyle change to an extent few people dare to envision…One planet living might involve a revolutionary shift toward organic urban agriculture, a la Havana in Cuba… it might involve giving up private cars and regular air flights…   More generally, it would surely imply doing without many comforts and conveniences that many ‘first world’ consumers take for granted today.”

But Alexander can see that campaigning politically for a Havana-like lifestyle would create  “obvious ‘public relations’ issues”. Degrowth “may not be the best term to use if mainstreaming that position is the goal”, he admits.

A frequent element in MSSI research publications and issues papers is this disgust with capitalism, along with eager forecasts of its imminent doom from over-consumption and climate horrors. Some examples:

MSSI’s Director Brendan Gleeson, says that capitalism’s “death agonies will likely generate many wild quests for salvation through vulgar resource exploitation”. And then there’s this:  “We should reconceive and replot our exit from capitalist modernity, not as retrenchment to misery, but as quest for a new human plentitude (sic). Freed from the diktak (sic) of capitalist growth, and its straitened materialism, our species could discover fresh forms of realisation in things without ‘value’, at least as presently conceived. A post-accumulative political economy is the premise for a new urban modernity…”

This Melbourne University icon quotes admiringly from ‘radical philosopher’ Ivan Illich, who talks of “the looming demise of promethean capitalism” and who invites us to  ‘…imagine the children who will soon play in the ruins of high schools, Hiltons, and hospitals’ (1977:23).’ This, quotes Gleeson, “was not the Dark Age intoned by catastrophism, however, but the opening scenes of a ‘convivial modernity’, of children celebrating through play the downfall of the modern pretender, Prometheus.”

John Wiseman, MSSI’s deputy director, who had this to say at last year’s green gabfest in Copenhagen, as well as this:

“… dominant neoliberal and ecological modernization paradigms, which critics argue fatally bias global climate governance mechanisms against genuine mitigation outcomes and ‘forestall more radical critiques that argue that capitalism and sustainability are inimical’ (Ref 155, p. 348).”

Graham Turner, MSSI Principal Research Fellow (ex-CSIRO) in a paper headed, “Is Global Collapse Imminent?”:

“Regrettably, the alignment of data trends with the LTG (Limits to Growth) dynamics indicates that the early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway. This suggests, from a rational risk- based perspective, that we have squandered the past decades, and that preparing for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse.”[i]

Susan S. Fainstein: “In this paper I argue that the term [‘resilience’] obscures underlying conflicts of interest that are better understood by turning to Marxist concepts of structural antagonisms and dialectical materialism.” She quotes approvingly:

“In its uncontrolled drive for universality, capitalism creates new barriers to its own future. It creates a scarcity of needed resources, impoverishes the
 quality of those resources not yet devoured, breeds new diseases, develops a nuclear technology that threatens the future of all humanity, pollutes the entire environment that we must consume in order to reproduce, and in the daily work process it threatens the very existence of those who produce the vital social wealth (Smith 1994, p. 59).”

Dr Sam Alexander, who writes: “Should people campaign for the Greens and try to radicalise them? Should they try to agitate and organise for a socialist revolution? Or should they essentially ignore governments and just set about ‘pre-figuring’ the post-growth alternative at the grassroots level, within the shell of the existing growth economy? Finally, will the transition be smooth and rational, or proceed through a series of crises and responses? These questions have no clear answers, but the movement for a post-growth economy will be stronger for taking them seriously.”

MSSI Director Gleeson, a geographer/urban planner, was formerly based at the University of Ireland, Maynooth. He told an Irish audience three  years ago that global warming would likely make Australia  ”a place to leave, not arrive, a place to be childless, not fertile — a withering society … Australia, the desiccated continent, is already witness to record droughts, soaring average temperatures and plummeting catchments for the cities.”  (Current Melbourne dam storage: 76.48% of capacity).

He went on to predict that with global warming, Ireland could become one of only a few habitable ‘lifeboat’ regions for climate refugees, while megacities in Africa, India and Asia “go under, taking with them a substantial proportion of our species”.  This stuff was too much even for colleague Dr Andy Kerr, director of the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change,  who assured the BBC, “The whole world won’t be coming through Ireland or the UK.”

Despite global warming, Ireland in 2010 and 2011 suffered such icy winters that  the country had serious water shortages as a result of burst pipes. Without missing a beat, Gleeson claimed that extreme Irish winters were actually consistent with global warming, er, climate change.

Here’s some current Gleesonisms, from his Melbourne University-published paper in June called “Coming Through Slaughter: Ecology of the Urban Age”. Although only a short paper, Gleeson manages to quote approvingly, not once but twice, from Marx’s Communist Manifesto as what can only be read as a celebration of capitalism’s imminent death. In case we miss the point, he emphasises:

“Despite overwhelming and increasingly painful testimony of its failure, we seem unwilling to indict capitalist modernity and set about its replacement. In the maw of inaction, the heralds and apologists of the dying order assert new certitudes as means for delaying its end, and the termination of its endowments on the powerful and the vested.

“We should not fear terminal social crisis, because, like death itself, it is part of the human condition, the necessary prelude to rebirth of prospect.”

We learn that “Marx and Engels scorned the boasts of the industrial bourgeois” who “like the sorcerer…is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells” (Marx & Engels 1985[1848 ]:85-6).” [The reference is to the Communist Manifesto].

As Gleeson continues,

“In Marx and Engels memorable words, cities ‘rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life’.” Gleeson comments, “Observing the towering follies of contemporary urbanism, we may conclude that idiocy is no longer a uniquely rural affliction.”

Gleeson’s prose style perhaps leans towards the overwritten. In reference to the slight and beneficial warming the world has seen over the past century — 0.8degC — he has this to say: “The fire in the heavens that sears us now is all our own work”.

To get through the Gleeson extracts below, readers might first consider disabling their exaggeration-detectors. Guffaws are permitted; indeed, many will find them unavoidable:

“The growth compulsion is a beast that must be fed with live bodies and precious resources… Countless lives have been tossed into the furnace of reform and innovation….

“Modernisation… A charnel house of growth, again reflected in our ecocidal cities. Our long run despoliation of Nature was speeded up and we now face both the legacy of industrialisation and our more recent experiments with neo-liberalised capitalism. New gales threaten…Climate change and resource insecurity are the greatest of these natural tempests…”

“The era of adolescent self-harm must pass to a new maturity where we can live peaceably with Nature and with our own roiling ambitions for freedom and realisation…”

“To restore human prospect, Homo urbanis must dismantle its own work, the material and ideological apparatuses of Promethean modernity. They must be held to account through critical scientific interrogation and brought to heel by politics. Where to begin? So much of contemporary modernity seems like dangerously flailing pieces of machinery, uncoupled to wild play by a disintegrating industrialism.”

“The collapsing natural order surely points to first priority, a political economy that is hard wired for growth. It is a death machine that endangers homo urbanis and all that depends upon us…”

“Global warming shrouds the great celestial motif of human existence. The sun, hitherto the source of all life, is now darkened by the threat of unmediated potency. A failing atmosphere cannot restrain the its (sic) awful power…”

“Climate denialism expresses not sublime refusal of suppressed reason but the depressive anxieties of power. The aggressive disporting of scepticism in western media and politics is thus a refusal to behold the darkening sun of human prospect…”

“Power, besieged by righteous foes, by truth, by nature, clings to burning cities. Better to rule in hell, than to serve in heaven. Neo-liberal urbanism’s stubborn subscription to growth is a deathly text to be read in this light…”

“Something awful is being born, but also something new. The odds, if we take them, are in our favour. In the next world we can be monarchs of the beautiful waste.”

In his understated way, Gleeson says we should deploy  our “miraculous powers” and direct them “at clearing out the sclerotic consensus of liberal democracy, to restore liberty, the central discovery and legacy of modernity.” Self-describing as “a suburban kid from Melbourne”, he figures that in our future, roasting world, we can learn adaptation from hot-desert Aborigines and their “great testimony of human survival that is sung, danced and wept all around us.”

Among the MSSI’s seed-funding projects in 2013  was one on “Vocal Climate Change Deniers” by Professor of Political Science and MSSI executive member  Robyn Eckersley, who jetted  to Limawith a gaggle of MU colleagues for November’s COP20 climate jamboree. Her research into ‘the epistemologies of climate deniers (sic)’, will ‘contribute to the growing research on climate change denialism and strongly position us for funding towards a larger project” about “statistical representativeness of different types of denialism”. One hopes she includes the denialists at MSSI, who have yet to acknowledge the 15-18 year halt (depending on which measure is cited) to global surface temperatures. Go, Robyn!

Tomorrow: On yurt life and personal hygeine, according to the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com