Papua New Guinea and the end of mankind
31 December 2017
TUMBY BAY – The current rhetoric has it that if we don’t do something about climate change we will destroy the planet.
That isn’t quite right.
If we don’t do something about climate change we will destroy ourselves and a lot of other species but not the planet itself.
We will make the Earth very sick for a while and we will make it uninhabitable but it will survive, just as it has since it was formed.
When we are gone the Earth will still exist. Papua New Guinea and Australia will still exist, albeit in a geographically modified way. The only difference will be that we humans won’t be here to enjoy it.
Geological records tell us the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. It formed about 10 billion years after the universe emerged from what scientists think was an enormous cosmic explosion, otherwise known as the “Big Bang”.
While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, modern humans evolved only about 200,000 years ago.
In percentage terms we have been on the Earth for about .004% of the Earth’s life.
The scientist Carl Sagan drew up a cosmic calendar with the entire history of the universe compressed into a single year. He calculated that if the Big Bang occurred at 12.00am on 1 January of that one year, humans didn’t show up until 11.59.05pm on 31 December.
That’s not even a significant blip. Basically, we’ve only just arrived.
Nevertheless, we have managed to do a huge amount of damage, especially in the last 100 years.
Such is the carnage created that some scientists refer to it as a new geological epoch they call the Anthropocene.
This is an epoch, beginning last century, where humans have had a significant impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.
The epoch is characterised by widespread extinctions of plants and animals and extensive degradation of the environment.
These activities have jeopardised the ability of the Earth to maintain and perpetuate the conditions required to support life.
In the 1970s, scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis developed a hypothesis to explain how living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings to form a complex synergistic and self-regulating system to help maintain the conditions for life on the planet.
They explained how the biosphere and its organisms affect the stability of global temperatures, the salinity of seawater, atmospheric oxygen levels and the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of the Earth.
They called their hypothesis the Gaia Principle, after the Greek goddess of the Earth.
It is a principle that we are busily and rapidly compromising.
Along with ourselves.
The worst offenders are the big industrial nations but Papua New Guinea is doing its bit too.
Among other things PNG is busily cutting down its forests, which are vital for the health of the atmosphere and as a habitat.
It is also tapping into vast volumes of gas to sell overseas, the burning of which will produce massive amounts of carbon dioxide to help accelerate climate change.
Papua New Guineans might oppose coal mining but gas extraction is almost as deadly.
PNG’s population growth is now out of control. Human overpopulation along with profligate consumption are primary drivers of the Earth’s decline.
There is a roll call of other things Papua New Guinea is doing that it shouldn’t be if people are to survive.
But the Earth will survive, just as it has in the past. The extinction of mankind will be the six major extinction event in its history. Scientists are already referring to it as the Sixth or Anthropocene Extinction.
The Earth will eventually repair itself and get back into balance. No doubt a new super-predator will emerge and probably repeat all the mistakes we humans made in our short time here.
There is an alternative of course, assuming it’s not already too late, and that is to radically change our ways.
If we stop burning fossil fuels, stop trashing the environment and stop breeding indiscriminately we’ll have a slender chance.
If Papua New Guinea and its big mate down south can do this it will set an example to the USA, China, India, Asia and Europe to follow and we might just make it.
Forget Armageddon – this is serious.
John - in the article I was trying to suggest that PNG, no matter that it is a small developing nation in a fairly remote part of the world, is inexplicably involved in the bigger threat that climate change etc poses to the planet.
In that sense PNG's political leaders have a moral obligation to do their part, that is, to stop the uncontrolled logging, stop the uncontrolled resource exploitation and control their population growth.
I take your point that PNG could probably sustain a higher population if it approached it in an ordered way. Unfortunately I can't see that happening.
As you have said numerous times, PNG needs strong, ethical leadership. I can't see that happening anytime soon either.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 03 January 2018 at 08:58 PM
What will bring this country (PNG) down to its knees will be both economic/human factors as well as natural and environmental factors.
The economy needs to be better managed, and it also needs to be diversified. Sustainable Agriculture, the promotion and growth of SMEs, transportation and communication systems, as well as managing growth and development in areas
I have always held the view that population growth is not a problem if the economy is managed well, and the people's welfare and wellbeing such as health education, and employment/and gainful engagement can be both guarenteed and secured, and our consumption patterns of our natural resources are.
What is wrong with this country can be seen in areas of unsustainable consumption and use of natural resources, and the human system that is facing stress and poundings from all sides!
Posted by: John K Kamasua | 03 January 2018 at 05:32 PM
In response to your question Phil, I can perhaps cite two examples.
First, the British ruling class, with great reluctance and over a very long period of time, did surrender both their "right to rule' in the UK and, later, their precious empire. Sure, they did it under duress, but they did it none the less.
Second, neither the USSR nor the USA were actually dumb enough to launch a nuclear war. This was partly a function of fear and partly a pragmatic assessment that standing triumphantly on a pile of glowing rubble could not reasonably be construed as "victory", either ideological or military.
After these two examples, I really struggle to find more. Generally speaking, only an existential crisis will stimulate the power elite to actually think about alternatives to whatever system is in current use. Depressingly, this usually comes too late to avoid major violence and destruction.
Right now, we seem to be on this latter trajectory, with the rulers and many if not most of the ruled alike seemingly oblivious to threats that seem very real and apparent to others.
As a person who devoted most of his working life to risk assessment and mitigation in hospitals, I tend to see risks where others see opportunities, so maybe I am not a good judge. I am a worst case thinker by default.
That said, I have a pretty good track record of being right in predicting problems before they occur, so I feel (like you) that I am reading the signs correctly when it comes to the environment and the not unrelated problems that rampant neo-liberal capitalism must inevitably unleash.
Probably too late for a couple of old crocks like us to greatly influence events though.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 03 January 2018 at 03:00 PM
It's not all doom and gloom Phil. Sure things could better but it could always be worse.
I suspect things could get a lot worse however if the two protagonists on either side of 'The Pond' continue to act like children who keep declaring mine is bigger than yours in a game of 'one up man ship'!
Surely there must be better leaders available who could aspire to something a trifle more adult than this infantile performance?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 03 January 2018 at 02:58 PM
You're a historian Chris - tell me when the world last did anything smart without having to be dragged kicking and screaming to do it?
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 03 January 2018 at 01:59 PM
This has been an interesting thread to read, being a half way polite and more or less rational debate about climate change, its causes and its potential impact upon PNG in particular.
What has been said, overall, seems to be this:
virtually all parties now agree that climate change is real and its causes include a contribution by human activity;
contributing human activities include various gaseous and other emissions that are a by product of industrialisation, the despoliation of much of the world's natural forests (including PNG's), the over use of agricultural chemicals, the misuse of scarce fresh water resources, excessive and unsustainable population growth (mostly in the developing world) and so on;
the climate change debate has been hijacked by the extremes for their own purposes thus turning the issue into a highly polarised and politicised shouting match during which the previous assumed objectivity and veracity of science has suffered serious collateral damage;
the world's collective political leadership has, thus far at least, prioritised economics above the environment for various reasons, not least of which is that providing "jobs n growth" is seen as pivotal to election or re-election; and
in any event, there is not yet broad agreement on the optimum strategy to convert resource intensive and highly wasteful neo-liberal capitalist economies into something both more sustainable and hugely less destructive to our environment, whilst at the same time not precipitating some sort of economic Armageddon.
If the net effect of this thread has been to define the problem in terms that most people can both understand and accept, then a small step towards working out a solution that reconciles the various competing interests has been achieved.
It would be nice to think that PNG Attitude might help stimulate someone, somewhere, to stop shouting and start thinking about this very complex issue in a sensible and pragmatic way.
It seems to me that there is some middle ground in this debate, probably revolving around the judicious introduction of a range a new technologies, stopping the wholesale exploitation of the planet in pursuit of profit above all (think of the Adani mine proposal here or the ongoing destruction of PNG's precious forests) plus (heaven forbid) recognition that indefinite economic growth at any price is not a clever or realistic strategy.
It may mean that those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world will have to have more modest expectations about what sort of material existence we can lead, whilst those in the developing world will have to accept a slower rate of growth for the sake of preserving both their and our increasingly scarce resources.
Development at any cost is a dumb and ultimately self destructive strategy, while bringing the world economy to a shuddering halt is equally dumb.
Lets hope that we have the collective wisdom to do something smart. The price of failure to do so seems likely to be very high indeed.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 03 January 2018 at 09:55 AM
Phil, you ask 'What do they do with the wood?'
Go to any waste disposal point in our cities and see what our 'throw away' society leaves in the bins.
Many of the furniture items could well be reused and would be better given to charity but the average citizen couldn't care less.
Our parents valued their possessions since they were so hard to come by. Our children's children will find it a very different world.
What we need now are truthful and conscientious leaders who are prepared to tell it as it is. What we have are followers who aren't prepared to back such people or to make a stand themselves.
Still, the journey starts with the first step......
Posted by: Paul Oates | 03 January 2018 at 09:49 AM
Somewhere between the extreme views of the climate change deniers and the left wing doomsayers there must be a point where actual truth lives. Finding that point amid all the raucous noise seems to be an impossible thing.
It is a sad fact that concerned people from either side have to advance extreme views to get anyone's attention. The politicians, who are now essentially purveyors of spin for their select lobbies, don't help.
It still seems to me that cutting down the PNG rain forests isn't a good idea, just as continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is unwise.
This is made worse by the fact that there are now viable alternatives.
I mean to say, what do they do with all that wood? Surely the world doesn't need so many chopsticks?
Why does everyone and their dog need a car?
Clearly, if you are looking for someone to look after the planet human's aren't it.
Why not just rely on the overwhelming majority of scientists (the ones the deniers, in their guise as skeptics, derogate)? Those same scientists we now see joined by growing numbers of actuaries, financial institutions and, yes, resource companies with 50 year outlooks. The right wing delusion has already put the planet in a risky position. Time to move on at pace - KJ
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 03 January 2018 at 09:12 AM
Recreating a naturally occurring forest is well nigh the impossible dream since it took thousands if not millions of years to develop an equilibrium in the interaction of resident species.
In a small way I have tried to recreate on my farm a replica of what used to grow there before it was clear felled last Century. Even in a subtropical temperate climate, this is impossible even with the best of advice and effort.
In a tropical rain forest, the balance between the resident species and the climate and topography is totally sundered when the area is clear felled. Monoculture plantings will not fix the problem and gives only a cosmetic effect that might assuage some in high places but does nothing to replace the original balance.
In addition, most tropical forests are a repository of essential assets for the local people and animal and plant life that need these resources to survive.
The inestimable value of a forest cannot simply be converted into a money equivalent and anyone who says it can is either merely short sighted or a charlatan. Paltry payments to a current generation ignore future generations that miss out once any compensation quickly dissipates.
So what's the answer?
Even a minimalist answer could be to prepare for the day, soon to come, when PNG's forests will no longer exist. This has happened elsewhere in the world where the same forces are and have been in action for many decades.
What sticks in the craw so to speak is that no one seems to be able to get their head around even that impending disaster.
Those who seek short term benefit from clear felling a tropical rain forest and then move on are like the dog next door that does its business on your front lawn, gives a few desultory kicks of its back legs and lifting its nose, wanders back to its owners house with apparently a clear conscience.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 03 January 2018 at 08:37 AM
The writer and scientist Jared Diamond has his critics, but in general he is very positive in his writings on PNG. In "Collapse" he gives highlands PNG as an example of a society that long ago took measures such as tree-planting in order to conserve the environment.
Just this past week or so the internet has news about fears for cocoa production with traditional cacao growing areas being hit by climate change. Coffee production also seen to be in some difficulty.
On my trip through the highlands last year, I was astounded to find that those hills and ridges once thick with kunai and other productive vegetation had been stripped bare. Traditional sustainability gone under the influence of politicians and administrators who didn't care and people who didn't understand what problems this would cause them - KJ
Posted by: Garry Roche | 03 January 2018 at 06:38 AM
I agree with the other Ross that the solution to a real problem appears to have been overtaken by dogmatic argument. Is it a worsening man-made problem or a naturally recurring phenomena?
To the timber example I previously cited, there were allegations of government bribery and corruption back then, particularly in the timber industry, but the Gogol project was seen as a model for future management of timber areas that provided significant benefits for all parties.
A joint venture company was established between the Government and the Honshu Paper Company of Japan that mean the government would share in future profits. The Government leased an area of prime rainforest which was then further leased to the joint venture company for 25 years meaning immediate economic benefits to the land owners. Also, of course, royalties were payable to the timber owners.
The joint venture terms required the construction of a chip mill, restricted export of timber logs, employment of local labour and reforestation. Each coupe would be initially inspected and significant specimens or culturally significant locations would be marked for protection from the logging activities.
The value of the reforestation programme was that it was ongoing as areas were cleared. Whilst the primary rainforest of mixed species was cleared in the first cut and gave a “second grade” pulp, the cleared areas were then created as single “exotic” species plantations that were harvestable after 10 years and gave a “first grade” pulp for export. This potentially gave the company three harvest opportunities before the final reforestation plantings.
To physically oversee and manage the contract conditions the government created a working group comprising Finance, Forestry and Administration officers amongst others. The company was required to employ Japanese nationals who could speak English and were required to learn tok pisin and the company had to employ a liaison officer who understood government and local conditions. In my time this was an ex-kiap, Scott Leslie.
The government working party members were required to periodically check that the company was complying with the terms of its lease. The onus was on the company to physically replant logged areas and not just pay money to the government. I can recall driving around the logged areas with a very experienced Forestry officer, Bob Bruce, to check that reforestation was being undertaken by the company to the agreed standard.
So, to address Phil’s point made in his response, it is encouraging that the Forestry Act requires reparations from logging companies towards reforestation. However, as he points out, it is unfortunate that this is purely financial as it does not ensure actual reinstatement. Once a company hands over its levy (if it does), it can wash its hands of any responsibility as to what happens from there. If the levy is paid it will then disappear into consolidated revenue and we all know what happens then.
If the PNG Government is to be seen as being serious and become a leader of the war against climate change in the Pacific, then it must revert to performance-based operations by putting the onus for reparation back onto the logging and mining companies. It can create financial penalties for failing to meet reparation time lines and send officers out to measure actual reparation performance.
Whilst I understand that ultimately the Gogol model was not fully successful, it is a good example that the government can revisit to develop a current methodology to address today’s problems.
Posted by: Ross Wilkinson | 02 January 2018 at 09:19 PM
Anthropogenic global warming much like the dismal science of economics is merely scientism or ontological witchcraft and human activity systems and processes are subject to increased approximation.
Much of the decision making is influenced by numerous exogenous and endogenous biases and is anything but rational and more often arational, which involves intuition and heuristics.
This anomaly extends across many of the social sciences and is neatly summarised by Robert Shiller:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 02 January 2018 at 08:42 PM
Accusations of racism and extremism are a tactic commonly used to shut down people with opposing views.
So when Philip writes, “Ross is obviously a climate change denier” and so “not worth arguing with” he follows this well-worn tactic.
His accusation is untrue. Few serious people deny climate change, which has occurred before humans evolved on Earth. What is in contention is the veracity of climate change apocalypticism.
So-called sceptics often doubt many aspects of the climate change debate which are advanced, and in doing so, they point to the extreme complexity of the Earth’s climate.
They also doubt the effectiveness of proposed solutions—a cost of one to two trillion dollars per annum (and the consequent destruction of all advanced economies) in order to reduce temperatures by a mere 0.05 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. The subject is far too complex to engage in these pages.
In addition, events such as Climategate exposed scientific fraud and the manipulation of data in order to enhance the Global Warming Theory. For example, the Hockey Stick Graph deliberately hid declining temperatures so a warming trend would show.
Fundamentally, the issue of climate change should be one of science. Yet it is apparent that the debate has turned away from a pursuit for truth to the propagation of dogma. The position of activists is that is not possible to disagree with their climate change apocalypticism in good faith.
Threatening the resource sector with legal consequences for their position on climate change is now the official policy of the US Democratic Party, since 2016.
In 2015, the New York State Attorney General subpoenaed ExxonMobil for documents that might show the company downplayed the risk of climate change.
In 2015 twenty scientists demanded President Obama use the law to go after “deniers”.
Michael Mann has issued legal proceedings against those who questioned his fake Hockey Stick Graph after his university cleared him of any misconduct. So official scientific bodies can quash dissent by effectively declaring their research as unimpeachable.
Bjorn Lomborg wrote, “Global warming is a real phenomenon, it is mostly man-made, and it will have a long-run overall negative impact”. But he also suggested present policies were ineffective and wasteful. For his heresy from the accepted line, he was prevented from opening up a research centre in Australia after pressure from academics and activists.
Attempts to use state plenary power to determine the truth is to reverse the values of the Enlightenment. In fact free speech is under attack throughout Western academia.
And we even have Australian academics suggesting, “There is some merit in the idea of a ruling elite class of philosopher kings…or ecoelites." The Divine Right of Greenies perhaps?
The UN boss of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, has spoken of “intentionally” changing “the economic development model that has been reigning for the, at least, 150 years, since the industrial revolution.” Effectively destroying advanced economies.
That is what worries many people. And it’s probably not surprising that far-left extremists are so in favour of a new-found cause that might help them achieve what has eluded them for the last hundred years.
Posted by: Ross Howard | 02 January 2018 at 06:33 PM
Great dissertation Rossco. Well done. There are also other books of the Bible that were intentionally ignored at the time when I think the Nicene conference settled on those in the current New Testament.
There have been recent finds of other contemporary 'books' or papyrus rolls discovered that even describe Jesus having married his female follower and conjecture that her portrait in Michelangelo's last supper was painted out by later purists.
The essence of where we are and where we are going is however the theme of Phil's original conjecture.
The fact that we are still discussing what went on before is a sign that we can't seem to progress past a certain point.
Therein I rest my case m'lud.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 02 January 2018 at 08:35 AM
Thanks for that sane comment Ross Wilkinson.
The PNG Forestry Act requires that logged areas be replanted. Loggers are obliged to provide funds to the Forestry Department so this can be carried out.
Which all sounds very sensible.
Unfortunately, the loggers don't pay this levy and where they do the government fails to use it for reafforestation. The money gets hived off for other things or is stolen by corrupt politicians.
PNG has some very good legislation, including excellent environmental legislation. A lot of it dates back to pre-independence days. Much of it still hasn't been fiddled with by politicians like O'Neill.
Given the will the PNG government could be a shining light in the climate change battle.
Unfortunately, like many things in PNG, that will doesn't exist.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 02 January 2018 at 08:15 AM
A reasonable estimate of economic organisation must allow for the fact, that unless industry is to be paralysed by recurrent revolts on the part of outraged human nature, it must satisfy criteria, which are not purely economic.
R H Tawney - Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926)
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 02 January 2018 at 12:27 AM
Michael’s biblical timeline appears to come from the work of James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Ireland, who calculated that God created earth in 4004BC. He even went so far as to nominate the specific date 23 October.
Ussher used the Bible as the only verifiable source of data to arrive at this timeline and he has published 100 pages of his calculations in his tome. Much of this relies on biblical events coinciding with natural phenomena such as the equinoxes together with genealogical generational dating to provide timing, that is, counting the “begats”.
Unfortunately though, whilst there are claims of later scientific evidence to support Ussher’s dating, these are vastly outnumbered and outweighed by periodic scientific and physical evidence.
It is generally accepted that the first language was developed in written form in the Sumer region of Mesopotamia about 3,200BC along with the pictorial hieroglyphics of Egypt. This means that the carriage of the early biblical history of about 800 years was oral, not written, until a means of permanently recording it could be developed.
So, with the knowledge that scholars estimate that early biblical stories were not individually recorded until about 1,400BC and collated into a single chronological tome that we have come to know as the Hebrew Torah or Christian Bible until about 14 BC, this greatly expands the time gap to about 2,500 years where the recollection of historical events is purely oral.
To put this into a modern perspective and from my own experiences as a kiap in the 1960s and 70s, I was required to undertake some census and social mapping exercises in more remote areas.
As some names appeared to be missing from the census books, it became necessary to undertake the type of questioning that would identify family lineages and ages of these people.
I recall that it seemed that the collective historical memory did not extend beyond three generations and beyond that the family ancestors adopted magico-religious totemic form such as snakes, crocodiles, birds, etc.
Also, the ability to use the Bible as a scientific evidentiary tool is seriously compromised by the finding of physical, dateable items such as fossils and skeletal remains that put the evolution of Homo Sapiens at about 150,000BC. Another example of this is the Vostock Ice Core sample taken from the Antarctic ice cap and which extends back 160,000 years.
On the point of Phil’s warning to us, scientists again turn to ice core samples to measure impacts amongst other measurable identifiers. Ice is a natural trap for the components and contaminants of our atmosphere and the generally undisturbed polar icecaps the ideal places to take study samples from.
I know I’m going to be attempting to teach a lot of people to suck eggs but science teaches us that our planet and its atmosphere is made up of a range of elements that interact with each other to maintain an equilibrium that allows human life to exist. For example heat produces carbon dioxide that is absorbed by plant life which converts it to oxygen and so on.
It has not been disputed that there have been natural heating and cooling events affecting the whole of the planet that have affected the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
By measuring polar ice core samples scientists have been able to chart these temperature and CO2 movements and recognise that a nexus existed for many thousands of years.
About 250 years ago an event occurred in Europe that has become part of world-wide development – the Industrial Revolution. Man became mechanised and required greater access to natural materials and fire to process them.
Trees were removed to provide land for factories, material for development and fuel for the fires that drove the machines. Shortly it became recognised that fossil fuels were more efficient providers of heat but also greater creators of CO2.
The scientists began to notice things in their ice core studies that confirmed that the temperature change cycles were continuing but the nexus between temperature and CO2 had been broken. CO2 has increased dramatically, is continuing to increase and needs to be urgently addressed as explained by Phil.
Nations with large rainforest resources are the earth’s natural heatsinks so long as they remain intact. Unfortunately Brazil is rapidly becoming depleted and now PNG is following it. If logging is to be permitted then the logging companies must be required to reforest as was the case in the Gogol Valley in the 70s and 80s.
Natural energy generation should be greatly promoted such as solar, wind and wave. Why can’t the eight knot tidal flow of the Vitiaz Strait be harnessed as just one example.
Posted by: Ross Wilkinson | 01 January 2018 at 09:57 PM
I think Ross has deliberately zeroed in on a few doomsayers who got their predictions horribly wrong. However, when we talk about climate change we are not talking about the predictions of doomsayers but about hard scientific fact. Ross is obviously a climate change denier. In my experience deniers are not worth arguing with - they will stick to their views no matter how much you explain it to them and present evidence to them.
Your academic might have usefully added a couple more factors Chris. One is economic inequality. That alone could bring civilisation to the brink of destruction. It's also interesting to note that the top 10% of the wealthy are responsible for 90% of our carbon emissions.
The other factor is simple scale. This is where nations and empires just get too big to manage. That's what did the Roman empire in and continues to diminish the old British empire.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 01 January 2018 at 09:32 PM
Ross Howard is right to critique the Doom Sayers because history shows that those who predict the future are almost invariably wrong.
The simplest reason for this is because, to quote Donald Rumsfeld's immortal words, there are simply too many "unknown unknowns" to be certain how things are going to work out.
That said, it is possible to point to general trends and draw a few cautious inferences from them.
Phil has pointed to one painfully obvious trend which is our collective, relentless degradation of the planet that sustains us. This is, by any reasonable definition, a bad plan.
I recently read some work by an academic who has argued that the fall of civilisations is always a function of two main factors.
The first of these is the progressive and irremediable degradation of the environment that sustains a civilization, owing mostly to the untrammelled pursuit of wealth and power.
The second is the related failure of the governance structures (i.e. the ruling elite) to develop an effective response to the demands of an ever more complex set of socio-economic and political problems arising from both the pursuit of wealth and power and the resultant environmental problems.
It is not drawing too long a bow to suggest that this is where the western world now finds itself, beset by a whole set of environmental problems that are, in turn, generating a range of socio-economic and political problems to which governments seem unable or unwilling to effectively respond.
The obvious big environmental issue today is the impact of carbon emissions on our delicately balanced eco-system.
The evidence is clearly mounting that something is changing in our global climate and there is a high level of confusion at a political level about how to respond to this.
In an Australian context, right wing conservatives simply deny there is a problem or like Mr Micawber, hope that "something will turn up" to solve the problem. Their focus is on "jobs and growth", which is code for the relentless pursuit of wealth and power.
On the left of the political spectrum we find a collection of anarcho-environmentalists who think that only by entirely abandoning the capitalist system can we save ourselves from disaster. Their solution, such as it is, seems to be to return to some long lost Arcadian idyll, rather like that which they imagine existed in pre-colonial PNG.
In the middle are the growing ranks of the bemused and increasingly annoyed majority, who want sensible and intelligent action that balances the now obvious need to rein in our culture of conspicuous consumption without jettisoning the things that make life comfortable and worthwhile.
Right now, with the relentless concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few members of an emergent power elite, the political classes seem quite unable to figure out what to do to bring our societies back into some sort of sustainable balance.
In fact, we now have had a succession of conservative governments which seem almost willfully disconnected from the objective world of truth and fact, referring to believe in the mystical power of "the market" to work it all out.
History shows that governments have to intervene in the market when it begins to generate forces that threaten to destabilise the whole of society. If they do not do this, then the only viable option will eventually become some form of revolution.
For example, Britain staved off a mortal threat to its ruling class in the early and mid 19th century by recognising that reform of the entire political system was unavoidable.
Hence a series of legislative acts (the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the Reform Act which extended suffrage, etc.) occurred over several decades that released the political safety valve and allowed Britain to power on to ever greater heights of wealth and power.
Contrast this with Russia, which denied and suppressed change at every turn until, inevitably, the entire rotten Tsarist infrastructure was destroyed by a tiny handful of committed revolutionaries.
While I am not suggesting that the western world is in anywhere near the situation that prevailed in Tsarist Russia, I do think that the emergence of what I would characterise as fundamentally irrational responses to very obvious problems is not an encouraging sign.
Neo-liberalism has unleashed all sorts of destructive forces along with others that are actually beneficial in the long term. The trick is to, firstly, understand this and, secondly, find a way to minimise the former and maximise the latter.
Somehow, we have to enthuse our political class with the idea that government's can and should judiciously intervene in the economy to promote a more sustainable and fairer civilisation.
It is in our collective interests to do this as history says that a failure to do so can only end badly.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 01 January 2018 at 05:30 PM
Thank you Garry. I metaphorically stand corrected on my knowledge of Australian poetry.
Yes Ross, there will always be doomsday scenarios that don’t play out. I can remember one years ago where Adelaide was supposed to be wiped out by a tsunami. Donnie Dunstan had to go down to the beach to demonstrate it wasn’t legit.
The real problem is that there are solutions to alleviate the world’s problems but world leaders refuse to adopt and follow them as they are all too concerned about potentially losing their positions of power through unpopularity.
A quote I well remember said that; ‘Foreign aid was taking wealth from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.‘
Prof Jared Diamond effectively spelt out just how humans can exploit natural resources to the point where they are exhausted and the population reduces or disappears. Surely that’s what is happening in many places in the world.
In a small way, the experiments in the 1950’s laboratories nicknamed ‘Ratitoriums’ effectively demonstrated this phenomenon. The ongoing famines in the ‘Horn’ of Africa are just another example.
It’s believed that humans started to colonise the world from near this very point in a number of waves and quite possibly due to climate change.
The world has ways of creating a balance between production and consumption. Those who can’t, won’t or aren’t able to understand this axiomatic fact are doomed to repeat history.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 01 January 2018 at 09:47 AM
I can see things happening in the world that you obviously can't see Ross.
And I think you might have been fairly selective with your doomsayers. You have also personalised the debate, which is a standard tactic of the right, shoot the messenger and ignore the message.
I'm with Garry and Pope Francis in his Encyclical “Laudato Si”, which laments the environmental degradation which humanity has inflicted on the Earth especially in recent times.
I'd also suggest that we need these extreme predictions to make people sit up and take notice.
We might not make the world entirely uninhabitable but it's not going to be a pleasant place to live if we don't change our ways.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 01 January 2018 at 09:03 AM
Paul Oates, Henry Lawson might not be upset at being linked with “we’ll all be rooned’ but the line actually comes from the poem by John O’Brien (real name Patrick Joseph Hartigan). The poem called “Said Hanrahan” is in the book “Around the Boree Log” the last verse is:
"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."
“We’ll all be rooned..” is a repeated refrain throughout the poem.
That having been said I agree with you that Phil has raised very serious issues. Phil might find himself in agreement with some of Pope Francis sentiments in his Encyclical “Laudato Si”, which laments the environmental degradation which humanity has inflicted on the Earth especially in recent times.
It is a serious issue.
Posted by: Garry Roche | 01 January 2018 at 05:07 AM
No matter what happens, it seems that Doomsday Scenarios will always be with us.
From Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich the myth of overpopulation continues. Yet according to the U.N. Population Database, using the low variant projection (historically the most accurate), the earth’s population will peak at around 8.3 billion in 2050 and then start to decline.
In fact, most serious demographers have spent the last 30 years examining declining fertility rates which are causing a population implosion in many countries, especially Western nations.
In “How Civilizations Die” (2011), author David Goldman writes:
“As a matter of arithmetic, we know that the social life of most developed countries will break down within two generations. Two out of three Italians and three of four Japanese will be elderly dependents by 2050. If present fertility rates hold, the number of Germans will fall by 98 per cent over the next two centuries. No pension and health system can support such an inverted population pyramid.”
But people are attracted to apocalyptic scenarios.
In his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb” Ehrlich wrote: “In the 1970s hundreds of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”
In 1971, Ehrlich wrote, “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
It was all nonsense of course, however his hysterical predictions induced some governments to change their policies. For example, it influenced Justice Potter Stewart’s vote in Roe v Wade which allowed abortion in the USA: “As Stewart saw it, abortion was becoming one reasonable solution to population control.” [Newsweek, September 14, 1987]
Ehrlich had written, “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971, if ever.” But between 1971 and 2011 India’s population doubled while its economy grew faster, and it became a food exporter.
The economist Julian Simon exposed most of Ehrlich’s errors, and won money from Ehrlich (the Ehrlich-Simon wager) by proving his ravings about the relationship of population to commodity scarcity was wrong.
But the arrogant Ehrlich frequently called people he disagreed with “fools”, “idiots”, clowns”, and said of Julian Simon, “If Simon disappeared from the face of the earth, that would be great for humanity.”
But even in the face of all his errors, and his opposition to evidence, reason and good faith, the bien pensant progressives have showered Ehrlich with awards and honours.
A couple of years back Ehrlich was the guest speaker at an ANU environmental conference, and was showered with praise by Phillip Adams on ABC radio. Yes, the same Phillip Adams who cheered on Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and advised Australians to drink the same socialist kool-aid that ended up destroying Venezuela’s economy and left its people starving.
The same is true of the climate-catastrophe predicted by those who push the global warming agenda. None of their apocalyptical predictions have come true, but their hysteria has induced government action, given some people lucrative jobs, and made charlatans like Al Gore rich.
In 1970 claims were made that the world would be “eleven degrees colder by the year 2000.” Global temperature has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1970.
In 1970, Ehrlich had claimed, “In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”
On 3 August 1971, the Sydney Morning Herald announced that the Great Barrier Reef would be dead in six months. Someone has been predicting its death almost every year since, and money has flowed as a result.
And lets not forget our own Tim Flannery. In 2006 he predicted there will be “no Arctic icecap in the next 5 to 15 years” and “we have just a decade to avert a 25-metre rise of the sea”. And in 2007 he predicted Australia’s dams would not fill up again.
But as Clive James has written, “It would surely be unwise to believe that mankind’s capacity to believe in fashionable nonsense can be cured by the disproportionately high cost of a temporary embarrassment.”
Happy New Year.
Posted by: Ross Howard | 31 December 2017 at 09:13 PM
Without wishing to get bogged down in a theological discussion, the essence of what Phil and I are saying is that humankind needs to change its ways or in the words of Henry Lawson, ‘We’ll all be rooned….’
However to insist on exactly how the world was created or how living things evolved seems to suggest some potential link with an unproven authority. Charles Darwin was pilloried over the same issue when he merely suggested what others also thought potentially possible i.e.’ The theory of evolution of the species’. Who among us can factually prove or disprove how the world evolved and why? All we have is factual and empirical, scientific knowledge.
It’s suggested that to unequivocally elucidate on something that could not be proven or at least base an opinion on some factual foundation is demonstrably fraught with danger. If someone in the great somewhere did create everything, who could say how he/she/? was able to do it?
No one should deny however that spiritual convictions can be and are extremely potent and should not be dismissed as trivial. Many millions of people have died due to spiritual convictions as there are many who have been saved by those who devote their lives to helping others due to their beliefs.
As has been suggested; ‘We see the effects of the wind without being able to see the wind itself.’
Em as tru poroman Phil ibin kamautim em samting lo tingting gut lo en. Nogut yumi wokabaut lo narapla rot laga?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 31 December 2017 at 06:21 PM
So how come C14 dating tells us that people were farming in the Wahgi Valley tens thousand years ago ................?
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 31 December 2017 at 04:29 PM
5.54 billion years for the earth's formation is massively unthinkable. The Bible explains it in a more recent manner that the earth is 6,000 years old. The fact is that every 2,000 years of earth's history something dramatic occurred. From the fall of mankind to in the Garden of Eden to the migratory era of Abraham is 2,000 years period. Then from Abraham to the wicked period of Sodom and Gomorrah [Noah's era]; the world was flooded, another 2,000 years time period. From the time of Noah to the birth of Christ Jesus, the Creator of the world became flesh is 2,000 years. Scientific discoveries in all essence usually supports the Bible. Unfortunately, science got it wrong in determining the epoch the earth was created.
Vice versa, for scientists to blame climate change for the earth's warming is something worthy of being critiqued. Scientists will explain to us that the warming and cooling of the earth is routinely normal since creation time. It was the mighty Creator God who put this cycle in motion. Let's say if I' am not wrong, the earth had just experience ice-age and is now going through a heating up [climate change]. It will be go on like this interchangeably for time infinite.
Posted by: Michael Geketa | 31 December 2017 at 01:07 PM
Many of us have been voicing similar opinions about various threats to humankind and yet while world leaders give lip service to these matters, nothing much happens in practice. The real reason this is so is because world leaders are basically unable to really achieve much at all due to their vulnerable status as elected representatives. They just won’t do anything to jeopardise their well paid positions of limited power and influence.
So we seem to be caught between a nexus of useful and objective conjecture and well known but constantly deniable or overlooked facts. History abounds with similar examples whereby humans end up being unable to organise themselves past a certain point of effectiveness.
In essence therefore, we as a species have apparently plateaued. This has happened previously. It has been estimated that proto humans existed for at least 1 million years with just the basic chipped stone tools. Clearly until the climate in East Africa changed and humans migrated out of Africa, there was no reason to evolve further.
So unless and until there is sufficient impetus to cause enough collective worldwide consternation, nothing much will happen.
The virtual microcosm of PNG's place in the world is therefore a good example to extrapolate in order to understand the world’s basic problem. We are running out of food and water to cope with an ever expanding population. When the tipping point is reached, as it inevitably seems to be in places like Somalia every 10 years of so, there is famine and starvation. That galvanises wealthier nations to contribute to food aid but so continue the problem for another few years and a new generation of starving children.
The realistic fact is that if the lines of supply were to be cut by say a war, could PNG or Australia for that matter, feed and water itself?
Australia might initially be better off since there are methods of transport that have so far been denied PNG. There is still no road connecting Papua with New Guinea. The islands might be able to exist for some time on fish and coconuts as they did 100 years ago but at what cost to those now living there?
While exorbitant amounts of capital are spent on such personal self aggrandisement decisions like the upcoming APEC conference, this does not in any way contribute to the overall improvement of basic infrastructure of the nation. Nor do the resources spent on holding the conference in any way address the real issues. It’s just another attempt at ‘smoke and mirrors’ while the real issues are put in the ‘too hard’ basket.
There’s a report on a new political party being formed by some well educated and experienced people. I wonder what their platform will be in the future? More of the same or a sharp turn in the right direction?
Hepi Nu Yia oa nogat?
Posted by: Paul Oates | 31 December 2017 at 11:05 AM