Eye opening comment from an independent Council Alderman

16 09 2014

This most interesting blog article from a Hobart City Council Alderman, Eva Ruzicka, explains why Council rates never go down, and how growth and, more to the point, incremental growth in the complexity of how governments at all levels no longer has any choice on how to run its day to day affairs, due to ever more stupid and unsustainable regulations.

If you ever needed more proof that we have to live more simply so we may simply live…….  look no further.

And the other big question on the election trail….

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

If there is one thing that people get feisty about, it’s the rates bill. Why is it so high? Why does it never go down? And why do people try to get elected by saying they’ll vote for lower rates and then we never hear from them again once they’re occupying the comfy chairs around the Council table?

I’m tempted to answer that you’re living in a Western capitalist economy predicated on growth and if you want the benefits you’ll have put up with paradigm of exponential increase. But I suspect that won’t win much in the way of plaudits, and it is a bit politically philosophical when you’re trying to put bread on the table and pay off the mortgage.

What I can say is that historically, things might have been different if we’d elected accountants, rather than politicians. When elected people have avoided increasing rates or increased municipal debt, later generations have had to stump up.

And this is the nub of it. You have to go back to where it all started, and for this, have a look at the history books. Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then) wasn’t settled for any economic reasons. It was settled to stop the French from taking possession.

So there wasn’t any business case for the English government of the day to fund the prison camp from the Colonial Chest – other than just barely meeting the costs of running a dumping ground for the surplus population who tried to make a living any way they could outside the punitive property laws of the day.

When word got out the island was highly suitable for farming and grazing, we had all sorts coming here to make a fortune by taking up the land from the Palawa/Pakana by force, and being subsidised with free land and convict labour.

And when the Napoleonic Wars were finally ceased, guess what? England did the usual trick of saying, stand on your own two feet, we can’t afford to subsidise you anymore. So when Tasmania the colony did in 1856, it then got successive colonial governments that were excellent at running up large debts with overseas banks, but useless at providing the services a growing population demanded. Let a form of local government do it, they said.

And local government did.

Albeit very reluctantly, because while the carrot of local control (for which read those land owners and magistrates who got to impose their ideas of moral behaviour on the free, convict and ex-convict population) was tempting, no money came with it. Sound familiar?

(Cost-shifting is a time-honoured practice where central and local governments are concerned. Local government get the responsibility to provide the services that everyone expects central government to do, but bad luck bunnies, you’ll also have to find the funds. Don’t get me started on this today – perhaps another post another time.)

Nonetheless, by the end of the century, there was a proliferation of Councils, Town Boards, Road Trusts, schools, cemeteries, various agricultural pest control boards, jetties, marine boards, libraries, water trusts, and so on. By the time the Colonial parliamentarian, Dr John McCall, got all the Mayors of the day into a room well away from the press to discuss the delicate matter of reform, there were over three hundred various types of authority that came under the wing of local government.

You have to remember also that once was, most of the population of the island effectively lived, worked and died in the same locality, and rarely, if ever, left it. Local councils diversified to the extent their ratepayers wanted various services within their municipal boundaries – hence the diversity. And still there wasn’t sufficient money to go around because the Tasmanian population just wasn’t there.

(It’s a policy problem I’ll be writing more on – the lack of population impacting on local government.)

Reform was needed, and reform followed throughout the 20th century.

Yet still, money is the nub of it. The 49 Councils existing up to 1993 relied on State and Federal funding to cover activities the ratebase could not. Years of not wanting to incur debt, or incurring debt without sufficient raising the rates, or simply just not raising the rates because it was politically unpopular, set the scene for more financial reforms in the noughties. And life got more complex too, with increased State and Federal legislation and improvements concerning water, sewerage, planning, building, plumbing, health, parks, recreation, roads and rubbish management.

Anyone who said (and continues to say) amalgamation of Councils should lower rates is either ignorant of the changes in local government practice or just wishing out loud wistfully.

As one recent example, take water and sewerage. Okay, so its operation was taken off local government just recently but it still owns the asset. Why? The big Councils were able to sort out their problems, but for smaller ones, provision of clean water and adequate sewerage was just beyond their financial ratebase ability, and neither could they reasonably service the level of debt needed to get the job done to the high level of health and safety legislation. It’s been argued that the problems of water and sewerage were being sorted out at the local government level, but for State parliamentarians, particularly some of those in the seat of Lyons and Braddon, progress weren’t fast enough when people flooded their offices with complaints over water alerts. Hence, TasWater’s accelerated program of water and sewerage reform outside of Hobart and Launceston today. And this isn’t to say we shouldn’t all have clean water and adequate sewerage – we should. But how it has been gone about is not exactly creating less cost to the consumer.

Another big complexity is financial reform. Simple accounting is now replaced with accrual accounting and Councils now have to take into account asset depreciation, equity, debt repayment, on-costs, annual operating costs, long term 20 year budgets and financial plans, asset renewal programs, auditing, financial probity, etc. etc. Now the impact of decisions can be tracked across the whole organisation and into the future in the modelling of setting rates. (And we can see the impact on ratepayers today of past decisions where Aldermen refused to raise rates in election years.)

Okay, now I start to sound like an accountant, but bear with me. Here’s a plain English example of how things have got more complex in the last 50 years.

The people want a BBQ in the local park. Council either has the money to pay for building up front or it raises a loan to do it, say $2000 for a simply concrete slab, brick and steel plate BBQ, labour costs included, and some donated bricks and cement from the local businesses. And as people wanted to boil a billy to go with the sausages, a tap was provided that anyone could turn off and on. And a simple wood slab table and bench set were sat beside the BBQ. We’re talking about 20-50 years ago.

The BBQ is built, and lots of families and their friends used it, especially in the summer months when everyone visited in the holidays. So many people from out of town in fact, that Council ends up cleaning the BBQ and making sure there is a wood supply because of the complaints about cleanliness and people using the park’s trees for the BBQ. Have to encourage the visitors – good for local business.

And as the hole in the ozone layer got bigger and the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign took hold, the local people asked for a cover shelter. And then for more chairs and tables for families to use, and they had to be under cover too. Eventually everyone uses the asset so much, it wears out and vandals have their way tagging the park furniture on bored winter afternoons, and for some reason, people keep nicking the tap fittings and firewood.

So then the local people ask for an electric BBQ replacement. As Council neither has the up-front cash or wants to raise the full loan to do it, it works with the local community group to raise the funds and eventually makes up the shortfall with a grant sourced from the local parliamentarian who is due for re-election. The shortfall is added to the rates budget.

Voila! A new BBQ with a renewed cover shelter and upgraded, vandal proof chairs and tables and shelters, and because we all wanted it to look good, some landscaping with trees and shrubs that provides wind shelter and a form of privacy between the tables of the many families now using the BBQ area. And the tap has been converted to an in ground sprinkler system, with a more secure drinks fountain with a dog bowl attached at the base. There is no longer worn out lawn under the tables but a lovely mulch soft-fall. New cost, say very little change out of $300,000, because of the grant, but actual bill of say $550,000.

The community and the elected members all get to enjoy a celebratory community BBQ when the power is switched on and have their picture in the paper. Everyone’s happy, it’s a wonderful place and the older folks reminisce about using the last one when they were kids, and how they’d like to form the same sorts of memories for their grand-kids.

So what’s the problem?

The asset was built either with a loan that had to be repaid, as well as interest and charges, and/or rates that have to be raised. So the initial cost of $2000 may well have been more as interest rates shifted around or Councillors didn’t want to raise the rates that year to finally pay off the loan.

The cost of cleaning and wood supply has to be added to the Council’s budget, as well as the increase in manpower needed to service the BBQ on a regular basis.

No money was put aside for replacement for the BBQ, tables and chairs or the nicked taps, so when the new electric BBQ with the new park furniture was provided, no money was there to pay for it. A lot of Council officer time (time equals wages costs here) was spent designing the new asset, engaging with the local community and consulting about it, as well as the planning, building and plumbing costs and requirements. The cost of providing water from a vandal proof tap has to also be factored in, as today water has to be paid for, and there is the added cost of maintaining the new landscaping. And there was the officer time spent in trying to source the funds through the grant process, and reporting the whole shebang to the Council for discussion and, finally, a decision.

In terms of asset management, there was no asset depreciation or replacement put aside for the old BBQ. Further, the cost of the new equipment was much, much higher as it had to meet Australian Standards requirements, let alone the fact that Councils now have to meet planning, building and plumbing rules just like everyone else. These are hidden costs no one really had to contend with in the past and now have become mainstream in local government practice because State and Federal governments demand it, and risk management decisions in the Courts have created them.

So now the Council, under 21st century accounting rules, has to put money aside for replacement/depreciation, asset development and annual operating costs, and it has to meet various health and safety obligations and Australian Standards in replacing the old BBQ. This is the financial iceberg under the upfront cost of the BBQ. You not only have to pay for building, you also have to budget for maintenance, depreciation and replacement.

All in all, while this is a somewhat potted explanation, it should explain why a rates bill continues to grow.

So in answer to the questions, why are rates always rising? The real cost of local government is like a financial iceberg. At some time, the elected members are taken into a budget workshop and get to see the full horror of the finances as the iceberg of electoral promises rolls over. We get to see there’s more than just the tip. The real cost has become a hazard to political shipping when you least expect it. And so rates are raised, after careful noting of CPI, and a sounding of the electorate’s mood. In Hobart City Council, the Aldermen are fully aware of the finances, and get to find out the real costs and impacts.

And that is why rates bills never get lower. The community demands more, it pays more. More complex local government processes cost more. We could cut the rates to zero, but at some stage, someone has pay for replacement of what we all use. If not you, then your children and grandchildren in a disproportionate amount if we won’t foot part of the bill today. We could cut the rates to zero, but would you then be satisfied with the loss of services?

Carefully spent taxes bring civilisation – not political promises to cut rates.





What is it We’re Trying to Sustain?

11 09 2014

http://theoverthinker.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Kari-photo.jpgThis article first appeared in Spirit of the Times, September 2013, written by Kari, aka The Overthinker…….

“‘Sustainability’ is, as far as I can see, a project designed to keep this culture — this lifestyle — afloat…”

- Paul Kingsnorth, Dark Mountain Project co-founder

What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘sustainability’? Is it images of wind farms, earthships or permaculture gardens? Is it recycling, energy-saving lightbulbs or greenbags? Is it organic versus GMO? Is it to fly or not to fly? What is the question?

power-of-walletMuch of the sustainability movement is wrapped up in either so-called clean energy lobbying or piecemeal ethical consumption initiatives, causing them to compartmentalize the broader issue and lose sight of the wood for the trees. That’s not to say that people’s lifestyle changes aren’t helpful or worthy of merit in their own right. But these behaviours won’t normalize until – perhaps unless – something more fundamental changes.

What is sustainability?

“The word sustainable has become widely used to refer merely to practices reputed to be more environmentally sound than others.”

-          Richard Heinberg

While this may be the case there is somewhat of a consensus around what sustainability means. In the 1980’s Swedish oncologist Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert gathered a team of leading scientists to develop a consensus on the requirements for a sustainable society. Their efforts culminated in the founding of an organization, the Natural Step, and four system conditions for sustainability:

In a sustainable society nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

  1. concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust;
  2. concentrations of substances produced by society;
  3. degradation by physical means; and, in that society,
  4. people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

In examining how our civilization is treating the Earth and our fellow Earthlings it is clear we are fundamentally unsustainable. We have extracted natural resources at far above the rate of renewal whilst pumping out wastes at far above the rate of absorption. We have degraded our water, air and soil, thus reducing the carrying capacity of our landbases. And we have subjected huge proportions of our populations to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs, effectively enslaving people in a vicious cycle from which there are few chances of escape, much less opportunities to engage as responsible global citizens.

what is sustainabilityThe Post Carbon Institute have gone a step further in outlining five axioms of sustainability that together form the bedrock of any sustainable system, if applied.

The first axiom: Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse.

An exception to this axiom would occur in the case of a society avoiding collapse by finding replacement resources. However, there are limits to the exception. In a finite world, the number of possible replacements is also finite. In this case it is not a matter of whether, but when, a society will collapse.

Archaeologist Joseph Tainter demonstrated in his classic study The Collapse of Complex Societies that collapse is a frequent, if not universal fate of complex societies. Collapse results from declining returns on efforts to support increasing levels of complexity using energy harvested form the environment. In our example, the fossil energy that has enabled our current level of complexity is close to depleted, and we are experiencing diminishing returns on our financial and energy investments. We will not be able to sustain society’s current level of complexity for much longer.

The second axiom: Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

A mere 1% rate of population growth would result in a doubling of the Earth’s population in the space of 70 years. With this rate of increase, the Earth would need to sustain 13 billion humans by 2075, 26 billion by 2145, and so on. Our current rate of global population growth is higher than this, suggesting that we are heading for a crunch.

The third axiom: To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to the rate of natural replenishment.

Renewable resources include forests, fish stocks, and topsoil, to name a few examples. While all of these resources are fully renewable, they replenish at a certain rate that cannot support the level of usage our society demands. Hence we are overexploiting renewable resources at far beyond the rate of renewal, thus rendering these resources effectively non-renewable.

The fourth axiom: To be sustainable, the use of non-renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion, which is calculated as the amount extracted during a particular time period as a percentage of the remainder.

Sadly we are doing precisely the opposite of this, with our growing populations and increasing affluence placing demands on the system. Purchasing power, not availability, determines “production” for the time being, and we have become unused to being constrained by scarcity. It will not be too long until we experience what unavailability looks like.

The fifth axiom: Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the environment from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to biosphere functions. In cases where pollution from the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources has proceeded at expanding rates for some time and threatens the viability of ecosystems, reduction in the rates of extraction and consumption of those resources may need to occur at a rate greater than the rate of depletion.

footprontHumanity’s ecological footprint is, at present, 40% larger than the earth can sustain through regeneration. This is, by definition, unsustainable, and if we do not address the issue ourselves then Mother Nature will take matters into her own hands, restoring to balance that which we have unbalanced. “Earth Overshoot Day” falls earlier and earlier each year, demonstrating quite plainly that we are doing precisely the opposite of what we need to be doing. This year’s Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 20th, while 10 years ago it was on September 22nd, and 20 years ago it was on October 21st.

The truth about sustainability

It seems that much of what we refer to as “sustainable” is far from it. So-called ethical consumption partakes of the globalized industrial economy in most cases, perhaps slowing the rate of resource depletion and destruction slightly, but by no means getting off the carousel. Money is the motivator of any business, and to limit production to only what is necessary is anathema to profit. With resources finite as they are, we are all going to have to consider quantity as well as quality: we are going to have to want less stuff, locally produced stuff, not just greener stuff.

Proponents of Big Green Tech claim that sustainability can be achieved by installing large-scale hi-tech “renewable” energy production infrastructure. While it is true that so-called renewable energy sources emit significantly less greenhouse gases and other pollutants than fossil fuels, they are hardly a panacea, and are far from being ecologically neutral, if we are to accept axiom five. They are also far from renewable, if we are to accept axioms three and four.

All energy sources require infrastructure, all requiring the use of finite resources. Concrete and steel rebar are essential components of wind farms and hydro dams, and these, aside from being finite, have a hefty impact on the environment in terms of their production. Rare earth metals used in wind turbines, such as neodymium and dysprosium, and in solar panels, such as yttrium, are complicated to extract from the Earth as they are found dispersed in small deposits, and their extraction is anything but environmentally friendly, pumping toxic wastes into the environment in a manner no better than fracking or conventional mining. Make no mistake: a carbon-free world is not a toxin-free world, and we are poisoning the world – our air, water and soils – with or without fossil energy.

The water footprint of “renewable” energy is also something we should be concerned about. Solar farms require water, usually groundwater, for washing mirrors, replenishing feedwater, and cooling auxiliary equipment. Geothermal power plants are failing to allow for the replenishment of groundwater supplies at the rate of depletion, with some projects peaked and running out of steam. Hydropower dams have the nasty propensity to hoard sediment, thus killing river life – a knock-on effect being loss of riverine biodiversity. The production of biomass requires extensive irrigation in many parts of the world, and this is already leading to depleted water sources and insufficient water (and land) for food-based agriculture.

Another issue with “renewable” energy, particularly the large-scale centralized big-green tech sort, is land use. Land is cleared to make space for solar farms, often in delicate desert ecosystems where water is scarce to begin with. Electricity transmission requires infrastructure, and power lines and roads disrupt wildlife corridors, fragmenting and thus weakening ecosystems. Do not make the mistake of disregarding the grid overhauls necessary to restructure a nation’s power supply, this is no small infrastructure project and engineering companies will profit greatly. Perhaps most insidious of all is the clear-cutting of forests and grasslands for the purpose of producing biofuel. Deforestation and removal of carbon sinks for the sake of growing materials to burn doesn’t sound all that green to me. Not to mention the big green techusurpation of food sources, which will undoubtedly hit the third world hardest as the world’s wealthy minority continue to make demands on the world’s ever-scarcer resources while the poor starve.

According to science writer Dawn Stover, meeting the world’s increasing energy demands with renewable energy alone may prove impossible. To meet our projected demands in 2030 it is estimated that we would need 3.8 million wind turbines (each with twice the capacity of today’s largest machines), 720,000 wave devices, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines, 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, 40,000 solar photovoltaic plants, and 49,000 concentrated solar thermal systems. We cannot be so sure of a global renewable energy future with this demand on our rare earth metal deposits, groundwater, and limited available land.

Interestingly mainstream sustainability advocates do not mention approaches such as downshifting, eating fewer (or no) animal products, re-wilding domesticated tracts of nature, and localizing our resource production and consumption. Consuming less and more modestly, and eating in accordance with the constraints of our local landbases isn’t as appealing as being able to continue with business as usual pending the wave of a magic wand that establishes boundless renewable energy. It is also not an approach much advocated by proponents of our growth economy, which few of us even think to question.

Sustaining a way of life

With the emphasis on ethical consumption and Big Green Tech one could be forgiven for thinking we want to have our cake and eat it too. We don’t want to destroy our environment, you see, but we would really love to be able to keep all of the shiny toys and gadgets that we’ve become so attached to.

Our efforts toward sustainability have been largely focused on sustaining our way of life, rather than sustaining nature in a way that makes any life at all possible. Apparently the term sustainability, as used by many advocates, does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the expanding empire of homo sapiens; it means sustaining one particular human civilization in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

picture 100So often we put our faith in techno-fixes. We trust that salvation will appear in the form of a distant and magical technological advance that will unpick the damage we have done and set us straight on course to sustainability – without us ever having to alter our own lifestyles. We conflate needs with wants, rationalizing our desires for the latest iCrap with a confused expression of “need” in lieu of “desire”, and perpetuating a paradigm of escalating consumption and depletion. It is as though we simply do not understand that one day things will run out, and we will be forced to embrace simplicity. It seems we will not go voluntarily, and the few that do are not viewed as the positive role-models that they are, instead portrayed as fringe radicals who want to return us all to the Stone Age. So we turn away from the bigger picture, and look only at what can be tweaked with little or no adaptation required.

Our reductionist mentality leads us to compartmentalize our problems and reach obvious conclusions that do not necessarily solve them. For example, if we understand that carbon emissions are a problem, then going “zero carbon” is clearly the solution. So long as we can build enough of the right kind of technologies to generate the power we “need” without producing CO2 then we’ll be fine – we’ll never need to downshift our consumption or alter the foundations of our economic system. In precisely this way many so-called sustainability advocates have reduced the entire notion of sustainability down to a single component, usually carbon, and treat the matter as an engineering challenge alone. We fail to think integratively about the whole issue, addressing components in a linear manner, completely blinded to the holistic picture we need to see.

Sustaining the Earth

If we are to sustain our planet, and any chance we have of any way of life at all, we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that Mother Nature doesn’t negotiate, and that her rules are already mapped out. We are not at liberty to break them. As it is, our species has, in the words of Stephanie Mills, “deforested, plowed, bulldozed, dredged, drained, dammed, polluted, or paved one-half to one-third of the land surface of Earth.” According to the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, “The structure and function of the world’s ecosystems changed more rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century than at any time in human history,” which has resulted in a “substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.” Clearly this is a trajectory that cannot continue. But what are we doing to stop it? Changing our lightbulbs, recycling more, and eschewing plastic bags? Waiting for a Big Green Tech revolution?

downshiftWe need a more fundamental change. We need to downshift, we need to live localized lives, we need to live fully in accordance with the limitations of our landbases, we need to take the five axioms of sustainability as seriously as the laws of thermodynamics, for they are unshakeable dictates that we have no power to alter.

It is unlikely that we will be able to combat issues such as climate change as long as we are able to unlock carbon and pump it into the atmosphere. The reality is that people want to continue using the fruits of carbon’s labour more than they want to save the world, and renewables technology isn’t capable of delivering the same. We are far too removed from the effects of our actions and desires, living in a technological bubble that separates us from nature and obscures our view of its destruction. Until – or unless – we are threatened directly (and that does not include threats to those in the third world, for they are not the global decision-makers), we are unlikely to take action to reverse our trajectory.

We need to grow up. We need to learn that we cannot have our cake and eat it. We need to move away from an anthropocentric worldview that places humans at the centre, with the world our playground to do with as we wish. We are not the chosen ones, there is no promised land, and we do not have dominion over nature.

Ultimately, sustaining this system that we have grown to depend on is not worth it. The only thing that is worth sustaining is that which sustains life itself, not just a way of life.





The Collapse of Western Civilization

9 09 2014

mikestasse:

Most interesting…

Originally posted on synthetic_zero:

“It is the year 2393, almost 400 years from now. And a Chinese historian is looking back on our century, the 21st century, and trying to explain how the world saw climate change coming and did nothing. How we denied and delayed as an unbelievable price tag of suffering and destruction gathered around us. How that suffering finally came – with flood and heat and mass migration and chaos. How Western civilization collapsed”

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/07/inquiring-minds-naomi-oreskes-collapse-of-western-civilization

https://twitter.com/NaomiOreskes

View original





Falling Empires and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America

4 09 2014

John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer, also known as the infamous Archdruid, speaks to the Extra Environmentalist about his latest book, Decline and Fall.  Greer’s insight is simply phenomenal, and the way he explains why and how the USA’s Empire is going down is just fascinating.

About one hour later, (yes, it’s a long podcast, but worth every MB you download) Chris Martenson speaks about he energy descent and how it will affect the future.

Chris Martenson

Chris Martenson

I suggest you download this to a memory stick and listen to it in bits on your favourite sound player while you do something menial….  and you’ll probably want to listen to it several times!!

Enjoy…  and make sure you share with anybody who still doesn’t ‘get it’…..

The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America

http://www.extraenvironmentalist.com/2014/09/02/episode-81-falling-empires/#





The Global Reality Freak Show

2 09 2014

Originally posted on Collapse of Industrial Civilization:

Post-apocalypse

“Mother nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates.”
~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

The root of the problem

Despite modern man’s unparalleled ability to gather and synthesize mountains of data on climate change and other growing dangers, he is helpless to stop the inevitable and well-worn trajectory that all previous complex societies have followed. This time, however, is different in that the scale of environmental overshoot is planet-wide – the world’s oceans are becoming too acidic to sustain life, the soil too eroded and degraded to grow food, and the atmosphere too polluted with heat-trapping gasses. As the green mantle of the Earth is swallowed up in the geologic blink of an eye, eon-long processes of plant and animal evolution are stopped dead in their tracks. Of all the horrors modern civilization has brought forth, the most damaging and longest-lasting legacy is the wholesale loss of genetic and species diversity. Global ecocide is certain suicide. 

View original 2,163 more words





Divestment is Dangerous

2 09 2014

A guest post by Ben Pennings.  Originally posted on his Generation Alpha website, Ben argues that 350.org’s divestment campaign is dangerous. 

In truth, we need a panacea of ‘solutions’. Divestment on its own, like active onsite protest on its own, will not cut it. I also believe that, finally, the entire system of capitalism is on its knees, and could fail any day. It is that ill and that fragile……

This is why I tend to agree with both David Homgren and Nicole Foss, even though they disagree with each other! Divestment fits in with Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” scenario, and I think the more people divest themselves of mining shares the better. No it won’t have an effect of its own accord, but it’s baby steps.

Like Holmgren, I also believe that simply ‘opting out’ will help too. He believes that if 10% of the middle class did this, then the Matrix would collapse.

I also agree with Nicole. She believes the financial sector, through corruption, greed, and a total absence of links to reality is doomed to fail anytime. I personally don’t believe anything serious will stop the madness until we either have a financial crash, or we run out of affordable fossil fuels. Literally a race to the bottom.

We can only hope that race plays out to a satisfactory finish line (such as it might be satisfactory..) before it’s all too late, and catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable.

I’d love to know what DTM readers think of this…


12.1
Ben Pennings is a 25-year veteran of environmental and social justice movements, and the founder of Generation Alpha. His activism has ranged all the way from direct action to directly lobbying at the State Cabinet table.  He has sailed on The Rainbow Warrior II, sung for The Dalai Lama and written a book of profiles on people who have experienced homelessness. Ben is happily married with 2 children and 2 step-children. He coordinates Generation Alpha’s campaign to stop coal mining in Australia’s Galilee Basin and is planning to publish a deep green anthology.

My internal dialogue about all the coal divestment material I see has been getting angrier, more passionate, more desperate. Words like dodgy, diversionary, delusional and just plain dumb emotionally escalated last night to “what the fuck are these corporate stooge lying fuckers doing to our movement”.

 

The impetus? An email by 350.org.

I get that divestment can be used as a long-term awareness-raising tool. I’ve never got how it can be a successful tactic though, a way to actually stop the ‘extraction’ and burning of fossil fuels in the time we have left. A while back Generation Alpha gently invited 350.org to written debate on the value of the divestment in combating coal expansion in Australia. We never got a reply.

The price of coal is currently very low due to a glut in the market. It is easy for banks to say they will not finance projects that aren’t particularly profitable. In the likelihood the price rises again though, banks will be falling over themselves to lend money for coal developments. Their job is to make money for shareholders, first and foremost (with some obscene bonuses for executives on the way). Some banks with a retail brand may decide not to finance coal if there is enough customer pressure. However, there are many other non-retail banks ready to invest in pretty much anything that will turn a profit.

Banks finance landmines, depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs and any number of unspeakable weapons. Because they are profitable. All sorts of ‘respectable’ industries get finance for products and developments that involve child slavery. Child slavery increases profit. Animal experimentation and torture? Profitable too.

Divestment attempts to ‘humanize’ or ‘green’ capitalism. It will fail, just like every attempt previously. Capitalism is bigger, uglier and more destructive than ever. It is stripping the planet of life with greater efficiency, turning the natural world into money with increasing speed. It relies on mass slavery, mass poverty, the destruction of cultures and communities. It is doing all this with increasing government compliance.

The many reasons ‘Big Green’ groups stick to safe predictable tactics that pose no threat to this abusive system of living has to be left for another article. But what these groups and tactics definitely do is take energy, creativity and resources away from grassroots groups that actually wish to change our abusive system of living rather than power it in a slightly greener way. Groups that understand that we must consume less, populate less, live differently. That the only green energy is less energy.

So back to this email from 350.org in Australia. It was about a campaign called Banking On The Reef. The email said that the companies wanting to mine the Galilee Basin and ship coal through the Great Barrier Reef “need the support of major Australian and international banks” and that “we need to show our banks that we don’t support them financing climate and Reef destruction”. The email implores Australians to contact their banks (through 350.org of course) and tell them such.

There is a problem though, a key mistruth. The companies wanting to mine, strip, ship, dredge and pillage do not need the support of Australian banks at all. Australian banks haven’t financed anything thus far and have shown no indication they will. The companies involved are not seeking finance from Australian banks and probably never will. 350.org know all this. They should also know in the likelihood the price of coal raises again there will be a suite of banks ready to finance this insanity, and there’s nothing any divestment campaign can do about it.

It’s hard to see the Banking on the Reef campaign as anything but empire building. Australians love the Great Barrier Reef and I’m sure 350.org will collect a lot more email addresses. These addresses may be used well or could be used for similar deluded campaigning that will do little than greenwash capitalism.

Maybe I shouldn’t be stunned by such tactics. 350.org are majorly funded by large corporate trusts and unlikely to challenge the hand that feeds them. They came to Australia with a patchy reputation from the US but I gave them the benefit of the doubt, as they were initially willing to support grassroots direct action. This new campaign is the last straw for me and I fear that 350.org will do little but empire build and co-opt grassroots action.

Of course I hope that I’m wrong. If 350.org wish to use their staff and resources to influence financial decisions about the Galilee Basin and Abbott Point, I’m happy to pass on a thorough list of companies and locations around the world that can be targeted through direct action tactics. This will create real costs and risk for companies right along the money chain. I’m also happy to pass on more specific tactics that cannot be detailed in print.

Generation Alpha is actively working to enact such tactics, to stop what would be the largest coal complex in the world. We’re planning to initiate active Earth First! groups in Australia, groups that will tell the truth and actively challenge power through effective direct action. We will help build a movement dominated by grassroots groups that will do what is effective and necessary, not ‘Big Green’ groups building safe and respectable empires.

Stay tuned for more on how you can really help stop coal mining in the Galilee Basin, really stop the Great Barrier Reef taking more abuse.  Sign up at the top right of this page for updates and you’ll see a true grassroots campaign launched with a bang later this year. Please agree, disagree or question us in the comments below. Contact us anytime.

And 350.org, we’re still up for that debate.





The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever

1 09 2014

kaplan

Dan Kahan

Say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, or reason can provide the tools that people need in order to make good decisions. Originally published at Alternet, this article resonated with me, a lot, particularly following from the recent discussions on the viability of solar power.

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. His primary research interests are risk perception, science communication, and the application of decision science to law and policymaking.  His latest research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but you may as well call it “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”  You sometimes see this occurring in the comments on even this blog!

Marty Kaplan, the author of this piece, writes:

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.  

It’s obvious, really;  after decades now of trying to get people to alter their behaviour on all sorts of issues, I have failed.  OK, I may have bent a few people, myself included mind you, but on the whole nobody will change their belief systems, no matter the evidence.  When people are misinformed, giving them all the facts in the world to correct the errors of their ways only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.  I have witnessed this so many times now, I even know when to stop talking and wasting my time.  Flat Earthers will always be Flat Earthers.

Quoting again from Alternet…  here’s some of what else was found:
  • People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
  • People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
  • People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs.  They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same.  Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
  • But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy.  If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.

The implications for contentious issues, like climate change and limits to growth are enormous.  If I hear one more time we have enough oil to last us another 500 years……  I may go berzerk!  Studies of how our minds work, such as this one, suggest that the political choices people make are impervious to facts that contradict us.  How else, for instance, can one even explain the election of our Prime Moronster?

Climate Change denialism implies a psychological disorder.  Denial can only be described as business-as-usual for our brains;  more and better facts don’t convert badly informed voters into better thinking citizens.  It just makes them more committed to their faith and beliefs.  In the entire history of the universe, no Murdoch Press readers ever changed their minds because of anything they might read here……  When there’s a conflict between faith and beliefs, and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win.  Once a believer in nuclear power, always a believer.  The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature says Kaplan








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