The Last Five Years: Global Threats 2021

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Featured Image: Car in Garage, South Canberra, Canberra Bushfire 2003

Featured Photo: Five hundred homes were lost in Canberra in 2003; the whole coastal and near inland of south-eastern Australia was aflame in 2019/2020.

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 March 2021

The Last Five Years, Global Threats in 2021: mass extinction, climate change, human population, refugees, Covid-19 and the Internet

 

This article is a companion to my last article Killing Osama bin Laden, Update 2021 in which I also covered what has happened in global politics in the last five years.

Climate change is now becoming front and centre in global politics as has been predicted for some time. Many countries are beginning to treat climate change as an emergency that must be solved, but are not to date doing anything much about it.

Australia is coming to the issue late, neither major party in Federal politics is doing anything and will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. The less significant National Party is still in denial. Yet, the corporate sector, business, non-government agencies and to a lesser extent State governments are beginning to act, as is much of the corporate sector around the world.

In my view this is all too little too late. I am reminded of the trope in cartoons and elsewhere of the gloom-laden man holding up a sign that reads the end is nigh! I am not going to present arguments here. The facts are too self-evident.

Let’s look at the last five years and forward to the next ten.

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The Coal Curse Judith Brett

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Feature: The Coal Curse Cover, Judith Brett, Quarterly Essay #78, 2020

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 November 2020

The Coal Curse Judith Brett, June 2020

Judith Brett The Coal Curse: Resources, climate & Australia’s future, Quarterly Essay 78, 2020. The Coal Curse is the following Quarterly Essay to Cry Me a River by Margaret Simons which I used to give a 2020 update to my essay on the Murray-Darling Catastrophe. I am using The Coal Curse by Judith Brett in a different way.

It is not my intention to summarise Judith Brett’s essay but more to highlight the salient issues and to focus on a couple of the corespondent’s responses to the essay in the following Quarterly Essay 79. I gave a general background to the Quarterly Essay and Black Inc. in the 2020 update, if you are interested.


Preamble

The Coal Curse Judith Brett’s Essay

Introduction

Judith Brett is emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University in the essay she says:

I am a historian, so I look for explanations not just in the perfidies of the present, but in the decisions and events of the past. … This essay is about the history of Australia as a commodity-exporting nation and its political consequences. Economic history is unfashionable nowadays… Economic history is dry and hard to narrativise. But how a country makes its living can explain a lot.


Resource Cursed

Judith Brett says:

In 2018-19, Australia’s top exports were iron ore, coal, natural gas, international education and tourism in that order. Coal became our top-earning export commodity in the mid-1980s and has been at number one or number two ever since, vying with iron ore, which needs metallurgical coal to be transformed into steel. The production of LNG has increased rapidly over the past decade … and it is now our third-largest commodity export and rising fast. Between 2018-19 and the previous financial year, its export value grew by 60.9 per cent. Coal, LNG, iron ore: in 2018-19 these three earned 41.8 per cent of our export income.

This is why Morrison [Australia’s current Prime Minister] brought a lump of lacquered coal into parliament in February 2017. “Don’t be afraid don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you,” … The point was to ridicule the Opposition’s support for renewable energy, and it was a stupid stunt. But it put on full display how impossible it was for many of our political leaders to imagine Australia’s future without fossil fuels.


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Murray-Darling Basin Update 2020

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Home   about   contact   travel   food   books   art   the rest   galleries  navigationCry Me a River, Margaret Simons, Quarterly Essay, #77, 2020ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 3 August 2020

Murray-Darling Basin Update 2020: Cry Me a River by Margaret Simons


Introduction

Since I wrote my article The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe, which has attracted attention and good feedback, the problems with the Murray-Darling have become even more prominent.

The issue has risen in the public consciousness because of prosecutions of cotton growers in the northern basin, more evidence of corruption, criticism of government waste of money, many more articles on different aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin in newspapers and more stories on Australian ABC radio and ABC TV.

Publicity that water entitlements in Australia, based on 2018 figures, are 10.4% foreign-owned and that Chinese interests own 1.9% (with the USA about the same and the UK 1.4%) has recently enraged people against China on Facebook. Publicity that most water entitlements are owned by large agribusinesses, those with the deepest pockets, and those whose crops make the highest profits has never gained the same traction.

Concern about the Murray-Darling Basin, however, appears to be growing.

Margaret Simons has written an excellent Quarterly Essay called Cry Me a River in 2020, which has ignited more public debate on the Murray-Darling Basin, even under the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown.

The remainder of this article concentrates on Margaret Simons’ essay. I can’t summarise the essay here and I assume most of you haven’t read it. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find the information contained rewarding. It may also inspire you to buy or borrow a copy of the essay. Cry Me a River is the most current, clear and detailed overview of the Murray-Darling Basin crisis currently available.

I hope you have at least read my article The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe, which is a succinct 3500 word description of the tragedy!


Quarterly Essay Background

We live in an environment, where I’d contend, there has been no clear political direction on a future for Australia in twenty-five years. The political class — particularly the conservatives — tends to obfuscate debate on crucial issues and to obscure prioritising on where the money is spent. The general media, which is in decline (and dominated by News Corp), doesn’t cover broad topics well or in-depth. The ABC, despised by conservatives, struggles on — despite ongoing funding cuts.

In this environment, Morry Schwarz and Black Inc. have introduced the Quarterly Essay (2001), the Monthly Magazine (2005) and the weekly Saturday Paper (2014) as independent commentary on deeper issues concerning Australia.

The Quarterly Essay is printed in a book-like size. Each issue comprises an essay of at least 20,000 words, which is followed by correspondence on the previous essay. Hence the correspondence to Cry Me a River is contained in The Curse of Coal by Judith Brett, Issue 78, 2020.

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What is History 11: World Economic History

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Richard Baldwin The Great Convergence 2016

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 4 May 2020

What is History 11: World Economic History to 1990

What is History: Richard Baldwin The Great Convergence 2016

Introduction

I was planning to write the next Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel articles following on from Guns, Germs and Steel: Overview and Polynesia A Natural Experiment of History and I will soon. I accidentally picked up a second hand copy of The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin 2016 from Canty’s bookshop and decided that it had important information that couldn’t wait.

I usually don’t have much time for macroeconomists and rarely read economics books. But, at least Baldwin is interested in economic history and covers a period from 200,000 years ago to the present, which is extraordinary, certainly a much longer period than most economists ever think about. He has some quite important things to say about the early history of humankind and on the development of world economics up to the modern era.

I had been introduced to Kondratiev cycles (or waves) some time ago by Fred Emery (See Future Predicting and Q Research methods). Fred was interested in the modern modifications of the cycles (see Wikipedia below). He was also interested in the energy implications of the following:

  • Industrial Revolution (1771)
  • Age of Steam and Railways (1829)
  • Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering (1875)
  • Age of Oil, Electricity, the Automobile and Mass Production (1908)
  • Age of Information and Telecommunications (1971)

(Wikipedia, Kondratiev Wave)

But, Fred thought the new forms of energy or ways of using new technologies were still intricately tied up in the Kondratiev idea of 40-60 year cycles of expansion, stagnation and recession, with their impacts on labour, production and prosperity.

Richard Baldwin is also interested in phases (cycles) in economic history but not wedded to equal time periods. Phase 1 Humanising the globe is from 200,000 years ago to around 12,000 years ago. Phase 2 Agriculture and the first bundling is from 12,000 years ago to around 200 years ago. Phase 3 is from around 1820 to 1990, the industrial revolution, the age of steam and globalisation’s first unbundling. Phase 4 is from 1990 and begins with the ICT revolution (information, communications technology) and is the second unbundling.

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The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe

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Featured Image: WC Piguenit Flood in the Darling 1890, Oil on Canvas, 1895, 123 x 199 cm

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 November 2019


The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe

Don’t sugarcoat it like that, Kid. Tell her straight. (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, 1969)

It is long past time for sugarcoating. We should be sick of the obfuscation and lies of politicians, policy makers, agribusiness and other vested interests in the Murray-Darling Basin and of the dodging of responsibility by those with the power to act. It is time to act decently in the interests of the whole community. It is time to tell it straight.

This is not a large dams issue in particular but it should be linked to my three large dams articles Large Dams 1: An Introduction, Large Dams 2: Aswan High Dam, Large Dams 3: Oustees India, and is the reason for my claim to expertise in this area. There are several large dams and many smaller ones involved in the Murray-Darling Basin, but these are not the main cause of the catastrophe. However, because of the current drought, new dams are mooted which will exacerbate the tragedy.

One must mention the Snowy Mountains Scheme (begun in 1949 and finished in 1974) a series of linked dams and tunnels, which was the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia and became a national icon. Its purpose was to divert the waters of the Snowy River into the Murray River for agriculture and to provide hydro-electricity. The latter was successful, but the diversion of water for agriculture never really lived up to expectation. One consequence of dams on the Murray River, however, was that it became in effect a series of long pools and never had its scouring pre-colonial flows and overflows. The Murray provides more water than the other rivers in the basin or river system.


Photographs

The photographs included are part of my involvement in the Murray Darling Basin. They relate exclusively to my favourite areas and are not representative of the basin as a whole. Consequently, the photographs are mostly the semi-arid areas of Western New South Wales around the Darling River. I have other favourite places but not the photographs to go with them. Much of the basin is in the semi-arid zone, but the eastern strip primarily on tablelands receives much higher rainfall. Continue reading “The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe”

Richard Evans Schultes and Rubber

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Lost Amazon Feature

Featured: Wade Davis The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, 2004.

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 September 2019


Richard Evans Schultes & Rubber

Introduction

I met a young Swiss man about thirty in Pakistan in 1995. I’ll call him Marc. We shared a jeep with he and his girlfriend up the Kaghan Valley through the snow. The first time I saw Marc, though he was lean and wiry, I mistakenly thought that he was not prepared for the rigours of Pakistan. I was wrong.

He’d walked alone the length of Africa a year or so before. Earlier he’d travelled with a friend in the Pacific. The friend adopted his approach of not wearing shoes through the bush and ended up in hospital with blood poisoning.

I imagine that Richard Evans Schultes was of that type. He was a botanist, explorer and admirer of indigenous tribes for their plant knowledge in the Amazon, at a time when that was still possible.

Schultes’ personal hero [from a young age] was Richard Spruce, a British naturalist who spent seventeen years exploring the Amazon rainforest.

Although George Lucas modelled the character of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark on several famous archaeologists, he could equally have been modelled on Richard Evans Schultes. Like Indiana Jones, at Harvard Schultes dressed as a conservative professor and thought of himself as conservative:

[He was] outfitted in grey flannel slacks, red suspenders, starched white shirt and a white laboratory coat. I was to learn that this was his uniform in Cambridge, as much as his pith helmet, khaki pants, and khaki shirt were his uniform in the Amazon.

He remained continuously in his beloved Amazon Valley [from 1941] until 1953, when a Harvard administrator discovered that he had only taken out a one-year leave of absence, and it was time to return. (Michael J. Balick)

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1984: The way we were

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Featured image, Bogong Magazine 1984
Featured image, Bogong Magazine 1984

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  14 December 2016

1984: The way we were and the way we are now

It is 1984. I am just shy of 19, Reagan is about to be re-elected in the US, Thatcher is administering the UK, and our new prime minister, Bob Hawke, along with his treasurer, Paul Keating, is planning his own quiet revolution in Australia.
Christos Tsiolkas The Monthly December 2016 — January 2017

Preamble

1984 was the beginnings of the personal computer revolution. Apple’s 1984 advertisement at the superbowl was impudent but memorable. William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer seemed to show the way the future was going, at least to SciFi buffs. And, those of us interested in technology and societal change seemed to feel that we had a sort of handle on the future, we were excited by accelerating change and the ‘so called’ transition to post-industrialism.

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