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Nov 6, 2013

Why understanding John Howard's climate cognition is important

John Howard’s speech overnight justifying his commitment to emissions trading as a mostly political move should not serve as a moment to disparage the former PM, but to think like him.

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In reading about John Howard’s speech delivered yesterday that downplayed the threat of dangerous global warming — entitled “One religion is enough” — one has to despair about the politics surrounding the issue.

As the title of the speech implies, Howard suggests that those advocating decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are akin to religious zealots. He suggests the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change incorporated “nakedly political agendas” in its advice. And the former prime minister states that his decision to proceed with an emissions trading scheme was driven by political imperatives to respond to a perfect storm of public concern about global warming, rather than any genuine belief of his own that it was the right thing to do.

For those concerned that unmitigated global warming poses unacceptable risks to human welfare, it might be tempting to launch a tirade of abuse against Howard. But it will get you nowhere — and will in fact be counter-productive.

Howard is a hero to a large section of Coalition MPs and their supporter base. To make meaningful progress on reducing Australia’s emissions we need policy that can support power generation investments lasting multiple decades. That means policy that will last through changes in government between Labor and Liberal.

So it’s not so much about belittling Howard, as getting into his head and those of his supporters to understand what it is that makes him and them dismissive of the risks of global warming. There were a few things I found interesting from his speech in trying to understand where he’s coming from.

Firstly, he sees addressing global warming as being opposed to economic growth, and that it would hinder the alleviation of poverty in the developing world. Secondly, he said the first book he’d read about global warming was one written by a former Margaret Thatcher government minister with no qualifications in climate science that was dismissive of the threat. It’s reported he said:

“I don’t know whether all of the warnings about global warming are true or not … I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated.”

This seems to suggest to me that his views, like those of most people, are not based on a detailed and dispassionate review of the balance of evidence. Most of us, and particularly a former prime minister, are too busy to thoroughly inform ourselves about the nature of a complex issue such as global warming. Instead, we are partly driven in essence to “instinctively” select sources of information which fit with our pre-existing beliefs. A source of information we tend to agree with on other issues is probably viewed as more credible and trustworthy than someone we’ve disagreed with in the past.

Thirdly, he made the following revealing statement:

“I have never rejected, totally, the multiple expressions of concern from many eminent scientists, but the history of  mankind has told me of his infinite capacity to adapt to the changing circumstances of the environment in which he lives. Most in this room with recall the apocalyptic warnings of the Club of Rome, more than 40 years ago. They were experts; they predicted that the world would run out of resources to sustain itself. They were wrong.”

And he concludes with a point which I find profoundly important to this debate:

“Always bear in mind that technology will continue to surprise us.”

Looking through Howard’s points I am struck by the fact that, while I strongly disagree with Howard on the degree of threat posed by global warming, I am completely in accordance with him on both the importance of relieving poverty in the developing world, and the infinite capacity for human ingenuity to invent technologies that get us not just out of a bind, but overall, leaving us much better off. I, just like Howard, am not particularly worried about peak oil or running out of resources because I think humans can come up with substitutes and means of being much more efficient in our use of resources.

The thing is that I think that Howard actually underestimates the capacity for technological surprise. He has been drawn to believe that only with the use of lots more coal and lots more gas will the masses be dragged out of poverty.

It seems Howard and many of his conservative peers have come to see the debate surrounding global warming through the prism of older battles led by left-leaning hippies for us to retreat from technology. Yet many of the people who are most passionate about addressing global warming are also some of the most enthusiastic about the wonders of technology. These people will revel in different technological features of our energy options and enthusiastically tell you about what scientific advances are in the pipeline.

Yes some of these options cost more, but these technological enthusiasts will point at mobile phones and computers and explain how they used to be expensive too. Through the wonders of economies of scale and ongoing innovation they explain how these products could even be cheaper than the low-tech, high-carbon option dominant today.

I suspect that to shift the current political impasse it is not scientists, environmentalists, or even economists or bankers we need to hear from. Instead, it is optimistic and innovative engineers that could be most persuasive.

*This article was originally published at Climate Spectator

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107 thoughts on “Why understanding John Howard’s climate cognition is important

  1. Warren Joffe

    @ Jimmy

    “Dogs Breakfast- I thkn technolocgy will save the day, we just need to create an environment in which investing in creating greener technology is economically beneficial – a price on carbon does that – direct ation does not.”

    If it’s all so simple (and almost any scheme to give people a bigger net income stream for emitting less CO2 is going to work to some extent of course) what about giving us some facts and figures which paint a realistic scenario. How much tax on what (and do you include imports which embody, as nearly all do, masses of CO2 in the processes leading to their production and import)? (Those great leaders in the EU don’t seem to have got anything right). Where are the critical points for making someone substitute something suitably green in their business or domestic expenditures, including transport, so we can tell what policy settings will achieve worthwhile results? Who will pay as between taxpayers contributing to the general revenue, consumers of power and what power is used to produce, and even investors though the theory is supposed to work largely by affecting large utilities at the margin so they just find other ways to make as much money? How much less will GDP be reduced (and you could account for the known years – say the last 10) compared with what it would have been if the price of electricity hadn’t been forced up to pay a tax (or will individuals and businesses all prove able to adjust perfectly and get the same benefit from lower consumption of power? Like h**l!). You do of course make adjustment for the time value of money don’t you? So the benefits you expect to flow in future will exceed the costs in the short to medium term – but at what discount rate? Nicholas Stern’s one or zero per cent?

  2. Warren Joffe

    Those who might find it more interesting to read what John Howard said than the comments of the Editor of the Climate Spectator on it can find what is presumably the same text at


    BTW, who finances the Climate Spectator and what are its annual receipts and outgoings? That seems a fair question to those who imagine that someone paying a fare for Prof Bob Carter to speak at a conference in the US, long after he took up, for no academic or financial reward, a sceptical view of “the science”, is dodgy.

  3. Warren Joffe

    @ Ryan Akers

    Why should Solar PV need government/ taxpayer support? The Chinese have, I accept from secondary sources, reduced the price of solar panels by 80 per cent over the last 6 years. No need for those fashionable giveaways to the relatively well off who could install solar panels 5-10 years ago and receive feed-in tariff concessions.

    Forget about wind, despite the theoretical possibility of linking up sources of windpower in widely distant locations: it’s never going to make sense if competing against the cost of coal fired power in Australia.

    Agreed that concentrated solar thermal seems attractive but what sort of case is there for Australia to leap in with subsidies instead of waiting for the Spanish, or French or whoever to market a proven package at half the price we could achieve starting from near scratch. To enliven the imagination, just think how much could have been saved if we bought our submarines from competent established foreign builders rather than indulging in the Collins class folly.

    Anyone serious about cutting our CO2 emissions would be (a) buying up vast areas of tropical rainforest which is otherwise going to be burned – and thereby contribute a huge proportion of the world’s annual CO2 emissions from burning organic fuels; and (b) buying proven nuclear power plants from the French or Canadians or Chinese.

    I have to qualify my put down of wind because, without anything but my own imagination, I can see storage by lifting water as being a serious contributor to making wind, wave or tide viable.

    Apart from the creating of potential energy in the shape of water stored well above hydro power turbines there will surely be rapid developments in chemical storage and other techological surprises and unsurprising steady progress. Then solar should really come into its own.

    In the meantime I can think of better things to do with taxpayers’ money than make futile gestures that will have no practical benefit for Australia under 99.99 per cent of imaginable circumstances.

  4. Warren Joffe

    @ Ken Dally

    “Those who are the first with technology and develop it generally make the most money out of it by selling the
    technology to others”.

    And you have a proven investment record to back up this flight of optimistic imagination? I am open to be convinced that you can prove the generality of first mover advantage, and even, much more to the point, could argue persasively for its applicability to solar thermal in Australia, but, on the whole, I am glad that you are not managing my money.

    Apart from a variety of experiences over many years with technologically based investments my mind turns to Blacberry, Nokia and Netscape for recent examples of front runners which have, in the end, been far from the biggest money makers out of the new technology.

    Many successful entrepreneurs of my acquaintance have headed off to other countries in order to make serious money, often going to California but also to China or Europe. If they had more dubious projects no doubt they would not have stayed home and milked the taxpayer through the inevitable ignorance of politicians and bureaucrats who are the last people to pick technological winners.

    You seem to ignore – though I am open to your correcting the impression – that first mover advantage depends on many factors when it does prove to be an advantage. Adequate protection of intellectual property is vital, assuming that there is something patentable or copyrightable. A market of adequate scale, which may mean that only the countries with really big domestic markets can succeed, ability to defeat free riders, access to risk and cheap loan capital, and many many other factors.

    Finally, even if you were to show your willingness to invest money in Australian star-ups, and relevant skill, your choice of example to support your argument is fatally flawed. France and other countries already have a huge lead over us in nuclear power technology. Spain has a similar lead in solar thermal. Are you willing to invest your money in an Australian stsrt-up that aims to come from behind and overtake them? No, of course not. Then why should you trust the results of bureaucratic favouritism or selective tax incentives and subsidies? Anyone for BioFuel rorts in National Party electorates?

  5. Warren Joffe

    @ PaulM

    You seem to have overlooked that among Margaret Thatcher’s changes of mind (if not U turns) was her resiling from the early support she gave in the late 70s to the AGW cause. When she had a bit more time, and perhaps influenced by Nigel Lawason and friends, she became very critical.

    As to the unsustainable fiscal legacy that you say Howard and Costello left (and mostly Howard who treated Costello as he had been treated by Malcolm Fraser before the 1983 election) that is just partisan sniping from the back benches. Remember that Rudd promised to maintain exactly the tax cuts which no doubt Costello would have been doing his best to counteract if still in office in late 2007. And the only problem of sustainability is a political one. Nobody is going to be impoverished by taking back some unnecessary handouts and concessions but it will cost a few votes and Rudd and Gillard made it all muchj much worse though, admittedly a school hall building program that they couldn’t find a way to linit strictly in time to a couple of quarters was only really profligate because of its size, whereas concessions to people who get part pensions but shouldn’t go on for decades. Like the National Disability Scheme – unfunded and not likely to be given much meat for quite a while; Like Gonski without proper attention to priorities (w.g. good teaching rather than smaller classes) , like superannuation handouts to people who will be receiving the full OAP. And it does occur to me that Labor’s defence cuts are building up liabilities for future budgets to have to bear……

  6. Warren Joffe

    @ Hamis Hill

    Interesting observation about the “Anglo-Celt” usage. If you are right, as I suppose, without doing a malicious search to try and prove you wrong, it should be regarded as a mark of an Australian achievement. Mind you, if you meet both the Irish and English while travelling, or even in London, you can’t help noticing how much the English and Irish have in common. The self-interest of local Scottish politicians is another thing….

    You seem to noticed, however grudgingly, that our political leaders who weren’t teachers’ favourites at school for their high IQs and exam results are often effectually far more intelligent than their less focussed and determined contemporaries. Humble enough (though not very humble)to make maximum use of time in the job, that’s why you find leaders like Malcolm Fraser, Jeffrey Kennett, Paul Keating (though one suspects a pretty high IQ would have been recorded if it wasn’t for his dyslexia) and lots of others… The Malcolm Turnbulls can only hope to get a second chance after it turns out that just being clever is not enough: boring time on the job is needed too.

    Howard applied himself from an early age for a very long time and became effectually a very capable political leader. Given that today’s politicians are not thick (not many of them anyway) and are pretty well educated – and ambtitious – it would be foolish to denigrate his abilities. (He doesn’t appear to have been, by the time he was PM, one of those insecure people who fails to take advantage of his access to the brightest and best informed people).

  7. Warren Joffe

    Well we know that Hamis Hill thinks he can inform us on matters to do with the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, presumably for at least the last 2000 years, that he thinks that we don’t know. I’m always pleased to learn from someone who has no doubt read his Caesar, Tacitus, Suetonius and on to Beowulf and the Venerable Bede while checking them out against the extraordinarily interesting work by Prof Brian Sykes on the DNA distribution in the British Isles which, quite astonishingly, seems to find no place for the Anglo-Saxons. Beyond DNA and biological ethnicity there is a fair bit that HH might know that we ignoramuses could learn from him.

    One might even think he had a duty to help us given that he thinks something, not made entirely clear because he doesn’t seem to have read what I wrote, but possibly just using the expression Anglo-Celtic in any way. approving its use or finding any significance in its use, to be “moronic”. (In this respect he seems to put me in surprising company because whatever other dyslogistic remarks one might make about Keating, to call him “moronic” would appear to be, well, foolish).

    HH may of course have been only concerned to ventilate something, from one end or the other, which was internal and personal to him, but he might have turned on the brain enough to recognise that the remarkable reconciliation of those of English and Irish descent in Australia – by no means evident in the relations of e.g. Bradman and O’Reilly in the 30s is nicely symbolised by Australian use of “Anglo-Celtic”.

    HH’s willingness to assume the high ground and to preach from it, if not to instruct in detail, suggests that he could expand his scope a bit. Perhaps he could take on “Judaeo-Christian” next.

    Still, while fresh from asserting that “the cultures are distinct” he might care to enlarge on this. I haven’t noticed much need to forsake St Patrick’s day celebrations if one decides to enjoy a Burns night and sing along with audiences at the Proms who belt out Land of Hope and Glory or the great Welsh anthems. That’s certainly true of Australia but maybe HH the cosmopolitan can tell us in detail why it would be wrong to suppose that it applied to the UK too. Yes David Cameron, like Alec Douglas-Hume, and Harold Macmillan for that matter, were all Etonians, and sound like it. Moreover Tony Blair doesn’t sound like a Scotsman and Gordon Brown had to try hard to keep Scots thinking he might be one of them. All obvious starting points for the superficial but then you might want to look at who actually lives in Scotland, for how long they have lived there, where they came from and where the people who were born in Scotland between say 1940 and 1980 are now. But still you say that Scotland (because it has to be true of Scotland to make sense of your thesis) has a distinct culture which is definable, with only a little bit of fuzziness, historically traceable and persistent.

    The Scotland of today has huge rates of welfare dependency, alchoholism and typically low SES health problems. What does it now have in common with the greatnesss of the Scottish Enlightenment during which the likes of Hume and Adam Smith gave so much to the making of the modern world? Ah, but once you have begun to get your head about that you might want to consider what cultural similarities there were between the educated of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews, and the illiterate clansmen who were being variously slaughtered by Cumberland’s English soldiers or forced to leave their crofts by great (Scottish) landlords.

    It is really a bit easier to sound off in superior tones isn’t it HH?

    However, let me tap into your claim to knowledge of something on which I have none at all. A succinct summary, or an extended account, of how the American activity in Rome led to the deaths of many Australians in the North African campaign[?s]. As close family members were captured early in those campaigns and interned in Italy I have reason to want to know more. Nothing much good seems to be known of Joseph Kennedy apart from fathering a man who for all his faults and limitations, undoubtedly showed remarkable courage and fortitude in pursuing his political career burdened by appalling pain and chronic disease. So, I’m all ears to hear the worst about Joe Kennedy.

  8. Warren Joffe

    @ Kevin Herbert

    Aha, yes I vaguely remember your problem with Jews but obviously you don’t remember much about what I wrote (or maybe just don’t understand) judging by your second par in which the idea that your ignorance or wrong-headedness about the proofs of Jewish intelligence, certainly as measured by IQ, could be proof of Holocaust denial or otherwise held out as having a strong logical connection with it, is just plain nonsense.

    But you make a testable assertion, namely that what I (in fact) rely on my memory for, together with many years of reading and correspondence, comes from Wikipedia. You yourself describe the test. You say “if you word or phrase search his copy you’ll find that most of it is lifted straight out of a Wikipedia entry.” Right, put up or shut up. Just show that you are not abusing the right to waste people’s time on a blog like this by showing that what you said can be substantiated. I have written a lot on Crikey so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to produce 6 substantial examples for your case. Having trouble with one? But still not willing to shut up? I’m afraid so.

    In case anyone wonders about this odd anti-Semite’s obsessions I think you’ll find that he is a half-baked (and error-prone) version of the learned Kevin Macdonald whose interesting three volume book on “A People That Shall Dwell Alone” (or maybe that was just one volume of it) would, if one were truly obssessed like you KH, be an essential primer for your writing on Jews.

    About 2005 Greg Cochran, Henry Harpending and Jason Hardy came out with the very interesting thesis that the undoubted fact that Jews score higher on IQ tests (or any g laden tests) than any other ethnic group was in part a product of the need of Ashkenazim in perhaps 500 years up to about 1650 to survive on their capacity to earn a living with their brains, employing literacy and numeracy at least until the Ashkenazi population grew well beyond the availability of banking, finance and estate management jobs. As they put it, the solution the solution included, in computer geek language, the “quick and dirty” even though Darwinian. They pointed to the prevalence of about half a dozen neurological diseases which were characteristic of Ashkenazim, and few outside Ashkenazim, and associated, in the heterozygotic manifestation of the relevant genes, with high IQ. They suggested, plausibly, that it accounted for perhaps 5 points of the then assumed 15 point superiority of Ashkenazi IQ over the average Northern European. Less plausibly they denied the influence of dumb Jews failing to find Jewish spouses and have children brought up as Jews. By contrast, Kevin Macdonald, whose work I was reminded of when Googling to recover the name of Cochran and Harpending’s co-author, points out the similar kind of selection for intelligence in Jews much earlier than the foundation of Ashkenazi communities (or their predecessors in the remnants of the Western Roman Empire before the great move to Poland). In a brief look at
    he makes a case for the superior intelligence (judged of course by the requirements of a society where literacy is at least valuable) of Sephardim but seems to say that it was the less bright Jews who were kicked out of Spain in 1492 and became the Sephardi of Turkey, North Africa etc. He also says something that Cochran & co would contest about superior Jewish intellect in ancient times resulting from effectively eugenic practices of the Jewish elite who returned from Babylonian exile/ If that did produce an effect which persisted through the days of Jews as Aramaic speaking subjects of Herod in the time of Jesus, it was not a phenomenon that was remarked on as the amazing achievements of Jewish scientists in the last 120 years have been.

    But you seem to think that there is evidence which explains the extraordinary proportion of Nobel Prize winners (just as one obvious index of scientific achievement) by some “sociological” causes and effects which precludes any substantial genetic advantage for cognitive activity amongst Ashkenazi Jews. Of course the Jewish traditions in favour of scholarship, even amongst the illiterate, were an obvious factor. That, combined with exclusion from land owning no doubt helped explain the huge disproportion of Jews in law and medicine in Poland before 1940 – but only helped because it still took special ability to get into universities 100 plus years ago.

    Moreover a series of American Conservative articles, by a Jew, has shown that the low IQ scores in some nations and ethnic groups has obviously been a function of their rural backgrounds before urbanisation, though one cannot take that as much evidence for what you would perhaps like to believe, namely that all ethnic groups average genomes are as productive of cognitive ability as any other. That the Irish and English are not separated by a standard deviation or more in average IQ just makes common sense, just for one of his most obvious cases to prove his point using test results over extended periods of time.

    So far you may think I am agreeing with you and I could go further on the basis of an American Conservative article, The Myth of American Meritocracy, which convincingly shows that (East) Asians have largely displaced Jews in the standard tests of superior ability amongst the young. But yes, it is probably very much a matter of the Tiger Mother having taken over from the Jewish Mother now that Jews have made it, big time, in the US. But you really have to be a contortionist to get out of the fact that Jews not only measure higher than other white people on IQ tests by a substantial margin (now I understand thought to be more like half a standard deviation than one SD – 7 or 8 rather than 15 points on a Wechsler or Stanford Binet scale)but do better at activities with a high g [Spearman’s “g”) coomponent. Then you have to explain how 2 per cent of the US population won 25 per cent (or is it 40 per cent?) of its Nobel Prizes, and no other groups which were discriminated against and arrived poor and often illiterate managed anything like that achievement. (Ever heard of a gypsy scientist? What about the Irish-Americans?

    You say you know how all that achievement has been explained in “sociological” terms. So, again, put up or shut up. Links at least please. BTW, you only get half marks for citing Jewish Marxists, even Harvard Jewish Marxists, like SJ Gould, Leon Kamin, Lewontin, etc.

    BTW, are you the Kevin Herbert whose profound contributions to Antony Loewenstein’s include the terse “Yanks go home” and “Ashamed to be Australian”? That level of brevity suits you.

  9. Warren Joffe

    @ Hamis Hill

    Thanks for your note on the way information got to Rommel. I don’t know if my prejudices against Jo Kennedy can compete with yours, but I would be interested to know what the now available archival evidence shows about Kennedy knowing that there was a leak through Rome to Rommel of damaging military intelligence.

    There is bound to be better evidence than one’s imagination about what Kennedy would have wanted to happen to Britain.

    Then it occurred to me that the British cracking of the Enigma codes (Ultra or whatever it was called) would surely have put them on to German knowledge of what the US military attaché was sending. A bit of a search and I came up with the fascinating


    It does include reference to Allied casualties in North Africa in early 1942 resulting from the deciphering of Colonel Fellers’ despatches but there is little else to support your account.

    Indeed suspecting that your prejudices had been substituted for anything even remotely approximating scholarship, or just plain thorough fact checking, I looked for the dates of Joseph Kennedy’s ambassadorship to the UK. Sorry, the dates don’t fit your fantasy. As Wikipedia says, he was Ambassador from 1938 to late 1940. According to the following v. interesting link (including Jo telling Hitler that he fully understood his Jewish policy) he formally resigned in January 1941 by which time FDR was already by-passing him in his contacts with the UK government. So the dates aren’t consistent with your version so far as Jo Kennedy is concerned. Moreover….

    The only reason that Feller’s communications were intercepted in Rome was because the Italians had broken into the US Embassy and copied its code books. They didn’t need help from anyone in the Embassy. A little later the Germans cracked the code Fellers was using and didn’t actually need to the Italian intelligence. However the important point is that even if the source had been intercepts in Rome there is no way for Kennedy to have known about it.

    Interesting that, until Fellers was removed in July 1941 as a result of an amazing German radio broadcast (it seems), Rommel held a considerable intelligence advantage over the British in North Africa. Why, one wonders, was Ultra not keeping the Brits ahead despite the need to use the information obtained sparingly so the Germans wouldn’t twig to the code breakers’ success. By the time of Alamein it was Rommel who was in the dark and Montgomery had the intelligence edge as well as far better supplies and more tanks and guns.

  10. Warren Joffe

    @ Hamis Hill

    I’ve never been as interested as perhaps I should have been in Scottish history despite having a cousin who was a historian of Medieval (or particularly Medieval) Scotland and boasted famous Scottish names and ancestry. But my own large helpings of Scottish (and Irish) ancestry has enlisted my interest from time to time so I was aware of the Declaration of Arbroath although hadn’t remembered it by that name. Consequently I have looked it up and, at


    I find (from a reputable Scottish historian), inter alia:

    “In its mixture of defiance and supplication, nonsensical history and noble thought, two things make the Declaration of Arbroath the most important document in Scottish history.” and also
    ” it asked for the Pope’s dispassionate intervention in the bloody quarrel between the Scots and the English, and so that he might understand the difference between the two its preamble gave him a brief history of the former. The laughable fiction of this is irrelevant. What is important is the passionate sincerity of the men who believed it….”

    You could have been one of them perhaps. Indeed perhaps we are both descendants of the 8 earls and 45 barons who wanted to settle things as Scots after the rough times they’d had largely caused by the ruffian hero Robert the Bruce.

    But back to “Anglo-Celt” which you seem to want to use as cause for objecting to everyone else’s take on aspects of history that entertain you. As I tried to point out I merely thought it had merit as a way of drawing attention to something good that Australia’s eventual melting pot achieved. “Good” unless you count it as bad that Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and, for that matter English** cultural distinctiveness as maintained in Australia is a bit of a joke.
    ** Poms singing “they all live in a convict colony” to the tune of the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” is about the level of all of them since the confected indignation of IRA (pretended) sympathisers in the early 1980s: hang your heads in shame some MPs who signed up to mendacious sentimentality and worse. We’re all so lacking in culturally distinctive consciousness now that the differences are at about the level of NZ fury over underarm bowling. And, as a test question, how many people in America or Australia, or, indeed the Celtic fringes actually know any significant amount of their countries’ histories which matters? If they rely entirely on Wikipedia they wouldn’t advance their knowledge far as you say but what about the films and docudramas on TV which, e.g. portray Elizabeth the First as having actually met Mary Queen of Scots…..

  11. luokehao

    The issue is the belief that Australia can, at reasonable human cost, adapt to already-occurring radical climate changes over a long period through its monopoly on both flat land supply and essential mineral resources.

    Already, the runoff into Perth’s dams has declined by a whopping 83 percent over the past decade compared to the figures from 1882 to 1974. In fact, the total runoff into Perth’s dams in the seventeen years since 1997 (1.41 cubic kilometre) is less than the combined runoff of the two seasons of 1945 and 1946 at 1.7 cubic kilometres, including 0.55 cubic kilometre in the single month of July 1946. In fact, the average of 0.083 cubic kilometres since 1997 was underdone ONCE in 93 years before 1974 (and that with large uncertainties in the date before 1911).

    That evidence, far more than the popular focus on melting sea ice, is what should be publicised for dealing with climate change. People abroad, however, have no idea of what Perth was like under the climate that nature had given it for thousands of years before the car industry bullied Australia’s governments into building freeways that do absolutely nothing to help the problems they claim to solve (traffic congestion) and create enormous ecological problems in by far the most fragile continent in the world.

    Continuing reductions in rainfall in southwestern Australia would lose Australia’s status as a “megadiversity” nation, and would also potentially wipe out a large farming sector (though Abbott no doubt believes pipelines from the Kimberley/Pilbara and desalination will keep it running) especially since extremely hot summer temperatures will be lethal to the high-value crops least unsuited to Australia’s extremely old and nutrient-deficient soils.

    The issue of “their grandchildren struggling to pay off an awful Labor debt” makes sense, but the problem is totally different from the crippling debts that plague all of Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand. Whereas most of those nations have a large comparative disadvantage in agriculture and have lost their mineral resources to either extensive orogeny, glaciation, or exhaustion due to ease of smelting, Australia has not only an extremely profitable and labour-efficient agricultural sector but a potential tax base from its mineral resources far beyond anything the northern and western hemispheres might gain from taxing industrial capital.

    Global warming is an international issue, and Australia is unquestionably the worst offender who has every duty to pay costs incurred by foreign nations. If foreign nations stopped quibbling over minor details and demonstrated our responsibility – to put pressure for uncompromising 100 percent emissions reductions in Australia alone – much would be achieved. The free market encourages a very high level of energy-efficiency in the resource-poor northern and western hemispheres, but very little in old and fragile Australia; thus, showing and remedying Australia’s responsibility for climate change is what will produce decisive action.

  12. luokehao


    what I am saying is that the limited paleopedological record in Europe and North America shows very clear evidence that the large iron, aluminium, and titanium ore resources and extremely low soil fertility of Australia today were as recently as 20 million years ago almost globally universal.

    Thus, Australia is no aberration, it is from a geological perspective a relic of normalcy: in fact the soils of Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand are geologically about as fertile as Shaquille O‘Neal is tall.

    The mineral resources Eurasia did have were of metals that are:

    1) easily smelted by pre-industrial technology due to low affinity for oxygen
    2) easily exhausted because their geochemical characteristics cause them to be concentrated in the core and moved into the crust only under extreme tectonic stress
    3) examples of such metals are copper, lead, tin, antimony, mercury and silver
    4) in contrast, manganese, aluminium and titanium have such affinity for oxygen that they could never be smelted with pre-industrial technology – indeed titanium metallurgy is a post-World War I development – but because of their high affinity for oxygen tend to concentrate in stable, unglaciated cratons in the crust, as in Australia, and to be highly enriched in the crust relative to the core.

    The sole reason New Zealand (and Argentina and Chile which have even more fertile soils) lack a comparative disadvantage in agriculture from their mountainous terrain is one simple historical accident. New Zealand was the last major landmass to be peopled and southern South America has no native domesticable plants or (owing to their egalitarian social structures) animals. As a result, despite having on average more fertile soils than even the north temperate zones, southern South America before European colonisationwas populated by hunter/gatherers at very low density. Consequently, New Zealand and the Southern Cone acquired a high ratio of arable land to population, yet the scarcity of minerals and land meant they never received the migrant inflows Australia did.

    Another reason that New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have never acquired the comparative disadvantage in agriculture of other “Enriched” lands is that persistent currency overvaluation over the past century has inhibited the industrial development that would make agricultural labour unaffordable (as in Eurasia). This overvaluation reflects their extreme urbanisation (even today) vis-à-vis Eurasia or the Americas, because it resulted and results from a demand for cheap imported consumer goods. Australia, in contrast, is essentially extremely rural, when one considers how its suburban densities are lower than many rural areas of Eurasia.

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