Saturday, 29 November 2014

Australia’s debt for the pollution it exports

Today The Guardian has shown a list of wanted environmental fugitives, all connected either with rhinoceros poaching or illegal logging. Whilst the rhinoceros poaching epidemic which claims up to six percent of the global rhinoceros population each year is deplorable, and illegal logging of tropical forests can have major consequences in terms of erosion and loss of species, Interpol’s list cannot by any means be complete. Whilst killing of endangered species is a grave offence, the much more delicate, but potentially more destructive in the long-term, issue of the “export” of large quantities of pollution from Australia needs to be discussed as well.

Export of greenhouse pollution from Australia is a global concern, and there is no doubt that corporations who profit from unlimited greenhouse gas emissions have major direct and indirect influence on Australian politics. Being completely legal, these polluting corporations’ influence is likely larger than rhinoceros poaching and logging corporations of the humid tropics, but no doubt exists they should pay the global costs of the pollution they produce.

Australia’s politics – which the last few years plainly show as diverging rapidly from Europe, East Asia and the Americas especially regarding issues like greenhouse emissions and freeway building – is generally ignored by ecologists, even whilst admitting Australia possesses unique problems with  ancient soils, warm oligotrophic seas, low biological productivity and high rate of postindustrial species extinctions. The notion that Australia be naturally ultraconservative and community-oriented (contrasting with individual-oriented Eurasia and the Americas) precisely owing to the low and variable productivity of its ecosystems is seldom asked by ecologists but firmly supported by ecological anthropology. John Snarey’s ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study’ (from the June 1996 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion) shows a powerful relationship between scarcity of water and belief in the type of deity found in Abrahamic religions. Snarey’s model suggests in the long term that Australia, with even in humid regions half the ratio of runoff to precipitation and three to five times the variability in runoff of Europe, East Asia, the Americas and New Zealand, would maintain traditional Christianity whilst those nations become uniformly atheist.
Global distribution of coefficient of variation of annual runoff taken from ‘Global streamflows – Part 3: Country and climate zone characteristics’ in Journal of Hydrology (2007) 347, pages 272 to 291.
The failure of Australia to even equal reduction targets of incomparably smaller per-capita polluters, together with a change from lip service to outright opposition regarding emissions-cutting investments (public transit, renewable energy, abandonment of proposed roads) suggests Australian culture today is fundamentally different from other OECD nations and that these differences are rapidly intensifying.

If Australians be unwilling to accept the sacrifices (higher taxes, short-term loss of the freedom from cars, less personal space) needed to reverse transport and energy policies toward public transit, then international organisations possess no choice but to step in and state bluntly that Australia has a basic duty to pay for (present and future) disasters abroad that are substantially its making.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The hard truth about fuel excise

Although it is news to me that proposals to re-index fuel excise in Australia have been made and – remarkably due to the dilly-dallying of the Greens – failed, my discovery that evening has made me wish to look at how absurd in ecological terms Australia’s extremely low and declining (in real value) fuel excise is.

Although in the real world fuel excise pays for road upkeep and not environmental services, my opinion is that fuel excise is legitimate if and only if it pays for ecological services that a free market cannot, whether conservation reserves or mass transit projects. Thus a country’s legitimate level and quantity of fuel excise can be determined by the amount of land it needs conserved, but which a free market cannot protect from ecologically destructive development.

To determine the area of land requiring conservation, but un-conservable under a free market, one needs to subtract successively from a country’s land area:
  1. land whose flora and fauna is younger than 15,000 years due to glaciation and hence completely lacks unique species or refuges therefor
  2. land over the slope limit for efficient arable farming of 11 degrees
  3. land which can support low-input agriculture – defined as agriculture without phosphatic and chalcophile element fertilisers or artificial river impoundments
(It is important that if a point of land meets more than one of those categories, it be counted only once).

If we follow those criteria, we find that Australia’s land almost never meets any of the three criteria that deem conservation unnecessary. The only soils in Australia capable of anything approaching “low-input” agriculture – the cracking clays of the Darling and Cooper basins within a crescent approximately from Singleton to Birdsville – are too heavy plow without heavy machinery. Not to mention that most of this region has much too erratic a rainfall for rainfed farming and no truly permanent water sources, which is unlike other areas with similarly erratic rainfall in, say, Central Chile or northwest India or California.

The proportion of Australia’s land under 11˚ slope, as can be seen here, is easily the highest of the world’s larger nations – in fact the proportion of land of very low slope that Australia has is exceptionally high and not exceeded even by small nation-states.

Thirdly, virtually none of Australia’s land was glaciated during the Quaternary, whereas Canada and many European nations (approximately those north of a line from the Severn to the Rhine to the southern border of Poland to the Gulf of Anabar) were entirely glaciated for most of the Quaternary and have been habitable for only brief periods.

If we combine these three, we see that Australia has over seven million square kilometres (well over 90 percent of its land surface) needing conservation but not conservable in a free market. In contrast, all the other OECD nations combined possess only very small areas that fail all three tests above – highly leached land in the American South and a few sandplains in California, France and Portugal. These could not total more than about ten thousand square kilometres or 0.1 percent the total area of “valuable but economically unconservable” land in Australia.

From this simple if unrefined and imperfectly measured logic, it follows that Australian fuel excise should by ecological criteria total well over ninety-nine percent the total fuel excise of all OECD nations, measured as a percent of the total fuel excise paid buying one litre of fuel in each OECD nation. This is especially true if one takes into account potentially high conservation costs for example in controlling pests like the cane toad and rubber vine, over remote areas. The fact that actual Australian fuel excise is not 99%, but nearer 1% of the OECD total says much about the influence of the car and energy industries in Australia, as well as our family- and community-oriented “car culture”.

This does not in any way diminish the fact that a situation where Australia pays a fraction the fuel excise of many entirely-glaciated nations with no land requiring uneconomic conservation should not be accepted, nor that improvement as inadequate as increasing Australian excise from 25 percent to 50 percent the OECD mean would do nothing to help. History shows that even modestly and inadequately less cheap petrol (say down from 800 millilitres/$ to 600 millilitres/$) produces major effects on motoring habits – so what would a realistic cheapness of under 30 millilitres/$ achieve?? Fuel efficiency would increase spectacularly but resources to pay for the global costs of the vast quantity of greenhouse pollution Australia and its minerals produce would nonetheless become much greater. Moreover, Australia’s land supply is so abundant that such fuel taxes would not affect – especially if development regulations were simplified – family formation so much as lower taxes in the Enriched World do.

Friday, 21 November 2014

“Cat playing the organ”? Emphatically no, but deception is so much easier than with the piano!

In a recent post about the offensive but funny criticism my mother and brother have give on-and-off for the past decade of Olivier Messiaen’s keyboard music that it is “a cat playing the piano” or “a cat playing the organ” rather than humans, I discussed my own efforts to compare real Messiaen performed by humans with a real cat playing the piano. I concluded that there is so way to confuse the two though some resemblances may exist.

Last night when I played Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant Jésus by Yvonne Loriod downstairs at the same time as I was watching Essendon beat Melbourne in Round 9, 1996 – Messiaen defeating football for the attention of my ears – my brother said Vingt Regards was like a cat chasing a mouse inside the piano! My mother said Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant Jésus – the French of which I have always been dreadful at pronouncing – was like a cat on drugs playing the piano, although unlike with Catalogue d‘Oiseaux I was listening to the very performance recommended in 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die.

Tonight I have tried to look for cases of a cat playing the organ as opposed to the piano – after all it was with Messiaen’s organ works that the notion of a cat playing first occurred! As I said in the previous post, Messaien’s organ works are much more inaccessible and mystical than his piano pieces with their dramatic dynamics that are oddly accessible and to me likeable.
This is the only video of a cat playing or sleeping on the organ I have found. My brother says that the long quiet parts in Messiaen’s organ works are just like a cat sleeping on the organ.

If you listen briefly to real Messiaen after hearing this, you can think it is a bit like this, but a really careful listen to Jennifer Bate will show that she is much, much further removed from any sort of cat playing the organ than such pianists as Håkon Austbø, Roger Muraro (who looks on the cover like a monk), Martin Zehn or Carl-Axel Dominique could! the dynamics in real Messiaen organ pieces, though quiet, are much more planned and softer than a cat could ever be!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

“Like a cat” – not a new idea!

As I said in my previous post, for a long time, my mother and brother have loved to say that Messiaen’s keyboard music is the equivalent of “a cat walking up and down” the piano or organ.

Ever since I  have been told that – and it has occurred on and off as I listen to Messiaen for a decade – it has deeply offended me for the very simple reason that glancing the score of Messiaen’s keyboard music shows that something with a brain as small as a domestic cat would have no hope of playing it with genuine accuracy. It is true that cats trying to play the piano may give noise faintly similar to real Messiaen, but there is no way even a trained cat could reproduce Messiaen as Zehn, Loriod or Austbø do.

What I have found today, surprisingly, is that my mother’s and brother’s notion that Messiaen’s keyboard music is the equivalent of a cat playing is not new at all. Rather, as ‘Music’s restless avant garde: Still a “wonderful adventure”’ says, the notion of music being “like a cat” playing the piano is:
“a favorite wisecrack from those who have not yet made the transition to new music (or found the piece that will open the door for them as ‘Washed by Fire’ did for me).”
Mostly, though, the “cat notion”, as Michael Johnson says, is applied to music much more radical than Messiaen, such as Helmut Lachenmann. However, there is one conspicuous case of choreographer Manard Stewart, who had exactly the same feelings on first hearing Messiaen that my mother and brother had – yet came to admire Messiaen after repeated listenings!

There is though another site on YouTube that also says Messiaen’s music – though only if poorly performed – can sound like a cat walking up and down the piano, and this may be someone with more experience listening to Messiaen than I have.

Both these facts surprise me – perhaps it reflects me not knowing as much as I think, as with the case of soccer fans who call gridiron and even (Australian) football “handegg”, which I noted a couple of years ago to be a very old pejorative.

Monday, 17 November 2014

How Abbott helps the “99 percent”

Whilst there is every reason to be uncompromisingly angry at Tony Abbott’s undoing of Australia’s woefully inadequate climate policies, there also needs to be some understanding and even credit that Abbott knows what he wants just as much as the Enriched World leaders – to be precise, each is doing what the other should be!

Steven Mosher in his book Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits shows that under present levels of government economic control fertility rates in Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand will never stabilise above 1.35 children per woman, which is equivalent to a population decline of a third each generation. Along with an inverted population pyramid and old-age dependency rations of one-to-one with cradle-to-grave welfare states brought about via generations of political activism, the economic effects are shown by Mosher to be catastrophic. They will, as he says on page 9, place a huge tax burden on the small workforce and further reduce fertility. The alternative of increased use of robots have major costs, since it is difficult to develop robots for jobs outside of the manufacturing sector and a declining population will make such work more difficult (page 17 of Population Control).

It is simply not likely that Europe, North and South America, East and Southeast Asia or New Zealand can retain even their current level of pre-eminence in the world faced with such high welfare dependency.

In this context, Abbott’s goal to dismantle environmental regulation and the welfare state is a globally unique opportunity to give Australia long-term economic precedence over nations whose populations do not permit such dismantlings, probably because their reliable runoff and high secondary productivity – an issue I am trying to discuss with Carlos Botero – diminish natural religious faith and increases support for regulatory government, individualism and egalitarianism that eat away at the propensity to have children. (This may be especially true in urban areas where Sydney needs a storage size about seven times that of London or Los Angeles, eleven times that of Tōkyō, and thirty times most Canadian and Scandinavian cities).

The result, as I have said before, is strong communities in Australia’s suburbs who tolerate a low quality of life in a harsh environment, and no doubt would willingly accept a society free of any public welfare. As Hans Hoppe points out, in the absence of public welfare before World War I (though welfare was widely supported except by women, the ruling classes, and the dwindling rural peasantry) fertility rates were about four times the level Mosher shows likely under the present high-tax system – which will be intensified by commitments to reduction in greenhouse emissions. Thus, we can reasonably expect that by the mid twentieth-century, Australian fertility – already about 0.5 child per woman higher than in Europe and East Asia – will diverge further and further from other OECD nations. With greatly less regulation, job-creating but polluting industries now located in the US and China will simply move to Australia. Consumer goods as cheap as would be available if all produce were for Australians would no doubt increase fertility further – and of course the resources for overseas industries in coal, bauxite and iron ore are largely concentrated in Australia so it becomes a simple manner to move them to factories here instead!

Consequently, it is not likely that there will be many benefits in the long term from the US and China’s reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Without saying or doing anything designed to directly appeal to the majority of people faced with the large tax burdens of the natural resource-poor northern and western hemispheres, Abbott’s highly traditional welfare-free, low-regulation, pro-development policies can give these people a much more “comfortable” life with abundant housing space, low taxes, and a strong sense of community lacking in the “selfist” lands of the northern and western hemispheres. I can testify how Australia offers these things from living in Singapore – where food is extremely expensive – and in the very noisy and crowded cities of Europe. I can also testify how only a small minority of people can afford to pay the high taxes the climate policies of Europe, East Asia and North America will require, or to live in very small dwellings with no space for a family. Abbott is, without any publicity, offering something that will give the majority much greater wealth and hope for the future than the very pessimistic attitudes prevalent there give.

There is no denying the immense costs to the global environments where species-poor, high-secondary-productivity lands are protected in preference to species-rich, low-secondary-productivity ones, but we should try to be realistic about Abbott’s real intentions and how they will give Australia a large economic advantage that will at best make Eurasia and the Americas regret lack of pressure on us.