Friday, 31 May 2013

The “cheap and nasty” land gets nastier

Although it is annoying to have to cycle from Mentone station to reach Name A Game, I must say that I actually enjoy it because it provides very good exercise for my obese body, and in the pleasant winter weather of southern Australia it is not a tough ride even when one rides on the footpath in fear of fast cars and my bicycle’s soft tyres.

Today, I went very early because of the need to have a meal ready for Mummy, who is also busy. Despite problems with the stand on my bicycle, I had no trouble on a surprisingly empty train to Frankston, nor in cycling to Braeside despite the threatening weather, which remains threatening as I contemplate my future options.

When I carried on the familiar routine of calling to talk to Christian (who is now insistent that I do not come into his workshop) he said that the West Coast v North Melbourne game from the sixteenth round of 2000 I had expected two weeks ago (and which I had ordered on 25 March) had already been re-sent. I tried to talk about the problem of what would happen if this second parcel is lost - which I already knew to be a very probable outcome given the bad and declining quality of Australia’s mail services - but I failed to get Christian and thought it better to go home than to call him up in person a second time.

The trip back to Mordialloc station was smooth, but when I put my bike on the train I had no choice but to use the lock since the stand was not holding it - I have meant to ask about repairs or replacement for the stand for some time - yet the lock held it much better and with less obstruction to fellow passengers than I hoped. Once I was back at Flinders Street I rang Christian and he did say the West Coast v North Melbourne game would be re-copied again if it were lost in the post a second time, then after considering my options I though I had enough time to check my mailbox. This is where the trouble began. With a decent mail service every solitary parcel within a metropolitan area would come in a straight day with absolutely ZERO RISK, so that I unfortunately assumed my game would be waiting for my hot little hands. When it was not, I became sulky, asking suggestively the post office people who said there was nothing, then going outside and calling Mummy to tell her another parcel had been lost.

It was then that I went hysterical as I am wont to do when I have waited and waited to no avail. I know that, contrary to what the post office people and my mother say, the probability the parcel will come is zero: it was lost no doubt due to inadequate checking by the postal service. This poor checking no doubt results from inadequate staffing to prevent errors in the electronic mail checking - or perhaps even faults therein.

What this really shows to me is how Australia’s comfortable, relatively affluent working class, with its vast actual and potential housing space, abundant economic opportunities and low energy costs tolerates much poorer qualities than almost any other working class in the world. They have negligible demand for specialised, high-quality goods, and very little individuality of any sort in their quiet, low-density suburbs, resulting in probably a low use of mail services compared to the Enriched or Tropical Worlds. The low tax rates of Australia mean inadequate regulation of so many things - not only the environment, but even less critical things like mail checking. Because people falsely assume Australia to be a “developed” country, tracking is not made compulsory as it is often to other countries known to have high mail loss rates.

… reserves the right to refuse shipping to countries with a high mail loss rate and to suspect buyers.
if they knew about my experience, I can imagine may eBay and sellers would refuse to sell to Australia and I would have to have them posted to my brother! That would be painful but possibly more reliable since a relative will have some serious interest in motives other than profit from the unwary.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A forgotten lesson from Ford closure

The news that Ford would close its Australian car manufacturing plants in 2016 was a shock to me, but one I have been very well prepared for over the past few years.

It is long forgotten by almost everbody else who discussing the issue, but Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan was planning to close car manufacture in Australia twenty years ago until the Federal Government offered aid in terms of devaluing (even undervaluing) the Aussie dollar and direct financial help – as well as eliminating indexation of fuel excise to help thirsty local cars and imported 4x4s.

In 1993 I was quietly worried about Ford closing its doors after the highly publicised Nissan closure of 1992, but with hindsight I recognise that the government ought to focus research in a very different direction. Given Australia’s extremely fragile ecology it requires a much more (not less) energy-efficient transport sector than the Enriched World. This would necessarily require transportation to be focused on mass surface transit both in urban and rural areas – that is, on railways.

It is interesting to me to consider whether an Australia without a car industry would have a less powerful road lobby, but I do not believe that so because the parent companies of importers know how much more sympathetic Australia is to wastage of money on roads, so car companies know well where to focus their energies.

What people do not realise is that, rather than focus on car transport, Australia needs to see whether a mass transit vehicle industry – even if supported by something like the old 57.5 percent tariff on cars – could develop the same sorts of skills as a car industry, an idea neglected by Remy Davison.

Removing an incongruent dislinkage between pollution and greenhouse gases

For a long time - notably in my old Urban Environments class at the University of Melbourne - there was a tendency to believe that polluted cities tended to have very low greenhouse gas emissions because they tended to be compact Tropical (or in an earlier era, Enriched) World cities where mass transit was run at a profit, but where heavy industry was not subject to pollution regulations for such gases as SO2, NO2, volatile organic compounds and CO.

This tendency has affected the conservative side of politics especially. Conservatives give a free pass to the exceptionally bad greenhouse gas emissions of Australia and South Africa, on the basis that their strongly capitalist political systems are likely to be more efficient at controlling local air pollution, regardless of the cost in terms of global emissions of CO2 of low-density cities and exceptionally powerful road lobbies.

Via my email link to Care2, this is the top ten most polluted countries in the world:

Rank Country Ecological Region
#10 Bosnia/Herzegovina Enriched
#9 Mexico Tropical
#8 Egypt “Arid Northeastern”
#7 China Enriched
#6 Saudi Arabia “Arid Northeastern”
#5 Botswana Unenriched
#4 Pakistan Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#3 India Enriched
#2 Mongolia Enriched
#1 Iran Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”

Via another link from the Italian MilanMun school, which aims to give people experience of living outside their own land and to understand its problems, an equivalent list - more subversive than Care2, I will state, is:

Rank Country Ecological Region
#10 Kuwait “Arid Northeastern”
#9 Nigeria Tropical
#8 Iran Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#7 United Arab Emirates “Arid Northeastern”
#6 Egypt “Arid Northeastern”
#5 Saudi Arabia “Arid Northeastern”
#4 Senegal Tropical
#3 Pakistan Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#2 Botswana Unenriched
#1 Mongolia Enriched

Countries of the Sahara and Arabian Deserts I have listed separately because, though they are nothing like the Unenriched World geologically and have heavy supplies of nutrients that Australia and Southern Africa lack from mountain building and dust, they do strongly retain some of the ecological qualities like cooperative animal societies, nomadism and irregular breeding so typical of the Unenriched World but absent in the cooler parts of the Enriched. Their economies are also strikingly similar to Australia and Southern Africa, illustrating how the contrast between Australia and Southern Africa versus the rest of the world is more nearly Eastern Hemisphere/Western Hemisphere than Southern Hemisphere/Northern Hemisphere.

The case of Gaborone, in probably the most similar country to Australia in the world once cultural veneers are dismantled (as they should have been in 1991 when Tom McMahon published his groundbreaking Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges), is telling for advocates of capitalism as the solution to pollution. Like Australia, Botswana and Gaborone has an arid climate and abudant supplies of land and minerals, plus a government and “ruled” classes unwilling or unable to tackle the long-term environmental problems this abundance can create.

The similarity between Australia’s bad greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution in Gaborone and Johannesburg: a mining industry that largely controls the government - is not entirely lost on Kevin Williamson’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, but what Williamson does not grasp is that big business with unlimited resources taking over government is likely to externalise costs much more than big government nationalising oil. The wealth mineral corporations in the Unenriched World possess from mining industrially essential raw materials permits them to directly write government policy in their own interests, and to prevent any regulation that would affect their interests. As shows, the most poorly regulated industrial or mineral economies, like Australia, have the poorest environmental records because big business can with the aid of government externalise is costs, like drying of Perth’s former water supply or air pollution in dryland cities.

In contrast, a government nationalising an oil company is likely to be under much more pressure from the ballot boxes or mass mobilisation as is general in the Enriched World. Thus, when government has the upper hand in partnership with business, it is less immune to pressure for regulation even when ecologically this is greatly less pressing than in Australia or Southern Africa.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Why international condemnation of Australia is hope for the planet

Hearing of a ridiculous debate on GOLD-FM about whether the government should:
  1. build the wasteful East/West underground toll road
  2. spend more money on other roads
had made me wish to draw attention to the critical issue of how Australia’s exceptionally bad greenhouse gas emissions must be the initial target of every international environmental treaty.

Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, yet has the fourth highest biodiversity of any country in the world according to the Encyclopedia of Biodiversity.

At the same time, Australia has probably the lowest average terrestrial and marine secondary productivity (that is, animal biomass per unit of land or water volume) of any country – let alone continent – in the world. Combined these imply that conservation of Australia’s exceptionally ancient and infertile landscapes should be one of the highest priorities for the international environmental movement. Even species listed as “Least Concern” due to “having an extremely large range” by the IUCN need to be considered carefully because home ranges for species in Australia can be more than 1 km2 in most of the continent as against many pairs per hectare in the Enriched World.

More than that, Australia’s large mineral resources give its governments a refused opportunity to pay for conservation of areas of land that Enriched World nations like the United States would struggle to do – especially were it to charge entry fees to visitors who might acquire appreciation of how different the behaviour of Australia’s flora and fauna is from animals native to the northern and western hemispheres.

In this context, the building of freeways – or even maintenance thereof – by any government in Australia is despicable. Australia has no need for these roads: they are a primary source of increased traffic congestion and financial losses for railways – to which Australia’s flatness and fragility makes it quite uniquely suited among the continents. Building of freeways is nothing more or less than the same policies that Australia’s governments have adopted to disastrous effect for the past eighty years, with very bad environmental consequences for the species-rich southwest and no reduction in traffic congestion. No doubt freeway building is viewed as convenient for outer-suburban families who desire privacy, but this “heart drain” from the Enriched World is unsustainable given Australia’s inherently low productivity in both food and water.

In a recent paper ‘Green Light for Green Agricultural Policies? An Analysis at Regional and Global Scales’, Wolfgang Britz, Thomas W. Hertel and Janine Pelikan show how local conservation in the exceptionally low-biodiversity European Union has the effect of potentially increasing cropland in the high-fragility Unenriched World by minimally 716 km2. This figure is small, but a more rigorous elimination of EU farm subsidies would increase cropland in the Unenriched World by between 3,000 and 4,000 km2. Eliminating East Asian farm subsidies would probably push this figure above 10,000 km2 of extremely marginal land which stores a large amount of carbon in its native flora (adapted to negligible high- and medium-grade phosphorus). That figure is for a useful comparison about equivalent to converting the entire protected area of southwestern Australia – already plagued by a linear 1.1 percent rainfall decline per annum since 1967 – to cropland.

Since it is that sort of land that would be converted under these conditions, one wonders whether the Enriched World would be better spending the money it outlays on farm subsidies trying to condemn Australia and Southern Africa for their poor conservation records? The fact that sanctions by the international community helped bring down apartheid gives, in my view, some clues about how the Unenriched World should be treated for its very poor conservation record – at all events considering its high biodiversity and low productivity. If the Enriched World were firmly united, it could tackle Australia in particular very effectively if it argued (correctly) that Australia is very largely responsible for problems related to man-made climate change outside its borders. Demanding a rigid zero- or negative- (via revegetation in areas expected to become arid) greenhouse policy for Australia will do much more in the long term than all the regulations Eurasia and the Americas have put up at high cost for little gain.

With international condemnation – or even the threat of suing – Australia’s road and coal lobbies would come under pressure never known from very weak political protests or feeble posters seen at recent visits outside Carlton North Post Office. That would be hope for the planet’s survival like nothing else could be!