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 to plow without advanced machinery. Except its far southeast, this region also has much too erratic a rainfall for rainfed farming. Moreover, unlike other areas with similarly erratic rainfall in Central Chile or northwest India or California or the Brazilian sertão, it has no truly permanent water sources due to extremely high evaporation.

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, no more than 500 square kilometres of Australia (less than 0.001 percent) 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 probably total not 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, 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 factors high conservation costs for example in controlling pests like the cane toad and rubber vine in 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 stands untenable, nor that improvements as inadequate as increasing Australian excise from 25 percent to 50 percent the OECD mean would change nothing. History shows that even modestly and inadequately less cheap petrol (say down from 800 millilitres/$ to 600 millilitres/$) produces major effects on motoring habits – so what would a realistic cheapness of under 60 millilitres/$ 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, Messiaen’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.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

“A cat playing the piano”? Not really, but closer than I would like, perhaps!

When I played Jennifer Bate’s renditions of Messiaen’s organ work on a car trip to my late father in Kew a decade ago, my mother and brother used to rudely say to me that Bate was not a human, but “a cat walking up and down the organ”! This really, really offended me, since I knew from merely looking at the text that Messiaen’s music was extremely complicated – even impossible to decode with the repeated chromatic notes – and it was clear to me a cat with a much smaller brain that a trained musician would never be able to replicate it!

Note how chromatic Messiaen’s compositions are from the score above of Petites Esquisses d‘Oiseaux, which is available from Naxos performed by Håkon Austbø.

The notion that Messiaen’s music was like a cat playing has recurred recently in my mother’s mind when I bough a second copy of my favorite classical composition, Catalog d‘Oiseaux – this time by the Norwegian Håkon Austbø whereas my previous copy was by Martin Zehn. Though she was less offended than when hearing the quieter and less accessible organ pieces – which do possess tremendous power – it seemed ruder and more offensive for having been so long with that ridiculous idea first came into my mother’s (and brother’s) head.

So tonight, I thought I might see if there actually was some sound from a cat playing the piano to see whether it was so unlike real Messiaen that my laughter in ridicule was justified. It was to my surprise that I actually found something reasonably close to a cat playing the piano on YouTube – although the idea of my mother and brother was that the cat would actually walk up and down the piano and recreate Messiaen perfectly!

This one clearly is not Messiaen – though there are a few tiny traces of the sound of Catalog d‘Oiseaux and other Messiaen pieces.

This cat clearly is not like Messiaen at all – it is the random noises one would expect from a cat playing the piano!

Although this is not even a proper acoustic piano but a synthesised piano, the sounds actually mesh a little when I listened to this and Håkon Austbø simultaneously (this on the computer and Austbø on a speaker).
This cat is closest to my relatives’ description, but furthest from real Messiaen!

So I can say that perhaps there is a tiny grain of truth that Messiaen’s music on piano or organ is like a cat – but not nearly enough to make me feel a mixture of severe offence and laughter! Probably more offence with my look at a cat actually walking up and down a piano!

I have told my mother – and did tell her a long time ago – that she should stop saying Messiaen’s keyboard music is like a cat playing, but she says and I admit I find too much laughter in it!

Monday, 10 November 2014

National park fallacy in the Enriched World, part II

In a post which I took a long time over but finished yesterday, I showed very clearly why complete conservation for non-human uses, whilst necessary for large parts of the Unenriched World merely so their species can gain enough food,are counterproductive in the Enriched World because of the low biodiversity and high secondary productivity resulting from the very young soils and the fact that most of the Enriched World was not habitable for up to ninety percent of the last two billion years.

According to some of the comments on this post by Rod Dreher, notably one from a person called “Greg”, the large-scale abandonment of unprofitable farms in Ohio has led to an explosion in the population of white-tailed deer – from seventeen thousand in the 1970s to seven hundred thousand today. This is aided by economic declines in the industrial sectors where the Enriched World has less comparative disadvantage than in agriculture, and excessive regulation of land use in a region whose flora and fauna is much too young for endemic species to evolve. In fact, as shown in the article ‘The Latitudinal Gradient in Recent Speciation and Extinction Rates of Birds and Mammals’, most species endemic to the Tropical World (though not the Unenriched World) actually evolved in the Enriched World during the brief interglacials as they had to adapt to the extreme abundance of food, then re-colonised the Tropical World as small-range endemics, often in those parts of the Tropical World that share the Enriched World’s fertility. “Will” from Mississippi says the same thing about foxes in London, where they are rapidly entering suburbs.

When one considers how productive for animal biomass and how heavily regulated Enriched World cities are – not only in land use but also minimum wages et cetera – it is no wonder that the most competitive species are, given the opportunities they are by a welfare and working class viewing quality of life above all else including human relationships to the point of “selfism”, able to grow rapidly in numbers.

No doubt the Enriched World populace does fear the presence of large carnivores – most of whom went extinct when humans peopled the region and were able to develop much greater hunting skills than in the low-productivity Unenriched and Tropical Worlds – would spell danger for its comfort. However, as Siarlys Jenkins says in the comments, and I pointed out in the post mentioned at the beginning of this one, regulated hunting of animals in the Enriched World would allow humans to use its large secondary productivity as a major protein source rather than sucking the fragile waterways of arid regions – where vegetarianism has been the historical norm – dry. It might even ameliorate or counter the negative consequences of increased marginal land farming from removing Enriched World farm subsidies, which have long been a sticking point for me once I have recognised the naturally poorest lands for farming as economically having the largest comparative advantage.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hawking confirms Harrington and Keenan

Around a decade and a half ago I was forever changed by the discovery of Joe S. Harrington’s Top 100 Albums, which showed just how derivative and dated the seemingly enjoyable music played in the cloistered suburbs where I grew up actually was and is.

Whilst both then and now I have considerable criticism of Harrington’s philosophies, I still understand his music perspectives. Once one has a serious listen to the music of the 1960s and 1970s before I was born, one sees it has the same rhythms as even the least-disrespected music from my childhood.

It was the growth of grunge, which I utterly detested and detest as tuneless noise, which led to criticism on a wide scale of commercial music from the 1980s – my staple listening until the 2000s. I was rather faintly aware of this 1990s perspective before reading Harrington and David Keenan, whose 2003 The Best Albums Ever...Honest reinforced my new knowledge slowly but surely over the following few years.

What was new about Harrington and Keenan was how they exposed the commercial music of the 1990s as they did that of the 1980s. They showed there was nothing new in acclaimed bands like Oasis, Blur, Nirvana, Pavement or even Radiohead – and I can say I never dissent from such a perspective.
Yesterday I saw for the first time a new “worst albums” list from Flavorwire, a webzine I have not known before. It was written by Tom Hawking, actually form Australia and the webzine’s editor until recently changing to deputy editor. The full list is:
  1. Who Needs Guitars Anyway?; Alice Deejay
  2. Anthology; Alien Ant Farm
  3. About That Life; Attila (not Billy Joel’s high school band)
  4. The E.N.D; The Black Eyed Peas
  5. Enema of the State; blink-182
  6. I’m Not a Fan, But the Kids Like It!; brokenCYDE
  7. Merry Christmas; Mariah Carey
  8. Cut the ****; The Clash
  9. No Jacket Required; Phil Collins
  10. Scream; Chris Cornell
  11. To the Faithful Departed; The Cranberries
  12. Human Clay; Creed
  13. Sinner; Drowning Pool
  14. Saved; Bob Dylan
  15. The Eagles, generally
  16. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic; Foxygen
  17. Terrapin Station; The Grateful Dead
  18. American Idiot; Green Day
  19. Yes, Please; Happy Mondays
  20. Primitive Cool; Mick Jagger
  21. Magna Carta (Holy Grail); Jay Z
  22. Shine On; Jet
  23. River of Dreams; Billy Joel
  24. Cracked Rear View; Hootie and the Blowfish
  25. Standing in the Spotlight; Dee Dee King
  26. Lick It Up; KISS
  27. Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts; Kula Shaker
  28. ARTPOP; Lady Gaga
  29. You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush; Len
  30. The Libertines; The Libertines
  31. Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog-Flavored Water; Limp Bizkit
  32. Hybrid Theory; Linkin Park
  33. Secret Samadhi; Live
  34. St. Anger; Metallica
  35. How I Learned to Stop Giving a **** and Love Mindless Self Indulgence; Mindless Self Indulgence
  36. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie; Alanis Morissette
  37. Mr. Blobby – The Album; Mr. Blobby
  38. Nastradamus; Nas
  39. All the Right Reasons; Nickelback
  40. Born Again; The Notorious B.I.G.
  41. Be Here Now; Oasis
  42. Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper; Julian Plenti
  43. Come Clean; Puddle of Mudd
  44. Their Satanic Majesties Request; Rolling Stones
  45. x; Ed Sheeran
  46. Come On Over; Shania Twain
  47. Thirty Seconds to Mars; Thirty Seconds to Mars
  48. Woodstock 1999; various artists
  49. Raditude; Weezer
  50. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year; Scott Weiland
It’s notable how little there is from before the “punk revolution” – only the Eagles, an oddball Grateful Dead record and one album about which David Keenan would be in huge disagreement, whilst the presence of Dylan’s Christian album Saved shows the “post-AC/DC” tenor of the whole list. Even the 1980s is poorly represented with only Phil Collins, the Clash and solo Jagger, whilst the later Bush Senior period when metal and rap were changing the Enriched World (and I knew as little as if I were in a cloistered monastery) has only Billy Joel.

That leaves forty-three recordings from the last twenty years of the worst fifty – an indication that the culture of the Enriched World has lost the creativity it had between the 1960s and the early 1990s, even as its people aspire for more and more individualism. What this does suggest is that art and commerce are in general as far apart as ever, and that “art ” is very remote from “commerce” as people struggle with increased international economic competition and political systems that may encourage mediocrity or worse via their egalitarianism, besides perhaps leaving the more “feeling” types to concentrate on upbeat, conventional music. Harrington and Keenen admit such a decline but never relate it to cultural norms, which is something that perhaps could be done.