Monday, 15 October 2018

Craig’s understatement of anaerobicity of modern football – and modern sports generally

Although I have, ever since reading the “Notes by the Editor” in the 1985 Wisden possessed substantial nostalgia for sports in the past, those with whom I have communicated on forums have always said that modern players would simply be too fit for older players who were less well-trained.

However, it has always occurred to me that in many sports, especially cricket but also to a considerable extent football:
  1. players play less than they once did (in cricket top players play only three-fifths as much as in the immediate postwar period)
  2. injuries are much more frequent and severe in today’s sports than even in my childhood and especially vis-à-vis the immediate postwar period
  3. substitutions are much more frequent in today’s sports than they were in the immediate postwar years
There is one simple and logical explanation for this apparent anomaly of less play and more injuries with greater fitness. This is that the surfaces on which today’s cricketers and footballers play – due to hotter, drier climates, covered pitches, improved drying and closed roof stadiums – are much harder and possess much less “give” when a body hits the ground. There is also the possibility that more muscular, less fatty bodies would have an analogous effect. However, this hypothesis is not supported by the fact that the trends noted above have been more marked in cricket where body contact is rare than in football where it is a basic part of play.
Pages 52 and 53 of Triple Blue: Jack Oatey, John Wynne and the Whole Damned Thing (published in 2004)
A much more sophisticated explanation for the anomaly noted in the previous paragraph is based upon the distinction between “aerobic” and “anaerobic” sports. “Aerobic” sports, as the name suggests, use O2 as a fuel for the body. Contrariwise, “anaerobic” sports do not use O2 as a fuel but instead break down phosphocreatine and glycogen, which produces energy for the working muscles and allows more intense short-term power.

Neil Craig notes in the attached pages above that “football is becoming more of an anaerobic game” with more intense breakdown of phosphocreatine and glycogen, but in fact he has undoubtedly understated the extent to which this has occurred. According to another page of Triple Blue, the distance of ball movement per football game has more than doubled despite a 20 percent reduction in playing time. However, since the middle 1990s scoring has actually fallen and competitive imbalance increased. This implies that increased ball movement cannot mean longer kicking:
  • if defenders were not outplaying forwards, constant longer kicking would logically mean higher scores
  • if defenders were outplaying forwards to an increased degree, less competitive imbalance would be expected since fewer “inside 50s” would lead to goals
  • there is no evidence for more “inside 50s” with increasing ball movement, let alone proportionately more
An increasingly anaerobic football game better explains the trends in ball movement, scoring and competitive imbalance. Cricket has become more anaerobic to a more marked degree than football with the replacement of much first-class cricket with one-day and 20/20 play. In fact, although neither Craig nor True Blue author Barry Nicholls discusses this, it seems logical that almost all sports have become increasingly anaerobic since the 1950s for one simple reason. That reason being the inherent unsuitability of free-flowing aerobic sports for TV consumption. This is especially true of commercial television as continuous play forbids periodic advertisements. Aerobic sports are also unsuitable for a mass working class with limited time to watch as spectators, and the time involved in their practice is also unsuitable for the working class. The physical dangers of highly anaerobic play are seldom considered when knee and other injuries in football, or strains in fast bowlers, are discussed. However, they are real, and as inevitable a consequence of the dominance of the TV dollar as the anaerobic play that produces them.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Why Australian agriculture is inherently “the wrong kind of farming”

At the beginning of this month, Gracy Olmstead wrote a revealing article in the New York Times by veteran farmer and poet Wendell Berry. Berry has argued for half a century that today’s agricultural practices are detrimental to ecology, and that subsidies to wealthy agribusinesses and factory farms are a major factor in this problem.

Agribusinesses – including, perversely, organic agribusinesses – are today heavily focused on Australia because of its glut of flat land. Australia has by far the largest ratio of “arable” land to population of any country in the world according to the World Bank, a differential increased further when year-round frost-free seasons are factored in. In fact, its ratio, according to an old geography book (Collins Gem Basic Facts Geography) from my childhood, was four times that of any other country in the world. Cost differences between Australia and the rest of the world may be much larger than even the ratios imply because:
  1. Australia is extremely flat and its arable land likely to be highly contiguous, producing further efficiency advantages
  2. Figures for “arable” land do not take into account the huge areas of low-cost rangeland in the interior and north
  3. Effective tax rates – taking into account natural resource abundance – are extremely low in Australia
However, over the past quarter century, ecological studies have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that agriculture in Australia is fundamentally different from agriculture in any other extant continent. All other extant continents largely consist of soils formed from ongoing orogenies or from glaciations ending a mere 10,000 years ago. In contrast, almost all of Australia’s soils have been subject to continuous weathering since the end of the Dwyker Glaciation over 280,000,000 years ago. Most of this weathering has been under hot and humid climates, which were globally general from 250,000,000 to 40,000,000 years ago. Consequently, Australian soils:
  1. are extremely sensitive to erosion because of the absence of new soil creation
  2. possess unique texture contrasts (subsoils enriched in non-cracking clays) that cause unusual erosion hazard even on flat land
  3. are, for the reason noted in (1), a strictly non-renewable resource with a fixed supply of topsoil
    1. contrariwise, the great majority of soils in other present-day landmasses are renewed constantly via glacial tills, volcanic ashes or alluvia from the Alpine Orogeny
  4. are with insignificant overlap depleted in nutrients essential to the production of dense heterotrophic biomass. These elements are:
    1. extremely scarce in the crust relative to their solar abundances
    2. geochemically mainly chalcophile
    3. form weak bonds with oxygen
    4. either:
      1. formed the “primitive” elements known before the birth of Christ or;
      2. were unknown only because they could not be separated from such “primitive” elements
    5. highly efficient at coordinating with carbon and nitrogen, so that they are permit breakdown (catabolism) of large organic molecules like cellulose from plants
Combining Olmstead and Berry’s discussion of topsoil loss as inherent in high-input agriculture with the points above demonstrates that Australian agriculture produces uniquely high losses of wholly irreplaceable topsoil and wholly irreplaceable species. This is even more true when one factors in the extremely high Australian runoff variability, even in humid regions. Aborigines, even if Bruce Pascoe be correct that they extensively modified the landscape to increase food production in some parts of Australia, never attempted the growth of annual crops as has been normal for indigenous peoples almost everywhere else in the world. The extremely ancient soils and erratic rainfall meant that before industrial agriculture Australian subsistence was necessarily based on perennial plants – never as abundant or nutritious as annual plant or animal foods – whose productivity could be spread out over many years at low nutrient requirements.

If Australian land be sustainably managed, it cannot therefore be used for production of ill-adapted annual plants, nor for equally nutrient-intense animal protein. This of itself limits potentially “right” farming in Australia to perennial tree crops, but as noted in point (2) above most soils in agricultural districts are too clay-rich for unspecialised trees. The absence of deciduous trees outside the small glaciated areas of highland Tasmania – much too cold and wet for agriculture – further narrows possibilities. This – even theoretically – means any agriculture must be specialised evergreen tree crops like tropical fruit, and the peculiarities of northern Australia’s climate make even these highly dubious as “sustainable” or “right” farming.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

What Peter Mailler is doing must be encouraged generally

With Melbourne yesterday receiving no rainfall despite a predicted 90 percent chance of showers and a practical certainty of:
  1. a rainless October, with the previous record low 7 millimetres in 1914 easily smashed
  2. a record dry spring, with the previous record low of 68 millimetres from 1967 cut to a third of that figure or less
  3. a record dry three months, beating 23.9 millimetres from February to April 1923
  4. a record dry October to December, beating 52 millimetres from 2006 and 67.7 millimetres under natural climate cycles from 1896
  5. much more critically, a radical shift in the Hadley circulation producing a reduction of between 50 and 80 percent under the virgin mean annual rainfall of around 660 millimetres or 26 inches
In corresponding latitudes of South America, the entire region of Central Chile between Santiago and Concepción has seen a reduction of 40 percent in mean annual rainfall since 2009, on top of past reductions since 1967. This is almost certainly entirely a product of due to man-made greenhouse pollution shifting the descending limb of the Hadley Cell into the region during its former winter rainy season (e.g. Hochman 2017, Liu 2012, Seidel 2008). Because extreme positive IOD events that have caused the droughts in 2002, 2006 to 2008, 2014 to 2015 and 2018 are likely to become vastly more frequent (Ng, 2015; Chie et. al 2004), a 50 to 80 percent reduction in annual rainfall over Southern Australia vis-à-vis virgin means is an entirely reasonable prediction for 2019 and beyond. With continuing increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, one needs to err on the dry side, as it is known that during the Mesozoic with CO2 concentrations over 1,000ppmv the Hadley Cell extended to at least 45˚ from the equator (vis-à-vis 25˚ preindustrially).

In this context, the admission by former farmer Peter Mailler of Goondiwindi on the Darling downs on yesterday’s 7:30 Report that:
“You can’t keep arguing that this is just a cycle,”
“Yes, there are dry periods and, yes, there are wetter periods, yes, there are warm periods, yes, there are cool periods, but we have shifted the averages.”
 “The baselines have moved to the point now where we are unable to manage the impacts of those extreme events in that set.”
“We’re running out of tricks”

 “Agriculture is a gamble and every time temperatures rise and the impacts of climate change rolls down, the odds keep moving in favour of the house. My bet is that high temperatures are here to stay and that is a serious threat to how we farm and how we manage that lack of rainfall.”
What Mr. Mailler is doing is to build a solar farm on his property and sell the electricity. According to the 7:30 Report, Mailler is producing enough electricity for the entire town of Goondiwindi. The report said that, despite the government’s inaction and deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, Mailler is actually making money.

There is a deep lesson here. Mailler’s work possesses simple logic, yet I had never previously thought of solar power stations as an alternative use for the vast majority of Australian farmland that is unsustainable both in terms of biodiversity loss and runaway expansion of the Hadley circulation.

If, in an area which lies near the boundary of the humid western side of the subtropical anticyclone and is not nearly so vulnerable to runaway poleward spread of the Hadley Cell, farmers are nonetheless struggling, what could be done if we could cut Australia’s politicians’ subservience to the coal industry and pay farmers in the former winter rainfall zone to make a change to solar power and large-scale revegetation of their properties?? Large-scale power for communities much larger than Goondiwindi is certainly not implausible with the certainty of Melbourne’s rainfall and cloudiness from 2019 being consistently below historical averages in Tibooburra. Changing farming to native flora and solar power constitutes a double jackpot is reducing Australia’s uniquely bad greenhouse emissions via:
  1. reversing large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases from extensive and continuing clearing of native vegetation by agribusiness
  2. vastly reducing, even eliminating emissions from coal-fired power stations
What Mailler is doing needs to be demanded of all Australian farmers.


  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • Chie Ihara; Yochana Kushnir and Mark A. Cane; ‘Warming Trend of the Indian Ocean SST and Indian Ocean Dipole from 1880 to 2004’; Journal of Climate, vol. 21 (2008), pp. 2035-2046
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169-1175
  • Ng, Benjamin; Cai, Wenju; Walsh, Kevin and Santoso, Agus; ‘Nonlinear processes reinforce extreme Indian Ocean Dipole events’; Scientific Reports; volume 5, Article 11697 (2015)
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Why Coles’ drought levy is a con job

On the radio during September one would frequently see advertisements for a “drought levy” established by Coles on milk since the beginning of September, and for Coles aiding drought-stricken farmers.

With a record-dry year likely now from Melbourne into northern Victoria and possibly parts of New South Wales, the drought levy is understandable but in terms of environmental ethics – regardless of its good intentions to help farmers – it must be judged wrong.

The reality is that we – as Tim Flannery noted during the 2006 drought – are not seeing a drought at all, but a new climate. Scientific studies (Seidel et. al. 2007, Kidder et. al. 2004, Liu et. al. 2012) suggest the southern Hadley cell – which marks the limits of the outer tropical and subtropical arid belt – has shifted poleward by seven degrees of latitude since the 1960s. This is equivalent to 780 kilometres, or to Melbourne experiencing the climate of Moree or Walgett from before anthropogenic global warming, and can be seen in the intense anticyclonic circulation during the winter half-year below:
Winter half-year 850 millibar streamfunction over Australia since 2010 vis-à-vis before 1974 (courtesy of Earth System Research Laboratory’s NCEP NCAR R1)
These climatic changes have been uniform over the southern hemisphere, although the mapping at ESRL did not allow me to show a decent graph. Also, the intensity of the Hadley Cell in the southern hemisphere has increased steadily since the 1920s – and the increase since 2010 has been very large vis-à-vis the graph below:
Strength of Southern Hemisphere Hadley circulation, taken from J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169–1175
In this context, the levies of Coles and Woolworths serve no other long-term purpose except to prop up dairy farmers who are already clearly unsustainable and likely to suffer even more as the Hadkey Cell spreads in the future. Models from the extremely hot Mesozoic (Chander et. al. 1992; Kidder et. al. 2004) suggest that the rapid poleward movement of winter storms away from the subtropics will continue with increasing global warming. This aridification must make the possibility of southern Australian farmers continuing to farm without causing mass extinctions of unique, ancient species remote. Indeed Hochman (2016) have suggested that poleward shifts of the Hadley Cell will inevitably stall and reverse technological grain crop yield increases in Australia during the 21st century.

There is, in my view, a much more sustainable alternative to propping up unsustainable land uses. Those concerned abut helping Australia’s farmers should aim not to prop them up, but to permit them make a radical transition via (at least partial and preferably complete) revegetation of their farms to ecotourism based land uses which mitigate rather than exacerbate man-made climate changes. A transition from unprofitable or erratically profitable farming to ecotourism would also reduce the risk of extinction for extremely ancient species that – unlike the rapidly speciating northern and western hemispheres – play irreplaceable roles in ecosystem function. For instance, lyrebirds play a critical role mitigating the intense fires (Nugent et. al., 2014) caused by scarcity of catabolic chalcophile elements in southern Australia (Orians and Milewski, 2007)

Whilst a transition from farming to ecotourism stands costly and difficult over the vast areas where the threats noted by Hochman et. al. are severe, certainly on a small scale conversion of struggling farmers to sustainable ecotourism – especially with currently underutilised public and private promotion of the unique characteristics of Australian ecosystems (Orians and Milewski, 2007; Flannery 1994; McMahon and Finlayson 1991) – would be a much more sustainable use of “relief” levies from sales of food in chain stores, and would mitigate the risks of future climate change that see drying possibly as extreme as 80 percent of virgin mean rainfalls by 2100.


  • Chandler, Mark A., Rind, David and Ruedy, Reto; ‘Pangaean climate during the Early Jurassic: GCM simulations and the sedimentary record of paleoclimate’; Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104, pp. 543-559, 9 figs., 3 tables (May 1992)
  • Flannery, Tim; The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Kidder, David L. and Worsley, Thomas R.; ‘Causes and consequences of extreme Permo-Triassic warming to globally equable climate and relation to the Permo-Triassic extinction and recovery’; Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, vol. 203 (2004); pp. 207-237
  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169–1175
  • McMahon, T.A. and Finlayson, B.L.; Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges. ISBN 3-923381-27-1
  • Nugent, Daniel T.; Leonard, Steven W. J. and Clarke, Michael F.; ‘Interactions between the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) and fire in south-eastern Australia’; Wildlife Research, vol. 41 (2014), pp. 203-211
  • Orians, Gordon H. and Milewski, Antoni V. (2007). ‘Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires’ Biological Reviews, 82 (3): pp. 393–423
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24