Category Archives: Global environment



As I write I breathe the nearby forest and its creatures. Except they are no longer trees, or animals, or fungus.

If you take a breath now, you will inhale about fifteen atoms of argon that you exhaled  in a breath a year ago. Atoms from that earlier breath will have spread out from you, eventually drifting all around the world and back to you. You reconnect with yourself. You also connect with everyone else, and everything else, that exhaled a year ago. So said Harlow Shapley, an astronomer with the soul of a poet who thought deeply about his home planet.

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Gr**th and G*P: Don’t Mention the G-Words

[Published at Real World Economics Review Blog 18 Dec]

A recent exchange between Jason Hickel (and here and here) and Dean Baker (and here) on whether humanity can have a viable future and still have ‘economic growth’, nicely highlights the way old concepts and words can trap us in unproductive debate and action.

The way forward is to recognise the need for a fundamental re-framing of the nature and purpose of our societies, and their economies. The terms growth, GDP, capital and capitalism are so ill-defined, confused or inappropriate they only hinder debate.

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Once and future landscape care

[I am involved in organising an unusual local festival that combines Arts and Activism, the Two Fires Festival in Braidwood, NSW, 12-14 April – soon!  That’s the main reason there hasn’t been much posted here lately.  I’ll put a few more festival things up over coming days.  Here is the blurb on the session I care most about.]

BIggestEstateThe challenge for our generation is to create an enduring way of being, in Australia and around the world, so that our children may look forward to an indefinite future of healthy life in a healthy landscape.  Our agricultural and other direct involvements in the landscape have a key role, and the search for enduring systems has been under way for some time.

Historian Bill Gammage’s remarkable recent book The Biggest Estate on Earth teaches us that if our descendants fulfil this aspiration they will not have been the first.  For millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Australian landscape was managed comprehensively, intimately and enduringly to be productive, diverse, and safer from fire, flood and drought.

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Integrated Landscape?

The challenge for our generation is to create an enduring way of being, in Australia and around the world, so that our children may look forward to an indefinite future of healthy life in a healthy landscape.  Appropriate economic and social processes will be essential to creating such a collective lifestyle, but our agricultural and other involvements in the natural world of course have an even more direct role.

This topic was raised in a commentary by Braidwood local Ben Gleeson that questions much official thinking about rendering the land “sustainable”.  He champions the idea that our duality of productive farmland, on the one hand, and wild nature, on the other, is inappropriate.  Before getting to Ben’s ideas, I want to set a broader perspective.

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Making sustainability central to the ANU curriculum, and to life

[Published by The Canberra Times 4 May 2012]

I experienced two kinds of management in my 27 years at the Australian National University, and I know which one worked better.  One looked forward, was ambitious, and supported anyone who had their own ambition.  The other worried about constraints and expended a lot of energy trying to identify and eliminate “under-performers”.

Vice Chancellor Ian Young’s recently announced intention to free up resources by cutting ANU’s expenses, through various measures that still include firing some people “as a last resort”, leans toward the negative.  It immediately provoked unrest on campus and it will undermine morale for as long as the policy is pursued.

Reading a book by the late Ray C. Anderson, the founder and CEO of billion-dollar US company Interface Carpets Inc., inspires me to point to another course.

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The Urgency and the Opportunity

A submission to the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy, April 2009

[This is punchier than the version I posted 23 March, which was for a different Senate enquiry.]

The Government fails completely to appreciate the urgency of the climate situation, which must be seen in terms of dominos and tipping points.  The first big domino seems to be tipping now, and there may soon be no way to prevent or reverse catastrophic warming.

The Government also fails completely to appreciate the opportunity to rapidly reduce emissions while creating an economy that can secure Australians’ wellbeing indefinitely.

This submission focusses on reframing the policy discussion.  It is intentionally brief.  Details are irrelevant unless the problem is properly framed.


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GDP Shrinks. Hooray!

In a sane world, a shrinking GDP would be greeted with relief.  However the world is not sane, and people suffer when the GDP shrinks, mainly by losing their jobs.  Meanwhile, insanity has faltered slightly and disturbing thoughts are being put about.  However our leaders are working to ensure normal insanity is restored as quickly as possible.

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Nuclear power: UDDELI unjustified

Professor Leslie Kemeny’s nuclear spruiking regularly appears in Australian newspapers. Readers might take note of the acronym UDDELI, which stands for Unnecessary, Dirty, Dangerous, Expensive, Late and Insufficient. This can provide some balance to the very narrow view offered by Professor Kemeny, whose undoubted expertise on the technicalities of nuclear power is offset by an apparent near-total ignorance of other options.

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