I will if you will

Earlier this week Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the interim 2020 carbon emission reduction target for the Australian governments Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme would be 5%. …but his government would consider up to 15% if the rest of the world was committed.

The night before I made a bet with my wife that the target would be 10%, not the minimum of 25% that most environmentalists wanted and that most climate scientists reckon is needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations below 550ppm.

I underestimated the power of the fear factor. They went for 5%. Was it fear or the political expediency of getting legislation through the complex Australian political system? I heard a comment that said if the decision had been for a tougher  target than 5% the senate would block passage of any bill. I reckon we can always find an excuse for leadership failure.

What we get instead is fence sitting and a very sore behind. 5% is a decision – if you can call it a decision – which is as close to business as usual as possible.

And the excuse seems to be: I will if you will, otherwise I won’t.

The trouble is that somebody has to otherwise the market mechanism for emission reductions triggered by cap and trade simply won’t deliver because the price of carbon will be too low to shift investor behaviour away from carbon intensive business activity.


Kind of thinking

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This famous quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, who seemed to be rather fond of the erudite sentence.

Always acknowledging the great man, I have often quoted this one myself, with a secret wish that it were my original. I use it so much because it always seems to be true.

So often we use the same thinking over and over again in the vain hope that the outcome will be different.

A recent proposal to solve our environmental woes is to account for nature. The idea is that if we can fully account for the resources we use by putting all the costs and values onto the dollar balance sheet, then this true costing would determine an adequate price paid to be paid for the array of environmental goods and services we consume. Even those sneaky externalities would get dragged onto the books.

I can see the logic. If resources are made available at full cost, then we might think twice before we buy them.

We could also begin to value and start to pay for the hidden services – clean air, fresh water, pollination, nutrient cycling etc – that we rely on but are currently free. And, by definition, we have a hard time valuing something that is free. Trouble is that this accounting logic is the child of an economic system that got us into the mess in the first place.

There is no evidence that accounting will slow demand. It is, after all, just a tool to understand the numbers, not a driver of resource use.  Indeed it may have the opposite effect of increasing demand for certain resources, especially in high demand locations, because if use is accounted, then it is legitimate. After all it is on the balance sheet.

I believe we need to think this one through very carefully.


Do they think we are stupid?

Astonishing! That is all I can say. This morning I was astonished, shocked and speechless at what I heard on the radio.
ABC Sydney 702 presenter Deborah Cameron was on the phone to the NSW Minister for Environment and Climate Change Carmel Tebbutt. Very good, a senior Minister and Deputy Premier providing sound bites to the masses on issues of the day….only the topic was this:
The NSW Government is helping introduce technology that will capture the fumes, sorry I should say carbon emissions, from every petrol bowser in Sydney. That’s the smelly stuff you can see drifting skyward in tiny wisps as you fill your tank with liters of liquid carbon.
Yes, of course. Why did I not think of that? The Clean Development Mechanism take note, the solution to our carbon glut is at hand.

Do they think we are completely stupid?
Maybe they do, just maybe they do.

Whose interest do we represent?

When I was a kid my parents would take pains to let me know what was in my best interest. This was because they knew. Of course they knew, they were the experienced ones.

Thirty plus years on and I look at my two sons and I have little idea of what is in their best interest. If I don’t understand the motivation for hardstyle techno music that currently consumes my 14 year old, how can I know if it is in his best interest.

Sure I know more about what might harm my kids than they do and can advise, even police some activities. I can also tell them what I found or have seen to be bad for folk, but can I really know what is in their best interest?

I don’t think so because I am not them. I advise against the bad, caution where there is risk, but I can’t know what is best for them.

The other day I was in a meeting where a representative of a conservation NGO made a remark to the effect that “saving threatened species was in the public interest”.

Wow, I thought, quite a claim. My reflex was to react and mount a challenge. How could one group with, right or wrong, a minority view, claim the public interest was theirs? I calmed my instinct and just smiled.

But now I am curious. If I find it hard, or even illogical, to know the best interest of my sons how can I know the public interest?

Makes you think.

Is Britney bigger than global warming?

Whenever there is a topic that sparks debate in our house we usually need information to help resolve the issue. My wife will often jump up and announce that “the Google Gods will know” and, sure enough, they do. She will skip back after a minute or two on the browser with a useful answer.

Recently I discovered that the Google have made available a really neat tool in Adwords that estimates of the number of times people type key words into search engines (go to Adwords then click on Get keyword ideas). That’s all searches, not just those taking the heat out of dinner discussions.

My curiosity aroused I typed ‘environmental problems’ into the key word field and the software returned a respectable 74,000 searches per month. Then I tried ‘climate change’ and returned 823,000 followed by ‘global warming’ for a sizable 3,350,000.

Clearly we are worried about things getting warmer.

I took encouragement from this result – three million souls a month are curious enough to ask the Google Gods a question on an environmental issue.

Then I went mad and typed ‘Britney Spears’ and yes, the answer you were expecting…. 9,100,000 per month. Nearly half the population of Australia type in this search once a month – Ouch! If you add ‘Paris Hilton’ who manages a paultry 6,100,000 requests, we are looking at enough requests for every adult Australian. Even the celeb blogger ‘Perez Hilton’ manages to get 2,240,000 searches per month.

Bizarre as it this result appears, we did not need the Google Gods to explain this one. It is escapism. We can escape our worries and concerns for our own lives, and any lingering worry about the planet, through a fascination with celebrity. The thing that amazed me was that we do it a lot.

It may just be hierarchy of needs and avoidance of pain, but I reckon it is worth a thought.
Either that or Britney is bigger than global warming.



Hello, my name is Mark Dangerfield and I think too much.

I spent too long at college being trained to think and now I think for a living. It feels like I think when I am asleep. So I figured that if I write some of my thoughts down, share them around a bit, then maybe I would use up some and think less.

So here’s my blog. It will mostly be about the environment but in the end about people and that glorious, frustrating, infuriating pile of neurons that we use to think.

Hope you find something to help you get some thoughts out of your head.