Adherence to neoliberalism is a risk to life and limb

Adherence to neoliberalism is a risk to life and limb

In the early 1990s, I lived in southern Africa. Specifically, the newly prosperous country of Botswana. What an experience. 

I should say a privilege because that is what it felt like to spend seven years in such a magnificent country. Read any of the 22 Alexander McCall-Smith novels about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and you will get the idea of what it was like—slow, relaxed and, well, African.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective, Mma Ramotswe, didn’t mention as she tootled along the dirt roads in her tiny Nissan, that road travel in Botswana was risky. Even today, Botswana is well above the global average for road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants.

Back in the 1990s, this was not surprising. 

Locals were driving for the first time. Most were first-generation vehicle owners at the wheel of brand new Toyota 4.2L landcruiser wagons, many with a fondness for sorghum beer and the art of binge drinking. Then there were the donkeys, cows, and goats spread randomly on the highways plus the perils of keeping traction along the corrugations of the dirt roads. You have to drive faster than seems reasonable or the beer shakes itself.

I was cautious in the car, but those donkeys refused to step aside for anyone so I decided that my second-hand hi-lux needed insurance against the chance of damage. My colleague at the University was from Belgium, and he had a very different take on the risk to his vehicles. He saved thousands on insurance premiums not paid, but neither of us had an accident or nefariousness over vehicles in 10 years. 

So much for risk management. It is just luck, good or bad, and there is nothing to do. Only a fool pays the premiums.

Skip forward to 2015 and 8,000 km northward to continental Europe.

In Paris, 196 Parties entered into a legally international treaty on climate change designed to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”. This temperature goal is about a climate neutral world by mid-century and is like the insurance policy I took out to travel African roads. It makes perfect sense.

Science has established that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the climate. Anything above 2 degrees Celcius will put the entire global food system at risk from drought, flood and more intense weather events.

196 parties represent most of the jurisdictions and most of the people in the world. Many of those people are concerned the agreement is not enough and that more action is needed. They have missed school to protest.

This lengthy preamble introduces a decision by the Australian government in a budget statement a few weeks out from a general election in 2022 to cut climate spending if returned to power at the election

The 2022-23 budget papers show funding will fall from $2bn next financial year to $1.9bn, $1.5bn and $1.3bn in three years. The fall represents a 35% annual cut over four years.

There are many rants about the Australian government and its politicians not reading the room or being out of touch or going to Hawaii when monster bushfires are impacting your constituents. Still, this one is so whacky that it cannot be a bungle. They must have done it on purpose.

So why did they?

I have been listening to an excellent podcast by Nate Hagens called The Great Simplification and unreservedly recommend it. In conversations with several of his academic colleagues and senior political leaders, Hagens asks about why humanity has been incredibly successful and at the point of simplification—a euphemism for collapse.

The bottom line is that humans have leveraged the energy in fossil fuels for a free ride to prosperity and vast numbers. 

The planet now has close to 8 billion people who use energy, equivalent to another 500 billion people if humans were doing all the work done by oil, coal and gas. In other words, our bodies and our societies are the product of fossil fuel use. And this is before we get to the use of oil for making stuff.

We are good at resources, technology, and making the most of opportunities. We have forgotten the flip side of opportunity because modern economies have little choice but to run with the fossil fuel story. We are stuck in the paradigm of ubiquitous, cheap energy, polluting the planet and changing the climate. 

Our risk is growing as fast as our debt.

Only none of this can be real. It fails to fit the neoliberal paradigm, which has wormed its way into most heads, that growth is the only way. It gave us wealth and can keep on giving so long as we stick with it.

The Great Simplification explains why this is nonsense. Limitless growth is impossible on a finite planet, no matter how clever the technology or lucky it was to have an old energy battery under the ground.

Alright, so why did the Australian government decide to cut climate spending? The simplistic answer is that they cannot give up their religious adherence to growth. Only the reality is the lack of a credible alternative paradigm to maintain wealth creation at the rate generated from the gift of fossil energy. Renewables will be cleaner, but they are far less efficient than oil because they cost money to make, maintain and replace. Plus, energy replacement is only part of the story. Where are the alternative materials for all the stuff we make from oil?

Adherence has another benefit. 

The neoliberal paradigm blinds us all to the risk, so we decide, like my friend in Botswana, not to pay the premium and take our chances with the donkeys.

Spending big in a crisis

Spending big in a crisis

Governments are schizophrenic. 

Casual observation over time suggests they are characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements. One minute they are persuading us of the necessity of fiscal frugality, that money doesn’t grow on trees, and a balanced budget is the desire of all sensible governments. 

The next minute they spend up big to bail out ailing economies that would fail without a subsidy borrowed against the future.

They have been having these ‘breakdowns in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion’ for quite a while.

Over two centuries ago, the Panic of 1792 was the first time the U.S. federal government intervened to prop up the markets. During that crisis, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton authorized purchases to prevent the collapse of the securities market.

The Great Depression between 1929 and 1941 began with the stock market crash of 1929 and included banking panics in 1930 and 1931, included a government program to buy and refinance defaulted mortgages that kept a million families in their homes.

The Savings & Loan crisis between 1986 and 1995, when nearly a third of the 3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States failed, cost the government $160 billion (in 1990 dollars) to clean up.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government authorized more than $2 trillion in assistance including direct cash payments to citizens in April and December 2020, and again in March 2021.

In between these moments of apparent madness, the modern neoliberal mantra is fiscal conservatism — small government, small spending, deregulation and an unencumbered faith that the market will save everyone.

What this history tells us is that what gets done in a crisis is very different to business-as-usual and could even be the exact opposite of it. Interventions that save people from tragedy are necessary and moral.

And for the most part, the madness works. Excessive bonuses to executives notwithstanding, bailouts do seem to save economies and reduce impacts on communities.  

At least for a time.


Environmental crisis

Most environmentalists will tell you that the environment is in trouble and has been ever since the industrial revolution changed the way humans interact with nature.

There are many posts over on sustainably FED and on Alloporus | Ideas for healthy thinking that point this out. Indeed some commentators have dedicated their careers to persuading us that the environment is in crisis.

So this question from one of those advocates, George Monbiot, is a conundrum.

Quote by George Monbiot asking why governments save banks and not the environment

Why do nations rescue banks and other financial institutions but not the planet?


Why not save the planet?

Well, perhaps the answer to the central question stems from the biblical notions of dominion. 

Why save something that humanity was designed to exploit?

Maybe it is because nature has been through troubles before and shown remarkable resilience. Over geological time climate changes, massive atmospheric disruption and even meteorite strikes have come and gone with nature none the worse. Admittedly she takes time to recover from shocks but is still remarkably resilient. 

It is worth remembering that there was more biological diversity on the planet a hundred years ago than at any other time in the history of life on earth—biodiversity is a consequence of time, disturbance and a replicator molecule.

No need to spend money on a rescue because nature will recover herself.

Perhaps it is ignorance of the crisis itself. People with spending power have no vision of the environmental crisis. They are, after all, more likely to be focused on the banks when they look up from their single bottom line. Plus nature is the perennial provider of goods and services that humans have a right and moral responsibility to exploit.

No vision of the problem so there is no problem.

It could be that money can’t buy nature’s happiness because no matter what is spent, nature would not notice. Why spend vast sums on the environment when she has no ability to respond to the spending. Anyway, there is nothing to see if the food keeps growing and the people keep spending.

No use throwing good money on something that can’t be fixed.

It could be that money could buy nature her happiness but she is a fickle thing and it is not clear what to spend the money on. In the financial crises the ailments were obvious and the salve equally so. Other than emission reduction that may or may not reverse climate changes, spending on the environment to save nature is a mystery with no obvious return on investment.

No point in spending on random actions.

Cognitive dissonance is a possibility. This intriguing explanation from psychology says that when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent. Rather than accept an inconsistency we look for ways to resolve the conflict to reduce our emotional discomfort. The easy option, call it fake news and decide that the garden remains full of roses.

No environmental problem can exist if it makes me feel bad.

And finally, in this incomplete list, it could also be that the planet is not in need of rescue. Nature isn’t sentient and couldn’t care less what happens. The planet is a small blue ball in a vast universe that happens to have organic life that persists in spite of drastic perturbations. No matter what life does, the rock will continue to fly across space until the sun grows to consume it. Such an opinion is heresy but it does fit the evidence.

There is no Gaia to save.

So there we have it. A preliminary list of reasons why humans save banks and not the planet. No doubt I have missed many others and will be reminded of them in the comments.

We do know this… 

Whatever humans do over the next hundred years or so, 100,000 years from now the planet will still be here.

Humanity, however, is in deep shit.

How will we feed everyone well when there is a war in Europe?

How will we feed everyone well when there is a war in Europe?

I often have to pinch myself. 

In my comfortable home with a fridge full of food, potable water in the tap, and all the modern conveniences of a western lifestyle, I am one of the most fortunate people lucky enough to have existed.

Life is not all roses and freshly ground coffee. Two years ago, a massive 300,000 ha wildfire threatened our suburb after the previous one destroyed our backyard. Along with everyone else, we struggled through COVID lockdowns, survived shortages of toilet rolls, and went along to get vaccinated. Just as the lockdown rules were relaxed, we sloshed our way through the wettest summer I can remember as our region was declared a disaster area in the floods of early March and April 2022. But the record-breaking weather didn’t lead the newsfeed because there was a horrible unnecessary war in Europe.

So when I pinch myself, I am numb, not quite sure how to be grateful for my good luck.

There is a knot in my stomach. I realise that the current events are just harbingers—signals of what is to come. And although in my comfort, I have no right to be fearful, I am. 

Here is why. I have a niggling question.

How are we going to feed everyone well?

fresh brocoli and snow peas ready for the wok

Nothing like a pile of healthy greens—source Alloporus

Food prices will rise

Bread is a staple in the diet of billions of people worldwide. In 2021 global wheat production was around 766 million tons. Three countries make up 30% of the world’s production: Ukraine 26 million, Russian Federation 73 million, and China 132 million. Russia and Ukraine export about a quarter of the world’s wheat and half of its sunflower products. 

Even if we assume that Ukrainian farmers will continue to grow crops when the conflict subsides, there will be a disruption to supply in 2022 and beyond. 

Some countries are heavily exposed to this disruption.

Egypt imports the most grain, including around 5.60% of the world’s wheat imports. Flatbread is a staple food in Egypt, where the government has subsidised bread for decades but plans to raise the price. Egypt imported 6.1 million tonnes of wheat in 2021, with Russia supplying 4.2 million tonnes worth $1.2 billion. What happens if the Egyptians need to source wheat from elsewhere?

“I cannot provide 20 loaves of bread at the cost of one cigarette.” 

Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egyptian President 

In Tunisia, where the state controls the price of bread, half the country’s wheat imports come from Ukraine, and since the war started, wheat prices have risen to a 14-year high. 

Lebanon imports more than half of its wheat from Ukraine and reportedly has only weeks worth of supply. 

“Over time, depending on the length and the severity of this war, you could begin to see shortages of shipments that come to the African continent, and that could cause shortages. Particularly in the North African countries, and to an extent in East Africa.”

Wandile Sihlobo, Chief economist, Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa

I could go on, but when staple foods are not on the shelves or price rises put them out of reach, the social consequences reach further than toilet tissue.

In the acute phase of the conflict, people will treat these challenges like disasters. They will rally, help each other, and strike new trade deals. 

But the combination of war, COVID disruption, and population growth are not like a natural disaster that comes and goes away, leaving some clean air to rebuild and recover. 

There are lingering consequences.

flatbreads fresh from the oven

Flatbread has to be one of the most delicious foods ever created. Photo by Nancy Hann on Unsplash

Fertiliser prices will rise.

Food production in Europe feeds a billion people. 

Given we have bread on our minds, annual wheat production in the EU has been around 120 million tons for a decade. This is a little more than Russia and Ukraine combined.

Almost all of this production comes from intensive input-driven agriculture. Failure to add fertiliser and yield declines rapidly because the soils are already depleted from centuries of production.

Bread is humans eating fertiliser (or drinking oil).

And for the EU, a quarter of this fertiliser comes from Russia.

Russia produces 50 million tons of fertilisers every year, 13% of the world’s total, and is a significant exporter of potash, phosphate, and nitrogen-containing fertilisers. Economic sanctions will hurt the Russian economy, but restricting fertiliser exports would be an equivalent retaliation to impact the west.

But fertiliser supply is not all that Russia controls. 

Ammonia is a critical ingredient in nitrogen fertilisers. It is made from natural gas. Yara International, one of the largest fertiliser producers in Europe, cut 40% of its production capacity in Europe in 2021 before the conflict because of a spike in the price of wholesale gas. 

Self-sufficiency is not just about farmers. It is about the tools of their trade and the inputs they need to get the job done.

“Half the world’s population gets food as a result of fertilisers… and if that’s removed from the field for some crops, [the yield] will drop by 50%… For me, it’s not whether we are moving into a global food crisis – it’s how large the crisis will be.

Svein Tore Holsether, CEO, Yara International 
Homemade pavlova a delicious dessert made from egg whites, sugar, cream and fruit

Homemade pavlova that was simply delicious—Alloporus

Global food supply.

A lot has happened to the world since WW2. Most of it was peaceful, at least for the average citizen in Europe or the US. 

Once the Cold War ended, globalisation took over. Products, components, energy, and expertise come from anywhere and go anywhere, especially food. 

Currently, enough food is grown to feed everyone. Goods made or produced are shipped everywhere through a global supply system to arrive just in time. Many western countries rely heavily on this trade. They find it cheaper to buy the food than grow it themselves. Governments can point to the efficiency of the global food system to justify the easy option.

However, food production systems lack resilience.

A small example. There are 74,542 farms and 1,000 agricultural and food companies in Minnesota, but there are shortages everywhere because the supply chain is down over 5,000 commercial drivers. Brexit and then COVID created a similar problem for British consumers who get 80% of their food from France, Germany, the Netherlands and over 150 other countries.

Problems with distribution, access and waste leave one in ten of the global population hungry. Historically, most of these people lived in poorer countries, but the US and UK examples show the jurisdictional us and them breaking down. 

Hungry people exist everywhere.

Intensive agriculture that only produces cheap food with an energy subsidy and just in time trade is precarious.

Scarcity is a failed crop away.

Quote from Shelly Fagan about farming in the US

Feeding the poor well

“War leads to greater food insecurity, and food insecurity increases the chance of unrest and violence. So a conflict in Ukraine leading to hunger and pushing people into food insecurity elsewhere could have [the] potential for unrest and violence in other areas. And really, the world cannot afford another conflict.

Abeer Etefa, World Food Programme spokesperson based in Cairo

Back in my comfortable home with a fridge full of food and my status as one of the fortunate people feels secure.

Putting food in the fridge costs me roughly 10% of the household income. Should the food prices rise globally, I will feel inconvenienced. In only eight countries in the world do residents spend less than 10% of their household income on food: US, Singapore, UK, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, Australia and Austria.

The average Kenyan spends $543 a year on food, a fifth of the money spent by an average American. But that $543 is equivalent to 47% of disposable income. Double food prices, and the average Kenyan has no money left for anything else.

This high proportional spending on food is not just about poorer countries. 

Over the past 25 years, USDA estimates suggest that the poorest 20% of households in the US spent between 30% and 43% of their income on food.  This explains in part why there are 40 million Americans on food stamps.

Any inequity in access to resources is made more acute by a crisis. When prices rise, it is usually because of high demand, supply constrictions, or both. In all the higher price scenarios, the poor have less flexibility and suffer the consequences before anyone else.

Oxfam estimated that as of September 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, the economic decline, mass unemployment and severely disrupted food production led to a 40% surge in global food prices—the highest rise in over a decade—and more than 40 million people experiencing extreme levels of hunger, a 70% increase over the previous year. 

We can predict that famines will be publicised and the acute phases will be supported with global aid. There might even be another LiveAid concert or two.

What will be harder to do is to support the poor diffused through otherwise prosperous-looking societies. These impoverished people will need policy changes to reduce their immediate food insecurity and create opportunities to earn more as food prices rise. 

Thanks for reading this far into such a torrid story. It is scary to think about these issues but they are critical. They must be open for honest adult discussion because humanity will face disaster with our pants around our ankles if we fail to prepare.

Fear makes us irrational, so we have to take courage, overcome our worries and start coming up with solutions.

I co-founded sustainably FED as a tiny contribution. Please go over and check it out.

What can you do?


Hero image from photo by Melvina Mak on Unsplash

Do we always have to pay the rent

Do we always have to pay the rent

When I was growing up through the 1970s the only financial advice that stuck with me was the rule of thirds on what to do with income. It was to allocate one third on rent, one third to spending for everyday living, and a third saved.

Oh, how naive; how quaint.

Today rents in England account for half of the tenants’ take-home pay if you are lucky enough to live outside London. In the big smoke expect the proportion to be 75%. 

The rent just ate the savings.

And for today’s younger renters there is no bailout from inheritance despite the apparent wealth of the baby boomers. The typical inheritance age in the UK is somewhere around 60, and the median amount handed down is about £11,000.

Not surprisingly the youth are not happy.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) in the UK, was brave enough to publish numbers that suggest 80% of youngsters blame capitalism for the housing crisis, 75% believe the climate emergency is “specifically a capitalist problem” and 72% back sweeping nationalisation. 

Worst statistic of all for a right-wing think tank—67% of youngsters want to live under a socialist economic system.

It’s a similar story in the US. 

A Harvard University study in 2016 found that more than 50% of young people reject capitalism, while a 2018 Gallup poll found that 45% of young Americans saw capitalism favourably, down from 68% in 2010.

So much for the libertarian land of opportunity. 

And so much for the trickle-down.

The numbers for youngsters do not add up anymore. 

At the end of 2021 in Sydney, the average house was selling for $1.36 million and units for $837,000 with a typical Sydney house about $340,000 more expensive than it was at the end of 2020. 

Take a deep breath for this statistic—the rise in value in a year matches the full cost of a house just 25 years ago.

Image modified from photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash

Who can afford the mortgage?

Borrow the money to purchase one of these $1.3 million houses to avoid paying rent and you will need $65,000 on the minimum 5% deposit and expect to pay back the bank $4,500 a month for 30 years.

Total repayments of 1.62 million at $54,000 per year in after-tax dollars. 

The average salary of an Australian in 2021 was around A$99,600 per year with a wide range starting around A$33,000 and a median salary of A$72,000.

Assuming an approximate tax burden of 25%, a single person on $72,000 could pay the mortgage but would have zero dollars left for any of the other bills life throws their way.

Clearly, this is not sustainable.

Rather than do what most of us baby boomers would do and lament the loss of the picket fence and the Sundays spent painting it white, how about a reboot.

What if ownership was not the only route to the long-term security of house and home?

What if we invented new social norms that not only promoted rents but removed the landlord. Let’s take rent-seeking out of the equation and have society build the housing stock at cost, then rent that stock to individuals in the community at rates that reflect recovery of those costs and perhaps a modest return linked to the bank rate.

You know, the sort of thing a sovereign wealth fund could handle.

Just thinking.

Elections are no longer a contest of ideas

Elections are no longer a contest of ideas

Over on Medium, Alloporus posted on political naivety, asking the simple question: What is politics all about?

In the midst of berating myself for such simplicity, I came across Guardian journalist Peter Lewis more eloquently saying the same thing—our politics sucks.

Politics is no longer a contest of ideas that are formalised as policies but a free for all devoid of content with the weapons in the contest drawn from the marketing arsenal.

We have an election looming in Australia. The incumbent prime minister is supposedly a ninja at marketing. He certainly comes out with crass one-liners. Only they say more about his attitude to leadership than the outcome he wants.

“This is coal, don’t be scared”, “I don’t hold a hose, mate” and “It’s not a race” are marvellous phrases to capture the crises of climate, fire and flood.

What a legacy. 

Imagine being remembered for gaffs that scream to the world how out of touch you were at crisis time, despite sitting in the chair reserved for leading the nation. More worrying than not reading the room is disrespecting the chair, the failure to take responsibility for leading and the prime objective of keeping people safe. 

Now we are told that people don’t believe politicians so all the gaffs are just the noise of the media cycle and are ignored. And perhaps we don’t. 

But these are challenging times that will worsen before we figure out how to make things better—the climate is the least of our problems; when the food prices start to spike and there are shortages on the shelves—we need more. 

Heaven help us if the war in Ukraine escalates.

It is time to get that contest of ideas back.

I don’t want tragic events politicised, I want to see the ideas on energy, food security, defence, and all the usual suspects of jobs, education and health.

I want the politicians to bring substance, not lumps of coal and Hawaiian shirts.

I am naive, after all.


Hero image modified from photo by Nnaemeka Ugochukwu on Unsplash

The agreement to cooperate

The agreement to cooperate

Suppose I cut down a tree. 

I am keen to get the benefit from the wood at my feet. The tree trunk is enormous, raw, and not in any shape to be used. It needs to sit and dry out. Then I can fashion it into beams to repair the roof of my rondavel.

But the tree is far from my house. I cannot watch over it until it is dry. I have hunting and gathering to do, and maize beer to drink by the fire.

So I leave the tree where it fell.

My neighbour also needs to repair his roof. He could steal my tree trunk while I am not looking, but he doesn’t because we agree with what tradition tells us.

A tree felled belongs to he who felled it. 

Everyone in the tribe knows the rule and agrees to abide by it. Break this agreement and there are consequences from the chief and his many wives.

Society is built on this type of contract.

Called the social contract in moral and political philosophy during the Age of Enlightenment — an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled or between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each — it originated to give legitimacy to the authority of the state (tradition and the chief) over the individual (me and my stone axe). 

Through the social contract, individuals surrender some of their freedoms and submit to collective authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights and maintenance of the social order.

It is easy to forget how critical the social contract is to our well-being and the opportunity for personal success in modern times. 

Personal and societal safety, efficient education, security of business contracts including the exchange of time for money, ownership of goods and legal entities, access to health care and expertise, all happen through the contract. Everything that makes modern societies wealthy and safe comes from our collective agreement to follow the rules.

That is not to say that everyone is always happy. 

There is a constant tension in the social contract as it ducks and weaves its way alongside the development of societies. 

A critical source of tension is the actual or perceived fairness in the rights and duties, especially in the difference between how they are defined and how they play out in the real world.

For example, the government decides, on advice from health professionals, that the best way to manage a pandemic from an infectious airborne virus is to tell people to stay at home. House arrest for the masses. I am no longer at liberty to go and find another tree to cut down even though I have a permit from the Agriculture department to cut one.

No problem. It is in the interest of public health, which is a crucial benefit of the social contract. 

The pandemic, fake news, authoritarian regimes, and even social media put tremendous strain on the contract even as neoliberalism persuades people to expect less from governing authorities in exchange for greater civil liberties, including individual, political and economic freedom.

The contradiction is enough to do your head in.

Society is so much more complex than it was in the days of the stone axe. But the importance of the social contract grows with it. 

Only to protect the benefits, we have to be vigilant. The rulers cannot ignore the rules any more than we can and must not act unilaterally and claim the authority of the state to justify their self-interest.


Still upset about media drivel, claims from fake news, and the deceit that passes for public debate these days? Check out sustainability FED for objective ideas on how to feed everyone well.


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A few quotes tell the story

A few quotes tell the story

This sequence of quotes I plucked at random from my superficial reading of U.S. political commentary early in 2022 before Putin chose to further destabilise the world. 

Then I put them in a chilling order.

“Only free and fair elections in which the loser abides by the result stand between each of us and life at the mercy of a despotic regime” 

Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor

“One thing Democrats and Republicans share is the belief that, to save the country, the other side must not be allowed to win … Every election is an existential crisis,”

Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Columbia law professor

“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”

Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Republican, North Carolina

“The groups that tend to start civil wars are the groups that were once dominant politically but are in decline. They’ve either lost political power or they’re losing political power and they truly believe that the country is theirs by right and they are justified in using force to regain control because the system no longer works for them.”

Barbara Walter, political scientist, University of California, San Diego

“It would not be like the first civil war, with armies manoeuvring on the battlefield. I think it would very much be a free-for-all, neighbour on neighbour, based on beliefs and skin colours and religion. And it would be horrific.”

Col Peter Mansoor, military history professor, Iraq war veteran

“I speak to you as a human being, a woman whose dreams of motherhood now taste bittersweet because of what I know about our children’s future”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat, New York

Worried about the future, what will happen to our food, environment, and safety? Get some accurate information and ideas at sustainability FED.


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When to register a patent

When to register a patent

A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive and useful.

A patent is a legally enforceable right to commercially exploit the invention for the patent’s life.

Once applied for and granted, it gives exclusive rights for an invention to make, use and sell the design for a limited period, typically 20 years. The patent grant excludes others from making, using, or selling the invention and does not start until the actual allocation of a patent.

Patents are handy in business, and they are lodged when an individual or a company believes they have invented something “new, inventive or useful” and ideally lucrative when commercially exploited.

So what would you say to the fact that patents were lodged for oil tankers and mobile drilling platforms that could navigate a melting Artic by the following companies in the 1970s 

  • Exxon in 1973
  • Texaco In 1974 
  • Chevron in 1974 
  • Shell in 1983

When to register your patent

The date you first file a patent application for your invention establishes what is known as a priority date. Potential competitors who file an application later for the same design will not be entitled to patent it due to your earlier priority date.

So what were these oil companies up to in the mid-1970s?

Protecting their technologies to get oil out of the Arctic when the ice was melting. Did they know that climate change was a potential risk 50 years ago, and they hedged as all smart businesses should do?

Just in case they needed to be the first with a stable platform to drill for oil on unstable ice, they invented and patented their own platforms.

No matter if they never built them. They were prepared.

It is a shame that the rest of us are less prescient.


Worried about the future, what will happen to our food, environment, and safety? Get some accurate information and ideas at sustainability FED.


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Who are the ignoble larrikins?

Who are the ignoble larrikins?

Say what you think and mean what you say.

Not a bad adage at all. People will like you for your honesty and integrity, two of the most important human attributes.

Indeed without these two, we would be far less successful as a species for we would not have commerce, collaboration or cooperation. Nor would we have science, technology and engineering for these are professions built on self-policing rules that fail without honesty.

Australians have a reputation for saying what they think — they are keen on the first part of the adage. 

Many are larrikins too, with a healthy disregard for convention. It is ok to play golf in thongs or even bare feet.

And after living in Australia for 25 years, I have to say that Australians mean what they say for the most part. Although sometimes I am not sure they think before spouting forth, another expression of larrikinism.

Author Lech Blaine suggests that conservative politicians in Australia have commandeered this straight-shooting on the fringes into a blue-collar revolution for their political ends. 

Quote from Lech Blaine on fabricated larrikins

Stupid white men wearing white shirts pretending to be working class is an odd image. 

These well-educated and affluent individuals would never dream of playing golf in thongs. They only pretend to be among the masses, especially the working-class battlers, because this is where elections are won. 

In one of the most complex voting systems in the world with two-foot ballot papers and weirdness with preferences, Liberal governments win enough seats not by playing to their rusted-on base of conservative support but by pretending to represent the undecided in a handful of seats at each election. And these swing voters are not in the cities; they are in the suburbs and the rural areas.

Now the shirt-wearing men not only have to pretend to wear overalls but drive a tractor too. 

The men courting the battlers never shoot straight. They are the ignoble larrikins. They prefer to be on holiday in Hawaii than in front of the wildfire and anonymously report the thong wearer to the golf club chairman.

They lie and cheat and pork-barrel their way into the top political jobs.

And we let them.

As the French Ambassador to Australia said, “What you say in confidence … will eventually be used and weaponised against you one day.”

Shame on us.


Hero image modified from a Photo by Aditya Joshi on Unsplash

The left left their talk to the right

The left left their talk to the right

True freedom emerges from respect for other people. 

This is George Monbiot doing his thing in an article about how leftwingers — his crew — are lured to the far-right by conspiracy theories.

It is true because the world is upside down, in a scary state of flux. 

Democracy as we thought we knew it, with a vote cast, tallied and winners declared after a simple count, is not strong enough anymore. It can’t resist the manipulation of the socials or the authoritarian undermining by the lawmakers.

One minute we all agree to stay at home, don masks and not see friends and family for months, all at significant personal and emotional cost, then we are told to go for it. Some do for a short while until reality voluntarily puts us back at home.  

Check out Australia in its wet summer of 2021/22.

Apparently, with the health system straining like never before and frontline staff at the end of their rope, it is the right time for the Australian government to announce a $3.5 billion expenditure on 120 military tanks from the United States. This is more than 10%  of the $30.2 billion NSW Health budget for 2020-21.

It is weird and scary.

Well, we could always vote them out.

Only the point that Monbiot makes is summarised in this quote.

The left left their talk to the right. 

And the right left their talk to the left.

Rumsfeld would be delighted with such linguistic conflagration.

So when I exercise my democratic right to vote and place a cross on a ballot, the choice is impossible. There is no way of deciding who stands for what anymore.

All we know is the period of stability in the age-old power balance between people and state is over. The struggle is back, and for the moment, it is the state and the supporting cast to the authoritarians that have the upper hand.

People beware.


Hero image modified from a photo by Alvin Leopold on Unsplash