Can humanity persist for another 100 years?

Can humanity persist for another 100 years?

Why not? 

A century is not that long a time in the grand scheme of things. All we need to do is stay sane, not throw rocks, and grow enough food without using up all the freshwater. 

Should be easy enough, we have been around a while after all.

Homo sapiens, modern humans, have survived as a species for a long time. The most quoted scientifically based origin is 300,000 years ago in Africa amongst a number of other Hominid species. 

Here is what the Smithsonian says

The species that you and all other living human beings on this planet belong to is Homo sapiens. During a time of dramatic climate change 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Like other early humans that were living at this time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviours that helped them respond to the challenges of survival in unstable environments.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

The average ‘lifespan’ of a mammal species – origination to extinction – is estimated from the fossil record, genetic evidence and rates of extinction to be about 1 million years, although some species persist for as long as 10 million years. If H. sapiens are an average mammal species then we have 700,000+ years left in us. 

Given our current ‘age’ and these lifespan estimates, the likelihood seems pretty high that we can persist for another 100 years, a minuscule proportion of these timeframes.

However, putting aside the rock-throwing and sanity of the leadership, in order to persist there must be enough food.

Our present complement of 7.7 billion souls each consumes a global average of  2,884 calories per day, give or take, to maintain weight and health assuming that along with the calories comes a balance of nutrients and food types. This is a gigantic amount of food consumed each and every day.

Roughly 22 trillion kcals

Obviously, we have engineered efficient food production systems to meet this demand otherwise there would not be 7.7 billion people and rising in the first place.   

Whilst famine and malnutrition are still prevalent, from a production perspective they are unnecessary. Most of the analysis and modelling suggest enough calories are grown. However, food is unevenly distributed, a great deal of production is wasted, and in many western cultures, people consume far more food than is healthy for the average citizen.  

Then along comes a quote from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that went around the media. Here is how it was headlined in the sustainability section of the Scientific American, an erudite and respected science journal 

Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues

Generating three centimetres of topsoil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said

Scientific American December 5, 2014

The warning was harsh. No doubt designed to shock with numbers that should send shivers up the spines of the young. The quote goes on…

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.

60 harvests left

In other words, to maintain food production per person equivalent to that in 1960 production per hectare would need to quadruple by 2050.

60 harvests left around many parts of the world, a lifetime of harvests, is a great headline. I’m ok then but if there are no harvests after that lifetime, then what are your grandchildren going to eat? Shocking and personal, a copywriters dream.

The degradation is true. Both intensive and shifting agriculture struggle to be gentle on soils.  It is easy for farmers to either mine nutrients or slip into input-output production systems. However, food production from soil is not static or uniform. There is innovation everywhere and not all soil is being degraded or eroded at the same rate. 

Some systems in regenerative agriculture are able to reverse the degradation trends with soil carbon accumulation and more efficient on-farm nutrient cycling.

Soil degradation is a huge problem but to say we have on 60 harvest left is fodder for the doomscroller, a headline fantasy and has been called as such

The soil scientists don’t believe it, mostly because such a number is very hard to calculate with any certainty. There are too many factors at play.

It also fails the pub test. A few sips of Theakston’s Old Peculiar and it is clear that not all farms will fail in little Jaden’s lifetime. Many farms are thousands of years old what makes the next 60 years so special?

Alright, we are down from the hyperbole. So will we persist beyond the next 100 years?

Well yes, but we will have to look after soil much better than we do at present. And this was probably the FAO message, they just got a bit carried away.

Fortunately, we already know how to do this. Combinations of the following can slow or reverse soil degradation: 

  • maintaining groundcover
  • minimum tillage
  • production diversity
  • careful use of livestock
  • irrigation practices
  • crop rotations
  • rest 

These are a few of the many options. 

It is important that degradation does not reach points of no return where rehabilitation or restoration becomes too difficult given the local conditions. The FAO would call this desertification but it can also be salination or other forms of soil degradation. 

The FAO were guilty of hyperbole but that’s all. 

What is true is this.

Outside the people and the politics, soils hold the answer to whether humanity can persist for another 100 years. 

Only this is not a headline in any way and who wants to agree with it anyway.

Humans are all powerful after all.


Go ahead and share this extraordinary missive, you know you want to…

Do we stop learning when we leave school?

Do we stop learning when we leave school?

bantersnaps on Unsplash

Do we stop learning when we leave school? 

Of course not. 

True learning only starts after graduation. It’s then that the real world smacks us in the face and we have to engage our street smarts and tough skins to survive and prosper. The formal learning might stop when the cap is thrown in the air, then our life learning begins in earnest. 

And where do we get that learning from? 

Sources of everyday learning

Our parents have already done their best to impart wisdom through our teenage tantrums and our grunts as the highest form of communication. Now they just want us out the door.

We can ask Google or Siri any number of questions. This gets us realistic answers as factoids and snippets of detail that we don’t otherwise know. This works so long as you ask the robots the right questions.

Then there are the online feeds with factual content indistinguishable from the advertisements and opinion of the bullshit artists. 

Most of us still browse a news media site or maybe still watch the news on the TV. Only these outlets are companies for the most part with no obligation to educate us in the things that are important. They decide what is printed, what is investigated, what is picked up from the distributors to fill the column inches. Their bean counters have only the company’s bottom line on their minds. They think of their audience in ratings and do not ask if they should be providing their customers with a service – eyeballs and clicks are all that matter. 

Hold on though, around the world, there are publicly funded and state-run media. Some of those outlets have more latitude to publish content that is educational. And for the most part they do, along with a set of government-sanctioned messages. 

My experience here in Australia is that the public services must increasingly chase that elusive viewer or else lose more of their funding. 

Then there are all those little videos presented by Joe and Jill public. Some are great and some are awful. They all rely on our judgement to decide if they give us any life lessons or wisdom. Remember that the Tic Tocers and Instagrammers are after clicks too.

Alright so we keep learning and the sources of material for us to consume are endless and require us to be vigilant.

Does everyday knowledge matter?  

Are the topics that enter the conversation via the media the most important to humanity?

Here is one answer.

But the horse race that matters most is humanity’s collective race to defuse the climate emergency. What’s ultimately being decided in these elections is nothing less than whether all of us are going to have a livable planet 20 years from now and beyond. If the press is most comfortable chasing fires and sending reporters into disaster zones, so be it. But newsrooms should know: the disaster is here. It is raging now. Our job is to cover it with the urgency it deserves.

Mark Hertsgaard, Executive Director, Covering Climate Now.

Climate advocates push that agenda of course and they are right to provoke crisis thinking around this problem. It is a huge deal. As I edit this post Sydney is in the middle of a five-day rain deluge breaking rainfall records only a year out from drought and horrendous bushfires. 

The climate change that we’re experiencing is easily sufficient to cause the next mass extinction, particularly as the effects are accelerated by human land use. 

Recall that four of the five previous mass extinction events were climate-related. The dramatic changes across the planet will affect every single one of us. Not talking about climate change is a criminal omission. 

But this is an advocate talking. Why pay attention to climate over other critical issues? If the climate gets the lion’s share of our eyeballs and worry, what about soil, food security, population, sustainability, not to mention pandemics (yes, there will be more than one)? The list of acute issues is a long one.

This begs the broader question of what is essential learning? And, of course, who decides what is important for us to know. 

Knowable knowledge 

The body of human knowledge is so vast now that no one person can be across all of it. Even a slither is challenging.

In my own discipline of ecology, the number of scientific journals and articles published each year has risen exponentially over the last decades. And since I was a postgraduate student, when it seemed possible to get your head around most of the concepts and the literature that described those concepts, nowadays, it seems impossible to even read the systematic reviews. 

Recently we completed our own version of an evidence review on the wild dog problem in New South Wales. This is dogs that are feral domestic dogs often mixed with dingoes into various levels of purity that occasionally predate livestock in the rural areas. 

Farmers respond to livestock losses negatively as you can imagine. Nobody who grows animals wants to see those animals killed or maimed even in small numbers. 

The literature on the dogs though is quite extensive. A Google scholar search on ‘wild dog Australia’ generates 23 research papers with these words in the title and over a hundred related to the topic since 2017. Keeping up with all of this information in its raw form is difficult. 

The media has an important role to play in presenting information in an objective way, synthesized into bite-sized chunks. What it seems to be doing though is sensationalizing everything in order to get eyeballs. 

I believe the media should be telling us about a whole bunch of issues that currently don’t even get any airplay at all. 

Particularly the crisis in the soils. The requirement to grow food and increase production at 2% for 30 years. The notion of the demographic transition, that humanity will peak at a large number of people. And we’ll have to feed that large number for a long period of time before that declines through natural attrition. 

But this is not news in the true sense. It is predictions of the future and news agencies are very wary of such things. The last thing they want is to be shown to get the future wrong, they will say their job is to report the present. They shy away from anything futuristic. 

What about the immediate consequences of longer-term stories? What about the aging farmers or the increased rates of suicides amongst farmers? The debt to equity ratios in rural communities or the number of rural properties operating as businesses that are just not profitable, never have been, never can be. What about the properties that are heading in that direction that were once viable and are now becoming unproductive? 

What about the fact that wild dogs are not really a pest at all? In terms of an economic impact, in the aggregate they are benign. 

What do we know?

I suspect that our desire to learn is a string as ever but I worry we are learning the wrong things and are ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us. We hide in our social feeds that are designed to deliver content that we like. And the youngsters who are trying to live on the edge of their comfort zones are really looking for that early life excitement more than education. 

The thing is when you get to a certain age you realize that education is actually fundamental to what you’ve just been through. And that if you’ve been successful most likely you have gathered about yourself the equivalent of education in various forms even f most of them are informal. 

Then you realize that you should have been doing that purposefully from the beginning. 

And education is not about certificates and grades or being the valedictorian. It is all about building your own capacity, your own level of understanding about yourself and how the world around you works. 

And how you can chart a better course for yourself as part of humanity.


Reposting is fine by me

Can your manager read faces?

Can your manager read faces?

Photo by Khashayar Kouchpeydeh on Unsplash

I recently completed a mesquite emotional intelligence test. 

This sort of thing happens periodically in the business world. Executives decide that the company needs better management of staff and seeks to upskill it’s managers, usually with limited success. This trend has leaked across into the bureaucracy. Notorious for its dreadful management capabilities and leadership vacuums, the civil service is hoping to fix some of these problems by getting managers to understand their emotional insides. 

So I completed the test. 

Later, I had a fascinating hour-long debrief with the lady from the consulting firm conducting the process. 

Turns out I’m skilled in the area of emotional intelligence, which is encouraging I suppose. Gives the old ego a massage and a feel-good factor for not being a complete dope when it comes to feelings. 

We proceeded to have an interesting conversation about what emotional intelligence brings to the workplace. She soon figured that I needed a bit of emotional uplift and was very complimentary about many of the scores on my test. 

However, one area with a poor score was recognizing emotions in people’s faces. 

The test results decided I wasn’t skilled at finding the tell that flashes across people’s faces before they put on their mask. The signal that people can’t hide before they say, “oh yes, I’m all very fine, thank you” and smile at you. 

The little dip in the eyebrow or the clenching across the mouth indicating that they’re actually either in pain or some form of distress. All those little tells that are the stuff of spy dramas and whodunit mysteries. 

The suggestion was that I might want to improve my skills in this area. Wouldn’t it be great if I could pick a colleague’s emotional state from their facial responses? 

I jumped into my ego and said, “Well actually, I use body language, tone of voice and other information sources not just looking at people’s faces.” 

Yes,  such additional information was conceded as giving up more than the fleeting glance. But I should still get better at face reading. 

The rationale given for improving my skills in facial tells was not to understand people’s emotions better, but so that I could manage those emotions. Now, the word manipulation was never actually said but the notion of managing somebody’s emotions I found disturbing. 

In my world, your emotions are yours, my emotions are mine, and whilst they sometimes clash when triggered, what you feel and how you feel is entirely yours and your responsibility to manage, or not as the case may be. 

I pulled the lady up on her assumption that managers should manage the emotions of their staff with the alternate that I wasn’t interested in managing people’s emotions because that was their responsibility. And whilst I understood that emotions in the workplace might need tweaking to get the best possible outcome for the team, it should be a personal thing, not one for the manager. I was really keen to let her know that I didn’t like the manipulation idea. 

My hunch is I haven’t chosen to actively improve my face reading skills over the years because I don’t want to engage at that level of detail in people’s emotional selves. 

The return argument was this. 

“Well, okay, that’s fair enough, but it’s also always useful to have much more information about how people are feeling in order to be better informed yourself about their state. It helps you with empathy, helps you with understanding and a chance to be kind and thoughtful towards those people. Doesn’t always have to be about manipulating them for a particular end.”

 Fair comment. 

But then she spoilt it by going on to quote the following rationale. Apparently, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says emotional intelligence is an important skill that senior managers need to have in order to be successful. 

It’s almost as though because it was the OECD that said it, it must be true. 

So obviously, I jumped on that one. 

With a howitzer, I said, “Why would I listen to the OECD? Why would I be listening to the neoliberal capitalist model that has got us into this mess in the first place? The reason why people are putting on their happy face when in fact inside they’re all chewed up.”

That didn’t go down so well. 

What I found interesting was that this person who was clearly an expert in emotional intelligence had taken on, hook, line, and sinker, that commerce is great. That we should be understanding emotions for the bottom line when for everyone there are many, often more important reasons. 

Emotional intelligence matters to people. It improves our relationships, our intimacy with others, our ability to form strong and meaningful bonds. It gives us the ability to have well-being both inside and outside the trappings of modern life. 

I don’t think the lady got what I was saying and there wasn’t enough time to fully explain. 

Maybe she went away and realised that she was subconsciously peddling a message that she might not even have believed in herself. And this is what we do all the time. We take on board messages subconsciously and we run with them. Often without realizing that we’re doing it even when the topic of the exercise is our inner selves and our emotions. 

I’d like to think that we could move on from these primitive fundamentals. We can take the chance offered by a pandemic to reset some of these core agendas of managers taking control of our emotions and that the OECD must be right as examples of modernity. At the very least to question them and try to decide if they’re actually what we want. 

I think it’s happening. Some people are having conversations to decide what the options might be. And it’s a hugely challenging area. It’s never going to be easy to move the juggernaut that is modern economics in a different direction or even dismantle some of it and put it back together in a different shape and size. 

Anything requiring a transition on that scale is likely to cause an enormous amount of grief and upset. But we have to recognize that the current model is flawed. It’s not supporting all of the people all the time the discrepancy between the rich and the poor is growing. 

In crises like COVID it’s the vulnerable elements of society that are impacted. The poor, the old, the unfit. Groups that occur across the whole of society. 

So I’ve decided that I will have a look at that weaker skill of mine. Maybe learn more about how to look at people’s faces more precisely and try to understand what they’re thinking. There’s plenty of opportunities, particularly in the days of Zoom calls where you can actually stare at people for quite some time without them even realizing it’s happening. 

And we’ll see if that improves my understanding of how the world works and whether it raises empathy or whether it just makes me more annoyed about how people are not able to control their emotions. 

I’ll get back to you on this one.


Please browse around for a while on Alloporus | ideas for healthy thinking there are over 400 posts to choose from

A different message from Sir David

A different message from Sir David

Sir David Attenborough has made another wildlife documentary. No surprise there, the legend has made dozens of them over his long and distinguished career.

What is different about this one is summed up in his final sentence

“What happens next is up to every one of us.”

David Attenborough’s, Extinction: The Facts

For the first time, BBC programmers and Sir David decided we were big enough and brave enough to hear the truth of the matter. All the habitat loss, the pollution, the poaching, climate change impacts, expressed as wildfire impacts, and the inevitable species extinctions.

It is all true.

It is happening every day and in Sir David’s lifetime, there has been more than enough time for even the blind to see the consequences of human appropriation of net primary production, the landscape changes and the, well, the consequences of nearly 8 billion of us.

Of course, we do not want to be told, at least that’s what the TV producers decided.

Only against expectations, the viewing numbers in the UK screening were good and got better as the show progressed. It seemed like we were up for the messages after all. Perhaps we are ready for the reality of what we have done.

The interesting part is the last postulate at the end of the show that will no doubt become a classic

What happens next is up to every one of us

Here is what we need to do next

  • Feed an average of 8 billion souls every day for a hundred years – that means around 23 trillion kcals a day for 36,500 days at least.
  • Change the trajectory of our diets so that this calorie and nutrient challenge is achievable
  • Pay attention to soil and learn all we can about how to keep it healthy everywhere
  • Rewild up to a third of the land area and a third of the surface ocean volume to give the remaining global biodiversity a chance to survive, but also to maintain critical ecosystem services
  • Adapt through innovation to inevitable climate change impacts whilst transitioning to carbon-neutral economies
  • Be positive and hear the messages even when they are frightening, then act

And to achieve all of these there is one more thing…

  • Vote for progressive politicians.

I know this last one is the most difficult, for just now politicians with ideas are like hen’s teeth, exceptionally rare and hard to spot. But with necessity, they will appear and will stand out.

You’ll know them instantly.

Best of luck to us all.

Environmental science degrees in Australia just took a massive hit

Environmental science degrees in Australia just took a massive hit

In the 2020 Federal budget the Australian government, in its wisdom, decided that they would shift funding allocated to particular subjects within the university sector. The media have focused on reductions in the amount of money spent on arts degrees and the promotion of STEM subjects, technical and hard science degrees. 

Only one of the big losers in that story was environmental science. 

The student contribution to environmental studies was cut from $9,698 to $7,700 a year – meaning students will pay less for their degrees. A positive of course.

However, the commonwealth contribution paid to the universities to run these degrees was cut from $24,446 to $16,500 per student per year – meaning that the government will fund each degree less. Unless the university can be remarkably creative, less money received per student means a poorer quality of education.

This is very short-sighted, obviously. 

At a time when the youth are turning their minds towards their futures and what kind of environment they’re going to live in; not to mention their children and grandchildren. They are concerned. They think that the current and previous generations have given them a hospital pass. And they’re about to crash into the opponent with very little protection. 

Many of them are keen to find out more, to engage with environmental problems, and to search for solutions. Apply their sharp and agile minds to make the world safer and more sustainable.

The environmental sciences, one would have thought, are in the best interests of everyone. 

No matter what your value set, not understanding how the environment works is just a massive miss to any economy, society and individual well-being. 

Think about it for a moment.

All modern economic systems are founded on feeding the people. There are only two ways to feed the people: grow enough food or buy food from another grower. Either way, you need a strong system of economic organisation in order to be able to achieve the outcome by either method. 

Failure to feed your population and strife is never far away. 

And here is the thing… whether we like it or not,

The environment is where we grow our food 

Until we have created greenhouses on the moon or vertical gardens on every building in every city, the majority of our food supply will come from the land. It will be grown in soil. That’s going to be the case for at least the next hundred years and beyond. 

Not recognizing this fact just because we seem to have enough food right now, is morally abhorrent. That senior leaders and advisers are not even contemplating future food security is criminal. 

Remember that on any day of the week at least 700 million people are hungry and not all of them live in obscure countries that few know exist.

We have a small window for finding options to grow and distribute food for everyone. A short time to throw alternatives around and have their value debated before landing on the values that take precedent in which locations. 

Soon this window for rational discussions will have passed and will be in crisis mode. 

And a crisis is what it will come to for hungry people are desperate. 

In spending less on environmental science education governments are undermining the capability to even act in crisis mode by making it harder for a youngster to be educated in this area of interest. It is tragic. A small budget item decision that really points to the stupidity of the people in power. 

Not just the government

It may be that the environmental scientists themselves must take some of the responsibility. 

In my hirsute youth way back in the late 1970’s, I completed a degree in environmental science at the University of East Anglia in the UK. It was a new degree at the time and UEA promoted itself as a place of open-ended learning and student-centred inquiry.

A fascinating subject combined with a novel pedagogy fitted my personality to perfection. 

I absolutely loved it.

I spent hours in the library on my open-ended inquiry. And was both fascinated and empowered by the student-centeredness of the whole approach. In one of the courses, I even marked my own assignment, only to be told by the lecturer that I might have undersold myself. 

That this type of degree was available at the time was magical to me. 

The ability to mix and match a whole range of different subject matter, that would otherwise have not gone together or insufficient on their own to merit undergraduate study, was perfect.  Ecology, sedimentology, geochemistry, meteorology, sustainable development… and that was just the first year. 

Later it was Environments in time, more Ecology, Ecosystem Management, Land Resource Development, and Toxic Substances in the Environment. In total a thorough grounding in the bio-physicality of the world with and without humanity.

This STEM version of environmental science was not taken up in every program. 

In many universities, these topics never really came together and environmental science was hijacked by the human end of it. The value-laden decision making by individuals and the consequences of people being involved in the environment more so than the objectivity of the information that you can get about how the environment works. 

In other words, the sociology of the subject risked diluting the objectivity. 

These programs are less able to be precise about the science of the environment being absorbed in the social aspects of it. 

Consequently, environmental scientists are not winning Nobel Prizes. They’re not at the forefront of the men in white coats that governments are now trotting out to explain the COVID crisis. 

The discipline of environmental science does not have the standing needed to attract resources to empower the next generation. I think we have to take some responsibility for that, for not actually putting ourselves forward well enough. 

But if I was a climate actions youngster skipping school in order to protest about my future, then I would be looking closely at that cheaper degree and hoping that the quality of the program was up to scratch. 

Then I would enrol in environmental science.

Society will need what I learn.

One rule for you and one for the politician

One rule for you and one for the politician

There is a debate going on in Australia at the moment about superannuation. In particular, the percentage of superannuation payments that companies must make for each employee. 

Currently, the law says that 9.5% of the base salary is the minimum requirement. 

Some companies go with more than that in order to provide attractive remuneration for staff. For example, the university sector has very generous superannuation levels well into double figures. But overall, weak investment returns and stock market volatility will leave many workers with modest super at retirement.

In response to this future problem, the Federal government promised to raise the minimum rate of employer superannuation contribution to 12%. 

This has benefits to workers but also to the economy as a whole when those workers become retirees and have more money to spend. 

Only the Australian PM Scott Morrison is considering delaying the legislated increase from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent…  to protect jobs.

It is a boon for politicians to stand up and say “isn’t it wonderful that we are trying to improve the superannuation rate”. Even if they then say that they will delay it to protect jobs in tough times.

When the PM or any of his ministers stands up to speak though, he probably doesn’t tell everybody that his superannuation as a member of Parliament is already 15%. 

Imagine standing up and saying well, ladies and gentlemen, I get 15 per cent you get nine and a bit, but we’re going to raise yours a little bit or maybe not now that COVID-19 has stuffed everything up.

That is really not going to go down too well – one rule for you and one rule for me. 

Please mind the gap

Please mind the gap

Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash

Here are some interesting numbers

  • Jeff Bezos is worth $US183 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.
  • Since March 2020 when the COVID pandemic was declared, Bezos’ wealth has swelled by $US67 billion.
  • His income is roughly $US2,000 per second.

The arrival of the COVID pandemic with its lockdowns, social distancing, and unprecedented hand sanitisation has been a shock. It’s jolted perception of the way the world works and made a few folks think twice about how our societies function.

People are reminding themselves of exactly what goes on in the system of economic production and social organization. The one structured around profit. The successful are those who are able to sniff profit from gaps in the market, new products, and price anomalies — the everyday activity of trade.

And trade makes us all happy from shoppers to shopkeepers, groceries wholesalers or investment bankers who trade in futures, derivatives and their latest invention for a complex financial instrument. It doesn’t matter what type of financial transaction you’re engaged in, ultimately you’re looking for more in return than you give away.

It is often said that the best products are those where the buyer perceives greater value than he’s giving you in payment. Only you must receive from him more than it costs you to deliver the goods or service.

When this happens everyone wins.

So what is there to question given that the pandemic is, after all, just a blip in the never ending growth trajectory? Well, how about the privatization of asset recycling and the fundamental belief that free trade and minimum government will maximize our society and the profit opportunity?

Apparently, the theory of free trade and the mathematical formula that underpin it still holds true. Minimum government is ideal until there is no work for people to do and then maximum government is necessary, spending big by printing money to prevent everything crashing, and, of course, maintaining the opportunity for profit. Governments whose prime agenda had been to balance the books have racked up extraordinary levels of debt. Global debt in US dollars is now pushing US$270 trillion. That’s an increase of $50 trillion in less than five years.

Great success according to Jeff; US$2,000 a second anyone?

Over the years of promoting profit, growth and more growth, many economists jettisoned an equally important concept on the other side of the ledger. They forgot about distribution. What should happen for any system of trade to be sustainable is that the wealth creation is evenly distributed or at least has the potential to flow down to the lower levels of the system. If it doesn’t flow fast or far enough then a critical mass of people might become disgruntled enough to cause a ruckus.

Only what we’ve seen is that the distribution of wealth is now concentrated more and more into fewer and fewer people.

Check out this excellent website that shows just how much wealth is concentrated into first Mr Bezos’ accounts and then those of the 200 most wealthy people in the US.

Take your time, it is hard to fathom.

The gap between the unimaginable levels of wealth of the people controlling the money compared to working-class living is growing and not because living standards in the developed world have declined in recent decades. The decline that fueled the popularism that delivered Trump his presidency.

It is because of wealth creation and concentration.

The liberalization of financial markets has seen debt levels explode at a national corporate and personal level. There’s now so much cash injected into the global financial system by reserve banks that the traditional business cycles have halted. It’s added to our past excesses, rather than curbing them. And all the while the wealth has become ever more concentrated at the top.

The .com crash added debt. The global financial crisis was solved with more debt. Now we have the COVID health crisis shutting down the global economy and the solution is even more debt.

Remember what debt is ”an obligation that requires one party, the debtor, to pay money or other agreed-upon value to another party, the creditor” only a huge chunk of this printed money is making a handful of people… Well, you know what I am saying.

There are only three possible outcomes. One is that central banks wind that an economic recovery allows them to withdraw their stimulus without collapsing asset prices like stocks and housing. The second is that governments take over pick up the slack in jobs and corporate cooperate with each other the solved global poverty and equality. The third is war this yard uses the most likely and the least pleasant outcome.

Victor Schvets, Macquarie group managing director and group head of Asia Pacific.

Go on, read another post or better still share this one on Facebook — they are looking for material these days!

Slashing the tall poppies

Slashing the tall poppies

Photo by Roma Kaiuk on Unsplash

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern took her global reputation for compassionate leadership that many of us crave and won the New Zealand election in a landslide.

The Labour Party she represents can now form power on its own without any alliance with minor parties. To achieve this in a small country with a proportional representation voting system is remarkable. It seems the majority of people in New Zealand are not only proud of her and what she’s achieved but want her to carry on.

Curiously then we see in the left and right-wing media in Australia articles that are saying “Oh but she’s got so much more to do”; “It’s now when the real difficulty begins”; “She won’t be able to carry on.”

The classic tall poppy slash. A poppy grows up and becomes tall to shine light and beauty on everyone else. And so we have to chop it down.

What is with this? What is wrong with us? Why are we so obsessed with cutting down success in all but our sporting heroes?

Ardern has shown what can be done, what a sense of humanity and empathy can do in a leadership position. And you’re not telling me that a person can rise to lead a political party in the west in modern times without being a fierce politician. She battled away to that position, just like anyone else would have done. I suspect that in the negotiating room, she’s as hard as the next one.

The difference with Jacinta Ardern is that she seems to remember where her humanity lies. There’s a photograph of her taking homemade scones to thank her campaign helpers. The article presents that in the narrative as though it was a cynical thing to be doing. Not at all. I believe that she actually has that level of empathy and understands that it’s people that matter.

And it’s the little things that you do for people that they remember.

It would be truly splendid if many more politicians developed this level of empathy. But more importantly, the skills to show it. Not only to people one-on-one but also to the rest of us who never have the privilege of meeting them.

I think it’s time we called out some of this tall poppy bullshit and gave people the credit they deserve for achieving great things.

The fact that the flower puts itself up above the rest to attract the insects is a risk to the plant. It takes courage and bravery to become a tall poppy.

That should be admirable.

Instead, the slashers come out.

It’s time that we recognized that courage for what it is and to be thankful that there are some people left prepared to show it.

Can you ready the jet Jeeves

Can you ready the jet Jeeves

Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

This post is a little petty, a bit of a whinge, and yet necessary.

There should be some advantages to high office. Typically the benefit is not stellar remuneration. For example, the Prime Minister of Australia earns A$550,000. Whilst this amount is considerably more than the average punter, the top ten CEOs in Australia all earnt over A$10 million in 2019.

If you want to make millions don’t try for the top political jobs. You won’t starve but you won’t be buying a yacht anytime soon. You will need to borrow one from your business mates.

The head of the Reserve Bank of Australia, technically a bureaucrat given that the government pays his salary, Dr Philip Lowe earned just over A$1 million in 2019 and was responsible for managing a $182 billion balance sheet. The highest-paid pure bureaucrat was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary with a total remuneration of $936,442.

Alright, so the more significant monies go to the private sector and the help.

Now I am not sure this is even remotely sensible for two reasons.

The first is that how are the best people for the job going to apply if they can get an order of magnitude better money elsewhere. Politicians are underpaid. Never thought you would hear that one. Only the current crop is overpaid for their capabilities but if we are to attract the best to do the toughest jobs, we need some pay parity to make the remuneration for messing about in parliament worthwhile.

The second reason is that CEO salaries are way too high. The way to achieve parity is to get a grip on the private sector’s excesses. Sure a reward for responsibility is necessary and they also want to compete for the best minds but really, $10 million. That is just taking the piss.

But wait, I have missed something.

There are perks to high office.

Here is one taken up with extraordinary enthusiasm by the recent POTUS.

Meantime the CEOs are circling their wagons.

The biggest Australian telco, Telstra CEO decided to blame the kids. Back in 2019 he was quoted as saying “Young kids are earning $5m playing Fortnite but when a business executive devotes a huge portion of their life … that it’s somehow morally wrong they get rewarded for it.”

Wait a minute.

A youngster with millions of online followers who love everything their hero does can earn a hefty sum. This is a simple supply-demand function that the CEO should understand. Just that same way that top-level professional soccer players with massive followings for themselves and their clubs can command crazy salaries, the CEO can get one too.

Perhaps not.

The point is the balance has gone. High public office should be rewarded by more than a medal for service and the CEOs should be paid on performance, not by their mates on the board.

And then there is this snippet from the Guardian on how Australia’s billionaires became 50% richer during pandemic

Australian billionaire, Solomon Lew, pocketed $24.25m in dividends after his retail empire, Premier Investments, received almost $70m in wage subsidies during the coronavirus crisis.

What bullshit is this.

If 50% richer during a global crisis that put workers into lockdown in their homes doesn’t raise your hackles, then paying out big dividends to shareholders with one hand whilst holding out the other for a subsidy surely will.

It makes the abuses of power by Trump look benign.

Hard work is the answer

Hard work is the answer

I’m currently in a bit of a quandary.

I’m on a roll and my words per day have been through the roof.

As a writer such bouts of productivity are to be cherished because they dry up as fast as they flood, the block kicks in, and suddenly you’ve got nothing to say.

My problem is that this particular spurt of enthusiasm has lasted the best part of a year. There is a lot of material that needs to be tidied up.

The writing gig is a long process. Only the first part, maybe 20%, is origination. The inspiration strikes and the first splurge of vomit makes a splatter on the page. The next phase is to tidy up the mess.

Making sense of the first draft takes numerous waves of editing and rejigging in order to shape a narrative that is, at least in the writer’s mind, comprehensible.

After that, the process involves third parties engaged with structural and copy editing, as well as preparation of material into the various format to share with the world.

The process of writing is a mechanical one, way more drudge than inspiration and creativity.

My current quandary is, do I stop writing and begin the real work?

Whilst I’m on a roll this seems like a mistake. I must keep going whilst the muse is dancing away in front of me. Only, where will the time come from to clean up the mess?

I really don’t know what to do.

The process of science

Science is the same.

As a student, I was always told that science is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. A quote pilloried from elsewhere no doubt but no less true for lack of originality.

The process of science goes something like this.

An idea worth testing springs to mind, typically on a topic that you find fascinating. Maybe you spot a gap in knowledge that an experiment or a set of observations can fill.

That moment of clarity will set in train several months worth of hard work pulling together the evidence through experiment or observation. More often than not the procedures need development and fine-tuning, it can take a week to calibrate a measurement. Once the set up is done the data collection begins and last as long as the test requires. A while if the subject is the gestation period of an elephant. Then comes the collation, analysis and interpretation of the data into evidence. This in itself can take months with the prospect that the hypotheses will need clarification and another experiment or two completed before the evidence is clear. All this must then be condensed into a short communication that peers will tear apart before an editor maybe gives the green light to publication.

All up, an equally long and laborious process as writing. More a slog than an inspiration.

Few research scientists have the luxury of hanging about in the fun of speculation and hypothesis generation. In science, there is no substitute for the effort needed to generate evidence. There is no evidence without the hard yards in the laboratory or the field.

Even if you are the theorist who looks to the mathematics of it all, there is drudgery in the proof.

Evidence takes hard work.

Now for an apparent non sequitur

The process of sustainability

The conundrum of ideas versus hard work applies to a whole range of our sustainability problems.

We know that ideas are inspirational and they can come together in a flash. They are fun and full of promise and there are lots of sustainability ideas around. Google delivers 290 million results for the search term ‘sustainability ideas’.

The conversion of ideas into practical solutions is the hard part. Actions that are actually going to make a difference to human use of natural resources on the ground and at scale. Most of this is just a lot of hard work.

Check any list of ideas for sustainability like these

They are all fantastic options. Societies everywhere should be onto them and thousands of others like them.

All these ideas have one thing in common. They take effort to implement.

The wondrous inspirations need hard work to achieve their desired outcomes.

Sometimes there is more work required all the time, sometimes just in the transition, but the core message is that sustainability is not an easy task. It’s particularly difficult against the current technological advances that generate cheaper unsustainable products and services.

Being sustainable is not really about the sustainability concept itself, it’s more about the fact that society exists in this process of inspiration and hard work.

We can’t just make a call on the inspiration. There’s a lot of hard work involved in making sustainability solutions stick.

Worth remembering when the next idea to save the planet comes along.

Now I have some editing to do.