Is the economic imperative sustainable?

Is the economic imperative sustainable?

This post was written before the COVID-19 conundrum changed a few things… and yet it still applies.


The Australian economy is in a funk. We are told that annual growth in retail trade of 2.4% in trend terms is the lowest since December 2017.

Throughout 2019 households have not increased their volume of retail purchases at all.

In short, we are all strapped for cash and are not buying stuff.

Woh, hold on. Not quite.

Of course, we are consuming, we do it each and every week.

The problem for the economy is that we are not doing more of it than we did last year. Consumption is going on all the time, it is just not growing in percentage terms.

So it’s not consumption that economist’s are worried about, it is growth in consumption. Growth is considered essential for without it everything collapses in a heap. At least that is what we are told.

Let’s just look at that 2.4% again.

In 2019, retail trade — selling merchandise in the state that it is purchased, generally to a customer base of private individuals — will be double what it was in the year 2000.

When ABBA were in the charts in 1974 consumer spending by Australians was four times less than it is today. There are more people on Australia now than in the mullet and square shoulder days, but to quadruple spending in 40 odd years.

Come on, think about it.

Growth is not sustainable. It cannot go on forever. Not least because there will be nothing left for me to consume. I’d be consumed out.

Unless prices skyrocket there is a physical limit to the stuff that one person can consume even if I am littering, throw away, who gives a shit kind of consumer.

Sooner or later everyone has all the things they can think of and wish to possess. Does it mean that they just keep going round and round upgrading every time? Are we really that shallow — maybe!

Endless growth is just an extraordinary premise when you really examine it.

It is obvious why it is there.

Companies have to keep selling or they go out of business. Unless there are new people around to buy your widgets you will need your current customers to buy widget 2.0 or you diversify into insurance and the airline business.

A business can get away with it if prices rise. Their unit costs might go up but so does the retail prices and so growth is maintained. Indeed inflation is part of the growth deal, too little being as bad as too much.

So we teeter on the delicate balance of perpetual growth being imperative to our survival


Teetering a lot

Recently there was a step-change in the Australian continent.

An extended drought in the east created hot, dry conditions in spring when frontal systems create strong westerly winds. Dry air, hot temperatures, tinder-dry forests and strong winds produced devastating bushfire.

At the time of writing more than 11 million ha of bushland has burnt in NSW alone, an order of magnitude more than the whole of the previous fire season. Across Australia, an area the size of the Netherlands and Belgium has burnt in just a few hot, scary and brutal months.

Many of the forests that went up in flames, sometimes 70m tall, were supposed to be wet, they are even called rainforest and rarely burn, some of them not for hundreds of years.

This year they did. Several of the fires are 500,000 ha each.

It will take a while to assess the consequences but I suspect that these events have nullified decades worth of conservation effort and billions of dollars worth of natural resource management actions.

It should also be a wake up to the economists who are going OMG “annual growth in retail trade of 2.4% in trend terms is the lowest since December 2017″.

If the countryside burns like it has this summer the economy will struggle to achieve any growth at all for a long time.


And now the virus

So here we are in mid-March 2020 and COVID-19 is about to be declared a pandemic.

Australians have cleared the supermarket shelves of toilet rolls because they are absolutely bonkers — the toilet roll supply for the country comes from Adelaide, not Wuhan — and are about to freak out good and proper.

Already global markets have freaked out too and taken a massive plunge. This is actually a necessary correction from an over-inflated bull run that has gone on from the GFC, partly a response to the cash injections from jurisdictions. But ni matter, we can blame nature.

This new virus will not cease economic growth. The flu virus does something similar every year, this one is just more acute. People’s reactions to this unknown make a recession is a given. 


Postscript

Even though there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, most people are more likely to catch and spread influenza.

In the 2019 flu season, there were nearly 30 million cases of flu and 17,000 deaths.


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What’s with all this individual enrichment?

What’s with all this individual enrichment?

Capitalism is a powerful force.

Simplistically, it mobilises funds — capital — to secure peoples time and effort — labour — that converts or generates goods and services, often from a natural resource or two, that when sold becomes more capital.

The basic idea is the conversion of one thing to another for monetary gain.

The deal with capitalism is that for this process to work, the enriching part, some capital is needed to begin the process. There is an investment required in the extraction or conversion or creation of a resource that can be rented or sold.

How to start becomes the problem if you have no access to capital.

Hence for centuries workers felt exploited as they lacked access to the monies to get themselves off the treadmill. In modern times more westerners feel they have access to capital, sufficient at least for a house, a car, and the luxuries of life.

That they are indentured to the banks for this cash seems to pass them by as they trudge along to the workplace as enslaved as the poor buggers who used to do it for peanuts. Quite literally in the slave systems of the 1800s.

Then there is the inbuilt reality to capitalism that is starting to bite very hard.

When capital is used to create more capital, the original owners of the capital stand to gain the most from the process — the rich get richer.

The argument that wealth creation raises all boats, the more money made, the more money there is to pay workers and their lives improve is also true to a degree. The average wage in mature economies tends to rise over time and the standards of living along with them.

The problem is that individual enrichment is still at the core of the process. The owners of the capital gain the most, the get bigger boats as all the little rowboats slosh about on the tide.

A report published by Oxfam in January 2020 ‘Time to care’ found that the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people.

In other words, a little over 2,000 people hold more wealth than over 60% of the world’s population.

These numbers show what has and continues to happen. Fewer and fewer people have a greater and greater proportion of the wealth.

A riddle

Suppose the board of a large company has seen some good numbers from the CFO and decides to redistribute some of the profit to the workforce as a bonus.

Rather than do this on some arbitrary merit score they decide to give everyone at the company a one-off bonus that is 10% of their gross salary.

Is this fair?

Check out one answer at the end of the post.


A moral conundrum

Should this aspect capitalism be allowed to continue, this appropriation that is an inevitable consequence of the paradigm?

Well, obviously there are plenty of people busting everything to be one of the 2,000 with more money than any one person could realistically spend.

Then there is just about everyone else who would like more money than they have. They might not need billions, even millions, but most people would like even a little bit more to help with the school fees, the rent and maybe even a holiday sometime.

The 4 billion people living on less than $10 per day certainly would. For them over half the money they earn is likely to go on food.

The 800 million of these people that the United Nations says live in extreme poverty are desperate for more cash simply to not go to sleep hungry and maybe a leg up to get themselves out of their poverty.

Unless there is a better way to redistribute, it would seem that we need an alternative to creating wealth for these people.


Are there alternatives to capitalism?

A question asked many times by folk far more erudite in these matters than Alloporus will ever be.

The answer is, of course, several alternatives. Here are a few of the common ones.

Communism

Communism was tried and failed the pub test. People hate being told what to do, especially when it comes to money.

Variants on the tried communist model have been proposed including a few based on anarchism

  • Anarchist communism, that advocates decision making by consensus democracy, the abolition of the state, and the abolition of private ownership of the means of production.
  • Post-scarcity anarchism, an economic system based on social ecology, libertarian municipalism and an abundance of fundamental resources.
  • Anarcho-syndicalism, an ideology centred on self-management of labour, socialism and direct democracy.

Heritage Check System

Then there is the retention of the market economy but with banks stripped of their lending power and with constraints on governments printing money and when they do the money is only used to “buy materials to back the currency, pay for government programs in lieu of taxes, with the remainder to be split evenly among all citizens to stimulate the economy”. This is termed a “heritage check”.

No doubt the originator Robert Heinlein, the American science-fiction author, knew what he meant.

Economic democracy

Economic democracy is where the workers control the companies in some sort of democratic system and social investment is carried out by a network of public banks.

Sounds good until we all suffer death by democracy for the crowd is not always operating in its own best interest let alone the interest of the individual.

Knowledge economy

In a book Post-Capitalist Society published in 1993, Peter Drucker described a possible evolution of capitalistic society where knowledge, rather than capital, land, or labour, is the new basis of wealth.

The thing about this option is not everyone, including an orange-haired president and his supporters, respect knowledge enough. People are quite good at rejecting evidence they don’t like.


Individual enrichment

We could go on for there are dozens of others and maybe one day there will be one that has a chance.

That system will have to allow people the chance for betterment no matter where they currently sit within the system. This is the essence of capitalisms success — even the lowly janitor has a chance of making it.

It’s a slim chance but it is not zero.

This is how people are at the core. They want, desire, need the opportunity to get better, to be better and to live better.

This great urge for betterment is understandable for those whose life is a struggle. However, it does not stop when you get the Porsche and the air-conditioned mansion with heated indoor pool

Maybe not even when your incense burns and your chakras are in blessed harmony, for your ego will still be lurking somewhere deep in your psyche just waiting for you to slip out of nirvana.

Whatever the system it has to allow for individual enrichment.

Answer to the riddle

Is a 10% pay rise across the company fair?

Well, it sounds fair enough. But 10% for the office junior might buy a weekly trip to the fast-food court. The CEO, on the other hand, gets a new car.

Not so fair after all.


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We have let

We have let

The Guardian online is running a series of 2020 Visions from prominent Australians about the future of a country that is in a mess.

We are flapping our arms around as if after years of surfing we suddenly forgot how to swim.

Our politics is morally bankrupt and devoid of ideas, the people are hiding behind a mountain of household debt so high you need oxygen at base camp, and the outback has had enough sending drought, dust, obscene heat, fire, smoke and finally flood just about everywhere.

Bugger, if it wasn’t for air conditioning, filters and heroic emergency services personnel the place would be unlivable.

It’s been one hell of summer down under.

Any kind of vision for the future is welcome in such dire times.

Here is a quote from the 2020 Vision Series looking for serious answers

Instead, we have let untruths, half-truths, misrepresentations, hypocrisy and hyperbole become the currency of our age. Secrecy is now standard operating procedure in politics. The public interest and the right to know is too often subordinate to some alleged higher interest, grandly and sometimes scarily defined as “security” or “on water” or “in the bubble”, so of little relevance to anybody declared to be outside it: the rest of the country

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

Only three words really matter in this otherwise truthful statement from a senior scientist who spent time with political numpties…

we have let

Yep, we sure have. The people have allowed the irresponsible to break the tiller of the sailboat and failed to repair it. We have let the boat come adrift at the mercy of an angry sea.

It’s our fault.

Don’t blame the politicians or the lefties or the neo-Nazis or the abbos or the DINKys or the Landcruiser MILFs or even the neighbour’s french bulldog that barks like a cat.

Blame yourself.

Yes, you. And me. And every other card-carrying citizen who has stood by and let all this happen.

You know I am right.

Just look at the outpouring of praise for the Rural Fire Service volunteers who have performed miracles to save lives and properties on over 18 million hectares of the country that burnt.

It was effusive and genuine gratitude because we all knew they saved our arses, literally.

We let his risk of catastrophe escalate and then when the crisis came it was local volunteers who bailed us out. They deserve a medal and some serious pay. So much by so many to so few, a famous dude once said.

We have let.

Here is a summary of the 2020 bushfire season

As of 14 January 2020, fires this season have burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres; 186,000 square kilometres; 72,000 square miles), destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. An estimated one billion animals have been killed and some endangered species may be driven to extinction. Air quality has dropped to hazardous levels. The cost of dealing with the bushfires is expected to exceed the A$4.4 billion of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, and tourism sector revenues have fallen more than A$1 billion. By 7 January 2020, the smoke had moved approximately 11,000 kilometres (6,800 mi) across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina. As of 2 January 2020, NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes (337 million short tons) of CO2 was emitted.

Just for comparison, the Australian government estimates that Australia’s net emissions in 2017 were 556.4 million tonnes CO2-equivalent.

Ian Chubb thinks the solution is our re-engagement with democracy when ‘we have let’ becomes ‘no we don’t let’, we demand better.

The sixteen-year-olds are on the case, thank goodness — go Greta.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the 30 odd years it will take before they get strong enough to kick our sorry arses out. So, it is up to us to help them.

Here is what Ian Chubb suggests we do

When we wake up, we will demand leadership: one that is bold, courageous and open, with an unswerving commitment to our right to know. We will need leaders with the ability to build an appropriate vision for our country, along with the competence and capacity to persuade us why we need to do what they propose we do – all the while exposing their evidence base to us so we can see why one option was chosen over another.

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

In short, we must demand logic and accountability.

Actions that make common sense.

No more bubbles and bullshit and pork barrels, just honesty and common sense.

‘We have let’, believe it.

How opinions become facts

How opinions become facts

Our becoming emotionally wedded to our opinions mutates them into indisputable facts. That’s when they become dangerous. When our beliefs possess our feelings and we cement them as truth, we start to exclude, judge or dismiss the beliefs of others. Undue feelings of superiority take hold. And in that condition, it’s impossible for actual truths—even provable, scientific ones—to get in.

Partrick King

If Patrick King is right then opinions readily become ‘facts’ even without proof. When we are invested through a feeling our minds and hearts begin to narrow our world view and make it our immutable own. We start to believe our own thoughts, notorious for their flights of fancy, and consolidate them into our truths. Add to this any number of powerful forces in the modern world that play with our emotions, tapping into and sometimes mutating our core beliefs to fill us up with rigidity. We become closed and, as my own therapist tells me, judgemental and negative. Ouch.

If even half of this is true, we have a serious problem on our hands.

When opinions solidify into cement they corral us into like-minded groups creating the steel reinforcement for the concrete. The really important awareness and empathy suffer and limit our connections to other people. Ouch again.

Before the sky falls in, let’s back up a little.

Opinion is defined as “a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”. We all have them because we use judgements to help us navigate our lives.

It helps not to have to think things through from first principles all the time for that would be tedious and inefficient. We need the thinking space saved for emergencies. And if there are no crises to resolve, then thinking can be used for creative outlets. Not having to think until we want to is powerful support for opinions.

Facts are defined as things that are known to be consistent with objective reality and can be proven to be true with evidence. In other words, they are objective.

Facts come from a logical process of proof that the proposition (or belief) is true or valid. This involves observation or the creation of information through an agreed process that goes beyond the individual and is repeatable. It should also be agreed that the logic process and the information reflects reality. This is all a bit technical and not touchy-feely at all, far more Mr Spock than Captain Kirk. Most people would rather be Kirk than Spock.

Given these definitions, we can see that opinion is easy to come by for all we have to do is attach to our core and run with what it tells us. Facts are much harder to grasp for we must understand the logic process that generates them in order to accept them as proven and following this logic is hard work.

As far as our minds are concerned, opinion is easy, facts are hard.

There is an evolutionary advantage to the easier, lower-risk path. So it should be no surprise that judgements that are easier to come by and yet are still useful will persist.

This makes the first premise, of mutation of emotion into facts, logical even likely, especially for the pleasant feelings; such as being above average for example.

If they continue to work for us then their persistence makes sense too. The reinforcement of the good vibes that this brings will make the next premise likely too… “we start to exclude, judge or dismiss the beliefs of others.” This is the genesis of dogma. Fine when it is mutually beneficial (conservation of elephants is fine aspiration) and not so good when it is not (my religion is better than yours, in fact, yours sucks). This is bad enough for it creates any number of opportunities for conflict as people join their tribes and disagree with the opinions of other tribes.

The final premise is the one that really matters. Excluding others and feeling superior make it… impossible for actual truths—even provable, scientific ones—to get in. In other words, our opinions become very hard to change even when the evidence is strong that they are wrong or nonsensical.

As a scientist this is challenging. It is already difficult to explain scientific facts to the non-scientist who is not familiar with the logic revolutions of the renaissance or the technical details of your subject. They believe your white lab coat more than your statistical explanation. If we are also up against an evolutionary pressure — the easiest path will lead the genes along it — then we are in serious strife.

Donald, on the other hand, is laughing.

Where do you come from?

Where do you come from?

I could answer this by saying Croydon in south London where I was born. Only my parents moved from there before I had any memory of the place. They lived for a time in Herne Bay on the Essex coast where my sister was born but unlikely she would remember that place either because we were soon on our way back to south London, Hern Hill this time. Then from there to Hartlepool in the frozen north where a different language must be learned in a hurry, and then back to London, this time to Palmers Green in the posh northern suburbs.

So you could say I come from London… ish. Not a true cockney of course and sufficiently messed with accent wise to give the game away.

When people ask, that is what I say, I come from North London, mostly as I can remember that place.

When I was in my mid-twenties I got on a plane and moved to Zimbabwe.

Clearly not satisfied with the vagrancy of my youth, I opted for a big getaway that ended up lasting nearly a decade in Africa and is still going in the Antipodes. Almost before the plane touched down among the blossoming jacaranda trees of a vibrant Harare in its 1980’s livery that still worked for most of the people, I felt something homely. A sense of place.

At the time I put it down to youthful enthusiasm and excitement for the adventure. When it kept coming I noted it. I did feel comfort here. It was more than the friendly people and the stunning nature that was a European ecologists fantasy. It was a feeling in your gut that you were close to the truth. Near to something very important.

I travelled to the bush as often as I could and in the Brachystegia woodlands or among the leadwood and apple ring acacias on the banks of the Zambezi River or the majestic granite dwalas of the Matopos, the feeling kept coming. A sense of calm and peace that became a sense of belonging.

All the while I was reminded of the reality of my temporary status. A year-long residence permit with a renewal process that took six months did not even cover the postdoctoral research contract. There was very little pay and the tension of a struggling economy still limping after a decade of sanctions was starting to hurt folk. Most of the cars were older than I was and there was always one failed rainy season short of a food shortage. Yet even though I was alive to the reality of being a temporary guest, this feeling of place grew stronger.

After a couple of years of this delight, I moved again. This time to a more stable situation in Botswana, the next country along. This time the two-year contract was a little easier to renew and the salary was generous enough for a very comfortable life.

On one of the first explorations of the drier yet still magnificent acacia shrub of the granite sands, mopane woodlands in the north and desert grasslands of the Kalahari, I went to the easternmost arm of the Okavango Delta past Mababe village into a place of lush grasslands and mature acacia trees known as the Mababe Depression. This is a place where the water from the delta sometimes goes when the flood is strongest. It is a wilderness of the finest style, impala and sable and even roan mixing it with giraffe and elephant drawn to the water and the sweet grasses, a place to know where you come from.

As I got out of the truck and stood on the sandy clay in awe and gratitude that feeling came to me like never before. A powerful vibrancy in every cell just telling me that this is the place. This is where you are from. And for a moment I wasn’t in my body, I was in the grass and the trees and the impala grazing quietly in front of me.

It all sounds a little fanciful as I recount it now, but it was very real at the time. I knew there was something very special about the earth in that little far away corner of Africa. Only twice more in my life have I felt so connected to the greater universe and one of those occasions was after bypass surgery.

Mababe was truly special.

Fast forward a few decades and I come across a report in the Gaudian on new research from Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney that used analyses of mitochondrial DNA to find where we all came from.

The claim is that “The swathe of land south of the Zambezi River became a thriving home to Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, the researchers suggest, and sustained an isolated, founder population of modern humans for at least 70,000 years.”

Here is the map I borrowed from the article and added the location of the Mababe Depression. Surprise, surprise it is right there where the founders lived.

There is conjecture as to the veracity of these DNA results and the interpretation but this time I’ll take it.

You see my cells knew.

They vibrated to the energy of ancestors that started it all. That founder population that stood there and contemplated how to catch the impala for supper.

Why integrity and scepticism are inseparable allies

Why integrity and scepticism are inseparable allies

Scepticism | a sceptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something

doubt, doubtfulness, dubiousness, a pinch of salt, lack of conviction; disbelief, cynicism, distrust, mistrust, suspicion, misbelief, incredulity; pessimism, defeatism; raredubiety, Pyrrhonism, scepsis, minimifidianism

Integrity | the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles

honesty, uprightness, probity, rectitude, honour, honourableness, upstandingness, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, nobility, high-mindedness, right-mindedness, noble-mindedness, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness

Recently I have been asking myself a lot of questions, some of them pointy.

What is going on in the world? Why are we blind to the impending right-wing takeovers? Why is history repeating? Why do we believe lies? How did I get here?

This is partly a time of life thing and partly a WTF triggered by the state of the world, the country I live in, and my profession. Meantime some workplace nastiness has stalked in from the field and to hit me on the blindside.

In short, I am stressed out.

I have turned to my favourite supports. The butt skyward frame of the downward dog has provided solace, likewise, the gifted Mary Maddux from Meditation Oasis has been a huge help.

Meanwhile, my friends and loved ones have blessed me again and again.

I am starting to feel better.

This time around though my malaise was deep. The forces of the dark side gently yet steadily messing with my balance. I felt like I would fall over at the slightest push.

In this situation, there is only so much the supports can do. They can lift me up each time I fall but they cannot always be there for protection when the winds blow even as they show me how I can be more robust to the gusts and bend more easily. So this time I also sought out and benefited from some professional help.

Therapy is still a little shameful.

It suggests weakness because at the time you are. The point of talking through your inner emotions with a trustworthy stranger is because you need to build or rebuild mental strength. So, yes, I am weak right now. I need help and time to regain my fortitude.

The first couple of sessions went deep. This surprised me a bit. Maybe my subconscious was ready for it, more like ‘screaming to get out’ I think, and one word kept cropping up both during the sessions and as I processed and the therapist listened.

I became fixated with integrity.

My initial conclusion — initial because I suspect that this exploration has only just begun — is that honour and honesty mean a great deal to me, chased closely by character and morals. Integrity is a word to catch deep feelings in a jar and close the lid.

Then I realised that my profession of applied scientist embraces the qualities of integrity, of course, but it demands something else. My work also requires scepticism — the seeking of truth by applying doubt, then displacing it with evidence.

Scepticism is good, at least it should be. Scepticism is the foundation of science and is what separates science from opinion and lies.

As a seeker of truth, you have to question what you hear, see and smell. Even what you touch can deceive and so you apply logic to these things. This is the best way we know to convert information into evidence. My hand smells of lavender because I grasped the seed head of a lavender plant in the garden. The hand wash has the same smell but not necessarily because it had anything to do with a lavender plant.

Integrity and scepticism.

A huge ah-ha arrived when I put these two words together.

Scepticism is a huge threat to integrity.

Integrity functions as a given. You cannot test for it or prove it. Integrity appears through your words and your actions. It is hard to earn and maintain and is lost in a split second. Question a person’s integrity and you wound him. It matters not if there is no foundation, just to ask the question is wielding a weapon.

Yet sceptics cannot help but ask a question for this is what scepticism is, the asking of questions.

It appears I am trained to wound myself.

This is my interpretation and my current landing. My therapist did not suggest this and bears no responsibility other than what can be attributed to gentle prodding and a listening ear. I have decided that I have created a contradiction in myself.

I am latched onto integrity as a core value, if not the core value in my life. And yet all the time I go around questioning almost everything. In the simple act of scepticism, I am wielding a powerful emotional weapon, and just like anyone who would wield a real lightsaber, I am at constant risk of injury.

So far this realisation of self-harm is raw.

It is not really helping me given that I can’t relinquish integrity any more than I can give up scepticism. Both are integral to who I am.

A conundrum must exist. At least I know that now.

Needless to say, I immediately applied my black and white mind to this conundrum in search of a solution. I could give up integrity or scepticism or perhaps both. This would be difficult as a new persona is never easy to build and I would need a new career. Suggestions are most welcome.

Alternatively, I can figure out a better way for them to coexist.

I guess the real problem is that even Master Yoda must have singed a hair or the end of an ear in his fight with Dooku.

Obsessions with endangered species?

Obsessions with endangered species?

Regular readers will know that a long time ago now I wrote a book with Ashley Bland entitled Awkward News for Greenies. It sold a handful of copies but failed to go viral. This could be because we had zero marketing budget or it was a poor book or luck would have it thus. Either way, few read it in 2009 and fewer in the decade since.

Recall this was the time that Al Gore produced ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and we played on that sentiment in our title. Perhaps it was a poor choice.

Not one of us is fond of being told truths that we don’t want to hear, especially things that we will feel bad about. Indeed humans are expert in avoiding the awkward. This sentiment has taken hold now to the extent that we even elect presidents and prime ministers who are olympian in the skills needed to avoid and deflect awkward truths.

The main argument in Awkward News was that this avoidance behaviour stems from a lack of awareness. We no longer feel or understand the very basis of our existence, now or into the future. Humans in modern societies do not realise that we are here because of nature and the resources it shares with us and we will only stay here in one piece if the natural forces that create clean air, filter water, generate food and moderate climate run at rates to support our burgeoning numbers.

Implicit in this explanation was that environmentalists focus on the wrong things. This is best summarised by what Ursula Heise in her book ‘Imagining extinction’ calls ‘elegies and tragedies for loss of species’. Worry for the fate of cute, furry or feathery species is what we obsess over when we should be most concerned about the ability of nature to keep supplying all those goods and services that keep us alive and well.

When in 2012 I followed up Awkward News with Missing Something, a book that was read by even fewer people, the message was similar.

Humanity has an awareness deficit that science has confirmed and our guts are agonising over. Again the distraction of elegy and tragedy can be overlooked for a pragmatic approach. If we think about our environment and the well-being it delivers, then the evidence we need to convince ourselves of the importance of nature is everywhere we care to look. The truth about nature will speak to us and all will be well.

Well, this nirvana of enlightenment with nature seems less likely by the day.

As we near the end of another decade it feels as though the drift is away from awareness rather than towards it, especially in the formal worlds of bureaucracy and academia. Indeed, drift is a generous adjective.

In the land of policymakers, huge blunders continue along with ostrich behaviours of the sand type. In the ivory towers, a stream of evidence flows on how troubling it all is. Unfortunately, it is easier to generate evidence of loss and degradation than it is to use that evidence to find ways to slow, stop or reverse any undesirable trends. Even a casual glance at the climate change literature confirms this conundrum.

Anyway, here I am, a few years on from my last non-fiction least seller, wondering about the merits of another book on this theme of scaring the horses.

On the downside, should I be spending time on more of the same?

Surely the first two epistles did the job. Anything more is just repetition. And if nobody read the first two, why would a third suddenly shatter the ebook sales records? I am not selling the sure-fire best way to become an overnight squillionaire online.

On the upside, nobody read the first two meaning that very few were scared.

Any messages would be fresh, at least from my peculiar voice, and maybe the passage of time has warmed a few to the general topic of impending doom and how to avoid it. There is also the personal benefit of writing that is cathartic enough for me to feel purged of my personal environmental guilt. That is worth it on its own.

On balance, I have to think that yes I should write it out all over again.

At some point, ideally quite soon, humans will need a realignment with nature that is less about obsessions with the koala and polar bears taking a rest on a tiny iceberg and more about what nature does. If everyone understands that it is the services that nature provides for human well-being that we need to obsess about because the processes matter more than the products.

This message of concern for process over products, especially the rare ones, still needs to be said and heard.

If humanity is to get through its demographic transition without obliterating nature, without creating a future world where even the air is manufactured, then nature and its services must be in our everyday thoughts. We will need to get over our obsession with endangered species with all its misplaced effort into just a handful of nature’s charismatic actors because all that really does is salve a collective conscience.

The neat irony being that the best chance for the koalas, elephants and macaws is if the processes that support them are retained and enhanced. Meaning that a focus on the processes will not always be about exploitation.

It will be a tough gig.

These critters — the endangered species that we truly care about are almost always animals with backbones — are held tight and deep. They represent our guilt even as we continue with wine, dine, waste and flights to Bali.

If you find that waiting for this new work that will only make you feel more guilty and helpless in the face of doom is too much, that you have to know now, then there is always Missing Something to tie you over.