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?


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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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Carbon offsets are terrific

Carbon offsets are terrific

Just wrote a post on Medium to explain why carbon offsets are fantastic, really

I used the analogy of a hammer to drive home a nail. 

A carbon offset is a tool we need to deal with the climate change issue, just like a hammer is a tool. If we use the tool poorly and get a greenwash outcome of companies buying credits to make themselves look good. Then it’s hardly fair to blame the tool. 

The post went to Medium rather than here on Alloporus because there’s a debate going on there. Some people are adamant that carbon offsets are a terrible thing and we must get rid of them and they’re not going to solve the problem. 

And to be fair, they have a point, but I wanted to make sure that they understood the point they were making. 

If you hit your finger with a hammer while trying to knock in a nail, is it the hammer’s fault? 

Have a read of the post to see my explanation.



Fear not, Alloporus will continue with weekly ramblings but do check out Alloporus on Medium for extra rants and raves.


Hero image from photo by Ivars Utināns on Unsplash

We do not live in Narnia

We do not live in Narnia

Narnia is the fictional land invented by CS Lewis where he took Alice for epic brawls between good and evil. 

A Goodreads reviewer described Narnia as a land where magic meets reality, and the result is a fictional world whose scope has fascinated generations

Magic crashing into reality.

Fiction is absorbing because it could be true. All we have to do is suspend our disbelief long enough to identify with the characters in the story and we are invested, even with a white rabbit that talks. 

Where the rabbit hangs out, we believe too.

Thank goodness

Life would be strange, but not half as fanciful without fictional lands imagined for our entertainment.

As my wife reminds me, we are in and of this world. That is the real one that we inhabit every day. The one that throws up challenges, curveballs and exposes everyone to COVID.

Sometimes it feels imagined when everyone in the neighbourhood locks down, and the bustle suddenly stops. There are no cars, few buses and dogs taken for more walks than they ever thought possible.

Then previously unacceptable rates of infection that made lockdowns essential are ok after all. Case numbers can grow exponentially. It feels like a 180 because it is — the race that was not a race is not a race again.

Maybe it is Narnia.

CSIRO seem to think so.

In this mythical land, payments for environmental services such as carbon sequestration, clean water and habitat for wildlife would be 80% of the roughly $65 billion in agricultural production worth 6% of GDP.

In a generation, the budget will somehow shift to pay 6% of current GDP on environmental services.

First, let’s make a few context numbers available.

As of 2020, agriculture accounts for 

  • 55% of Australian land use (427 million hectares, excluding timber production) 
  • 25% of water extractions (3,113 gigalitres used by agriculture in 2018–19);
  • 11% of goods and services exports in 2019–20;
  • 1.9% of value-added (GDP) and
  •  2.6% of employment in 2019–20

In other words, Australian agriculture is conspicuous without being the backbone of the economy. 

Services deliver a steady two-thirds of GDP and industry a quarter, whilst in dollars, mining provides around $200 billion.  

The big employers in Australia are health care, retail, professional services, construction and retail, who all have more than 3x the number of workers as agriculture.

Australia is one of the most food-secure nations in the world. Not only is agricultural production diverse across the varied climate and soils of the continent, with an array of nutritious foods grown, but Australia also produces more food than it consumes, exporting around 70% of agricultural production.

As of 2020, around 3.5 million people, 14% of the population, live in rural areas. This population has declined as a proportion of the total population but has doubled in absolute numbers since 1960.

https://data.worldbank.org/share/widget?indicators=SP.RUR.TOTL&locations=AU

In summary

Not a big deal for the economy or employment, already growing enough food with a stable rural population.

Not too many of these fundamentals suggest the need for an environmental market. 

A $48 billion environmental market

Climate change is the only driver to promote a market equivalent to 80% of the agricultural sector.

Somehow, society would decide to seed emissions offsets and other environmental credits to kick start a market where consumers and taxpayers pay for actions that deliver fungible environmental credits.

This would be a fantastic outcome.

Farmers and landholders would be paid to put carbon back into soil and vegetation, hold water on their land, restore habitat, fence off streams and restore habitat for wildlife.

But we fund all of these activities already. Only it is done with a few dollars at the margins.

So what would be different in the next 20 years that has not already been the case for the past 30?

The rhetoric about climate change perhaps?

Delivering on commitments to the Paris agreement?

A 180 on climate policy?

A young girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world?


Hero image from a photo by Szymon Fischer on Unsplash

Always put a number into context

Always put a number into context

Always put numbers into context.

Alloporus has advised to never leave a number alone not least because 

Comparison is always critical when dealing with numbers. On its own, a number makes no sense, it’s naked, self-conscious and insecure. It needs some context for clothing and some friends to compare against.

Makes good sense. 

50 bananas are way too many for one family but nowhere near enough for the local greengrocer.

What then to make of two numbers quoted in a study of feral cats

2.4 billion birds

12.3 billion mammals

2,400,000,000 must be a large number.

Any number with that many zeros must be important.

So I went to the source of the number, the research article

 Loss, S. R., Will, T., & Marra, P. P. (2013). The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature communications, 4(1), 1-8.

In the abstract, we find that our large number is actually the median value in a range from 1.3 to 4 billion birds killed by cats. 

In other words, the real number could be 1.1 billion smaller or 1.6 billion larger than the one in the quote. There is a distribution of likely true values for the number of birds killed by cats.

The 2.4 billion number was calculated after gathering all the reliable evidence on predation rates by cats from the research literature and multiplying this by estimates of cat abundance across the US. 

More technically, “We estimated wildlife mortality in the contiguous United States by multiplying data-derived probability distributions of predation rates by distributions of estimated cat abundance” (Loss et al 2013). The probability distributions were generated by repeating this calculation 10,000 times using random selections (random draw) of the predation rates reported in the literature. 

Alright, now we are getting somewhere. 

The context is that the key parameters to generate 2.4 billion are predation rate and cat abundance and both these values come from a range reported in the research literature.

We also learn that predation is by predominantly feral cats, that is cats that exist in the wild and feed themselves by doing what cats do best — catch and eat small prey. 

It is the unowned (feral) cats that do the heavy lifting to generate the number and not the moggy taking a saunter out of the cat flap once in a while.

So far so good. 

Now we know where the number came from and can assume that the best available evidence was used to set the parameters in a simple multiplication — predation rate x number of cats.

The number is still naked

Knowing where 2.4 billion came from does not give us the full context.

What we need to know is how many birds are there? How many birds die each year from other causes than predation by cats? 

Then we might ask the really important questions.

  • Are the numbers of birds changing over time? 
  • Is any change in numbers over time (the trend) due to predation by cats?
  • Are there any other reasons why bird numbers might change?

You see 2.4 billion is likely a small proportion of the total number of birds alive in the continental US and perhaps even a small proportion of those that die each year. 

Small temperate-zone songbirds have a life expectancy of around 10 months. This means that many birds in the backyard do not last a year but persist through their progeny. If the bird that gets caught by a cat had already reproduced then it makes n material difference to the bird population.

Equally, there are other predators out there that eat songbirds, notably other birds. Raptors (eagles, owls and hawks) that eat adult birds and a host of bird and mammal species that raid nests for eggs and chicks.

Predation by cats is just another risk. 

Always seek context 

2.4 billion sounds like a very big number and it might be.

We don’t know if it is or if something should be done to change it unless the context is understood.

Any number quoted in isolation and especially those used to provoke an emotional response is naked and lacks significance without all the extra information around it.

Look for the context before taking any number seriously.


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Advice from a celibate priest

Advice from a celibate priest

Life is a contradiction. 

How is it even possible that organic life can defy all the laws of entropy and exist for more than five minutes? More than that, organisms last long enough to complete their life’s mission — almost all of them procreate.

More making is the purpose, and so all organisms make more. 

Microbes, to mice and men, getting ready and achieving reproduction in its myriad forms is what happens every minute of every day. All the actions of sentient beings are geared to more making.

This imperative is fundamental to our understanding of how evolution works. Replication with a bit of error and selection for the helpful errors is how life persists and generates diversity. The driver is reproduction.

Humans are not immune. We have powerful reproductive urges that manifest as an often overpowering sense of family, helicopter parenting, and more websites with sexual content than any other category. 

History tells us that brothels and breweries are the first essential services in any new town.

Anyone with the self-discipline and conviction to resist the innate urge to reproduce has a powerful tool over others. No wonder the church has used clerical celibacy. The church sees devotion by a man who chooses not to have sex “a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

Service to others but not to their pets.

Here is what Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi had to say about Pope Francis telling everyone that choosing to have pets instead of kids is “selfish”… 

Ah yes, choosing not to bring a child into an overpopulated world that is careening towards climate catastrophe is the height of selfishness! I know the pope lives in a palace and probably isn’t too familiar with the current costs of childcare but he might want to look into just how expensive having a kid is these days.

Arwa Mahawi

The Pope might be celibate but his parishioners must prioritise kids over their fur babies. They must follow the primary biological directive to reproduce.

There are dozens of posts to write on this deep and meaningful hypocrisy, but the obvious one is this…

Humanity can only survive the next 100 years if we repress our reproductive urges by choice or design because the planet is finite. It cannot sustain post-industrial revolution rates of human population growth and resource demand for another century. 

There has to be a demographic transition and a shift to sustainable resource use or else we fall from our perceived pinnacle and struggle to persist.

No matter how important kids are to a celibate white man, fewer children are necessary, and if that means fur babies, so be it. 


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Progress is possible if we are patient

Progress is possible if we are patient

Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

Back in 2010, Australia was about to legislate a carbon price. Not the ‘great big tax’ that haunted the Gillard government but its predecessor, the Climate Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), an attempt at emission control when the political climate still had a whiff of progress about it.

The CPRS, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme for anthropogenic greenhouse gases proposed by the Rudd government as part of its climate change policy, was voted down by the Greens. Under Bob Brown’s leadership, they decided it was too little, the targets were too weak. The perfect getting in the way of the good.

Instead of a start, there was no price on carbon and an open the door to the naysayers who ambled their way through for a good laugh and some appalling behaviour.

What followed was a decade of inaction, political assassinations of prime ministers, and the mess we are in now with the current PM not wanting to go to COP because he is held ransom by a bunch of clowns who think a $250 billion public purse to prop up coal mining is an idea. I could go on.

In the end, he went and tried to make climate change about submarines.

Progress is a process. 

I know progress can be slow when there are values at stake. It takes time to test the water, convince the recalcitrants and avoid failure from unforeseen consequences. 

And in politics, most important, do not scare the horses. 

The reality that the Greens missed so badly back in 2010 is that some good is possible along the slow path to the perfect. 

For example, when 136 countries sign up to a minimum corporate tax of 15% we should all applaud and pat the negotiators on the back. And yes, even if one of them is the forever on the nose Mr Cormann.

The agreement means that countries would legislate a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent for companies with annual revenues over 750 billion euros ($1.2 trillion), the big end of town. Then, if these big players have earnings that go untaxed or lightly taxed in one of the world’s tax havens, their home country would impose a top-up tax that would bring the rate to 15 per cent.

No more squirrelling away revenues from IP and other intangibles in the Cayman Islands without paying up.

This is a tiny step toward a more even distribution of wealth creation through governments legislating some trickle down to slow the charge to wealth inequality that grips the world. Recall that would be the trickle of wealth that the neoliberals claim is an inevitable consequence of successful economic growth.  

Sure 20%, even 40%, would be better and more realistic. But 15% is a start.

Some developing countries and advocacy groups say the 15% is too low and leaves far too much tax revenue on the table. And although the global minimum would capture some $205 billion in new revenue for governments, most of it would go to rich countries where many of the big multinationals are headquartered.

This is a similar argument the Greens spouted when they couldn’t let the big emitters get away with it under the CPRS. They wanted justice right away. 

Too far too soon.

The point here is that progress needs time and increments. It can do leaps, but the circumstances must be just right for rapid advances to stick. Waiting around for those opportunities is a luxury that humanity lost when it found fossil fuels. 

Stick at the process

The option to wait for the leap that can only happen when the stars align and the wind is blowing away the smell is no longer risky, it is suicidal.

We have to stick at the process of incremental change. It is painful to support such a puny percentage as 15% but it’s way better than waiting for donut economics to appear and change the whole game.

What the Greens did in 2010 was irresponsible, even for them. What the leaders have done since is on a par.

But a carbon price back in 2010 would have seen a small but effective change in the emission trajectory and a far greater chance of reaching any targets that the world would have us set now.

Humanity is not at war with nature

Humanity is not at war with nature

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”

António Guterres, UN General Secretary

During World War 2 at least 70 million people perished, economies collapsed and infrastructure was devastated. Military and civilian fatalities numbered over 50 million, with at least another 20 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. 

Food supplies were disrupted everywhere with rationing common. It was not until the early 1950s that most commodities came ‘off the ration’ and in the UK it took nearly a decade after the end of the war before food rationing ended. 

WW2 was a global disaster.

At the end of the War in 1945 with the horrors still fresh, representatives of 50 countries gathered at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California. After two months of discussion and negotiation, they signed the a charter to create a new international organization, the United Nations, designed to prevent another world war.

In 1945 the deprivation and chaos were raw, everyone had experienced it for themselves. No surprise that the UN Charter in Chapter 1 describes the purposes of the United Nations in Article 1 as 

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace… 

Article 1, UN Charter

In the 75 years since the charter was signed, a cold war flared then ended with the collapse of soviet communism, simmering regional conflicts dragged on especially in the middle east and the Horn of Africa, and acts of terrorism have devastated communities but, so far, humanity has avoided WW3.

Indeed as Steven Pinker argues in his book Better Angels of Our Nature, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millennia and decades. The evidence for declines in conflict is compelling if controversial.

So why the language of waging war, force, fury and descent into chaos from Mr  Guterres, the main man at the UN overseeing the maintenance of peace and security?

Presumably, he thinks scare tactics are needed. Make the reality sound like a war to wake people up to the enormity of the challenge.

The truth is alarming enough. 

Unbridled exploitation of nature by 8 billion people has changed the planet eroding the essentials of nature that humanity relies on for 23 trillion kilocalories a day in food, not to mention clean water and fresh air. 

Biodiversity is in decline everywhere, especially in the soil where it is most vital for the production of all that food. 

In the Amazon, we are back to 81,000 ha of rainforest clearing every day or 40 football fields per minute.

Suicide perhaps but not WW3.

Destruction of nature is not a war 

War is defined as…

an intense armed conflict between states, governments, societies, or paramilitary groups such as mercenaries, insurgents, and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces.

In other words, a lethal conflict between the incompatible.

The Secretary-General, a career politician with an education in physics, says that “nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury

Nature does not fight back because Gaia has no ability to recognise humanity from any of the other drastic climate and global changes that have reorganised nature in the evolutionary past. 

Recall there have been 5 other mass extinction events and a host of smaller ones that removed a huge proportion of lifeforms alive at the time. The physical and resource space created just allowed for more evolution. Nature filled the gaps with new lifeforms. All that is needed to generate diversity is disturbance, error and natural selection. 

Nature does not fight us. She has no disagreement worthy of lethal conflict. 

As far as nature is concerned the actions of expansive humanity with the knack of resource use is no different to any previous extinction event. 

Lifeforms are lost because conditions change and, after some time, new ones take their place.

Humanity is not at war with nature, we are just in the business of exploiting all the resources on offer with no thought for what that means for the future of those resources and the processes that generate them.

More like suicide than war

At the end of WW2 in Europe as the Russian army closed in on the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, still deluded but defeated, shot himself. 

It was a cowardly response to avoid responsibility for actions that devastated a continent. 

Any history of the war struggles to describe this ending. The Third Reich was defeated but the main perpetrator slipped away from justice even before the world knew the full extent of his crimes.

Destruction of nature is not a war. 

It is suicide — the taking of our own life — and it smells like that airless Führerbunker in April 1945.

Why the baby boomers had it good

Why the baby boomers had it good

Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

I was born in 1961 as one of the last Baby Boomers, the demographic cohort that came about from a spurt of fertility following WW2. 

The world of the 1960s was very different to today. 

There were far fewer people for starters, technology had not reached everyone, there was no internet, no streaming, and a long-distance phone call cost over $1 a minute. There was also no Covid.

My grandma bathed her children in a tin tub in front of a coal fire. I always had access to instant hot water. 

My father bought his first car, a third hand Austin A40 the size of a peanut when he was in his 40’s. I am lucky enough to buy a new car with a turbocharged engine and big enough for five adults.

Image source: Morse Classics

Personal computers, mobile phones, the internet, global travel, gastronomic delights, and Netflix have arrived in the lifetime of the Baby Boomers. So many things have changed over the last 60 years that my infant self would never have imagined my future. 

I have experienced so much that I need to pinch myself to be sure it all happened.

Cmglee, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Alpha generation 

What of the babies born today, the Alpha generation? What will they experience in their lifetimes?

If the Boomers went from landlines to Facetime, maybe the Alphas can expect holograms, space travel for the masses, and bionic body parts. They could also have to pinch their virtual selves.

Only they will have more to do than the Boomers.

We know that their generation must solve many problems made from the successes of the previous generations. They will be faced with issues of food security, water security, wealth discrepancies, refugees, and any number of technology transitions, especially with energy. 

Oh yes, and Covid or its derivatives. 

They will also be impacted by changes to the climate.

Here are some of the numbers based on a warming scenario should we meet the Paris agreement targets and see a global average of 2.7℃ of extra heat

This is a lot of extra disasters.

The WHO describes heatwaves as the most dangerous of natural hazards. From 1998-2017, more than 166 000 people died due to heatwaves, including more than 70 000 who died during the 2003 heatwave in Europe.

The Alpha generation can expect over 600,000 heatwave related deaths every decade.

A golden age

The Boomers parents and grandparents did it tough too — nobody goes through a global war unscathed.

So I am lucky to be born a Boomer and forever grateful.

However, my generation has done a lousy job of preparing for the future. We have not curtailed population or consumption but promoted both. Nature has buckled under our excesses, and the natural resources we leave for the Alphas are either depleted or dangerous to use.

The Baby Boomers had it good because we were born at just the right time, the golden age of technology and wealth. We tapped the sun’s ancient energy for a cheap fix and a costly legacy.

It will take a lot to make a platinum age from what we will leave behind.


Feel free to browse the Alloporus back catalogue for more ideas and random thoughts.