Are you looking the other way?

Are you looking the other way?

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I am.

There, like an addict in rehab, I admit that cognitive dissonance has got the better of me and I am looking the other way from a host of societal and environmental ills.

As a career scientist who works with the evidence of climate, food security, and the social reality of nature’s exploitation, I am still in denial. I am no more ready to give up my morning latte or my afternoon stroll across the links than the next over indulged Westerner.

I console myself with this admission. 

At least I know that my ecological gumboots are stomping on the world even if there is little that I can do about it. And, of course, there is further balm in knowing that l am not alone but a member of the vast majority.

A pandemic, a climate crisis, the Taliban, and 40 million Americans on foods stamps notwithstanding, here are three randomly selected things from recent news feeds that I let happen…

  • In the decade from 2010-2020 diplomacy decreed that the nations of the world attempt 20 targets for the protection of global biodiversity including protecting coral reefs and tackling pollution. We failed. And in response to that abject failure negotiators are now working on a better plan with new goals for the next decade and beyond. Einstein just turned in his grave.
  • Republican governors of Florida and Texas have stopped schools, colleges and local authorities from the requirement for vaccines, proof of vaccination, a Covid test or masks. Any Florida school administrator who demands the wearing of masks could lose their pay. Just one of the many things that should never be politicised.
  • The national security advisor in the White House this week asked global oil producers to increase production so that US motorists can buy gasoline more cheaply. This week is 8 months into the Biden administration, he of the green deal and a pledge to ban new drilling and fracking on federal lands, yet his administration has granted more than 2,000 new permits.

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but it wasn’t just you. It’s not your fault,” coming to your own as well as my defence.

Well, it was. 

I am part of the system that allowed and continues to allow such ineptitude, lies and selfishness to persist.

The only solace is that I can admit it now. The first but the most important step to making things better.


Please share with others who might want to own it.

Death and taxes again

Death and taxes again

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

The theme of death and taxes we gave an evidence argument in a previous post. This one is about the hip pocket.


As a private citizen in Western democracies, you are certain of two famous things: death and taxes. 

Except for those independently wealthy, to survive in the system you have to earn income and that income is taxed. Modestly for low-income earners and at a greater proportion as your remuneration grows. 

This ‘work for money that is taxed’ keeps going until the inevitable happens and your body can’t fight entropy anymore.

Would you rather pay $20,000 or $1,000,000 in tax per year?

The weird part of this is that, after some thought, most people would be more than happy to pay a million dollars a year in personal income tax.

Obviously, it would mean that earnings are high enough to spend at least 10 grand a week and still have change. Compared to the low-income individual who plays $20,000 a year in tax, your bum is in the butter. 

Similarly, a business paying tax is a good thing. 

Corporations have many more ways of avoiding the tax dollar than the individual, but the reality is that net profit after tax, NPAT, where profit is the operative word, is the objective of the business, the reason it exists. 

The company will have directors who, should they fail to maximize profit for their shareholders, risk prosecution. That NPAT number, the profit measure should be as high as possible. 

A business not declaring a profit is very creative in its accounting or has previously made losses or isn’t a very good business. 

Either way, the shareholders are not too happy if profit is not declared because that is their reward, their dividend for risking their own hard-earned to invest in the company. 

Once the accounting smoke and mirrors are over, paying little to no tax is not a good thing. 

Taxes benefit everyone

All this preamble comes before any moral argument about whether or not taxes are for the public good.

Remember that tax pays for collective benefits: roads, schools, police, defence plus a whole raft of services and structures that are hard to pay for as individuals, but that benefits everyone. 

Tax is an integral part of the modern democratic system. It supports the social structure and a whole chunk of individual well being. Drive out of your front gate and you benefit from the tax dollar as soon as you hit the tarmac. 

Without a tax system, we can say goodbye to the current quality of life that we enjoy. Arguably there is a moral obligation through the social contract for all legal entities and individuals to pay their way. 

What is a fair share?

A fair share of tax is designated by the policies and the politics of the day. 

And sure there’s no reason to pay more than your fair share according to the rules.  As long as the tax system is equitable then everyone at some point in the process will have benefited from the taxes that they’ve paid. There should be a certain pride in paying tax toward the public good.

So to claim that you’ve paid no tax. Or to even hint that such a thing is good does not stack up in any sensible argument. 

Paying no taxes as an individual means that you’re either at the very low end of the income scale in need of support or you’ve diddled the books somehow and claimed payments or shifted money around to avoid paying your fair share. 

If a company pays no tax then at some point in the process the business has failed to disclose a profit or manipulated the books to sail very close to the wind and, again, avoids a fair share. 

There is no doubt that corporations do this. They use all sorts of systems and hire expensive lawyers and accountants to move money around to avoid paying tax and one of the things that society has struggled to do is to reign in that avoidance behaviour. 

But when no tax is paid for a very long time then the company is poor at what they do or they’re extremely good at dodging their fair share. Which even if it’s not illegal has certain moral nefariousness. 

The graph below can speak for itself. 


Source: Tax Justice Now!

Alloporus would suggest tax is a good thing. 

Paying your fair share according to your means should be everyone’s responsibility.

The joy of content creation

The joy of content creation

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by creativity. Not bad for a scientist. 

I like writing especially. I’m interested in all forms, non-fiction, fiction, short form, blog posts. I haven’t quite made it to Twitter, but I’ve always been tempted. I even have an alter-ego, Paul Sorol, the chronicler of the Confused Confucius. Paul is a bit slack at the moment because he’s not actually doing very much. But I hope he’ll get his arse in gear to put out some sayings and conversations in the near future. 

I like the technology side of writing, especially the websites and apps that make productivity easier and more efficient. I am raving about Notion at the moment with the power of the relational database to manage all the fragments of information. Close behind is Notability that has taken me paperless.

I like the design side but I’m absolutely crap at it. I love thinking that I can produce a logo or color palette. Where in fact I haven’t really got a clue. Luckily there is Canva.

I even use Procreate on the iPad to dabble in a little bit of freeform here and there. Again with no idea how to do it. 

And after a one-time career as an academic where I spent a lot of time designing and delivering science courses, I still think I’m half-decent at producing educational material. And now I’m in the process of developing online courses in kajabi for our sustainably FED initiative. 

Doing it all yourself

Part of the joy of content creation in the digital age is doing it all yourself. All the technology makes it possible to take writing all the way to the reader on your own. 

Only the jack of all trades syndrome applies. There is still a lot to cover even with the help of smart apps. And to stand out key elements must be mastered, in particular the look and feel of your messages, a style niched into your audience, and, critically, knowing your audience. 

Fail on these things and no amount of hard work will deliver traction. 

All the successful YouTubers and online entrepreneurs have a niche matched to their primary audience even as some topics are more salable than others. 

Anyway, this week I had a change of heart and instead of wanting to do all of those things myself, I realised something I should have realized a very long time ago. No one person can be across everything. 

So I offloaded platform and website development for the courses to my colleagues and we shared visions of who the audience is going to be. It left me with the content development and carriage of the design and delivery of the message.  Still a lot to do but it eases the pressure and reduces the number of steep learning curves. 

My usual motivational tools, like the daily word tally, also took a step aside. 

Content creation takes more than inspiration

Content development is very different to content creation. 

The raw material of creativity is relatively easy to vomit out onto the page or into the microphone. What’s more difficult is to then go back to that material and edit it down to focus on message and craft. 

Offloading some responsibility has created more space for the big challenge of editing and a good job too for this fine-tuning is easily the hardest part. How the old school writers with their quills, fountain pens and typewriters managed the editing I have no idea. They must have been awesome at first drafts or had the mental bandwidth of an owl. 

In the end content creation is graft. No shortcuts, no technology fixes, and no outsourcing. It’s about being with the words and trusting that the right ones come along.


If anyone is interested in the full process for this blog and the upcoming sustainably FED eLearning initiative, let me know. 

The shovel leaning workshop

The shovel leaning workshop

Photo by Stephen Philpott on Unsplash

Driving along a freeway the other day I passed some roadworks dutifully slowing down to the snails pace speed limit. By the side of the road was an excellent example of standing around. 

A worker was leaning up against a vehicle and it was clear that he’d been leaning for some time. He readjusted his ass and then sort of went back into an expert level hanging around position. 

It was quite remarkable.

My buddy Chris suggested this guy had certainly completed the ‘Hanging Around Workshop’ with a special session on shovel leaning, perhaps even the ‘Advanced No Shoveling’ diploma.

Chris then lamented the challenge he has as a small business owner to find folk who work at his pace. “If I could do all this work myself I would. You know I do twice as much work as anyone else.”

I’m good with slow if that is the best that a person can do. Slow and steady can win the race. If a person is steady and consistent then that is enough, unless they are on a checkout of course.

The shovel leaning is not the same. It’s avoidance of the work that needs done. Training done for that purpose.

I get it. 

Some work is tedious and any opportunity to take a break and have a yarn is taken whenever offered.

Some work is just physically demanding. It is not possible to shovel all day every day.

But some work just has to be done, ideally in the shortest time possible. Most workers could get their week’s work done in three normal length days.

There is a thing. Why not move to a three day week.

We would all be happier with the extra time off, the work would still get done and a heap of time would be saved on the shovel courses.

Except that we might not be happier even if the salary stayed the same. 

Much of that shovel leaning is to pass the time more pleasantly than the options offered back in the family home where there are noisy kids, chores and an irritable spouse. A guaranteed reason why many women find solace in the workplace.

Lockdown has produced the prospect of an epidemic of mental health issues in part due to restricted shovel leaning.

I always feel guilty when my own version of standing around, too many meaningless Youtube videos, and I’m back writing or reading some science publication before too long. However, retirement has been suggested. 

If I am to achieve that I will need to enroll in a few workshops.

Have a great day and a good lean.  


Help me keep it all going by sharing.

Beating that feeling of inadequacy

Beating that feeling of inadequacy

Photo by Luismi Sánchez on Unsplash

We all have triggers, emotional buttons that people can push to set us off. 

Many relate to nasties locked away in our closet that we don’t want anyone to see. But something said or done eases open the door with a creek and lets out the monsters. Those nasty gremlins that play with our emotional balance and throw us off, sometimes into the abyss. 

One of my buttons is incompetence. 

Whenever I come across it I cringe and my equivalent of road rage takes over. I become angry and depressed at the same time. The older I get, even modest incompetence pulls the trigger. And when it’s really bad, I seem to come over in a massive funk that affects me for several days.

I have long been curious to know what relic in my past was setting off this frustration at people unable to do their job properly. 

An anecdote from my backstory might shed some light.

Hartlepool

When I was 10 years old my parents moved the family to the north of England from south London. The coastal town of Hartlepool famous for, well, famous for being a coastal town where they used to build ships.

I had to quickly learn a new dialect and a new accent so as not to sound like a complete southern ponce, a handy skill as it turned out. 

Young enough to still be in primary school, I was enrolled in the little brother of the local grammar school. I have no idea how my parents managed to get me in there. Probably their status as local preachers had something to do with it. The old firm clubbing together. 

At the time there was an exam that all 11-year-old schoolkids in England sat to decide whether they went to the posh grammar schools or the dodgy comprehensives. I took this ‘Eleven plus exam’ and, much to my astonishment, I passed and ended up at the grammar school proper. 

My feelings at the time were incompetence and inadequacy digging their heels in while surprise tried to lighten the mood. Passing an examination that, in my mind at least, I had no hope of getting through was a shock that I never really got over. I reconciled it as… inadequate I may be but I got through anyway

As it was, I remember very little about that grammar school other than that I couldn’t play rugby. After one outing I would never consider that crazy game again. Soccer, the pastime of the hooligan comprehensive set, was my thing. 

Within a year my parents were off again, back down south where I had to start all over again. This time at an even posher grammar school a short step down from the paid private schools.

I was instantly bottom of the class but it turns out that being bottom of those chosen to be at the top pulled up my academic socks. What it didn’t do was give me any confidence. That only happened when, again by some miracle of the universe, I made it to university.

Inadequacy begins at home

After many years of reflecting on childhood experiences, as you do, I figured my sense of inadequacy, and its related incompetence trigger, was inherited from my parent’s attitude to life. 

At home there was never enough money and whatever there was had to stretch to cover all contingencies. My parents did remarkably well. Whilst we never went to restaurants or cafes or own a car and some of the smaller things in life were hard to come by, there was always food on the table and uniforms to wear to school and all the elements to make it look normal. 

What wasn’t quite so normal was the lack of confidence in the household. A giving to religion sucked up all the energy in the room, all day every day. The church took control over our lives and made all the major decisions. The lord provided and took any sense of self in return. 

And for me, that translated to feelings of inadequacy in myself but also in my folks. It became a trigger that persists to this day nearly 50 years on. When I see people performing poorly I rail at myself while smiling politely. Later I will fall into a funk brim full of cynicism and negativity.

I’ve often thought of how to come out of such a malaise, I mean people are people. The world over there are folk who are good, and not so good at what they do. It’s a law of nature – the raw material that allows diversity to exist. Without variety, there’d be nothing to choose from in the next generation. And I think that’s part of the story too. This idea that everyone needs to be good at something to persist into the next generation, to deliver on their genetic promise.  

Even though I can accept the logic of averages, when I see people who are not very good at something or bluster their way through without the skills and all they are is below average, I’m disconcerted. 

Often it’s not that they’re poor at a task or lack certain skills. I think it’s the realisation that so many know that they’re not so good but have no desire to get better. 

Beating inadequacy

My response to childhood feelings of inadequacy was to become self-sufficient. 

I learned to knuckle down and do what I could and worked at that self sufficiency by doing what was in my control. 

This resulted in a narrow zone of confidence and a certain naivety about how the world really works but I felt adequate some of the time. As it turned out the academic sphere likes this kind of narrow focus and I carved a career in science despite being bottom of the class for all those years. 

Even now I have to remind myself that I am good enough. I can do a lot of things and I just have to choose well among the many things that interest me. Those that are appropriate to be doing at the time. And focus on those and be comfortable. 

It doesn’t stop the triggers. 

Rationalization cannot protect against an innate emotional response. It also doesn’t make ineptitude a good thing or even an acceptable response. We should all be striving to be the best we possibly can be. 

We won’t all be tall poppies. But if everyone is striving to grow, the true tall poppies would be even better than they are now. 

In these ever more complex and challenging times, humanity must tap into its skill base to extend itself. And that means individuals not accepting inadequacy and not accepting incompetence, but promoting quality, wherever we can find it.

Maybe this is the best way to beat inadequacy, to embrace the best, grow the tall poppies and try to catch up with them. 


If you enjoyed this post or even if it made you cringe, post about it. I don’t mind.

Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Photo by Josh Marshall on Unsplash

Nowt as queer as folk

This north of England expression, although probably also Welsh, is said to emphasize that people sometimes behave in a very strange way. 

No kidding. 

We were bonkers before lockdown and now, well, just check out all the fails on Youtube. 

Yes ma’am, there is a battery in the car, not just the one in the key fob’.

Our blissful ignorance is so complete that it is a miracle that we figured out how to make a car in the first place.

Thanks in large part to this capacity to be ignorant, there is another famous quote first attributed to Mark Twain in his 1897 travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World” where in chapter 15 he writes 

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. 

However, in 1823 Lord Byron published several cantos of his epic satirical poem “Don Juan” wherein the one-hundredth stanza of canto 14 included the lines 

‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,

Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,

How much would novels gain by the exchange!

How differently the world would men behold!

So we have known for a long time that people are the source of much craziness, more even than can be conjured in the imagination of great writers of fiction.

And nothing has changed. 

We are as mad today as ever and it looks worse for our attention span is that of a gnat. 

We are only interested in the bizarre or peculiar or some poor bugger falling off his skateboard onto his gonads. 

Then, of course, we believe everything we hear or see, especially online. 

Our common sense left the building with Elvis and no matter how unlikely the scene it must be true given that truth is always strange, stranger than fiction.

Does it matter? 

If we are entertained and no animals were harmed in the making of the film, then presumably it doesn’t matter. 

We can be entertained by fact or fiction in equal measure. The important thing is that we enjoy it so that we click the like button. 

Of course, if there is contention or opinion involved then we are in, for human beings are addicted to drama. Just a brief look into any family will tell you that. And we are much more likely to want to argue with each other than we are to agree. Just for the pleasure of something to argue about. 

This requirement for entertainment and drama has fuelled a whole industry that in its modern form is open to anyone with a smartphone and some botox or the aforementioned skateboard. 

Ask an evolutionary biologist about this phenomenon and she would say…

“Sure, makes perfect sense. We are designed to notice the unusual because that gave us an advantage in finding food and water. Our curiosity also helped us develop smart ideas and solutions to no end of problems back before agriculture. Youtube is an obvious extension of that instinct”

Ok then, that is interesting. 

It means it is instinct to like boat ramp fails and crazy Russians overtaking at 120 kph on an ice-bound road.

It is also ok if the clip is true or made up? I’m still just following instinct.

“Well yes,” says the biologist, “only along with the curiosity and eye for the unusual goes the ability to test. No point in picking out a purple fruit if it is going to give you stomach cramps. We added the ability to understand if unusual was useful. We learned how to understand if what we had seen was of any use to us.” 

Ah, so the unusual is put into context. That makes sense. 

Presumably, the truth matters now in order to establish the context. What might start off as amusing because it was different or odd becomes the subject of investigation in case there is something in it for us, an opportunity perhaps. 

If the truth is that there is nothing, it is actually just an idiot on a skateboard with more bravado than skill, then the laugh is enough. No problem, move on with a chuckle.

Russians killing themselves and innocents is more serious, especially if you live there.

Our biologist again. 

“What should happen is that we make an instinctive call as to how much attention to pay and when to engage in finding out more. We learn when to let curiosity be added to what we already know to explore the odd coloured fruit. There is a knowledge base we tap into and add to that keeps us safe.”

This seeking knowledge is critical. 

Around the world, people have lost sight of what actually made us humans in the first place, this ability to understand unusual things and put them into context. 

Current knowledge per individual is remarkably weak. 

Most people seem completely unaware of the realities of how life works. What delivers things to their doorstep how it comes about and the consequences of decisions that they make. 

Disengagement with the truth of matters is a problem. But not the only one .

Growing inabilities 

Inability to discern truth from fact. 

Inability to pay attention to anything other than what will fuel our need for drama or amusement. 

Inability to stay with something that requires more than 15 seconds of attention. 

Inability to give something some serious thought. 

It is time to do something about these inabilities because they play into the hands of people wanting authoritarian power rather than anything to do with our best interest. This is where the truth matters. When the democratic process is undermined. 

We still need to eat the odd coloured fruit and celebrate the wonderful weirdness of folk. 


Comment below if you feel the urge and please share with your online folks

No progress without persuasion

No progress without persuasion

Photo by cloudvisual on Unsplash

There is no progress without persuasion, and there is no progress without active listening followed by compromise.

Katharine Murphy, Guardian columnist

How should I persuade you? 

I could present a powerful argument based on facts and evidence in a way that you understand, whether that be through words or mathematics or graphical presentations, perhaps even an animated video. 

I can talk to you once, twice, five times about this topic presenting more and more facts each time, gently persuading you that the evidence is in favour of my argument.

Alternatively, I could lie. 

I could present my argument in the same way through words or mathematics or various engaging graphics that are completely fabricated or bent a little to fit my purpose. I could fib or lie through my teeth and still persuade you that my argument was sound. 

Sometimes we call this ‘spin’.

You, on the other hand, listen to my material and decide if I am serious, that I am worthy or just another snake-oil salesman. 

This requires active listening because chances are something I said didn’t sound right. The hint of a porker requires that you understand when I am being truthful, pulling together evidence that exists, and where I’m fabricating everything for my advantage. 

The onus of the persuasion is on me. 

The onus of listening and whether or not you can be persuaded rests entirely on your shoulders.

Healthy scepticism

If you are well-versed in the fine arts of scepticism, then my job will be tough. 

Unless I have powerful evidence and excellent communication skills I could fall short. Any falsehoods and half-truths will be sniffed out and undermine all my efforts. 

Even if I am convincing, you may not accept my argument. 

Perhaps you have access to additional facts or an alternative interpretation that you believe fits the facts more precisely.

I may need to persuade more forcefully with my ninja-level spin. You will smile and tell me to take a hike.

Katharine Murphy’s quote embodies these two features of human interaction. Persuasion on behalf of the person interested in getting their opinion across and scepticism through active listening on the part of the recipient of the information. What Murphy calls progress is when those two things come together.

It seems that humans need advocacy as much as they need scepticism. The balance between the two has kept us more or less honest for centuries.

In modern times, however, persuasion has grown in power even without evidence. 

All of us are accessible via any number of communication tools plus we remain vulnerable to emotional tugs and attention spans are short. Few have the time to pay all that much attention. Skilled persuaders can hoodwink and dupe easily because most people do not actively listen. 

And when we do listen, many of us don’t have the skills to unpack the truth from the fiction, often believing in the character played by the actor and not the actor. Our scepticism skills fail us.

Persuasion is not progress

It is also true that the fine art of spin is in our DNA. 

I can hear the first farmers peddling their bushels of ancient grains in the market place with claims of how their crop will store much better through the winter because of its lighter colour. 

The modern version began in earnest in the 1950s with the arrival of advertising. Persuasion to purchase has been honed over the decades into something that is almost unassailable. 

Fruit loops are good for you because they have fruit flavour.

But persuasion is not progress.

Scepticism is necessary

Scepticism appears throughout the history of philosophy as the thinker who decides that what he’s hearing is not actually how the universe operates.  

A sceptic is not afraid of sacred cows or conventional wisdom but is always asking if the opinion presented fits the facts and looks for alternative views of the world that are more consistent with the evidence. 

The sceptic can focus on the facts and place them into context. This is both a skill and a task. 

Making decisions through a sceptical view of the evidence presented through persuasion is powerful. When the sceptic listens the evidence must be strong enough to both convince and not get corrupted by spin. 

Compromise in this way will be as close to evidence-based decision support as we are going to get. 

Progress through compromise 

That progress comes from a compromise between persuasion and scepticism is an exciting idea. It is the pointy end of how evidence is used in society, where decisions are made. 

It means that spin can be taken a little more seriously for what it hides than what it intends. 

Suppose I want you to eat more sugar because I am growing it in abundance and the market price is tanking eating into my profits. You are sceptical because the evidence points to refined sugar as a major cause of obesity and related health issues. 

You are forced to look closely at the medical evidence to evaluate my persuasive spin and reveal my motives.

The compromise is that you vote for the progressive party that will pay my ecosystem service payments to transition my production from sugar to regenerative agriculture with multiple crops.

In other words, spin can be useful. It can help the listener know when to be sceptical and when to gather or evaluate evidence.

It is not at all bad.


Reposting is fine by me.

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

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.

Sense of humour failure

Sense of humour failure

I used to be funny.

The reason I could get a laugh was that I said what most people wouldn’t. What humoured them was the fact that their repressed thoughts could come out of someone else’s mouth.

Presumably, this is one of the rules of comedy.

I used to be able to read the room and figure out what the tension was, the issue or politically correct motivation that was dominating the conversation.

Once cornered I would point to the elephant or perhaps the pile of steaming dung on the floor and make a few deprecating remarks about how silly it was to be so worried about a fictitious beast that could not possibly be on the 63rd floor of a city office block.

Nervous hilarity usually ensued.

Not so much these days. Maybe the pungency of the dung doesn’t translate on virtual meetings.

I still make my wife laugh, thank goodness.

What a pleasure that is and a true test of a good relationship. I can be myself around her, say crazy things, be a bit wackadoodle and she loves it. Thankfully she is still invested.

For a while now I have struggled along in a very toxic workplace where mediocrity is considered poor form because it might show people up. Everyone is operating way below their capacity thanks to an atmosphere of fear delivering insecurity, all promulgated by the leadership. A nasty situation.

It has sapped my energy and made my normal humour redundant.

Trying to lighten the mood and bring people some levity in their being is vital because most work meetings are not that important after all. Not to say that good governance and its efficient delivery is not important. It is vital to our society. Poor delivery of law and regulation is actually cancer on democracy that will eventually bring it down.

Only without some levity, all sense of proportion is lost.

Nobody knows what really matters or when to be serious or when to make decisions or that it really does not require an hour to decide if we use Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Stress is an extraordinary phenomenon. We are all struggling to cope with a pandemic and ‘that year’ where in Australia, we had drought, heat, wildfire, flood, a pandemic, and runs on toilet rolls.

It’s a challenging time to stay light.

Back in my days in southern Africa, the Zimbabweans always used to say about any grumpy individual that he had a “sense of humour failure”.

I fear a terminal case of that presently.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to regain my sense of humour.

Meditation helps, of course, as does exercise. And yoga would too only seem to have lost the urge for that. So deep has the malaise become the only thing that seems to keep me sane is writing. It helps to put into words some of these difficult and challenging feelings.

There are days when the lightness returns and some humour is possible. I hope that those days will become more frequent as I come to terms with a difficult situation.

So keep your pecker up young man, your chin somewhere towards the sky. And hopefully, that sense of humour and lightness about the world will come back, even in these challenging times.

See, even if you just talk to yourself it can help.


Don’t forget there is always a little giggle to be had from the aphorisms of the The Confused One