Something that should be more worrying than COVID-19

Something that should be more worrying than COVID-19

Insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times, and are essential to the ecosystems humanity depends upon. They pollinate plants, are food for other creatures and recycle nature’s waste.

Damian Carrington, Environment editor, The Guardian, 24 April 2020

Nearly two years ago Alloporus first noted some worrying research on the decline of insects in Europe. with the key finding

More than 75% decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

Hallman et al (2017)

Alloporus’ comment was this

When an observation so dramatic and material to so many key ecological processes becomes known we dismiss it at our peril. If we ignore these numbers just because we like the idea of fewer midges at summer evening picnics without looking deeper to find out what is going on, we increase the risk to our already precarious food security.

At around the same time this post and research came out, two US researchers returned to a forested conservation reserve in Puerto Rico after 35 years and this is what they said…

We compared arthropod biomass in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest with data taken during the 1970s and found that biomass had fallen 10 to 60 times. Our analyses revealed synchronous declines in the lizards, frogs, and birds that eat arthropods.

They published their results in a peer-reviewed journal of the US National Academy of Sciences

Lister, B. C., & Garcia, A. (2018). Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(44), E10397-E10406.

The declines the authors put down to climate. It was too hot too often for the ground-dwelling invertebrates creating an upwards cascade through the food web.

In Europe insecticide use and habitat change, in a rainforest, climate change. Either way a serious problem.

Just to make sure this was not just an isolated result, Roel van Klink of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, together with colleagues from around Germany and Russia completed a meta-analysis and

‘compiled data from 166 long-term surveys across 1,676 globally distributed sites and confirmed declines in terrestrial insects, albeit at lower rates than some other studies have reported and concluded that ‘Patterns of variation suggest that local-scale drivers are likely responsible for many changes in population trends, providing hope for directed conservation actions.’

So it’s happening. Roughly 25% declines in insects across the board in a generation, with insects faring only slightly better in nature reserves than outside protected areas.

The conclusion, terrestrial insects are declining in numbers and variety and, as is typical for nature, this loss is patchy, occurs at differing rates and from multiple causes.

Klink and his colleagues took hope from this result. You can see why. If climate change was the cause everywhere, then there is a serious global catastrophe in the offing where the rates of decomposition and nutrient transfer are altered across a wide range of biomes and habitats affecting many land uses, especially primary production.

This would not be about species loss in the way it is for the koala. A cute thing that we like to see in the zoo and maybe take a selfie with one held up by a zookeeper, the cuddly critter that might become extinct. This is about the loss of function, loss of ecosystem services that we cannot do without or easily replace.

Instead, Klink and his colleagues found multiple, often local causes. This they interpret as a solvable problem. Conservation and restoration efforts could help local populations recover.

As regular readers will know, Alloporus has to work hard to be this optimistic.

Until the economy through the supply chains feels the hit of the loss of services little will be done. The efforts of the few with the koala saving gene will be epic, they will try their best, but it will not be enough.

If lockdown with its boredom, ingenuity and the appearance of clean air all around the place tells us anything, it should be that we can survive on relatively little.

Only part of that little has to be food and water.

Imagine lockdown with the supermarket shelves empty of food. That would put toilet paper shortages into perspective for us.

It is trite to say it, and sad that it has to be said again and again, but it is true — nature matters to our very existence.


If you enjoyed this post please share it with others.

If it annoyed you share it anyway, it could be a topic of conversation on your next Zoom chat

Game changers must be scalable

Game changers must be scalable

Think global, act local is a decades-old rallying cry. An attempt to bridge the psychological chasm between the enormity of environmental issues and what an individual can actually achieve from day to day.

The assumption is that if every little helps and everyone does a little locally, a collective change will emerge.

In principle, this is a scalable idea.

Each individual benefits from their own effort. Not least because they feel better for making a contribution. Add more and more people and the true benefits appear from a sum of the collective parts.

One conversion to LED lighting is a modest energy saving but when a whole city does it, baseload generation, peak demand, emissions, and energy delivery systems can all change significantly.

Most game-changing ideas are scalable like this. They may start small but grow into high volume and at some point, they are no longer local. They are market-wide. Almost all the successful consumer products from fridges to mobile phones fit this model.

The problem is that many of the ideas that would deliver sustainable environmental solutions, for example, green waste into biochar, only work at scale.

This makes them difficult to get started.

Composting green waste to create mulch and fertiliser is a good thing to do. It can be done at home, even on the balconies of high rise apartment blocks. The problem is what to do with the compost. An average household would need a fair size garden to use what can be made plus the nutrients are not returned to the paddocks where the food was grown. Compost for the farmer’s field needs a system to aggregate and transport household green waste even if the household has already decomposed it down a bit.

In principle this is scalable, only there might not be enough green waste to make the volume needed and there is a risk of contamination from weeds and pathogens.

Burning green waste at high temperatures and low oxygen (pyrolysis) converts biomass into charcoal (biochar) releasing volatile gases and leaving behind stable carbon with a honeycomb microstructure. Put this material on or into the soil and it improves water retention and nutrient exchange through the biology going on in and around the carbon particles.

This sounds like a better solution for household green waste so long as there is a digester handy, a pyrolysis machine to convert the biomass into a stable and safe form of fertilizer. Currently, not many are portable and to build one commercially, high volume is needed to make them profitable. This means starting at scale, not to get there over time.

Any number of agricultural fixes both technical and through management actions are like this. There is a chasm of scale between the individual consumer and the system of production.

This is both practical and psychological. Most city dwellers have never even been on a farm, let alone know what it takes to run one. They might be keen to do their little bit but really have no inkling of the scale needed when it is paddocks and fields that are in need of care.

It may be that this psychological chasm can’t be crossed incrementally. We might need to be ‘at scale’ for the solution to work. And in our current social and economic system this means profitable investment. More strictly, the profit that is easiest to achieve today.

In a positive future…

Everyone will recognise that not all solutions are scalable or need to be. Individual actions are encouraged in scalable directions – reduce, reuse, recycle is a fine example – to tackle the demand side.

Production will become more resilient because the finance for ‘at scale’ solutions will have a much longer time horizon that absorbs uncertainty as a manageable risk. The bond market will embrace agriculture when it sees that unpredictable production is fine when you go long and think like nature.

Farm businesses will cooperate. Not because the farmers turn to socialism but because it will be one of the ‘at scale’ solutions to more concentrated markets.

In the end… and after the virus

Every little action can help sustain us all. Each local act can lead to global solutions so long as there is room for options when the little things do not add up.

There is an opportunity now that with lockdowns we know that we can actually survive on a lot less than we thought. The scale might just have got a bit smaller for some of the options we have suggested if the need for profit has become less acute and the need for stable, reliable supply chains has grown.

You never know.

Social cohesion in a time of isolation

Social cohesion in a time of isolation

A few years ago now a serious bushfire passed just to the north of our house. It destroyed over a hundred homes and our back fence. We are still hyper-vigilant in spring when the hot westerlies push hard across eastern Australia and yet what I remember most from that tense experience is the sense of community that appeared spontaneously during the crisis.

Neighbours helping neighbours and everyone helping the firemen and rural fire service volunteers tackling the blaze. People variously wielded rakes, took turns on the garden hoses, made tea or simply offered nervous encouragement. It felt like a group effort.

David Shearman talks of something similar that happened in Britain during WW2 where people came together through far more severe and prolonged trauma.

“Britain was a united and cohesive community. Young and old worked daily in small ways for the common cause. But most importantly, in the free world, two countries — Britain and the US — had leaders in Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt who could explain the need for duty and sacrifice.”

David Shearman

Our bushfire experience of cooperation was certainly coordinated. The RFS Commissioner was constantly in the media providing information and advice. On the ground, the fire crews listened to their seniors and whoever was on the other end of the radio. Civilians readily followed their lead.

Firebreaks were raked, back burns set and helicopters dumped water judiciously to slow the fire enough for the hoses to protect houses. It was planned and calmly executed with everyone chipping in with what they could.

Most of the people in the street had seen bushfire before. It comes with the flammable treed territory we chose to live in. Recognition of the threat was ingrained through experience, so there was little need for Churchillian scale motivation.

This is probably true whenever something frightening becomes real and dangerous. Humans clearly have the cooperation gene even if it may only express itself in extremis. Even so, some leadership is required. There has to be some sense of need or a clear explanation of it.

Danger felt by everyone is the core ingredient for cohesion. Honest cooperation is contagious enough when a threat is real. Fear can bring people together.

Not all the neighbours were in on the group effort. At least one family were too frightened to leave their home. We actually thought they were out or had left, until at the height of the crisis with a fireman hosing down their wooden deck as some protection from embers, there was movement inside the house. Perhaps they needed the ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech.

Despite this, I easily recollect the cohesion that created much more than the sum of the parts. What I also recall is how fast it dissipated.

It took a day for the fire to burn most of the fuel in the bush around our homes. That night there was still eery red glows from scattered tree stumps. A day later and it was just char and ash. The threat had passed.

Heroic rural firefighter doing a great job in our backyard

Then we began to realise that this wildfire was a devastating event for the community. Everyone knew someone who had lost their home. A collection point for food and clothing was soon overflowing with gifts and volunteers. The fire was the topic of conversation wherever people met purging themselves of their fearful experiences. It was a human emergency for several months and then it wasn’t.

A great purveyor of entropy cut a swath through us and people responded to defy it. They rallied and returned things to our sense of normal with great speed.

Then we all forgot about it.

At least that is what it feels like. Every now and then memory is triggered or a newcomer is told the stories of the fateful day but mostly it is history. Some regulations have changed, fire preparedness is reinforced and we all look up at the sound of a helicopter. But the cohesion has gone.

I imagine that it will come back when the next fire comes along. It will because bushland in this part of Australia burns regularly, every decade or so on average in these parts. So in a short while cohesion will be called and I have no doubt that the residents will respond as spontaneously as they did in 2013.


Sure enough 2019-20 bushfire season was horrific.

Our little community escaped the worst but we had two monster fires, one to the north that burned within a few kilometres of our suburb and one to the south that threatened to do the same for the best part of a month.

People were cohesive. They helped each other out and were endlessly grateful to the fire services and the volunteers that provided assistance to the hundreds of people who lost homes, livestock, infrastructure and in a some tragic cases their lives.

No political leaders emerged during this crisis. The prime minister went on holiday to Hawaii and had to rush back with his tail between his legs. The state leadership did their best but really did not know what to do.

Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, stood up and showed everyone how it should be done. He was truthful, blunt and yet caring all at the same time. His leadership got the collective through.

Locally, it was the mayors that stood up. Ours, Mark Greenhill, Mayor of Blue Mountains City Council, took to FB to give daily updates of the operations in our district. He was tirelessly present with the firefighters and the support staff and went above and beyond to provide the cohesion people needed.

People really do rally around individuals or each other when the heat is on but then readily dissipate into their own worlds when the crisis passes.

The drought crisis that turned into a bushfire crisis that has turned into a pandemic crisis means we have been overdone with cohesion of late.

The question is will vacuum return. Will leadership that is only present in extremis fade away when the calm returns as it surely will.

This is a rare opportunity for it to stick around.


If you like the posts on Alloporus please share with your friends who might need something to read in isolation.

More brumbies

More brumbies

Eighteen months ago Allporus posted a piece on the brumby, what Australians call wild horses, specifically the controversy over the NSW Government passing the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018 that gives protected status to feral horses in the national park. This is a law protects a known driver of biodiversity loss.

It was one of the more bizarre decisions that politics is capable of throwing up and is another example of the worrying trend to ignore science whenever it suits.

A few months after that post came out an aerial wildlife survey of the alpine national parks and surrounding state forests in NSW and Victoria was conducted, a follow up to a similar survey of the same area five years earlier.

In that time between surveys, the feral horse population has more than doubled from 9,187 in 2014 to 25,318 in 2019.

This is a growth rate of 24% per year.

It’s a great ‘I told you so’ story.

These animals are introduced. They are not native, repeat, not native.

They are big, bulky and hard-hoofed grazing animals, features that no other herbivore in these habitats has. The last big herbivores were browsers, the Diprotodons that likely died out 12,000 years ago.

Horses will alter vegetation. It will mean some sensitive plant species will be lost along with the invertebrates that go with them. Other plants will come in on the back of the disturbance and some of them will be invasive themselves.

More importantly than this, the ecological integrity of the alpine systems will be altered by horses.

And we now know who promoted it.


Since this little whinge was written the politicians of all hues have been standing next to scientists, patting them on the back and seeking out their learned advice; as they should.

The politicians who are not listening to their health professionals will have a big problem getting re-elected after COVID-19 has passed through the world on its first journey. The epidemiologists know what they are talking about, they know what it takes to slow a pandemic and the logistics folk know what the limits are to the capacity and capability of the health systems.

The problems of a pandemic are acute and affect everyone. The public expects that all sensible advice should be consulted and heeded.

The thing is that the conservation scientists, the biodiversity specialists and the wildlife biologists, well, they know their shit too. Just because their knowledge might save non-human lives, even whole species, of native plants and animals, it is no less valid as science.

So here is the truth.

Remember that all political decisions are value-based. They are not based on science unless the science aligns with the dominant value.

We are grateful that it does when human lives and livelihoods are at stake.

When the human stakes are lower we would do well to be grateful for science then too.

What happens after the COVID-19 virus?

What happens after the COVID-19 virus?

As I write this post there is no toilet paper in the supermarket and not much in the way of pasta, rice or tinned veggies. The frozen foods section is cleaned out and eggs are down to the last couple of dozen. The long-life milk is restricted to two per customer but on the upside, remarkably, the fresh food is as abundant in variety and quality as ever. The deli counter looks like it always has and there is every cut of meat you could wish for waiting for a culinary touch.

It’s weird.

I am wiping down the trolly handle with anti-bacteria surface cleaner and I have no idea if it is dumb or not. I scratch my nose. Idiot, can’t even get the basics right.

I leave the store with a trolley load of provisions nearly identical to the loads carried home before this virus changed everything. I say thank you to the ether with gratitude for my good fortune. Then I say it again.

I try desperately not to give in to the mischievous imp on my shoulder telling me it will not last, make the most of it.

Is he right, that little fear-mongering bugger? Can supply chains keep going with everyone locked down?

I have no idea. Not the foggiest.

This is the new world we have entered. The place of lockdown and isolation, witty memes and singing on balconies. A place where nobody knows if they can protect themselves from the virus and where some seem not to care at all if they do, for themselves or others.

Nobody knows if it will last weeks or months or if the fallout will take years for the world to recover. The economists are delighted for they are in fashion again even though they have absolutely no idea why the neo-liberals resumed the rampant printing of money for the biggest social programs in history.

And in Belarus, they are still singing on the terraces at soccer games.

Unable to fathom any of this I took to thinking what it might look like after the virus.

We could have got so used to working from home that we actually quite like it and persuade companies that this should be the norm and flex days are the ones we go into an office rented just for the purpose.

Only the mothers with young children decide that this home schooling thing is too much and can’t wait to send their kids back to the organised daycare of the education system so they can enjoy the working from home.

We actually got used to fortnightly grocery trips and online orders so much that the shopping malls were converted into community centres for recreation and social persuits. The old folks in the day and the yongsters at night.

So as not to get too worried about the money situation we voted in governments that introduced a liveable universal income with incentives for working two to three days a week on jobs that get us out of the house, away from our partners and keep the place clean and tidy.

They also agreed that they would underwrite the supply chains so that we didn’t have to accumulate personal wealth for a rainy day.

We enjoyed the cleaner air and the lower emissions so much that we agreed staying at home was actually preferable to burning fossil fuels and we would only take trips in electric vehicles from now on. There was a global competition with grand prizes for the invention of fast train and air travel without all the mess.

The mental fallout from the virus was so great that psychology became the most sought after training in colleges and universities and along with the guaranteed income was universal access to mental health care.

The governments realised that QE was actually not going to send inflation up in a rocket and that the concept of money, lending and borrowing against yourself did not actually bring the house of cards down. What they came to realise was that the resource base was what mattered all along. So they invested heavily in understanding how much we needed to look after land, water and the natural world for all its services. They even figured out that soil was the most important resource of all.

Along with this back to nature came a surge in technological advances that made everything and everyone more efficient. Robots with AI blockers built in made all the mudane work routine freeing everyone to work only as they wanted and on service tasks, the necessarily touchy feely work that make us all human for thanks to some very smart researchers a universal viral vaccine was invented that kept us safe from COVID-26.

All up the world became a much better place. There were rouges and the mentally disturbed and the accidents and the unwanted deaths from neglect or stupidity but, all in all, the world was cleaner, smarter and a lot safer place to live.

This is what step changes can do.

They can make us all smile.


Please share or add your ideas for the nice changes we could make happen.

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.


It would be great if you liked this post enough to share it on your social network.

Dust storm consequence that’s not so obvious

Dust storm consequence that’s not so obvious

Every now and again Sydney gets a dust storm.

Red dirt descends on the harbour city leaving a stain on all exposed surfaces and forces asthma suffers indoors. The cloud usually passes within a few hours on the strong westerlies that brought the problem with them.

The typical conditions that bring this occasional event are simple enough: drought in the centre of the continent and a deep low tracking through the Tasman sea. Winds whip up topsoil and keep it aloft long enough for it to travel far and wide, sometimes even to New Zealand.

Dust storms like this are not common in Sydney. There is a major one every few years that creates a temporary nuisance. After a day it is forgotten and the next rain shower removes the evidence.

Severe thunderstorms, floods and bushfires along with their smoke are the more familiar of nature’s challenges.

However, suppose that the dust storm deposits 0.1 mm of dust across Sydney. Just a thin film of silty redness; nothing that the rain cannot wash away.

Suppose further that this happens at least once every 4 years.

In the lifetime of the current crop of university students, some 0.5 mm has landed and washed away. Not much to write home about — although most university students live at home these days so could just shout to their mums in the kitchen

Since the time past when shiploads of convicts founded Sydney and began to spread out into the hinterlands, these irregular storms have deposited 5.75 mm of dust or a little under a quarter of an inch.

Again not much, but you could scrape it together into piles and make enough soil to sprout some bamboo shoots.

Now assuming the same rates and amounts occurred since the first humans reached Australia, say a minimum of 60,000 years ago by most genetic estimates, then we are looking at around 150 cm of deposited dust, roughly 4 feet 11 inches of the stuff, more than enough to grow things in.

In fact, 4 feet 11 inches is the average height of a modern 12-year-old kid.

What this should tell you is that wind erosion is serious business.

Wind can move soil from a source area and deposit it somewhere else. It can do this very quickly, well within the time bounds of human societies. Give it a bit longer and it can shape landscapes.

If the paddocks in the west of NSW are bare when the pressure discrepancy hits then the wind does its thing even faster. Soil and nutrient exit stage left.

If this is alarming to you it should be.

At a time when we need every gram of nutrient to stay on the paddocks to nurture the plants that we want to eat, it is continuing to blow away on the wind.

Also, know that wind erosion is a perfectly natural process. It has contributed to the flattening of mountain ranges on earth for millions of years. It is not something humans can stop as, despite our biblical edicts of dominion, we can’t stop drought and we can’t prevent air pressure systems from moving around the planet.

We can be smart though and reduce the effects of wind through management. This is a very simple principle — keep groundcover.

That is, don’t leave bare soil anywhere.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. If your livestock are starving under drought conditions and need to eat whatever is left on the paddock there is a strong temptation to let them. Keeping plant cover on the ground requires advanced planning for the dry times so that the livestock are elsewhere or fed from other sources.

Again, really easy to say — especially by a blogger from the city — really hard to do on the farm.


A kicker

In old, already heavily eroded soils like those over much of the Australian inland, the last thing you need to happen is topsoil loss.

Old soils tend to have fewer primary minerals especially k-feldspars (orthoclase, sanidine, and microcline) and micas (muscovite, glauconite and illite). These minerals are called active because they have a high capacity to hold onto and exchange nutrients with plant roots.

Primary minerals act as an important reservoir for potassium (K), with over 90% of K in soils existing in the structure of these minerals. Significant amounts of calcium (Ca), sodium (Na), and silica (Si) and smaller amounts of copper (Cu) and manganese (Mn) are also present in the feldspars. Micas and illite are the most important source of K in many soils, and they also contain magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), Ca, Na, Si, and a number of micronutrients

This makes growing plants in older soils a challenge as the nutrients exchange is far less than it is in younger soils.


Another kicker

I am writing this update in late January 2020.

It has been an apocalyptic summer on the east coast of Australia. More than 11 million hectares of bushland has burnt, temperature records have been smashed — where I live the daily maximum recorded temperature for December was exceeded by over half a degree Celcius and then in January by a full degree, it was 16.5 degrees above the long term average that day.

Combine the heat with the smoke and even the healthy are calling it. Then the dust storm, a big one. When it passed through Orange in the centre of the NSW it turned day into night and was the worst anyone could remember.

Then the rain came, briefly and yet with such ferocity the lightning strikes took your eardrums out.

This is climate change, my dear readers. All of these severe weather stories are the consequence of more energy in the atmosphere, even the deep chill last winter in the US that the POTUS joked about.

Again we can’t ‘fix’ climate change but we sure as hell should be doing everything we can to mitigate against it.


If you like this post please pass it on to your social peeps.

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.


If you like this post, please check out some more on Alloporus | ideas for healthy thinking and please share on your social networks

What ever happened to the stupidity filter?

What ever happened to the stupidity filter?

When I was a kid I avoided being seen as stupid.

It was my number one priority, the imperative. I hated the embarrassment of getting anything wrong so I tried not to with every fibre of my being.

Who wants to admit they don’t know who scored Tottenham’s second goal at the Lane on the weekend or wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to watch the screamer from Glen Hoddle.

Who could not know the latest track by the Sex Pistols, even if it was banned by the BBC and there was no way for the average closeted Joe to hear it?

Who wants to admit they hadn’t heard who the class bicycle was supposed to be shagging. Yes, it was all horribly misogynistic in those bygone years.

I developed a few handy tactics to avoid putting my foot in it.

I thought before I spoke.

I listened and made sure I was in the know about everything there was to know.

I acted like everyone else as best I could.

The last thing I did was blurt out errors of fact or judgement for all to hear. Nobody, least of all me, wanted to be a dumbass.

What changed?

It seems that today there is no embarrassment at being wrong at all.

Any sports, social or knowledge item is a click away on Google. Any visuals missed are on Youtube. If I don’t know the track its cool to Shazam it.

This suggests I can be in the business of getting it right all the time with a little help from my handheld device. Only that is not how it goes down.

These days I am just as likely to be suckered by fake news and errors of knowledge and feel no problem at all in blurting them out to whoever is nearby.

I can be stupid with impunity and absolutely nothing at all happens to me.

What happened to make stupidity a skill worthy of the highest prizes?

Here are three possibilities:

Theory #1

the bubble

We all live in our own bubbles and nothing gets in. The view is opaque and soundproof. Others can see our posts but not us, hence we can never be stupid because we are invisible and safe in the bubble. It offers extraordinary protection and zero kickback.

Theory #2

The hyper ego

Similar to the bubble, but where everyone can see and hear you. It doesn’t matter though because your ego is so powerful that you are always right even when you are not. The ego is all-powerful and can’t ever let you feel pain or let down in any way.

Theory #3

Who gives a f__k?

It doesn’t matter if you are stupid or not because there is no personal responsibility for anything. If I am wrong so what, it’s my life. I don’t care what others think. If I believe I’m right then I am, sod them.

What happens next?

The reasons for getting things right back in the day were the wrong ones.

I was wanting to be accepted, in with the in-crowd, to be liked. Naturally, this is the ego talking, the kind of thing that besets youth whatever the generation.

What it did though, this protection by the ego, was to instil a useful caution. I was more thoughtful than I would otherwise be, perhaps even learnt to be a little streetwise. This was very important when later in life you find yourself on your own in the wrong neighbourhood of Johannesburg or confronted by the military man at the roadblock, his AK47 pointed into your truck.

What happens to the modern youth who can’t be arsed whether he is right or wrong on anything. So long as the chicks think he is cool, who cares?

Presumably, his streetwise instincts must come from somewhere else. Not learned from smarts.

Presumably the truth, the facts and knowledge lose whatever currency they once had. All the work needed to gather and store them is time wasted. Should the unlikely happen and a fact is needed, it is there in your palm.

In other words, there is no stupidity filter anymore.

It is quite ok to be dumb. Nobody seems to mind anymore. They even expect it.

There is no embarrassment, no loss of face.

This will create problems later on. When we actually need that filter to function it will not be there. We will not know how to tell the nonsense from the truth.

And we get Trump and Boris and Scomo all over again.

Who has the right to impinge on my personal development?

Who has the right to impinge on my personal development?

I have been doing what I do for a very long time. Some of my colleagues even think I’m quite good at it.

I managed teams, run businesses, write and, in the day job, provide scientific advice.

Not everyone understands science.

Alloporus has talked about this before, that many people don’t even think numerically even though they might be as trained in the technical aspects of the work that they do. Thinking numerically is an art. Thinking logically is an art. Few people are comfortable with so much ‘nude on a chair’ and not everybody does the whole art criticism thing that well either.

So my skillset of numerical logic and deep understanding of the scientific method should be really useful and, for the most part, it has been. However, it is not the easiest of career choices as people find it very hard to accept what is being said when they don’t understand where it comes from.

I meet with resistance, uncertainty, insecurity, and all the usual patterns of behaviour that flow with those negative vibes. This happens every day in one form or another.

I need to be resilient to the negative emotions shunted in my direction. It is rarely personal but it does happen often enough for it to drain my energy at an alarming rate.

So I need plenty of coping mechanisms. Here are a few of them

  • I play golf
  • I just bought myself an electronic drum kit
  • I enjoy a beer and a drama on Netflix
  • I meditate
  • I have read any number of books on Self Development and the spiritual self
  • I love the Toltec four agreements and try to implement them
  • I even lie on a Shakti mat pretty much every day

Currently, my day job involves working for a large organisation that has taken upon itself the task of educating its management staff in pretty much all of the above — well actually the kindergarten version of the above.

What should I do?

I already do all of what they’re suggesting and then some. Ironically it’s really annoying to be told how to do it all over again from the beginning.

Should I just smile — also a key tactic for resilience — or switch off.

Should the workplace impose itself on my personal life?

This is actually a much bigger question. And at this time in our history when our leaders are useless and morally bankrupt and we are faced with real crises of the material and monetary kind, it is a vital one to answer.

I don’t believe it should.

I don’t think the workplace and the organisation behind it have the moral right to my spirituality even if they claim it will enhance their bottom line.

In fact, I think this leakage across people’s lives makes it very hard for them to understand boundaries.

And most of the time it is the breakdown of the boundaries that causes stress for individuals and inefficiency for the organisations. If people kept their uncertainties and insecurities in check, I would be less stressed when I’m trying to explain to them the intricacies of science.

So my contention is that the workplace should just butt out. Keep the spiritual personal development stuff personal.

Just a thought.

Post comments to the contrary or in support, curious to know if it’s just a me thing.