We have let

We have let

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

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

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

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

It’s been one hell of summer down under.

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

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

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

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

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

we have let

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

It’s our fault.

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

Blame yourself.

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

You know I am right.

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

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

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

We have let.

Here is a summary of the 2020 bushfire season

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what Ian Chubb suggests we do

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

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

In short, we must demand logic and accountability.

Actions that make common sense.

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

‘We have let’, believe it.

Never leave a number alone

Never leave a number alone

Is 90,000 a big number?

It could be.

If 90,000 were the number of…

  • children who died from preventable diseases in the last month it would be both big and tragic and unacceptable
  • passengers aloft in commercial airliners at any given time, then a whole heap of airlines would go bust overnight given there are roughly a million people in the air at any one time
  • potholes per km of road you would be in Zambia

The problem is that on its own 90,000 has no context or comparison. It is meaningless.

I could tell you that 90,000 ha of native vegetation cleared for agriculture is a policy review trigger. Farmers apply to legally manage or clear native vegetation on their properties and when the cumulative area of approvals reaches 90,000 ha it is agreed in advance to take a close look at the policy. Noting that during the policy development any agreement on the trigger number was hard-fought, for there are advocates for zero hectares and those who believe that no number is big enough.

At least this 90,000 has context. It represents an area of land and has a purpose.

Even with context 90,000 will have advocates who claim the economic progress from agricultural development and detractors who lament the loss of native plants from the landscape. On its own, 90,000 ha just garners opinions, even as a trigger number.

What 90,000 really needs is some company.

To know its place and find meaning in its existence the 90,000 needs to have some other numbers. For example, the area of native vegetation under conservation, restoration or active management (12,863,450 ha), the area of winter crop for 2018 (3,100,000 ha) or a string of numbers such as the area converted to arable agriculture each year for the last 50 years (curiously this value is difficult to pin down). Only when 90,000 ha has other numbers can it find itself, make sense and contribute to society.

This is true of almost all reported numbers.

Suppose a Minister announces with great fanfare a further $4 million in funding for schools. Not bad you might think. It would take the average Joe a couple of working lifetimes or a lottery win to get that kind of cash.

In Australia, $4 million is enough for the salaries and overheads of roughly 40 teachers for one year. These teachers would be expected to look after 560 students, quite a few it would seem. Only there are 1.52 million high school students in Australia making 560 a tiny proportion of those seeking erudition and selfies.

So the 40 extra teachers recruited from the Minister’s largess would teach 0.036% of the high school population for one year.

After that, the Minister would need to make another announcement.

Now back to the 90,000 ha.

It is certainly a precautionary number in its context of area treated under a native vegetation policy. As a proportion of the area of NSW (80.9 million ha) it is minuscule, even as a proportion of area under arable production it is small.

Then there is an unprecedented fire season and over 5 million hectares is burnt by bushfires that rage for months, the largest covering more than 800,000 hectares of continuous forest.

This time 90,000 ha has a very different context. Fire is not the same as clearing for most trees will recover from fire and seedlings will establish in the ash beds when it rains but the point is that the area needs context.

It is worth discussion if the trigger is just 10% of the area of a single fire.

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

Next time there is an argument over a single number — like there will be over the 5 million+ hectares of bushland burnt in the NSW summer of 2019 — remember you can’t leave it on its own.


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