Friday, February 22, 2013

Earth Poisoning Diary (week 3)

Thanks to Andrew Bolt for promoting this diary on his blog, even though it led to my first-ever hate emails. Also thanks to The Australian, who likened me to Adrian Mole. I hope some readers who were introduced to my work through these fundamentally anti-science sites will reflect on their contribution to earth poisoning; though in South Australia, 26% of electrical power is already generated from the wind (averaged over a year - not just at times of peak wind).

A book to which I contributed two chapters (one on health and population, and another on scenarios) was released by the Australian Academy of Science. This led to a discussion with Mark O'Connor, co-author of Overloading Australia, about Australia's future population trajectory. We agree that the current level of migration to Australia is too high, that the world is seriously over-populated, that Limits to Growth and Planetary Boundaries are very close. We also agree that the per capita Australian environmental footprint needs to be greatly reduced. 

But we disagree over the desirable level of migration to Australia. I agree with Mark that a sharp contraction in migration to Australia will help protect our quality of life, perhaps for several decades. As climate change worsens, bringing with it more extreme weather events (not just heat waves and fires but heavier rainfall and more floods), as sea level rises then food prices will continue to rise, increasing the chance of civil unrest, open conflict and large-scale migration. This is prospect is likely to even worse if energy prices remain as high (or even higher).

I argue that unless we reverse this trajectory, the difference between our quality of life and that of our future neighboursis likely to motivate resentment and eventually invasion. If we take the rapid population stabilisation route then regional inequality will ratchet higher and we will feel ever more threatened and xenophobic, in a positive feedback that could lead to us being the Israel of the South Pacific. Already most Australians tolerate the diversion of government supplied foreign aid (very stingy by Scandinavian standards) to fund detention centres in which asylum seekers sew their lips together. This is no long-term solution, but an intensification of Fortress Australia.

This is a dilemma. Yes, slower population growth through migration (say, half of what we currently have) still creates challenges for infrastructure provision, especially in cities, and worsens the physical quality of life of most people already living here. But human well-being also has psychological and moral dimensions, and closing the drawbridge in order to protect our physical conditions does not feel nice to me. And, in the long run, those physical conditions risk erosion, in any case.

We thus need modest migration to keep us engaged regionally, to lessen xenophobia, but most fundamentally as an issue of planetary fairness. More importantly Australia needs to contribute to solutions, especially ways to generate and export clean energy rather than Earth poison. Coal exports are madness over a long period because they worsen climate change, create ghost infrastructure (e.g. railways to nowhere) and inhibit us from thinking of long-term solutions (consider the power of the coal mining industry.)  While renewables are declining in price, the cost of Earth poisons keep rising even without accounting for their hidden social, environmental and inter-generational costs. We should switch subsidies from Earth poison to renewables; Bloomberg states that additional power in Australia will be cheaper if derived from clean sources than from coal.

Through the week I watched Stephen Spielberg's film Lincoln, which shows the way a great human being was able to deliver revolutionary change —  ending slavery —  despite powerful and hostile vested interests. If they have their way (then, now and in future), these interests might outlaw free speech and thought. The film did not mention Lincoln's criticism of corporations, as former Senator Bob Brown foreshadowed in his Krebs Lecture last week at the University of Canberra. 

Finally, the heading in The Australian complained that I am "sucking on the taxpayer teat".  I am extremely grateful to the Australian tax payer for the chance my Fellowship gives me to think, speak and and write, including for a recent WHO Technical Report about environmental change, agriculture and infectious diseases of poverty. Would the anonymous headline writer in The Australian like to publicise how some tax payer's money has been used to prepare this report? That would be nice.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Earth Poisoning Diary (week 2)

It's not just the climate that's heating up, it's the response to Earth poisoning. Here's some examples:
In Washington DC the director of the Sierra Club was arrested with 46 others in the first act of civil disobedience in his organization’s 120-year history. About time too.

This was to protest the US's importation of a particularly toxic form of Earth poison: diluted, heated Canadian bitumen, falsely advertised as "oilsands" so they appear less polluting. One third of the energy in this bitumen is needed to turn the other two thirds into something we can burn, in order to further poison Earth. Also arrested was Bill McKibben who with his colleagues, is "trying to spark a movement like the ones that overturned the great immoral institutions of the past century, such as apartheid."

The leading climate scientist, James Hansen, was also arrested, not for the first time. But no-one went to jail.

I have learned of others being arrested in Australia, especially trying to stop coal seam gas fracking, which poisons not only the air and ocean but also the groundwater.

Closer to my home, on February 20, 2013, the Environmental Defender's Office is running a meeting called "Civil disobedience in a time of climate change". Speakers include Jonathan Moylan and Lucy Manne, co-director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

Last week, I was keynote speaker on "energy, health and climate change", at a workshop organised by the Climate and Health Alliance. I met some people there working to stop the expansion of the largest earth poison coal port in the world (Newcastle, Australia).

Four other Australian medical doctors so far have indicated they also might be willing to be arrested, perhaps with me. Another has offered to be in a support group. I had a letter from a sympathiser in France, who was puzzled that a non-violent protest could lead to prison. Apparently you have to do a lot more than protest in her country to be taken seriously as a dissident. I said I expect to have to decline bail and refuse to pay fines, perhaps several times, before prison is ordered. I want to be a conscientious objector to the deliberate massive earth poisoning my country supports; being arrested is not enough. Mainstream Australian media — thus the public —  will pay no more attention to my arrest than a climate change-related famine in Somalia. In this country you need to be a sports star to be taken seriously.

Two colleagues have warned me I might be raped (scary prospect), two others offered to bake me a cake with a hidden file.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Earth Poisoning Diary (week 1)

Foundations (selected). I just passed the 30th anniversary of the last time I was arrested, with 63 others, at Crotty Rd, Tasmania, during the successful Franklin Dam protest. Another is when I first heard the phrase "breaking the social contract". Since then I have had several chances (at conferences) to explain what this means; e.g. in the case of coal, it is "Earth criminals" like Martin Ferguson who are getting away with poisoning our common future. They need to be brought to justice. Exporting coal in vast quantities is as immoral as Britain profiting from the slave trade. That is no longer socially acceptable. Nor should Earth poisoning be.

(Then) Minister Martin Ferguson has global influence about coal policy, and has reportedly used his influence to try to intimidate protesters trying to protect the public good. His political party, the Australian Labor Party, has become notoriously corrupt

Week 1. Early Feb 2013 - read Moylan’s anti-coal message is an international one. Made four comments declaring willingness to go to prison, to protest Earth poisoning, sanctioned by our society and both major Australian political parties.

Feb 5-8 Attended Society for Human Ecology conference in Canberra. Told several groups of my intention to be arrested; someone suggested I start a diary.

Feb 9 Was reminded by my lawyer of the sad case of Dr Mohamed Haneef. Another suggestion to keep a diary.

This is my own decision, I do not encourage anyone else to do this.

I have the support of my wife and some friends and peers, that's important.

Hooray for free speech; I thank the heavens I don't live in China and about 100 other countries.

Nov 26, 2014. Arrested at part of the Whitehaven coal export complex.

updated Sept 11, 2014 (re ex Minister Ferguson), also Nov 29, 2014 (re arrest)

In March 2016 a you tube video was posted, trying to explain my actions further. This was recorded in 2015, before the devastating 2016 fires in Tasmania.