WHAT IS TO BE DONE

– Political Engagement and Saving the Planet

Barry Jones  Scribe  Rrp $35.00

Part 2.

Jones is puzzled that “there appears to be an inverse relationship between the number of graduates in parliament and the quality of political debate…it is now impossible to get a straight answer to a question, whether asked in parliament and the media.”

H

e notes that the 31st Parliament (1977-80), was comprised of males, nearly exclusively of British isle ancestry, and all well above the median age.  Although the 45th Parliament is diverse, representing Australia’s ethnically diverse population, and is achieving gender balance, the level of debate is far poorer, “there is policy paralysis”, “some MP’s often rely on a page of dot points and simply declaim the material they have been given, ‘staying on message’ and repeating mantra after mantra ad nauseum.”  Progressive devolution.  

Jones points out “Few Australians recognise that its House of Representatives holds the international gold medal for the shortest sittings of any national legislature.”  He compares Australia’s average of 67 days with Japan’s 150 days, the U.K.’s 142-158 days, Canada’s 127 days, and the U.S. House of Reps’ 124-145 days.  New Zealanders beat us here too, although only averaging 93 days.  

In Chapter 11, “Being Honest with Ourselves”, he discusses the White Australia Policy and the racism of the Labor Party. He doesn’t discuss the fear that cheap Asian labour would undermine the living standards of Australian workers at that time, or take their jobs.  Hawke and Keating realised those fears when they removed the tariffs which saw Australian manufacturing translocate to Asia with its cheaper labour costs. 

All Australian

Discussing tolerance and pluralism, all the more strained with multi-culturalism and extraordinary levels of recent migration, Jones notes that “the goal of cohesion and convergence is admirable…but it can become rigid, dogmatic, and authoritarian – and, if taken to extremes, xenophobic and punitive:  We’re all Australians around here, we all speak the same language, and people who live here must conform to uniform values—differences in football codes, perhaps, excepted.”  Tolerance, too, can become rigid and totalitarian, as in “political correctness”, something Jones does not seem to fully grasp.  

Somehow, Jones has lumped our responsibilities to our “First Peoples” with those to refugees.  Although Jones is critical of firearm ownership, he makes no mention anywhere about military hardware manufacturers.  He mentions the Iraq War, but focuses on Saddam Hussein, not the U.S. military intervention in which Australia joined the Coalition of the Willing.  Nor does he discuss neo-Colonialism in the middle-East, or the failure of Western media to report the unpopularity of the Shah prior to the Islamic Revolution.  Is Jones whistling?  

A Republic?

Jones tackles the monarchy, arguing for a republic, dog whistling racism: “The monarchist cause is essentially the last expression of White Australia, its rhetoric, culture, politics, and the habit of deference.  It is a static, essentially nostalgic, position in a society that, although dynamic in ways, is uncertain how to express itself. It is the politics of amnesia.”  It could also be seen as a politics of remembrance, remembering our history, and Western traditions through ceremony.  Many Australians dread a Republic after watching the United States, and have no wish for another position to be created for an Australian politician.  

He discusses the U.S.’s sense of exceptionalism as unfounded when compared with its 5-eyes Anglophone partners, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  “As it happens, the United States ranks no. 37 in the world for life expectancy.  It does rank no. 1 in its numbers of prisoners, in absolute figures:  even more than China.  And in the numbers of reported infections and deaths from Covid-19.  To be fair, it does rank no. 1 in recipients of Nobel Prizes.”  The U.S. does see itself as the centre of all progress and achievement, a beacon of freedom and democracy, and force for the good wherever it goes and whomever it bombs and whatever the collateral damage.

Having got a lot off his chest, his Chapter 13, “Saving the Planet”, starts to address what most readers would have expected this book was about.  Here Jones discusses the global human population and consumption crisis, noting “If we were prepared to adopt resource parsimony, we could accommodate more people.  If not, we couldn’t.”  But do we want or need more people?  Dick Smith would agree with Jones here: “If population—Australia’s or any other nation’s – is to rise, then something has to be given up.  Our report recognised that each increase in population puts additional strain on vital resources (such as water, soil, environment, open space, and transport), so that every million that the population increases by would, and should, have an impact on the way we live–on our use of cars, fuel and water, and space, and even our diet.”   

Climate Change

He quotes an address by historian Simon Schama, who stated “Climate change has destroyed entire ecosystems, radicalising its casualties—long years of drought…in the upper Jordan basin sending migrants into Syrian cities that couldn’t find work for them and ending as recruits for both sides in the most terrible of contemporary civil wars…”  No mention of arms manufacturers, the role of neo-colonialism or geopolitical intrigue.  Climate change is experienced by the increased frequency and intensity of climatic extremes, not a sudden change of conditions as Schama portrays.  Did I hear another dog whistle?  

Transhumance, “historically…defined as the seasonal movement of livestock seeking better pastures”, was employed by Schama to describe the human exodus and migration from destructed environments, associated with climate change and over-population.  Jones, fond of diagrams and statistics, has created a circular, diagram with clockwise arrows, explaining this process, but the causal relationships between the 12 listed issues are baffling.  Jones’ remarkably complicated design/diagram of “Knowledge Nation”, although sensible, was “repeatedly attacked”.  Peter Costello, then treasurer, ridiculed it as “Noodle Nation”, in reference to the myriad feedback loops, others called it “Spaghetti and Meatballs”.  Jones writes, “The Australian obviously thought the diagram was hilarious and published six cartoons by Peter Nicholson based on it.”  Jones considers the tactic, “a classic example of spin, meant that the issues raised in the report were never debated…Don’t debate the contents, just destroy it.”  

Jones writes that Zoonoses like Covid-19 (pathogens across species), is “closely related to climate change”, but it is generally accepted as resulting from human overpopulation and human pressure on the remaining fragments of natural ecosystems and their fauna, much of which is consumed or “thought to have curative properties.”  

“Climate change contributes to the refugee crisis, and to sources of conflict in the Middle East and Africa.”  This is somewhat premature, and doesn’t explain the Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi genocide, nor most current conflicts so far.  “The World Bank has estimated that by 2050 more than 140 million people will have been displaced from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.  They will be climate refugees.  Even now, millions have been displaced by the reduction in arable land in North Africa, with thousands drowning in the Mediterranean as they have sought refuge…Their misery has failed to generate compassion and understanding.  They are not protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention.”  Many of these “refugees” are economic migrants and adventurers.  

Morrison on Covid 19

Jones points out how the Morrison government’s response to the Covid-19 has radically altered our relationship with government and each other:  “…in a matter of months…fundamental changes in how we live, work, feed, clothe, educate, transport, and entertain ourselves; transformed the role of government intervention; stretched medical and hospital services to the limit; inflicting lasting damage on the aviation industry and tourism; barred attendance at sporting events, funerals, and weddings; crippled universities and the performing arts; devastated part-time and insecure jobs; widened inequality; and ran some risk of inflaming anti-migrant sentiment.  It also profoundly disrupted the world economy.”  Jones asks, “Could the government do the same with climate change?”  Jones has dog-whistled again against the opposition to Australia’s high levels of immigration.  Is Jones also suggesting state emergency powers and the perennial surrender of individual liberties?  

At the end of Chapter 13, Jones concludes: “There is common ground on diagnosis of the problems:  the difficult part is providing solutions.  The only way in which our political paralysis can be ended and effective action taken to save the planet is by active, forceful political engagement by well-informed citizens, changing the political culture and challenging the existing parties.  They must engage, engage, engage.”   That is his wish, but the reader is left unsure what “effective action” would be under the circumstances.  

Chapter 14, “What Is to be Done:  political engagement and climate change”, the final chapter, claims “climate change and other major problems will have been caused by us and our contemporaries.  But we will not see the outcomes of our greed and thoughtlessness:  those who will suffer the worst will not have caused the problem.”  

This has been caused by our species over thousands of years.   Our population and consumption have reached The End of the Chain after a long process starting with the advent of agriculture 12,000 years ago and the felling of forests with stone axes.  The history of coal mining goes back thousands of years.  Surface mining of coal in China is recorded at 3490 BC. The Aztecs were the first known to use it in the Americas.  Nearly all the major coalfields in Roman Britain were being mined by the late 2nd Century.  Peat, another fossil fuel (the first step in the formation of coal) has been used for heating since Roman times and has been an important fuel in many areas of Europe and is still in use today.  

Ironically, Jones reactionarily advocates returning to the precepts of the European Enlightenment (c.1688 – c1789) in Chapter 3, “Overturning the Enlightenment”, which led to the Industrial Revolution fuelled by coal.  Contrasting with Ecocentrism (Biocentrism), “Enlightenment science passes itself off as a disinterested search for the truth about nature, but, in fact, by disenchanting Nature of her mysteries, nature becomes nothing more than a ‘standing reserve’ of natural resources to be exploited.”  We owe our modern concept of nature and ecology to the renowned polymath, Alexander von Humboldt (1767-1835) and the “Romantic Period”.  Ecology emerges, studying interdependence and relationships.  Continents aren’t fixed but are, and have always, drifted.  Species are evolving and disappearing.  The Seminal works are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) and von Humboldt’s five volume Kosmos (1845-1862), which inspired Darwin, Wallace and many others, including Ludwig Leichhardt.   Somehow, this critical scientific period has been excised from the Jones syllabus.  

Priorities

“After years of agonising”, Jones lists 8 “priorities for our time if we are to survive the next half century without irreversible damage to the biosphere and our social and political institutions.” (See page 324 of his book.) This lengthy and complex vision statement-sentence is followed by seven further visionary planks in Jones’ private political platform which centres on promoting transparent liberal democracy and equality without any specific details as how any of this is to be achieved, or how this would not result in further chaos.   

Although Jones argues for greater participation, he concedes “Australia handled the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis exceptionally well but, inevitably, all the major decisions were made by executive government, relying on expert advice.  There was nothing particularly ‘democratic’ about it.”  How else could the crisis have been handled “exceptionally well”?   He goes on to criticize Morrison, as expected, distorting the PM’s goal to a ‘snap-back” to pre-Covid freedoms: “Thanks and goodbye, experts!, and Welcome back, lobbyists!” 

Although Jones states, “I owe the ALP a great deal, particularly for my 26 years as a member of parliament…all Australian political parties have demonstrated their inadequacy.”  He then goes on to propose a new political party, “The Courage Party”, supplying yet another wish list/vision statement/platform with 19 dot points, followed by “I would like the ALP to be that party.”  Would the visionary “Courage Party” also endorse Ponzi-demography as the ALP and LNP did and still do? 

Jones advocates Ross Garnaut’s ‘four great opportunities for Australian industrial leadership in the post-carbon world economy followed by a more detailed discussion and Garnaut’s observation that “Arid and semi-arid rangelands make up about 70% of Australia’s landmass, or around 5.5 million square kilometres” which Jones observes is “no good for farming, but ideal for growing billions of trees with a high capacity to absorb carbon dioxide—especially mallee eucalypts, or mulga in Queensland and New South Wales.”  Here we go:  making our deserts bloom with forests!  Have a go, mate. The continued addiction to growth factored into the “post-carbon economy” is particularly concerning.  We need somehow to transition to a zero-growth economy, not only a carbon-neutral one.  

“Biomass could displace coal as a fuel in some areas, and Australia has exceptional potential here.  There is, however, a significant difference of opinion about its use as a fuel.”  Indeed so.  Jones doesn’t discuss where this biomass is proposed to be sourced.  

Methane Emissions

Jones discusses research with Meat and Livestock Australia, James Cook University, and the CSIRO yielding “encouraging indications that the emission of methane by cattle…can be reduced by more than 50% by feeding them a 1 percent dietary supplement of the common Australian red seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis or armata” at the sphorophyte stage of its development.  “Metabolites in the seaweed disrupt enzymes that produce methane in the rumen of cattle.”  For this treatment to work, “cattle must have it in their feed every day”.  This may restrict its practical use to feedlots. The thrust is to find ways to continue to do what we have always done and still get away with it.    

Many of our problems stem from our arrogant humanism and disregard for nature and natural systems.  There is a tendency to believe that the mountain of problems caused by our technological activity will be solved by further technological activity.  How many problems in Australia have already been caused by introductions of exotic plants and animals?   

“Because Australia has chosen to be primarily an exporter of high-volume raw materials and refuses to seize the opportunities arising from transition to a post-carbon economy… (italics mine) our ECI (Economic Complexity Index) is falling…The good news for Australia is that we are well ahead of Ethiopia and Papua-New Guinea.”  

Jones provides a chart comparing ECI rankings from 1995 to 2018.  Australia ranked 55th in 1995, slipping 32 places to 87th in 2018. Japan remains in first place and, of the 20 countries listed, every advance has occurred in Asia, with the exception of Switzerland which has advanced from 4th to 2nd place.  Our other “5 eyes” partners have all fallen back; Canada dropping from 22nd to 39th, the U.K. from 7th to 13th, and the U.S. from 9th to 11th.  Our silent partner, Israel slipped a notch from 19th to 20th.  Clearly, the Orient is ascendant; South Korea moved from 21st to 3rd , Singapore 20th to 5th, China 46th to 18th, and India 60th to 42nd during the same period.  

Refugees

Jones implores us to be more compassionate in our treatment of refugees.  The “Children Overboard” affair was disgraceful, but Jones’ condemnation of Rudd’s decision to refuse asylum to anyone arriving by boat, which has been upheld by successive PM’s, deserves scrutiny.  Jones points out that the “72,000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by air in 2016-2019” are “comparatively well treated, and many drift into the community…the most punitive treatment”, Jones claims, “is reserved for the dispossessed and desperate”.  People arriving by plane have passports, and are not as likely to have been victims of people smugglers.  Australians across the political spectrum are opposed to uncontrolled immigration and disagree with Jones.   

Jones decries fundamentalism, which he notes “has become the dominant force in the Middle East, especially after Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were recognised as tragic—and expensive—failures.”  So where did Jones’ ALP stand on the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Are migrants and refugees from these regions screened for the fundamentalism spawned by Western interventions?    

“Work”, Jones writes, “can be classified as ‘tangible’ or ‘intangible’.  Physical activity in a factory, department store, warehouse, school, hospital, or restaurant is easy to quantify and tax—usually with taxation deducted at the source.  But intangible work in a digital economy, processing symbols –words, sounds, images, numbers, and designs—often across oceans and continents, is extremely difficult to measure.  About 40 per cent of Australians now work in the ‘information’ sector, broadly defined.”  Still, something tangible or some service must be produced in this sector, or is this parasitical activity? Jones states “The political sensitivity of taxation means that it is never rationally discussed.  Its profound moral implications—balancing immediate gains against long-term security—are ignored or discounted, and this has become a major factor in retarding our effective response to climate change and transitioning to a post-carbon economy.”  So what does Jones propose to do about “political sensitive” issues like taxation?  

Jones states “We are individually and collectively faced with moral choices every day.  Philosophers and ethicists agonise over the moral dilemma involved when we know that acting to ensure a personal or national benefit will inflict loss and destruction on others.  How should we choose?  Australia faces an ethical challenge about action on climate change, following the COVID-19 lockdown and the need, we are told, for a rapid return to normality.  Australia maintains the highest priority for our fossil-fuel exports, offering the drug dealers’ defence. (‘If we don’t sell it, someone else will.’)  We can’t help ourselves.  If Australia maximises its exports of coal and national gas to China and India, it would make a major contribution to GDP and to employment—even to tax revenue, if all the mining corporations could be induced to pay.  But if this made a progression towards a 2-degree increase in mean global temperatures irreversible…then the collective memory of our self-discipline over a period of months to address a pandemic would seem to have been a trivial sacrifice compared with the threat to the planet…”  Does Jones mean to say our restrictions and sacrifice during this pandemic will be trivial compared with what will be required from us by Climate Change, foregoing the export of coal and natural gas?  

Jones believes “to change our public policies and our view (if any) of our role as global citizens, it appears we need a new narrative; facts won’t do it on their own.” He then extolls the virtues of Labor politicians, Whitlam and Dunstan in those good old days, the ‘70’s, who “could explain very complex and often controversial issues—in Whitlam’s case, in speeches of heroic length—and win public support.  Hawke and Keating had a similar gift.  Who has it now?”  The case against the Adani Mine was well presented. Even Bob Brown travelled up to address the issue. The community decided to let the mine go ahead. FAIL!  

Chest Thumping

Jones thumps his human chest in a romantic distortion: “Our species beat the Neanderthals because our responses were (presumably) quicker.  But then modern humans began planning ahead for the next season, planted crops, and were no longer exclusively hunter-gatherers or grazers.”  Quite a statement! Populations of Homo sapiens, outside those in sub-Saharan Africa, are hybrids with at least two other species, Homo neanderthalensis and Denisovans.  We are undeniably the most destructive species ever to inhabit Planet Earth.  Humanists like Jones view Homo sapiens as if it were an endangered species, where every individual is of critical value, but we are an endangering species, a pest species like certain cockroaches, finally even endangering ourselves. Climate change began with agriculture.  We are now in full plague. In Chapter 2, Jones states he has “tried to live by his (H.G. Well’s) words: ‘Three passions, simple, but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life:  the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind”.  

Pity can be a dangerous emotion, as it is universally exploited by sociopaths and psychopaths as a means of predating on others.  The psychology is complex. As Nietzsche observed:  There is always something degrading in suffering and always something elevating and productive of superiority in pitying.  This passion for pity may explain Jones’ position on refugees and asylum seekers; is it rational or emotional? 

Jones decries, whistling conspiracy: “It is, I suspect, not an accident that the study of humanities at universities has been singled out for discrimination by sharply increasing charges in a sector already badly damaged by COVID-19 and the withdrawal of overseas fee-paying students.  We must resist the smug and dangerous implication:  Who needs philosophers, historians, political scientists, psychologists, journalists, critics, anthropologists, archaeologists, writers, musicians, and creative artists, just because they can throw light on the human condition and help us to find out who we are?”  

As many of these pseudo-sciences are heavily politicised and of questionable benefit for Saving the Planet, wouldn’t it be preferable to encourage the sciences and scientific research at this very critical time?   

Conclusion

Jones concludes his book, which might be better titled “The World According to Barry”, with his version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, “A Gettysburg Address for 2020”.  Lincoln lived at the height of our Print Culture.  Have a read of Jones’ Electronic Age version and see if you find it inspirational.   We must, we must, we must: 

 “We must highly resolve to save the air, save the soil, save the oceans to ensure that our species, and the noblest aspects of its culture, shall not perish from the Earth.”  Therein lies the kernel of the problem.  Before Copernicus, people believed the sun revolved around the Earth.  The anthropocentric humanist sees all creation circling about one species, Homo sapiens. We are not the centre, but the central problem.  And our numbers are not sustainable. 

What is to be done?  On the one hand, Jones champions liberal democracy while, on the other, begging the conclusion it has completely failed us. As Dick Smith quipped, “We need a Dicktator”.  A concentration of power is mandatory for any effective action, but with the well-documented risks of yielding personal freedoms to the state.  Have a look at history. Then again, looking down the Barrel of the smoking Climate Gun, what do we have to lose by taking that chance?  

Is Eco-fascism our last chance?  Liberal democracy has failed.  Communism doesn’t work.  

Greta Thunberg, step up, and be our Supreme Global Leader. We require an Aspie to cut out the neurotypical monkey business that’s killing our Planet and make the hard decisions.  We will all wear recyclable forest green uniforms with armbands sporting an emblem of a single tree hosting two ravens flanked with silver lightning bolts. Plastic will be eliminated. Everyone will report to official food outlets with their own containers and take their portions home with them.  Personal containers are the responsibility of the individual, but can be exchanged for replacements when damaged or worn.  Capital punishment will be reinstated for Enemies of the Planet and expanded to include the full range of anti-social activities.  People are living too long. Old Age Homes will be closed and converted into Surveillance Centres. You just can’t turn your back on sapiens…it will get right back to its monkey business with half a chance.  Surveillance is absolutely essential if the Planet is to be saved.  Golf courses will be closed and returned to their original vegetation.  The African Oil Palm, Elaeis guineensis, will be declared a noxious weed anywhere outside its natural distribution. Prospective parents will require a license and human reproduction will be subject to strict quality control measures.  There will be many, many, many radical changes and none of this will be easy.  We will all have to make sacrifices and many of these will hurt; really, really hurt.  Overpopulation must be addressed.  First, Greta, our Supreme Global Leader (SGL), will ask for volunteers….

Dr Mary White of Johns River

The late palaeobotanist Mary White, recipient of honorary doctorates from fourAustralian universities as well as the 1999 Riversleigh Medal for “excellence in promoting understanding of Australian prehistory”, received a Lifetime of Conservation Award from the Australian Geographic Society.  She was further awarded the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science’s Mueller Medal in 2001. In 2009, she was made a Member the Order of Australia (AM) for “service to botany as a researcher and through the promotion of increased understanding and awareness of the natural world”.  Dr White purchased a large forested property in 2003, “Falls Forest Retreat” near Johns River on our mid north coast, committing herself to its restoration, and establishing a covenant for its protection.  

Dr White, in her conclusion to The Nature of Hidden Worlds, wrote: “…the Earth was a healthy living entity with the interactions between all its systems, animate and inanimate, in harmony.  Then came Homo sapiens, a species which like a disease affects the health of the Earth and threatens its very life. The Fossil Record of the human species on Earth is very short—only a brief record of its earliest steps towards cultural and technological evolution.  When time has moved on a few more million years the record may well contain a “Terminal Holocene Event”, perhaps marked by a plastic layer worldwide, in the manner of the iridium layer which millions of years ago indicated another crucial time of global stress and change.  And Homo sapiens will be seen as the not-so-wise Ape which broke all the rules and killed the Earth that had given him life.”  

A predicament atop a predicament. What is to be done? 

Dr John Stockard OAM

Wingham NSW

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