The Australian bushfire climate crisis – an antidote to the chaos

After a self-imposed digital purdah over the holiday period where I managed to teach myself a lot about methods to replace structural bulkheads and fibreglassing on 30 a year old yacht, normal service has been resumed.

It may have not have come to your attention, but Australia has suffered a bushfire crisis this summer, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

While brave people have worked around the clock, mostly as volunteers, and stoical homeowners have watched as their possessions have been destroyed, metropolitan-dwellers such as me have expended terabytes of data explaining what the cause of these fires is and, by obvious extrapolation, the only solution.

There have been several occasions in my life where I’ve been fortunate to have been able to observe a moment of the zeitgeist in which I’m not personally-invested enough to take a side and could therefore watch friends I’ve previously considered sane, make total fools of themselves.

Examples of this include, the death of Princess Diana, the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump.

To offer a mea culpa and to show fallibility, sadly, I made a fool of myself immediately following the 911 attacks. So, my filter is probably as good as anyone else’s.

However, I’m watching the Australian debate on bushfires and climate change from a position of (self-perceived) neutrality. I’ve accepted that a debate about the various scientific aspects of climate change ultimately converts nobody from one side of the argument to the other.

People pick a team and then find justifications for their team. A compelling chart or dataset isn’t going to dent that certainty.

Once one accepts a role of observer, rather than team player, a different perspective can be offered.

Here it is:

The Australian debate over climate change and bushfires is not a scientific debate, it’s a discussion on opportunity cost.

By this, I mean Australia has finite resources to apply to a problem, any problem. It also has a finite range of influence over the global climate. Which problem it chooses to allocate those resources against and how, are the only two questions that should matter to anyone who has any interest in improving the situation.

Yet, the current hysterical debate in the media and pages of Facebook, Twitter, etc. is around the global problem and solutions.

Does anyone see a future where the two sides of that conversation could ever be reconciled?

I have a circuit breaker for Australia which I offer free to any Prime Minister (it’s a job filled in the same way jury service works, ensuring a new one every 18 months) smart enough to use it. This is copyright free, open source:

(For immediate release)

From the Office of The Prime Minister of Australia:

Fellow Australians, the terrible consequences of the bushfire crisis this summer has convinced many of us, myself included, that climate change is real and poses an existential threat to our planet.

With our unique flora and fauna and naturally dry conditions, Australia is particularly at risk from an increase in global temperatures,

The debate now is not about whether climate change real; the science is settled. The debate is about what we as a relatively small economic power can do in response to it?

This is not a question that can be answered by ideology or one specific scientific discipline; it is now a question for all aspects of daily life, from agriculture to economics, energy production, health, land-use, planning and so much more.

This is why this government is seeking input and answers from all relevant experts. Today, I announce a Royal Commission on the Climate Emergency with the aim of determining Australia’s response.

The terms of the Royal Commission are to include the following non-negotiable considerations:

  • We will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable in our society if we deliberately hamstring the economy, therefore any proposed solutions will be fully-costed and, in total, will not exceed 1% of GDP (benchmarked at 2020 levels).

  • Although Australia is well-respected internationally and is seen by many as a progressive thought leader, our relative ability to influence the global climate is low, therefore any proposed solutions should assume no international collaboration. We will lead by example but not be reliant on others.

  • To protect the weakest and most vulnerable, Australia needs low cost energy. The balance between ensuring this and preventing climate change needs to be clearly examined, therefore the Royal Commision will undertake a full cost/benefit analysis of all possible replacement energy sources, regardless of ideology and factoring in existing government subsidies, tariffs, tax allowances, etc. It is time to reconsider every aspect of energy generation.

I look forward to the full support of the leaders of all major parties in this, our biggest challenge since Gallipoli and the Bodyline Tour.

Bill’s Opinion

If you are 100% certain of what the primary cause of a multi-variable problem is, consider the possibility you’re suffering from cognitive dissonance.

To frame a Royal Commission around the terms above removes the dumb ideology from either side of the fight and concentrates on the opportunity cost to find the best pragmatic use of Australia’s money, time and effort.

The current narrative is one where we are allowing scientists to not only describe the problem but to also the solution when that solution is economic and societal, ie far wider than physics and chemistry. At the risk of going full Godwin, surely we had enough of scientists driving policy in the 20th century?

It has the added benefit of flushing out everyone’s indefensible ideological thoughts, such as the underlying Malthusianism and Millernariasm which, in my view, seems to be the motivation behind most of the louder commentary.

It’s all about me

Jessica (big) “smarty pants” Irvine was allowed another vanity column again this week:

I’ve lost loads of weight because I’m more intelligent than you“.

This continues along the same boastful theme she lectured us with 18 months ago, wherein she helpfully explained how, if you eat fewer calories than you expend in exercise, there’s a good chance you might lose weight over time.

Quite why it took most of her adult life to learn something most people have worked out by the time they’ve reached puberty, she doesn’t explain.

The entire column is barely more than a lengthy Facebook post that most people unfortunate to be connected to her would either skip past or consider justification for muting further updates from her.

That the editorial team at the Sydney Morning Herald let this get as far as publication speaks volumes for the rate of decline of the masthead.

There’s not much else to be said about this utter vanity effort except perhaps a data point for Jessica (well, she claims to be good with numbers) in response to her featured Instagram post:

A six hour marathon?

That’s the cut-off limit of that race.

Bill’s Opinion

Actually, the official results show Jess “ran” the race in 6 hours and 9 minutes.

So they were clearly packing everything up and heading home when she crossed the finish line.

There were only 39 people behind her. Her finish time is on the last page of those who completed the course.

Perhaps Jess’ New Year’s resolution for 2020 should involve developing some level of self-awareness and undertaking a little more introspection.

As for the Sydney Morning Herald editorial team, it might be worth going on to Google Maps and plotting a scenic route to your nearest Centrelink office for later in the year. If you get in the habit of collecting your dole money by foot, you too can become as fit and healthy as Jess Irvine.

Predictions are notoriously difficult

…especially about the future.

But they are a fun diversion.

Here’s ten of mine for the year 2020. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Australian Politics

Politicians of all sides of the aisle increase the warnings against reliance on China. There will be noises made by the Federal government to have closer trade and defence links with the USA (particularly following the USA election).

A Westpac executive is jailed for the AUSTRAC issues. Probably Lynn Cobley.

Global Politics

The UK will reach a WTO+ deal (ie closer to WTO terms than a full trade deal) with the EU and negotiations won’t be extended. Boris will call their bluff.

Congress won’t send the impeachment papers to the Senate. The GOP will make political hay about this all the way to the election.

Zeitgeist

Sentiment turns against Saint Greta. There’s a financial scandal involving her parents or handlers.

A judge in the USA finds a single mother of a transgender child guilty of abuse. The Supreme Court supports this finding on appeal.

Sport

Six Nations table:

1 England

2 Ireland

3 Wales

4 France

5 Scotland

6 Italy

Australia finishes bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Economy

Gold to temporarily breach all time high ($1,895).

The Dow to breach 30,000.

Widening jaws, bouncing dead cats

We’ve not updated this for a couple of months:

Well, that’s certainly telling an interesting story, isn’t it?

Regarding the lending figures; prior to 2019, the monthly change had only previously fallen to 0.3% or lower three times since the 1970s. It had never fallen as low as 0.1% until this October and November.

Market volumes must surely be playing a part in this picture.

Bill’s Opinion

Despite the voices claiming all is well and there’s never been a better time to buy, the lending data is flashing a red warning sign.

Unless buyers have found a new, magical source of capital, this recovery is likely to be short-lived.

My personal view is, stay out of this market until at least three consecutive months’ lending change figures above 0.3%.

The Manchurian Candidates for Australia

Australia’s least popular sociopathic narcissist (no, not you Eddie McGuire, sit down), Kevin Rudd, is back in the pages of the declining parish newsletter again, lecturing us on his favourite subject, himself China.

Before we get into the real subject of today’s blog post, perhaps we ought to point out that there is barely a sentence or paragraph in the article without “me”, “my” or “I” (he speaks Mandarin? Wow, that’s the first time we’ve heard that!).

Can anyone offer a suggestion as to why that might be?

Anyway, irrelevant-Rudd’s plea is that Australia doesn’t jaw jaw (to borrow Churchill’s phrase) but have a secret government strategy that is robust in the way the country intends to deal with China.

Here’s a question for Kevin. Given you’ve been out of office for nearly a decade (let’s not count the ridiculous 3 month “comeback tour”), how do you know there isn’t?

He goes on to suggest Australia should not be racist to China which, an unkind critic might suggest, sounds remarkably similar to the immediate post-kidnapping interviews with Patty Hearst.

He’s not the only ex-PM worried that Australia might upset the big northern neighbours, Paul Keating has recently been vocal on the subject too.

He said that Australia’s government and political system had failed in developing a China policy and that the “subtleties of foreign policy and the elasticity of diplomacy are being supplanted by the phobias of a group of security agencies”.

“Phobias”.

Real phobias are about “extreme or irrational fears”.

Given that there are multiple examples of Australian politics being influenced or subject to attempts to influence in recent years (Sam Dastyari, IT hack of parliament, possible defecting spy, possible attempt to install a puppet MP), at what point does a fear cease being irrational?

Bill’s Opinion

Anyone who believes Beijing’s approach to Australia will be ameliorated in any way for the better hasn’t been paying attention.

It is clear to anyone who wishes to look that China has increased the scale and intensity of domestic human rights abuses against groups such as the Uyghurs and Falun Gong. Depending on which reports one believes there are currently perhaps up to a million people internally-exiled in “re-education camps”.

What did the initial reporting of The Holocaust look like? Subdued.

Perhaps one can pass this off and look the other way because “it’s an internal matter”. So was Apartheid… until it wasn’t.

Then there’s the asymmetric trade deals where we get cheap shit and they steal our IP. Is that a great deal?

How about the opioid crisis in the USA? Remember, like surfing, blue jeans, rock and roll and HIV, what the Americans have, Australians get about five years later.

What is the dog that isn’t barking in all of this?

In all of the media coverage of the increasingly bad news relating to China and Australia’s relationship with the country the incredible economic leverage China has over Australia is never mentioned.

Seriously, it’s just not, is it?

Within about 3 to 6 months and without a shot being fired, China could put Australia into a deep recession which would perhaps take years to recover from.

When was the last time you heard the sentiment in the paragraph above ever expressed in the media?

Yet that’s the inference behind every claim for “calm rational heads” when dealing with China.

Perhaps appeasement is Australia’s only option, but there’s still some respect to be had by admitting to it.

The alternative is doubly-cowardly.

Super, smashing, great

Mark McVeigh, a 24-year-old environmental scientist from Australia, won’t be able to access his retirement savings until 2055. But, concerned about what the world may look like then, he’s taking action now, suing his A$57 billion ($39 billion) pension fund for not adequately disclosing or assessing the impact of climate change on its investments.

Cue picture of stereotypical ponytailed unshaven millennial affecting zher best serious face:

Is that shirt available in “ironed”, son?

Before launching the legal action, McVeigh asked Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, or Rest, how it was ensuring his savings were future proofed against rising world temperatures. Its response didn’t satisfy him and he ended up engaging specialist climate change law firm, Equity Generation Lawyers.

Readers outside Australia might not know this, but the legislation around Superannuation is excellent in terms of portability and choice for the consumer. If you don’t like how your fund is invested or administered, switching to another provider is relatively simple. In most cases it’s a quick and easy online process using an industry standard reference number.

So, our faux gravitas-faced soy boy could log on to the laptop pictured in front of him and switch to this fund, for example.

That he has, instead, chosen to engage an activist legal firm (who are hopefully acting pro-bono) to sue his existing fund requires some explanation, then.

Given that portability of funds, and the availability of real alternatives, it’s not unreasonable for observers to wonder at Mark’s motivation in this.

Is he genuinely concerned about how his investments are being made? Complete an online form and switch funds then.

Or, is this an attempt to set a legal precedent restricting the choice of the rest of us?

Bill’s Opinion

We can’t read Mark’s mind, but his actions suggest less concern about his personal investments and more a desire to interfere with ours.

The problem he will face is that the prime objective, written in law, of superannuation funds is to increase the wealth of the savers.

It won’t be hard for the Defence lawyers to argue that, compared to a pathetic 1.2% annualised performance, his current fund is performing their legal duties far more diligently then the virtue signalling “ethical” fund.

It won’t have entered Mark’s mind, given the incontrovertible truth that, starting about 20 years before his birth, the world has witnessed nothing short of a miracle in the reduction of human suffering as a result of economic freedom to trade and invest:

But sure, go ahead Mark, tell us all how we should spend our own money, because you’ve worked it all out for us in your 24 years of existence.

New Zealand’s “nuclear moment” *

* Spoiler alert; not really.

True to the idiom she has made all of her own, Jacinda Adern, the Mayor of New Zealand, has signalled her virtue on climate change by committing her country’s economy to being hamstrung until someone with a brain takes over her job.

If you’re interested in the details, click the link above. Be prepared, however, to be left wanting more tangible details on how this promise of carbon virtue will be achieved and funded.

That’s not the topic of this post today, however. We’re more interested in the total irony resulting in this quote and headline:

The irony is, of course, that nuclear energy does not form part of the strategy.

Bill’s Opinion

There are in life, some very useful heuristics we can use to save time when forming opinions. These are not infallible but are more often correct than not.

On climate change, if the person you are discussing the problem with fails to mention even the possibility of nuclear energy being part of the solution, you can be fairly sure they are calling for some kind of transfer of political and economic power first, solving environmental problems a far distant second.

Nobody named Brian is ever competent

It’s an uncomfortable but unconscious truth that some first names are not associated with success. Those which immediately spring to mind include; Wayne, Kevin, and Nigel.

Brian is another example. Yes, the guitarist from Queen is highly competent in the fields of music and astrophysics, but he’s the exception, like Farage is amongst all the Nigels.

Australia has a classic “incompetent Brian” running (ruining?) the bank, Wokepac.

Luckily for Brian, he’s a member of The Club, which is handy because this time next year he’ll need to find a new job.

Why?

Two reasons:

Firstly, he’s been at the helm during the latter phases of the multi-decade ongoing decline of the weakest of Australia’s “big four” banks, culminating in the apologetic letter (from page 10) in the annual report.

Secondly, he’s got to find $8m cash in his personal bank account between now and March next year.

Now, I’ve no doubt Brian’s personal wealth easily exceeds that; he earns over half of that a year in the salary component of his package alone, notwithstanding his generous decision to waive his performance bonus.

The more pertinent question is whether or not he has enough personal belief in the future of Wokepac, the Australian banking industry and the Australian economy in general, to cash in $8m of his investments and personal wealth and transfer it to shares in the dog of the banking sector?

Bills Opinion

Since joining The Club, Brian has feathered his nest nicely whilst virtue signalling, using shareholder’s money, on matters LGBTQ+, Aboriginal, diversity and every other cause célèbre.

The time has come to see quite how committed he is to this as a future business strategy. Chicken or pig, Brian?

Diplomatic immunity, Mr Riggs

Congratulations to South Africa for outplaying England in the rugby World Cup this weekend.

The Springboks made history on Saturday for two reasons; they were the first team to have lost a match during the pool stage to then go on to win the final. Secondly, they joined only New Zealand in the club of teams to have won it three times.

It’s actually better than that; two of New Zealand’s victories had the home advantage and the first one (1987) was at a time when the rest of the world didn’t pay their players whilst New Zealand only pretended not to.

England were the favourites in most pundits’ minds, so this was a brilliant upset by the Saffas.

However….

If you can bear to look, there is a concerted effort to frame this victory as “1995 redux”.

For those not interested in rugby, the 1995 World Cup victory by Francois Pienaar’s team against the All Blacks was lauded as a unifying moment for the newly-democratised country, not least because Nelson Mandela publicly supported the team by wearing the jersey with the captain’s number.

It was a really great moment in sport but does it really translate to the wider situation in South Africa? Is it going to make a difference?

Bill’s Opinion

Anyone who has visited South Africa in the last, say, fifteen years knows that this “moment for change” narrative is built on sand.

In fact, anyone who’s met a South African recently will also know it’s total bullshit.

Why? Every South African you meet has a tragic home invasion story about either themselves, a close relative or personal friend. This is not something a safe, civilised country with a positive economic and social future experiences.

Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa has simply switched the race of the 1% of the ruling class. Perhaps the Apartheid era rulers were also massively corrupt, but they managed to maintain some level of protection of personal safety and property rights (albeit for a minority of the population all of the time and the rest of the population some of the time) and could at least keep the lights on and drinking water flowing.

Through incompetence, corruption and an undisguised animus for people with the wrong colour skin (there’s a word for that which escapes me), the new ruling class have managed to reduce the size of the minority for whom living conditions are tolerable to an even smaller number than before universal suffrage.

Anyone who thinks 80 minutes of kicking and catching an oddly-shaped football will reverse the inexorable slide towards Zimbabwe V2.0 has not been paying attention or is suffering from cognitive dissonance.

There is a joke the non-ruling class blacks tell each other in South Africa; we wanted freedom but we got democracy instead.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Did we stop you beating your wife?

Probably not.

Speaking personally, I was only vaguely aware of The White Ribbon Foundation through seeing a poster in the kitchen area of an office in which I was recently working.

Some male colleagues had signed their names on the poster under statements pledging to not hit their partners and to speak up should they see someone they know committing domestic violence or abuse.

My reaction was to think it was a pointless exercise but also a good scam; trick and bully corporates into paying the White Ribbon “protection fee” to have a representative come in and give a day’s awareness and have the company name added to the online register of organisations that don’t encourage their staff to beat up their spouses.

Domestic violence and abuse is one of those unopposable causes isn’t it? “What, you don’t agree we shouldn’t beat women up? What kind of a monster are you?”.

I’m somewhat surprised therefore by the financial collapse of the charity. Prima facie, this was a business model that should have been simplicity itself to maintain and earn a good living from.

Bill’s Opinion

In recent years, the corporate world has become a target for charity shakedown operations of which the White Ribbon Foundation seems to have been one of the more obvious.

The model seems to work along the lines of;

  1. Define a worthy cause and frame it in terms that are incapable of being opposed without risk of catastrophic publicity,
  2. Offer corporate “training” at an inflated fee,
  3. Request “donations” in return for being named as a partner/ally/supporter.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Examples I can think of operating right now include all our favourite subjects; climate change, LGBTQptanyangkipperbang, indigenous businesses, gender equity, etc.

The credit for the original idea seems to be due to the infamous American race-baiting politician, Jesse Jackson, as described in the book “Shakedown” (the customer reviews are entertaining).

One wonders whether Jackson has ever thought to claim royalties from the numerous copycat charities operating around the world these days? Perhaps that’s a level of chutzpah too far even for him.