society


This is in response to a discussion about population control and climate change on an e-list I’m on. In particular, it’s in response to a line by a mate, Jono:

it’s not the number of people that is important, but rather the power of the argument. Population control arguments need to be challenged wherever they occur, because they turn the climate movement into a war against human rights rather than for human rights.


Population control doesn’t have to infringe human rights. Some of the best ways of reducing the rate of population change are PRO-human rights: accessible education, equality in power relations between men and women, access to contraceptives, the aged pension.

Population is inseperable from environmental impact – if the population is low, but consumption per capita is very high, then you have a problem. If you have a really high population with small per-capita footprint, you still have a problem. At the moment, it’s obvious that the current global average per capita footprint is too high for the current population. The UN predicts 9 billion people by 2050, (150% of current population), which means that for us to have the same over all impact by then, we will need to have reduced our average percapita footprint to 2/3 of what it is now. To put this in perspective, current Australian GDP per capita is US$40-50,000, globally it’s about $10,000, so we’d have to reduce our footprints to about 15% of what it is now. That sounds doable, but that doesn’t take into account that we have to REDUCE our over-all impact, not keep it steady. (I realise I’m only talking about averages, but I think median figures would likely show even greater disparity).

There’s no reason why population control has to happen in the third world. It doesn’t matter where it happens. In fact, it’s probably better that it happens in the rich minority world, ’cause one less person here is heaps more impact reduction than the same person in the minority world. And that could potentially mean we have more room for refugees (not that population is the barrier now).

Ultimately, it’s about how you do it. Of course there’s plenty of fucked up ways to control populations. But the same can be said for any problem (Green Dictatorship, anyone?). We definitely shouldn’t be supporting any kind of punishment/penalties for people who feel the need to have more kids, but we should definitely encourage any positive measures that would help to slow down population rates, and oppose those that do the opposite (like Costello’s ” one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the Country” – ugh… how would you feel to find out you were the one for the country?)

Seems to me that reducing populations and rates of change should definitely be a part of any broad climate campaign. We just have to make it abundantly clear how we mean to go about it – ethically and compassionately.

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Terry Pratchett notes in one of his discworld books that politics is fundamentally about the running of the city. Politics – from Aristotle’s ta politika “affairs of state,”, from the Ancient Greek polis – the city state.

Something – perhaps Greg Combet’s assertion that “[it is] very widely agreed throughout domestic politics and international politics that an emissions trading scheme which fixes a carbon price by a market mechanism is the best way of getting a carbon price into the economy.” – tells me that politics just doesn’t cut it any more. Politics really does still deal on this level, the level of the ciity state. everything is one big race between competing countries, to get the best deal in the fastest time.

We need a way of dealing with systems bigger than the city state. We need ta geotika. Affairs of the Earth. A global politics – geotics.

CFMEU rejects carbon trading job claims – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union (CFMEU) says the release of figures warning that emissions trading will cost thousands of jobs is part of a scare campaign.

The Minerals Council says emissions trading will cost 23,000 jobs in the next decade .

But the CFMEU’s Tony Maher says the Minerals Council is using the figures irresponsibly.

“Even on their own shonky report there’s a very significant growth in employment,” he said.

It’s nice, really nice, to see Tony Maher from the CFMEU being honest. The Minerals Council are spinning this for all it’s worth, even though they’re getting more than they asked for in the CPRS. The CFMEU has run spin campaigns with the Minerals Coucil before, but obviously they aren’t as conjoined as it previously seemed.

Also worth noting that on Stateline tonight (I’ll link to the transcript when it goes up), solar researchers are planning to start a PV cell manufacturing industry, which they estimate will provide 70 construction, and 120 jobs. They also estimated that such an industry could eventually end up providing 40,000 jobs (if I remember the figure correctly).

That’s what I call an offset.

For anyone even vaguely involved in the world of blogs and climate change, logical fallacies are a familiar thing. The straw man, the appeal to authority, ad hominem attacks, the biased sample/cherrypicking, and many more are all used by both sides of the argument, to a greater or lesser degree.

On the side of climate scientists/environmentalists (Yes, I know that some won’t agree with my lumping those two groups together – it’s a crass generalisation, and it makes my case looks stronger (I am an environmental activist studying science), however it is true in the majority of cases) one of the arguments that comes up quite often is this:

Denier: “why should I trust the science – it’s biased/has vested interests/goes against my religion/philosophy.”

Greenie/scientist: “Why should you trust science? Look around you. You enjoy watching television, don’t you? And you’re using a computer right now, and I bet you drive a car. Science brought you those things.”

No. It didn’t.

Science is not technology, and technology is not science. The two are separate, although closely linked.

Science relies on certain technologies, such as microscopes, rulers and protractors, test tubes, and for more complex calculations, computers, etc. It does NOT rely on technologies like television, or the internal combustion engine, although these can make it easier.

Likewise, technology relies on science, but it also relies on the values of the individuals and societies building it, the resources that are available, and of course, the technology required to build it.

How about this:

Denier: “why should I trust the science – it’s biased/has vested interests/goes against my religion/philosophy.”

Greenie/scientist: “Why should you trust science? Think about this: The atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, engineered viruses, toxic toys, and television advertising. Science brought you those things.”

The point is that Technology isn’t brought to you by science. technology is brought to you by humans. True, the scientific understanding is a limiting factor on the technology available, but this does not mean that the technology will become available as the science advances.

Science, in it’s purest form, is just the pursuit of knowledge. More knowledge is, as far as I can work out, never a bad thing. Technology can go either way, and depends on the values of those designing it. Conflating the two is potentially a very dangerous thing to do, and even in cases where it’s safe,  to do so is still a logical fallacy.

There’s a long list of logical fallacies here: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/, but I don’t think this one features there. Perhaps it’s some kind of cause/effect fallacy. Perhaps it should be called the “Science for the Good/Bad life”.

I don’t usually like spruiking for the corporate media, but channel 7 is doing something good with their Sunrise solar panel petition. I don’t make any comment on the rest of what channel 7 does – I usually avoid it like the plague.

But they’re right, a means test on the solar rebate scheme is bloody stupid. There are lots of people out there who want solar panels, but for the rebate, you have to have the money upfront. Not many people on a median wage (~$25,000/annum) have thousands of dollars just lying around. If they have a mortgage, neither do people on an average wage (~$57,000/annum). So means testing the rebate has already meant a massive drop in household solar installations(1).

But a means test could be a good thing. If the government wants to do something that has a real impact, and is actually equitable for people of all socio-economic classes, it should means test. But don’t means test down, means test up. For the rich, leave it as it is, or perhaps leave it at $8000 for households on $100k/annum or what ever other arbitrary measure you want, and reduce it in small increments as wages go up. For everyone else, offer an increasing rebate as wages go down, and a low-interest (0%, inflation adjusted) loan>here was a loan something like this in the budget this year (not sure how “low interest”), but only for solar hot-water, and only for a couple of hundred thousand homes(2). Expand this to include all homes and photovoltaics, and by all means means-test the loan.

A good idea might be to cap the loan at a calculated value – say enough to buy a system that could power a small family house – and then offer normal, or slightly lower than normal interest rates for any money needed over that cap. That would allow even mcmansions to go solar, but without encouraging excess energy consumption.

Obviously this solution wouldn’t be perfect, but it would sure be better than what’s currently on offer. The main thing at this stage is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels at quickly as possible. And that means spending big now – it won’t seem like much of a cost later, especially when it pays itself off in a few years anyway.

  1. Rethink solar rebate, industry urges Govt. (2008, May 17).ABC News. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/05/17/2247721.htm.
  2. Simon, D. (2008, May 14). “Green” budget passed and pasted in Australia. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from http://de.indymedia.org/2008/05/217318.shtml.

After months of wondering why Americans are always complaining about petrol prices, I finally figured out why.

This might seem obvious to some, but the solution everyone seems to come up with seems pretty stupid to me. To start with, let’s compare fuel prices in a few countries (unleaded fuel, at the bowser):

  • US fuel price: around $4/gallon (1)
  • Australia: about $1.65/L
  • UK: about £1.18/L (2)
  • France: about €1.40/L (3)

Just to compare, let’s change that to US$/Litre (1 US gallon  = 3.7 litres, Exchange rates from http://www.xe.com/ucc/):

  • US: $1.08/L
  • Aus: $1.57/L
  • UK: $2.32/L
  • Fr: $2.19/L

Of course, these calculations could be off a fair bit, but with a difference like that, the error couldn’t be very sginificant.

From that, you can see why I was confused: Americans have some of the cheapest fuel in the industrialised world. It certainly isn’t anything to scream about. In fact, with peak oil almost certainly hitting around now (The actual centre of the peak being somewhere between a couple of years ago, to perhaps a few years ahead), it more like something to just get used to. It certainly isn’t going to get cheaper for any significant period of time.

But then I realised that there was another factor: Wages. If americans are earning less than us here in Aus, then the fuel is obviously costing them relatively more. So let’s see average weekly wages for the four countries:

  • US: $600.80 (4)
  • Aus: $1008.10 (5)
  • UK: About £460 (from average yearly estimate wage of $24000)
  • Fr: ???

And compared to fuel costs:

country fuel cost
(100L)
weekly wage 100L as % of
weekly wage
USA $108 $600.80 18%
Australia $165 $1008.10 16%
United Kingdom £118 £460 25%

Which is obviously the reason why americans currently care more about fuel than australians. This is obviously going to be compounded by wage inequality – the average wage is a pretty stupid measure of income, because the richest few people make the average wage higher than the vast majority will ever earn. Looking at a median wage is a far better way to do it, and if that was done, and considering that america seems to have worst income inequality than most industrialised nations, that percentage, compared to australia would be much higher than it is above, both absolutely, and relative to the other countries.

But what about the UK? Why aren’t they going nuts about fuel prices? Even if their income inequality is far less that the US, they probably still have a higher fuel price compared to wages. The answer is obvious: they spend less money on fuel because they buy less fuel. There are two reasons for this: the UK is a more compact country than the US – people don’t need to drive as far when they do drive. But more importantly, both for its impact, and for its potential for change, is public transport. Most of the US, by all accounts, has a terrible, or even non-existant public transport service. New York has the metro, and San Francisco has it’s trams, but most other cities are designed almost exclusively for cars – in some it’s hard to even walk any where. When you’re forced to drive a car to get to work, school, or anywhere else, you’re going to feel the fuel crunch pretty hard.

Americans do have a fuel problem, but calling for lower prices isn’t going to help in the long run. Peak oil means that fuel prices are on a roughly exponentially increasing path – even if we knock 20 cents off now, it’ll only be a matter of months, a couple of years at the most, before it’s back where it was again. If you want a solution to fuel prices, then call for a decent minimum wage (the american minimum wage is far less than the australian minimum wage, and was even when the australian dollar was at US$0.55 a few years ago. Now it’s well under half). If you want to do something permanent about making transport cheaper, then call for real public transport systems, especially electricity driven public trasnport, like trains, trams, and street cars. That’s going to be just about your only livable way out of this mess.

Sources:

  1. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/oog/info/gdu/gasdiesel.asp
  2. http://www.petrolprices.com/
  3. http://www.prix-carburants.gouv.fr
  4. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
  5. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/08/18/1123958181797.html

There’s a useful new article on envirowiki on CCS and Clean Coal: Carbon Capture and Storage in Australia.

The article covers all the projects planned in Australia. If you find any more info on each of these, feel free to add more detail on the pages, it’s a wiki after all.

If you don’t feel like editing it yourself, feedback would be most welcome here on my contributions, or on the discussion page for the article.

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