Defending Assange: The value of Wikileaks

For seven years, Julian Assange’s enemies have strenuously denied that he would face extradition to the US if he left the Ecuadorian Embassy. They told us that was merely a “conspiracy theory”. But last week, the moment the British police dragged him out of the embassy, the US unsealed its secret charges and the mainstream media are reporting that as if it is a surprise! To me, it is vindication of what Assange has been saying all along.

I don’t understand why so many people are supporting the persecution of Assange. You don’t necessarily have to endorse every single thing Wikileaks has said and done, but that is beside the point. This is an attack on free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. Governments are making an example of Assange. If they can do this to Assange, they can do it to anyone who publishes government secrets.

In 2010 Chelsea Manning (then named Bradley Manning) leaked a large number of US government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as communications between US diplomats around the world. Some of the leaks were initially published by mainstream media, but only Wikileaks published the full set of documents.

The Manning leaks, which helped spark the Arab Spring, included the following information:

  • The US government covered up its official count of civilian deaths in its wars, totalling 66,081 during 2004-2009.
  • The Obama administration was carrying out secret drone bombings in Yemen, killing mostly civilians and many children.
  • US diplomats secretly and illegally collected DNA samples, passwords, and credit card details of top UN officials.
  • Most detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested based on evidence that would not be permissible in American courts, such as wearing similar clothes to al-Qaeda members. Also released were more details on the torture at Guantanamo Bay.
  • In violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, the American military had an official policy to not investigate torture by the Iraqi government.
  • The US Embassy intervened to undermine activists advocating a proposed minimum wage law in Haiti, a country with widespread starvation.
  • The military contractor Dyncorp provided Afghan recruits with “dancing boys”.
  • The FBI worked with Egyptian security agencies who allegedly torture prisoners into a “zombie state”.

Also in the Manning leaks was helicopter video of a 2007 American airstrike killing ten men in Baghdad. Two of the men were Reuters journalists, named Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, but the US government had claimed they were combatants engaging in battle. The video showed a much murkier reality. The Americans were looking for armed insurgents who had been in the area earlier that day, and as they hovered over a group of men walking around, they observed unidentifiable objects in the men’s hands and jumped to the conclusion that they were weapons. Although some of the men may have been carrying weapons, the journalists were actually carrying cameras, and none were aiming a weapon. Otherwise unprovoked, the Americans blasted the group with cannon fire until all but one were dead, then hovered over the dying cameraman hoping he would pick up his “weapon” so they’d be allowed to shoot him, then received permission to fire at him and a van full of people trying to pick him up.

The US military still insists that one of the Iraqis was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, and that their soldiers’ actions were justified by its rules of engagement. Of course, that just raises the questions about whether the rules of engagement are reasonable, and whether the United States should be occupying Iraq in the first place, questions that are highly inconvenient for those who want to persuade the public to support America’s wars.

It’s much more convenient for war propagandists if citizens see only enemy atrocities and never see the atrocities of the armies supposedly bringing “freedom”. But the casualty statistics suggest civilian deaths have been the norm rather than the exception in the Iraq War. American-led coalition forces died in the thousands, Iraqi security forces then insurgents died in the tens of thousands, and Iraqi civilians died in the hundreds of thousands.

Nobody has been punished for the corrupt behaviour revealed by Manning, making it extremely hard to swallow the anti-Assange slogan, currently being spouted by the British government and media, that “nobody is above the law”.

And it’s not just about the Manning leaks. Throughout many of the biggest issues of the last decade Wikileaks has been there, providing much more information than our pathetic mainstream media, who frequently parrot dubious government narratives as if they were unquestionable fact. Much of the current anti-establishment mood has been brought about by Wikileaks. Without Wikileaks, the population might still believe our governments were acting in our interests. If it wasn’t for Wikileaks, we might never have known about so many ways that governments are acting against the interests of ordinary people. Here are some of the biggest revelations that have greatly contributed to our understanding of how our society functions:

The list goes on. These are all important facts that the public has a right to know. Who knows how many more government secrets we will never learn if Assange is successfully crushed.

Assange and Wikileaks have received a long list of journalistic awards, including the National Union of Journalists Journalist of the Year, the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, the Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award, and the Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize. And to my knowledge, there has never been any serious challenge to the accuracy of material published by Wikileaks, which is more than can be said for the establishment media who constantly condemn Assange.

Assange has also provided commentary that has helped place these leaks in context so that citizens can understand it – in short, what used to be called journalism. Until recently, despite being trapped indoors and increasingly marginalized by mainstream media, online he continued to provide insightful commentary on geopolitics which I found to be more independent than anyone else at his level of fame, and certainly more trustworthy than anyone mainstream. Now that he’s silenced, it’s become harder to figure out who or what to believe, and the world is significantly darker as a result.

As New Matilda’s propaganda expert Lissa Johnson puts it:

So that we can manage our enormous information load, the brain is prone to simplistically and unconsciously tagging familiar people and things “good” or “bad”. It does this using positive and negative emotions, known as affective tags…

In pro-war propaganda the tagging mechanism is deployed to pin an emotional bullseye to a target’s head. The target against whom propagandists wish to mobilise for attack need simply be paired repeatedly with an emotion that supports a violent response…

To sustain the pro-war propaganda narratives that feed the propaganda tags, contradictory material must be kept at bay. Across all levels of propaganda – whether motivational or technical – omission is a critical component.

Which means that Wikileaks and other independent media must be shut down if war propagandists are to do their jobs unencumbered.

Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers revealing lies about the Vietnam War, condemns the prosecution of Assange:

It’s a very serious assault on the First Amendment, a clear attempt to rescind the freedom of the press essentially…

This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher, Julian Assange. And if it’s successful it will not be the last. This is clearly is a part of President Trump’s war on the press, what he calls the enemy of the state. And if he succeeds in putting Julian Assange in prison, where I think he’ll be for life, if he goes there at all…

And without freedom of the press you have no–you have very little freedom in the country. I’m afraid that’s the direction we’re going.

I list all the above facts to remind readers of what is really at stake, to counter the propaganda of governments and mainstream media emphasizing the various attacks on Assange – because he has been demonized using the same propaganda techniques used in war. The mainstream media has been helping governments smear Assange for years, when they should be screaming blue murder about this attack on press freedom.

Julian Assange deserves his awards and he should be free to continue his important work.

In a coming series of posts, I will examine Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media, to prove the blatantly unfair treatment he has received at every stage.

The Extinction Rebellion begins in Australia

Today saw the start of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement in Australia.

In Melbourne, a crowd of around 150 gathered in Treasury Place to deliver a Climate Emergency Declaration to a government building. They marched in protest against both the state and federal governments, led by a group of “climate guardians” dressed in angel costumes, chanting slogans such as “Coal, don’t dig it, leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it”.

The federal offices avoided any confrontation with the peaceful protestors, locking their gates as the crowd approached. Nevertheless, demonstrators read out the Declaration and handed a copy through the gate to a security officer.

Parallel events were held in Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide.

The Australian protests have not received any media attention to my knowledge. But today was merely the beginning of a planned campaign of civil disobedience which has already had considerable success in the United Kingdom.

London’s Extinction Rebellion was launched last Halloween by over a thousand protestors, of whom 15 were arrested for deliberately sitting in the road outside Parliament. In two open letters published in the Guardian, the Extinction Rebellion was endorsed by approximately 200 high-profile figures including scientists and academics from various fields.

The London campaign continued over the following weeks, as thousands of activists blocked major roads and bridges to disrupt traffic. Other tactics included activists gluing themselves to the doors of government departments, graffiti-ing government buildings, and partially shutting down an airport which plans to expand.

In one case 6,000 people disrupted traffic for several hours, and over 130 activists were arrested. Getting arrested is at the core of the movement’s strategy to use civil disobedience to disrupt society and show their commitment to the cause.

The movement helped convince several British councils, including the City of London, to declare a Climate Emergency.

Extinction Rebellion is associated with a far-left group called RisingUp! and its template for radical organizing. It aims to mobilize 3.5% of the population to leave their comfort zones and engage in nonviolent resistance to bring down the system. However their approach sounds like it is relatively hands-off, allowing decentralized organizing as long as everyone is in line with the basic values.

Why the urgency? To quote the Extinction Rebellion website:

Scientists believe we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown. The Earth’s atmosphere is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and the chance of staying below the 2°C limit set in the Paris Agreement is tiny. Projections show we are on course for 3 degrees of warming and probably much higher.

We and our children will face unimaginable horrors as a result of floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society when the pressures are so great. We are unprepared for the danger our future holds…

World leaders have failed to adequately confront the existential threats posed by climate and ecological breakdown, let alone the causes of the crises. Polite lobbying, marching, voting, consumer- and shareholder-activism, have all failed. We are now on the brink. If asking the establishment nicely doesn’t get them to act, then the only option left is civil disobedience, to disrupt the ordinary working of things, so that decision makers HAVE to take notice.

Many of the largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history appear to have been caused by runaway greenhouse warming, driven by carbon dioxide triggering an amplifying release of methane and poisonous hydrogen sulfide. We are currently witnessing the latest mass extinction event, through global warming and other impacts on the environment. When you account for shrinking populations as well as extinctions, around half of the Earth’s wildlife has already vanished. And we humans could be one of the species facing extinction.

There is a serious possibility that we are already in the process of triggering a runaway “hothouse Earth”, as warned by eminent climatologists Hans Schellnhuber and Will Steffen. The climate system appears to be teetering on the edge of several destabilizing tipping points – including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice, which judging from the current trend could happen in the next decade – which could trigger a cascade of feedbacks amplifying global warming to catastrophic levels. As Extinction Rebellion points out, this could conceiveably cause mass starvation within years. 

As Steffen puts it:

The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.

Of course, no such policy shift has been in evidence. Our political and economic system is not solving the climate crisis. Instead, our elites seem to have total disregard for the future of the general population.

A digital economics professor named Douglas Rushkoff recently recounted an exclusive meeting in which five super-wealthy individuals grilled him on “the future of technology”. He was shocked to hear the real questions they wanted answered: Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis? How will they maintain authority over the security forces guarding their underground bunkers? Should they use special combination locks on the food supply, or make the guards wear disciplinary collars, or build robots to replace workers?

It is high time for policy to be made in the public interest rather than the interests of billionaires. To this end, Extinction Rebellion makes the following demands (which you can read more about here):

  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. National Citizen’s Assemblies to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

(That last demand is partly to prevent the possibility of a eco-fascist dictatorship, which some fear could result from emergency messaging.)

Now the movement is preparing to go international. Extinction Rebellion is planning more actions for the week starting 15 April in Australia and around 30 other countries.

The rebellion has begun!

Victorian state election 2018

On Saturday 24th November, Victorians will go to the polls. Personally I find it hard to get excited about another election when none of the previous ones have brought real solutions for global warming, but who knows, maybe this one will be different! So I have compiled every political party’s policies on climate change and the environment, and ranked them from best to worst in the following list. I hope this information will help you decide how to cast your vote.

Notes:

  • I strongly advise that you distribute your own preferences by voting “below the line” on the ballot paper, rather than voting “above the line” for some backroom deal – otherwise you might be surprised to find your vote ending up with a party you don’t like.
  • This list covers only climate and environment policies (and some tangentially related economic issues like trade agreements), which I consider the most important because if we don’t save the planet that sustains us then none of the other issues will matter. However, you can follow the links to each party’s website if you want to look at their positions on other issues.
  • I found it difficult to incorporate coal seam gas policies into my rankings, because parties whose general environment policies are across the spectrum can have good policies on coal seam gas, or at least claim to.
  • I have not gone into as much detail for the major parties as the minor ones, and have been partly informed by Environment Victoria’s scorecard: https://environmentvictoria.org.au/election-2018-parties-stand/

The short version

Strong policies, climate is a priority:

  1. Australian Greens
  2. Victorian Socialists
  3. Animal Justice Party

Strong policies, but climate is not a priority:

  1. Sustainable Australia
  2. Health Australia

Some positive policies, but weak on coal and gas:

  1. Fiona Patten’s Reason Party
  2. Australian Labor Party

No climate policies, but may support action on climate:

  1. Vote 1 Local Jobs
  2. Transport Matters Party
  3. Hudson for Northern Victoria
  4. Voluntary Euthanasia Party
  5. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Poor climate policies:

  1. Australian Country Party
  2. Democratic Labour Party
  3. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation

Very poor climate policies:

  1. Australian Liberty Alliance
  2. Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party
  3. Liberal Party of Australia/National Party of Australia
  4. Liberal Democratic Party
  5. Australian Conservatives

Hidden policies:

  1. Aussie Battlers Party

The long version

Strong policies, climate is a priority

The Australian Greens. General focus: Environmentalism. Environment-related policies include:

  • “Human induced climate change poses the one of greatest threats to our world in human history and requires urgent local, national and global action”
  • Phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030
  • 100% renewable energy by 2030
  • Oppose AGL’s proposed gas import terminal
  • Planned transition to make Latrobe Valley a battery storage testbed of the world, with $200 million for pumped hydro storage
  • Support new offshhore wind power
  • New solar across Victoria
  • Install solar panels and batteries in all Victorian public schools
  • Increase Victoria’s energy efficiency target to 10% by 2030
  • More energy-efficient housing including requiring roofs to be either green or solar panels
  • Detailed plans for new and improved railways and bike lanes/paths
  • Oppose new freeways
  • Oppose logging
  • Create a Great Forest National Park
  • Ban some plastics, and reduce and recycle others
  • Create a new Invasive Species Management Authority
  • Strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Enshrine environmental water flows in legislation
  • Employ a Climate Commissioner

Victorian Socialists. General focus: Socialism. Environment-related policies include:

  • “The planet is in crisis from climate change and habitat destruction, a direct product of a world economy based on capitalism, nationalism, and profit-directed growth. Nothing makes the case for socialism clearer than the fate of our natural world: wasteful production, output and carbon emissions must be dramatically reduced and the best way of doing this is by bringing energy into democratically controlled public hands.”
  • A radical lift in targets for emissions reduction and renewable energy
  • Develop a renewable energy manufacturing industry
  • Raise Victoria’s renewable energy target to 60% by 2025
  • Support the ban on unconventional gas exploration and mining, which major parties want to lift
  • Replace the Latrobe Valley’s ageing coal power plants with a publicly owned global hub for renewable energy “not in 30 years, but in 15 or 10”
  • Transition from old-growth logging to plantation timbers
  • A new publicly owned recycling hub in Melbourne’s north
  • Regulations to discourage plastic bags and unnecessary packaging
  • A free expanded public transport system
  • Public ownership of the power and public transport companies
  • More parks and green space in new housing development areas
  • A better bike path network
  • More electric rail for regional Victoria
  • Experiment with more sustainable methods of agriculture
  • Water restrictions, especially for mining and agribusiness and heavy industry, based on scientific assessment of rivers, wetlands, and water tables
  • A publicly owned water supply
  • More water tanks
  • Shut down corporations that pollute water
  • Subsidize irrigation efficiency technology
  • Preferences the Greens

Animal Justice Party. General focus: Animal rights. Environment-related policies include:

  • Climate change is an emergency and causing mass extinction, requiring urgent action
  • Encourage a plant-based diet
  • Ban further land clearing
  • Phase out the cattle industry
  • Desubsidize intensive animal agriculture
  • Rapidly transform to a carbon-free energy infrastructure
  • Rapidly reduce grazing, allowing reforestation
  • Prohibit any fossil fuel expansion, including coal seam gas and other natural gas
  • Carbon tax on coal and animal agriculture industries, directing the revenue into sustainable energy and agriculture
  • Favor materials that are recyclable and have a low land use footprint
  • Transition to 100% plantation forestry
  • Aim to keep the national human birth rate low and limit population growth to within existing urban boundaries

Strong policies, but climate is not a priority

Sustainable Australia. General focus: Anti-population-growth. Environment-related policies include:

  • Lower immigration from 200,000 to 70,000 per year to reduce Australian population growth
  • Maintain refugee intake, but address the poverty and war that drives refugee migration
  • Increase foreign aid for female education and contraception to reduce global population growth
  • Lower Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% below 2000 by 2025, 40-60% by 2030, and 80-100% by 2050
  • Renewable energy target of at least 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050
  • Fund clean energy R&D
  • Impose a moratorium on all new export-based coal mines in Australia
  • Phase out fossil fuel subsidies
  • Lobby for a globally consistent carbon price that does not penalize Australian industries
  • A moratorium on all fracking
  • No nuclear power
  • Assess pumped hydro energy storage opportunities
  • Promote a plant-based diet
  • Reduce waste and increase recycling
  • Prioritize public transport funding over new tollways
  • End broadscale land clearing and rehabitate degraded lands
  • Minimize native forest logging and end old-growth forest logging
  • Widespread habitat protection and wildlife corridors
  • Audit all nonrenewable resources and implement strategic resource depletion protocols and usage rights
  • Resource Super Profits Tax with the revenue directed to sustainability
  • Invest in environmental education
  • Citizen juries to decide local planning
  • Review and renegotiate all trade agreements
  • Require more timely disclosure of political donations

Health Australia Party. General focus: Alternative medicine. Environment-related policies include:

  • Vague on acceptance of climate change science (perhaps due to a general distrust of the scientific establishment) but support strong action on it
  • Retire fossil fuel generators over at maximum 15 years
  • Shift fossil fuel subsidies to renewables
  • Mining companies should not have access to land without permission
  • Invest in clean energy R&D
  • “Optimal emissions targets set by objective science”
  • Prohibit logging of old-growth forests
  • Regenerative agriculture and permaculture
  • Reduce dependence on imported food by fostering food co-operatives
  • Stricter regulation of pesticides
  • Improve public transport infrastructure
  • Promote low-carbon architecture
  • Build new dams and monitor water use of landowners
  • Research funded publically rather than by industry

Some positive policies, but weak on coal and gas

Fiona Patten’s Reason Party. General focus: Individual liberty. Environment-related policies include:

  • Plan for the achievement of Paris Agreement targets
  • Extend Victoria’s Renewable Energy Action Plan beyond 2040
  • Feasibility study on potential pumped-hydro sites
  • Green roofs
  • Invest in walking and cycling paths
  • Increase public transport including frequency of trains to Melbourne’s north
  • Ban retiring MPs from becoming lobbyists for a fixed term
  • Build an outer metropolitan ring road

Australian Labor Party. General focus: Public services. Environment-related policies include:

  • Has extended coal mining licenses in the Latrobe Valley
  • Has no plan to close Victoria’s coal-fired power plants
  • Support North-West Link and Westgate Tunnel
  • Support AGL’s proposed gas import terminal at Crib Point
  • Expanding offshore gas drilling
  • Have imposed a moratorium on new onshore gas projects
  • Have banned fracking and unconventional gas extraction
  • Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 40% by 2025 and 50% by 2030
  • Install solar panels on 650,000 homes over the next decade
  • Pay homes with rooftop solar a fairer price for electricity they provide to the grid
  • Has a good suite of energy efficiency policies
  • A $300 million Green Bond
  • Upgrade metropolitan rail
  • Zero net emissions by 2050

No climate policies, but may support action on climate

Vote 1 Local Jobs. General focus: Regional employment. Environment-related policies include:

  • No mention of climate
  • Say no to coal seam gas and free trade agreements to protect agriculture
  • Encourage people to buy local
  • Camping and fishing in public reserves

Transport Matters Party. General focus: Pro-taxi-drivers. Environment-related policies include:

  • No mention of climate
  • Upgrade the entire public transport system, particularly taxis
  • Like electric cars
  • Support East-West Link and North-East Link

Hudson for Northern Victoria. General focus: Unclear. Environment-related policies include:

  • No policy detail, merely: “This party has been set up by like-minded Northern Victorians who want greater grassroots advocacy, focusing on local issues such as our industry and economy, small business, our water, health/mental health, education, roads, rail, sporting and recreation facilities, our CFA and our diverse agricultural and horticultural industries.”
  • No mention of climate or environment
  • Preferences are inconsistent but more often go to left-wing parties

Voluntary Euthanasia Party. General focus: Euthanasia. Environment-related policies include:

  • No policy beyond protecting the recent legalization of voluntary euthanasia.
  • Will consider issues on a case-by-case basis

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. General focus: Tough on crime. Environment-related policies include:

  • No mention of climate or environment
  • Has an animal rights policy
  • Preferences the Greens last

Poor climate policies

Australian Country Party. General focus: Regional interests. Environment-related policies include:

  • No mention of climate
  • “An inquiry to determine the cheapest and most reliable for of electricity without any requirement of subsidies”
  • Container Deposit Scheme to reduce littering
  • Preference environmentalist parties last

Democratic Labour Party. General focus: Catholic distibutism. Environment-related policies include:

  • No mention of climate or environment in policy documents
  • Invest in “high-efficency low-emissions” coal-fired power stations
  • End “the ridiculous amount of tax-payer funded subsidies propping up renewable energy”
  • “A net reduction of red and green tape”
  • Stop the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Increase immigration to increase population growth
  • Oppose free trade agreements
  • Preferences the Greens last

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. General focus: Nationalism. Environment-related policies include:

  • Website does not list any Victorian policies – the following are mostly federal policies
  • No mention of climate change, but the Queensland branch says “Commit to ‘red and green tape’ reduction”
  • Build new “low-emission” coal-fired power stations
  • Build new dams
  • Oppose mining or coal seam gas exploration on farmland
  • Lower immigration from 200,000 to 70,000 per year to reduce Australian population growth
  • Review trade agreements

Very poor climate policies

Australian Liberty Alliance. General focus: Anti-Islam. Environment-related policies include:

  • Claim not to deny climate change and human impact on the environment, but emphasise that climate change and extreme weather happened before human impact
  • Environment policies focus on toxic waste, rubbish accumulation, national container deposit scheme, and biodegradeable packaging material
  • Reduce renewable energy subsidies
  • Reduce dependency on oil by promoting natural gas and non-combustive engines for cars
  • Construct new dams for hydro power and irrigation, and abolish the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Investigate thorium as a nuclear power source
  • Renegotiate trade agreements that disadvantage Australian interests
  • Preferences the Greens last

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. General focus: Right-to-roam. Environment-related policies include:

  • Website does not list any Victorian policies – however their website says things like the following
  • No subsidies for renewables that are not commercially viable
  • Use our “vast reserves of gas, coal, uranium and oil shales”
  • Oppose a carbon tax that would disadvantage Australian businesses
  • Let farmers decide which land is cleared and burned
  • Prevent legal challenges against environmental approvals
  • “We assert the right to farm free from oppressive green and red tape”
  • “Fishers have increasingly become the victims of green bureaucracy gone mad”
  • “Access to public lands and waters for all recreational users”
  • “Oppose the vilification of four-wheel driving and motoring enthusisasts”
  • “Promote shooting, hunting and fishing as appropriate school activities”
  • “Strike the appropriate balance between responsible usage and preservation”

Liberal Party of Australia/National Party of Australia. General focus: Right-wing. Environment-related policies include:

  • Build a new fossil-fuel-fired power station
  • Keep ageing coal power plants open
  • Accelerate onshore gas extraction
  • Claim to support the ban on fracking and coal seam gas
  • Abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target
  • Put a 75% local content requirement on all large-scale renewable energy projects
  • Opposes the Green Bond
  • Opposes any new National Parks
  • Reallocate environmental water flows to farmers
  • Support East-West Link and North-East Link
  • Upgrade regional rail
  • Fund solar at 700 public schools
  • Research “clean coal”

Liberal Democratic Party. General focus: “Libertarianism” (by which they mean mostly capitalist liberties). Environment-related policies include:

  • Emphasise that climate change happened before human impact and the Medieval Warm Period was good for the Vikings
  • Place a low value on the natural environment, arguing only our prosperous society has the luxury of overvaluing it
  • If they become convinced that global warming is a problem and humans can affect it, they favor market-based options
  • Generally supports free markets and free trade
  • Concerned about noise pollution from wind farms
  • Like nuclear power
  • Privatize all energy companies
  • No restrictions on logging
  • Allow hunters access to national parks
  • Conservation should be done only by allowing environmental groups the “freedom they are now denied, to buy the relevant natural resources and devote them to conservation purposes”
  • No subsidies for recycling
  • Preferences the Greens last

Australian Conservatives. General focus: Conservatism. Environment-related policies include:

  • Describe climate change, emissions targets, and renewable energy as “ideological obsessions”
  • Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord
  • “Legislative certainty for the ongoing use of fossil fuels”
  • “We will support landholders’ rights to allow gas production on their properties” (notice the sneaky wording!)
  • “Remove the red and green tape strangling business”
  • No renewable energy targets
  • Electricity supplied to the grid must be predictable in output
  • Promote nuclear energy
  • Build more dams for hydro power
  • Revisit all trade agreements every ten years
  • Reduce immigration, reducing Australian population growth
  • Restrict political donations to individuals with a capped annual amount

Hidden policies

Aussie Battler Party. General focus: Unclear. Category: N/A. This party has deleted and rewritten all their policies several times! So I am not going to bother analyzing their policies, I instead conclude they are so dishonest that nobody should vote for them.

Surprise energy announcement!

https://mothersagainstwindturbines.com/2014/06/16/wind-industry-is-a-job-thief-not-a-job-creator/

Precarious Climate can exclusively reveal surprising announcements made last week in a speech by Angus Taylor, Australia’s new Minister for Getting Electricity Prices Down. The media reported on only the first half of his speech, leaving out the unexpected turn he took toward the end.

“My first and only priority is to reduce power prices,” Taylor began. “And to do this while keeping the lights on.

“Focusing relentlessly on price while keeping the lights on will require some truthtelling. There will be no ideology, no grand gestures one way or another, just a simple, pragmatic focus on the solutions.

“The reason for this focus is to help people, families, small and family businesses make ends meet, and to help industry create new jobs. Prices are no longer sustainable – for families, for pensioners, for businesses.”

This firm declaration from the new Minister was met with loud applause from government supporters.

“Before I outline the direction of this new Government,” Taylor continued. “I wish to address four points about what motivates me in this area.

“First, we need to recognise that sharp increases in retail electricity prices has eroded the trust of Australians in the capacity of government and politicians to deliver affordable, reliable energy. Because of a failure to focus on the basics the electricity sector, like the banks, needs to re-establish its credibility or social licence with the community.”

Junior party members stood behind the Minister, solemnly nodding along with his every word.

“Secondly,” Taylor insisted. “I am not sceptical about climate science, but I am and have been for many years deeply sceptical of the economics of so many of the emissions reductions schemes dreamed up by vested interests, technocrats and politicians around the world.

“I am a lover of the environment. My family has continually changed farming practices to reflect the changing climate, particularly in recent years.

“But none of my concerns justify supporting expensive programmes that deliver little else other than funnel consumers’ hard-earned money into vested interests resulting in increased prices and reduced reliability. In good conscience, I simply can’t support the hard-earned wages of Australians being siphoned off into these sorts of schemes.”

Standing next to Taylor, the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison grinned proudly at how closely Taylor was adhering to his vision.

“Thirdly,” the Minister continued, “I see a strong role for commercially viable renewables. My grandfather was chief engineer of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, Australia’s greatest renewable scheme, a scheme that has done more to reduce emissions than any other project in Australian history.

“Renewables are in my blood, and have been from the day I was born. Like many others in regional Australia, we use solar technology on the farm where we live.”

There was scattered polite applause at this statement. It was expected that the Minister give lip service to climate change and renewable energy to keep the public happy.

“Finally,” said Taylor. “As a Liberal, I am not a strong believer in heavy-handed government intervention. It would be marvellous if we could fix these problems by leaving the industry alone.

”But we are well past that point. This is a sector now characterised by heavy-handed government intervention. Poorly conceived interventions in the past leave us no choice but to make interventions if we’re going to get things back on track quickly.

“There has been a lot of talk in recent months about increasing investment certainty for the electricity sector. Frankly, I think there is some naivety in the idea that governments can largely eliminate uncertainty, or should even try. Parliaments or governments can’t bind future parliaments and governments – this would be a breach of the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty.”

Taylor was finally ready to announce the new government’s policy.

“Our policy in this area is sharply differentiated from Labor and we make no apology for that,” he said to more applause, cheers, and cries of “hear, hear”.

The unexpected turn

But then the Minister’s press conference took an unexpected turn, and his colleagues’ approval turned to concern.

“Because of all the reasons I have just listed,” said Taylor. “My energy policy will pursue a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy for Australia.”

The Prime Minister looked shocked. “What? But I thought we agreed our goal is to reduce power prices, not to cut emissions!”

“That’s right,” said Taylor. “Renewables are the best way to achieve a future of lower power prices. Renewable energy prices are plummeting as the technologies improve, while fossil fuels will get ever more expensive as they become ever more difficult to cheaply extract. Renewables will also help keep the lights on, as coal-fired generators have trouble coping with demand spikes during heatwaves. The renewable energy industry will create new jobs too.

“And as power prices fall, restoring trust in the electricity sector, that will help create political support for cutting pollution.

“All that is true regardless of whether you’re sceptical about climate science, which I’ve just clarified I’m not. I also just explained why I was so skeptical of all the past emissions reduction programs – because they favored a particular set of industries. When Labor were in government they showered fossil fuel companies with free pollution permits.

“Likewise the previous Prime Minister’s programs, whether it was the Emissions Reduction Fund, Emissions Intensity Scheme, Clean Energy Target, or National Energy Guarantee, have done little more than funnel government money to fossil fuel companies. I opposed the NEG because it was trying to strangle the growth of the unfavored set of technologies. It threatened to halt investment in renewable energy between 2020 and 2030, although renewables are now the most commercially viable energy technologies and may supply 50% of our electricity by 2030 even if we do nothing.

“The previous Prime Minister’s latest change to the NEG, removing the emissions standard, made it even more protective of his favorites. It would have effectively underwritten new fossil fuel generators. He even announced a last resort power, to force companies to divest fossil fuel assets rather than retire them. We definitely won’t be doing that – we’ll scrap the NEG and go back to the drawing board to design an entirely pro-renewable energy policy.

“Those failed climate policies are just some of the fossil fuel subsidies we now need to correct through new interventions. The fossil fuel sector is propped up by $11 billion in annual subsidies to facilitate and attract fossil fuel investment, from the fuel tax credit scheme to fringe benefit tax exemptions to aviation tax concessions. Adani even wants us to fund their rail line and allow them to destroy the Great Barrier Reef.”

At this point, the Prime Minister seized the microphone and sacked Taylor on the spot, saying he had failed to understand his job and the announced policy was a mistake.

“My sincerest apologies to the Minerals Council of Australia, Chevron, Wesfarmers, Origin Energy, Woodside, and Santos,” said Morrison. “I hope this will not dissuade you from continuing to donate to the party of the free market.”

The quotes before the “unexpected turn” are the actual words of the real Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor (here’s the real speech I’m satirizing). Of course, the real Taylor was arguing against cutting emissions on the basis that high power prices have been caused by government intervention to subsidize renewable energy. If he was honest, he would admit his own words argue against that position. Fossil fuels are now the more expensive energy source, and the government’s stated free market ideology is a fraud – in reality the government intervenes to protect established industries and throttle new ones that threaten them.

Could Prime Minister Morrison really make anything worse?

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-09/scott-morrison-holds-a-lump-of-coal-in-parliament/8256064

Events have overtaken the article I posted earlier today.  The latest leadership challenge spectacle in Australian politics has delivered the top job in the conservative Liberal/National government to neither the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull nor the challenger Peter Dutton. It turns out the new Prime Minister is Scott Morrison. Turnbull was supposedly a moderate out of step with his party, Dutton was supposedly a far-right populist, and Morrison apparently represents a compromise between those two warring factions.

Regardless, my overall message has not changed. Sure, the new PM could obliterate what little is left of Australian climate policy after the damage done by his precedessors. But it’s not like he can make things much worse than they already are.

Like Dutton, Morrison has been a senior minister in the government. He has been variously Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Minister for Social Services, and most recently Treasurer. In other words, Morrison has been at the forefront of some of the government’s worst agendas – promoting investment in the fossil fuel industry, persecuting refugees, and increasing economic inequality. He is also very Christian and still opposes same-sex marriage and LGBT-related curricula. Morrison is notorious for having brought a lump of coal into Parliament after a blackout during a heatwave, holding it up and saying “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.”

His new deputy Josh Frydenberg also held the lump of coal. Frydenberg has been Turnbull’s Minister for the Environment and Energy. He recently failed to respond to the following question asked in Parliament by Greens MP Adam Bandt: “Has his department considered the implications for policy-making of climate change being an existential risk to human civilisation?” Frydenberg has overseen the design and selling of Turnbull’s worse-than-nothing climate policy – hence why the new PM cannot make things much worse.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/brandishing-coal-in-a-heatwave-scott-morrison-might-as-well-fiddle-as-australia-suffers-an-energy-crisis-20170212-gubasj.html

Postmortem on the Turnbull government

By coincidence, the previous run of my blog petered out around the time that Turnbull successfully challenged his predecessor Tony Abbott. It’s worth remembering that at the time many environmentalists, left-wingers, and casual observers supported Turnbull, believing he would stand by his previously stated conviction to climate action. I argued against that consensus, often finding myself the only Turnbull critic in a room full of Turnbull fans. I pointed out Turnbull had never supported any climate policy that wasn’t friendly to the fossil fuel industry, and even if he had the best intentions he would have to pander to his less green colleagues and to the big corporations who appear to pretty much run the world.

Three years later, I think it’s fair to say my prediction has been vindicated. The Turnbull government’s climate and energy policy has gone through a confusing series of incarnations – from an “Emissions Reduction Fund”, to an “Emissions Intensity Scheme”, to a “Clean Energy Target”, to the current “National Energy Guarantee” (NEG). Each has been a different variant of slush fund for big polluters (funny how the Liberals’ “free market” principle doesn’t apply to big business).

The “National Energy Guarantee” is supposedly designed to address an alleged crisis of power price rises and blackouts. In reality, it is fossil fuels that will get ever more expensive as the fuels become more difficult to cheaply extract from the Earth; renewable energy prices are actually coming down. Electricity price rises are occuring mainly because of price gouging by the energy companies, who are gaming Australia’s complex partially-privatized oligopolistic electricity grid. As for blackouts, they are rare and generally caused by inflexible fossil fuel generators being unable to cope with sudden demand spikes in heatwaves which, ironically, are increasing due to climate change. In any case, the government and mainstream media have sold the NEG as a compromise balancing the important priority of addressing the fake energy crisis against the preservation of the planet we all depend on.

The NEG requires a certain amount of “dispatchable” energy to be ready to go at any time, and before this week it included an emissions criterion ostensibly consistent with Australia’s useless target under the Paris Agreement, 26% below 2005 by 2030. In reality, the government’s own modeling shows the NEG is intended to lock in no change from 2021-2030:

Source: https://www.facebook.com/ActOnClimateVic/photos/a.182534635547269/462349474232449/?type=3&theater

The NEG is not only worse than nothing as a climate policy, but one might wonder how this lack of change is even supposed to reduce electricity prices. Indeed, leaked modeling showed that most of the projected electricity price reductions would come from the renewable energy installed before 2021 to meet the Renewable Energy Target, in spite of the NEG!

For a moment it looked like this fraud of a policy might pass with the support of Labor, finally delivering the wonderful “stable bipartisan moderate compromise” we’ve had dangled in front of our noses for the past decade, to be opposed only by the Greens and the far-right faction of the government. Fortunately, there has been a revolt from both extremes of politics. The Greens, the renewable energy lobby, and various petitions from the public have successfully persuaded the Labor states to oppose the NEG, while the conservatives within Turnbull’s party have continued to insist it doesn’t go far enough.

During the leadership turmoil this week, Turnbull removed the emissions criterion from the NEG legislation. Now the NEG is aimed entirely at energy reliability and will underwrite new “dispatchable” power plants without regard for their emissions – and “dispatchable” appears to be a codeword for coal. Although Treasurer Scott Morrison claims the tender process will be “technology neutral”, National Party deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said at a recent press conference: “I am not afraid to say the c-word, coal, coal, coal. It’s going to be one of those areas that we are going to invest in.”

But no matter how much Turnbull concedes to even the dirtiest of fossil fuel industries, the right-wing of his party have continued to demand still more concessions. It was in large part climate policy which brought down every Prime Minister who has fallen in the last 11 years, and climate is again a major factor that has brought down Turnbull and elevated Morrison.

What little climate policy remains to be destroyed?

There is not much of a climate policy left for Morrison to destroy. He could take an axe to the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, and withdraw Australia from the Paris climate agreement. Still, the National Energy Guarantee is already designed to stop renewable energy deployment just after 2020.  And the Paris Agreement was a sham anyway, an unforceable piece of paper advertising targets that governments claim they will meet. The Australian government already has no climate policy sufficient to reach the target it signed up to in Paris. In short, Morrison’s administration will be not much different to the direction in which the government was already going.

I do fear the government’s policies will continue to get worse, but I think that would have happened regardless of who was chosen as figurehead. I’m losing count of how many Prime Ministers I’ve seen come and go, but no matter how many times the face changes, I’m yet to see much real political change in Australia or indeed the world. What scares me most is the status quo.

If (and “if” is an important word here because we don’t know what Morrison will be like as PM) the battlelines are between the populist right-wing and the neoliberal capitalist establishment, I’m not particularly on either side and I’m certainly not on the side of the establishment. If anything, the populists might do some good by shaking up the system. Although the populist right is radically opposed to climate action, they are introducing an element of chaos into today’s political landscape, and that instability might eventually create the space for the radical climate action we need. At the very least, as those who openly oppose any climate action get into power, they undermine any false sense of security that governments have the climate crisis under control.

Indeed, by fighting every fraudulent “moderate compromise”, the conservatives have become so needlessly extreme they have undermined the prospect of investment certainty for the fossil fuel industry they are tripping over each other to defend. It is almost comical to watch. No wonder the business lobby has come out swinging against the investment-damaging “instability”. But there can be no political stability until the big problems like climate change are solved, which can only occur against the will of the business lobby.

The political pantomime vs the climate emergency

The current climate policy spectrum is in my opinion best understood as having little to do with actually saving the planet, and a lot more to do with the varying interests of different businesses. At the brown end of the spectrum, the coal industry is losing profitability and increasingly isolated politically, so its cause is increasingly taken up by right-wing populists who claim they can bring back the coal jobs, and climate change denial is taking on a life of its own beyond the corporate propaganda purpose that it once served. It is now in the interests of most businesses, even many fossil fuel businesses, to rhetorically acknowledge climate change, claim to be taking steps to reduce their impact, and support policies which open up new investment opportunities in renewable energy, carbon trading, and the supposedly “low-carbon” natural gas. At the green end of the spectrum, the increasing wealth and power of renewable energy corporations has helped to push reluctant politicians toward moderately better energy policies (though this has largely failed in Australia).

But it is still not in the interests of any business invested in fossil fuels to support a real effort to drastically reduce emissions, which requires phasing out fossil fuel burning. Nor, to a lesser extent, is it truly in the interests of any business – not even the renewable energy ones – because all businesses seek to grow, a goal fundamentally at odds with reducing their environmental footprint. So don’t believe those in the mainstream media who claim that if only the good “left-wing” politicians prevail in Parliament, or if only the “moderates” of “both parties” come together to craft a bipartisan policy, we’ll get an effective climate policy or even a stable “compromise”. In reality, none of the currently powerful political factions will save us, because they represent the institutions that have created and perpetuated the climate crisis (among other crises).

The emissions reduction policies of governments across the supposed political spectrum are falling far short of the actions scientists are calling for with increasing boldness. More and more scientists are coming out and saying we are in a climate emergency. German climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber recently released a paper outlining how a series of amplifying feedbacks could lead to a “hothouse Earth” and calling for governments to halve global emissions each decade. Schellnhuber says in the foreword to a new report by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration:

“Climate change is now reaching the endgame, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences. Therefore, it is all the more important to listen to non-mainstream voices who do understand the issues and are less hesitant to cry wolf. Unfortunately for us, the wolf  may already be in the house.”

Shellnhuber’s Australian coauthor Will Steffen said in an interview:

“The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics…

We need to immediately stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests, and start reforesting them. That means a U-turn in terms of how we operate the world’s economic systems. The only way you’re going to change that is if you actually change value systems, perhaps even changing the way political systems operate and so on. The social scientists in our group have said this really is a fundamental change in human societies we need to have if we’re going to solve this problem…

Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None. That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new. Second, you need to have a rapid phase-out plan for existing fossil fuels…

[We need] a completely different view of economics, going away from viewing the natural world as resources to viewing it as an essential piece of our life support system that needs to be maintained and enhanced. I think you simply have to go right back to the fundamental science of who we are, the planet we evolved into, how that planet operates and what’s happening to it, and that will tell you immediately that so-called neoliberal economics is radically wrong in terms of how it views the rest of the world.”

All in all, my opinion is pretty much summed up by the following cartoon from First Dog on the Moon, to which I will give the final word:

Bendigo Climate Drawdown Summit

Date: Thursday 22-February 2018
Time: 7pm – 9pm

The international Drawdown organisation is a group of qualified and experienced researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.

See you there.

Place: Ulumbarra Theatre, Gaol Road, Bendigo
General Admission: $32.65
Concession: $22.45

Grab your tickets today!
http://bit.ly/2DhBZgj

 

 

The Paris Agreement was a sham anyway

Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement has been condemned by a surprisingly united chorus of political and corporate elites. The mainstream media narrative is that the world was progressing toward solving climate change, and now only Trump is standing in the way.

But this narrative doesn’t make sense. Why are the condemnations of Trump’s withdrawal coming even from those who have spent decades lobbying against climate action, such as ExxonMobil and the Australian government? If the Paris Agreement was really so great for the climate, wouldn’t they be totally supportive of Trump?

In one way Trump is better than all the other elites condemning him: his policy is honest. I mean, his claims that the Paris Agreement will harm Americans and his past claims that global warming is a hoax are either dishonest or misguided, after we’ve just experienced three record hot years in a row despite a cold sun. Yet he is honest that he does not care to address the threat; that his policy is to let the world burn. The others profess to believe in climate change, but are failing to adequately address it – because what they’re not telling you is that the Paris Agreement was never much to write home about.

Read on for the top 10 problems with the Paris Agreement. Continue reading

Australian election: say no to the polluting major parties

It’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for another election. It’s clear that neither of the major parties will act in the public interest. Still, it’s the one time in three years when we get a say about the future of our country, so here’s how I’ll be voting and you should too.

The most pressing issue facing Australia and the world is human-caused global warming. In 2015, atmospheric CO2 reached 400 ppm, the highest level in around 15 million years, and global temperature exceeded 1°C above preindustrial, around the warmest in 10,000 years. 2016 is on track to be even hotter, with February hitting a record-smashing 1.95°C above preindustrial. Coral reefs around the world are dying, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The rate at which human activity is changing the Earth’s climate is without precedent since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. We are already experiencing increasing extreme weather costing human lives and record-drought-driven war in Syria. Worse, we are already passing several tipping points which will amplify carbon emissions and warming, and flood island nations and agricultural river deltas.

An increasing number of the world’s top climate experts are warning we are in a climate emergency. 24 prominent Australians have called for emergency climate action, including scientists, business leaders, a former defence department secretary, and a former chair of the Australian Coal Association. (You can add your name to the petition here.) The statement read: Continue reading

Will Turnbull act on climate?

As I write this, it looks like Malcolm Turnbull may replace Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister tonight. (Update: Turnbull is now PM!)

Abbott has spent his two years in government doing everything he can to dismantle every climate change policy, and most recently was caught on tape joking about rising sea levels with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. On the other hand, at least Abbott is an obvious enemy of the climate – with him in charge, it’s obvious nothing is being done.

Turnbull may be the most popular politician in Australia. Almost everybody I speak to seems to adore him. Whenever his name crops up in political news and commentary, he’s usually presented in a positive light. Most importantly, he is perceived as a rare green Liberal. He is now much more popular than when he previously led the Liberal Party in 2009, probably because the circumstances in which he lost the leadership made him look like a sort of green martyr. So when I tell people I am distrustful of him, they are astounded. Surely Turnbull would be far preferable to Abbott?

In the past Turnbull has painted himself as a champion of the climate, and for years many in the climate movement have dreamt of him becoming Prime Minister. Yet today, he said he will hold the party line on climate policy mechanisms and targets (and also on same-sex marriage, his other major point of difference with Abbott). He described Abbott’s climate policy as “very well designed, a very, very good piece of work”. In today’s press conference announcing his leadership challenge, he made not one mention of climate. Not one. Rather he talked of “economic leadership”, “economic confidence that business needs”, and free trade agreements – the buzzwords of those who oppose climate action.

Let’s look systematically at the various incarnations of Turnbull that have existed over the years and the various positions he has taken on climate. Which if any of them is “the real Malcolm”? Is he really any different from Abbott? And if Turnbull plans to change climate policy despite his denials, what kind of changes might he make?

Continue reading

Are we approaching peak stupidity?

You’ve heard about peak oil, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Increasingly concerns are being raised about the sustainability of the most important resource keeping fossil fuel industries alive: stupidity.

As environmentalist Comm. N. Sense explains: “the fossil fuel lobby relies on stupidity to keep the public electing the politicians who are allowing them to expand their mines and exports. But like any non-renewable resource, stupidity is bound to run out sooner or later. I believe the relentless increase in stupidity production we are currently observing is creating a stupidity bubble that could burst at any time. When the bubble bursts, society will wake up to the urgent threat of climate change and act at emergency speed to phase out fossil fuels.”

This would be a devastating development for the mining industry. How else might society be impacted when stupidity production peaks?

“The world as we know it will come to an end,” explained Idi O’See, an expert with a BS in stupidity. “Most people don’t realize how much we use stupidity in our everyday lives. For example, after peak stupidity the media will no longer be able to devote so much coverage to sports and celebrity news. People will stop going to church, and sales of many luxury goods could plummet. Voters will turn away from the traditional political parties and elect candidates with new ideas.”

Economists warn that climate change impacts will make it progressively harder to extract stupidity: “Just like coal mines can be put out of action by fires and floods, these extreme weather events also threaten to create at least a temporary reduction in stupidity. The mining lobby has to work ever harder after such events to return stupidity production to prior levels.” Continue reading