Chimp with Camera

CARBON PRICE: Congratulations to Australia for the July Ist implementation of the Carbon and Mineral taxes.  Both issues have cost the careers and credibility of several political leaders in Australia already, and (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the PM. The Opposition, temporarily silenced by our extraordinary annual growth rate of 4.3%, has been campaigning against it and frightening people for years now.  It is actually a carbon price, not a tax, and will transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 3 years.  It only applies to our top 300 emitters, and has inbuilt and quite generous compensations. The Opposition have promised to rescind both taxes if elected to office next year (which unfortunately seems likely), but hopefully this will be very difficult. They have an alternative “Direct Action” policy on carbon which no-one seems to take seriously.  It is admittedly a very complex subject to fully understand and is an example of an issue that requires real leadership and education.  It should have bi-partisan support as in the UK and New Zealand.  Even if one does not believe in climate change, who can deny that our water and air are unacceptably polluted and that we have to look for alternatives to our 95% dependence on fossil fuels.

Apparently 85% of the businesses likely to be most effected by the new carbon tax have already acted to decrease their emissions, so it is already having an effect, and they accept that the carbon tax is here to stay. Unfortunately the Opposition’s threat to unwind the tax is creating investment uncertainty. The carbon price is $23 per tonne – which is in the middle compared to a lower price in Europe, and higher in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. A reasonably high price is needed to encourage the transition from coal to renewables.

The Opposition (and miners) have said that these taxes will force businesses to invest elsewhere. The Shell company however, still thinks Australia is a “good place to invest” and will spend $30 billion dollars here over the next five years. The company advocates a price for carbon based on market mechanism, and have costed in a price of $40 per tonne.

Electricity prices have risen 55% in my State over the last 3 years, apparently because of the cost of  building “lines and poles” that I understand the government reimburses the energy companies for.  The network seems very expensively structured just to be able to handle the few and obvious peak consumer demands. While the new tax and the government will be blamed for our already high electricity prices which are anticipated to rise 9%, the most vulnerable people in the community will be compensated. Already households are becoming much more energy conscious, and the demand is already lower.

Energy accounts for 70% of greenhouse gases and a great deal more money needs to be spent on research into alternatives and renewable energies – while “carbon capture” at this stage remains a remote dream. Australia is exporting $44 billion dollars worth of coal this year!

Pup and tail

JAMES LOVELOCK: Interestingly, James Lovelock, the 92 year old scientist, futurist, and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism), has surprised environmentalists by his long support for the use of nuclear energy and hatred of wind power.  He has now come out in favour of fracking for extracting natural gas as it produces much less CO2 than burning coal.  He thinks most renewable energy schemes are hopelessly “inefficient and unpleasant”, and that sustainable development is “meaningless drivel”. He envisages a future where we live in megacities. He gives Singapore (one of my least favourite cities) as an example of a very successful city which was built in a humid and inhospitable climate on a swamp. “It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world”.

It is hard to support nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima.  Apparently the supports for the pool containing the spent fuel rods in Nuclear Reactor 4 are very badly damaged, and is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. Radiation levels in fish have been picked up as far away as the US coast, destroying marine life – and livelihoods, for decades to come.  TEPCO have deceived the Japanese public from the start and are to be sued for many billions of dollars in compensation.  I feel hypocritical  however as Australia supplies 16% of the world’s uranium.

elephant and boy

RIO+20: One wonders if summits or events like this and the failure rate, only build public cynicism.  Only 4 of 70 “targets” from the last Rio Summit 20 years ago were met.  Meetings on the sidelines were probably more useful and people are recommending abandoning attempts to get governments to agree, and to take different approaches such as persuading financial institutions to change how they invest money, like the UN- backed Principles for Responsible Investment.

MARINE PARKS: Australia has proposed a giant network of marine parks –the world’s largest marine protection area, which still leaves 2/3rds of our oceans for fishing, recreation etc. Oceans are the life-support system of the planet. Naturally this proposal is contentious and illuminates a philosophical difference between the political Left and Right (a divide that seems to be widening rapidly). The conservatives seem to see the environment as a resource for them to utilise, consume and yes, enjoy, while the Left lean more towards treading lightly on the earth, and derive pleasure in long-term conservation and protection.

SHOOTERS: The newish conservative NSW State government has done a shady deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in 79 National Parks and reserves. This is supposedly an important “conservation” initiative against feral animals, although experts say this is ridiculous, indeed counterproductive.  One of the MPs from this party Robert Borsak goes hunting in Zimbabwe to proudly shoot elephants, also as part of a “conservation” program. His fellow MP Robert Brown, in a debate over this issue in Parliament, said to a Green MP it was a pity he couldn’t take him outside and “beat him to death”.

Cat and man window

THE WORLD: The ongoing Global Financial Crisis seems to deepen and some commentators are saying it is the end- game of an economic and financial model, and the end of an era that began with the free market forces espoused by Thatcher and Reagan.  It seems to be now finally recognised that “growth”,  not just “austerity” has to be a crucial element in any recovery. In the absence so far of any new or innovative approaches to this grave crisis potentially engulfing us all, I did read of a proposal for a Global Rescue “Marshall” Plan (American assistance to Europe after WW2) that everyone would contribute to.  There also now seems to be acceptance that the banks have to evolve as soon as possible towards a single European banking supervision system.

While the US is carrying huge debt, good news is that there is some positive movement in the housing sector, and that the economy is “gaining some momentum”. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for the health-care win in the Supreme Court, and that this result will spread coverage to 30 million Americans presently without insurance.

MIDDLE EAST: It is now called a civil war in SYRIA, and defections from the Syrian army seem to be increasing. Violence is escalating and 16,000 Syrians have died in the last 15 months. Given the Russian and Chinese intransigence there is now talk of Assad leaving the country under immunity, or “political transition”.  Others are questioning the present“veto” option of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and think a “majority vote” would be preferable. We should not forget how the UN was just ignored (and weakened) by the US and UK in their enthusiasm to invade Iraq so disastrously. In LIBYA, while the oil is flowing, groups of heavily-armed militias have a sense of entitlement and are taking control from authorities, and there is very little existing social or political infrastructure to build on post-Gaddafi. Congratulations to EGYPT for their first democratically elected President, although no-one seems to know just what powers the Generals will allow him – and no outcry from the Americans over this or the dissolving of the elected parliament. The Israelis are nervous about the threat to revisit the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, and the Americans will no doubt use  their continued annual funding of $1.5 billion to secretly bargain in their own interests.

Chimp and Lion

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Yet another boat has sunk en route to Australia with at least 92 drowned, with other boats still arriving.  Both the major parties have played politics on this – one determined to cling to office, the other determined to throw them out, and unfortunately both are pandering to Australian racial prejudices and lack of compassion.  Some appalled back-benchers of both parties initiated meetings with each other, but Parliament has concluded for the winter recess without a solution.  The Greens are opposed to off-shore processing, and this does raise an interesting and very difficult question.  Should one stick to one’s principles or be prepared to compromise in the short term – in this instance to save lives? Again it should be an issue for good leadership and bi-partisanship. Australia actually receives a very small percentage of asylum seekers. We take 3%, while the US take 17%, France 12%, Germany 10%, and Canada 6%. The number one country of origin at the moment is Afghanistan and these people are demonised when they try to reach Australia, although we are fighting the same “enemy” in Afghanistan.

THE INTERVENTION:  While we were all diverted by the asylum seeker crisis, or watching Wimbledon, the Senate in the dead of night shamefully passed a 10 year extension to the highly-criticised Intervention in Aboriginal communities. Of course THIS issue has bi-partisan support, and the government did not even allow a Parliamentary Committee to subject the laws to a human rights test.  The Labor Party do test my patience and support to the absolute limit, but the alternatives, in my opinion, are much worse!

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: As you have probably gathered the SMH is my favourite paper and I am often quoting from it. It is under threat. They have lost their fabled “rivers of gold” classified advertisements which have mostly moved online and earn much less. One has to suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s splitting of News Corp into Print and Entertainment companies may be a protection against the repercussions of the UK phone hacking scandal. In Australia he owns 70% of the print media, so many of us rely on the mostly good and objective reporting of the Sydney Morning Herald, or The Age in Melbourne.  However, Gina Rinehart now nearly the richest person in the world has bought 18.7% of the Fairfax company that owns the SMH and has no compunction in throwing her considerable weight around. The company has not been well run, but Gina has far Right political views and a determination to defeat the elected government, a view that seems to be shared by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.  The issue has raised very interesting questions about editorial influence, media controls, and the life expectancy of printed papers versus online readership where already 75% of  SMH readers have moved. My 90 year old mother is furious and not sure she can make the transition to Apps and iPads –  not that I have!

50% of people now get their news through social media and I fear news will be reduced to tweets!

Chimp and bird

CENSUS: Australia’s 2011 census figures have been released. There are now 21.5 million Australians with 548,370 identifying as Aboriginal. Our average age expectancy is for men 76 (Aboriginal men 67.2), and women 84 (Aboriginal women 72.9).  Mandarin has now replacing Italian as the second most used language at home. While Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, “No religion” replaces Protestantism as the second “religion”, behind Catholicism, although their numbers are dropping.  This is hardly surprising with the appalling scandals emanating from the Vatican with accusations of drug money laundering, death threats and their failure to address child abuse by clergy.

JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not sure how he envisaged getting from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and to the airport without arrest  for breaking his parole conditions, even if Ecuador offer him asylum.  He is ignoring the recent “Surrender Notice”.  I would agree that the US Grand Jury most probably has a sealed indictment against him. Apparently poor Bradley Manning has been trying not to implicate Julian over the information he provided to WikiLeaks, and he has virtually sacrificed his life, possibly naively, in the interests of freedom of information. Bradley has been psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, and the US are most likely hoping to make a deal with him to then move on Julian. Apparently the US cannot attempt to extradite him from the UK because the Swedish case takes precedent, as may a “bid for asylum” over “extradition”.  See Julian Assange’s interview with President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa here.

The Australian Government seems to be just going through the motions of pretending to care for Assange.  He says he has not seen any Australian consular staff since December 2010 – and just gets the occasional text message: “can we do anything for Mr. Assange?” A friend, a little miffed on behalf of the people that have lost their bail surety asks “what exactly is Julian expecting the Australian consular staff to do?”

dolphin

MISC STATS: There is now LESS social mobility in the UK, and LESS economic mobility in the US where 2 million people are in jail; the Indian economy is slowing; 5 million children smoke in Indonesia; in Australia, 58% think Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy (the Queen looked as if she nearly enjoyed her Jubilee – I’ve got nothing against her personally); 3% of our top ASX 200 companies have female executives and there is only a 14% female representation on boards; there is an obesity epidemic (Nauru 1st, USA 9th, Australia 21st), and we are fast catching up. All our well known billionaires are huge – Rhinehart, Packer, Palmer, Forrest, and Tinkler – is this indicative of  their rapacious appetites and attitude to life and our environment?

While 1 billion people live in poverty, the world produces twice as much food as we need.

MAIL: Thanks to Elaine for these photographs (above) and to the photographers concerned, and Jade my Ecuadorian correspondent. Thanks to Deb for the amazing images she sends me too. Several people commented on Ricky Gervais saying in the lead into the BBC interview about Christian (May blog), that animals were not there for our amusement.  He was in the studio to promote his latest program Life’s Too Short –  and I don’t think dwarves are there for our amusement either. For the record, I have never found him funny.

An installation by English artist Philip Beesley titled 'Sibyl'. Photo: AFP

An installation by English artist Philip Beesley titled ‘Sibyl’. Photo: AFP

BIENNALE: The 18th of  Biennale of Sydney has opened (above) and is spread around the city in various venues with artists from all over the world – until September 16th.


     

Powerful Owl (ninox strenua) Photograph by Gary Heery

    

ENDANGERED:  It is the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity, and this arresting image of a Powerful Owl by one of Australia’s best photographers Gary Heery, illustrated a recent article on endangered animals and  birds in the Sydney region. In the 200 years since colonisation we have recorded the biggest biodiversity decline of any continent. A recent report, Into Oblivion: The disappearing native mammals of northern Australia, says populations have dropped by an average of 75%! Causes include different fire patterns post Aboriginal dispossession, feral cats, and the destructive spread of the introduced cane toads.    

CARBON PRICE:  It took everone by surprise when the CEO of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, unexpectedly warned that Australia should “look beyond coal” and towards other energy sources, and acknowledged the likelihood, and necessity, of a global price on carbon, and that we will be disadvantaged if we don’t act quickly. This coming from the business end of town is a “game changer” as they say. These comments and the “agreement” with the Greens, have galvanised the government to suddenly be more proactive on this issue, after going to the election saying they would not be putting a price on carbon in this term of parliament. This disappointed many people who probably then voted Green. Apparently 32 countries have already made considerable effort towards the setting and reaching of emission targets, and, importantly, even India and China have expressed the intention to act.    

Australia’s energy sector produces just more than half of Australia’s emissions and 90% of carbon emissions from our electricity sector come from coal-fired power stations. It was alarming to read that the World Bank is spending billions of dollars to build new coal-fired power stations. Our new Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd was at the United Nations recently criticising them for not keeping their promises, and urging them to work more effectively. Corruption and inertia are among other charges made against the UN over the years, which really needs brave and imaginative leadership if they are to provide concerted global action on issues such as climate change. 
 
STATISTIC:  73 million sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup, particularly in Asia, making them endangered. My old joke is I haven’t been in the water since I saw Jaws, and although I live near beautiful beaches, I just won’t swim. I don’t want them to be extinct however!
 
TONY THE TIGER: It has been so gratifying that many of you – or at least enough of you, signed the petition for Tony The Tiger for me to receive thanks on our behalf from Dee DeSantis leading this campaign. Tony could go to an accredited big cat sanctuary if the owner allowed him to, and I have asked her how we could keep up the pressure apart from adding more signatures.  
 
You may also want to sign this petition to support banning exotic animal circuses, and see other online petitions. 
Animals Australia—the voice for animals
Ban Exotic Animal Circuses from Ku-Ring-Gai Council

Please sign this petition to help reinstate the ban.   

Ban Exotic Animal Circuses from Ku-Ring-Gai Council   

Other Petitions 

READING: I loved The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. She is a great story teller and the book was a preparation for me visiting Darjeeling next month – although I’m certainly hoping not to encounter any “insurgencies”. I’m looking forward to reading Hugh Mackay’s What Makes Us Tick; The 10 desires that drive us (Hachette). Apparently we long for “peace of mind”, but are energised by change. The busiest person in the world, environmentalist Tim Flannery has also written another book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text Publishing).  From a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald September 2010, I think he is optimistically suggesting that should we act soon, and in total unison globally, humans could manage the ecological and environmental challenges.   

    

Chanee Brule of 'Good Morning Kalimantan'

    

WILDLIFE MEN: Malcolm Douglas, who was one of the first to make wildlife documentaries in Australia (in the 1970s), died in an accident this week.  Like many others, including George Adamson, he was a hunter turned conservationist.  He was followed in Australia by Les Hiddens, the “Bush Tucker Man” and then Steve Irwin.  I haven’t been following the indomitable Bindi Irwin’s no doubt brilliant career.  But fortunately, except for “Bear” Grylls, there seems to be a new generation emerging of sophisticated animal and wildlife people not throwing themselves at crocodiles especially.  These include television’s ‘Bondi Vet’, handsome Chris Brown, and Chanee Brule in  ‘Good Morning Kalimantan’ on ABC 2.  Personable French born Chanee really loves  animals, especially gibbons, and he saves animals and their threatened habitats.  Many  listeners to his radio program ring him about animals in need of rescue, and he has an island sanctuary upriver for their recovery and rehabilitation, prior to release.  See Chanee’s Kalaweit Project  for further information.  Even the very sophisticated Stephen Fry has made a wildlife documentary Last Chance to See, coming to television here shortly.      

    

Australia Day, 2010 by Nicholas May - On a hot 35 degree Australia Day, people flocked to Ben Buckler rocks to cool down.

      

SYDNEY LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY PRIZE: With Sandy Edwards (photographer and curator) and Robert McFarlane (photographer, critic, blogger, http://www.ozphotoreview.blogspot.com/),  I judged the Sydney Life Photography Prize.  Months ago, we had the very difficult task of selecting 22 out of 500 entries.  There were many good photographs, and Sydney is so photogenic.  We chose Nicholas May’s Australia Day 2010 as the winner as it was a marvellous photograph, was so Australian, and had very interesting ambiguities and resonances.  The photographs are hung as large banners in Hyde Park, Sydney until 24th October, as part of the City of Sydney’s Art & About festival, and other entries can be viewed at http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/artandabout/.  

    

The Twins by Ian Darling - Alan and John are well known identities of Sydney's streets, and have spent much of their lives living rough together.

 
 
VISIT: OPRAH is to visit Australia  and do a show in the  Sydney Opera House in December. When we appeared on her program last year, we took her presents of Aboriginal art books, and I am very much hoping she connects with Aboriginal people and their art when she is here.
  
DON’T MISS:  The Open Weekend (2,3 & 4 October 2010) at the Art Gallery of NSW, a fascinating program celebrating Aboriginal Art and Culture. See http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/open-weekend/ .
These events are part of art & soul, a 3 part television documentary series on Aboriginal art, an exhibition and a publication, and for an interview with the presenter, curator and writer Hetti Perkins, see the SMH article.

       

Bondi Beach Local by Paris Spellson - Udo takes off in his tinny at North Bondi. He is part of the local fishing club.