19 April, 2014

A Memorandum for My Sisters

Economic Growth/Poverty and Disease/The Environment

I have long been impressed by Dorothy Rowe's statement that our psychological state of mind is the result of how we see the world and how we see our place in that world.
Our recent exchange on the global warming controversy revealed starkly to me how dismally you both view the world and this concerns me as it must be quite depressing. I think that your view is wrong and I would like to cheer you up! Let me spell out how I see it.

One of my favourite books is Mat Ridley's The Rational Optimist. Gail and I heard him speak at the Opera House a few years ago and I loved his opening- "I am here to cheer you up". I also love the US economist Julian Simon's encapsulation-

"This is my long-run forecast in brief:

The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards.

I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse." (Julian Simon 1932-98).

You may well be thinking that I am mixing up my concern for the human race with the environment, but as I will try to demonstrate they are inextricably linked.

Let's start with my favourite graph (click/tap to enlarge it)



It is irrefutable that globalisation, open markets and freer trade have lead to these huge improvements, notwithstanding the massive population increases. It is an extraordinary achievement.

Don't under estimate the ingenuity of man. Progress is best in South East Asia, China and India, and, at last, there is also progress in Africa. The improvement in poverty numbers (decline) is running five years ahead of the objectives in the Millennium Goals.

As people are lifted out of poverty much greater emphasis is given to education, particularly of women.

Population growth is greatest in the poorest countries. History shows that as standards of living improve, population growth slows and eventually goes negative. Advanced countries like Australia would have negative population growth if it were not for immigration. Latest forecasts are for world population to peak in mid century at about $9.5bn and thereafter decline.

As standards of living improve and survival becomes less challenging, people demand improvements in air and water quality and start dealing with sustainability issues. You only have to recognise the significant environmental improvements in the developed world for evidence of this.

So, in summary, if you care about the environment you need to take a global perspective and first focus on economic growth and the welfare of people. Rather than wasting billions on futile attempts to change the climate and doing negative things that weaken economies, we should simply adapt and place our emphasis on trade, research and development and education with the aim of ridding the world of disease and poverty. The environmental benefits will follow.

Meanwhile rather than lamenting the state of the world we should celebrate its progress and thank God that we were born where we were and do everything we can to support those ideas and organisations which work towards creating 'heaven on earth'. Cheer-up!!

David Boyd

05.04.14

17 April, 2014

Endarkenment

I am looking forward to this one
"Humans have never had it so good. We are wealthier, happier and more comfortable than any previous generation thanks to the march of science and technology.
So why have we become so gloomy about the modern world and so pessimistic about the future? Why have we convinced ourselves that earth’s bounty is about to run out and why have we lost faith in the capacity of mankind to find solutions to our problems?
Join spiked Editor Brendan O’Neill in his final Australian event for 2014, and journalist and author of The Lucky Culture Nick Cater as they discuss what happened to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Spirit of Progress that created the modern world. How might they be allowed to flourish once more?"

07 April, 2014

On A Lighter Note

For the uninitiated, there actually is a place called Come-By Chance. It is north west of Coonamble between Pilliga and Walgett. Just 'up the road' from one of Clyde's former flagship properties-"Wingadee".
One of my favourite Banjo Patterson poems tells you all about it. If you read nothing else, go to the last verse.

As I pondered very weary o'er a volume long and dreary -
For the plot was void of interest - 'twas the Postal Guide, in fact,
There I learnt the true location, distance, size, and population
Of each township, town, and village in the radius of the Act.
And I learnt that Puckawidgee stands beside the Murrumbidgee,
And that Booleroi and Bumble get their letters twice a year,
Also that the post inspector, when he visited Collector,
Closed the office up instanter, and re-opened Dungalear.
But my languid mood forsook me, when I found a name that took me,
Quite by chance I came across it - 'Come-by-Chance' was what I read;
No location was assigned it, not a thing to help one find it,
Just an N which stood for northward, and the rest was all unsaid.
I shall leave my home, and forthward wander stoutly to the northward
Till I come by chance across it, and I'll straightway settle down,
For there can't be any hurry, nor the slightest cause for worry
Where the telegraph don't reach you nor the railways run to town.
And one's letters and exchanges come by chance across the ranges,
Where a wiry young Australian leads a pack-horse once a week,
And the good news grows by keeping, and you're spared the pain of weeping
Over bad news when the mailman drops the letters in the creek.
But I fear, and more's the pity, that there's really no such city,
For there's not a man can find it of the shrewdest folk I know,
'Come-by-chance', be sure it never means a land of fierce endeavour,
It is just the careless country where the dreamers only go.
. . . . .
Though we work and toil and hustle in our life of haste and bustle,
All that makes our life worth living comes unstriven for and free;
Man may weary and importune, but the fickle goddess Fortune
Deals him out his pain or pleasure, careless what his worth may be.
All the happy times entrancing, days of sport and nights of dancing,
Moonlit rides and stolen kisses, pouting lips and loving glance:
When you think of these be certain you have looked behind the curtain,
You have had the luck to linger just a while in 'Come-by-chance'.

04 April, 2014

Climate Change and Global Warming-In Brief

QUOTE OF NOTE: From Emeritus Professor Les Woodcock, a former NASA scientist, reported in the Yorkshire Post, commenting on climate change and global warming. “The term ‘climate change’ is meaningless. The Earth’s climate has been changing since time immemorial, that is since the Earth was formed 1,000 million years ago. The theory of ‘man-made climate change’ is an unsubstantiated hypothesis [about] our climate.
“The theory is that the CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuel is the ‘greenhouse gas’ causes ‘global warming’ - in fact, water is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and there is 20 time more of it in our atmosphere (around one per cent of the atmosphere) whereas CO2 is only 0.04 per cent.
“There is no reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years.“Anecdotal evidence doesn’t mean anything in science, its not significant.
“Events can happen with frequencies on all time scales in the physics of a chaotic system such as the weather. Any point on lowland can flood up to a certain level on all time scales from one month to millions of years and its completely unpredictable beyond around five days.
“The reason records seem to be being frequently broken is simply because we only started keeping them about 100 years ago. There will always be some record broken somewhere when we have another natural fluctuation in weather.
“Carbon dioxide has been made out to be some kind of toxic gas but the truth is it’s the gas of life. We breath it out, plants breath it in. The green lobby has created a do-good industry and it becomes a way of life, like a religion."

02 April, 2014

Water Storage and Irrigation

An article written by Craig Simmons, professor of hydrogeology at Flinders University and director, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training,prompted me to endeavour to collect my thoughts on irrigation and water storage in the contemporary political climate. It follows.
"A very interesting article. There is no doubt that IF we could store water just beneath the surface (need to avoid excessive pumping costs when extracting) and thus avoid evaporation losses, the yield in recoverable water terms would be much better. The articles reference to loosing about half the quantity of stored water is, based on my experience in hot climates with relatively shallow storages, on the money. This assumes the water is stored for 12 months. But, lots of factors come into the equation i.e. length of time stored, depth of storage (ratio of surface area to quantity), time of year, wind, etc.

I have often speculated that if we could use mining technology to create a sealed underground (but not too far underground) cavity in which we could store large quantities of water it would be very valuable.

Let me try and give you my general reasoning:-
  • The key characteristic of inland Australia is variability. We have a "feast or famine" regime and the spread around our river flow averages is so great that averages are almost meaningless.
  • Our big events are massive and our dry periods are horrendous! My best example is the Darling at Bourke. It has an average annual flow of 2,500 GL. With a maximum of 12,000 GL and a minimum of zero (no flow whatever for 12 months). In any discussion on the subject it is variability that is central.
  • It seems to me to make abundant common sense to "take the top" off big events and save them for the inevitable dry periods ahead. A very small percentage (1 or 2%) of a big event can amount to a big volume of water. But, evaporation is the enemy.
  • Some argue that evaporation is a natural phenomenon and we should accept it. I retort that 70% of the earth surface is covered by (salty)oceans and surely that is enough for cloud formation. Look at the size of the big weather systems that sweep across Australia. By comparison, the piddling amount of evaporation of valuable fresh water from our  storages would really have negligible impact on rainfall.
  • In most circumstances an inefficient (in evaporation terms) storage is better than no storage, because of what you can do with what's left. Our two most inefficient storages in the Murray Darling Basin are Lake Alexandrina (Lower Lakes) and the Menindee Lakes. (In the Lower Lakes case there is now no need for these to always be maintained with fresh water.Evaporation is huge and there is no productive use to be made from what is left over. Irrigators around the Lakes now have piped fresh water from upstream and water for Adelaide (and other irrigators and many northern S.A. towns) is also extracted from the Murray well upstream).
  • It seems to me that we struggle to understand ground water. (Why it's not called "underground" water, I know not). There are relatively shallow aquifers which appear to more or less follow the river courses and which are an important source of water for many irrigators. There are also quite large areas like the Liverpool Plains which have relatively shallow water below the surface. Extraction of this water, like that from rivers/dams is tightly controlled.
  • Then there is the deep (minimum of around 700 metres) Great Artesian Basin (G.A.B.). This water is generally not usable for irrigation due to its mineral content, but has been a blessing for livestock and non-drinking human use.This water comes to the surface under pressure and can be very hot. There is considerable evidence that we have been profligate with its use. The Government scheme to encourage "capping and piping" artesian bores is demonstrating that we can rebuild flows and pressures by only taking what is needed rather than having open flowing bores.
  • There is speculation as to the original source of this artesian water. Most seem to believe it originated in the North Queensland tropical Great Dividing Range, others believe it comes from New Guinea. The problem with ground water generally is that we can't see it and there remains much uncertainty as to its source and path.
  • Returning to surface water, it is no coincidence that most of our major dams are in higher rainfall hilly areas where valleys provide the ideal terrain for dams. There are still suitable sites for additional dams. Note that the Clarence River (on average) pours 5,000Gl into the ocean annually and a diversion of 20% of this, providing it is diverted at the right time (big events), could make a huge increase in the Darling catchment without harming the North coast environment.
  • For my fellow "economic rationalists", note the price irrigators were prepared to pay for the recent Gwydir allocations released by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH). Capital expenditure on water infrastructure generally has a long life and could be written off over a long time period with water users paying the amortisation (and maintenance) costs.
  • The article refers to Australia's recognised expertise in water management. This reputation has suffered considerably as a consequence of the Commonwealth takeover of water management in the Murray Darling Basin. The need to draw on international environmental agreements resulted in an unbalanced plan and the preparedness to throw $10bn at the problem has resulted in a political "dog fight" rather than proper resource management in the national interest. The fact that management of the Snowy Scheme in the important headwaters of the Murray and Murrumbidgee and the management of the Lower Lakes at the bottom of the system were not even addressed in the planning process, bears testament to this assertion.
For further background see this post also. 
David Boyd
02.04.14

11 March, 2014

States All Sign 0n To Murray Darling Basin Plan

Amidst the celebratory publicity of all the States finally signing on to the MDB Plan this beautifully expressed knowledgeable letter introduces a cautionary reminder of the flaws in the Plan and the extraordinary incompleteness of the planning process. Fancy having a plan which expressly excluded any consideration of the role of the Snowy Mountains Scheme at the headwaters of the southern basin in the planning process.

Furthermore, the planning process excluded any proper consideration of the role of the Barrages and the use of salt water in managing the Lower Lakes at the bottom of the Basin. In other words, amidst all of the political maneuverings which have been a feature of the planning process two of the most important issues were ignored.

19 February, 2014

Heaven on Earth


I am grateful to a newly ordained Deacon at our local Church for acting as a catalyst in preaching a sermon in a series on big current issues, dubbed "Should We Welcome All Refugees?" This prompted me to collect my thoughts on the issue and to try to justify them in Christian terms.

The Deacon's line reflected a Christian attitude of pure  goodness of heart in true Good Samaritan spirit. It boiled down to advocating a policy of open borders for all refugees. However, in my view, such a policy would never get off the ground in a democracy like Australia and any government promoting it would quickly find itself out of office.There is little point in advocating an impractical policy which will simply never happen.

My position can be summarised as follows:-
>Australia is quite rightly regarded as a highly desirable place to live. There are literally millions of people who would pass the refugee test, who would like to live here.
>As former Prime Minister, John Howard discovered with his unscripted, spontaneous, 2001 election campaign comment "we should decide who comes to this country and the terms under which they come", has great resonance with Australian voters. And it makes sense. 
>We need to control the flow of refugees if we are to maintain Australian living standards and ensure adequate infrastructure for an ever growing population. Just what the annual intake should be is a legitimate debatable issue. We should be selective (skill wise) and generous with numbers. By world standards we already are.
>Any level of control will lead to the need to establish priorities. Should we give priority to people who have spent years in refugee camps awaiting legitimate "front door" entry or desperate people who can afford to pay people smugglers substantial moneys to secure "back door" entry? To my mind the answer is self evident.
>There is a line in the Australian Anglican Prayer Book which runs "share with justice the resources of the Earth". This strikes a chord with me, albeit with heavy caveats with just how one goes about it. History has many lessons about the need to recognise self interest motivation and the failure of central planning.
>I am greatly encouraged by the number of people (particularly in China) who have been lifted out of disease and poverty in the last quarter century. The world has demonstrated that globalisation and more open markets (trade) can do this and this seems to me to be the best way of sharing global resources.
>We also know that the greatest population growth is in the poorest countries. As poverty and disease are reduced population growth drops. To the point that developed countries like Australia, without immigration, would have declining population.
> I am attracted by the Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) line that rather than spending billions on futile attempts to change the world's climate, we should simply adapt and be putting all of our effort and resources into reducing poverty and disease. In the process we will also put a lid on population growth.
>The logical consequence of this thinking is that, over time, we should do all that we can to improve living conditions in the poorest countries, and as a by-product cap population growth and the flow of refugees from these countries.

Notes
The foregoing has heavy environmental overtones. It infers that I believe population growth is a major problem. It certainly is in the under developed world. 

The world is forecast to have total population in excess of 9bn within fifty years. The fact that we have reduced poverty and disease in the face of the enormous population growth of recent decades speaks volumes for the ingenuity of mankind, manifested particularly in agricultural science. (Distribution seems to be a bigger challenge than production). 

It seems to put a lie to the claim that we have caused massive environmental damage, at least in food production resource terms.

There seems to be a quiet confidence that this will continue and the percentage of people and the absolute numbers in poverty will continue to drop, notwithstanding ongoing population growth. Is there some sort of resource limit which cannot be overcome by science? Perhaps not.
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes-

"This is my long-run forecast in brief:

The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards.

I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse." (Julian Simon 1932-98).