In our editorial this month, Peter Whiting contrasts the growing profile between government spending on physical infrastructure and initiatives on social infrastructure. None of this commentary is meant to suggest that, as a community, we do not need and will not benefit from the major transport infrastructure programs proposed by Federal and State governments to address the needs of a growing population. It is meant rather to challenge our governments to adopt that same long-term investment philosophy in addressing what are systemic social problems in our community. If we have not lost our senses (and our hearts), then surely a visionary, considered, and properly funded plan of long-term social infrastructure spending would also result in considerable electoral approbation of those political parties who deliver it. We need more than ‘liveable’ cities. For those otherwise on the margins of society, we need to ensure we provide ‘liveable’ lives!
Our new prime minister, Scott Morrison, will likely be haunted by the photo of him wielding a lump of coal in parliament to taunt the Opposition: “This is coal – don’t be afraid; don’t be scared.”. But Bruce Duncan writes that “this is truly a Faustian bargain, with the promise of astonishing riches dragging the world into environmental devastation and climate disaster. Pope Francis and other religious, scientific, and civil authorities are warning of ‘catastrophic’ consequences. “Already, extreme weather events are increasing in number and severity, breaking records from Africa to Tokyo. Europe and much of the northern hemisphere have experienced exceptional heat and drought, and even in Australia, the fire season has pushed back two months earlier into winter, raising concern about the approaching summer in such a long dry period.”
Earth scientist Andrew Glikson reports on a key paper, Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Science on 6 August, by a group of 17 climate and environment scientists warning about the future of life on Earth. These observations are consistent with those of Professor James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist, who stated (2012): “Burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet from the one humanity knows. The palaeoclimate record and ongoing climate change make it clear that the climate system would be pushed beyond tipping points, setting in motion irreversible changes, including ice sheet disintegration with a continually adjusting shoreline, extermination of a substantial fraction of species on the planet, and increasingly devastating regional climate extremes”.
Henry Reynolds University of Tasmania
Throughout the 18th century, the American colonial governments negotiated treaties with Native Americans, and this practice was carried on by the American republic after independence from Britain. In Canada, treaty-making continued until the early 20th century, and has resumed in recent years. The underlying assumption was that indigenous peoples were landowners, and also that they held a form of sovereignty. The British decision to depart from this path in the settlement of New South Wales had disastrous consequences for the Australians, and predetermined much of the violence that characterised the outward spread of settlement for more than a century. The British imperial government carries a heavy burden of responsibility for the horrors that unfolded.
Prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs laments that many governments are not doing enough to prevent the severest consequences of global warming, even though “the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, and the Paris climate agreement in December 2015. Yet, once again, the US government has wilfully ignored the SDGs, ranking last among the G20 countries in terms of government implementation efforts. And President Donald Trump has declared his intention to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement at the earliest possible moment, in 2020, four years after the accord entered into force”. “Worse is to come. The human-caused rise in CO2 hasn’t yet reached its full warming effect, owing to the considerable lag in its impact on ocean temperatures. There is still another 0.5º Celsius or so of warming to occur over coming decades, based on the current concentration of CO2 (408 parts per million) in the atmosphere, and far more warming beyond that if CO2concentrations continue to soar with the business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels. To achieve the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting warming to “well below 2ºC” relative to the pre-industrial level, the world needs to shift decisively by around 2050 from coal, oil, and gas to renewable energy, and from deforestation to reforestation and restoration of degraded lands. “So why does humanity keep plunging dumbly ahead, toward certain tragedy?”
First Confession: A sort of memoir by Chris Patten
Reviewed by Bill Frilay
As the last Governor of Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997, Patten obviously faced a very challenging time. He did his best to encourage democracy there (not without opposition) – ironic, given that, in its long colonial government, Britain had not encouraged this (he blames this, at least latterly, on British commercial interests). There is much discussion here on the politics and culture of Asia. When he returned to the UK, he had another role in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland, in which he worked during the 1980s, was a tragic country. But it was very different when he returned, and he gives credit inter alia to Blair and Bertie Ahern, and noted with pleasure the great changes they and others had wrought. Then followed five years as a European Commissioner with the EU. He considers Brexit a disaster, blaming the “blazers” (Tories) in rural England as playing a crucial role in this close decision. He writes with some regret on this, and, similarly but separately, with some concerns on Trump’s USA, but with ultimate hope. He also advised the Government on the visit to the UK of Pope Benedict, and has been an adviser to the Vatican, as well as Chairman of the BBC Trust. As if that were not enough, Chris Patten is now Chancellor of Oxford University.
SPC Selected Video