September 21, 2012

The Conversation

Green Army: Communications

Stranded Coal

John Quiggin: Professor of Economics, University of Queensland

[Thermal] coal prices [have declined] over the past four years, from US$140 per tonne to US$70.
At this price, most new coal projects are uneconomic, and many existing mines are not covering their extraction, transport and shipping costs. …
If low prices are sustained, investments in these projects will be lost.

Mines with lower production costs, say US$40 a tonne, will stay in business.
[However, the rate of return at US$40] per tonne of coal, which would have been US$100 four years ago, has now fallen to US$30.
So while the price of coal has fallen by half, the value of the coal reserves has fallen (in this example) by 70%. …

The G8 (the predecessor of the G20) committed to an ambitious [Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)] program in 2008, proposing at least 19 projects by 2020. …
[So far,] only a single large-scale CCS plant is in operation, and many projects have been cancelled or suspended. …

{[There] is no large-scale sequestration technology available for the foreseeable future.}
[And even if there was, CSIRO has estimated that CCS] involves the loss of as much as 30% of the energy generated. …
A 30% reduction on current coal prices would render even the most easily extracted resources almost worthless.

(The strengthening economic case for fossil fuel divestment, 30 November 2014)

A Great Big New Tax on Everything

Neil Perry: Research Lecturer, University of Western Sydney

The government predicts a 10% increase in electricity prices from the carbon tax which adds $3.30 per week on average to household electricity bills.
Food and beverage prices have been estimated to rise by around $1 per week while the CPI increase is about 0.7% in the coming twelve months after which the effect of the carbon price on price increases virtually disappears.

These figures pale in comparison to the higher household electricity bills, food prices and CPI due to higher network charges.
And of course the government has not compensated households for these increases as they will for low-income earners dealing with the effects of the carbon price.

(Carbon Pricing: A minor shock compared to recent electricity price increases, 5 June 2012.)

Yes, Prime Minister

John Keane: Professor of Politics, University of Sydney

[Tony Blair recounts] his discovery that a pack of top journalists … had been left stranded at a London underground station clogged with New Year’s Eve revellers [on the last night of the millennium. …]
Tony Blair:
Please, please, dear God … please tell me you didn’t have the media coming here by tube from Stratford just like ordinary members of the public.

Charlie Falconer:
Well, we thought it would be more democratic that way.

Tony Blair:
What fool thought that?
They’re the media, for Christ’s sake.
They write about the people, they don’t want to be treated like them.

Charlie Falconer:
Well, what did you want us to do, get them all a stretch limo?

Tony Blair:
Yes, Charlie, with the boy or girl of their choice and as much champagne as they can drink. …

Deterring People Smugglers

Sharon Pickering: Professor of Criminology, Monash University

[From a criminological perspective] the idea that an illicit market, such as people smuggling, can be dealt with through enforcement-related strategies and broad deterrent messages has serious limitations.
Historically, the most effective approaches to reducing illicit markets have been found through regulatory measures and harm minimisation approaches, not deterrence.
There is simply not enough evidence that deterrence works to justify the expense and potential harm of its implementation. …

Deterring irregular border crossings does not necessarily decrease border related deaths.
Evidence suggests in some contexts deterrence can simply displace deaths to another site, or changes the demographics of who dies. …

Rich Man, Poor Man

Mike Pottenger: Lecturer, Statistics & Political Economy, University of Melbourne

Our data (above) showed that BHP CEO earnings fell from around 40 to 50 times average Australian earnings in 1900 to as low as 6 to 7 times average earnings in the late 1970s before rising in to 50 to 100 times the average Australian earnings when measuring just salary and bonuses in the last decade (and 150 to 250 times average earnings when including long-term incentives such as share options). …

Comparisons with data on the top five non-executive directors of Australia’s top 100 companies and with data on average CEO remuneration across Australia’s top 100 companies showed broadly similar trends. …

While BHP executive pay tracks the company’s share price and market capitalisation reasonably closely, the rise in remuneration preceded the boom, and grows almost 7% per annum faster than the mining sector’s gross value added.

(Exec pay in Australia — do the rich get richer?, 26 June 2013)

Would you like to know more?


The War on Science

Stranded Coal

The Nocebo Hypothesis

Media and Reality

Media and Democracy

Irregular Maritime Arrivals: Punishment as Deterrence

The Conversation

The Conversation

  • The state of the nation starts in your street, 2 February 2017.
    Hugh Mackay (1938): Social Researcher.
  • Whose views skew the news? Media chiefs ready to vote out Labor, while reporters lean left, 13 May 2013.
    Folker Hanusch: Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of the Sunshine Coast.
  • New study: wind turbine syndrome is spread by scaremongers, 15 March 2013.
    Simon Chapman: Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney.

    [Researchers] at the University of Auckland [have] published an experimental study showing that people primed by watching online information about health problems from wind turbines, reported more symptoms after being exposed to recorded infrasound or to sham (fake) infrasound.

    [The] nocebo hypothesis [proposes] that anxiety and fear about wind turbines being spread about by anti-wind farm groups, will cause some people hearing this scary stuff to get those symptoms. …

    Australia’s first wind farm, which still operates today, started generating power in 1993 at Esperance in Western Australia.
    Twenty years on, our 49 wind farms have seen 1471 turbines turning for a cumulative total of 328 years.

    [Since] 2009, we’ve heard a lot about health complaints involving wind turbines, thanks to the efforts of groups such as the Waubra Foundation (none of whose directors live in or near the Victorian town of Waubra) and the interconnected Landscape Guardians.
    And, just as the nocebo hypothesis would predict … 82% of complainants made their first complaint after [2009.]

    There are some 32,677 people living within 5km of these 49 wind farms … and just 120 — or one in 272 — of them have ever made formal complaints, appeared in news reports or sent complaining submissions to government.
    Moreover, 81 (68%) of these are people living near just five wind farms, each of which have been heavily targeted by wind farm opponent groups. …

    The first [claim] that wind turbines could cause health problems [was made in] 2003, when a British GP wrote an unpublished report about just 36 people scattered around the UK who all said the turbines made them ill.

    A Victorian country GP followed this up with an even smaller study in 2004, where after dropping 25 questionnaires to people living near the local turbines, eight reported problems like sleep difficulties, stress and dizziness.
    [In] any community, regardless of the presence or absence of wind turbines,
    • about a quarter to a third will have sleep problems,
    • nearly half will have had a headache in the last week, and
    • nearly one in six will have felt dizzy.

    Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis.

    Simon Chapman, Alexis St George, Karen Waller and Vince Cakic, Prepress, University of Sydney, 14 March 2013.



    All (n=51) Australian wind farms (with 1634 turbines) operating from 1993–2012.


    Records of complaints about noise or health obtained from wind farm companies regarding residents living near 51 Australian wind farms, expressed as proportions of estimated populations residing within 5km of wind farms, and corroborated with complaints in submissions to 3 government public enquiries and news media records and court affidavits.


    33/51 (64.7%) of Australian wind farms including 17/34 (50%) with turbine size >1MW have never been subject to noise or health complaints.
    These 33 farms have some 21,592 residents within 5km of their turbines and have operated complaint-free for a cumulative total of 267 years.
    Western Australia and Tasmania have seen no complaints.

    Only 131 individuals across Australia representing approximately 1 in 250 residents living within 5km of wind farms appear to have ever complained, with 94 (72%) of these being residents near 6 wind farms which have been targeted by anti wind farm groups.
    About 1 in 87 (126/10901) of those living near turbines >1MW have ever complained.
    The large majority 104/131 (79%) of health and noise complaints commenced after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition.
    In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small turbined wind farms having operated for many years.

    (emphasis added)

  • “Direct Action”: The Coalition’s Voluntary Approach To Environmental Policy.
    Neil Perry: Research Lecturer, University of Western Sydney.
  • Houston panel ignores the evidence on asylum seekers, 14 August 2012.
    Sharon Pickering: Professor of Criminology, Monash University.
    Melissa Phillips: Doctoral Candidate, University of Melbourne.

    [Neither] PNG nor Nauru are transit nations, so their role in responding can only be read as punitive. …
    Offshore processing has been proposed as an interim measure without time limits. …

    The centrepiece [of the report] is that those who arrive … by boat should have “no advantage” over those that do not.
    [Advantage] over whom?
    [Those] in transit countries[?]
    [There] is no co-ordinated, integrated approach to processing people in Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand.
    So this “advantage” is meant to be over rights that actually do not currently exist. …
    [At present, dangerous sea] journey is the only option weighed against the alternative of decades in legal and social limbo …

    [The] blanket restriction of family reunion will, at least in the short to intermediate term, see greater numbers of women and children, or entire family groups, on the move.
    [Women] and children die in far greater proportions in shipwrecks and drowning incidents. …

    With actual timeframes and clear strategies for implementation, the threads identified in the report could well be woven into a new approach for asylum seekers that shifts away from deterrence to prevention of deaths at sea.
    Until then, lives remain at risk.

  • Houston report: hard heads deliver $1 billion asylum seeker plan, 13 August 2012.
    Charis Palmer: Editor.

    Lucy Fiske [Lecturer in Human Rights, Curtin University]:
    The [Houston] report purports to address both immediate domestic concern with boat arrivals … as well as progressing a potential regional framework.
    However, the report [offers no substantive steps] to move forward regional measures [while being] alarmingly clear on deterrence measures which could be implemented immediately with bi-partisan support …
    [This] all but guarantees a resurrection of the [Howard government's] Pacific Solution, a policy framework which [paid] little or no regard to human rights or international law …

    The ‘no advantage principle’, while having [populist] appeal, is punitive pure and simple.

    [Asylum seekers] arriving by boat will be compelled to wait [on] Nauru or Manus for the same length of time a wait elsewhere might entail.
    Where is ‘elsewhere’?
    Approved refugees routinely wait years, even decades in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Iran, Kenya.
    [The] global efforts of the UNHCR are directed at improving processing times not extending them. …

    Rather than contributing to improved regional mechanisms, the ‘no advantage principle’ [serves] to erode Australia’s framework and ensure we offer no better protection than non-signatory neighbours.

    The expert panel appears to have paid little attention to submissions made by legal, health, welfare workers or academics with decades of experience in the field.

    The [report] remains firmly in a ‘border protection’ framework with little attention [given] to human rights, mental health, legal principle or international relations.

  • Uncomfortable truths: busting the top three asylum seeker myths, 24 July 2012.
    Melissa Phillips: Doctoral Candidate, University of Melbourne.
  • There’s no evidence that asylum seeker deterrence policy works, 24 July 2012.
    Sharon Pickering: Professor of Criminology, Monash University; Editor, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology.

    Untested waters

    {[The] relationship between deterrence and IMAs still needs rigorous testing …}
    [Data] show a period in which irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) significantly dropped or stopped [is currently being analysed] by the Border Crossing Observatory …
    Therefore [current] claims made as to the effectiveness of deterrence strategies (Temporary Protection Visas, offshore processing and mandatory detention) are … not based on empirical research. …

    Current policy

    … At best there is mixed evidence regarding the impact of onshore deterrence measures made up of TPVs, offshore processing and immigration detention.

    [Roslyn Richardson] has documented the unexpected ways deterrence messages (regarding TPVs, offshore processing and immigration detention) were consumed and acted upon by asylum seekers.

    [The] incident involving the largest loss of life (SIEV X) occurred after the introduction of offshore processing.
    The demographics of the passengers on the SIEV X have been widely regarded as being driven by the exclusion of family reunification as part of the temporary protection visa program.

    Putting personnel at risk

    … Analysis of the SIEV 36 explosion suggests significant ramifications for customs and the navy for policies which depend on interception at sea.
    Such policies are likely to have serious ramifications for personnel involved …
    {[For example, on] morale and retention of staff, the politicisation of agencies and deterioration of legitimacy both within and outside of the force.}

    [Interception] at sea can lead to heightened tensions [and an] increased risk of harm and loss of life …

    [From a criminological perspective] the idea that an illicit market, such as people smuggling, can be dealt with through enforcement-related strategies and broad deterrent messages has serious limitations.

    Historically, the most effective approaches to reducing illicit markets have been found through regulatory measures and harm minimisation approaches, not deterrence.
    There is simply not enough evidence that deterrence works to justify the expense and potential harm of its implementation.

    Would you like to know more?

  • The Clean Energy Finance Corporation: the purpose and the hypocrisy of industry, 12 April 2012.
    Neil Perry: Research Lecturer, University of Western Sydney.

    [The] Institute for Sustainable Futures found that in 2005/6 subsidies for fossil-fuel based electricity production amounted to $1.2-2 billion while support for renewable energy and energy efficiency was $0.1-0.2 billion.

  • Disinformation, No Information, 3 April 2012.
    Neil Perry: Research Lecturer, University of Western Sydney.
  • The Mineral Resources Rent Tax and The Commons, 27 March 2012.
    Neil Perry: Research Lecturer, University of Western Sydney.
  • The hidden media powers that undermine democracy, Part Fourteen, Media and Democracy, 1 September 2011.
    John Keane: Professor of Politics, University of Sydney.

    Trickery and charm

    [Mediacracy] refers to the tangled webs of back-channel contacts and hidden power relations connecting senior politicians and top journalists, helped along by public relations agencies, lobbyists and other figures of public contrivance. ..

    Mediacracy’s impact on democracy

    What’s needed, for the sake of democracy … are new arguments for open systems of communication and the free flow of different points of view.

    Wise citizens

    [Where] it exists, mediacracy must be broken up, initially through public [inquiries] unafraid of tackling tough questions, such as whether bodies such as press councils should include a popularly elected component as well as representatives of new, independent media platforms, who themselves deserve public funding.

    By enabling the production of communication with spine, democracy is a way of humbling the powerful, rendering them publicly accountable to citizens and their representatives …

  • Warning: your journalism may contain deception, inaccuracies and a hidden agenda, Media and Democracy, 1 September 2011.
    Stephan Lewandowsky: Australian Professorial Fellow, Cognitive Science Laboratories, University of Western Australia.
    Ullrich Ecker: Australian Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Western Australia.

    Professor Stephen Kull has been keeping track of key beliefs among the American public for many years …

    Are all media bad all the time?

    [Daily consumers] of Murdoch-owned Fox News were … were least likely to be connected to reality. …
    [By contrast,] daily listeners [of Public Radio] were typically the best-informed people across a number of studies spanning nearly a decade. …

    [In 2009] The Australian's Editor-in-Chief, Chris Mitchell [was presented with] the "JN Pierce Award for Media Excellence for leading the newspaper’s coverage of climate change policy" … by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.
    {[The Australian] has recently vowed to … destroy the Greens at the ballot box.}

    When science meets agenda

    Recent research at the University of Queensland found that among Australian politicians, the percentage whose views on climate are influenced by scientists … ranges from 44% to 98% across parties.

    The party at the bottom, which in its majority rejects science, is the Liberal party.
    The party that nearly exclusively prefers peer-reviewed science … is the Greens.

  • You’ve been framed: six new ways to understand climate change, 5 July 2011.
    Mike Hulme: Professor of Climate Change, School of Environmental Science, University of East Anglia.

  • Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community, Part One, Clearing up the Climate Debate, 14 June 2011.
    Megan Clement: Editor.
  • New media player: The Conversation, Science Show, ABC Radio National, 9 April 2011.
    Andrew Jaspan, Megan Clement and Paul Dalgano.

    So we then introduced the idea to the group of eight universities [including Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of Western Australia and RMIT University] which [are] responsible for 70% of all research in Australia.
    Then we went to the CSIRO who also enthusiastically came on board to support us.
    And since then the University Technology Sydney also came on board …

    So as a result we've now got the bulk of the big research institutions in Australia supporting us, and obviously their staff, their academics are able to write for us on complex issues.

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