A simple idea for the emission targets

Bill Shorten has restarted the debate on emissions targets immediately before the United Nations conference in Paris.

The debate about emissions targets is always couched in percentage terms which makes it easy for the opponents of any form of reduction to argue that Australia’s emissions are amongst the lowest in the world in absolute terms so were not really  a large part of the problem. However, our emission rates are amongst the highest on a per capita basis.

So here’s an idea.

Each nation needs to provide carbon sinks at least equal to their emission rates. In addition, each nation will be allowed credit for an area of ocean (which absorbs carbon dioxide) equal to its landmass.


This will set equitable goals for carbon reduction rather than simply insisting that people produce by 45% by 2030 etc.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to do the sums.

Getting agreement may be more difficult. China and America are going have to accept a large amount of the responsibility for controlling climate change.

But this system allows a measurement that will circumvent many of the arguments of the climate deniers, particularly in Australia.

It’s probably not going to cut much ice with Trump administration in the US, but have come get into the White House, logic and reason will go out the door.





A touch of realism enters the climate debate

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Friday confirmed Labor is seeking a 45 per cent reduction in dangerous emissions by 2030, contingent on consultation with industry and the community, saying proof of global warming is irrefutable and the government’s policies are “pathetic” and an “expensive joke”.

It’s good that Shorten is at last looking at reductions in emissions that are and increase on the woefully inadequate target set by the Turnbull government .


 Bill Shorten is thinking about climate change but not hard enough

 The definition of the problem is quite simple.

 If we wish to stop global warming at its current level, then we need to make the rate at which carbon dioxide  and methane are emitted equal to the rate at which they are absorbed by the oceans and forests.

 If we want to improve matters, then the rate of emission needs to be less than the rate of absorption.

 It can be explained very simply in this stock/flow diagram.

To maintain the status quo:

 Carbon into the atmosphere = Carbon out of the atmosphere

 To improve things:

Carbon into the atmosphere < Carbon out of the atmosphere

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My modelling of the need for reductions in emissions is on my blog: Dummies’ guide to climate change and Dummies’ Guide to Climate Change (ii): Deforestation and the Carbon Sink

The modelling demonstrates that:

Clearly, we are not getting the required 80% reduction in emissions starting in 2014 but this does illustrate the magnitude and seriousness of the problem and certainly that the 5% target by 2020 will be woefully inadequate.

The other approach to the problem is to increase the capability of the land sinks to absorb CO2  namely, a 20% increase in total global forestation. 

This does not have as great an impact as cutting emissions but under the combined scenarios of carbon reduction and absorption capability increase, total CO2 in the atmosphere is finally declining. To achieve this we must have an 80% reduction in emissions starting in 2014 and at 20% increase in forestation, also starting in 2014.

So far the response to the labour proposal has been predictable.

The Australian reports Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin as saying:“At the moment, Australia is contributing a greater economic loss than other countries with the 26-28 per cent target. To be going further out in front is not good policy.”

We should stop being so concerned about the cost of dealing with problem of rising sea levels and drastically altered climate patterns and start talking about the cost of not doing anything or doing too little.


The vast proportion of Australia’s population live in the coastal areas. Rising sea levels will be a problem for everyone, not just the Gold Coast.

The Beautiful but rather implausible Lie

The ABC’s The Beautiful Lie has now completed its season to almost universal claim from the professional critics.

Yvonne Griggs writes in The Conversation

Is the new ABC miniseries The Beautiful Lie, the latest screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877), as good as the book?

In short, the answer is yes.

High praise indeed.

Here is what others think of Anna Karenina.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared it “flawless as a work of art.” His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired “the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style,” and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as “the best ever written.” The novel remains popular, as demonstrated by a 2007 poll of 125 contemporary authors in Time, which declared that Anna Karenina is the “greatest novel ever written.” (Wiki)

Is The Beautiful Lie really that good?  Probably not.

Any recreation of a work in a different medium needs to be able to stand on its own merits. Inevitably, there will be changes from the original, particularly when you endeavour to reduce an 800 page novel to a six-hour television series.

But while cinematic adaptations must stand on their own merits, viewers who have read the original will inevitably make comparisons.

In my case, I have not read Anna Karenina, so I come to The Beautiful Lie  with nothing but a general knowledge of the story. Unfortunately, this means knowing the ending, so all the shots of Anna standing thoughtfully beside train lines tended to be a bit heavy-handed.

There were a number of elements of the series that were implausible and ultimately they make The Beautiful Lie  less than successful.

Why were Xander and Anna cast as tennis players?  One explanation is that they are the Australian equivalent of  Russian nobility. Not really, the position that international tennis stars occupy In Australian society and the standards by which they are judged are far different from those of the upper reaches of the landed nobility in 19c Russia.

But there is nothing about their status as tennis players that adds to the plot or to their characters. Their tennis playing ability seemed to be completely irrelevant to the rest of their lives.

They could just as easily have been diplomats, politicians or better still members of the upper-middle-class super-rich, think the Murdochs, the Packers and Australia’s own answer to Dallas, the Rinehart family.


Bianca Rinehart  as a role model for Anna?

Roger Corser’s Xander doesn’t look like a tennis player (think Federer, Nadal, Djokovic.) Corser is more your rugby league type.


And Sarah Snook as Anna Ivin looks nothing like a tennis player. She has nothing of the hard, lean look of Navratilova, Graf or Margaret Court. She certainly has none of the inner strength that makes a tennis champion.

tennis player.jpeg

That’s not a tennis player, this is a tennis player

In the fallout from her breakup with Xander, Anna is denied access to the family home, the family money and her child. This might have happened in 19th century Russia, but it doesn’t happen in 21st-century Australia.  As a general rule, the mother is given custody.  So why did she simply accept the Kasper would be living with this father and she would be denied access?

It’s a detail. But given that a significant part of Anna’s deterioration is caused by her separation from, and rejection by, her son, it’s a detail that should have been dealt with in a more convincing and realistic way.

And then she winds up pregnant. There is nothing in the script to indicate that she and Skeet wish to start a family and, given Kasper’s age, she’s clearly been able to avoid becoming pregnant for at least six or seven years. So why now?

Once the baby has arrived, it has no dramatic impact whatsoever, apart from being carted about in a carry-cot.

And herein lies the problem. Anna’s pregnancy is in the original. But social conditions and mores have changed in the last 200 years and this is Australia, not Russia  so the response of Anna’s social class to her infidelity will be markedly different in these two different societies. This makes it very difficult to translate a story across 200 years when social  and cultural standards have changed so much.

But, depending on your point of view, the greatest plausibility is a relationship between Anna and Skeet.

One view is that the attraction they both feel for each other, triggered by a chance meeting in the airport and intensified at Kitty’s engagement party, sets in motion a grand passion with catastrophic and tragic consequences.

The other view is that the attraction between Anna and Skeet and their later relationship stretches the credulity of the viewer. To begin with, they are so different and appeared to have nothing much in common, apart from a physical attraction to each other.  But even that appears to be somewhat one-sided.

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 Anna and Skeet at Kitty’s engagement party

In the novel, Anna and Vronski belong to the same social class, they are both aristocrats and bound by the moral  and social standards of that class.  There is none of this dynamic in the relation between Anna and Skeet.  There is some family tension surfaces when Anna gatecrashes Dolly and Nick’s wedding.  But beyond this, this important element of the growing distance between Anna and Vronski is missing from The Beautiful Lie.

In fact, throughout the relationship, Skeet appears strangely distant from Anna.

anna and Skeet.jpeg

The scene where Anna and Kasper are together while Skeet is trying to record some music and the scene in the kitchen when Anna finds the musicians having breakfast must surely have made her think that she and Skeet were so dissimilar that the relationship could not possibly survive.

Because of this imbalance in the nature of the relationship, we never get the impression that this is a grand passion against all the odds but rather  that it was simply not a very good idea.

At the core of The Beautiful Lie are the two relationships that Anna has with two men in life, Skeet and Xander.  Her relationship with Skeet is flawed by inconsistencies and implausibilities that ultimately make The Beautiful Lie a good, but not great  Australian production.

Defeating ISIS: some suggestions

The accepted wisdom at present is that more sending troops into Syria to fight against ISIS would be counter-productive.  The experience of almost every invasion since the Second World War bears out this proposition.

The French have decided to increase the bombing of ISIS positions but this has the effect of increasing civilian casualties as ISIS is well entrenched amongst the civilian population. In fact, the RAAF will often not bomb positions where there is a likelihood of civilian casualties.

Any increased military intervention is inevitably going to cause  increased civilian casualties.

The total number of civilian casualties is staggering.

This chart shows range of estimates from human rights organisations for the time period 2011-2015.

Source Civilian deaths
United Nations 220,000
Syrian Network for Human Rights 215,454
Center for Documentation of Violations 143,153
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 395,000

It would seem obvious that one way to stop the civilian deaths is to stop the fighting rather than to increase it by sending in more troops or more aeroplanes.

One highly effective way of limiting ISIS military capability would be to cut off the flow of funds that enables them to purchase arms.

A good proportion of the funding of the ISIS’ military capability comes from the sale of oil and the French have begun to step up their raids against oil installations.


But why wasn’t this done earlier? It seems like such an obvious way of limiting ISIS.

Could it be that there are some vested interests in the supply of oil from this region?

Another tactic could be to limit the supply of arms to ISIS. It beggars belief that the Western allies do not know who is supplying arms to ISIS. It also beggars belief that they do not know who is manufacturing those arms.

Surely the Western allies can bring pressure to bear on both parties, suppliers and manufacturers, to severely limit the military ability of ISIS.

this is where the hard work of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Middle East will begin.

There needs to be an honest and open confrontation with the vested interests, arms manufacturers and the purchases of cheap oil, to ensure that we move away from this humanitarian disaster.

Turnbull slaps Abbott down

In his first national security interest to Federal Parliament Malcolm Turnbull said

“We should grieve and we should be angry, but we must not let grief or anger cloud our judgment.

“Our response must be as clear-eyed and strategic as it is determined. This is not a time for gestures or machismo. Calm, clinical, professional, effective – that’s how we defeat this menace.”

It was a statement that pointedly distanced him from the rhetoric of his discredited predecessor Tony Abbott.

It’s a marked departure from Abbott’s florid rhetoric of “ISIS is coming for all Australians.”

It must be galling for Abbott to have to sit on the backbench and endure this kind of attack. But no matter how galling for Abbott, it’s offset by the many Australians who think he had it coming.

It must be even more galling for the playground bully to have no right of reply to what the Prime Minister said.


Tony Abbott hopes for a message from above

Abbott and his minions (Abetz and Andrews) seem intent on demonstrating their political irrelevance.


Kevin Andrews struggled for credibility as Defence Minister. Why should we be listening to him now he is a backbencher?

The longer they continue to pursue the international policy directions from the previous administration, the more it appears obvious that Australia was heading in the wrong direction under Tony Abbott.

There is a case to be argued that this is not Australia’s war and that our participation in the conflict in the Middle East is the largest factor in making us a target for terrorist attacks.

Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull will put that case soon.





Scott Morrison really isn’t a very good treasurer

In his column in The Age, Ross Gittings writes

Morrison hadn’t been in the job long before he began repeating a line Hockey had belatedly stopped repeating that, with the budget, “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”.

He then asks

Why would any treasurer in his right mind say such a patently stupid thing? Because he’s allowing ideological preference to override the plain facts.

Actually there is another answer, well two answers, given the question.

The first is that he is stupid.

The second is that he is not a very good treasurer.

He is the last a long line of less than inspiring incumbents: Joe Hockey, Wayne Swan, and before them Peter Costello. (Chris Bowen not included as he only spent three months in the job). We then go back to Ralph Willis and John Dawkins.


An uninspiring lot: Hockey, Swan, Costello, Willis, Morrison and Dawkins

It is probably a commentary on how little effect the Federal Treasurer has on the economy when you think the economy did fairly well during the tenure of the six men.

But it would be nice to have a treasurer who knows what he’s doing.

Don’t Reclaim anything for me, Thanks

Over the weekend, The Age published this photograph from the demonstrations at Melton.

Wintons favourites.jpeg

This man is one of a number of the members of the anti-Islamic group Reclaim Australia who attended the demonstration wearing a mask to hide his identity.

In using the Australian flag as his mask, he wishes to give the impression that the views of his organisation are somehow representative of the views of the people who recognise the national flag, namely all Australians.

He’s wrong to wear the flag in this context.


Sometimes wearing the Australian flag on public works. 

And he is most certainly wrong to delude himself that his views represent those of the majority of Australians.



A Middle Eastern solution without recognition of a Kurdish homeland will not succeed

One of the central tenets of Chaos Theory is that systems, social political military organisational, demonstrate “sensitivity to initial conditions”.It’s also known as the Butterfly Effect coined by Philip Merilees who wrote Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?


What this means is that if you wish to intervene in systems that are highly unstable, small changes or differences, at the very beginning of your intervention can lead to wildly different results.

In terms of an intervention in the Middle East, this means that any given form of intervention (boots on the ground, peacekeeping troops, diplomatic negotiations) is likely to have highly unpredictable outcomes simply based on the time when the intervention begins.

In practical terms, chaos theory says that in a situation like the Middle East it is almost impossible to be certain, beyond a set of generalities, what the outcome of any intervention is likely to be.

No one would have forecast that the Western allies invasion of a Iraq would have produced a highly militarised ISIS.

There has been increasing talk after the Paris bombings of a diplomatic and pragmatic solution to the problem the civil war being waged by  the Syrian government. This is certainly an improvement on Donald Trump’ssolution of “bombing the shit out of them.”

There seems to be a growing consensus that the solution to the Syrian situation would not include President Bashar al-Assad. Yet, chaos theory would tell us that replacing Assad would be unlikely to produce the desired outcome of bring peace. Replacing the man at the top will produce changes but they are likely to be very difficult to predict and highly unstable.

Simply replacing Assad is unlikely to change the political and military power of the people who are backing him


If Assad is removed, the army elite is likely to replace him with someone of very similar political views.

If you replace the whole power elite,  it will be very difficult to predict, and much more difficult to control, the political factions that fill the vacuum.

And there is one other element that no one is talking about: the  US funded and armed Kurdish Peshmerga.


For the Kurdish Peshmerga, the war in Syria  is part of a decades long struggle for independence. Finding a political solution in Syria will be of little avail if the Kurds  are not granted an autonomous homeland.

And they’re not going to be easily satisfied.


They are going to want parts of Turkey, Syria Iraq and Iran and quite large parts of that. Failure to recognise Kurdish sovereignty over these areas will make the problem of the caliphate insignificant. ISIS is currently exercising political and military control over significant amounts of territory in Syria but nothing like the territory that is controlled and populated by the Kurds.

And the Kurds will rightly feel that they deserve some recognition and reward for being the most effective fighting force in the battle against ISIS.

It’s a difficult problem and one where simple solutions, such as a regime change in Syria, are not likely to be the answer.


From the men who would lead the free world

It’s been a bad week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In the light of the Paris attacks, candidates have joined in a ferocious race to the bottom in their sickening vitriol against the Syrian refugees.

Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon who is coming second to Trump in national polls joined in on Thursday chose a simple course into the discussion, likening Syrian refugees to dogs.

“If there’s a rabid dog running around your neighbourhood you’re probably not gonna assume something good about that dog,” he said.

 Presidential candidate Ben Carson completely fails to understand the plight of Syrian refugees.

And from the Trumpster  “I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration,” he told an audience in New Hampshire. “If I win, they’re going back. They’re going back. I’m telling you. They’re going back.”


 If elected, Trump will send the Mexicans back to Mexico and the Syrians back to Syria. And that’s just for starters.

 The candidates also had some views on bringing peace to the Middle East

Trump said in a speech last weekend his plan was to, “Bomb the shit out of them.”

Carson said in an interview he would forge a coalition of American allies in the region, but given three opportunities he could not name a single one.

The political and military situation in the Middle East is complicated and complex beyond belief. It will require political and diplomatic skills beyond anything seen so far to bring any measure of peace and stability to the area.

In spite of this the world is being treated to the unedifying spectacle of two men who would be president demonstrating that they have absolutely no grasp of the nature of the situation and are prepared to pander to the worst elements of US society in their bid to gain the Republican nomination.

If elected, either of these men would have within their power the ability to wreck carnage on the Middle East beyond anything that ISIS is capable of.

It’s a frightening thought.

J M W Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire

Perhaps one of J M W Turner’s most famous paintings is The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up

The painting hangs in the National Gallery, London, having been bequeathed to the nation by the artist in 1851. In 2005 it was voted the nation’s favourite painting in a poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, the ship went into action immediately astern of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. During the battle Temeraire came to the rescue of the beleaguered Victory, and fought and captured two French ships, winning public renown in Britain.

TurnerThe Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up.jpg

The symbolism of the painting is obvious. The sun is setting on  a glorious chapter of English naval history. Steam driven vessels are replacing sail and here one of the iconic battleships is being towed the wrecking yard by a fairly grubby little tug boat.

The tugboat and the Temeraire form one of the major structural elements of the painting. The battleship already a ghost, is linked to the dirty brown tugboat by the plume of smoke coming from its smokestack and by a sailing ship that the two vessels are moving past.


At the top of the painting, this image is framed by a patch of blue sky in the background and the reddish-brown reflection of the sunset on the river.

At the bottom, the fiery sunset bleeds into the dark browns that fill the water around the two ships.

The fiery red sunset modulates into a cloud which hangs over the Temeraire in much the same way as the smoke from the smokestack does, but it’s purer and cleaner and tonally related to the hues. of the ghostly battleship.

Like most of Turner’s sunsets, the one is like no sunset you will ever see. It is part of Turner’s genius to turn even the most glorious of scenes into a work of art.

In the sky, directly above the setting sun, hangs the spirit of the Temeraire, trailing clouds of glory.


The painting has immense emotional impact. The might and beauty of the sunset dominates the painting which is suffused with a sense of loss. The ghostly grandeur of the battleship dwarfs the stocky utilitarian tugboat.


The painting is also typical of many of Turner’s major works with its major theme of the overwhelming power and beauty of nature.