Peter Ridd and the climate science deniers – group think, anyone?

In some ways, the way the climate science denial community and the conservative echo chamber has rallied around Professor Peter Ridd is impressive.

In other ways, it is entirely predictable given the James Cook University academic is serving up two of their favourite dishes in one serving- a supposed fight for “freedom of speech” against the establishment, and a rejection of the science linking human activity to climate change and, in this case in particular, the Great Barrier Reef.

The story starts in mid-2016 when, through the pages of The Australian,  Ridd was making what I considered to dubious claims about alleged misuse of pictures of the Great Barrier Reef. JCU issued a censure against Ridd.

Since then, Ridd has continued to claim that fellow JCU scientists should not be trusted, leading to allegations of serious misconduct from JCU that Ridd had repeatedly breached their code of conduct . Ridd hit back and filed a case against them. It’s ongoing.

All the usual suspects have had a run at Ridd’s story.  The Daily Caller, FoxNews, Andrew Bolt (lots of times), The Australian’s Graham Lloyd (lots of times) James Delingpole in Breitbart, Alan Jones (loads), Rowan Dean, and so on. Continue reading “Peter Ridd and the climate science deniers – group think, anyone?”

The Anthropocene – a special Brisbane Writers Festival podcast edition

Panelists at the brisbane Writers festival discuss the anthropocene
Panelists at the Brisbane Writers Festival discuss the anthropocene

Will it be the sudden emergence in rock strata of layers of chicken bones, the well dispersed deposits of plastic or the leftovers from nuclear bomb tests?

It could be all of these things, and more, that scientists will use to mark the beginning of a new geological epoch made entirely by humans.

Personally, I’d offer up the leaf-blower. Continue reading “The Anthropocene – a special Brisbane Writers Festival podcast edition”

A response to “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm in Virginia. Credit: cheeseslave, CC BY 2.0

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a story for DeSmog reporting on self-described “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin’s views about climate change and how he thought it might not be caused by humans.

There’s been quite a reaction to the story, mainly through Facebook discussions sparked by Salatin himself and by others who are part of what you might broadly describe as the sustainable farming movement (this is an entirely imperfect term though, given the diversity of thought among the great many people looking for alternative ways to grow healthy food in a way that has less impact on the environment).

I’ve been accused by one Australian figure, Tammi Jonas, the interim president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, of writing an “unproductive and divisive” article that was “pure click bait ‘gotcha’ rubbish.” More on that in a bit.

Salatin penned a long response on his Polyface farms Facebook page that was liked almost 3000 times and shared 1000 times more.

So I thought I should go over some of the responses and clear a few things up. First, some background. Continue reading “A response to “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin”

Great Barrier Beer – when three planets align

James Grugeon and me, with a Great Barrier Beer. You should have one.
James Grugeon and me, with a Great Barrier Beer. You should have one.

Sometimes you feel like all your planets have suddenly aligned — like the cogs of chaos have finally locked themselves into place to give you a bit of purchase on life’s unsealed road.

This seems like an overly loquacious and ornate start to this post, but screw it. I’m having an attack of enthusiasm.

Anyway, a few weeks back I was invited to a Mexican place called Zambreros for a mini-launch of a beverage called Great Barrier Beer.

This is where the aligning of the planets took place. And when I say planets, I actually mean three planets, one of which is beer.

To understand my enthusiasm here, I should explain a few things. Continue reading “Great Barrier Beer – when three planets align”

Were historical pictures of reef degradation really misused, as The Australian newspaper claimed?

Coral death at Lizard island after the 2016 mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef: Credit XL Catlin Seaview Survey
Coral death at Lizard island after the 2016 mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef: Credit XL Catlin Seaview Survey

The Australian published a convoluted story this weekend about the Great Barrier Reef and the claims of a scientist over some old pictures.

Remembering for a minute the reef has just gone through its worst bleaching event on record leading to the death of a quarter of the corals – a huge and historic deal that will impact the reef for the rest of our lifetimes.

I’ve written a few stories about that recently – including this piece looking at a recent dodgy editorial in The Australian.

But anyway, over the weekend The Australian published a story about Professor Peter Ridd, of James Cook University, who had apparently been disciplined for criticising colleagues and the the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) for using some old pictures of reef near Stone Island to show how coral cover had declined over time.

According to Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environment editor, Ridd said the pictures – from between 1890 and 2012 – didn’t show for sure the reefs were declining. Scientists needed to be more sceptical, he said.

For kicking up a stink, Ridd was reportedly almost fired.

The Australian also reported that Ridd had sent scientists out to check on the reef in question – valiantly displaying the kind of scientific skepticism that was so lacking in others. Some areas were OK, The Australian said.

But the story seems to me to be built on two supremely flaky arguments. Continue reading “Were historical pictures of reef degradation really misused, as The Australian newspaper claimed?”

Key Coal Mining Lobbyist Explains Why We Can Now Ignore Everything He Says

QRC boss Michael Roche, who according to him, you can ignore

Michael Roche is the executive director of the Queensland Resources Council – the powerful peak lobby group for the state’s coal industry.

Last night he went on the telly to explain a few things about why he thinks the federal government should remove the rights of environment groups in Australia to use the Federal court system to review decisions made under Federal environment laws.

The debate comes out of a case in which the federal court ordered that a decision by the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to approve Indian mining company Adani’s giant Carmichael coal mine should be set aside.

The ruling was on the back of a technicality, as the minister himself conceded. The upshot is that the decision to approve the mine will be delayed a few weeks, rather than be overturned.

Roche appeared on Lateline alongside Jeff Smith, the boss of the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office – the legal group that takes on cases on behalf of conservation groups.

During the debate, ABC host Tony Jones pointed out that “even coal baron Clive Palmer” didn’t agree that the laws should be changed. I just wanted to highlight Roche’s answer, which I thought instructive.

MICHAEL ROCHE: Can I just touch on Mr Palmer? Mr Palmer has a vested interest here. Mr Palmer would see himself as a competitor to Adani in terms of being the first mover in the Galilee Basin. So I set aside Mr Palmer’s comments as self-interest.

So Michael Roche says he can “set aside” Palmer’s view because he has a vested interest.

The last time I checked, the Queensland Resources Council gets something in the order of $13 million in membership fees and income (financial statement for year ending June 2013). QRC’s members include the state’s coal mining powerhouses, including Adani.

So if we take our direction from Roche on who we should and should not listen to, then surely we should all “set aside” the views of the QRC?

How the lobby door spins for Swan’s vested mining interests

THERE’S a revolving door outside state and federal government offices that has been spinning for decades.

Entering the door are former ministers, MPs, senior advisers and public servants with years of experience behind them on the intestine-like inner workings of governments, politics and policy making.

As they exit the door, many become part of the opaque and mostly unreported world of corporate and industry lobbying.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has publicly questioned the power and influence wielded by vested interests in the mining and resources industries.

In his recent essay for The Monthly, Mr Swan chose to name three people in particular – Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forest – as representing this undue power which is shaping public policy for the narrowest of interests.

Vested interests had worked together to undermine climate policy and mining taxation, he wrote.  Australia’s success was in “jeopardy”, vested interests were a “poison” threatening the future prosperity of the “great mass of good hearted Australians”.

Mr Swan picked on a small number of super-rich mining magnates, leaving multi-billion dollar corporations and industries that work equally as hard for their own interests wondering what they’d done to escape the Treasurer’s wrath.

The essay was brave and most likely, in my view, broadly accurate. But it was heavy on the rhetoric and light on solutions.

Mr Swan could have taken the opportunity to call for more transparency and openness in the systems that regulate lobbying and political donations.

He could have supported the calls in the just-closed Senate inquiry into lobbying for stronger oversight of lobbyists.

He did neither.

Yet it is the same industries that Mr Swan is criticising – fossil fuels and resource extraction – that can afford to scoop up the talent from the public service and put them to work in a system that allows them to operate largely unseen.

Continue reading “How the lobby door spins for Swan’s vested mining interests”

Running out of important things?

WE tend not to worry about running out of stuff nowadays.

Since the invention of shops, we’ve become increasingly accustomed – bank balance willing – to being able to pluck pretty much anything from a shelf or storeroom somewhere.

Obviously, you don’t want to run out of particular types of stuff at times when you need them.

Like bread and milk at breakfast time, deodorant on the morning you go for that big interview (especially if it’s at a deodorant company), petrol when you’re miles from a petrol station, coffee at times when you’re awake, toilet roll when you’ve just…. well, you get the idea.

Even if there’s a gap on the shelf where your favourite brand of plastic-encased price-inflated tap water used to be, there’s usually another exorbitantly-priced bottle of water (also available from a tap) to choose from.

But what if we started to run out of really important stuff? Fundamental stuff. And no, I don’t mean Tres Chic Dead Black Eyeliner #65 or Frog-embossed bog roll.

I’m on about food, oil and water. And I’m not talking about a shortage at the corner shop or a petrol pump; if you are about to run out of fuel, you can always buy some in advance, as long as you keep it stored safely in flammable cabinets (like the ones you can find at Storemasta or similar stores online) to prevent any disaster. What I am trying to say is that if there’s a risk that as a planet, our supplies might be in danger of running low in a permanent manner soon.

I looked at these resource crunch issues in a feature for G Magazine on the challenge Australia and the rest of the world faces to secure food, oil and water.

As is always the case in questions about sustainability or environmental degradation, the answers are way more complex than the question.

It’s not so much that we’ll run out of water, but rather there’ll be a lot less clean water for drinking and growing food. It’s not so much that we’ll run out of food, but that food supplies will be less reliable. And we won’t squeeze the last drop of oil from the planet, just the easy to reach and therefore cheap stuff.

Of course, the issue underpinning a lot of this has much less to do with running out of stuff, and a lot more to do with our ability to see and act before the problems hit.

Plenty more sustainable fish in the sea?

CAN I buy some fish please?

BUYING fish is an extremely easy thing to do. All you have to do is ask.

You can get it in a can, it comes battered or breaded in fish shops, filleted, whole or frozen on market stalls and every-which-way in supermarkets.

Granted, there are questions that most consumers will ask themselves. Is it cheap, is it fresh and will it taste good, among the most popular.

But all in all, there is no hunting or gathering involved for the consumer. Buying fish is not rocket science because the commercial fishing industry and retailers have made it so.

But insert one word into your question and you have a whole new kettle of fish.

Can I buy some sustainable fish please?

Now that’s a question that is a gateway to a complex global issue because it prompts lots of other questions. Here are a few of them.

What kind of fish are you buying? This may be obvious, but in fact – in the case of tuna for example – even this can’t be answered with confidence.

Is the species of fish you’re buying plentiful or are stocks dwindling or even endangered? Is the fishery which it came from being sustainably managed or overfished? How was the fish caught?

Again your fish retailer, waiter, or manufacturer is unlikely to be able to answer any or all of these questions clearly yet the impacts of commercial fishing and fishing methods are huge.

Sometimes, for example, only the people on the fishing vessel will know how many turtles, sharks, sea lions, seabirds, dolphins, or any other non-target species – including other fish – were impacted when the fish was pulled from the ocean. The knock-on effects go unnoticed. In other circumstances, if you take the example of organizations that offer grouper Fishing Charter services to tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, they tend to mention the type of fish available during each season. Based on the needs of the tourists, customizations, and rates are set up. This ensures that the more endangered fish species don’t get targeted during the fishing escapade.

As the threat of endangerment is very real, the population density of several species is being monitored so as to regulate and maintain their numbers. However, if you keep a track of appropriate times for such activities, you could go fishing without causing harm to the ecosystem by overfishing. Certain places could be considered hotspots for fishing trips due to the abundance of fish to catch seasonally. These would include countries in the Latin Americas. In places such as Costa Rica, you should not have any problems trying out sport fishing if you’re taking the right help; Los Suenos Costa Rica fishing charters is a good place to start. In addition to fishing adventures, various places within the country where you can enjoy their local cuisine. And if you have got the time, then maybe you could even experience the local sustainable fishing methods.

Similarly, people who are going fishing for fun or as a weekend gateway on their own can plan things in advance. They can try Fishing Calendar by or similar websites to learn about the best time for fishing, types of fish available in nearby lakes, what is easy to catch, etc. In order to catch more fish, it seems equally important to invest in the most appropriate equipment after getting the necessary information about the fish. The most reliable solution to this would be to purchase such equipment from a trusted and reputed online fishing store. Having the right information and appropriate equipment would make it easier for people to catch more fish.

However, if you take the situation of buying fish, even if you choose to buy farmed fish, there are questions to be asked. Is the fish farm out in the open ocean or connected to waterways? What impact is that farming operation has on the water and species living around it?

The reason I’m asking all of these questions is that I’ve tried to address these, and a few more, in a special report in G Magazine. The report appeared in print last November but is now available free online. It’s long but hopefully enlightening.

For a free guide to these issues, you can go to the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s online Sustainable Seafood Guide where you can buy a print version too.

Spinning a yarn on climate action

ORGANISATIONS across the globe spend squizzilions to carefully construct a corporate image which they think customers and clients will warm to.

Business enterprises and industries make use of sustainability software solutions (like the one provided by to improve their ESG performance. Political parties and major international corporations gather focus groups and engage top communications and image consultants to finely craft the corporate ideal and brand association. They’ll do something that gets them more clout as well, such as one of the trending sustainable packaging changes on the Impacked Packaging blog, or some other recent fad regarding environment-friendly use.

Then, when they think they’ve got the image just right, they spend big on advertising and marketing “collateral” to drum the message home. Catchlines and phrases considered particularly catchy are copyrighted, as occasionally are colours.

So I wonder how the people at ANZ bank are feeling this week after their logo and “In Your World” catchphrase was hijacked by Greenpeace and replaced with”Polluting Your World”.

Greenpeace commissioned economic analysts to look at the investments of Australia’s major banks and found that while many were making sound investments in clean energy and winning sustainability and climate leadership awards, they were doing something else too – investing in coal mining and coal-fired power generation in volumes which massively eclipse their clean energy portfolios.

Bearing in mind that this year, for the second year running, there was more renewable energy installed globally than fossil-driven generation, you would think that the investment profile of institutions which make a play on their sustainability credentials would mirror this trend, or even exceed it.

Unfortunately, according to the Greenpeace-commissioned analysis, this just isn’t the case. ANZ, the study says, has invested $276 million in renewable energy in the last five years but $1.686 billion for coal.

I’ve written more on this sleight of hand over at the The Drum on the ABC. For another take on the Queensland state government’s billboard claims of being a solar state, I’ve been writing in Brisbane’s bmag on that.

Image: Greenpeace