June 13, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

The Age of Stupid

You will see this phrase again, as it is the name of a hot new movie about environmental catastrophe. This doco formerly named ‘Crude’ features Pete Postlethwaite playing a journo looking back from some decades in the future, wondering why we didn’t act when we could. You can find out more at their website: www.ageofstupid.net
The theme fits my week, cause I only realised yesterday afternoon that I was missing a major Canberra conference on climate change at the ANU. I dashed off (rather my spouse came and picked me up, as neither public transport nor my bike would have got me there in time for the last sessions). It’s got to be stupid to be skimming through the Tuesday Canberra Times on Thursday avo. That’s because there are so many papers to skim through, as my partner gets them at academic discount. (another environmental sin).
But the things one learns from other cities’ papers, and that others could learn about Canberra’s goings on. For example, coastal homes are already falling into the sea, after the recent king tides in NSW. And Ken Davidson agrees with Ross Gittins about the stupidity of Rudd’s approach to the petrol excise tax. Could we get real, please, and face the inevitable with some realistic approaches? Sydney is thinking about encouraging 4 day ten hour work weeks, to reduce petrol costs for individuals. Great idea, as long as they stagger the day off and reduce traffic at the same time. But I don’t think that positive could make up for the changes to their planning laws that seem to reduce the possibility of appeal, as outlined in another article.
On a grander scale, the Indian mango crop seems to be going the way of our bananas a few years back, but in a chronic, rather than acute, situation. Maybe the smart people can wake up the stupid people before it’s too late. I would sure miss mangos.
And here in the ACT, which has to be a leader in stupidity, there are ongoing struggles over the big gas plant planned for Tuggeranong. It is normal (dysfunctional but normal) for governments to run their consultations ass over tit. That is, they get together with the big ‘stakeholders’ (a term that can be interpreted many ways) and decide what is in their best interests. After the bureaucracy has assisted with tax payers money (another sore point in the gas plant saga) the government informs the public and gives them 10 minutes to take it on board, form coalitions to offer opposing perspectives, and with zero bureaucratic support of funding, mount a legal challenge if necessary. These are some of the allegations being tossed around. Sounds democratic, right?
The alternative is for elected officials to see themselves as conduits for public input, where broad assessment of openly supplied stats and info is followed by a request for a solution to an agreed-upon problem. Increasing revenue for a public utility or a private company does not constitute a public policy problem. By and large, our publics are aware of environmental constraints and favour developments that help Canberra, at least, to become more sustainable.
The dysfunctional approach actually follows an established formula, clearly articulated by Naomi Klein in the Shock Doctrine: hit ’em when they’re down. And having now finished reading a book about Dickhead Cheney (appropriately called Vice), it seems that almost everything that has functionally diminished democratic process, almost globally, has tentacles that include his machinations. But, as reported about the recent US-Iraq treaty, the dogs aren’t barking.
In Canberra, lots of dogs are barking, but I reckon the gov will wait until after the September elections and then hit us with the worse news about our water supply and introduce further restrictions. That fear lurks in the front of mind of many ACT citizens, gardeners or not. We’ve had a few trickles of rain recently, but the azelias are flowering, and the jonquils, which usually are spring flowers. Even the daffodils seem threatening to join the show. The autumn has been unusually warm, with the overnight temperatures rarely touching zero. Once upon the not so distant past, we’d have been scraping frost off the windscreens at 8 am (but never at 10).
And it has been standing room only at the meetings in Weston Creek of people concerned about the large planned set of new suburbs. No one can understand why we should be encouraging more people to come here, given the water situation. I gather most blocks will be tiny, and some streets will be west-facing. Is that smart?
Population was well covered at the ANU conference, amid the gloom of predictions of what happens at 1, 2, 3, 4, and the likely 5 degrees of warming. It was good to see the members of See Change were well represented offering hope. Suburbs are clustering to implement bulk buying of solar panels, with a discount. A small step in the right direction, but much more is needed. We’re talking about offering more services, to help people get over the hump of total helplessness on the one hand, followed by glut of information and little local assistance on the other. Another attendee said a group is forming to advocate light rail within Canberra. That would be a real breakthrough, and hang the expense, as costs will tend to even out as the price of petrol rises.
One ray of intelligence: Mick Gentleman, who introduced the solar feed in tarriff bill, told the plenary session that it will be debated (again) next week, and that he has the support of his Labor caucus. We’ve heard that much before, and can only hope that they proceed. But a leading solar thermal researcher, Keith Lovegrove, explained why photovoltaics on the roof are much less efficient that centralised production of electricity using steam turbines. He should know. We should all know, but maybe we’re just stupid.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 8:19 am | Comments Off on The Age of Stupid |
Filed under: Environment

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