In Praise of Inconvenience

For Michael Raupach, 1950 – 2015. Climate scientist, inventor, humanitarian and musician. A true friend of the future.

The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness.


When a friend of mine took a new job in a CBD office tower, I thought she would soon be telling me how many seconds she was shaving off the time it took her to climb the stairs to her floor. A fitness fanatic, she had the body of marathon runner.

Instead she told me how fast the lift was, and how much it cost to park her car in the multistorey facility adjacent to her office tower. I had expected her to park on the city fringe for free, and enjoy the brisk twenty-minute walk through the parklands morning and evening. She explained that the lift and car park saved the time she needed to get to the gym after work. Continue reading In Praise of Inconvenience

How have gullibilists got the ear of government on climate change?

I have recently returned from a brief overseas trip, visiting Berlin and Beijing. I arrive home with a very uneasy feeling.

Memories of the trip are fresh in my mind, most of all the science. The guest across the dinner party table in Berlin who turned out to be the CEO of a science park – home to 1,000 companies, 15,000 employees and an annual turnover of 1.6bn Euros. The bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin; all (but two) motorised two wheelers seen in Beijing being electric powered; and Beijing hosting the inaugural Formula E race – Formula I with electric race cars. (It goes next to Malaysia, and on to South America, the US, Monte Carlo, Germany and the UK. No race in Australia is planned.)

Back home, I watch Australia’s Chief Scientist, the current Boyer lecturer, the 2012 Young Australian of the Year and two Nobel Prize winners on Q&A. They field questions which mostly circle around the lack of respect and support for science from our current government, most sharply in relation to climate change. The Chief Scientist frankly admits he was offended by comments about imminent global cooling made by the Prime Minister’s Business Advisor. They all look embattled. Continue reading How have gullibilists got the ear of government on climate change?

Does Australia have a free press?

vapressDoes Australia have a free press?

In my earlier post on growth and sustainability I argued that our press must give as much attention to scientific information about the state of the world as it now gives to financial information about the state of the market. It is hard to see how that will happen unless we have a free press. That leaves us with a problem.

Freedom of the press is an issue that has been unusually prominent in Australia in recent months – taking ‘the press’ to encompass all public media. But most of the discussion has focused on the wrong questions and has failed to notice that whether Australia has a free press is a question that can be answered empirically; and regrettably the facts demonstrate that, taken as a whole, we do not have a free press. Continue reading Does Australia have a free press?

We need to talk about growth. (And we need to do the sums as well.)

We need to talk about growth. (And we need to do the sums as well.)

In my opinion, the greatest scandal of philosophy is that, while all around us the world of nature perishes – and not just the world of nature alone – philosophers continue to talk,sometimes cleverly and sometimes not, about the question of whether the world exists.             Karl Popper, Two Faces of Common Sense

1. Why should we talk about growth?

Growth is a big issue, and getting bigger all the time, but not one that yet generates serious discussion in the community. Nor has it been the subject of mainstream political critique. That economic growth is good is a view unchallenged by any major political party in Australia, with the exception of the Greens – and more than anything else it is their questioning of growth that has seen the major parties condemn the Greens as a fringe political movement.

No doubt there are deep philosophical – or at least ideological – reasons for this, but the problem might also be explained by our simple failure to understand the mathematics of growth. Continue reading We need to talk about growth. (And we need to do the sums as well.)

Climate change science: will Prime Minister Abbott be guided by Galileo or the Pope?

When Galileo put forward the idea that the earth is not the centre of the universe he was subject to persecution by the church. His science was ridiculed as an affront to God and rejected as inconsistent with the received wisdom from Aristotle and the Bible.

Bertrand Russell said Galileo ‘began the long fight between science and dogma’, which eventually led to mainstream thinkers and politicians, at least in the liberal democracies, accepting the authority of science to adjudicate what counts as knowledge of the world.

Very recently, however, dogma is fighting back with renewed energy, particularly against the science of global warming. Continue reading Climate change science: will Prime Minister Abbott be guided by Galileo or the Pope?

Climate Change, Science and Cricket



Commentators on recent articles on climate change in this journal have argued that the scientific study of climate change is useless and/or untrustworthy. Useless because all we should and do care about is the weather, and it is not possible to attribute any particular weather event, no matter how unusual, to climate change. Untrustworthy because the basis for identifying what counts as the accepted science is expert peer review and this process is corrupt or unreliable.

So far as I can recall these are recent claims. The relationship between weather and climate used to be thought straightforward, and peer reviewed publication followed by peer reviewed criticism was accepted as the basis of progress in science. But now both have become hot issues.

Happily light can be shed on these hot issues by considering the comparable relationships and processes in other less politically charged fields of human endeavour. Indeed, cricket can teach us much of what we need to know about these matters. Continue reading Climate Change, Science and Cricket