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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Monday, 18 January 2010
CBC + St Anns, now Emmanuel, class of 1981 Reunion in Warrnambool
Mood:  lyrical
Topic: local news

Picture: People don't walk to the airport anymore, if ever. Pity really as they miss urban landscapes like this with Sydney CBD in the far distance.


Text of email to reunion organisers Kerrie Sobey and Felicity Clancy (nee King) based in Warrnambool Victoria with this great beach here:


Sent: Saturday, January 16, 2010 2:17 PM
Subject: some pics/info for you about reunion

Special thanks Kerrie and Felicity for all your organising and especially Felicity and family for hospitality. What a great way to visit the 'Bool. Say hello to Peter and children young and not so young again for me too.


After breaking the anxious ice at the hotel Friday night before (and wasn't the place humming with the re-union event and locals more generally), the dinner was fascinating, surprising, shocking. Well worth the trip.
So many the same but so different as well.


The possible paths we all might have taken. Some for better or worse. Great to see many achieving so much with family and career. Quite moving really. Was really pleased to meet up with St Ann class mates in first year of Coed experiment, now the rule.


Here is an email I found for Terry Mugavin. He may be interested in this compilation pic lifted from the DVD copy you provided to all there:
Terry showing early form top right. Those who know know!


Here are some sad images from near where Brendan Keilar was killed so wickedly. I checked them out on the way back through Melbourne. The Mural (1967) close by is particularly surprising given what happened 30 years later. The Sun Herald writes around July 2007 of this mural and the staff sent in by police at 15 William St until they have finished their work at the crime scene:

[Picture: A pilgrimage to a crime scene. We were shocked to see this prescient mural figure from Greek mythology not unlike sadly missed crime victim classmate, lawyer Brendan Keilar: As if clothed in funeral shroud ascending out of body, as he died in the street nearby the same building 15 William St Melbourne CBD June 2007. The 'levin flash' reminds of the hot bullets into warm flesh. RIP hero.]


I was going to send this on to Harry Parkinson in Sydney at firm Salomon Smith Barney (took over CitiGroup if memory serves). But I don't have his email.

Lastly some pics of moi:
Left to right - Lee Oakley - sweep, Ricky Clissold (from W'bool Tech, 1st stroke) , Tom McLoughlin 2nd stroke, Lewis Atkinson 2nd bow, Peter Ryan bow. Winners Vic state title 1981, and 1982, junior boat crew.
Those surf boats apparently are around 410 kg back in the day, now only 200kg! And the oars are hollow carbon fibre! Ripped off!


That's progress. Old saying in boat crews: Not very smart but we can lift heavy things. Now finally they are smart too.


Thanks and hope to see you all again not too far down the track.
Yours truly


Some images above relate to our class mate Brendan, a property lawyer, was murdered in Melbourne 2 years ago with national press coverage given it was a rescue of a woman from a gun wielding thug on drugs.


At the hotel night before the reunion we met Dave McLean now an IT manager for Australian Conservation Foundation. We always saw him as the brightest student of that year. He got 100% in physics year 12. But he said he was the brightest now after Brendan Keilar was murdered. We all took it hard at the time. Another class mate is now po-lice in Warrnambool. He seemed to agree with our view the thug's survival time was limited given he was surplus to organised crime for bringing the heat. Even in gaol now. Indeed he went to the cops to avoid his the drug brothers. Sounds like life in hell.


On the way back through Melbourne we took these photographs around Footscray and CBD (like hi tech laptop guy in a cubby made of cushions to view the screen):

Picture: Dancing Dog cafe Footscray with cute chicken wire sculpture

Picture above: Melbourne Federation Square with hi tech 'laptop man' in distinctly low tech cushion cubby house to shade his screen under cushions to avoid sun glare. Raising the question - why bother dude? (Perhaps we are just jealous as our clunky laptop crashed and burned on the same trip.)

Picture: Footscray business - so called hot shots pool hall ....with broken windows!

Picture: The ominous News Corp building seen from Federation Square in Melbourne.

Picture: Unintended juxtaposition: Banks as hustlers?

Picture: Into the maw? Crown Casino car park where no doubt many sad and sorry people enter hopeful and exit in financial pieces?

Posted by editor at 10:20 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 20 January 2010 11:19 AM EADT
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Some serious questions for Peter Spencer support club
Mood:  not sure
Topic: ecology

Peter Spencer is famously gathering momentum behind his aerial hunger strike against land clearing laws in New South Wales.

We notice Michael Duffy has rushed into print in the Sydney Morning Herald today too. We will have to read him closely to find fact from fiction.

But here are some preliminary questions worth pursuing by the Big Media during this rather shallow silly season period:

1. Is his land crown leasehold? If it is then like all leases there are terms and conditions. There is no general unfettered right to develop and/or clear crown leasehold land. If it is free hold that doesn't mean that is the case in much of the rest of NSW which has always had a long history of crown leasehold subject to many government obligations. Check the land tenure before generalising about rights to clear vegetation and sterilising private property.

2. If Senator Joyce is so sure a property right has been resumed and should be 'financially paid for or returned', does he apply the same standard to Govt benefits like drought assistance and flood emergency assistance? Or remote area taxation benefits? Should these payments be returned in times of profit down the track?

Joyce can't have it both ways - privatise the property rights but socialise the government subsidies in times of disaster.

3. Have the protesters in general with placards calling for freedom and liberty from government interventions on the environment willing to give up all the other social benefits of government support, when complaining about the costs?

If Mr Spencer, or Senator Joyce want to secede from the Australian Constitution which provides for the welfare, order and good government of the place with all the benefits and costs involved maybe they are living in the wrong country?

Posted by editor at 12:58 PM EADT
Natasha Verco story: A brief clarification on local FoE green group provenance
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: local news

 Picture: The historic FoE Australia newsletter archive rescued from the badly unravelling FoE Sydney local chapter in 2003, which folded about 2005, to be rebooted by Ms Verco et al new broom in current form today.

The SAM editor spent 7 struggling years trying to reboot the under powered Friends of the Earth Sydney group 1995-2002. We became a student of it's structure and history during this time. This was well before now famous Natasha Verco's involvement we understand to be from about the mid noughties.

References to Copenhagen climate protester Verco as "founder of Friends of the Earth here" in the big media (eg ABC) recently need some clarification: No doubt referring to the Sydney rather than national chapter, and Sydney version 2, not version 1 established from the 1970ies or 80ies. Indeed if it was otherwise she would be a grey haired retiree.

This local FoE group itself has a significant history: Originally sharing office space with nascent Greenpeace (Australia), and Movement Against Uranium Mining (the evocative acronym MAUM) here in Sydney early 80ies. The story as told to us by Steve Broadbent, aka Stevie Bee today, was that GP got acquisitive and pushy as it grew, causing an office dispute and lock out. The resolution came as GP decided to moved into new space. Jumped or pushed is lost in the mists of time. GP was just another aspirational small greenie group.

The massive operation of GP now is a matter of history after the Rainbow Warrior and lots more, but it was all in the balance back then.

That history of the Sydney green movement is prescient in some ways regarding FoE Sydney pathway, which as we understand it has always been a separate incorporation entity within the FoE Australia network.

In our time we failed (heroically?) to get FoE Sydney on a healthy basis in the face of closed shop tactics by 3 aged males in the group: From our perspective they seemed to have perfected the method of co-opting the place for exclusive territory. Mmm. Details of functioning alcoholic, porn addict using public resources, bipolar character with tunnel vision, are not necessary here but every community group will know the experience. It's great working with the public - except for the public (!) We've since learned a green vocation as policy analyst and media rep should be distinct from social work.

The last we heard most of  FoE Sydney office was being loaded into a giant industrial dumpster in 2005 at Turella old ice cream factory 3 years after we made out escape to concentrate on saving a large chunk of the Andes (another story). But not before we saved the newsletter archive held by FoE Sydney pictured here 1975 to 2002.

We reached the conclusion more in sadness than anger version 1 of FoE Sydney needed to be killed off so it could be rebooted fresh. This indeed happened by about 2003-4 including a swing through the NSW Supreme Court over a lease dispute where this author won comprehensively.

We predicted FoE Sydney version 2 would inevitably re-seed via the dominating FoE Melbourne head office. This is where Natasha Verco in the news today has been reported "as a founder of Friends of Earth" ( actually Sydney version 2 around 2005, 30 years after version 1 was commenced).

Version 1 of FoE Sydney included respected and successful campaigners like Stuart White (now UTS), John Denlay, Joe Wacher, Mim Bucchorn and others too. Many had moved on by our time of there. We would like to think we also had some success like:

- closure of $40M dioxin spewing Waterloo Incinerator,

- expose of Enron style power industry privatisation agenda in 1997, and

- gruelling expose' of Carr Govt policy failures on woodchipping, and indeed other planning corruption.

With some consequent reputational blowback by the ALP slime machine in NSW including inside and outside the green movement to this day.

By the looks the energetic sisterhood via Ms Verco et al are running FoE Sydney from the mid noughties - and it's a good thing too. Good luck Ms Verco, onwards ....



Posted by editor at 9:49 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 7 January 2010 9:02 AM EADT
Monday, 4 January 2010
Post impressions of a 12 hour drive to and from Canberra’s National Gallery
Mood:  happy
Topic: local news


It was always a big ask. Hawkesbury into Bondi Beach, then back out to Canberra’s National Gallery 4 hours away for their show of Post Impressionists. All in one day.

The trip was partly self interest after walking for hours through European galleries mesmerised back in 2002. The Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris.

But it was also a reward for Carol after a 2 year journey navigating the Guardianship Tribunal and NSW Supreme Court for 4 days mid December 2009. Carol has special needs ably supported by her CBD lawyer Pam Suttor, and barrister Chris Simpson (SC). There is nothing Carol likes better than a gallery of paintings and social day out. She can ride in a car trip watching the world forever. 12 hours with a few breaks – no sweat. It’s the driver who is under the hammer, with or without free coffee from the SES bloke at Lake George.

A quick drive by and a short break at Subway for lunch at Manuka shops, while getting vaguely lost then back for the main event.

So how was the show? Well we read the art critic in the SMH just now and the 2 page feature in the Review in The Australian. This is what we thought for better or worse: Yes, the carpark is a dogs breakfast of construction but we got a place close by immediately and the underground parking was open – we never found out if it was free.

A half hour wait in the ticket queue, yet it was under cover, in a cool place inside, surrounded by other art works, with cheerful well to do casual dressed Australians in summer shorts and shirts nearby. There’s a lot worse places to be on a hot Saturday. The concession entry at $16 was reasonable.

The first of 6 rooms of affluent portraits was not worth much of our time, merely to set the scene for what followed. The next room of pointilists while bright and gracious and mildly interesting seemed a somewhat perverse sidetrack from the main course in room 3.

There we saw Van Gogh and his contempories. I got to thinking he drank with these peers nearby, aspiring to a deep authenticity that Vincent achieved most of all? Somehow VV’s flowers, self portrait, starry night over the Rhone turned other respectable works back towards the cartoon end of the spectrum. We felt an involuntary smile.  So deep and textured outrageous and endearing. I wanted more.

Only Gauguin had his orange variants. And Bonnard and Vouillard their striking vibrancy. I got the feeling however that the exhibition was a bit skinny. There was only one Rousseau as dramatic as it was. The overhead lights on the panel sized decorations by Bonnard in room 6 glared - did they have overhead lights in 1890?

The glass protecting the works was virtually invisible, cleaner than any window I’ve seen. The crowd was full of beautiful people, presumably art students. The audio commentary seemed a bit of a gouge so we skipped it, perhaps unwisely having travelled so far. The merchandise shop was busy like the obstacle course it was meant to be.

The images are very vibrant again in the press reviews back in Sydney. They contrast with black and white newsprint. One realises most of the works could sit on your wall and keep on giving for many a long year. Carol had a great time too.

As we got back to Sydney the southerly storm burst. We took the cheapskate Cowpasture Rd alternative to the M7 in a surreal combo of sunglasses and windscreen wipers at full bore. Carol then took the ride back on the rail to finish a satisfying gallery adventure.

Posted by editor at 1:14 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 January 2010 8:16 AM EADT
Silly season #4: Please save the kids ... from politicians on the schmooze
Mood:  energetic
Topic: big media

Back in another life we were on the Bondi Beach Public (primary) School Committee with the principal and local worthy parents. This was part of our role as a ward councillor at Waverley 1995-99. We were invited onto the panel as distinct from the local ALP or Liberal ward people - which was nice.

In addition to monthly meetings about school matters we would attend once or twice a year to presentation days. Even the most jaded activist or local pollie would notice the life energy and enthusiasm of childhood in full array. A subtle reality in one or 3, but impressive amongst a chattering hall full.  Their intense interest in token prizes. Their sponge like absorption of the social dynamic. It was easily one of the most optimistic experiences of a ward councillor. One could not help smiling. Perhaps it was just surviving all those years and tribulations still to face them.

Picture: The child Kristine Kersher Keneally at bottom right. One assumes the image was released by her own family: Indicating a very personal media embrace unlike ex premier Nathan Rees to his undoubted detriment career wise, but perhaps wise in terms of private space.

Which brings us to the calculating, cynical practice of politicians everywhere to schmooze big media picture opportunities with children, usually strangers, to self aggrandise their own career postures. We regularly see PM Rudd, Deputy PM Gillard, no doubt opportunistic opposition leaders too. Lately it's been Premier Keneally with her own sons. They all want to coat tail on the energy of youth vacuumed up by the cameras like a dishonest fizzy drink advert – drink Coca Cola and you can play with bikini girls too. Only in this juxtaposition it’s 'look at me I’m kind to children, wholesome and responsive so vote for me'. Af if the children know any better.

The incredible hypocrisy in all this is that big media play along as if they can literally smell the revolving door to their own sector. But if children are taken by protesting parents to a rally or similar they seriously risk approbrium for politicising innocents. Double standard? You betcha.

These naive children have no policy insight or vote. They just look like innocents. Politicians from all parties and big media should front parents, and teachers and voters of adult age, otherwise they are exploiting children for cheap picfacs.

Picture: The author aged 12 or so.

Yesterday it was a cute variant of PM Rudd as a child book author. Oh please.

Posted by editor at 12:25 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 January 2010 8:36 AM EADT
Silly season #3: Right wing nutcases go to the movies (they hate) too?
Mood:  sad
Topic: big media

There is something pathetic about frothing right wingers like Greg Sheridan/News Corp’s Sydney Sunday Telegraph generalising about Hollywood’s Avatar alleged ideology. Sheridan suggests laughably that anything lefty comes out of  Hollywood. Memo Greg West Wing (Warner Bros TV), and Michael Moore famously of Flint Michigan, are avowedly not Hollywood.

Warner Bros tv studios are at Burbank California apparently, and Michael Moore is based practically everywhere in the USA except Hollywood. At least he didn't suggest The Wire was anywhere but Baltimore.


Another Sheridan howler: Team America, a slick R rated ("motherf*cking yeah") puppet musical, might have exaggerated (?) the Blackwater style shoot up of Paris and a Cairo bazaar, but it also showed various "FAG" (Film Actors Guild) shallow lefties as if getting their just desserts’ in a fierce morally confused gunfight full of guilty pleasures in the name of satire. That’s pretty even handed.


Sheridan whines on about Avatar referencing a huge American company as the fictional evil doer. Well the USA has a 14 trillion dollar economy putting all other countries in the shade including China and Japan. So that’s pretty representative actually.


Devine at the Herald predictably buys in as well same weekend with her depressive rant against Avatar having tired of encouraging toddlers to drown in ungated backyard swimming pools: Rival Sydney Daily Telegraph have run strong on pool safety while Devine takes the side of hapless landlords tied up in 'red tape'. Just wait for Devine’s next splash on why traffic lights are contrary to liberty and all things individual expression.


Here’s the perfect gift idea for the right wing nutjob in your family, and don’t we love them: A Ronald Reagan Golden Years of Hollywood box set, right back the boomer glory days of the 1950ies ...... where they belong.

Posted by editor at 11:58 AM EADT
Silly season #2: Louis Nowra's exhortation to 'be different', shame about SMH moderator!
Mood:  incredulous
Topic: big media

Here is Louis Nowra's opinon piece about "being different" prominent in the New Year weekend edition:

To appreciate our identity, we need the write stuff 

It's a gutsy heartfelt read: It starts like this:

There was hardly a more loved and admired man than my Uncle Keith. Employed by the railways he lived and worked in country towns. He was brilliant at any sport, had a fondness for beer and spent as much time as possible with his mates. For many he was the quintessential Aussie bloke.


There was another side to him, of course. He hated gays (''pillow biters''), Aborigines (''coons'') and artists of all persuasions (''wankers'') and believed the moon landings were fake. He only gave me one piece of advice: ''Be average. Never try to be different because no one likes a smart arse.''

When I was 17, I told him I was giving up football so I could concentrate on my clarinet playing. He called me a poofter and slammed the door in my face. It was the last time I saw him. He died a couple of years later in a typical blokeish fashion. He was drunk, the car skidded off the country road and it crashed into a tree, also killing his best mate.

From memory the piece had a pointer at the front of the Sydney Morning Herald website along the lines of 'Cowardice in Australia' or similar. And the point was simple and true: The tyranny of the collective over the individual is ugly as sin.But being alty and indy we thought to have a go at dear Louis for some jarring exagerations and ideological stupidities. But the SMH moderator censored it. How ironic. So much for intellectual and moral courage the whole purpose of the article!

Here are some failings of good ol' Louis in his piece as much as I liked reading it, most of it from memory from my censored comment. What a shame because I was really trying to talk instead of rehashing tired rhetoric that was allowed through - you know, get the juices flowing instead of bland rah rah of the choir:

1. The piece does remind me of the Les Patterson crudity in aspects of Australian culture. How grog is a curse as per beloved ex football coach now apparently an alcoholic. Indeed that time as captain of the team in the 1970ies based on physical skills rather than social success urged me on to some kind of Di Lampedusa style arms length perspective (referring to the towering 20C novel The Leopard). More so with a 29 year school reunion in a few days. 

2. But the local glitterati/culturati have exploited this crudity with great disloyalty too: When I watched movie Barry McKenzie for the first time recently it was apparent refugees Bruce Beresford, Phillip Adams and Barry Humphries were intent on lauding UK comic Peter Cooke, and reinforce every other local loud mouth stereotype to the English viewer. This smacks of appeasement to a haughty neurotic condescening UK paying audience and  fairly despicable. What happened to my country right or wrong? It gets trotted out today as particularly clever but implies something again, namely ...

3. Louis implies a degree of 'self hating' - a term borrowed from zionist gibes at non believer compatriots. For instance Louis refers to Australian landscapes as "ugly". Not on my walls champ. Australia has amazing landscapes - just open your eyes. Like our oceans. As for superiority of womenfolk, talk about generalisations and reverse stereotyping. There are some real bushpigs out there and well beyond the skin deep. Indeed often because of preoccupation with the same.

4. Louis takes a swipe at "tedious" author Richard Flannagan for obsessing about the "timber industry". Put simply the massive by volume "woodchip" industry is demonstrably not "timber". So Louis has lost it already. Flannagan's only problem we foresee is his Irish genes and the risky combination with alcohol. If he steers clear of grog his huge talent can only flourish. It's a big challenge for all we Irish.

Indeed it's a funny old SMH comment moderator effort out of date order at one point. Where is the moral courage in the censorship? How ironic given the topic of the worthy piece complete with graphic of scythe in hand as if to cut this minor indy media writer out of any comment list.

Posted by editor at 11:15 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 4 January 2010 11:22 AM EADT
Silly season #1: Body bits, blood libel and big media
Mood:  quizzical
Topic: big media


As we always like to preface for this subject, there are in our experience many beautiful Jewish and Arabic folks in this world*. Even so it would be moral and intellectual cowardice not to deconstruct this interesting big media botch up noticed over the silly season, first in our series: When we get back into local Windsor library we make a picture of the World News broadsheet of The Australian around 22 December 2009 [indeed see above]. We took a mental note of the strange news values on display.

It was about the grim controversy of illegal harvesting of body organs allegedly perpetrated by Israeli/Jewish medical or government authorities. There was indeed some big controversy about the matter mid 2009 over the usual complaints of stereotyping, which apparently ran front pages of a Swedish newspaper. (It was hotly denied by Israel.) And similarly big corruption case with pictures of arrested rabbis in New York mid 2009 involving money laundering, real estate and again this troubling claim of organ smuggling involved in modern times. This time it was front pages of USA press, in Obamaland.

But what we noticed on The Australian world page 2 weeks back was a large colour photo of the notorious 'work will set you free' signage (in German) at infamous Auschwitz industrial mass murder camp of WW2 infamy. Apparently some cynic stole the infamous metal letters. Hence the lead story picture prominence in colour.

But at the very bottom of the page, postage stamp really and indeed broken with spill onto reverse side to add to obscurity, was a text story of much greater significance, that the Israeli Govt admit illegal harvesting of organs including from dead Palestinians, 'but it was all in the early 1990ies a long time ago'. Mmm, the aphorism smoke and fire.

That's not what I call proportionate news coverage, or news values regarding proportionate coverage. Were Murdoch press worried about encouraging a centuries old blood libel, ideological suppression of the lead, or just hopeless news values??? Some other reason? We just don't know.

But what it looked like to us was big media choreography qualitatively similar to mainstream politics we see domestically all the time: The simple technique of launching another related story (stolen sign with picture) to offset or smother another more damaging story (organ trade): 'Hey look over there' gambit, and it works for whiney little children as much for big adult readers.


* We also watched a very moving story on Sunday ABC religious programming yesterday about moral courage of Jehovah's Wtnesses imprisoned with doomed Jewish folks in a Polish concentration camp in WW2. And the solidarity (indeed inter-marriage) that created across both groups. The best (prisoners) and worst (nazis) of humanity in a snapshot.

Posted by editor at 9:21 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 January 2010 8:12 AM EADT
SAM Slog reader stats on upswing again 3 years later
Mood:  incredulous
Topic: independent media


As SAM here kicks on into the new year, forerunner Sydney Indy Media remains off air over a month now. We also notice our reader stats have kicked up a little.

We don't publish for high reader numbers. Rather we seek the indefinable core 'beltway' AAA demographic. (Beltway meaning vested interest lobby in big media, politics, business. AAA refers to the well paid, educated mob thought to support the ABC.) Whether we get that readership is hard to know. Certainly this clunky format has poor engagement with little or no comments.

In any case our reader stats are on an encouraging upswing of some 10 times gradual increase from our first month 3 years back. Also on a personal note the editor here is no. 1 globally google name search, ahead of namesake ritzy resort owner, US financiers and schlock hollywood director. This effect is not so useful for job applications but possibly does measure some kind of social capital.

Here is the general backgrounder, we used to publish every month but got a bit lazy: We might move to quarterly at this rate:

Previous monthly reader pageview figures for 2007, 2008 verified by screen shot (web host provider monthly pageview account details) checked and posted on or about 4th day of the month found in this thread:

  •  December 2009 - 31,335
  • September 2009 - 19,132
  •  August 2009 - 22,072 (host metric, not screenshot)
  • July 2009 - 18,293 (host metric, not screenshot)
  • June 2009 - 29,165 (host metric, not screenshot)
  • May 2009 - 32,125 (host metrics, not screenshot)
  • April 2009 - 23,421 (host metrics, not screenshot)
  • March 2009 - 34,255
  • February 2009 - 23,208
  • January 2009 - 27,462
  • December 08 - 21,858
  • November 08 - unavailable, host breakdown
  • October 08 - 20,343
  • September 08 - 20,746
  • August 08 - 25,344
  • July 08 - 22,855
  • June 08 - 27,440
  • May 08 - 25,046
  • April 08 - 19,250
  • March 08 - 20,803 
  • February 08 - 13,109
  • January 2008 -  19, 898
  • December - 11,627
  • November - 10,220
  • October - 9, 100 
  • Sept -  8,100 roughly, no screenshot
  • August - 8,845
  • July - 7475
  • June - 9675
  • May  - 9, 059
  • April  - 12,087
  • March  - 6,684
  • February - 5,372
  • January 07 -  2800 (3rd Jan - 3rd Feb 07)

Posted by editor at 8:31 AM EADT
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Prof Hansen's call for honest solution after Cop15 global 'failure' to date
Mood:  special
Topic: globalWarming

Here it is, reprinted in total in the public interest courtesy of UK The Guardian, because scientific leadership is likely a better option for a scientific problem. (Note SAM here despite google adverts is essentially non profit - we haven't received one payment from Google in over a year):

Copenhagen has given us the chance to face climate change with honesty

James Hansen, The Guardian (UK) 27th December 2009

 A carbon-use dividend for everybody must replace the old, ineffectual 'cap-and-trade' scheme

Chart showing emission trends.

Last weekend's minimalist Copenhagen global climate accord provides a great opportunity. The old deceitful, ineffectual approach is severely wounded and must die. Now there is a chance for the world to get on to an honest, effective path to an agreement.

The centrepiece of the old approach was a "cap-and-trade" scheme, festooned with offsets and bribes – bribes that purportedly, but hardly, reduced carbon emissions. It was analogous to the indulgences scheme of the Middle Ages, whereby sinners paid the Church for forgiveness.

In today's indulgences the sinners, developed countries, buy off developing countries by paying for "offsets" to their own emissions and providing reparation money for adaptation to climate change. But such hush money won't work. Yes, some developing country leaders salivated over the proffered $100 billion per year. But by buying in, they would cheat their children and ours. Besides, even the $100 billion hush money is fugacious. The US, based on its proportion of the fossil fuel carbon in the air today, would owe $27 billion per year. Chance of Congress providing that: dead zero. Maybe the UK will cough up its $6 billion per year and Germany its $7 billion per year. But who will collect Russia's $7 billion per year?

Most purchased "offsets" to fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions are hokey. But there is no need to flagellate the details of this modern indulgences scheme. Science provides an unambiguous fact that our leaders continue to ignore: carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning remains in the climate system for millennia. The only solution is to move promptly to a clean energy future.

The difficulty is that fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, if the price does not include the damage they do to human health, the planet, and the future of our children. "Goals" for future emission reductions, whether "legally binding" or not, are utter nonsense as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. The Kyoto Protocol illustrates the deceit of our governments, which have not screwed up their courage to face down the fossil fuel industry. As the graph here shows, global fossil fuel emissions were increasing 1.5% per year prior to the 1997 Kyoto accord. After "Kyoto" emission growth accelerated to 3% per year. A few developed countries reduced their fossil fuel use. The only important effect of that was to slightly reduce demand for fuel, helping to keep its price down. The fuel was burned in other places, and products made were shipped back to developed countries.

As far as the planet is concerned, agreements to "cap" emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the imagined Copenhagen Protocol, are worthless scraps of paper. As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned somewhere. This fact helps define a solution to the climate problem. Yes, people must make changes in the way they live. Countries must cooperate. Matters as intractable as population must be included. Technology improvements are required. Changes must be economically efficient. The climate solution necessarily will increase the price of fossil fuel energy. We must admit that. But in the end, energy efficiency and carbon-free energy can be made less expensive than fossil fuels, if fossil fuels' cost to society is included. The solution must have honesty, backbone and a fair international framework. We need a rising price on carbon applied at the source (the mine, wellhead, or port of entry). The fee will affect all activities that use fossil fuels, directly or indirectly. The entire fee collected from fossil fuel companies should be distributed to the public. In this fee-and-dividend approach people maintaining a carbon footprint smaller than average will receive more in the dividend than they pay via increased energy costs. The monthly dividend, deposited electronically in their bank account or on their debit card, will stimulate the economy and provide people with the means to increase their carbon efficiency. All that governments need do is divide the collected revenue by the number of shares, with half-shares for children, up to two children per family.

Some economists prefer a payroll tax deduction over a dividend, because taxes depress the economy. The problem is that about half of the public are not on payrolls, because of retirement or involuntary unemployment. I suggest that at most 50% of the collected carbon fee should be used for payroll tax deduction.

Cap-and-trade is the antithesis of this simple system. Cap-and-trade is a hidden tax, increasing energy costs, but with no public dividend. Its infrastructure costs the public, who also fund the profits of the resulting big banks and speculators. Cap-and-trade is advantageous only to energy companies with strong lobbyists and government officials who dole out proceeds from pollution certificates to favoured industries.

Fee-and-dividend, in contrast, is a non-tax – on average it is revenue-neutral. The public will probably accept a rise in the carbon fee rate, because their monthly dividend will increase correspondingly. As fee-and-dividend causes fossil fuel energy prices to rise, a series of points will be reached at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies are cheaper than fossil fuels plus the fee. The market place will choose the best technology. As time goes on, fossil fuel use will collapse, coal will be left in the ground, and we will have arrived at a clean energy future. A rising carbon fee is essential for a climate solution. But how to achieve a fair international framework?

The critical requirement is that the United States and China agree to apply across-the-board carbon fees, at a relative rate to be negotiated. Why would China agree to a carbon fee? China does not want to be saddled with the problems that attend fossil fuel addiction such as those that plague the United States. Besides, China would be hit extraordinarily hard by climate change. A uniform rising carbon fee is the most economically efficient way for China to limit its fossil fuel dependence.


Copenhagen discussions showed that China and the United States can work together. Europe, Japan, and most developed countries would very probably agree to a similar status to that of the United States. Countries refusing to levy an across-the-board carbon fee can be dealt with via an import duty collected on products from that nation in accord with the amount of fossil fuel that goes into producing the product. The World Trade Organisation already has rules permitting such duties.

The international framework must define how proceeds from import duties are used to assure fairness. Duties on products from developing countries will probably dwarf present foreign aid to those countries. These funds should be returned to developing countries, but distributed so as to encourage best practices, for example, improved women's rights and education that helps control population growth. Fairness also requires that distribution of the funds takes account of the ongoing impacts of climate change. Successful efforts in limiting deforestation and other best practices could also be rewarded.


James Hansen was the first scientist to warn the US Congress of the dangers of climate change. The ideas discussed in this article are expanded on in his new book "Storms of My Grandchildren".



Posted by editor at 7:51 AM EADT

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