Why business as usual is so scary

Shortly after Christmas Day, the sky disappeared. It was only then that I realised I’d always taken it for granted. The sky, and the air. I’d always taken the air for granted too, and now it was hazardous.

Like many parts of Australia, my hometown of Canberra had a truly terrible summer. Surrounded by bushfires, and sitting in a geographic bowl between mountain ranges, the city filled with smoke and choked on it for months.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Biodiversity loss is a flaming tragedy


There are so many details about these unprecedented bushfires that I have no idea how to process. Like so many in Australia, I have spent hours staring in disbelief at the sheer number of fires raging across NSW alone, watching clips showing glimpses of their incredible size and ferocity, and grieving the millions of acres of forest laid to waste in their wake.

As a country, we have cried over the human lives lost, and tried to contemplate the economic and emotional toll of the thousands of homes and properties destroyed, in addition to the massevacuations of people. I doubt we will ever forget those images of evacuees huddled by the water on New Year’s Eve under a deep red sky; or of the brave little boy accepting a medal on behalf of the father he lost so young.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Building equity into 20-minute city plans

I only left my suburb once last weekend, and it was excellent. As boring as it may sound, it turns out that this highly local lifestyle is not only good for the environment, but is one that appeals to many of us. Rather than spending our time driving between amenities and activities, most of us would like to be able to walk or cycle to most of those things that contribute to living a good life. And governments are starting to take notice.

In recognition of the social and environmental benefits that flow from people staying out of their cars and getting out into their own neighbourhoods, cities around the world have been announcing plans to improve liveability by adopting the 20- (or 30-) minute neighbourhood concept. Plan Melbourne describe this as being ‘all about “local living” — giving people the ability to meet most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip of their home’.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Nuts and bolts of an Aussie Green New Deal

The Reserve Bank (RBA) cut rates this week to a historic low of 1 per cent in an attempt to stimulate the economy in order to maintain employment growth and increase disposable income (and, thus, consumption). The ALP have argued that 1 per cent interest rates signal a ‘national crisis’ and that successful economic stimulus is going to take more than a rate cut.

In response, they have pushed for the LNP to bring forward its tax cuts and to increase spending on infrastructure. RBA Governor, Phillip Lowe, has a more optimistic take, stating ‘the outlook for the economy remains reasonable’, but has also hinted that more could be done to stimulate consumption. 

Of course, the question of what should be done to stimulate the economy (if anything at all) largely depends on how you frame the problem and, in particular, on how you explain its origins. Debates around the meaning and cause of economic crises are nothing new, and they have been blamed on everything from greed, to regulatory failure, poor economic theory, culture and excessive regulation.

Read the rest over at Eureka Street.

Living with Dystopia

Do you ever feel as though you are living in the early scenes of a dystopic film? I have to confess that I do.

In the background, the audience is being shown hints of the coming catastrophe. We hear the news radio mention increasing numbers of extreme weather events and related disasters. We see newspaper headlines declare, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe‘ and ‘1 million species are facing extinction‘. And yet our heroes appear to be carrying on with their lives normally.

As the film progresses, this apparent normality is punctuated by signs of anxiety, despair and resistance. Parents sit up late quietly discussing their fears about the future. Colleagues share a bleak joke about the upcoming apocalypse. Grandparents start becoming radical. School children walk out of school.

Soon it becomes clear that the looming disaster has already arrived, and people react in a range of predictable ways. There are, of course, those who continue to deny the problem — either because they benefit from the status quo or because it is just too confronting to face the truth.

— Read the rest over at Eureka Street

Vegan protesters reject righteous domination

On Monday, a coordinated series of animal rights protests took place across the country. Vegan protestors occupied abattoirs in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and blockaded one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections. To say these protests were controversial would be an understatement.

Social media was flooded with angry meat-eaters posting photos of their meat-based meals, which they claimed were inspired by the ‘vegan terrorists’ or ‘vigilante vegans’. The Prime Minister called the protestors ‘unAustralian’, arguing: ‘This is just another form of activism that I think runs against the national interest, and the national interest is [farmers] being able to farm their own land.’

More intriguing, to me, was the reaction of many progressive people, who expressed responses ranging from discomfort to outright rage. The protestors were accused of using coercive tactics to force their personal views on other people, and of choosing tactics that didn’t help their cause because they were either disruptive to traffic, trespassed on private property, or harassed farmers. Others accused vegans more broadly of being racist, classist, ableist and blind to their privilege.

— Read the rest of the article over at Eureka Street

Children speak truth to climate inaction

When I was a young child, I had nightmares about Ronald Reagan. I was terrified he was going to start a nuclear war and destroy us all.

People often laugh when I recount this tale. To many it seems funny, almost cute. Others have described my fears as the product of a childish imagination or parental brainwashing. But the fact is that nuclear war was a genuine possibility. The world was not in safe hands.

Although I was lucky enough to have parents who took my agency seriously, the most overwhelming and depressing aspect of that experience was how little my fears counted. As a child, I had no power and very little voice, despite the fact that the adults in charge were risking our very survival.

Fast forward 35 years, and my own children are faced with a similar predicament in relation to climate change, but now there is a crucial difference: it’s not a genuine possibility, it is a reality. We are already changing the climate and creating devastating changes to the planet. The only question that remains is how devastating will these changes become? How many ecosystems will collapse? How many rivers will run dry, species die out, diseases spread, famines ravage, wars rage?

— Read the rest of the article over at Eureka Street

Of Protest, the Commons, and Customary Public Rights: An Ancient Tale of the Lawful Forest

In this article, John Page and I explore an ancient tale of customary public rights that starts and ends with the landmark decision of Brown v Tasmania. In Brown, Australia’s highest court recognised a public right to protest in forests. Harking back 800 years to the limits of legal memory, and the Forest Charter of 1217, this right is viewed through the metaphor of the lawful forest, a relational notion of property at the margins of legal orthodoxy. Inherent to this tale is the tension that pits private enclosure against the commons, a contest that endures across time and place – from 13th century struggles against the Norman legal forest, through to modern claims of rights to the city.

This article is now available as an Advance copy with the UNSW Law Journal.

The Darling’s dead fish of late capitalism

Humans of Late Capitalism (HOLC) is a social media account that plays on the massively popular Humans of New York (HONY) phenomenon to starkly highlight the reality of what it is like to live on our planet today. Its darkly humorous images serve as an ironic critique of our society and, particularly, our economic system.

Over the last few weeks, Australia has produced two symbolic images that fit well into the HOLC narrative: a massive fish kill in Menindee lakes on the Darling River and Walgett, the town with two rivers and no water.

Water is critical to life on this planet. And yet clean water supplies are dwindling due to the impact of human activity, while demand continues to increase. The United Nations has estimated that ‘by 2050, at least one-in-four people is likely to live in countries affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater’.

Read more over at Eureka Street.

Climate change is here, now we need to adapt

Wentworth voters sent a strong message to the Coalition that it needs to start taking serious action on climate change or risk seeing its vote continue to fall.

The ALP should also sit up and take notice of exit polling from the Australia Institute, which found an overwhelming majority of voters (79 per cent) were influenced by climate change (and the need to replace coal with renewable energy), while almost half (47 per cent) indicated that this issue had a lot of influence on their vote, and a full third (33 per cent) named it as the most important issue.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal has upheld the historic decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015), which ‘determined the Dutch government must reduce CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent (compared to 1990) by 2020 to fulfil its obligation to protect and improve the living environment against the imminent danger caused by climate change’.

— Read more over at Eureka Street