Thursday, 29 November 2007
Entitled "The Struggle Against Climate Change," the UNDP report paints an alarming picture of the climate change problem and urges richer countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, with cuts of 30 percent by 2020.
The proposed reductions in emissions are "stringent but affordable," the report said.
Between now and 2030, the average annual cost would amount to 1.6 percent of global GDP, said the report to be presented Tuesday at a ceremony attended by UNDP chief Kemal Dervis and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
"This is not an insignificant investment. But it represents less than two-thirds of global military spending. The costs of inaction could be much higher," the UNDP report said.
On its first page, the document states that "climate change is now a scientifically established fact. We know enough to recognize that there are large risks, potentially catastrophic ones."
In the study commissioned by the UNDP, a panel of experts examined how climate change could play out, considered how to tackle the crisis and asserted the cost of fixing the problem will not be the same for every country.
"Those who have largely caused the problem -- the rich countries -- are not going to ... suffer the most in the short term," the report said.
"It is the poorest who did not, and still are not, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions that are the most vulnerable."
Addressing the disparity in costs represents the most difficult challenge for policy makers and the authors warned: "We should not allow distributional disagreements to block the way forward."
An eventual rise of three degrees Celsius in global temperatures will bring drought, tropical storms and a rise in sea levels that will hit the economies of developing countries hardest.
"In terms of aggregate world GDP, these short term effects may not be large. But for some of the world's poorest people, the consequences could be apocalyptic," it said.
In analyzing possible steps to alleviate climate change, the report argues that the effort must include drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions along with adapting to the effects of global warming.
"Adaptation is ultimately about building the resilience of the world's poor to a problem largely created by the world's richest nations," it said.
For poor countries, climate change will bring a deterioration in agricultural production, declining access to health and education services, and less access to markets -- generating yet more poverty, it said.
The aim of the UN report was to encourage countries to confront the problem, said Ken Watkins, a member of the expert team that prepared the document.
"We are issuing a call to action, not providing a counsel of despair. Working together with resolve, we can win the battle against climate change," Watkins said.
News and politics
The company, based in Mountain View, California, announced Tuesday that it intended to develop and help stimulate the creation of renewable energy technologies that are cheaper than coal-generated power.
Google said it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars, part of that to hire engineers and energy experts to investigate alternative energies like solar, geothermal and wind power. The effort is aimed at reducing Google's own mounting energy costs to run its vast data centers, while also fighting climate change and helping to reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels.
"We see technologies we think can mature into very capable industries that can generate electricity cheaper than coal," said Larry Page, a Google founder and president of products, "and we don't see people talking about that as much as we would like."
The initiative, which Google is calling RE
The company also said that Google.org, the philanthropic for-profit subsidiary that Google seeded in 2004 with three million shares of its stock, would invest in energy start-ups.
Google says its goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy — enough to power the city of San Francisco — more cheaply than coal-generated electricity. The company predicted that this can be accomplished in "years, not decades."
For some Wall Street analysts, the most relevant question is not whether Google can save the world, but whether the company's idealism may ultimately distract it from its core businesses of organizing the world's information and selling online ads.
"My first reaction when I read about this was, 'Is this a joke?'" said Jordan Rohan of RBC Capital Markets. "I've written off Google's competition as a threat to Google's long-term market share gains. But I haven't written off Google's own ability to stretch too far and try to do too much. Ultimately, that is the biggest risk in the Google story."
Robert Peck of Bear Stearns agreed that "the headlines were a little scary at first" and said investors were initially worried that this was another example of Google "trying to bite off more than they can chew."
But Google's stock closed up more than 1 percent Tuesday in a higher market, Peck said, when investors "realized this is more of a Google.org initiative and backed off."
Page, in an interview, said that failing to investigate new businesses could hurt Google more than any potential distraction. "If you look at companies that don't do anything new," he said, "they are guaranteed never to get bigger. They miss a lot of opportunities and they miss the next big things."
As part of the initiative, executives at Google.org said they are working with two companies that have "promising, scalable energy technologies." One of these, eSolar, based in Pasadena, California, uses thousands of small mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate steam that powers electric generators. The other, Makani Power of Alameda, California, is developing wind turbines that will run on powerful and generally more predictable winds at high altitudes.
In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Sergey Brin, Google's other founder and president of technology, said the effort was motivated in part by the company's frustrating search for clean, cheap energy alternatives.
"It's very hard to find options that aren't coal-based or other dirty technologies," he said. "We don't feel good about being in that situation as a company. We feel hypocritical. We want to make investments happen so there will be alternatives for us to use down the road." Both founders declined to specify what the company now spends on energy.
Idealism is hardly new at Google. In their Letter From the Founders before the company's 2004 initial public stock offering, Page and Brin wrote: "Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near-term financial returns are not obvious."
Rohan of RBC Capital Markets said that the returns were not obvious. "The only positive byproduct of this project that would be anything other than environmental," he said, "is that it might make Google managers and executives even prouder of the fact that they work there, and it may help retain key employees who think their goal is to do good in the world. But I'm really stretching."
Google is only the latest Fortune 500 company to embrace green technologies. Also Tuesday, Hewlett-Packard said it would install a one-megawatt solar electric power system at its manufacturing plant in San Diego, and buy 80 gigawatt-hours of wind energy in Ireland next year. HP said that together, the agreements would save it around $800,000 in energy costs.
Psychological Operations is my specialty. PsyOps.
Everything I’ve done has been highly classified, all black programs and black operations. Some people I know thought I worked for the CIA, but it’s much more complicated than that. I’ve worked with people in the CIA, DIA, NSC, NSA, SAIC, Army Intel and many more lesser known agencies within the intelligence apparatus.
Before focusing on PsyOps I started out running covert combat missions, special operations. I was good at what I did and rose through the ranks fast. When the “War on Terror” started I was paid a lot of money to consult with private military contractors. When private paramilitary units needed to get the jobs done that paid the most money they would come to me with checkbooks filled with US taxpayer dough.
I’ve seen the worst things imaginable, hell on earth. Had friends die in my arms. Seen piles of rotten corpses. Seen men, women and children tortured. I’ve seen the eyes of terrified and confused children being sold into a vicious life of slavery and an early death.
I could get a lot more graphic, but you get the idea.
That was my life, and all along I was told that I was fighting for freedom and working for the “good guys.” What a ridiculous comment that is! In the black world, that is, in the covert world, there aren’t any “good guys” — just varying degrees of evil.
As Brigadier General Butler famously stated, “War is a racket.” It doesn’t have anything to do with freedom and democracy. It is not good fighting evil. There’s just a bunch of old greedy gangsta motherfuckers making obscene amounts of cash and breeding hatred, violence, terrorists and sex slaves.
The truth is, there is no oversight! Meaning, you can get away with anything, nothing is illegal because no one knows about it, or the few who do are either in on it or have a vested interest in keeping quiet. Whether you’re runnin’ guns, weapons, drugs, gold, diamonds, women, children, it just doesn’t matter. As long as the old guard gets their resources, it’s all good. And in the end, it’s all about power. The people who really run this planet know that natural resources (oil, water, coltan, cobalt, etc.) are the key. The “War on Terror” is just a front for a geo-strategic resource grab on a massive scale. Even the wars in Northern Africa are all about exploitation of resources. Once the good ole CIA boys at Bechtel did their NASA satellite studies of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) mineral resources and discovered that it was the “richest patch of earth on the planet,” all hell broke loose! They figured out that the DRC has 80% of the world’s coltan, among many other vital resources. Without coltan, you can’t have any technology that requires a computer chip: computers, cell phones, satellites and weapon systems, of course. So Bechtel, the CitiBank boys, the World Bank, IMF and various covert elements have been supplying brutal regime after brutal regime in the region. Well over four million and counting have died there.
Same thing with oil in the Middle East. Do you think they really give a shit about Iraqi freedom? We worked hard to make you believe that, but c’mon, they don’t give a shit about the Iraqi people. They’ve killed about a MILLION of them! And that’s NOT an exaggeration! They sure as hell give a shit about Iraqi oil though. They also care about Saudi oil, and have a nice deal with a dictatorship that brutally oppresses their people. If freedom and democracy are the issue, how about freeing the Saudi people? Why do you think 15 of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia? We support a regime that oppresses those people. We support them because they cooperate on the oil front. So, why strike back at them? Let’s hit Iraq. They don’t give us any oil - let’s get’em!
If you look at the history of covert special operations, it’s all about securing a piece of land that has some valuable resource. Once the resource is identified, special ops figures out the most efficient way to suppress or extinguish the population that is unfortunate enough to live near it. Then the big companies come in, from the United Fruit Company to the Bechtels and Halliburtons of the world. That is the way it has been and still is, from John D. Rockefeller and Allen Dulles right through Kissinger, Bush Sr. and Cheney. Millions of innocent civilians have been slaughtered. Let me repeat that: Millions of innocent civilians have been slaughtered. And I’m not kidding you. These are evil motherfuckers and they are no friends of ours. These things don’t have anything to do with protecting the US people or standing up for freedom and democracy. They don’t give a shit about the average American. In this age of the global economy, the concept of nation state is obsolete. If only proud Americans could understand that. Pride in the American way is just another propaganda device for PsyOps agents — people like me — to use to manipulate you and make you think that black is white and white is black.
If you were to ask me who is a bigger threat to the people of the US, Cheney or bin Laden, or who has done more damage to the US, I would say Cheney without hesitation. Cheney, along with Bush Sr. and Kissinger, has been running the covert world for about 40 years now.
A little side note for you: I firmly believe Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense and Bush Sr.’s right-hand man in the covert world, used computer cryptography and software security assets to get Bush Jr. elected both times. I do not have direct knowledge of the operation, but research “Robert Gates,” “Bill Owens,” “electronic voting security,” “HAVA,” “VoteHere” and “Scientific Applications International Corp.” [We will post more on this in the near future.] The operation went so well that Gates was going to be made the first ever Director of National Intelligence. He turned down the job, but then took the Secretary of Defense position when Rumsfeld was removed from his public position. I don’t think there will ever be solid evidence linking directly to members of the administration; it’s all a tangled web of plausible deniability. But I do think it will eventually be proven that the elections were manipulated to deliver Bush the victory. Many people in the covert world take this for granted, as common sense.
Please don’t confuse this as partisan propaganda. I don’t give a shit about the Democrat or Republican PsyOps mind-fuck dynamic. They’re just labels to divide a potentially powerful united US public.
It’s hard to get the average American to understand these things. Most everyone in this country has been mind-fucked since birth. For a very blatant example, you can look at the advertising industry and the way they have increased intensely their focus on the youth. It’s all about breeding impulsive emotionally driven consumers through repetition - over and over again - buy, buy, buy. You hear something enough and you internalize the message. It becomes something like the air you breathe, like gravity. It’s there, omnipresent, but you don’t realize it or consciously think about it. It becomes the spring from which your thoughts leap forth.
What it all boils down to is the exposure rate. You take a simple message and you repeat it over and over, such as mentioning Saddam and 9/11. You don’t have to say Saddam was involved in 9/11, because that is not true. You just have to mention Saddam and 9/11 in the same simple repetitive message thousands of times and people will support an attack on a country that didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 because they’ve been psychologically conditioned to link the two.
It’s psychological operations on a grand scale, mass psychology. The scientific art of manipulating public opinion is 100 years old now. PsyOps have evolved to the point, thanks to the all pervasive mass media, where we can make you believe, or at least passively accept, whatever we want you to. I secretly worked with the world’s most powerful media companies to get you to believe what “they” want you to believe. The media is the most efficient weapon of tyranny and oppression ever created. No need to physically control populations anymore when you can do it mentally - program it in, internalize the rules.
To give a little more background on publicly revealed psychological operations, in 1977, after the Congressional Church Committee investigated CIA manipulation of the news media, and right after George Bush Sr. left his post as the Director of the CIA, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein searched a little deeper into what was known as Operation Mockingbird. He revealed that over 400 US journalists were actually carrying out clandestine CIA PsyOps services. Bernstein identified operations involving almost every major US news outlet, most notably The New York Times, CBS and Time magazine. The CIA responded to all of this with a “limited hangout.” A “limited hangout” is CIA speak for when classified information gets out and you have to make it seem as if you are “coming clean” with all the information on the operation, but in reality you are really just admitting part of the operation so you can cover up other deeper parts and continue the program. This worked very effectively for them, as the US public quickly moved on and this operation has largely been forgotten. Currently, I would estimate, with cable news and the Internet now, that there are well over a thousand covert operatives spread throughout the news media. They have a firm grip on television, newspapers, wire services, radio and magazines. However, with the Internet - that’s their weak spot - it’s too decentralized and difficult to control.
The Pentagon’s Information Operations Roadmap now describes the Internet as an enemy “weapons system.” The Pentagon doesn’t hide the fact that they want total control over information, or as they call it “information dominance.” They very plainly state that they seek to “control land, sea, space and information.” This is what they refer to as “full spectrum dominance.” If you don’t think they see this as a top priority, look at Iraq. The plan to “embed” journalists with the military in Iraq was a strategic operation that considered “journalism as part of psychological operations.” The journalists that weren’t “embedded” were considered “enemy combatants.” More journalists have been killed in Iraq than in any other war, and it is the US doing a large portion of the killing.
Before I go too far here, the point I want to make to the US public, the bottom line is that the most power crazed and greed addicted people are above the law and get away with everything. In the covert world rules do not apply. Democracy is a fairy tale. Nothing is what it seems, reality isn’t real. Through the looking glass Alice goes.
I’ve fought against it and got nowhere. I’ve informed people that I naively thought could do something, but nothing could be done. I took all the blood money I’ve made and donated it to humanitarian causes. Will it make a difference? No. Not in the grand scheme of things, but in the short run it may save a few people… maybe. And that’s all I can hope for at this point.
I’ve become so cynical! I live with guilt and cynicism weighing on my every move, my every thought.
When you’ve seen the things I have seen, been involved with the things I’ve been involved with, when you’ve spent the majority of your life living like I have, what do you do when you decide to give it up and get out? Can you ever get out?
I was able to get out, thus far, when no one I knew thought I could get out. But once you lived in the covert world, “normal” civilian life feels like a prison sentence. Then again, the covert world was a prison sentence.
I’ve been strongly advised to keep a very low profile and forget about things for a while. But I find it hard to just fade into the night when we are reaching an event horizon, a breaking point. Despite my cynicism, there is a part of me that knows I have to keep fighting. The stakes are just too high, higher then they’ve ever been. The human species is in serious trouble, facing a set of crises unlike anything we’ve ever faced before. Unless these covert forces are exposed, and ultimately eliminated, I don’t see how we can even begin to make the bold actions that we need to start making now - and I mean right fucking now! These covert forces are a root cause and driver, a cancer spreading through the system and planet.
As far as I can tell, you can’t change the system from within the intelligence community itself. This includes the Senate Intel Committee. If the urgently needed changes are ever to happen, it has to come from the US public. Now I know first hand how the American public has been conditioned to be apathetic and not get involved in politics and has been fed a steady diet of misinformation. But propaganda only works to the point where the population being propagandized is not feeling the direct impact and negative consequences on a personal level in their daily lives. That’s why the draft played a large role in bringing an end to Vietnam. We need another draft to push the mainstream over the edge and into action, but the façade is beginning to crack - 9/11 had some effect, the war in Iraq certainly, Katrina, massive job loses and an economic downturn that has really just begun have all factored into creating a critical mass. Even the most propagandized population in the history of civilization will have to act when their very survival and well-being is directly threatened and impacted. I just hope enough people will understand the need for bold decisive action now, before it’s too late.
So, to the people who have awareness of the problems facing us, if I could give advice, it would be this:
- Try the Bush Administration for war crimes. If the case could ever be brought to court, the evidence to convict is definitely there. This is why the administration has been strongly against the International Criminal Court. If we are to begin repairing this country, and the world, we must begin by showing these power crazed and covert forces that they are accountable. If we can convict someone like Cheney, we will send a powerful message to the covert world. If we let them walk, we will keep having these problems. New people will follow them and take their place.
- Investigate where all the military spending has been vanishing off to. There are literally trillions of taxpayer dollars unaccounted for. This money is fueling the covert world and terrorism in general. As part of this, I would include an investigation into war profiteering as well.
- Make it mandatory that all electronic voting machines must have a 100% verifiable paper trail.
- Get people into the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who will smash the current media ownership rules. The concentration of media ownership is the foundation of the covert power structure. Without that, the whole thing is a house of cards. That’s why the FCC is currently trying to ram through rules that will further consolidate media ownership before the Bush administration leaves office. As part of this, it is pivotal that we protect the open architecture of the Internet. The media belongs to the people, as does the government, in theory anyway, but we need an information system that actually serves the public interest.
- Declare a national and global emergency on the environmental front. We have already reached the breaking point. We need organized, governmental, policy driven, bold action now.
- We need to address entities that now have power over the Constitution, such as the undemocratic and unelected corporate global governing structure - institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and “agreements” like NAFTA and DR-CAFTA, to name a few. Most Americans don’t even know what these power structures are, let alone that they have power that supersedes the Constitution. We must also address the National Security Act, that’s where the ultimate power of our country lies. The National Security Act has effectively made the Constitution meaningless and is the primary driver of the covert world. The PATRIOT Act and various other newly granted powers must also be drastically revised or eliminated completely in order to protect our civil liberties.
- Lastly, we need to have publicly financed elections. As long as we have a system that requires candidates to raise tens of millions of dollars to even be considered for office, we will have politicians who bend over backwards for the richest one percent and the most powerful elements of society at the citizens’ expense. An important aspect of this has to be a requirement for large media companies to provide candidates with free airtime. Candidates have to spend the majority of their money on advertising in the mainstream media. That’s why the major news media spend so much time focusing on who is raising the most money, because they are the ones who end up with all that money. Once we have publicly financed elections and free airtime for candidates, we will get people in office who will work in the interests of the public because they are not beholden to the large and powerful entities. When you have politicians depending on the public instead of the private sector for survival, all the issues mentioned above could be addressed because they won’t have to fear the withdrawal of support from large corporations and the wealthy and powerful who do not want these things to happen. This will also enable us to eliminate tax breaks for the richest one percent, put an end to corporate welfare practices, and stop funding for obscene military and prison industrial companies that are profiting off of disasters and no longer serve security interests. Then we can redirect that money into environmental, education, health care and social security programs, to mention a few.
In the current political environment this may all sound like an unrealistic pipe dream, but these are the seven pivotal things that MUST happen. If all seven don’t happen within the next few years, we will have set the world on a disastrously irreversible course. This is “the unfortunate reality of our current situation.” It is not going to be easy, but you better start fighting for it now, while we still can.
It really does come down to us. You have to personally, in your daily life, do everything you can. With enough public pressure all of these things are achievable. Once we get a small portion of the population acting in this direction, it will quickly catch on and spread. Even though the overwhelming majority of the US population is incredibly propagandized on the surface, just underneath is the realization of the need for mass action. They just need leaders to point this out. The mainstream just needs a spark. Do what you can to set it off. It is a matter of unprecedented significance.
** This article is excerpted from the upcoming edition of the book The Art of Mental Warfare. **
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News and politics
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Australians go into the federal election affluent and, on the surface, satisfied. Signs of prosperity are everywhere. Yet in a culture now defined by the idea of lifestyle, aspirations continue to rise ahead of incomes. A number of interest-rate rises and warnings (admittedly half-hearted) from the Reserve Bank have failed to temper consumer confidence. Household debt grew from $300 billion in 1996 to over $1 trillion last year. The sociology of the debt binge is little studied, but the political implications are far-reaching.
The benefits of the boom have been broadly spread. It is true that the rich are getting richer, but it is not true that the poor are getting poorer, either in absolute terms or relative to the average. For a neo-liberal government committed more to equality of opportunity than of outcomes, the Howard government has made sure, through carefully targeted welfare payments and tax concessions, that households on low incomes have kept pace with the average. In an era when every politician must be a friend of the family, having a child has never been so lucrative.
On the face of it, the credit boom keeps everyone happy: consumers have their dreams realised, retailers and banks announce record profits, and the federal government basks in the economic sunshine. No one seems to worry any more about the chronic deficit on the current account, much of it due to imports of consumer goods and funded by the steady sale of assets. Marx noted that the modern credit economy is like a house of cards, but we act as if the bottom storeys have been araldited together.
The Coalition rules over a new golden age. The prime minister and his treasurer will never make the mistake of Gough Whitlam, who told a meeting of angry farmers in 1974 that they had never had it so good. Deep down we do not accept our affluence, for to believe that we are doing it tough is rooted in the Australian psyche. Like the student at the University of Sydney, the son of a medical specialist, who complained that his family is struggling because they cannot afford to install floodlights for their tennis court, most Australians continue to believe that they cannot afford to buy everything they really need, irrespective of how wealthy they are.
Sydney epitomises the new dispensation, a city now divided between the haves and the have-yachts. For most Australians the stoicism that characterised their grandparents' generation has been transformed from a survival skill to a nostalgic ideal, to which we cling. This is why we in the cities love a good bushfire, especially around Christmas time. As the orgy of spending reaches a climax, we begin to wonder whether we have become decadent. The firies who battle the elements on our behalf remind us of our ‘true' selves.
Despite the extraordinary affluence, for which John Howard is quick to claim credit, our political leaders still deploy the language of the ‘battler' at every turn. The image of the battler is the holiest icon of Australian political folklore, although the number of people who truly struggle has shrunk to a small proportion of the population. For every real battler - a term for which ‘working family' has become a close synonym - there are several who imagine themselves to meet the criteria.
The strange mood that has emerged in the new golden age - consumer confidence married to self-pity - has gradually transformed Australian politics. The old social-democratic notion of social justice has been replaced by middle-class welfare, typified by the massive handouts of the rebate for private health insurance and the tax concessions for superannuation. Although they are recognised as bad policy by every dispassionate observer, they remain politically untouchable.
All of this ought to make the next election a three-inch putt for the Coalition. Why would the people vote out a government that has overseen, if not generated, 11 years of sustained economic growth and full employment? If the hip-pocket-nerve theory of voting is valid, there is nothing to stop the Coalition buying itself another term in office. Yet a niggling worry now seems to be intruding on Australia's long period of comfortable complacency. A hitherto suppressed fear is felt by many: that the good fortune enjoyed by this generation may leave a world less habitable for future ones. In the past 12 months the true implications of the scientists' warnings about the climate crisis have begun to sink in and cast a pall over the whole project of ever-increasing prosperity.
In the first half of 2006 something shifted. Perhaps it was the announcement in January that 2005 had been the hottest year on record; perhaps it was the seemingly endless drought that found its way into the cities. Whatever it was, it was reinforced by Al Gore's film and the Stern Review. It is still not certain how central global warming will be to the federal election, but one thing is clear: after a decade of neglect, John Howard is taking no risks now. Although remaining in his heart a greenhouse sceptic, he knows that to win the election he must neutralise Labor's advantage on the issue. He needs policies that appear credible; piecemeal policies and defensive rhetoric will not do, which is why he needs the big bang of an emissions-trading system, expected to be announced this month.
This represents a serious danger to Labor. A rigorous emissions-trading system is the core policy response to the climate crisis, and Labor risks being caught up in a debate over the details of a policy that the public will not understand. On the other hand, Howard suffers in the public mind from the accumulated legacy of mistrust over climate change. The epithets of "mean and tricky" and "lying rodent" that have leaked out from his own side reflect a widespread view that the prime minister cannot be trusted, that he does to the truth what David Beckham does to the football.
The company Howard keeps is also a problem. His position on climate change has a lot to do with his friendship with Hugh Morgan. As the one-time CEO of Western Mining, an important figure in the anti-Kyoto Australian Industry Greenhouse Network and the former president of the Business Council of Australia, Morgan has been the driving force behind business opposition to an emissions-trading system. He has also been the central figure of climate-change denialism in Australia, not least through his role in founding the Lavoisier Group of sceptics. Morgan has been a close confidant of the prime minister since the early 1980s, when, as treasurer, Howard appointed him to the board of the Reserve Bank. Although now in retreat, Morgan and the denialists have not been wholly vanquished and still exercise an influence over key cabinet members. The Lavoisier Group and the Institute of Public Affairs (a think-tank staffed entirely by climate-change sceptics, thus perhaps best referred to as a sceptic tank) will fight a rearguard action.
Both the Coalition and Labor want to believe - indeed, are desperate to believe - that Australian greenhouse-gas emissions can be sharply reduced without any noticeable effect on the economy and our affluent lifestyles. In this they draw considerable comfort from the Stern Review and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others, which have concluded that deep cuts can be had at a low economic cost. The report of the IPCC's Working Group III, released in April, estimates that to cut emissions by 50% by the middle of the century requires the sacrifice of only one or two years' economic growth out of a period of 40 or more years.
Sir Nicholas Stern is confident that once a powerful signal is sent to the market, the market will find a way to carry out the restructuring of the energy economy. Is he right? In 50 years' time the world will be dramatically different. If a strong signal can be sent now, there are some grounds for optimism. While we already have the technologies to reduce the world's emissions sharply over the next decade or two, by 2050 the market, suitably guided, will present a set of possibilities we cannot foresee. After all, 50 years ago we did not have electronics, television, computers, nuclear power, the widespread use of plastics or mass-produced whitegoods, let alone biotechnology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology or space tourism.
In the short term, we can estimate some of the economic costs. To achieve a reduction of greenhouse gases to 550 parts per million (admittedly still too high a level), the carbon price will need to be set in the range of US$20-50 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This will see petrol prices increase by 4-10 Australian cents a litre, and electricity prices for householders rise by 2-5 cents a kilowatt hour on top of the 12 cents or so they pay now.
So far, so good. But in truth, cutting the world's greenhouse gases by the required amounts is an almost intractable task. The sheer weight of economic growth constantly works to make the 50% reduction target a difficult one to reach. In his report, Stern estimated that the developing world's gross domestic product will grow by 400% by the middle of the century and that of rich countries by more than 200%. The overwhelming question is whether a world likely to grow at rates like these can at the same time cut global carbon emissions in half.
What Stern had to say was nothing new. For some years now, economic modelling has shown that the costs of meeting the Kyoto targets would be vanishingly small. Even modelling estimates commissioned by the Bush administration typically conclude that cutting emissions as mandated in the Kyoto Protocol would see the gross national product of the US reduced by only 1% by 2012. Seen in this light, the hostility to the protocol appears to be a form of madness.
Given the scale of the cuts in carbon emissions that are required, what is at stake is not just a matter of economic policy, but a demand for a social and cultural transformation. Are we in the rich countries of the world capable of making such a psychological transition? The glib answer is: Well, we simply must. Yet such an environmental imperative must conquer a more powerful force. In consumer societies such as ours, consumption activity is the primary means by which we create an identity and sustain a sense of self. If, in order to solve climate change, we are asked to change the way we consume, then we are being asked to change who we are - to experience a sort of death. So desperately do we cling to our manufactured selves that perhaps we fear relinquishing them more than we fear the consequences of climate change.
This helps to explain the chasm between the phlegmatic approach of our political leaders and the rising panic among climate scientists and clear-eyed environmentalists. Politics aside, it is apparent now that the principal obstacles to saving the planet are not technological or economic, but psychological.
Published in The Monthly, June 2007, No. 24
Sunday, 25 November 2007
Just after 9pm John Howard, the dominant political figure of his generation, was deposed from government and from Parliament.
A fighter to the end, Mr Howard did not appear at the Liberal Party function in central Sydney until late last night.
While government and the prime ministership were lost early in the evening, last night Mr Howard conceded that he was also likely to lose his seat.
Mr Howard has won 13 straight elections in Bennelong since 1974, the last four as his party's leader, but his hold on the electorate in Sydney's north-western suburbs appeared in doubt.
Only one other prime minister, Stanley Bruce in 1929, has been deposed while holding the highest office in the land.
In an eerie parallel with Mr Howard's situation, Mr Bruce lost that election on the back of unpopular industrial relations reforms.
Late last night the Coalition had endured a nationwide swing of 5.9%.
The strongest swings were in NSW and Queensland, where the largest Labor gains were expected.
Labor had picked up 21 seats from its 2004 result of 60 in the House of Representatives. It needed a net gain of 16 to win government.
In Bennelong, where Mr Howard is battling to survive against the high-profile Labor candidate, former journalist Maxine McKew, the swing to Labor was 5.2% with 70% of votes counted. Mr Howard's buffer of 4.1% appeared set to be eclipsed.
Mr Howard's famous campaign abilities meant nobody was prepared to write him off in Bennelong, but last night's figures suggested he might have to concede his seat.
When Ms McKew appeared on giant screens around the Wentworth Hotel ballroom, filmed being feted by the Labor faithful at her Bennelong function, loud boos rang out. Some Young Liberals abused the Labor candidate, one yelling "get a facelift, you slag".
While the applause for Ms McKew from her supporters was rapturous, she refused to claim victory, saying Bennelong was "on a knife-edge" and too close to call.
From early yesterday, the signs were not good for the Coalition.
Before the polls closed, the first exit poll of the night called a change of government, with Labor winning 53 to 47% of the two-party preferred vote.
As booths in the eastern states (Queensland excepted) closed from six o'clock, predictions of a strong Labor swing came true.
Even earlier, the mood towards the Government - as expressed through its attitude to its leader - was mixed at best. Mr Howard wore cheers and jeers in equal measure as he visited polling booths in his marginal electorate during the day.
He found plenty of support, but also plenty of detractors eager to forecast his demise.
Mr Howard cast his own ballot at Ermington West public school before spending most of the day on the hustings for the last time.
Most seats in the country showed varying swings against the Coalition, the majority around the national average between 4 and 5%. But seats such as NSW's Hume and Macarthur showed swings of 8 and 10%.
The famous bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro, which has gone with the government at every election since 1972, stayed true to form, going to Labor last night.
The only exception to the anti-Coalition swing appeared to be in the electorate of Wentworth, held by Malcolm Turnbull. He won with no swing against him, one of the few Liberal incumbents to weather the Labor landslide unscathed.
The campaign for Wentworth in Sydney's inner-east resembled a soap opera for most of the six-week campaign.
But the shambolic efforts of Labor's George Newhouse appear to have cost him, and Mr Turnbull's resilience in the face of a Liberal wipeout would likely strengthen any claim he makes for the Liberal leadership.
At the Wentworth Hotel in central Sydney, where Mr Howard has attended the past four election nights as victor, few of the Liberal Party faithful were in attendance early last night.
Mr Howard himself was at Kirribilli House watching the poll results on television until he arrived at the hotel about 10.30 to concede defeat to Labor.
Three hours earlier, Liberal Party members began to filter in to the room, which has been the scene of so many victories in the past decade.
Some wore campaign shirts of Liberal members and candidates, others wore party badges. But the atmosphere was flat among the faithful and the grand ballroom was then conspicuously devoid of members of Parliament or ministers.
The conversation was muted. No one talked of a late Liberal comeback, of pulling a victory from the fire.
Liberal Party members, who over more than a decade have grown used to celebrating federal election results, were disbelieving of the figures emerging from the tally room.
NSW Liberal Party state director Graeme Jaeschke, visibly upset, declined an interview with The Age.
With Labor in power in every state and both territories, the most senior elected Liberal in power in Australia this morning will be the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman.
Victoria's most senior Liberal and the heir-apparent to the party leadership in Mr Howard's absence, Peter Costello, easily held his seat of Higgins, in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. But that will be cold comfort to him today.
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Labor's victory means that for the first time in Australian history Labor now holds government in every state, territory and at Commonwealth level.
It also means that for the first time a woman, Julia Gillard, will hold the second-highest public office in the land.
John Howard conceded defeat at 10.35pm, admitting that Labor had won an emphatic victory and congratulated Mr Rudd on assuming the nation's top job.
"I want to say that there is no prouder job that anybody can occupy than the prime minister of this country," Mr Howard said.
"I wish him well in the task that he will undertake and I want to say on behalf of the Coalition that has governed this country for the last 111/2 years that we bequeath to him a nation that is stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was."
Mr Rudd is only the third Labor leader in 60 years to win government from Opposition, and becomes Australia's 26th prime minister and Labor's 11th.
With a record 53.8% of the two-party preferred vote, Mr Rudd can claim an even greater victory than that of Bob Hawke, who won in 1983 with 53.2%.
He immediately declared his government would address with "great urgency" the pressing challenges of climate change and water, and would focus on creating fairness and flexibility in the workplace.
"We should celebrate and honour the way in which we conduct this great Australian democracy of ours and it's been on display again tonight," Mr Rudd told a cheering crowd in his home town of Brisbane.
He thanked Mr Howard for his immense contribution to public service over his political career.
By late last night it was apparent that Mr Howard had lost his seat of Bennelong to Labor's star recruit, former ABC journalist Maxine McKew, with a swing of almost 5%.
However, both Mr Howard and Ms McKew described the seat as being on a knife-edge.
Mr Howard will suffer the humiliation of becoming only the second sitting prime minister in history to lose his seat if Bennelong falls. But with a large number of postal votes set to favour Mr Howard, strategists on both sides agreed Bennelong remained too close to call.
Mr Howard, who said he took full responsibility for the Liberals' defeat, endorsed former treasurer Peter Costello as the party's next leader.
Taking the stage at Sydney's Wentworth Hotel, where he has celebrated his previous four election wins since 1996, Mr Howard paid tribute to his family, and the Liberal Party.
"I owe more to the Liberal Party than the Liberal Party owes to me," Mr Howard said.
"The Liberal Party has been unbelievably generous and loyal and forgiving and understanding to me over the 33 years that I've been in parliament, the 15 or more years that I've led it and the 111/2 years that I have been prime minister."
The routing leaves the Liberal Party depleted at every level of government across the nation - Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman now holds the Liberals' highest public office.
But Peter Costello, the man tipped to be charged with rebuilding the shattered party, declined to speculate on his future last night. Mr Costello, who comfortably retained the safe Melbourne seat of Higgins, said the party would "be very very proud of what it has achieved in government".
Late last night Labor looked to have won 82 seats, the Liberals 58, eight seats were in doubt and two went to other parties.
The battle between the Coalition and the Greens for the balance of power in the Senate was too close to call last night.
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