Taking a break part 3

Cost benefit analysis

Scott Morrison and elements of the media are demanding that Bill Shorten release cost estimates for his climate action program.

The demands are an indication of their ignorance of both the issue and elementary accounting and economics. What is required in simultaneously assessing the costs of addressing climate change and the benefits of doing so is simple – conventional cost benefit analysis.

The Government’s problem in addressing the issue in this way is that in their hearts they don’t believe there is any need for, nor benefit from, reducing emissions and future proofing Australia and the world. Moreover, they subscribe to an ideology which sees the cost of community and social policies but not their value.


In taking a break part 2 the blog remarked that one reason why taxpayers ought not support churches is that some of them not only encourage hate but they also encourage ignorance far beyond that of simply believing in a god. Yet all is not totally dire in the field of the godly – even in that centre for godliness and associated hypocrisy the United States – as shown by a sophisticated survey by the Pew Research Center when it asked about evolution,

First, survey respondents were asked if they believe humans have evolved over time. Those who said humans have evolved then branched to a second question which asked for their views about the processes behind evolution, including the role of God in those processes.

The details are on the Pew Research website but in a summary the organisation said; “When asked this way, about two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (66%) took a ‘creationist’ stance, saying that ‘humans have always existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

But the results differed when the question was posed in single-question format to a random sample of respondents from the same survey. This approach asked about people’s views on whether or not human evolution has occurred, the processes behind evolution and the role of God in those processes together in one question. In this case, a 62% majority of white evangelical Protestants took the position that humans have evolved over time.

“Similarly, 59% of black Protestants asked about this topic in the two-question format said humans have always existed in their present form. By contrast, with the single-question format, just 27% of black Protestants said this, while a 71% majority said humans have evolved over time.

“Differences in response to these two approaches occur among highly religious groups, but not among religiously unaffiliated Americans (those who describe their religion as nothing in particular, agnostic or atheist). Overwhelming majorities of the religiously unaffiliated said humans have evolved over time on both the two-question branched choice (87%) and the single-question format (88%).”

“Regardless of people’s own views about evolution, 76% of Americans see widespread scientific consensus on this issue, saying that ‘“most biological scientists say that humans have evolved over time due to processes such as natural selection.” A 68% majority of white evangelical Protestants and 44% of black Protestants see widespread scientific consensus on evolution, as do even larger shares of religiously unaffiliated Americans (86%) and white mainline Protestants (80%).

Land rights

One can hardly treat the French as much better colonists than the British even if both are better than the Congo and King Leopold.

But a friend sent something which suggested one Frenchman who visited Australia, the French explorer Nicholas Baudin, had some enlightened views. Baudin said: “I have never been able to conceive that there was any justice or equity on the part of Europeans, in seizing, in the name of their governments, a land for the first time, when it is inhabited by men who have not always deserved the title of savages, or cannibals, which has been given to them, while they are but children of nature, and just as little savages as are actually your Scotch Highlanders or our peasants of Brittany who, if they do not eat their fellowmen, are nevertheless just as objectionable.

“From this it appears to me that it would be infinitely more glorious for your nation, as for mine, to mould for society the inhabitants of the various countries over which they have rights, instead of wishing to dispossess those who are so far removed by immediately seizing the soil which they own and which has given them birth.”

“These remarks are no doubt impolite, but at least reasonable from the facts, and had this principle been generally adopted, you would not have been obliged to form a colony by means of men branded by the law and who have become criminals through the fault of the Government which has neglected and abandoned them to themselves.

“It follows, therefore, that not only have you to reproach yourselves with an injustice in seizing their lands, but also in transporting on a soil where the crimes and diseases of the Europeans were unknown, all that could retard the progress of civilisation, but which has served as a pretext to your Government.

“I have no knowledge of the claims which the French Government may have upon Van Diemens Land, nor of its designs; but I think that its title will not be any better grounded than yours”, he said.

Not exactly enlightened by rather better than advocating extermination.

Climate change

The George Mason University Climate Change Communications Center continues to produce fascinating research on attitudes to the issue. They recently polled citizens in Australia, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States and asked whether they would support such various iterations of a carbon tax in their country if it were also implemented in all other countries. They were given background information on national and global greenhouse-gas emissions, fuel and electricity costs, income and employment, as well as on climate dividends, if any.

Three designs received majority support in all five countries, when averaged across tax rates. These were: lowering income taxes, redistributing revenues domestically to each citizen, and earmarking funds for mitigation projects in all countries. The first two could be achieved through harmonized carbon taxes; the third would require a global carbon tax.

While the blog has mentioned it before there is another great 4C report, relevant to our current Australian election, on why manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus has been such a priority for opponents of climate action; what kind of strategies have they employed; and how should science-based climate communicators respond?

The report – the Consensus Handbook – is a concise, practical booklet examines how opponents of climate action have been attempting to misinform the public and policy makers about the consensus for decades, and it explains why. Drawing on numerous scientific studies, the handbook also recommends how to respond to this misinformation campaign by effectively communicating the extent of the scientific consensus, and it provides guidance to climate scientists who are invited to “debate” about climate change.

Transparency International Australia (TIA)

All sorts of lobby groups use an election campaign to put forward solutions to problems. One of the most urgent of the ideas is a new approach to National Integrity Priorities to reveal and stop corruption and improve accountability.

TIA (the blog is a member) has released a report on the subject which can be summarised in brief as a call to: establish a strong, properly resourced national integrity commission; better control political donations; strengthen rules on lobbying and parliamentary conduct; protect whistleblowers; and, bolster international anti-corruption efforts.

Now who could be opposed to that and, if they are, why?

Some books

There have been many, many books written about Churchill and Orwell respectively. There have been some very good ones, some unremarkable ones and some downright trash – this last being the case when their author has been seeking to appropriate one or the other to their own ideological position.

But there have been few about both of them – comparing and contrasting the; placing them in context; and, looking at their reception and how that reception has changed over time. One of the few is Thomas E. Ricks’ Churchill & Orwell The fight for freedom which was given to the blog last year by his friend Barry Whalen.

It is a brilliant book – conveying much with brief biographical vignettes; interspersing the text with illuminating quotations from both; showing an amazing capacity to make you think anew about two individuals you thought you knew much about; and, their wonderful ways with words. Churchill could be orotund but at his best he was magnificent. Today almost anyone wanting to write clearly and effectively will have been influenced – consciously or not – by Orwell’s ever pertinent advice on how to write the best possible English.

The blog’s friend Sue Coffey has also edited a very important book – Seeking Justice in Cambodia: Human Rights Defenders Speak out. The blog will post a proper review later but in short it features interviews with a wide range of Cambodian human rights activists – many of whom now live in exile. While not addressing the issue it does raise the question of why on earth Australian Governments would have sent millions of dollars to a deeply corrupt and authoritarian regime in return for re-settling a handful of refugees.

Who We are How We Got Here by David Reich is about what analysing ancient DNA tells us about humanity and challenges many, many assumptions and common beliefs.

The books conclusion might be summed up by one paragraph: “We now know that nearly every group living today is the product of repeated population mixtures that have occurred over thousands and tens of thousands of years, Mixing is in human nature and no one population is – or could be ‘pure’.” For instance, Brexiteers spouting nonsense about Britons might be surprised to discover that the people who built Stonehenge were not the ancestors of modern Brits and the DNA links between The Norman kings and the current monarch are not exactly compelling evidence of continuity.

Much of what we have believed – from Mitochondrial Eve, out of Africa theory to relations between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens is wrong or misleading. There were archaic humans before us; and not only Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens but Denisovans and others. Papuans and Pacific Islanders are descended from indigenous Taiwanese.

And even social relations can be revealing from historic DNA. For example the systematic rape and sexual enslavement of African women in the US is confirmed by the differences between current African American male and female DNAs. Now that more consensual arrangements apply modern female DNA often contains evidence of African American input.

There is much else equally illuminating and fascinating.