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A few of my Rants

Fiddling while the Earth burns.

60 years ago there was a general belief in the importance of working together, and planning for the future. It was generally accepted that the public service should be professional and independent, so that it was not subservient to short-term political aims. We recognised that education and scientific research were important investments in the future, and we tried to maintain high-quality education systems. We manufactured most of our own goods, employment was high and we had a positive outlook on life.

Back then I realised that the most serious problem facing our society was that 20% of the population could produce everything that we needed, and society had to find a way of occupying the other 80% so they felt useful, without wasting natural resources, and without producing useless "stuff". The two most worthwhile ways of doing this were education, which was an investment in our future welfare, and research, with particular emphasis on long-term fundamental research, which in the past has produced almost all the unexpected and totally unpredictable advances in our knowledge which have laid the foundations for our modern society.

But our capitalist system, ever anxious for the quick buck, was already preaching the totally bogus concept of efficiency, and the tragedy then was that about the only politically correct way of employing extra people was on "Defence" projects. A lot of useful work was done under this guise, but a lot of money was wasted, and most of the potentially useful results were "classified", and hidden from the world. Then in 1973 Whitlam took the tariff off our flourishing electronics industry, which promptly collapsed. Now, instead of paying our own people to produce our own goods, and keeping our money at home, we import almost everything from whichever country can produce it most cheaply -- this year -- and invariably this means whichever country has the most corrupt government, the most exploited workers and cares least about the environment.

In importing these cheap goods we are also importing poverty. A few people -- the owners of our discount stores, and of the the third world sweatshops (and the corrupt party officials they pay to overlook their deficiencies) are able to grow obscenely rich, while our workers find it ever harder to find a job that will pay them a living wage. And while our politicians blather on about "balancing the budget" (while they buy expensive toys for the defence forces from overseas), our overseas debt climbs to ever more unsustainable levels and our irreplaceable natural resources are squandered at an ever increasing rate.

Today the public service has been completely politicised, and the concept of long-term planning has disappeared without trace. We see education as giving someone an unfair advantage, so we charge them for it, and unless research can guarantee a dividend this year we will not support it. Nobody thinks past their end of year bonus, or the results of the next election. The problems facing us today are far more serious than they have ever been in the past, yet we, like lemmings, are rushing heedlessly on to inevitable disaster.

Our thinking is almost entirely geared around our own short-term satisfaction and, with the encouragement of our commentators, our politicians pander to our prejudices. We see nothing wrong in our entertainers and "sportsmen" being paid a fortune, while leading a totally immoral lifestyle, our company directors receiving enormous bonuses for wrecking the companies they are supposed to be directing, while we pour our scorn upon the wicked "dole bludgers" who have the misfortune to be unable to make an honest living, because we have exported all the jobs overseas.

We think that our Universities should be self supporting, and for years the government has been encouraging them to make a profit by selling Mickey Mouse qualifications, with entry visas thrown in, to overseas students, and we overlook the large number of westerners who are here illegally, after overstaying their visas, but at the same time the politicians court the racist element in the electorate by outdoing each other to demonise the small number of unfortunate boat people -- "illegal immigrants" -- who come to our country in the hope of making a better life, all too often after our ill-considered intervention has rendered their own countries uninhabitable.

Eventually all our problems come back to one cause -- there are far too many people in the world. We are covering all our arable land with ever spreading slums, we are burning our irreplaceable fossil fuels at an exponentially increasing rate, and our rapidly spreading cities will become unworkable when we run out of fuel for heating and lighting, for transport and for growing food.

This is bad enough, but we are releasing the resulting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it has almost certainly already produced an irreversible change in climate. In the next century or two the Arctic ice caps will melt, and the oceans will rise something like 50 meters. Bangladesh, Holland, and large parts of most of our major cities will disappear, and countless millions of people will lose their homes.

And what are we doing about all this? There are many things we could have started doing years ago, which would have cost us essentially nothing, like turning off advertising signs and unnecessary lights, reducing the size of our Macmansions, or even cancelling the GP. But all these might cost votes, so we have done nothing at all.

Most of us, ostrich like, have our heads buried firmly in the sand, while the rest are talking about Mickey Mouse schemes like carbon trading, which will enable the smart traders to make a profit while shifting even more of our manufacturing offshore, but which will do almost nothing to delay the rate at which the world is burning fossil fuel, let alone reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

We are talking about positive things like solar energy and wind power, which will reduce the demand for fossil fuel, and planting more trees, which will temporarily take a small amount of carbon out of circulation. But as long as the masses in China and India can see the American way of life on their televisions they will want to live the same way, and even if we could persuade them to accept a substantially lower standard of living this would still entail a rapid increase in our rate of fossil fuel consumption.

The only viable alternative to fossil fuel is nuclear energy, but even if we started building immense numbers of nuclear power stations today, it would be too late, and the recent disasters in Japan have set back nuclear energy for at least a generation.

The only action we could take which would really make any difference would be to stop mining our fossil fuel and iron ore, and to refuse to sell them to others. But I fear that, in the remote possibility that we did try to do this, the Chinese and others would either buy our mines, or simply come and take what they wanted.

My view of the world is very pessimistic, but I have discovered the ultimate temptation. I am 83, and, so far as I am concerned, in a few years the whole universe will simply cease to exist. So why should I care?

 

Roger Riordan

Originally written ~2010, updated 2017.
 © Roger Riordan 2004-2017

Fiddling