What Julia Gillard DOES stand for

Are you as tired as I am of the words: ‘What does Julia Gillard stand for?’ There seems an endless stream of journalists, bloggers, and of course members of the Opposition who repeat this question over and again, until it sounds like a mantra chanted mindlessly. What does it actually mean? Does it mean the same thing to all who utter the words?

Like so many other phrases, such as ‘moral compass’, ‘What does X stand for?’ means different things to different people. To some it means principles, to some it means moral positions, to some it means ‘vision’, to some 'narrative', to others specific policies. And when critics ask the question they usually mean that X doesn’t stand for something they value, or has changed his/her position. Of course there are some who assert that Julia Gillard does not stand for anything at all. That extreme view, apart from being implausible, portrays an intense dislike of her rather that stating a real proposition. Even crooks and rogues stand for something.

Yet we have experienced journalists such as Bernard Keane writing in Crikey about Julia Gillard: “She has given Australians too many conflicting signals about her vision and political persona; in the absence of a clear understanding of just who she is and what she stands for, all voters really know about her is that she knifed Kevin Rudd to get the top job and the government is run by spinmasters and focus groups.” Has Bernard not been listening to her, or are the things she is saying not what he wants to hear, or does he hear different things from what others hear, or is he aligning himself with most other journalists in virtually writing her off as a competent PM lest he be the odd man out? Maybe even he doesn’t know.

So here is what I understand Julia Gillard to stand for. Check how well my views coincide with your own.

Of all her utterances, the one that emerges over and again is that she stands for opportunity - opportunity for all to achieve.

She wants everyone to have the opportunity for the best education that is possible given the individual’s capacity. She has said this countless times, as many times as she has stated her ‘passion’ for education, a portfolio which she relished when Kevin Rudd was PM, and still does. How many times have we seen her delighting in being in a school setting; how many times have we heard her talking with school children urging them to get the best education they can?

She has initiated a raft of benefits for school children and their parents and for students living in regional areas. She has increased funding to schools, universities, and TAFEs, established Trade Training Centres in high schools, has initiated a national school curriculum and national standards via NAPLAN, and the MySchool website, which has been a great success. These are even more educational things she stands for.

She stands for an excellent education for all. No one should doubt that.

Next she stands for enabling everyone capable of work to have the opportunity to have a satisfying job that pays well enough to permit comfortable living. She has repeated this so many times that it has clearly annoyed some. Otherwise why would Keane write: “She elaborated this into an obligation to make the most of educational opportunities, by rising early and working hard, preferably via some form of manual labour — famously contrasting the brickie and the socialite in a speech that could have been condensed into the famous graffiti “Work. Consume. Be Silent”. She has often extolled the dignity of work, and her wish that all would enjoy that dignity, but I don’t recall her extolling manual work over other work. Keane sees it differently and gratuitously offers a slogan that has never escaped her lips.

Moreover, she has repeatedly stated her intent to move as many as she can from welfare dependency to meaningful work. That is something else she stands for. She is distressed by families in which no one has ever worked and wants them to experience the joy of working and achieving. Even with unemployment now below 5%, she wants even more in work. That is what she stands for.

She stands for equitable working conditions for all who are employed. Didn’t she fight tooth and nail for this as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in the Rudd Government? Wasn’t she the one most responsible for getting rid of WorkChoices and installing Fair Work Australia? Has she not been an advocate for fair working conditions since her time at Slater and Gordon? Is this not something for which she stands?

PM Gillard stands for a strong economy that provides jobs for all who can work. She stands for a prosperous nation. How could anyone doubt this after all the Rudd/Gillard Governments have done to secure our economy through the GFC and beyond? Australia has come through this crisis better than any other comparable country. Take a look at Peter Martin’s graph at his website

She was part of the core group that steered us through, with an immediate cash stimulus to support retail trade, a much maligned HIP which nevertheless insulated the ceilings of a million homes, a highly successful infrastructure initiative, the BER, which has given schools all over the nation buildings they needed to bring them up to date. That is what she stood for and still does.

Julia Gillard stands for bringing the budget back to surplus by 2012/13, an aim to which she has doggedly stuck despite some economists insisting that this was unnecessary.

She stands for efficiently managing the workforce for the future within the so-called ‘patchwork economy’. Along with others in the core group she has presided over the saving of over 200,000 jobs during the GFC, creating over 300,000 in the last term of government and has plans for a further half a million in the current term. The Rudd/Gillard Governments have created 235,000 new training places, and plans to increase that to 700,000 by 2012. That is what she stands for.

She stands for a skilled immigration program, with plans to enlist over 100,000 to fill gaps in employment, especially in the mining sector.

She also stands for improving social welfare for those who need it – increases to pension payments, a Paid Maternity Leave plan now in place, better superannuation and tax cuts for lower income earners.

She believes in the reality of anthropogenic global warming and stands for action on climate change. She has done so for years. She believes that a market-based trading system that places a price on carbon is the most cost-effective way of doing this, and most economists agree. In response to Tony Abbott’s attack on what he described as a carbon tax, she said before the election that there would be no tax on carbon by a government she led, and I believe she meant it. As it turned out she could not lead a government without the support of the Greens and Independents, and their support necessitated the introduction of a price on carbon as a preliminary to instituting an ETS. She must wish she had used some other form of words such as ‘my strong preference is an ETS, but that means putting a price on carbon pollution’. Her categorical statement, which she contends was not meant to mislead, left her open to being beaten around the head endlessly by Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the media, which repeats that unfortunate statement endlessly. Further it has allowed shock jocks like Alan Jones to coin ‘Ju-liar’, and for Tony Abbott to repeatedly call her a liar and insist that she cannot be trusted. It has allowed him to seriously erode public confidence in her. While she no doubt regrets that response to a reporter’s question, the reporter will have recorded that amongst his/her best gotchas.

But whatever the dynamics, she stands for strong action to counter global warming and always has. Despite poor polls that she agrees are related to the ‘carbon tax’ debate, she is determined to bring one in and the comments of those on the parliamentary group on climate change are sounding as if that will be achieved.

She stands for the introduction of a Minerals Recource Rent Tax to return to the Australian people a fair return for the minerals they own. It may not net as much as the Greens want and will be more that the miners wish to pay, but she stands for an outcome that will be equitable to the stakeholders, and is determined to bring it in.

She stands for infrastructure development, and to that end money has been allocated to ports, railways, highways and renewable energy. and the biggest infrastructure development af all – the NBN, which is progressing well. This is something else she stands for.

PM Gillard stands for reform of the health sector. The two Labor Governments have taken many steps in that direction, and are waiting for some NLP states to come on board. A greater federal contribution to health funding, case-mix funding, and local control of hospital expenditure are features of the new arrangement. Over 1000 new nurse training places have been created and 1300 new places for doctors. Hospital funding has been increased by 50%, and to put more emphasis on primary care, GP Super Clinics have been or are being built where communities want and need them to take pressure off hospital emergency departments. Cancer centres have been built, and money has been allocated to mental health and research. Plain packaging of cigarettes has been introduced and PM Gillard is determined that it will be legislated. These are the health initiatives she stands for.

In asylum seeker policy she stands for, is one of breaking the people smuggler business model by returning those arriving by boat to a regional processing centre and taking instead those who have already been assessed as refugees. The former has been her consistent aim since becoming PM. The concept of such a centre has the endorsement of the ‘Bali Conference’ of regional representatives. It is therefore not just Australia that embraces this idea. Initially East Timor was considered as a regional processing centre but that seemingly fell through because the East Timor Government was apprehensive about housing asylum seekers in conditions superior to that enjoyed by its own citizens. Manus Island was considered but that is in abeyance because of lack of enthusiasm in PNG. Now an arrangement is being negotiated with Malaysia whereby for every one person arriving by boat moved to Malaysia five authenticated refugees would be taken by Australia, with safeguards in place to protect new arrivals and ensure their dignity and safety.

Breaking the business model of people smugglers by way of a regional processing centre is what Julia Gillard stands for. Some disagree vigorously with the concept of sending people offshore for processing and label PM Gillard’s move to do this as inhumane and unprincipled, which of course it appears to be to those with an open-armed approach. On the other hand taking all comers would be just as vigorously criticized by those who do not want asylum seekers here at all. If there was bipartisan agreement to take all asylum seekers who arrive, as was the case during the Fraser years with the Vietnamese boat arrivals, acrimonious partisan debate would be absent and the asylum issue would not be a political one. Julia Gillard knows that such an open-armed approach now would be political suicide and lead to loss of government and a return to the Coalition’s Nauru Island and TPV solution, which resulted in long periods of detention, although most detainees ended up in Australia.

So no matter how strongly some may disagree with her approach, it is consistent with what she has stated for some time, with what she stands for. While initially she may have favoured the ‘softer’ approach of the Rudd Government, the regular boat arrivals which have occurred in recent years, which have been used by the Coalition to beat the Government around the head, she is forced by circumstance to change her approach or suffer the electoral consequences. Some therefore label her as inconsistent, wishy washy, poll driven, unprincipled, uncaring, opportunistic and giving conflicting messages on the asylum seeker issue. Such accusations are based on politicians never changing their minds, not adapting to changing circumstances, which is a silly notion. As the world changes, so must politicians adapt and change.

I have given sufficient examples of what Julia Gillard stands for; there are many, many others. The ALP website documents them. Look at the achievements to date

In my view the strident call for her to show what she stands for is simply claptrap perpetrated by those who dislike her for whatever reason and want to see her gone, or by those who simply don’t think about what they mean when the say “What does Julia Gillard stand for?” It is so easy for those words to flow thoughtlessly off the tongue as did “She has lost her moral compass”. Because she is standing for something others may disagree with does not mean that she is wrong, or unprincipled. What a shame it is that we allow our own personal preferences and feelings to be used as the standard against which others, including our PM ought to be judged. Why do we have to be so uncharitable, so intolerant of others’ views, preferences, principles and vision? Why are so many journalists so certain of the rightness of their position that they condemn out of hand and with pejorative language the things our PM stands for? The old saying ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ seems not to occur to our self-opinionated journalists.

Julia Gillard stands steadfastly for many fine things. She has a strong vision of what this nation can become, and the physical and emotional strength and determination to achieve it. She is not without fault, not without error, but what she presents, far from warranting all the nastiness and vitriol that is heaped upon her by the Coalition and the media every day, and now the public through poor polling, deserves our admiration and support. She stands for making Australian a still greater nation.

What do you think?

A tribute to Greg Jericho

Knowing how much visitors to The Political Sword have appreciated the writings of Greg Jericho on Grog’s Gamut, this short piece is to thank you Greg for giving us such delight for so long.

Your contribution to political discourse has been outstanding. We have enjoyed your forensic dissection of parliamentary procedures, particularly Question Time. You have the uncanny knack of finding and reproducing the astonishing ‘dialogue’ of QT. Over and again you have captured the ludicrous and the farcical, the nonsensical and the preposterous, the foolish and the stupid, the brilliant and the banal, the stunts and the bizarre humour. Those who enjoy QT marvel at your perspicacity and incisive analysis.

There have been times when you have used graphs and visuals to starkly illustrate your points, often about technical or financial matters. Your capacity to find these data and analyse them so quickly fills us with admiration.

No matter what your subject, you address it with accuracy and care, such that puts many professionals to shame. We prefer to read what you write to most of what appears in the MSM, beset as the media so often is with inaccuracies, misinformation, incomplete information, distorted analysis, groupthink, journalists talking to journalists, partisan agenda-driven rhetoric, and the latter day curse of journalism: ‘opinion as news’.

We know journalists read what you say and if one can judge from the reaction of journalists at The Australian, one of whom thought he had a scoop when he ‘outed’ you as a public servant working in Canberra, you seemingly get up their noses. They seem affronted that a part time blogger, especially a Canberra public servant, could more than match them at their own game. They must have fumed at you being anointed political blogger of the year. You are now widely regarded as one of the most astute political commentators in Canberra.

Those of us who write for the Fifth Estate know how time consuming it is. We have admired your willingness and capacity to write your blog night after night after work, and understand the stress and fatigue that induces.

We were interested to read that you are now preparing to write a book, and that to do that you are taking part-time work. We appreciate that you will not be able to keep up the frenetic schedule of blogging while you do this. We know your output will be reduced at Grog’s Gamut, but we shall look forward to reading what you have time to write there and of course your book when it arrives.

Thank you for all you have contributed to political discourse for so long. We wish you every success in your next adventure.

Extreme Makeover Takeover

Tony Abbott reckons questions about his leadership and (lack of) policies could come thick and fast any day now, so he has bummed the money off Lindsay Fox to take out a lease on the ramshackle Nauru asylum-seeker centre. Being in such a state of disrepair, it makes the house that jack built look like the Taj Mahal, and so he has got it for a song. In future, any time the heat is on, he plans to high-tail it up there for a bit of respite.

So, the other day he got word that he was going to be tackled on the issue of whether he was going to call for a plebiscite on cutting government services if he were to gain power and implement his Direct Action policy on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Understandably, Tones jumps in Lindsay’s jet and heads off for a bit of R&R on Nauru.

Since his last visit, however, the joint is in an even worse state. There are holes in the roof, windows are missing, and it looks worse than Rome did after the Barbarians left their calling card. Even still, Tones finds a relatively tidy spot in a corner of a dorm, rolls out his swag, and settles down for a siesta after the long flight.

However, he has no sooner drifted off into a light slumber when he is suddenly woken by some clown in the yard outside bellowing at him through what sounds like a megaphone.

Voice: Tony! Tony Abbott! Come on out! This is your lucky day!

[To say that Tones is peeved at being aroused from his slumber, would be an understatement. He grabs one of the many pieces of broken ceiling plaster that litter the floor, intending to hurl it at the idiot who dared to wake him. However, upon peering out the glassless window, in order to get sufficient bearings to accurately launch his missile, Tones recognises immediately who is on the megaphone. It is none other than those two superstars of the renovation business, Julia “The Joiner” Gillard, and Wayne “Sawdust” Swan!

[Tones can’t believe his luck. Those two world-famous put-it-righters, Jooles and Swannie, are outside and ready to give his place a makeover and, more importantly, he won’t have to fork out a cent! He runs outside and greets the two life-savers, jumping up and down on the spot for joy. Then, as is her trademark, Jooles talks to whoever she is addressing on her megaphone.]

Jooles (bellowing): Right, Tones...it looks like you have provided us with the biggest challenge in any of our previous series...

[Jooles’ opening remarks are cut off abruptly by Tones who, even with his hands over his ears, is nearly deafened by Jooles’ megaphonery.]

Tones: STOP THE MEGAPHONES!!!! Pheeeww! That’s better...now, Jooles, when can you and Swannie start the renovations? I’ll be PM soon and I want to invite other world leaders, like Sarah Palin, Rupert Murdoch, and Niccolo Machiavelli over here to spend some time at my hacienda.

[Jooles is just about to lift her megaphone to answer Tones. However, as he delivers one of his infamous head-nodding death stares, she has second thoughts.]

Jooles: Oh, no problems, Tones...In fact, why don’t you go for a little leisurely bike-ride a few times around the island and, by the time you’re finished, we’ll have everything ship-shape for you, ready for the place to receive all your high-flying guests...heh...heh...

[Tones doesn’t need any further invitations. He jumps on his bike and heads off down the track that circles the island. Meanwhile, Jooles and Swannie unload the chisels, planes, borers and saws from the back of Kev’s old ute, and crank up the jig saws and nailguns, and get to work. In a while, and true to their word, they welcome Tones back from his ride to a sight that brings tears of joy to his eyes. Jooles and Swannie lead him on a tour of what looks to him like a brand-new centre.]

Tones: Wow!!!! This looks great, guys...you have certainly done a terrific job...And I just love the brightness of the place – the paint is so clean and white – did you get it locally?

Swannie: Erm...Yes, my word, Tones! In fact, the raw material for the paint is actually very common on the island...hee...hee...

[Just at that moment, Tones, who is standing under a particularly wet section of the newly-painted ceiling, experiences, on the top of his head, a drop of ‘paint’. Swannie rushes over to wipe the offending deposit off Tones’ noggin with his handkerchief.]

Swannie: Oh my gosh, Tones...I’m ever so sorry...here, let me clean you up...

Tones (stoically): Nah, don’t worry about it, Swannie...

Swannie: Yeah, that’s the spirit, Tones – as you say, “birdshit happens”...heh...heh...

Tones: But yeah, Swannie, I’m really impressed by the job you’ve done...So, just tell me what other innovations you’ve included...I can’t wait to get on the boatphone and tell Julie and Scott and the rest of the gang...

Swannie: Righto...erm...well, as you can see, we’ve put a new TV in every room...

[Tones is delighted. Once the Indos come to their senses, he’ll be able to see himself on the ABC every night, with Chris Uhlmann indulgently intoning, “the Government says...” However, Tones is disturbed from his reverie by the sight of some device or other plonked on top of each TV.]

Tones: Erm...Swannie...what’s that contraption on top of the TV’s, mate?

Swannie: Oh, they’re just set-top boxes, Tones – they’re the latest in digital technology, y’know...

[Tones is starting not to like the sound of this. However, Swannie continues with his overview of the renovations.]

Swannie: And as I was saying, Tones, we’ve included computer connection points in each room...

Tones: Oh very swish, Swannie! Copper, I hope?

Swannie: No way, Tones! You’re obviously no tech-head when it comes to these matters...No, only the best – fibre optic cables, exactly according to NBN (“Nauruan Best-practices Network”) specifications...

[Tones is becoming increasingly uneasy and Swannie wants to milk this opportunity for all its worth – he’s not called Schadenfreude Swannie for nothing!]

Swannie: And all the roof cavities are chockers with pink batts to keep the heat out and cut down on the air-conditioning bills...And we’ve brought the Building the Education Revolution to these shores by including a brand new classroom for visiting school excursions...

[Jooles, tag-team style, carries on the litany.]

Jooles: And we’ve dug a well out the back, so that Joe Hockey will feel at home with a great new big black hole nearby...And, we’ve put lots of copies of the Productivity Commission’s reports in the dunnies for Barnaby to use as toilet paper...Oh, and we’ve put the local guano producers on GullChoices instead of WorkChoices, which has made them a lot chirpier...heh...heh...and...

[At this stage of Jooles’ and Swannie’s report, Tones is so ready to erupt, he would make the recent Chilean volcano look like a sparrow fart.]


[Angrily, Tones pulls out the boatphone, punches in a few numbers and lets it ring. However, it soon seems that his addressee is unavailable. He leaves a message on his voice-mail.]

Tones (very abruptly): Malcolm! This is Tony! I want you to get yourself and your private yacht up here to Nauru as quickly as your propellers can carry you...Oh, and put on your Demolition Man gear...and bring your sledgehammer...I’ve got a job for you to do...

[Tones hangs up, and turns to Jooles.]

Tones: And you two can bugger off n’ all...I’ll soon have this place back the way it was, and it’ll be all the better for it...

Jooles: Alright, suit yourself mate...But, be warned...Malcolm mightn’t show up...In fact, we’re heading down to the Indo’s territory, where they’ve experienced some terrible floods and they want us to help them fix up their devastated buildings...I heard that Malcolm might be more interested in helping them than coming up here...So, why don’t you and your Demolition Derby mates stay permanently up here and you can live in your very own plebs’ site...Hasta la vista, baby...heh...heh...

If you are not scared about the effects of global warming, you ought to be

As if there isn’t enough to be scared about on the physical plane, and we saw even more this week from New Anthropocene covering the ‘State of the Ocean’ report that shows that the seas are dying and time frames for actions are ‘shrinking’, now we have scary economic news and the threat of social disruption as global warming progresses.

This piece draws heavily on a revealing interview by Ali Moore of Paul Gilding and Thomas Friedman on Lateline on 17 June this year. It was one of the most frightening expositions of the predicted effects of global warming that I have heard. And it wasn’t about melting glaciers or rising seas levels; it was about the economic and social changes that are predicted to follow in its wake.  You may wish to read the transcript or view the interview.

I hereby gratefully acknowledge the ABC Lateline website as the source of most of the material in this piece. Direct quotes are indicated in italics in inverted commas. The bolding is mine and my comments are placed in bold to distinguish them from the rest. Some of the text has been abbreviated as indicated by the use of the ellipsis. Ali was well prepared and having done her homework, the interview was exemplary.

Paul Gilding is an Australian and a former Executive Director of Greenpeace International. He has had a 20-year involvement with social change organizations, which he assists with business forecasting. In 1992, the World Economic Forum appointed him a Global Leader for Tomorrow at its annual meeting; in1994 he was listed by Time International in its ‘Time's Global 100 Young Leaders for the New Millennium’; and in 1993 the Prime Minister presented him with an Australia Day Award for Outstanding Achievement for services to the environment. He has recently authored The Great Disruption.

Thomas Friedman is a highly regarded American and an internationally renowned author and reporter, a columnist for the New York Times, and recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of five bestselling books, among them From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat. He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University in 2000 and 2005. He has been awarded honorary degrees by more than a dozen American and international universities. He has collaborated with Paul Gilding and admires his writing.

The credentials of those two men are impeccable. We ought to pay attention to what they say.

Ali began by asking: “If climate change is like a car trip where the scientists have given us the ultimate destination, the question is are we there yet, Paul Gilding, are we? Are we at the tipping point?”

Gilding answered: “I think we are and I think there's only time to take kind of diversionary action. It's too late not to have an accident, we're going to have the crash, the only question is how severe is the crash and what will our response be in the process of slowing down. So is it fatal or not is our question to answer still, but certainly it's too late to avoid the accident.”

Now to me that sounds pretty alarming. You hear Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz all playing down if not denying the reality of global warming and here we have a world expert saying we’ve gone beyond the ‘tipping point’ and an ‘accident’ is unavoidable.

Then Ali asks him: “This is what you call the great disruption?” to which he replies: “That's right and I think it's going to be a great disruption. I don't think it's the end of civilization or of humanity but it's certainly the end of our economy as we know it and it's the end of this idea of endless consumerism, economic growth just going on and on endlessly to the point of absurdity in terms of our lifestyles but also to the point of absurdity in terms of our expectations that the planet can support that economy any further.”

“And I think we're now seeing the numbers stack up in terms of what the consequences of that are in terms of resource rising, oil pricing, arable land and so on. And so this will translate now into an economic impact rather than just an environmental impact.

So he’s saying our consumerism, that is the world’s consumerism, can’t be sustained by the world’s economy. That’s ought to bring us up with a jolt.

Ali then asks Thomas Friedman if he agrees with Gilding and “Is economic growth as we know it dead?”

His response is: “Well I think he's absolutely right. We obviously, we've been locked on a growth path of building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff to be made in more and more Chinese factories powered by more and more coal so China could buy more and more T-bills to be re-circulated back to America to build more and more stores to sell more and more stuff powered by more and more coal so China could earn more and dollars to be re-circulated back... We've been in that loop and basically that loop is what we're seeing slowly grind to a halt here. We just can't keep it going that way.

“My friend Rob Watson, who's the founder of Green Buildings likes to say...Mother Nature, she's just chemistry, biology and physics. That's all she is. You can't talk her up you can't talk her down, you can't sweet-talk her, you can't say, Mother Nature, we've having a bad recession. Could you take a couple of years off? She's going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate…So do not mess with Mother Nature and that's exactly what we're doing.”

Friedman insists the economic churn is there for all to see, and Mother Nature will do as she pleases whatever humans purpose to do.

Ali shows she is well prepared by asking: “You talk about this loop grinding to a halt and I remember vividly in 2008, and this was when you wrote that there had been this clash of Mother Earth and Father Greed, they hit the wall at once. But back in 2008 we talked a lot about this, about how we all bought too much stuff, we were way too materialistic, we depended too much on accumulating and everyone talked about how that would come to an end. But what happened? Markets recovered, people felt more confident, they started buying more stuff again. So was it really a moment when Mother Earth and Father Greed clashed or was it really just one of the many moments that we have in the cycle that is the great economy?”

Thomas Friedman responded: “…The way I put it at the time was that it was our warning heart attack. It was Mother Nature and Father Greed basically saying you are growing in an unsustainable way. You're growing based on situational values. Do whatever the situation allows rather than on sustainable values….we can continue to grow in a way, but do it on the basis of sustainable values, values that sustain us. So I think that's really how I look at what we call the great recession.”

Remember what John Quiggin said in his book Zombie Economics: that as the recession receded economists were only too happy to revert to the same flawed economic models that got them into trouble in the first place – they had learned nothing and the zombie models they cherished threatened to come to life and get them into trouble again. Friedman urges growth on sustainable values rather than the situational values zombie models embraced.

Ali then asks: “Paul Gilding, where do you see these signs that we're grinding to a halt? Talk us through what you're seeing?”

He responds comprehensively: “Well I think one of the most dramatic ones we're seeing lately and financial commentators are starting to discuss this now is that commodity prices, which have been going through a pretty steady fall since…the turn of the last century, so for 110 years or so we've seen a consistent decline averaging about 1.5 per cent per year, 70 per cent over that time frame. And they've only really gone up during period of extreme demands like WWI, WWII...otherwise they've gone down. Those commodity prices have now gone up again during a recession and so of course what that means is that the prices are going up because demand is out stripping supply and this is not just one or two items, this is like the entire range of commodities across food, minerals and so on. So of course that's in a recession.

“What that means…if we could get the global economy really growing again, then…those prices would spike and would stop growth again and I think that's probably the biggest example we've got. And those resources, those commodities are actually coming from Mother Nature and what we're now seeing…is that now we're running right now at about 150 per cent of the sustainable capacity of the planet and we're planning to grow the economy to three or four times this size by 2050. It's just not going to happen. Not because we don't want it to, not because it wouldn't be nice or because polar bears will die, but because of physics and chemistry and biology…it's just not physically possible for that to occur.

So here’s the warning – the incessant growth that many seek will not be possible or sustainable. How are we to moderate our needs and wants to match what Mother Earth is capable of delivering?

Ali continues: “But let's look at Australia right now…and certainly we have a two-track economy but what many people see is that commodity prices are high and indeed they're driving growth, they're driving employment so those people who are employed can buy more. That gives more people jobs. It seems to be a positive cycle for Australia. It's hard to come to this point where it's all necessarily unsustainable.”

Gilding responds: “Well it's positive for Australia in the short-term because of course commodity prices going up is good for Australia but the bottom-line is that is only going to get worse globally because of course the more commodity prices go up, the inputs to our very consumerist, very material economy are no longer affordable. And so as we've always seen when oil price goes to new highs we get a recession as a result and with peak oil now coming on board as well I think we are going to see absolute fundamental limits to economic growth.

“Now of course I don't mean 1 or 2 per cent this year, next year, but the basic model which assumes that we're going to grow the economy and keep on doing so until everyone in China and India and everywhere lives like we do is just not possible. You can't have an economy that big because there isn't enough room on the planet for it… we're looking at the total global growth model here and it just no longer adds up".

So there it is again: “You can't have an economy that big because there isn't enough room on the planet for it.” That is a harsh if not immovable constraint.

Ali asks Thomas Friedman: “To what extent though … is Paul's point relying on no change? Because you wrote back in 2009 that people were already using the economic slowdown to retool and reorient their economies and… Germany and Britain and China and the US were all putting in place stimulus packages that revolved around investments in clean power… do you believe the world can come back from the brink, that people can change?”

Freidman was optimistic: “I certainly do, provided that we face up to the problem. You know Ali, my last book on this was called 'Hot, Flat and Crowded' and whenever I talk to people about that I always…hold up the book and say, well maybe you don't believe in hot, maybe you don't believe in climate change and global warming, no problem. That's between you and your beach house. But please, please believe in flat and crowded. That is the world is getting more and more flat, that more and more people can see how we live, aspire to how we live and live like we live. In my country's case, in American-sized homes, driving American-sized cars, eating American-sized Big Macs, and there's going to be more and more people. We know that. So when flat meets crowded...and more and more people who can and aspire to live like us, that only goes one way towards the kind of explosive demand on resources that Paul just discussed.”

Again Friedman sees the demand on resources as ‘exploding’ and unsustainable as people in other countries, like China and India, aspire to our way of life with all its extravagant consumerism. This is occurring no matter what is happening to the climate.

Ali says: “… look at China for example and its most recent five-year plan and the commitment there to renewable energy, the massive solar farms that we see in Portugal. Do you dismiss all that sort of thing as being just not enough?”

Gilding responds: I dismiss it not as being not enough but not being fast enough and coming too late. So it is not that it's not possible to do this differently, the trouble is we have left it so late we can't do it now fast enough to prevent a major economic crisis. So absolutely...very excited about solar power, about the incredible transformation we're going to go through and I think we're going to do that with incredible speed once we start. And I refer to this as the kind of one-degree war that I think we are going to mobilize as we do in war to stop climate change and to turn this around. However, as we have…an economy built upon the old model it's simply going to take several decades to turn that around.

“So even with the war-like mobilization and the complete transformation of the transport energy, agriculture and so on, it is going to take several decades to get there. And in the end we have to face up to the fact that the very basic idea behind our model, which is that we can have infinite growth on a finite planet, is simply not possible. So we can argue the timing and the transition points and so on but the bottom line is we can't get there and keep on doubling the economy every 10, 15 years into the future. At some point it must stop.

“And so we will see dramatic change, don't get me wrong. I'm very excited about how fast that change is going to occur and how we are going to have to think differently about consumerism and the quality of our life being defined in difference ways. And we can do that but we have to face the fact that we're not going to change until the crisis hits and once the crisis hits there's a lag in the system which means it will take some time to transform. And during that period and I think for many decades thereafter we're not going to see economic growth of any significant scale and that's going to put a grenade into the glass house in terms of our politics, in terms of our society, in terms of our assumptions about how we live our lives and what works and what doesn't work in terms of our economic system.”

Ali then said: “Well when it comes to things that are unsustainable Thomas Friedman, I mean look at America and look at the public debt - $14.3 trillion, 100 per cent of GDP. And I spoke recently to someone in the US who said that yes, people are concerned about it but then very quickly they move onto wondering what's for dinner. It's almost like out of sight out of mind. How sustainable is that sort of position in the US today and how active are your politicians at being able to not just talk about it but do something?”

Freidman replied: Well we're actually going backwards Ali. You know in the last two years of Obama's presidency, climate change actually became a four-letter word.

"We have a two party system here. One where Democrats have the right convictions about climate change but have no courage of their convictions and the Republican Party has gone completely overboard on this issue. They've actually gone to war against physics. They're actually gone to war against biology and math as well. So that's our choice right now - people who have the right ideas but are cowardly and people who have completely the wrong ideas. I mean we have a leading Republican presidential candidate…whose position is that we're going to have 5 per cent growth for the next 10 years once we elect him as president. I mean they're in cloud cuckoo land. We haven't become serious about this at all and Obama has not used his bully pulpit.

“Climate change became a four letter word under Barack Obama because it is such a hot political topic here that everyone tells him you've got to stay away from it and he's presided over I think a real erosion in American understanding of this issue.”

ALI MOORE: “So Thomas Friedman, when do you think we will know that we've got to this crisis point that Paul Gilding talks about that will lead to this extraordinary action that Paul also talks about…when do you think we'll know that we're there?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: "Well Ali, basically what's going on right now is we're all sitting around waiting for the perfect storm and the perfect storm is a storm that is big enough to finally end this debate but not so big to end the world…That's basically what we're sitting around waiting for. And so politicians aren't actually going to take the action we need. They're going to wait for the market and Mother Nature to act, okay and force us to do this.' 

Ali asks: "Paul Gilding, is that right?" 

He replies: “Yeah, totally right. And it won't be just environmental, it'll be economic as well and therefore it's social.

"So as oil prices go up therefore food prices go up; because food prices goes up instability goes up… And so you have this cycle that goes on and that's what's going to happen. Because it's a complex system. It's not just a major climate event. It's food prices going up, food shortages and famine creating political instability, which is bad for markets, makes markets nervous.

“…for example if we want to achieve a two degree temperature rise and no more than that and we're going to have an 80 per cent chance of achieving that, it means that between half and three quarters of all proven fossil fuel reserves, all coal, all oil and all gas can never be burnt. Now those companies are valued according to their assets and those assets can't be sold. So we're going to have a massive economic shock and I think the economic shock is what is going to drive us to change rather than the environmental impact. We've had the most extraordinary extreme weather in the past decade. I mean any right-minded person looks at that and says, what are you thinking? Of course there's climate change already happening.

Ali then says: “But Paul Gilding, my question to you is you talk about this war-like response, that that's the sort of emergency action that you see the world taking. Why so confident that the world will take that as a collective and it won't become a dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest?”

He replies: “Because there's no evidence in history of that. And for my book, The Great Disruption I looked at that in some detail.”

He goes on to give details from WWII where denial operated – people wanted to believe the threat of war was not too bad and so action was delayed.

He goes on: “Now what ended was not some new evidence, the evidence was always clear as it is now, what ended was denial. And what we do see in corporate crises, personal health crises, war and so on, is denial goes on for a long time and it gets worse as the evidence gets stronger, which is what we're seeing now.

The reason sceptical science is going on so strongly now is because the evidence is so strong you have to actually deny physics, to actually oppose what the climate scientists are saying. So that's why it gets so extreme and then it stops. And that's what history says that we do consistently - avoid, avoid and then oh my God! Then we act. And that's how it's going to be on this one as well.”

That is what has occurred in science over the centuries. As Thomas Kuhn tells us, old theories, old paradigms will continue to be embraced and alternatives rejected until the evidence overwhelms the denialists and a paradigm shift to a new way of thinking occurs.

Ali asks Freidman is that right?

He responds: “… our problems are getting deeper. We've had a terrible decade of excess…what’s totally missing right now…is American leadership…when we basically dither and delay and deny…well that gives an excuse for everybody in the world to do that. I think when we take the lead…by doing something hard ourselves, so it's not after you but follow me, I think you do get a different global response.”

“And you do have this loop going on now where higher food prices lead to greater instability, greater instability leads to higher oil prices, higher oil prices which are a huge component of food prices, lead to higher food prices. So we're in that loop and we've got to develop a counter loop now to that loop". 

Ali concludes on a hopeful note: “I guess the message from you both is that we can get over this, the world is not doomed. At least you are both confident that we have the ability to take the action should we choose to.”

So there it is. The issue of global warming is not just an environmental one. We have read much about the ecological effects of rising global temperatures – melting glaciers, release of methane from melting permafrost, rising sea levels, inundation, displacement of millions of people, loss of arable land, food and water shortages possibly leading to wars, increasing extreme weather events, loss of ecological assets and possibly in the extreme an uninhabitable planet, all of which demand action if our societies are to survive and prosper.

This piece addresses less-discussed effects of global warming – the economic and social effects, and the rampant consumerism that aggravates the environmental effects. They have been described in the interview with Paul Gilding and Thomas Friedman. They are alarming and deserve as much attention as the concomitant environmental effects. But they, like the other effects, are likely to be no more amenable to correction than the ones we talk about every day.  It is very alarming - action is urgent.

What do you think?