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Davos Down Under

August 28th, 2006

I spent the weekend at Hayman Island, where I gave a talk on water to a conference run by the Australian Davos Connection, an offshoot of the Davos World Economic Forum, with quite a high-powered set of political and finance people in attendance (some are mentioned here). It’s all very low-profile and run on Chatham House rules (no names, no pack drill), so you’ll all have to imagine the fascinating gossip I could pass on if I wasn’t sworn to silence. Fortunately, there’s no problem talking about the substance of what was said.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but the standard of presentations was, with a few exceptions, very high. One thing that was striking was the strong emphasis on the need for much more vigorous action on climate change. I don’t suppose the business people who attend this kind of thing are a random sample of the sector, but it’s still notable how much the government is lagging behind the more thoughtful part of its own support base.

A striking comparison made in one of the climate change sessions was the difference between the ratio of views in the scientific literature and in the mass media. The Oreskes paper finding 900+ articles endorsing anthropoogenic global warming and none opposed was cited on this score, as was another study finding media presentations being roughly 50-50 (I need to chase this reference, and will post it later if possible). The latter is of course an average, with the Australian, Fox News and other Murdoch publications being well and truly dominated by denialists.

In this context, I was very disappointed by the new media session, which consisted entirely of old media types bagging out blogs, YouTube and so on. The extent to which the point was missed was illustrated by the fact that the representative “blogs” cited were Crikey.com and the Drudge Report.

The juxtaposition between the claims of old media to superior reliability and credibility on the one hand, and the miserable failure of those old media to report the facts on climate change was pretty striking to me. I hope that they will be held to account over this in due course.

Another thing that struck me was that, on a show of hands, very few of the audience in this session admitted to reading blogs and I was apparently the only person there who wrote on. On the other hand, lots of people I met there told my they knew and liked my site (those who knew it and didn’t like it were polite enough to keep quiet). It’s possible, that the session attracted people for whom the topic was new and unfamiliar. Alternatively, if people think of Crikey and Drudge as exempalrs of blogs, perhaps they don’t even recognise that this is a blog. I can remember visiting Brad De Long’s blog back some time in the Jurassic and only later realising that it was a blog.

Coming back to the positives, which definitely predominated, the discussion of intellectual property was great, with some very impressive and high-powered contributors. There are some fascinating initiatives in trying to introduce something like an element of peer review to patent applications, about which I plan to post more later.

The water session, in which I presented, had some very useful presentations about recyling. Even more interesting was one on finding water in the Sudan using radar imaging, which was largely about the failure of the world to do anything about Darfur, thereby making it impossible to drill for water in most places. On the technical side, I learned that there’s enough rainfull in Darfur during the two-month wet season to make sustainable extraction of ground water a feasible option, if microdams are used to promote recharge.

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  1. August 28th, 2006 at 18:36 | #1

    Talking of climate change, it seems Tim Flannery is so depressed these days he’s just about given up hope.

    When oh when will people wake up and realise that the twin threats of climate change and peak oil will make the ‘war on terror’ look like a walk in the park?What Price Global Warming tonight at 8:30.

  2. August 28th, 2006 at 18:39 | #2

    The last paragraph of that should have read:
    Just a reminder that 4 Corners has a story tonight called What Price Global Warming tonight at 8:30.
    (something not right with posting links here, they preview ok, but don’t work when you post)

  3. taust
    August 29th, 2006 at 07:42 | #3

    Businesses need to manage (and make money from the management ) of risk.

    There are two (at least) types of risk about climate change. One is what is the Government going to do about climate change and secondly what are the opportunites for the business in climate change.

    Hence businesses will want to resolve what is the Government going to do. All the while the Government decision is percieved as being unresolved there is a significant chance of for the business adverse consequences.

    Then businesses need to develop plans for the changes consequent by climate change and identify the opportunities for business.

    Hence businesses will take political positions as a way of managing sovereign risk and real positions as a way of managing real risks. There does not necessarily need to be
    consistency between these two positions.

  4. still working it out
    August 29th, 2006 at 07:59 | #4

    “There are some fascinating initiatives in trying to introduce something like an element of peer review to patent applications, about which I plan to post more later.”

    Please do. I find the current patent situation absurd and often wonder if it may become a barrier to further economic and technical development, especially if vested interests make reform impossible. Its nice to hear it is on the agenda.

  5. Ros
    August 29th, 2006 at 10:28 | #5

    Adelaide Advertiser today, 17 gigalitres of stormwater a year (northern Adelaide) to be diverted and recycled, by first being cleaned in wetlands and then injected into Adelaide’s natural underground aquifer. Then it says that 12 of the gigalitres will be recycled each year for industry and irrigation and the other 5 will be used in trials including one involving storing some stormwater in domestic rainwater tanks for use on gardens.

    Presumably the 12 is extracted from the aquifer when needed.

    90 million from state, fed and local government. Would this be a useful scheme or just window dressing?

  6. O6
    August 29th, 2006 at 12:09 | #6

    Ros, there’s a scheme like this in Playford already. It’s been up and running for some time. Is the $90M for a new scheme, an expansion of the existing scheme, or a rebadging of the old scheme? Such schemes are good: they work, and save water. however, if people are going to worry about human use of recycled water (as in Toowoomba), there’ll need to be two delivery pipes, which may make the scheme uneconomic, and supply only irrigators.
    We use stormwater and grey water to water our garden in Burnside and run the house entirely on rainwater, but I can tell you that SA Water was so bureaucratic during the development phase that we almost gave up.

  7. Ros
    August 29th, 2006 at 19:47 | #7

    O6 as the three councils are Salisbury, Tea Tree Gully and Playford probably the rebadging and expansion of existing schemes. On checking further I see that Salisbury for example has been increasing storage and recovery of stormwater, with the involvement of local industry, for some years. Their first Aquifer Recharge Bore was trialled in 1994. This Initiative seems to be an expansion of a number of local government projects. And it was an announcement by the Prime Minister as part of his campaign visit to South Australia, with Premier Rann. That does suggest that it is an existing project being expanded, and is good photo opportunity for pollies.

    The scheme would seem to need 2 delivery pipes. The fact that the water is only to be used for industry and irrigation would suggest surrender to the anxiety component already. I think South Australia seems particularly inclined to irrational fears, but maybe because I live here it seems worse. However did hear ABC morning radio jocks here arguing today that if lots of people fear something then it should be prohibited.

    That local government here is pushing such projects was a bit of a surprise to me. Congratulations on your staying power, we tentatively looked at using grey water but surrendered early to council rigidity. Even solar we gave up on because we are in a historic zone and may not put anything on the roof facing the street, the north face of our house.

    Your thoughts inspired me to check out my local council (Payneham, Norwood St Peters ) on line. Salisbury is very impressive with its approach to water.
    Mine, hmm “Installed thermal covers on 3 swimming pools in 2004� etc, and warning to keep stormwater clean. For non South Australians, Salisbury is seen as a working class area and Norwood and Burnside as eastern suburbs toffs.

    The fellows should get with it. Sandmonkey reports Ghaddaffi has a blog. Can comment but can’t read comments. Libyan blogger who claims to be first for Libya, aside from Ghaddaffi, syas he beat her by several years.
    http://www.sandmonkey.org/2006/08/27/ghaddafi-blogs-too/
    Hard to understand, but he seems to be pro USA and sees Libya as part of Africa not Arabia. And this
    “The humanity having two days for dating or should be used s dates… the birth day of Jesus Christ peace be upon him, because his birth was a miracle and prodigy of the Allah’s prodigies, the second day is today, which is the day when the last of the prophets was born and passed away…we must date with these two dates together….birth of Jesus because it is a miracle and the death of Mohamed because he is the last of the prophets.â€?

    And he has a problem with FIFA.

  8. Jimmythespiv
    August 30th, 2006 at 00:07 | #8

    Crikey as a “blog” ? It was sometimes bloggish when still owned by Stephen Mayne, but now resembles a low tech sort of corporate intranet.

  9. Peter E
    August 30th, 2006 at 19:17 | #9

    SWIO,

    The current patent system is already a massive barrier to innovation and R&D. A huge one. And it’s a an absurd system. Many’s the time I’ve read a patent, filed in the last decade, and been able to point at a book published, say, 20 years ago, on my desk and say something like, “see page 182, the exact same idea”. It’s ridiculous, the patent offices around the world are clueless, and vast corporates do these crazy defensive cluster bomb patents where they try to include every possible thing in sight. Of course they are egged on by their armies of parasitic lawyers, and management like the “measurability” of patent numbers, but anyone and everyone in tech will tell you it’s become a sad, sick joke.

    It’s become a monstrous barrier, and of course, quite contrary to the free market principles you can bet its defenders proclaim. (Surely there can’t be any defenders? Even the venture capital community know it’s a joke.)

    -peter

  10. still working it out
    August 31st, 2006 at 10:17 | #10

    Peter E,

    I agree with you completely. Any possible solutions ? The peer review sounds like a good idea, but also could be open to corruption.

    I sometimes wonder if a very smart smaller country might decide on an economic strategy based entirely on innovation. To kick start it they simply pull out of the world patent system and attract every inventor/entrepreneur in the world with a great idea and no money for lawyers.

  11. Spiros
    August 31st, 2006 at 10:33 | #11

    Why was this event held at Hayman Island?

    Surely not because it is inaccessible to all those anti-globalisation protesters!

  12. jquiggin
    August 31st, 2006 at 11:03 | #12

    That thought certainly occurred to me, Spiros.

  13. October 25th, 2007 at 01:17 | #13

    I agree that peak oil and global warming are serious threats that are far greater than terrorism.

    However, I think those are just a few of the issues that relate to our resource use that are going to be more and more prominent in the years to come.

    I am living in a community that is striving to be ecologically sustainable, and because of this I think I’m far more aware of just how much work needs to be done in order to address the level of human resource consumption and waste production.

    Nathan

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