Home > Environment > Billions down the drain

Billions down the drain

December 10th, 2010

That’s the headline on my opinion piece in yesterday’s Fin, over the Fold

Billions down the drain

The resignation of Mike Taylor as chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority reflects a dispute over the interpretation of the 2007 Water Act, under which the MDBA has drawn up its draft Basin Plan. The Guide to the Plan, released a couple of months ago, attracted immediate outrage. Copies were burned at public meetings held in communities in the Basin.

The public dispute has arisen because the MDBA has interpreted the Act as requiring that environmental needs for water should receive absolute priority, while the government says that the Act requires environmental, economic and social impacts of policy to be taken into account.

Regardless of the legalities, a sensible policy must take all impacts into account, and the MDBA did so in the draft plan. The central argument underlying its proposal for a return of 3000 to 4000 gigalitres of water to the environment was that anything less would not be sufficient to restore ecosystems to a sustainable level while anything more would impose unacceptable social and economic costs.

The real problems with the Basin Plan and the Water Act go much deeper. They involve policy mistakes made by the Howard Government when the National Water Action Plan was announced, and perpetuated under Labor.

More importantly, they reflect a misconceived policy focus, in which discussions of the social and economic impacts of planning for the Basin are discussed almost entirely in terms of the size of the irrigated agriculture sector.

The centrepiece of Howard’s Plan was a $10 billion bucket of money allocated to fixing Australia’s water problems and particularly those of the Basin. The plan was conceived almost entirely in engineering terms, and based idea of saving water currently wasted through processes like seepage from unlined channels.

In reality, most water ‘lost’ through seepage returns to the environment in one way another. Very few cost-effective measures to increase water use efficiency have been identified.

Howard’s plan included $3 billion allocated to the purchase of water rights from irrigators willing to sell them, but this was seen as a last resort, and almost nothing was done in his government’s final year of office.

When Labor came to office, the priorities were reversed and the main focus was on purchase from willing sellers. The effort was highlt successful. Entitlements with an average annual allocation of 700 GL have been purchased at a total cost of around $1.5 billion. The $10 billion allocated to the MDB is more than sufficient to purchase enough water for the sustainable environmental allocation of 3-4000 GL identified by the MDBA. There is no need for any cuts in entitlements for irrigators who do not wish to sell.

But Labor’s Water for the Future Plan no fundamental changes in policy. The allocation of more than $6 billion to engineering works remained. Critically, the MDBA continued to work on the basis that its job was to identify the amount of water needed for the environment. It was up to governments to work out how the water would be obtained.

This approach made a nonsense of modelling work on the economic and social impact of the proposals. Without assumptions on the way in which policy is financed and implemented, it is impossible to determine the social and economic impact.

Unsurprisingly, this approach was framed, in public discussion as proposing ‘cuts’ to irrigators’ allocations. Despite repeated statements from the Gillard government that no one would have their entitlement reduced unless they chose to sell, the MDBA did nothing to dispel this presumption, which has remained dominant – media coverage of the issue has continuously referred to “water cuts”.

The economic impact of purchases of entitlements is radically different to that of across-the-board cuts, with or without compensation. Expanded purchases will leave irrigators better off, not worse. The main potential losers are farm employees and business in country towns, who will face reduced demand if farmers shift from irrigation to less intensive dryland agriculture. Even here, the impact will be modest in most parts of the Basin, where irrigation is a relatively small part of economic activity. But some towns will face a significant adverse shock.

A focus on the real winners and losers points up the foolishness of spending billions of dollars subsidising irrigation infrastructure. This money could be far better spent on social infrastructure, aimed both at addressing existing deficiencies and at assisting the adjustment to new sources of economic activity, including tourism and service activities as well as dryland agriculture.

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  1. rojo
    December 10th, 2010 at 14:34 | #1

    Couple of points John, all water used for irrigation is returned to the environment as seepage, transpiration or straight evaporation. If your view on leaky channels is correct then water used productively by irrigators has the same destination.

    Are the billions spent on maintaining agricultural income, and dare I say food security, any more foolish than billions spent on the NBN?

    The real injustice in “subsidising irrigation” is that the $1 billion dollar per year spend by the govt is halfway covered by the GST alone on ABAREs valuation of $5.5 billion of basin irrigated production. Include income taxes from owners and staff within these agricultural enterprises and sadly it is really irrigators money being used to destroy their own communities.

    Irrigators are not in danger here, unless the govt can’t afford to buy the rest of the water it’s told it needs. The community reaction isn’t about protecting irrigators but the communities they are part of.

  2. Sam
    December 10th, 2010 at 15:14 | #2

    @rojo
    Couple of points John, all water used for irrigation is returned to the environment as seepage, transpiration or straight evaporation. If your view on leaky channels is correct then water used productively by irrigators has the same destination.

    If it evaporates or transpires, the water is genuinely “lost” to the system. Of course it stays on Earth, but it rarely leads to increased rain anywhere in Australia. It may increase the rain rate 5000 km away, and out to sea, which does nobody any good.

    If it “seeps” out of irrigation channels however, it stays in the local area, and either recharges the groundwater or end up back in a river, ready to be used again.

    Most infrastructure used consists of rubber lining the irrigation channels. This reduces the loss of seepage, but from a whole-of-system point of view, this is a false saving.

  3. paul walter
    December 10th, 2010 at 17:46 | #3

    Thanks, Sam, for saving others the trouble. It was an insincere effort form Rojo and you picked the weaknesses instantly.
    Thank you, JQ, for another interesting summary of another topic left out of the newspapers, while they hunt down non-issues to fill the empty spaces not already occupied by advertising.
    Once again, why am I not reading this sort of thing, rather than a load of junk about celebrity sex lives?

  4. Alice
    December 10th, 2010 at 19:24 | #4

    @paul walter
    says “why am I not reading this sort of thing, rather than a load of junk about celebrity sex lives?”
    because you subscribed for a year and the celebrity pages are delivered? It has to be the only reason Paul.

    Oh dear JQ – I may not agree – tourism is the last resort (inland Australia not exactly an ideal tourist resort – flies, heat and no beach) of a desperate nation that has neglected its internal production.

    Maintain some protection for regional food producers (instead of free market imports and exports of food). It makes sense to me for employment and maintenance of our country towns. Employment has to be nationwide and everyone has forgotten about full employment (and the income it generates), especially the Reserve Bank.

    Dont assume the natural transation to tourism or service industries. People who have worked on farms may not do so well in tourism or service and labour is not perfectly mobile and after this crash capital may be less mobile also. Id rather like to think we could sustain our domestic food production without assuming our food needs should be met with cheaper imports, or for that matter exported at prices Australians wont pay.

  5. rojo
    December 11th, 2010 at 07:35 | #5

    Sam, are you sure? it’s interesting that rainfall in the basin has been higher in the basin in the latter half of last century, post irrigation development. I’m not sure if we could definatively put this down to irrigation, but I’m surprised you can rule it out.

  6. rojo
    December 11th, 2010 at 07:53 | #6

    Sam, are you sure? it’s interesting that rainfall in the basin has been higher in the basin in the latter half of last century, post irrigation development. I’m not sure if we could definatively put this down to irrigation, but I’m surprised you can rule it out.

    What infrastructure water savings provide is production from moving the losses to the fields alone, as the fields are capable of seepage and evaporation.

    The real genius about not supporting infrastructure is that the channels will lose greater percentages of extracted water, as presumably they will be carrying less flow with water buybacks.

  7. Jill Rush
    December 11th, 2010 at 08:26 | #7

    There is a feeling amongst some irrigator, who have put in water saving measures at their own cost, that they will get nothing but cuts in water allocations while those who have done nothing to save water in the past will get financial assistance to get them to the same point with a far lesser impact on their entitlements.

  8. Ikonoclast
    December 11th, 2010 at 10:08 | #8

    Irrigation and water supply as policy and practice is an extremely difficult area. Politics, finance, social and economic policy, environmental impacts and hydro-engineering are all involved. Australia’s difficult geography and climate play a role in multiplying the difficulties further. Australia’s generally flat terrain means there are relatively few good sites for large dams. Our climate demonstrates long flood and drought cycles with the emphasis at the drought end of the climate range. Combine all this with the anti-intellectualism, anti-environmentalism, anti-science stance and rent seeking behaviour of many of the relevant influential parties and lobbies and good policy development becomes almost impossible. Then add in the law of unintended consequences to get an idea of how truly unmanageable the problem is.

    What we have is something that is at once a wicked problem and a social mess.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem

    At root, we would need first to solve several other problems. Namely, Australia needs a population policy, an environmental sustainability policy and probably a food self-sufficiency policy. These are also wicked problems and social messes. Wicked problems and social messes are not strictly amenable to planned intervention and yet each sectional interest can, should and will attempt to intervene and the net result of all these attempts may be some form of apparent planned intervention. It’s akin to life itself which is a wicked, insoluble, messy problem. The problem is wicked and insoluble yet we are constrained to attempt to solve it. Attempting to solve it leads to eventual defeat. Not attempting to solve it leads to quicker defeat.

  9. Fran Barlow
    December 11th, 2010 at 10:19 | #9

    @Ikonoclast

    Namely, Australia needs a population policy

    No it doesn’t, unless I’m radically misunderstanding what you see the components of such a policy might be.

    an environmental sustainability policy

    That I can agree with, with the caveat that we might not agree on the scope of such a policy.

    probably a food self-sufficiency policy

    I don’t agree with that at all. That sounds like cover for unsustainable farming practice and acceptance of externalities that would subvert the last policy.

  10. Chris Warren
    December 11th, 2010 at 10:30 | #10

    @Fran Barlow

    Of course a population policy is needed. After 30 more doublings, there will only be standing room on the planet.

    But more than this – a population matched with land, water, climate, and resources is a much happier than a population forced to fight water-wars, forced to suffer deaths through climate catastrophe, or forced to suffer malnutrition and finally starvation.

    Our human species did not evolve to live in huge conglomerations of strangers – humans are only truly happy in small tribes of known individuals.

  11. Ikonoclast
    December 11th, 2010 at 11:28 | #11

    @Fran Barlow

    Australia needs to determine what its maximum sustainable population is. If we exceed the sustainable population we go into overshoot, permanently degrade our human carrying capacity and condemn a portion of our population to a cruel die-off by starvation.

    The determination of sustainable population would be based on a carrying capacity calculated by environmentally sustainable water supply and food supply. The key is water supply as that also determines food supply. This determination would be an estimate based on known current technology and would be based on worst decade calulations ie likely water supply in a low (say 25th percentile) rainfall decade. I suspect we would arrive at about 30 million as a reasonable cap.

    Cap could be implemented by limiting immigration firstly and secondly limiting natural increase if necessary by removal of child subsidies and an disincentivising environmental tax on children beyond 2 for any female. This latter definition (a female) is easier and more logical than trying to define marriages, couples or households.

    Of course, if you prefer Australia to end up like Haiti then do nothing. If we grow indefinitely without regard for sustainable carrying capacity then it is 100% certain we will end up like Haiti.

    It is not at all clear that we can continue to rely on the rest of the world for food. Water and food shortages, along with fuel and general energy shortages will soon strike the whole world. Countries will retain essential needs rather than export them. In the times to come, sustainable food and energy autarky will be viable and sensible for large continental countries. To believe anything else is to believe in the cornucopian fantasy of the endless-growthers.

  12. Sam
    December 11th, 2010 at 11:49 | #12

    @rojo
    That’s possible of course. I don’t want to be absolute about anything; its likely that SOME of the evaporated water will be returned as rainfall in the local area, just not much. A lot of it will be carried away by the wind. There isn’t any really neat relationship between increased humidity and rainfall in any given area. Wind speed and direction is important, as well as the presence of mountains, the right kind of dust and sea salt spray in the air, air temperature and the presence and type of other clouds.

    For a really good example of this, the red sea (which is very nearly a thin, North South lake) produces an enormous amount of evaporation yet is surrounded on all sides by desert.

    With seepage, by contrast, virtually all is returned to the local area.

  13. Fran Barlow
    December 11th, 2010 at 13:17 | #13

    @Ikonoclast

    Australia needs to determine what its maximum sustainable population is. If we exceed the sustainable population we go into overshoot, permanently degrade our human carrying capacity and condemn a portion of our population to a cruel die-off by starvation.

    1. We can’t know with confidence what Australia’s maximum sustainable population is
    2. Short of measures that no civilised society would accept, we couldn’t ensure we could keep to it anyway
    3. This ignores equity questions, because there are some places where populations clearly are in excess of carrying capacity and Australia should be part of humanitarian resettlement.
    4. Australia is a country not a planet. Long before people were “condemned to a cruel die-off by starvation” food would be imported and/or people would leave.

    The determination of sustainable population would be based on a carrying capacity calculated by environmentally sustainable water supply and food supply

    We have plenty of water — it’s just in places most of us don’t fancy living. We also waste water in major urban areas a lot. We can tap desal at acceptable cost, especially if we have a larger population in major urban areas. The most water-intensive foods are meat products, which we don’t much need. Cereals, legumes, and other protein and carbohydrate sources need a tiny fraction of the water currently used in agriculture, assuming we were attempting a Potemkin Village here.

    Cap could be implemented by limiting immigration firstly

    Are you going to control the return of ex-pats? Are you going to refuse tourists? Students? Temporary workers?

    and secondly limiting natural increase if necessary by removal of child subsidies and a disincentivising environmental tax on children beyond 2 for any female.

    While I’m against “baby bonus” style payments, I don’t regard either of these as ideas as feasible. You might as well oppose state support for public schools or abolish bulk-billing at doctors for under 18s. We do want children to be well cared for, and we certainly don’t want people in the poorest parts of the population to neglect their kids. There’s little evidence that poor people tailor their procreation to family tax benefits. Disadvantaged people tend not to know the benefits systems as well as some allege. Their tendency to think very short term also recommends against this view.

    Maintenance of good social support, inclusive work practices and so forth will probably keep birth rates around replacement or slightly above.

    It is not at all clear that we can continue to rely on the rest of the world for food.

    A great many things about the future remain unclear, but it is unlikely that fantasies based around population control will foreclose any of these problems.

  14. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 14:22 | #14

    I hope it will not destroy your reputation Fran, but I agree with just about all you have written.

    “It is not at all clear that we can continue to rely on the rest of the world for food.”
    Are we doing that? We are large food exporters, mostly grains and meat. We import little that is essential – unless you consider champagne essential.

  15. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 15:11 | #15

    @ken n
    We are becoming net food importers in many food groups Ken n as they continue to bulldoze Australian food producing firms. We are ONLY large exporters in grains and meats.
    Thats fine if you think you Australia can live on very expensive hamburgers alone.
    Get your facts correct and look at the food groups and think about the production and jobs and farms and business and income we lose while getting cheap OJ concentrate weeks or months old from South America, or prawns we are not sure might be full of some toxin from goodness knows where – regulation is lax, or pork products we cant vouch for either or apples that are infested with apple blight.
    Your argument – “we are large food exporters” – is an entirely false and misleading comment intended to imply “there is no need to worry – we can just ignore the rest of our food producers because the global market will decide who gets to eat what.”

    If I had a comparative advantage in banana throwing there would one coming your way.

  16. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 15:25 | #16

    You are correct about exports Alice and about the specific imports you list (except apples and anyway, I think we should treat NZ as part of us for trade purposes).
    But even so, the imports are not very important in the food supply. If you like, we are self-sufficient in the things that matter for a healthy diet and import a few not so necessary extras. OJ, soy sauce, varieties of rice we don’t grow and so on. We swap navel oranges with the US – we sell in winter and buy in summer. Much the same with table grapes. It all makes good sense to me.
    A grocery trade association recently released some highly misleading figures that combined food and other grocery imports and encouraged the reader to believe they were talking about food. Ross Gittins took it apart in the SMH http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/there-are-lies-damned-lies-and-vested-interests-reports-20101102-17c9b.html

  17. Jarrah
    December 11th, 2010 at 15:34 | #17

    @ken n
    “I hope it will not destroy your reputation Fran, but I agree with just about all you have written.”

    She can be remarkably sensible for a some-type-of-Marxist ivory tower dweller ;-)

  18. Ikonoclast
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:06 | #18

    @Fran Barlow

    Let me deal with Fran’s points in turn.

    1. We can’t know with confidence what Australia’s maximum sustainable population is.

    Here, Fran implicitly accepts that Australia has a safe theoretical maximum sustainable population under current environmental and technological conditions. In that case, we should attempt to estimate it and ensure that the estimate is on the safe side. The risks attendant on going over the maximum sustainable limit are severe; high death rates, widespread misery and long term damage to the environment and carrying capacity. The risks of capping our population a little on the low side are insignificant in comparison.

    Essentially, Fran’s basic argument is that it is hard to know precisely what standard of brakes we need so we shouldn’t contemplate any brakes at all. This is a poor argument both in car engineering and in practical demographics.

    2. Short of measures that no civilised society would accept, we couldn’t ensure we could keep to it anyway.

    Some of the measures required may be unpalatable but a prescient civilized democratic citizenry could and should accept them when it becomes clear that the alternatives are worse. Ignoring this problem means storing up greater horrors for the future. Again, the issues are mass misery and starvation deaths versus immigration control and birth control.

    3. This ignores equity questions, because there are some places where populations clearly are in excess of carrying capacity and Australia should be part of humanitarian resettlement.
    Australia appears likely to rapidly surpass its carrying capacity on current trends. Our capacity to absorb world overpopulation is minute and rapidly diminishing. It is a form of the lifeboat dilemma in moral terms. When the lifeboat is full, if you let more aboard the lifeboat then the lifeboat sinks and all drown. When people realise the lifeboat is full, they will demand a cessation to immigration. It is a natural self-protective and offspring-protective reaction.

    4. Australia is a country not a planet. Long before people were “condemned to a cruel die-off by starvation” food would be imported and/or people would leave.

    This begs the question. Are not both countries and planets finite? When the country is at maximum capacity and the world too is at maximum capacity where is the spare food for export/import? Where are the under-populated countries for emigration? If we recognise that countries can reach a limit then we must recognise that the planet too can reach a limit.

    In fact, the world is already beyond its long term carrying capacity. Key non-renewable resources, especially energy, are past peak production and renewable resources are either being over-exploited (fish), not brought on line fast enough (solar energy) or are having their sustainable potential vastly over-estimated (bio-fuels). We are already past the point of no return with respect to controlled or safe landings yet people still want to view the earth as a limitless cornucopia.

    In the next twenty years reality is going to bite us very hard. Tough decisions will have to made and sensitive souls will best protect themselves and their fellows by being proactive quantitative realists not nebulous qualitative idealists.

  19. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:37 | #19

    @Jarrah
    You should know better than to box people having told me it was safe to venture over to Catallyxy because they have a wide range of views. Same here Jarrah – so lets not go down the “Marxist ivory tower dweller” insults….beneath you for such a sensible right leaning advocate austerity measures. I cant help feeling you are wrong on that this time because the right hasnt taken into account the level of private sector debt that you would like to see now swallow the stock standard bitter medicine pushed by the right. No two economic circuntances are the same and no remedies work all the time.

  20. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:42 | #20

    @ken n
    Ken n says “We swap navel oranges with the US – we sell in winter and buy in summer”. not quite again Ken n.

    Tell that to the once owners of the thousands of acres of much juicier, mush fresher slightly paler and slightly more greener looking in parts (because the sun does it) orchards of valencias we used to grow here that have been bulldozed because the US developed a more orange looking orange, with a bigger pith and girth, which Woolworths happily stocks, but which is as dry as a bone and comparatively (to Valencias) juiceless by the time it gets here.

  21. Chris Warren
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:44 | #21

    Given the rate of species extinction, water-stress, acidification of oceans, and human induced climate change, it appears that we have already exceeded the sustainable level of population.

    It will take a lot of education but our present course has already demonstrated that it is unsustainable.

    Pretending that we “do not know” what a sustainable population is, demonstrates a head-in-the-sand approach that does not address the needs of future generations.

    There is no reason for any increased population – except greed.

  22. Fran Barlow
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:47 | #22

    @Ikonoclast

    Fran implicitly accepts that Australia has a safe theoretical maximum sustainable population under current environmental and technological conditions. In that case, we should attempt to estimate it and ensure that the estimate is on the safe side.

    Far easier said than done, as current environmental and technological conditions will become progressively less determinative as each year passes. It seems very clear though that there is ample scope for Australia to carry a much larger population than we current do, assuming political support for population densities of around 80ppHa in the major cities could be secured or else people were willing to live in the better watered parts of the country and the rest of us were willing to support them while they got established.

    A larger population in the major urban areas, could easily support the kinds of measures that could radically improve the management of urban water assets, improve the distribution of transport and health services, support quality public housing, for example. Certainly, a larger population would make the per capita costs in retooling energy systems, reconfiguring water distribution, and doing desal, if it came to that, a lot easier to bear.

    Essentially, Fran’s basic argument is that it is hard to know precisely what standard of brakes we need so we shouldn’t contemplate any brakes at all. This is a poor argument both in car engineering and in practical demographics.

    Let’s get the analogy right. Because we don’t know exactly when we will need to start slowing down or whether the elevation of the terrain will force us to slow without applying the brakes, we don’t know when and if we should apply the brakes at all. If we see a clear reason for applying them and can work out the rate at which we must slow, then we will know how hard to apply them. We also have to be aware that stopping too quickly could mean we get run over by those following behind us, as China with its one-child policy is beginning to discover.

    Some of the measures required may be unpalatable but a prescient civilized democratic citizenry could and should accept them when it becomes clear that the alternatives are worse.

    You say that but you don’t specify policies that would assure a definite target. If you are going to be certain, you need to bar large numbers of people not only becoming citizens and permanent residents, but from obtaining tourist. student and working visas. You would need to put quotas on returning expats, and impose severe penalties on people with third children. You’d need to bar the children of citizens partnered with non-nationals from living here. Given that you can’t say with confidence that the alternatives would be worse, the public utility of such arrangements is hard to see.

    Australia appears likely to rapidly surpass its carrying capacity on current trends. Our capacity to absorb world overpopulation is minute and rapidly diminishing.

    Since you don’t know what that is, and population forecasting is notoriously rubbery, that’s a hard claim to warrant.

    It seems to me that we should at least accept our curent share of the world population in humanitarian resttlement. Your argument has been used to attempt to relieve Australia of its emissions obligations (we only emit 1.5%), and it is just as bogus there. Australia is not a lifeboat. It’s not going to sink. We have or can contrive all of the resources we need, if we are minded to do so. However, parochialism and xenophobia are common here and many would sooner look the other way than assist their fellow human beings.

    {Australia is a country not a planet. Long before people were “condemned to a cruel die-off by starvation” food would be imported and/or people would leave.
    }
    This begs the question

    Not it doesn’t. There was no imported assumption. I merely used your claim. You may have meant: this invites/raises the questionare not both countries and planets finite? When the country is at maximum capacity and the world too is at maximum capacity where is the spare food for export/import?

    Petitio principii (a.k.a Begging the question): We are not yet at maximum capacity or anything like it and with greater equity would tsabilise before we got there. We have a radically inequitable world which this neo-malthusian claim obscures.

    In fact, the world is already beyond its long term carrying capacity.

    Not a fact, but an assertion. It is true that the richest third of the world is burning resources at a rate that will prejudice the longterm interests of nearly everyone but especially the poorest two thirds, which is quite a different thing.

  23. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:50 | #23

    Alice – many marketing campaigns tried to sell Valencias. But people did not want to buy them, because they believe navels are better eating oranges. You can still buy Valencias (we use them for juice) but few buy them. Fact is, they are not great eating.
    Bloody consumers.

  24. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 16:53 | #24

    See, Alice, we can have a civilised conversation, even when we disagree.
    Not need to abuse or anything like that.
    We might even find we do agree on some things, as Fran and I have found.

  25. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:10 | #25

    @ken n
    says, totally ignoring Australias natural comparative advantage that we are surrounded by ocean and dont get other countries diseases (or at least we didnt when quarantine ran well and import controls)

    “I think we should treat NZ as part of us for trade purposes”

    But not for apple blight which they have and we dont..so far. Nor did we have mad cow disease which gave us a winning edge. You dont really get it. By opening ourselves to global food trade we risk our own domestic supply and we lose our global comparative advantage as a safe food producer.

    There you go..thats the trouble with extremes.

  26. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:14 | #26

    @ken n
    Disagree totally on Valencias as good eating Ken. I totally ignore big orange Florida navels and would choose home grown any day. Taste better, more juice. I am not fooled by the orange colour and the bigness.

  27. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:16 | #27

    More sand Prof – we all digress.

  28. Fran Barlow
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:18 | #28

    @ken n

    I don’t recall anything of your reputation, but I long ago stopped being bothered by the “wrong” people agreeing with me. Occasionally, when one does, I do re-examine whether they are being sarcastic or if I’ve misspoken.

    @Chris Warren

    There is no reason for any increased population – except greed.

    Or the desire to have children and watch them grow up and discover the world. That’s a pretty common reason. That was certainly my reason for having the two I gave birth to. The idea that I’d make a dollar or two out of having them never occurred to me, and indeed, I assumed they would cost me a fortune. Had greed been in my mind, I’d have avoided getting pregnant. Others might see it differently I suppose.

  29. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:26 | #29

    I am glad you are buying Valencias Alice. You keep doing what pleases you. I don’t but, nor do I buy navels in summer. Tho I don’t object to consumers doing what they want.

    The fireblight issue is a hard one tho I suspect the kiwis are correct that the risk is negligible.

    My underlying belief is that world trade is a wonderful thing. My mother (god rest her soul) used to object to Tasmanian potatoes coming to Sydney. “We can grow potatoes” she would say.
    A small example: we eat a lot of rice. We buy short grain from the MIA, Basmati from Pakistan and, occasionally, Japanese varieties from California.
    And champagne from France.

  30. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 17:55 | #30

    @ken n
    I have no objection to buying French champagne Ken n, especially when the rich pay more for it.

  31. paul walter
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:00 | #31

    Fran, Chris means the politicians and developers pushing unsustainable development predicated on a need for high population, in aid of the usual rapacious profit impulse.
    It’s probably true that, were the world to have a different mentality and system, all people and all kids could be fed, nurtured and allowed to grow.
    Currently, the world’s resources are wasted on the manufacture of unproductive consumer fetishes and fetishism, from expensive toys to wasteful wars launched by the neurotic against the rest.
    With the current system predicated on wastage and economies of excess, it’s probably the reality that big families have been priced out of the market for the entire world, when even in rich countries like ours, people are unwilling to take on the risk of larger families.

  32. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:02 | #32

    yeah, no point in buying any thing but local in reds and whites, Alice, but if you want bubbles there is no choice…

  33. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:04 | #33

    @Alice
    French champagne is one of those things that should have a luxury tariff on it. In fact I can think of a lot of ways we could fix deficits without cutting pensions, increasing working lives, or increasing student fees. Im very surprised no one else has thought of them…but then poiticians arent exactly on the side of getting things starightened out quickly from the mess we find ourselves in post GFC. I guess if some people remain positive on the benfits of free trade, globailsation and market power (the guvmint cant pick winners or losers unless you are being robbed in the street and you want them to), much like yourself, the country and its jobs and working conditions will continue to suffer – until the majority get pretty cranky.

    Some of us are lost in the supermarket I might add – obsessed with a god called price and another called the consumer.

  34. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:06 | #34

    oops – spelling bad and now talking to myself – thats what happens on a Saturday night!

  35. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:08 | #35

    and I dont like bubbles

  36. Alice
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:11 | #36

    I also need a sandpit

  37. ken n
    December 11th, 2010 at 18:25 | #37

    “and I dont like bubbles”
    Nor do I, but Liz does, so what can a bloke do?

    The problem with luxury taxes is that most say they should apply to stuff other people like.
    Not books, CDs, opera tickets and all.

    Stay way from supermarkets – there are other places to buy what you need. Tell Woolworths and coles you don’t need them.

  38. Chris Warren
    December 11th, 2010 at 19:44 | #38

    There is no reason for any increased population – except greed.

    Or the desire to have children and watch them grow up and discover the world. That’s a pretty common reason. That was certainly my reason for having the two I gave birth to. The idea that I’d make a dollar or two out of having them never occurred to me, and indeed, I assumed they would cost me a fortune. Had greed been in my mind, I’d have avoided getting pregnant. Others might see it differently I suppose.

    There is a fundamental moral fallacy here.

    If this “common reason” gives some great benefit BUT results in wars and starvation for others, then this “common reason” is unethical.

    There is also a democratic fallacy here.

    While one person can get great happiness by having many children, no-one gets much happiness if everyone has many children.

    As civilisation develops, the level of domocracy and ethics (and happiness) should go up, not down.

    It was not so long ago that “common reason” kept women in their places, slaves on their plantations, and serfs behind their ploughs. Common reason is the worst of all reasons.

  39. Ikonoclast
    December 12th, 2010 at 06:27 | #39

    @Fran Barlow

    Fran Barlow says, “We have or can contrive all of the resources we need, if we are minded to do so.” The construction and wording of this sentence is revealing. It goes beyond being an unsupported assertion and reveals itself as an article of faith which denies the validity of science.

    Fran is a Cornucopian. Cornucopians believe that human will and ingenuity can overcome the laws of nature in general and suspend the laws of thermodynamics in particular. Material resources (measureable quantities) are not limiting, according to Cornucopians, as human ingenuity (an unmeasureable quantity) can “contrive” resources.

    I will put the best construction on this and assume that Fran does not believe that resources can be contrived ex nihilo. This indicates Fran believes resources can be contrived by resource substitution. Resource substitution takes two essential forms.

    1. Resource B can substitute for exhausted resource A.

    2. After natural sources of Resource A are exhausted, resource A can be produced by a high energy process.

    Method 1 can have profound impacts. Glass fibre optic cable (manufactured from silica) can replace copper wire for data transmission. Silica is the most common mineral in the earth’s crust. Note that energy is still needed to process the silica. Method 2 also requires energy. Replacing naturally occuring and exhausted sources of freshwater with desalinated water is an energy intensive process. Again, note the importance of energy.

    Resource substitution has limits, particularly in the case of human requirements. There is no substitute for water in human physiology. There are also no substitutes for the essential nutrients such as lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. These are material resources produced or obtained by energy intensive processes. The laws of thermodynamics cannot be repealed or out-thought by human ingenuity.

    The true limits of growth for the human population on earth are the limits of energy available to do useful work. We have reached peak appropriation of non-renewable energy about now or will soon do do. Solar renewable energy is our best hope but we are developing this resource too slowly for substitution purposes. An energy crash in the next decade or two is almost a certainty on current trends. Even insolation (solar energy falling on the earth’s surface) is limited although large.

    Denying limits to (physical) growth is science denialism pure and simple and ranks right up there with climate change denial as a fallacious faith derived position.

  40. BilB
    December 12th, 2010 at 07:18 | #40

    Totally typical of every Howard policy. There’s money there but you can’t have it.

    “Howard’s plan included $3 billion allocated to the purchase of water rights from irrigators willing to sell them, but this was seen as a last resort, and almost nothing was done in his government’s final year of office”

  41. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 07:35 | #41

    @Ikonoclast

    The true limits of growth for the human population on earth are the limits of energy available to do useful work.

    This is so, but this energy is potentially enormous, and we have scarcely tapped it at this stage. With sufficient energy available to do work any convertible resource is available anywhere. If the deuterium fusion reaction can be made to work positively, then cornucopia does indeed present itself — in theory enough to supply everyone on the planet at 100 times US consumption for 1 million years. Who is to say that problem will never be solved? We can’t rely on it being solved and we should be prudent until it is, but as I said above, let us respond to the actual terrain and its constraints rather than what they might be.

    Resource substitution has limits, particularly in the case of human requirements. There is no substitute for water in human physiology.

    That’s so, but luckily, water is not something one can use up. There’s about as much water about now as there was 4.4billion years ago. What we need is the energy to make it suitable for our purposes by being at the right quality and location.

    There are also no substitutes for the essential nutrients such as lipids, proteins and carbohydrates.

    Again, this is true but there is currently no global shortage of these things on the planet. Gross maldistribution, waste and malfeasance attends them, but these are matters of public policy rather than technical constraint. To raise this claim without adequate foundation while ignoring the public policy attending these things is to provide unwitting cover for those who continue to debauch public policy in their own service.

    Australia cannot (and should not attempt to) become a laager state. This would be ethically indefencible and not ultimately in the interests of the descendants of most people who have made it to be citizens of permanent residents.

  42. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 07:37 | #42

    oops: citizens of or permanent residents.

  43. ken n
    December 12th, 2010 at 08:08 | #43

    “Denying limits to (physical) growth is science denialism pure and simple and ranks right up there with climate change denial as a fallacious faith derived position.”

    I knew that would happen – a powerful term is invented and its use becomes so stretched that it becomes just about meaningless.
    holocaust to climate change to limits to growth to ?
    In marketing, this is called brand extension and is very often a bad idea there too.
    Who wants to buy Coca Cola underpants? Actually, Coke has contained their brand very well, but others have not.

    If denialism is to become an all-purpose term of abuse, it will become worthless.

  44. Ikonoclast
    December 12th, 2010 at 09:05 | #44

    @Fran Barlow

    Fran, you can rest assurred that your theory will be tested and not mine. Mine is a tiny minority viewpoint. Almost nobody listens to logic and science. Most are either ignorant of them or prefer faith and wishful thinking. The earth’s population will continue to grow exponentially until… well, until what eh Fran?

    Until there is one person on every square metre of land? Hmmm no, that doesn’t seem physically possible. Gee, there’s a physical limit right there. Until the food supply and water supply can’t keep up? Until the energy supply can’t keep be kept up? Until the climate fails? Until we are smothered by waste?

    Do you think there is a limit Fran or do you think the earth can hold an infinite number of 21st C consumers? Are you aware of climate change and global warming? Are you aware that the current extinction event caused by mankind is the largest and fastest in earth’s history? Are you aware that the oceans are just about fished out? Are you aware of ocean acidification? Are you aware of the potential for oceanic methane hydrates to come out of solution in a mass methane eruption. Are you aware of the thawing of the tundra and the methane emission from the tundras? I expect not. If you were aware of all this empirical evidence you could not cling to your cornucopian fantasy.

    As I said, your theory will be tested not mine. Anyone with a better than 20 year life expectancy is almost certain to see undeniable evidence of the global limits to growth. The crash is close in historical terms.

  45. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 09:59 | #45

    @Ikonoclast

    Fran, you can rest assured that your theory will be tested and not mine.

    If you weren’t so pre-occupied with the cultural concern you’ve adopted you might wonder why that is so. After all, most people have a strong attachment to the idea of humanity having a future, if only as retrospective validation of the worthiness of everything beyond buying themselves another minute, hour or day of life.

    Almost nobody listens to logic and science.

    I call Weltschmerz here. The vast majority of policy makers and people listen to logic science enough (or at least what they take it to be) to change their behaviour on the basis of it. Even the delusionals, fostered by the special pleaders, on climate change like to pretend to themselves that what they are denying is not science but a scam. You’re either doing hyperbole out of irritation that the world isn’t as you’d like it (I’ve been there a few times) or doing a variant of the claim that you and those who share your cultural position are privileged interpreters of logic and science, which, outside of a persuasive appeal to independent data and robust modelling must be circular in its reasoning and therefore paradoxical when set beside your claim.

    The earth’s population will continue to grow exponentially until… well, until what eh Fran? Until there is one person on every square metre of land?

    Ah, slippery slope/reductio ad absurdum. I wonder how many fallacies you can squeeze in?

    I’ve not suggested that resources are infinite or that exponential growth ad infinitum was possible or even desirable, or that if there were persuasive evidence that the physical limits of ecosystem services would be tested on a timeline comparable to one we might act upon, that we should not act to curb growth. I just want something like good reasons for founding policy on that assumption, given that persuading most people that it needed to be done and could be done would be challenging.

    Are you aware of {refer to list above} I expect not.

    Yes indeed, and with the exception of the question of ocean fish stocks have posted on every one of these matters. Ocean acidification and likewise the integrity of the Arctic permafrost are matters I’ve posted on with especial regularity, most recently at the (currently offline) LarvatusProdeo. You’re either being rhetorical or haven’t paid much attention to what I post.

  46. Ikonoclast
    December 12th, 2010 at 10:55 | #46

    We are at the limits of peak oil and peak food production right now. There is overwhelming empirical evidence for that conclusion.

    But I give up. Fran has a faith position. It’s impossible to argue logically with faith reasoners and useless to cite empirical evidence.

  47. ken n
    December 12th, 2010 at 11:16 | #47

    It seems accepted now that world population will peak at about 8.5 billion in 2050 and then decline – each projection recent has been slightly lower than the last. Demographers aren’t worrying about overpopulation any more – population decline and aging is what they are onto now.
    8.5 billion is still a lot of people but well within the world’s ability to feed.

    So far as I can see Ikon, you have not cited any empirical evidence at all.

  48. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 11:55 | #48

    @Ikonoclast

    We are at the limits of peak oil and peak food production right now.

    One of the curious things about peak-{fill in the commodity} is that you can’t be sure that you are there when you are. It is always retrospective. One looks back ten years, shows how demand went unmet despite rising prices and one can make the call.

    Some say peak oil occurred in 2006-2007. Last I heard, the IEA was predicting peak oil in 2013. Hubbard in the 1970s predicted it for the late 1990s/early millennium. Clearly, it’s very unclear when it will occur. It seems to me quite likely that at some point in the foreseeable future that it will no longer be economically feasible to extract oil for combustion in private motor vehicles, and some time after that for commercial transport vehicles either. Personally, I’m hoping that occurs sooner rather than later, precisely because the environmental and cultural footprint of oil-for-energy is both grossly pernicious and ubiquitous and I doubt mere advocacy will suffice to abate it. That said, I regard speculation on peak oil as a distraction.

    But I give up. Fran has a faith position. It’s impossible to argue logically with faith reasoners and useless to cite empirical evidence.

    This is what in court would be called non-responsive or in psychologistic discourse, both projecting and deflecting.

    It’s ironic Ikonoclast that you project onto me your own central episteme — faith. Your nym and your method are at one — you and your small band of neo-Malthusian Illuminati alone relay on “science” and “logic” as against the hordes of cornucopians. Yet You adduce no evidence beyond the mere assertion that peak everything important is here and that because in the longer run, we must surely accept that resources are finite that this must be so in the short run as well and that we are up against that constraint right now.

    Of course you “give up”. It is far more comforting to continue to believe your standpoint amounts to sage iconoclasm — and don’t get me wrong because I’ve been there and done that. Ultimately though your position is self-defeating because if you really do want to stand with human well-being you need to engage with observable reality and so much of human culture as lies outside your capacity to reconfigure.

    You are in the minority because at the moment the case you propose has not been adequately made out. Dealing with that will leave you uncomfortable in the short term, but more comfortable in the longer term.

  49. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 12:55 | #49

    @ken n
    says “Who wants to buy Coca Cola underpants?”

    Be careful. Xmas is coming. It could happen. It always amazes me the people who dont mind paying to be walking advertisements.

  50. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 13:00 | #50

    @Ikonoclast
    says “Do you think there is a limit Fran or do you think the earth can hold an infinite number of 21st C consumers?”

    Of course there is a limit. Many of our current problems with climate change, pollution, enviro damage is because basically we are in plague proportions already globally – think cockroaches or locusts. Wanting to accommodate yet more population growth or assist it or predicate policy on it is denialism (the scourge of the noughties).

  51. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 13:27 | #51

    @Alice

    Most people accept that there is a limit (and I’m amongst “most people” on this). My reservations turn on where those limits are, when we have to act, and in what ways, given that such policies will have serious costs.

    It seems to me that given the uncertainties and risks associated with resource depletion, if policies that were warranted on other grounds (and that respected equity and human rights) could be devised then such policies would pass the no regrets test. We don’t need to be confident that failure to curb population growth would be disastrous.

    Quality public education in developing countries, improvements in the status of women, contraceptive availability (especially condoms) high quality health care, secular governance, industrialisation and so forth would almost certainly curb population growth. Such policies are especially germane in equatorial and sub-saharan Africa and the sub-continent/south Asia, which two regions are most in need of development and likely to contribute principally to world population growth.

    Rather than focusing on population growth curves, one should orient policy towards equity and empowerment, putting more resources into looking after the needs of the people we have. If we do that, we get a fairer world, and population growth should abate to something like replacement and perhaps drift downwards over the next couple of centuries.

  52. rojo
    December 12th, 2010 at 13:46 | #52

    Jill@7, The major difference is that the farmers who spent their own money on water savings retain the full benefits themselves and don’t have to surrender entitlement to the govt.

    Sam, presumably the red sea is surrounded by desert because it doesn’t rain much in the first place. Adding a small amount of evaporated water to a dry atmosphere really won’t do anything. Now I don’t wish to make out that irrigation induced evaporation makes a big difference in the MDB, but it would have a much larger effect than the Red Sea. We have moisture bearing weather patterns, and we also have higher ground in our catchments, which are in the East to which our patterns generally head.
    Something in the order of 500,000GL falls as rain in the MDB, so the 15000GL evaporating from fields, storages and distribution could constitute in the region of 3% .

  53. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 16:53 | #53

    @Fran Barlow
    says “Quality public education in developing countries, improvements in the status of women, contraceptive availability (especially condoms) high quality health care, secular governance, industrialisation and so forth would almost certainly curb population growth.”

    Except that its not happening – what is happening is greater polarisation between the rich and the poor, an absolute obsessive approach by governments whether right or supposedly “left” ha ha (like labor Australia which has in fact been infiltrated by yanks in the ranks and other assorted right wing types like Mark Arbib to push neo liberal agendas down peoples throats).

    Public investment in anything is a dirty word these days Fran no matter the government. You should know that. So you can cross out your “quality public education.” Only those who can afford it are increasingly getting an education. Go ask the British students.

  54. Fran Barlow
    December 12th, 2010 at 17:23 | #54

    @Alice

    Plainly, I believe in the value of quality public education everywhere including, of course in the UK, but it’s especially urgent in the developing world.

    The UK situation is horrible in a broader sense because the Con-Dems are taking an axe to money to universities for teaching services and research as well.

    That said, at least in the UK literacy and numeracy is high, and the proportion of kids of both sexes having continuous education until at least 16 years of age is very high. Excluding immigration, population growth is far lower than in the places from which the bulk of world population growth will probably come.

  55. Alice
    December 12th, 2010 at 17:54 | #55

    @Fran Barlow
    The rise ( a tripling) of tertiary education fees in the UK is an action by an upper class tory government and its complicit con dems (more con that dems) on the poor.
    It is an act of class warfare.

    Th Clegg government deserves every bit of hatred, every bit of student rebellion, every bit of thuggish lout behavior from students (as Clegg would call it) they get from this. The real thugs are wearing suits in parliament.

  56. Salient Green
    December 12th, 2010 at 20:17 | #56

    I have recently heard, from a company rep who drove throught the area, that in and around Shepparton they are instaling some sort of plastic lining to all the open, dirt bottomed irrigation channels.

    This may appear commendable at first glance, but as an SA irrigator operating from a system which has been pipelined for 15 years I believe the Victorian Government is f..ked in the head. These minimally rehabilitated channels now require fencing both sides because wildlife trying to cross the channel are trapped by the slippery sides. Now the wildlife will be trapped on either side of the fence and they still have a system which must be pipelined! It could also be a complete waste of money if some communities sell out their water entirely.

    If we had a stable, regulated agricultural sector, one could determine which commodities could be economically grown with an efficient irrigation infrastructure. Once that was known, on farm water needs would be known which would then be a reliable basis for calculating pipe sizes and costs for a proper rehabilitation of a system.

    Leaving it to the market leads to enormous waste, as JQ said billions, before everything sorts itself out. The most ‘apparently’ efficient crops and methods may not be the most desirable as food and bio security concerns should trump the market. I believe local wealth and local jobs can trump ‘apparent’ efficiency as long as best practice is employed as much as possible.

    Alice has argued wonderfully for local producers while I have been working today. Thanks for that Alice.

    Iconoklast, great work arguing against Fran Barlow on overpopulation. I wish I could have been here to support you but remember that a strong enemy can only make you stronger, and that many others were reading the debate. Just remember that Fran is mostly on our side but is a bit misguided on n…..r power and overpopulation:) At least she didn’t invoke Xenophobia which is a major improvement from her side of the debate.

  57. Jarrah
    December 12th, 2010 at 20:27 | #57

    “Plainly, I believe in the value of quality public education everywhere … in the UK literacy and numeracy is high”

    You (and Alice) might find these two excerpts interesting:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jan/29/literacy-numeracy-skills

    In 2007, the government set a new target, to help 95% of the adult population achieve enough literacy and numeracy to get by in life by 2020.

    Compare with the situation before “quality public education everywhere”:

    http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/educn/educn016.pdf

    In 1839 a survey in Hull showed that out of the 14,526 adults (aged over 21), 14,109 had attended day or evening school, and only 1054 could not read: 92% of the population, in other words, could read. These adults would almost all have learned to read prior to the beginnings of state subsidies to private schools in 1833, subsidies which in any case remained very small throughout the 1830s. The development of steam printing in the 1830s dramatically reduced the cost of producing newspapers, which greatly expanded their circulation, despite restrictive taxes. After advertising duties were removed in 1853, stamp taxes in 1855 and excise taxes on paper in 1861, newspaper sales increased still further. Despite the state’s efforts to prevent them[NB This is a reference to earlier examples of cracking down on paper and books by the government - J], working-class people had succeeded in establishing near-universal literacy, through the use of private education, long before the state established a single school of its own. While state subsidies to schools steadily increased between 1833 and the 1870 Education Act, two-thirds of school expenditure was still coming from voluntary sources as late as 1869. Literacy was achieved from a variety of educational establishments: the Mechanics Institute, the Literary and Philosophic Societies, Sunday Schools, home tuition and private schools, as well as church schools. In 1813 James Mill, the classical liberal philosopher and father of John Stuart Mill, described

    the rapid progress which the love of education is making among the lower orders in England. Even around London, in a circle of fifty miles radius, which is far from the most instructed and virtuous part of the kingdom, there is hardly a village that has not something of a school; and not many children of either sex who are not taught more or less, reading and writing. We have met with families in which, for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.6

    Parliament’s Report on the Education of the Lower Orders in 1818 concluded that “There is the most unquestionable evidence that the anxiety of the Poor for education continues daily increasing…and the means of educating the Poor are steadily increasing.”7 A Parliamentary survey published in 1835 showed that the numbers in schools had increased from 478,000 in 1818 to 1,294,000 in 1834 “without any interposition of the Government or public authorities”.8

  58. Salient Green
    December 12th, 2010 at 21:18 | #58

    Perhaps the MDBA and Governments are mired in traditional thinking and it may be better to apply some thinkers in residence to the problem. The El Nino La Nina cycle is far better understood now and opportunity crops as well as periodic flooding of wetlands can be incorporated into what is already a regulated river system but to better benefit for the environment and commerce.

    Rojo made me aware that opportunity croppers must bear infrastructure costs even when they have no water. This only increases pressure to take water when it shouldn’t be taken. What can be done to ease the damage from floods by using opportunity crops? Floods are a part of the Australian ecosystem so how can we work within them for better outcomes for environment and commerce?

    We seem to have all the physical means at our disposal for regulating water for drought but are there other things that could be done to get us through droughts?

    Perhaps we should not be condeming anyone in regards to reform of the MDB except in expecting that the solutions are within our grasp. The vagaries of markets and globalization are at the very core of the problem because without some sort of known return on investment we could be and possibly are wasting billions.

  59. Fran Barlow
    December 13th, 2010 at 07:06 | #59

    @Jarrah

    You know Jarrah, as a teacher, I do tend to take remarks on educational assessment rather more seriously than many. So when you adduced this 1839 Hull “survey”, the methodology of which as far as I can tell is completely undocumented, I began fleshing out a satirical response reminiscent of the witch-lynching scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. When you added James Mill in 1813, to impute learning from the existnece of school buildings, I felt sure that what you were doing would ttract the blogospheric term: Poe. You are rather too clever to be doing anything but parody. Well played! You had me going for a moment or two!

    Let it simply be stipulated that:

    a) the objects, scope and tracking of contemporary literacy assessment;
    b) the integrity of the methodologies;
    c) the context of assessment and the nature of the pools

    and

    d) the design of assessment and reporting

    is so different from and better than anything that might have been undertaken in Hull of 1839 as to invite a hearty chuckle if not snorts of derision at anyone advancing such as probative.

    But you knew that of course?

    On a more serious note, I’d be surprised if the general level of literacy in seven of the top nine sources of likely world population increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia were measurably better than Hull of 1839. In places where women are differentially disempowered, the population as a whole poor and ill-educated, one may expect far higher birth rates.

    The other two on that list, (China and the US) almost certainly are better than Hull of 1839. China’s on this list because it already has about 1.3bn people despite its one-child policy and any increase is large in absolute terms. Declining general standards of education (especially in the US south) and the growing religiosity of that party of the US is probably the key driver of population growth there. Of course, religion — in particular catholicism — is a key driver of population growth in the LDCs.

    On

  60. Donald Oats
    December 13th, 2010 at 07:32 | #60

    @Fran Barlow
    Literacy and Numeracy Test, 1839:
    “Can you spell your name for me, please? O..A..T..S. Can you write your name here please? OATS. One last question: how many letters in your name? FOUR. Thank you sir, you are literate and numerate, well done!”

  61. Alice
    December 13th, 2010 at 08:11 | #61

    The three Rs were better 40 years ago when private schools were the minority Jarrah (except catholic). Neoliberalism hasnt helped education. Check first year uni students assignments and wonder what happened. Don is right above. People left school earlier before public education was enshrined in this country shortly after the turn of the century (“every child shall have access to free education”) and lots couldnt manage more than an X for a signature in Australia.
    We did well and now some want to undo it.

  62. Fran Barlow
    December 13th, 2010 at 15:47 | #62

    @Donald Oats

    I rather have an image of some chap wanding up to some worthy in a field and saying something like:

    Examiner:
    Tell me good sir, what does that sign yonder say? [indicates sign]
    Local Worthy:
    arr … that says the village of Swine be that way, just past the well
    Examiner:And do all you other gentlemen agree? [motions to others in field]
    Other Local Worthies:‘course we do!
    Examiner:Good enough! You are all men of letters! Well done!

    Examiner leaves intending to ask the local vicar if everyone reads their bible every day in the time left over after working fourteen hours per day under some weaving machine.

    First Local Worthy:Did you catch what that pillock in the hat said about letters?
    Other Worthy:I think ‘e said we were getting some.
    First Local Worthy:I hope not. I got no time to be visiting the vicar to explain letters to me

  63. Jarrah
    December 13th, 2010 at 19:19 | #63

    My excerpts aren’t meant to be definitive, but conducive to critical thinking about the necessity of public education, and its effectiveness.

    As for the surveys and tests, since there isn’t any method listed, you can imagine whatever amusing scenarios you like. I wouldn’t be so sure, though. Just because it happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it was crap:

    Exam papers taken by 11-year-olds applying for places to King Edward’s School in Birmingham in 1898.

    ENGLISH GRAMMAR

    1. Write out in your best handwriting:—

    ‘O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
    And call the cattle home,
    And call the cattle home,
    Across the sands o’ Dee.’
    The western wind was wild and dank with foam,
    And all alone went she.

    The western tide crept up along the sand,
    And o’er and o’er the sand,
    And round and round the sand,
    As far as eye could see.
    The rolling mist came down and hid the land —
    And never home came she.

    2. Parse fully ‘And call the cattle home.’

    3. Explain the meaning of o’ Dee, dank with foam, western tide, round and round the sand, the rolling mist.

    4. Write out separately the simple sentences in the last two lines of the above passage and analyse them.

    5. Write out what you consider to be the meaning of the above passage.

    GEOGRAPHY

    1. On the outline map provided, mark the position of Carlisle, Canterbury, Plymouth, Hull, Gloucester, Swansea, Southampton, Worcester, Leeds, Leicester and Norwich; Morecambe Bay, The Wash, Solent, Menai Straits and Lyme Bay; St Bees Head, The Naze, Lizard Point; the rivers Trent and Severn; Whernside, the North Downs, and Plinlimmon; and state on a separate paper what the towns named above are noted for.

    2. Where are silver, platinum, tin, wool, wheat, palm oil, furs and cacao got from?

    3. Name the conditions upon which the climate of a country depends, and explain the reason of any one of them.

    4. Name the British possessions in America with the chief town in each. Which is the most important?

    5. Where are Omdurman, Wai-Hei-Wai, Crete, Santiago, and West Key, and what are they noted for?

    LATIN

    1. Write in columns the nominative singular, genitive plural, gender, and meaning of:— operibus, principe, imperatori, genere, apro, nivem, vires, frondi, muri.

    2. Give the comparative of noxius, acer, male, diu; the superlative of piger, humilis, fortiter, multum; the English and genitive sing. of solus, uter, quisque.

    3. Write these phrases in a column and put opposite to each its Latin: he will go; he may wish; he had; he had been; he will be heard; and give in a column the English of fore, amatum, regendus, monetor.

    4. Give in columns the perfect Indic. and active supine of ago, pono, dono, cedo, jungo, claudo.

    Mention one example each of verbs followed by the nominative, the accusative, the genitive, the dative, the ablative.

    5. Translate into Latin:—

    1. The general’s little son was loved by the soldiers.
    2. Let no bodies be buried within this city.
    3. Ask Tullius who found the lions.
    4. He said that the city had been taken, and, the war being finished, the forces would return.

    6. Translate into English:—

    Exceptus est imperatoris adventus incredibili honore atque amore: tum primum enim veniebat ab illo Aegypti bello. Nihil relinquebatur quod ad ornatum locorum omnium qua iturus erat excogitari posset.

    ENGLISH HISTORY

    1. What kings of England began to reign in the years 871, 1135, 1216, 1377, 1422, 1509, 1625, 1685, 1727, 1830?

    2. Give some account of Egbert, William II, Richard III, Robert Blake, Lord Nelson.

    3. State what you know of — Henry II’s quarrel with Becket, the taking of Calais by Edward III, the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey queen, the trial of the Seven bishops, the Gordon riots.

    4. What important results followed — the raising of the siege of Orleans, the Gunpowder plot, the Scottish rebellion of 1639, the surrender at Yorktown, the battles of Bannockburn, Bosworth, Ethandune, La Hogue, Plassey, and Vittoria?

    5. How are the following persons connected with English History,— Harold Hardrada, Saladin, James IV of Scotland, Philip II of Spain, Frederick the Elector Palatine?

    ARITHMETIC

    1. Multiply 642035 by 24506.

    2. Add together £132 4s. 1d., £243 7s. 2d., £303 16s 2d., and £1.030 5s. 3d.; and divide the sum by 17. (Two answers to be given.)

    3. Write out Length Measure, and reduce 217204 inches to miles, &c.

    4. Find the G.C.M. of 13621 and 159848.

    5. Find, by Practice, the cost of 537 things at £5 3s. 71/2d. each.

    6. Subtract 37/16 from 51/4; multiply 63/4 by 5/36; divide 43/8 by 11/6; and find the value of 21/4 of 12/3 of 13/5.

    7. Five horses and 28 sheep cost £126 14s., and 16 sheep cost £22 8s.; find the total cost of 2 horses and 10 sheep.

    8. Subtract 3.25741 from 3.3; multiply 28.436 by 8.245; and divide .86655 by 26.5.

    9. Simplify 183/4 – 22/3 ÷ 11/5 – 31/2 x 4/7.

    10. Find the square root of 5.185,440,100.

    11. Find the cost of papering the walls of a room 16ft long, 13ft 6in. wide, and 9ft high, with paper 11/2ft wide at 2s. 3d. a piece of 12yds in length.

    12. A and B rent a number of fields between them for a year, the rent and other expenses amounting to £108 17s. 6d. A puts in 2 horses, 5 oxen and 10 sheep; and B puts in 4 horses, 1 ox, and 27 sheep. If a horse eats as much as 3 sheep and an ox as much as 2 sheep, how much should A and B each pay?

  64. December 13th, 2010 at 20:27 | #64

    Alice :
    @ken n
    Ken n says “We swap navel oranges with the US – we sell in winter and buy in summer”. not quite again Ken n.
    Tell that to the once owners of the thousands of acres of much juicier, mush fresher slightly paler and slightly more greener looking in parts (because the sun does it) orchards of valencias we used to grow here that have been bulldozed because the US developed a more orange looking orange, with a bigger pith and girth, which Woolworths happily stocks, but which is as dry as a bone and comparatively (to Valencias) juiceless by the time it gets here.

    One issue here that many people aren’t aware of is, oranges don’t simply turn orange when they are ripe, the way most fruit changes colour when it ripens. They do it once they are ripe and are hit with a cold shock. It could well be that Australian oranges simply don’t get as much of that; you’d have to ask a specialist to get more precise information, though.

  65. Alice
    December 13th, 2010 at 21:57 | #65

    @P.M.Lawrence
    The green shades on a valencia are some sort of sun protection – according to “oranges Australia” website – this is not a very scientific description though…
    “•Valencia has a green tinge on the skin which is actually nature’s own suncscreen! It protects the orange from the hot climate in Australia at that time of the year.”

    What you say seems to fits PM.. because it doesnt get enough of a cold shock in such a hot country. Its also known as “regreening” and happens at the warmer time of year. Valencias are greener than most other local oranges also because they are the only orange grown in Australia at the height of summer. The Valencia is also apparently at its sweetest when there are those green tinges on them.

  66. Fran Barlow
    December 13th, 2010 at 22:52 | #66

    @Jarrah

    I’m betting the “11-year-olds” who “passed” that test had someone cheat on their behalf. This was a test designed to exclude everyone outside of the cultural elite rather than to test accomplishment.

    I’m also betting it wasn’t administered in Hull in 1839 to 14,000+ persons.

  67. Jarrah
    December 14th, 2010 at 22:46 | #67

    “I’m also betting it wasn’t administered in Hull in 1839 to 14,000+ persons.”

    A safe bet. But it does suggest that your suppositions (regarding design, scope and integrity of literacy tests) might not be as close to the mark as you’d like to think.

  68. Jarrah
    December 14th, 2010 at 22:49 | #68

    Also, the test is genuine and was taken under exam conditions as we today understand them. Your scare quotes are indicative of your biases, not reality.

  69. Fran Barlow
    December 14th, 2010 at 23:30 | #69

    @Jarrah

    For pity’s sake Jarrah — I took you for better than this.

    I expect nongs like Michael Duffy to run with this. Who cares if Edwin West thinks undocumented material is the kind of thing that serves the libertarian cause?

    The question is — why are you running with this sub-intellectual japery? You surely know that it proves nothing at all about general literacy in 1898. You also have zero evidence about the integrity of the test or to what extent it was actually used to admit upper class twits to their elite fraternity.

    You’re merely miffed that I called you on it. If you wish to debunk public education, you’ll need something better than anecdata and a passion for all things private and ad hoc.

    And just for the record, there were at least four mistakes in the composition of that test. That tells me something salient.

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