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.