The anti-science right on wind farms

So, Tony Abbott is going to hold another inquiry into utterly spurious claims about adverse health effects from wind farms. Credulous belief in these effects, or silent acquiescence in claims about them, is now compulsory on the political right, particularly among those who, absurdly, describe themselves as “sceptics” on climate science and, more generally, on scientific evidence about actual health risks from genuine environmental hazards. The extreme example, chosen by the Oz to lay down the party line, is James Delingpole whose denial extends beyond climate change to include rejection of the health effects of passive smoking (based on the bogus and discredited research of tobacco-funded “researchers” Enstrom and Kabat). Despite claiming that there is no risk in inhaling a toxic mixture of dozens of carcinogens, Delingpole has no difficulty in believing that noise levels quieter than those of a public library will cause all manner of health risks, including “night sweats, headaches, palpitations, heart trouble”. [fn1]

It’s easy to multiply examples of this kind (Miranda Devine, Jennifer Marohasy, Christopher Booker). What’s more striking is the silence of those who know this stuff is nonsense, but don’t want to offend their allies and supporters

Andrew Bolt is particularly interesting here. He obviously knows that the claims about health risks are nonsensical, and is careful (AFAICT) to avoid mentioning them, while writing in a way that hints at support. So, we get a favorable link to the Delingpole piece, but the pull quote refers to economics not to health issues. Of course, if the politics were such as to demand support for wind, Bolt would make mincemeat of the nonsense Delingpole is putting forward.

A couple of takeaways from this

1. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single climate denialist anywhere in the world who has the minimal consistency and honesty needed to reject nonsense arguments from their own side, even when they take a form (NIMBY claims about unproven health risks) that they routinely denounce when put forward by misguided environmentalists. That can be extended to the entire political right in Australia – I’m not aware of a single person on the right who has called Abbott out on this nonsense. Active liars like Delingpole, and enablers like Bolt are representative of the entire right, even those who would like to appear rational and reasonable.

2. It’s crucial for the left to reject this kind of argument whenever it appears, even when the proponent takes the correct stance on other issues.

[1] This article earned a rebuke from the Press Council, but that merely perpetuates the notion that Delingpole is a journalist and that the Oz is a newspaper. These 20th century categories have ceased to be applicable – the Oz is better understood as a lunar right blog that, for historical reasons, is printed out on broadsheet paper every day.

130 thoughts on “The anti-science right on wind farms

  1. If you search “dead wind farms” you get lots of identical articles (one of which is by Australia’s – arguably – highest paid climate science critic, Andrew Bolt, from February 2010).

    They appear to originate from Senator Barnardi’s favoured scientific body, the Heritage Foundation.

    The ghosts of Kamaoa are not alone in warning us. Five other abandoned wind sites dot the Hawaiian Isles — but it is in California where the impact of past mandates and subsidies is felt most strongly. Thousands of abandoned wind turbines littered the landscape of wind energy’s California “big three” locations — Altamont Pass, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio — considered among the world’s best wind sites.

    Maybe that’s where the vague and unattributed claim originates?

  2. i don’t think this guy is making it up. but not 40,000.

    http://www.airphotona.com/image.asp?imageid=17801&catnum=0&catname=All%20Categories&keyword=&country=&state=&pagenum=7

    they’re looking pretty dilapidated to me – i think companies that put them up should be compelled to take them down if they stop using them, bankruptcy no excuse, set up a sinking fund or something to cover the possibility & stop socialising the costs.

    i grew up in a train station, my first 11 years. to this day the sound of shunting in a yard is strangely soothing to me. i’d take a working railway yard in the distance over a windfarm. -a.v.

  3. thank you Tim Macnay for clearing that one up for me.

    this guy – webecoist – appears to be not a wowser. his post is from 2009.

    There are dozens of wind farms scattered around the Western rim of the Mojave Desert near Tehachapi pass. There are over 5,000 wind turbines in the area thanks to the wind rush of the 1970s and 1980s.

    Many companies have come and gone, been bought, or gone belly-up. Some of the hundreds of turbines not spinning have been derelict now for decades. There is no law in Kern County that requires removal of broken or abandoned wind turbines, and as a result, the Tehachapi Pass area is an eerie mix of healthy, active wind farms and a wind turbine graveyard/junkyard.

    … there is no law in kern county that requires …

    http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2009/05/04/10-abandoned-renewable-energy-plants/

  4. @alfred

    I’m surprised to learn that a Hawaiian wind farm is located in Eastern Canada/Eastern California.

    According to this the Kamoa Wind Farm is a going concern that at one stage decommissioned old turbines and erected new ones. According to Wikipedia it supplies 20 Mw to the Hawaii grid.

    It may be a nontrivial fact the the DLP is propagating the myth of dead turbines.

  5. I’m shocked to think that the right might be propagating untruths.

    I’m shocked to see those untruths published on the internet.

  6. @alfred venison

    When I open that link I see a photo of wind turbines (OK, with some spots on them), but I can’t tell whether they’re moving or not.

    I didn’t see anything about “40,000”, but all the ‘Heritage’ sourced links had “14,000” (??).

    I agree that ALL ‘externalities’ should be charged back to their root cause – whether it is CO2, sulphur, radiation or whatever. That would include crappy abandoned wind towers.

  7. That was the earlier link.

    The later link is from a website run by a company called “evolve”:

    Evolve Media is a vertical content publishing company that leverages proprietary advertising and publishing technologies to build publishing brands under its CraveOnline Media (men) and TotallyHer Media (women) business units. Evolve offer marketers superior custom, integrated and engaging solutions that allow them to reach and impact its audience of more than 95 million people globally each month (comScore).

    They may well be the nicest people in the world, but I wouldn’t be getting my “facts” from any website they run.

  8. They may well be the nicest people in the world, but I wouldn’t be getting my “facts” from any website they run.

    Most valuable demographic of all, to an advertiser, is “easily-manipulated rich people”.

  9. With apologies to the DLP and Evolve Media, I have discovered a much more urgent problem. These photos of decommissioned Jumbo jets prove beyond any question we must shut down the global aviation industry immediately.

    I believe there are car junkyards as well, but I’m not going to look at those because the implications are just too frightening.

  10. oh Alan – i’m from alberta and i know hawaii is not in ontario: hawaii is where pineapples come from, ontario is where, i dunno, banks come from.

    and hi Megan – yes i agree, i wouldn’t go to them for who won the war of 1812, they appear to be an aggregator for real estate agents among other things. but i will say about them that their story appears to be not sourced from the heritage foundation & is not exclusively about wind farms. that is they appear to have no specific anti-wind farm agenda. i wouldn’t take it further than that.

    it stands to reason that if you use terminology employed by the heritage foundation like “dead wind farms” then you will likely get secondary sources derived from the heritage foundation. i used “decommissioned wind turbines”. but still, the well is dry.

    and hello again Allan – i agree the conservatives are running a scare campaign and that rational argument and reference to facts and authorities does not dint what appeal their message has.

    this is a consequence, imo, of the leveling effect of speed of light communications which are having the effect in our time of undermining the traditional sources of authority and hierarchies of knowledge. authorities and hierarchies hitherto grounded on the 2,500 years of phonetic literacy and the characteristic social institutions & practices evolved to support & perpetuate the ideals & productions of rationality.

    i said this before in other places but in the internet mediated world of speed of light communication & instantaneous transfers of information everyone’s an expert and no one’s an authority – a new environment with, in contradistinction to the one we grew up in, acoustic characteristics, where, as mcluhan put it, “the centre is everywhere and the periphery is nowhere”.

    i alluded to this in my first comment on this thread. for more about the effects of communication media on the mentality of masses and their societies try harold innis “empire and communication”. -a.v.

  11. @alfred venison
    Not sure where you are heading with this Alfred but there are other aspects to consider – eg IT technology has enabled us to both recognise and deal with complexity (eg complex computer modelling and prediction for climate science), but in acknowledging complexity we also have to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong, so the (always misguided but nevertheless common) positivist view of science as something that gave us the “facts” (aka truth) no longer holds.

    In the public health area, there is still some belief in the primacy of ‘correct’ scientific methods such as random controlled trials where you isolate one thing (eg new drug) that you are testing and control to test for that alone. However there is also increasing recognition that life doesn’t actually work that way – there is never just one thing happening. Same with windfarms – maybe ‘objectively’ they don’t do any harm, but if people don’t like them (for whatever reason and no matter what we may think of their reasons) then they may genuinely make them “feel sick”.

    Rather than dismissing this as unscientific or anti-science, I think we need to accept that there is no perfect dichotomy of genuine ethical honest “scientists” vs false unethical dishonest “anti-scientists”, and focus on the political, ethical and interest factors that are affecting people’s actions and policy choices.

    In some ways this whole discussion about the right being anti-science is possibly a diversion, because it distracts from the main point (the most economical explanation in both senses of the word) – the right are doing this not because they are for or against “science”, but because they represent the interests of Big Coal.

    On the issue of ‘post-modern science’ and climate change debates, Ravetz and Jacques are worth reading.

  12. Just to follow up on this briefly, from my reading at the moment the best way to deal with ACC denial is probably not to put “science” on a pedestal, but to be a bit humble and say, we recognise that climate scientists can’t always get it right, but this is their honest and best prediction of what is likely to happen.

    Similarly I guess with wind-farms – we can recognise that some people may not like them, and that this may cause them genuine distress, but still say that as far as we can assess windfarms in themselves do not pose any threat to public health. That is, recognise that emotions and feelings are real things that matter, but also that they don’t have to dominate debates – rather than treating people who feel them as fools or knaves.

  13. Granting equality between empirical fact and stuff made up by the right gains nothing.

    It gains nothing electorally as the record of the Gillard government shows. It gains nothing for rational debate because the modern right treats any concession as a prelude to surrender. They never concede ground themselves so the movement is always in one direction only.

    There is a direct line from let’s all give the deniers a hug to electing prime ministers who believe that the science of climate change is absolute crap.

    At the end of Gladiator, there is a famous scene where the senate is about to restore the republic after the death of Commodus. The screenplay’s been heavily criticised by historians because the republic had been dead for generations and there was no movement to restore it at any stage after the death of Augustus centuries before Commodus was heard of.

    Ridley Scott’s famous answer was ‘How do you know? Were you there?’

    We have a deeply serious problem with an elite that not only does not know but does not care about not knowing. Let’s not leap into bed with them and started deciding empirical questions by feelings.

    There was a minor intellectual fashion a while ago known as the Enlightenment which found things work a whole lot better if empirical questions are decided empirically.

  14. hi Val, we meet again. let me be clear i’m not a luddite. for one, the internet has allowed me to quickly build up full access, for the first time in thirty-five years, to music previously locked away on vinyl, which had been crucial during my youth in shaping my personality and intellect. getting in touch with this music again after so long has seriously changed my life for the better. certainly the most important thing that has happened to me since i met ms kiewa 25 years ago.

    the speed of light im-mediate communications of our time, mean that people don’t so much look up for information anymore – they increasingly just look around. when the lawn mower is broken they are less likely to read the manual and more likely to watch a video on you-tube. they want it told to them – they want the immediacy of oral interaction – or its electronic analogue.

    this is a consequence of changes in the technology through which we mediate our experiences, through which we know the world, ourselves & one another. radically new conditions pertain today, with the new electronic media of communication putting strains on our institutions & practices of knowledge, economics, politics, &c.

    the last time something like this happened to our civilization was when we changed from a culture that copied manuscripts in latin, laboriously by hand, for a few, to a culture that printed books, in the vernacular, easily by mechanical reproduction, for everyone.

    it is your & my & others habits, and stressed institutions, that sustain rationality in our time, not our primary media of communication.

    as to where i’m coming from – there in an old interview with marshall mcluhan & eric norden in which mcluhan elucidates all this better than i can; i am still dazzled and “in media res”. it appeared originally in playboy magazine in 1969 but don’t let that dissuade you if you’re intersted – it is today extracted from that source, and included in media studies course materials. it is often for that purpose abridged (redacted) to leave out the sections (included in the version I link to) on civil rights, drugs and the vietnam war (which norden was an outspoken opponent of). it is the best most succint & clearest introduction to mcluhan’s thinking re. the effect of communication technology on society and consequently where i’m coming from.

    http://www.nextnature.net/2009/12/the-playboy-interview-marshall-mcluhan/

    (if you want to read this, you may wish to copy & paste it to your word processor for ease of reading. i did. and you may want to do a search, and replace “playboy” with “eric norden”. i did. apart from the dated use of “man” & “mankind” it reads fresh as a daisy.)
    a.v.

  15. @Alan
    Straw woman argument, Alan, I am not suggesting any of the things you accuse me of suggesting. Here are the details of the articles I referred to and a summary of some key points

    Ravetz, J. R. ‘Climategate’ and the maturing of post-normal science
    Futures 43(2): 149-157
    – this might sound at first as if Ravetz is saying the same thing you are talking about – ie all claims are equal – but in fact he isn’t and if you persist with it, the article explains why

    Jacques, P. J. A General Theory of Climate Denial
    Global Environmental Politics 12(2): 9-+

    I’ve put part of my summary including key quotes below. I hope Prof Q doesn’t object to such long posts but in my opinion this is a really good article

    ACC is an ontological and ideological threat. “Climate skepticism comes as an anti-reflexive counter-movement to beat back the ontological threats to Western modernity, organized through conservative think tanks, mostly in the US, with some in the UK”. “I submit that climate change science provides an imminent critique of industrial power, Western modernity, and the ideals of Western progress, just as the study of ecology was at first seen as a “subversive” force because, if it were taken seriously, it would challenge the central workings of “modern” society”

    Discusses Gramsci and risk of implying privileged group of scientists who are right – cannot create strict alternatives of denial vs scientist – acceptance/acknowledgement. It is a matter of competing knowledge and all are affected by class position and ideology (gives example, some climate scientists argue for geo-engineering) “But, even if all science must deal with ideology, not all subjectivities are equally defensible. The subjectivity and choices made within mainstream climate science have intersubjective agreement, where judgments must be accountable to scrutiny, witness, and vetting, not to mention corroboration and revision. Climate denial is mostly expressed in forums where the scrutiny is internal and guided by ideology”.

    Problem with scientists trying to present “united front” is that any mistake or disagreement then can be seen as undermining. “When the mainstream reinforces a binary field, it also defends some of the core Enlightenment politics of science-as-authority and antidote-to-ideology, which may add legitimacy to projects like geoengineering or nuclear energy. When the public is presented with false dichotomies like “acknowledgment” or “denial,” policy choices may become Hobson’s choices”. Also cf Norgaard – people using denial as psychological protection. Conclusion: “Acknowledgment” and “denial” are not the only choices, but this diversity does not make organized and willful denial more ethically or epistemologically defensible. The climate denial counter-movement comes from, I posit, the defensive fear that the possessive individualistic ontology of the West lies uncomfortably in the guillotine”

  16. Sorry my quotes went a bit skew whiff there. Jacques’ conclusion is
    “’Acknowledgment’ and ‘denial’ are not the only choices, but this diversity does not make organized and willful denial more ethically or epistemologically defensible. The climate denial counter-movement comes from, I posit, the defensive fear that the possessive individualistic ontology of the West lies uncomfortably in the guillotine”

  17. hi Alan – the obvious retort to ridley scot is “no, i wasn’t there, but i read a book by someone who was there”. when the obvious reference to a book to settle a dispute is not a viable option we clearly have crossed a threshold.

    no one gave anyone anything, and no one received anything. the ground has shifted under everyone. i do not endorse or approve of what is happening but its happening. the conservatives choose to play to irrationality to win votes. progressives will be hard pressed to counter that with facts & figures when the core communication technology of the world makes chit chat easy.

    wasn’t there a rhyme once about cecil b de mille and moses and the war of the roses. i’ll see your “gladiator” and raise you an “argo” for directorial hubris and lying about the past. -a.v.

  18. On Ridley Scott: Alien and Blade Runner were excellent. Prometheus, not so much. I’m getting old…

  19. all the organisation and planning and work and co-operation, that would go into a responsible global response to climate change, could not but validate to millions the basic tenets of socialism: planned economies and mutual co-operation between & amongst people around the world in the interests of achieving a goal shared by all.

    a realistic and credible response to climate change means at least co-ordinated international co-operation & national plans.

    i believe that a realistic & viable response to climate change would be a prelude to socialism around the world.

    i believe they know this.

    p.s. – notwithstanding, i accept the science because i am persuaded by the evidence as i understand it.

  20. @Val

    I thoroughly disagree with your approach as expressed in your post @12, p.2. Rightly or wrongly I call it the weasel word approach of public relations, which has never solved any problems but created a lot. [1]

    To the extent that your reading of my post on p 1 might have contributed to your perception of what the problem is, I’d like to refer you to one empirical study on how acoustics scientists go about examining reported complaints about wind turbines. This study was carried out in the USA in the mid-1980s; a time, a.v. and others might agree, when trust in public policy was linked to scientific authority more so than today.

    Click to access 1166.pdf

    Scientific studies, like this one, do not lend themselves to generate pro- or anti- wind farm arguments. They do not lend themselves to pre-judging the emotional state of people (ie their ‘attitudes’). They start off with the assumption that unless proven otherwise, it cannot be ruled out that the complaints have a basis in physical reality.

    It is from detailed studies, like this one, that technical improvements (wind turbines in this case) and improved planning and environmental guidelines result.

    I should hope, this study is sufficient to clarify what I mean when I say there is no simple Yes or No answer to the question: Do wind farms present health risks?

    [1] My opinion is based on my direct experience (observations) of going through environmental impact statements regarding noise impacts, edited by weasel word merchants.

  21. That is an important point AV, a point not said often enough. The empirical evidence warns of rapid environmental change. The science validates and quantifies what is blatantly obvious.

  22. @Val

    Actually, researchers studying the health (non-)effects of wind farms are perfectly aware of how expectations of health effects can result in symptoms (or heightened awareness of them) and cause genuine distress–knowledge that they have of course gained through use of the scientific method. Why you criticise those who point out the baselessness of people’s fears, rather than the anti-wind farm groups which peddle the lies and cause the unnecessary pain, is beyond me.

  23. @Luke Elford

    Why you criticise those who point out the baselessness of people’s fears, rather than the anti-wind farm groups which peddle the lies and cause the unnecessary pain, is beyond me.

    possibly because it’s not what I’m doing?

    I’ve suggested before that this blog is sexist – well I have today made several lengthy and quite complex points, only to have three examples of male-name commenters accusing me of saying something very simple and pretty stupid, and then telling me off about the thing that they’re saying I said. So I get the impression that for at least some of the men on this blog, it’s not important to read the things that women actually say, but it is important to tell them off?

  24. @Luke Elford
    the three commenters I refer to were yourself and Alan on this thread, and Hermit on the nuclear thread (just wanted to make it quite clear that it didn’t include AV, with whom I have interesting conversations even when we strongly disagree)

    and in all fairness, Alan and Hermit didn’t tell me off – just misrepresented what I was saying (Alan), and subjected me to some rather patronising sarcasm, as if I was a bit stupid (both).

  25. @Val

    This quote resonates with me.

    “I submit that climate change science provides an imminent critique of industrial power, Western modernity, and the ideals of Western progress, just as the study of ecology was at first seen as a “subversive” force because, if it were taken seriously, it would challenge the central workings of “modern” society”

    For some time I have felt that the imminent collapse of global civilization (as I believe will happen) actually annuls the human civilization project in its entirety. I mean this not only materially and objectively but also from a moral philosophy perspective. It leads to me conclude that civilization is to be rendered, in retrospect, meaningless. I make no claims about pre-civilisation human life one way or another. I am too far removed from it to be able to know or claim anything about it.

    It is not just Western Modernity taken together or separately that are called into question. It is the civilisation project itself in all of its guises including the ancient, arisrocratic, theocratic and modern technocratic. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 vision but it is clear now civilisation was always doomed precisely because it is inherently and unavoidably environmentally destructive.

    Why this is so is an interesting question. More than anything civilization seeks to release humans from the natural ills and the natural limits. Proximally it can achieve this by creating greater order and complexity in our civilised spaces, in town or field. But it always does this at the expense of greater disorder (destruction, degneration) elsewhere in the biosphere away from our civilised spaces.

    The Holocene biosphere was a relatively well-ordered and complex place. Its benignity of climate and level of useful order (meaning useable resources) for humans suited the development of civilisation. This is a one-off endowment which is now nearly destroyed. Not only will advanced modern human civilisation collapse but no other such civilisation can possibly arise again as the necessary endowment has been spent.

  26. And if anyone wonders further why I don’t think some form of sustainable civilisation is possible, I would answer that the doctrines of defensive realism and offensive realism are both valid (in my view as part of a continuum) and explain why we cannot live in complete cooperative global harmony. The resulting intra-species conflicts preclude the comprehensive global cooperation which would provide our only hope. The continued focus on militarism, alliances, containment, conflict and attempted global or regional hegemony results in too large a diversion of resources from our real existential problems. Any existing nation that diverted all resources to the real existential environmental and social problems (as would be needed) would be conquered, pillaged and dismembered in short order. The conquerors of course being blind to the fact that they will soon follow the conquered into oblivion.

  27. @Ikonoclast

    Have you read: ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia’ by Bill Gammage?

    I’ve read some of it and intend to read the whole thing. Also heard a great interview with him on 98.9fm.

    I suspect the long-term future (if there is one involving humans) will resemble the long-term past.

    Whether that agrees or disagrees with your comments depends a bit on what definition of “civilisation” is used.

    IIRC, Peter Costello or someone made a comment about Aborigines not being civilised because they didn’t invent ‘the wheel’ (??) – which immediately made me think: “What use would it be?”

  28. @Ikonoclast
    I think your comments are really interesting, but I don’t agree that the problems are due to civilization as such – I think they are related to the particular kinds of patriarchal societies that have dominated our planet in the last few thousand years. By patriarchal I mean societies that are competitive, hierarchical and ruled by men.

    I am not suggesting that this is due to the “essentially” bad nature of men, or good nature of women. Rather that in the rise of patriarchy, a lot of important human qualities, like cooperation, care and nurture, got relegated to second order status along with women.

    If we can create societies where women and men are genuinely equal, I believe we will also see these qualities restored to their real place as being of primary importance. Then we could see again societies where care for each other and care for the earth are seen as the most important tasks of humanity, as they were for thousands upon thousands if years in gatherer hunter societies.

  29. the wheel!? the romans for all their chariots couldn’t get it together to invent the stirrup and that was the end of them. -a.v.

  30. Regarding Val’s post @ 23, where Val suggests that this blog is “sexist”, (blokes have the say) I’d like to add to my post, which is in modertion (possibly because I’ve linked to a scientific study) that I am female.

  31. I haven’t read “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia” but perhaps I should. I have some general awareness from other sources of the issues Gammage is writing about. BTW, I am thankful for not being flamed as a nihilist for questioning the civilisation project. At the same time, I am a “child” of this civilisation and clearly could not survive without it. Civilisation spoils us in the sense that we no longer have the knowledge, resources or hardiness to survive without the aids of civilisation. We also outlive the span of survival common to hunter-gatherer societies.

    My definition of civilisation is the orthodox one. It refers to polities which combine the basic institutions of formal central governance, ceremonial centre(s), a system of writing and a city or (cities). This is not to say that aborigines were uncivilized in the imprecisely pejorative sense which means savage or uncouth. In fact, one can argue that savage and uncouth behaviour at least sometimes increases with civilization.

    The point in favour of the Aborigines is that they managed Australia sustainably for some 40,000 years (probably a conservative estimate) and there is every likelihood they could have continued for another 40,000 years. Civilisation on the very longest view has developed and lasted about 10,000 years and is due to collapse imminently having wrecked the biosphere in the process. More than anything civilization has been about extending the power of some over others and widening inequities.

    An interesting idea to speculate about too is what prevents civilisation arising not just what facilitates it. Is the prevention merely the lack of a benign climate or the lack of seasons or the lack of progressive inventions for example? Or is the prevention a strong, positive attachment to land, roaming and dreaming that precludes permanent settling and indeed makes it palpably obvious and present what will be lost by settling? Drawing a long bow perhaps… but sometimes I wonder.

  32. Gammage writes;

    “In northern Australia, Aborigines knew about farming. For centuries Arnhem Land people watched Macassans (trepang fishers from Indonesia) plant and harvest rice and other crops;
    while Cape York people traded regularly with gardeners on nearby islands. In both areas Aborigines may have tried gardening at one time, but in 1788 none showed any inclination for it. Instead they maintained the sorts of associations typifying the rest of Australia—notably plains beside swamps, ringed by scrub or forest. If anything, hunter-gathering was moving north into the Cape York islands, rather than farming moving south. Clearly people thought their management superior to farming.” – “…far more happier than we Europeans”: Aborigines and
    farmers – Bill Gammage.

    This all in the context of aboriginals managing the landscape with fire-stick methods. It supports the idea that they consciously stuck to their ways of life with a clear assessment it was better for them and the land and all its denizens.

    The title quote comes from James Cook. “In reality they are far more happier than we Europeans…They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturbed by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life… they seem’d
    to set no value upon anything we gave them nor would they ever part with any thing of their own for any one article we could offer them this in my opinion argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life and that they have no superfluities… ”

    Of course, Cook had no idea they were managing the land. And no doubt when you see a people on a good day or in a good season things always look easier for them than in reality they are.

  33. @Ikonoclast

    That’s where it gets interesting on a philosophical level. For example – “writing”. Having a tradition of spoken knowledge could fulfil the purpose, perhaps? And “cities” – what better than travelling light wherever you need to go, doing it on foot or by canoe for ‘free’?

    There were apparently seasonal, cultural and (in our sense) ‘commercial’ purposes for moving around rather than staying in one place until it was ruined and even then refusing to move. The fish traps of Brewarina or the Bunya festival are good examples.

    Disposable and renewable houses, tools, transport… An entirely renewable system in the purest sense.

  34. @Ikonoclast
    I think there are questions about the distinctions you draw between “civilization” and Aboriginal society. For example there was a system of law and ethics and local responsibilities in what we call the dreaming (there are some good articles about this on The Conversation https://theconversation.com/dreamtime-and-the-dreaming-an-introduction-20833) – Gammadge says this also functioned as a kind of system of governance and land management for the whole country (that’s why he writes about it as one estate). Moreover there wasn’t written language but art conveyed a whole lot more than just aesthetics – I think it functioned like a kind of higher level written language in a sense.

    Also there may not have been cities but there were villages and also meeting places, and people used to come from long distances for meetings which included trade and ceremony.

    I’m not sure that these distinctions between civilization and non-civilization hold up all that well really.

    Also apparently Diane Bell has written about how there much more equality between men and women in Aboriginal society than our white ancestors realised, because they (white invaders) super- imposed their ideas about male leadership on what was actually happening – but I haven’t had time to read that yet.

  35. @Ernestine Gross

    In the early days of his activist development, Noel Pearson travelled around with a mentor with whom he had long discussions (according to Pearson). I don’t recall the name of this mentor. Pearson related a discussion where they agreed we all are racists to some degree and it was a matter of fighting this racism internally and externally. This is IIRC.

    By the same rigorous measure, we all are sexists to some degree. The issue is to delineate degrees and fight against sexism in our selves and in our culture. IIRC, Val was telling us we were sexists if we did not support Julia Gillard. Julia Gillard was attacked with vicious, unwarranted sexist campaign from the right wing in this country.

    This did not mean that on balance I could support her when she sided with a few capitalist mining bosses and reactionary elements in the Labor Party and Unions, to remove a PM prepared to tax mining super-profits more adequately. That was the greater principle. The material ability of reactionary males to exert undue controlling power over women in our current stems very considerably from the unequal distribution of ownership of the means of production. Any step which enables, enhances and consolidates that power (Julia Gillard’s policy in this regard) is a step in the wrong direction.

  36. this subject has a lot of polyps attached.

    things like abbots unpatriotic/unaustralian trial balloon.

    (what next,tones? unchristian? uncatholic?)

    something like 89 or is it 85 individuals controlling assets equivalent to the assets of half the worlds population.

    paying for scripted media mouths is a doddle.
    so railing against them is a heads i lose,tails i don’t win situation as long as the script is given the benefit of the doubt.
    (driving down the value of alternative energy sources makes them easier to snap up.
    after all it’s not the energy source that is important,it is the control of the energy source)

    the ability to gretch an institution,again not a problem.
    nasty suspicious mind is looking at the current situation re missing votes before the court here in the west.
    1300 rather large pieces of paper don’t just disappear into thin air.
    our electoral system specialises in making sure they don’t just disappear into thin air.

    but.

    nsm thinks how easy it would be for one or two not-so-ethical,for maybe a couple or hundred mill into a nicely tucked away account,to betray the electoral system and every honourable person in it.( who would know).
    the damage done ? shit happens?

    bleh.

  37. ohr yeh and on the ABC at the mo.

    we are given “teach-the-controversy” “the-public-can-make-up-their-own-minds re the latest refugee fiasco.

  38. I haven’t read Gammage’s book either. could be worth a look.

    I’ve heard of Polynesians classed as primitive by early anthropologists (?) because they failed to develop pottery; apparently living on coral atolls without clay didn’t figure into that assessment. On agriculture in pre-european Australia, I’ve read that the unreliability of rainfall was critical. The droughts were too long and the years of reliable rain for crops too far between, especially in the southern regions that had the better soils. Without either exceptionally large granaries in reserve or trade and transport between areas with excess and those in need it was doomed to failure. It seems a reasonable supposition.

  39. @Ikonoclast

    I noticed my previously in moderation post is now on-line. As you can see, the gender of commenters is not a good predictor of agreement on methodologies and methods.

  40. @Tim Macknay

    Bill Gammage, whose life has been about investigating Australian indigenous and settler history, is a great guy to yarn with. Can be found at Canb Folk Fest at Easter.

  41. @Ikonoclast

    IIRC, Val was telling us we were sexists if we did not support Julia Gillard.

    Sadly I have to admit my ignorance here – what does IIRC stand for? I can’t work it out.

    This sounds to me as if you are talking the same garbage as John Quiggin previously did ie that I’m just some idiotic emotional female who can’t bear any criticism of her heroine. If not, could you please clarify?

  42. @Ikonoclast
    And I’ve been accused of being some sort of totally unethical pragmatist for talking about the lesser of two evils here before, but can I point out to you that Tony Abbott is busy allowing dumping on the reef, delisting Tasmanian forests and allowing open slather for mining companies and Big Coal.

    One of my key points here was that you guys were so busy dumping sh-t on Gillard that you missed the real enemy. And from my experience in politics (not huge but real) a lot of people here have no idea how politics actually works.

    You think you’re making all these important points about “I don’t hate Julia Gillard because she’s a woman, I just hate her and have to say really nasty things about her at every opportunity because she failed to get a mining tax that I approve of” but what most of the public hears is “even her own side hates her and thinks she’s an incompetent fool/bitch”.

    As my experience suggests, for a lot of men ( and some women) it’s really important to point out to feminists how wrong and stupid we are. But you know, a) we’re not b) there are much more important tasks than telling feminists off (like ensuring the planet doesn’t become uninhabitable for all of us, for example).

  43. @Val

    Val, what I and others find irritating is not that you argue “like a woman” but you argue like a petulant child. Sorry to be so blunt but you don’t see that your style is disruptive to rational argument.

  44. speaking for myself, i did not miss the real enemy, i never took my eyes off the real enemy. -a.v.

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