Sunday, February 07, 2016

Perverse policy and practice....flooding

My colleague Dick Morris has sent the following item from the latest Energy and Environment Management Magazine (an on-line a UK-based monthly update of news/developments).

He, like I, find it unimaginable that such unsound policy should be put into practice. It represents a major waste of resources and is far from being a systemic response to flooding. 

Lincolnshire flood plain housing to have £13 million defence scheme

Post Date: 12 January 2016

Engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald has been appointed by North Lincolnshire Council to design a £13 million flood defence scheme for the new Lincolnshire Lakes multi-village development near Scunthorpe, UK.

The £1.2 billion Lincolnshire Lakes scheme is a strategic regeneration project which will see six new villages created on a flood plain to the west of Scunthorpe. Approximately 6,000 homes, a primary school, stadium, community centre and retirement home, with new access roads and local shops are planned to be built among a series of artificial lakes by 2028. One of the key components of the scheme is to deliver a flood management solution to ensure a safe development, free from flooding.

Mott MacDonald will undertake flood modelling and the detailed design of flood defences, with associated ground investigation studies in the first quarter of 2016, with construction to begin shortly after. The area the project will cover is the 3.6km of the River Trent between the M180 and the southern boundary of Keadby Bridge near Althorpe.

Colin Greensill, Mott MacDonald’s project director, said: “North Lincolnshire Council’s investment will help prevent any future flooding into the new villages while also help improve flood defences for existing villages as well."

Summer school - knowledge co-production

I have received the following advice from Mathieu Dionnet

"Dear colleagues,

For your information and for dissemination, Lisode co-organises with ISEG-Lisbon and UFZ-Leipzig a five-days international Summer School called: Concepts and tools to engage in knowledge co-production and public participation. This second edition will take place in Agropolis International, Montpellier, France, from June 27th to July 1st 2016.

For more information, please look at the flyer for the course which is restricted to 20 participants or send a message to"

I have no first hand experience of this offering so can not offer any advice to those interested.   

Thursday, February 04, 2016

PhD students - opportunity to engage with Systems at IFSA 2016

The IFSA 2016: PhD Course has just been announced

Please circulate the announcement to anyone who might be interested.

Systems Thinking in Practice(STiP) in PhD Research: appreciating and effecting transformations with farming systems research (4 ECTS - Subject to Approval)

This PhD course will run throughout the period of the IFSA 2016 Symposium at Harper Adams University from Sunday 10th July to Saturday 16th July 2016. It will focus on the main theme of the IFSA Symposium and consider how research plays a key role in appreciating how purposeful transformations are realized in different parts of the world, related to farming, food, rural areas and environment. It will consider the increasingly multifaceted complexity of issues of sustainability, water, food and soil security and climate change in relation to food and fibre production and consumption, in addition to the maintenance or enhancement of ecosystems services and the concomitant enhancement of rural livelihoods.

The purpose of this course is to help you, the PhD student, develop your STiP skills in contextualizing your research, to make connections among issues using systems thinking and to so improve your ability to work both strategically and purposefully in relation to transformations. The course is also designed to help you build on what other researchers have previously undertaken. The course will be delivered by Dr Chris Blackmore, Professor Ray Ison, and Professor Dr. Nadarajah Sriskandarajah. Full details of the course can be found here.

Reinventing Democracy in the Digital Era

Yiannis Laouris  advises that "Reinventing Democracy in the Digital Era" is launched! The first Webinar is online. Please feel free to login with your acccount and make comments, ask questions and make statements below it in order to initiate dialogues and discussions.

Yiannis says to "Let me know for ANY ways in which you may join, contribute or benefit."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Unethical systems practice?

Systems practice in and of itself is neither ethical or unethical as all practice is in the hands of the practitioner in a given context. What is, or is not, ethical is always situated. My musings on this question has been triggered by reading material on 'transformative scenario planning' by Adam Kahane.  Kahane became known based on his leadership of the Mont Fleur Scenario exercise in South Africa in the early 1990s, an exercise that many claim helped in positive ways to transition to a post-apartheid state as well as shaping some of the ANC's early political and economic strategies.

Anyone who has more than a passing aquaintance with systems scholarship knows that scenario planning was mainly developed within the Royal Dutch Shell oil company. It was the adaptive scenario work done by Pierre Wack in the early 1970s, 'envisaging' the 1973 oil crisis, that led to scenario planning being institutionalised in Shell.....and presumedly other companies, including other oil companies.  Wack's work enabled Shell, one of the weakest of the infamous 'seven sister's who dominated the oil industry, to emerge from the 1973 oil shock as one of the strongest.

According to Kahane, scenario planning in Shell developed under the leadership of Ged Davis and Kees van der Heijden. Kahane, who was a Shell employee when he went to South Africa, attributes his own learning of scenario planning to these 'two masters'. Shell was also a pioneer in the use of SSM (soft-systems methodology) and Kees van der Heijden was an important player in this activity - as examples written up in several of Peter Checkland's books testify.  SSM can be used as a form of scenario practice and Kahane's 'transformative scenario' practice seems replete with systemic thinking and practice.

With this as background my musings turn to the question of how scenario planning has been used, particularly in the oil industry, in the 45 or so years since Shell began using it.  For example, was it used in the move by BP into 'beyond petroleum' and then the rather rapid departure from that set of narratives and commitments?  Why did most major oil and energy companies abandon their diversified portfolios, including renewable energy assets, in the early 2000s?  Were these decisions guided by an undisclosed 'Big Tobacco' scenario? Or a 'make hay while we can' scenario? Or an 'exploit our social operating licence to the full - till we are stopped' scenario?  My musings are prompted by news of an inquiry that may be gathering steam in California:

"Activist Tom Steyer’s comments followed reports that California attorney general is looking into what the world’s biggest oil company knew about climate change........into allegations that ExxonMobil spent decades lying to investors and the public about its knowledge of climate change."

It is clear that practices informed by systems thinking and practice can be used to good effect; whether the practice is ethical or not is another question. When framed in terms of Heinz von Forster's ethical imperative:

...."act always so as to increase the number of choices" or "I always act so as to increase the number of choices".......

then the actions of oil companies, should it be shown that they deliberately set out to prolong their business model in the face of overwhelming evidence about climate change, have clearly acted unethically. Collectively they will have acted to limit the choices we humans have as we move into a climate-change world. 

EMCSR avantgarde, Vienna 30 March – 1 April, 2016

Call for Participation: 30 March–1 April, 2016,  Vienna, Austria - the exact location will be chosen in Vienna regarding the topics and number of attendees.

Format: Pop up conference meetings. The European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR) will be held in Vienna from March 30 to April 1, 2016. It will be the first pop up conference meeting in the field of Systems Science, called emcsr avantgarde.

The name reflects the vision and the core of the programme. We are looking forward to setting the stage for the contemporary avantgarde of Systems Science and Practice, connecting the achievements of the past with inspiring potentials for the future. The new emcsr avantgarde will be the “talent” scout event in the field of Systems Science.

An international scientific jury (selection committee) of renowned experts in their respective fields (philosophy, science, engineering, design, and art) will select the competition attendees and their submissions. Every selected researcher is a nominee for “The Ludwig von Bertalanffy Young Scientist Award” donated by the main organizer of the event, the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS). The winner will be chosen through real-­time voting by the audience of the emcsr avantgarde meetings.  It is the first prototype for “scientific talent” scouting independent of the age and career status of the candidates. The BCSSS as a role model is also eager to meet further potential candidates, master and PhD students, for their upcoming scholarship programme (starting in 2017) through the event, independent from the playful award contest.

This is a unique opportunity to discover the next generation of systems researchers. We intend to invite universities, foundations, donors, startups and investors as well as human resource managers to meet their future potential talents at the emcsr avantgarde.

The emcsr avantgarde will also offer satellite workshops. These workshops are focused on a Specific topic, organized by an invited group of already established researchers, and offer opportunities to showcase and further elaborate contemporary trends in Cybernetics and Systems Science.

The emcsr avantgarde will be intentionally a smaller exclusive conference meeting. We want to ensure that the selection of submissions reflect quality, thus the referee process will be rigor.  We also want to ensure that we enable vivid interaction at the conference meetings through the number of  attendees.

The emcsr avantgarde is the 23rd European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research in Vienna building on 40 years of tradition. In 1972, the emcsr offered its first forum for discussion of converging ideas and new aspects of different scientific disciplines.  The emcsr was co-founded by the Austrian Society for Cybernetics Studies, chaired by Robert Trappl, which established the Austrian Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Vienna, too.

Since then every two years senior scientists met in Vienna to present in workshops and symposia their latest research results and discuss the rapid developments in our society. From 2016 on the main stage is set for the young researchers, too.

We are very happy that Robert Trappl will be present at the reinvented emcsr avantgarde, when we establish the milestone for the 21st century scientific avantgarde connected to the roots of the provocative avant-garde of the 70s.

Visit online:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Improving people-nature relations.....not 'biodiversity conservation'!

Caption:  The Seaford foreshore - nature in the city.  Over forty-thousand people live within 15 driving or walking minutes of the Seaford foreshore and beach.   City creeks, reserves and landscapes managed by Councils, communities, Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria may not be wilderness with threatened species but 4.5 million Melbournians need natural places like this for physical and mental health and well-being.

The Port Philip and Westernport CMA (PPW Catchment Management Authority) recently made this Facebook posting.  It draws on work in which some of their staff are involved being conducted under the aegis of the Lonsdale Systems Group's designed and facilitated collaborative, systemic, inquiry into NRM governance in Victoria.

Social science and intuition agree - contact with nature is critical to the health and well-being of over 15 million city Australians.  

Melbourne Water’s waterways program, Council environment staff and Parks Victoria conserve nature in our city but against daily competition for space and resources.  Past government strategy has often under-recognised urban conservation. 

A new Victorian Biodiversity Strategy is being made.  A draft will be released soon and it’s an opportunity for change.  The PPWCMA’s Regional Strategy Team and Living Links Coordinator are working with council and community leaders and the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning to help the new Biodiversity Strategy better recognise urban community needs and connections with nature.

The PPWCMA’s Regional Strategy Team is also consulting with its partners on a written response to the Draft Biodiversity Strategy.  The response will focus on the importance  of urban nature conservation and the value of its partners’ work to keep nature alive and well in the city.

Does nature matter to people in urban Melbourne?  Yes!

Systems PhD short-course in conjunction with IFSA 2016

Beginning in Aarhus in 2012 a PhD 'short-course' organised as a 'systemic inquiry' has been offered in conjunction with the biennial conference of the European chapter of the IFSA (International Farming Systems Association). In the past these have attracted ECTS points for participating PhD students who are also required to attend the conference.

The first course was so successful that another was organised in Berlin in 2014 which was also very successful.  Now another PhD course has just been announced in conjunction with this year's IFSA conference to be held at Harper Adams University in England.

I invite all who read this to spread the news about this opportunity.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What system is it exactly?

This is a great post from Helen Wilding who draws out the traps that arise from the uncritical and everyday use of the term 'system'.

News from Italian Systems Society

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to bring to your attention, in case of your interest, the publication of the proceedings of the 2014 conference of the Italian Systems Society:

Minati, G., Abram, M. and Pessa, E., (eds.), (2016), Towards a post-Bertalanffy Systemics. Springer, New York 

A brief profile of the Italian Systems Society and a list of proceedings published previously are available [below].

Best regards,

Prof. Gianfranco Minati

· Polytechnic University of Milan/Department 'Building Environment Sciences and Technology', doctoral lecturer on systems science
· Personal URL

The Italian Systems Society (AIRS)  was founded in the 1996. The AIRS is a network of academicians, scientists, researchers and professionals involved in Systemics. A partial list of disciplines represented is:

 Architecture
 Biology
 Economics
 Education
 Engineering
 Mathematics
 Neurosciences
 Medicine
 Music
 Philosophy
 Psychology
 Physics.

The conferences had as open lecturer professors Arecchi, Haken, Klir, and Kauffman. The proceedings have been published as:

1. Minati, G., Abram, M. and Pessa, E., (eds.), (2015), Towards a post-Bertalanffy Systemics. Springer, New York.

2. Minati, G., Abram, M. and Pessa, E., (eds.), (2012), Methods, Models, simulations and approaches - towards a general theory of change. World Scientific, Singapore

3. Minati, G., Abram, M. and Pessa, E., (eds.), (2009), Processes of emergence of systems and systemic properties. Towards a general theory of emergence. World Scientific, Singapore.

4. Minati, G., Pessa, E., and Abram, M., (eds.), (2006), Systemics of Emergence: Research and Applications. Springer, New York.

5. Minati, G., and Pessa, E., (eds.) (2002), Emergence in Complex Cognitive, Social and Biological Systems. Kluwer, New York.

6. Minati, G., (ed.), (1998), Proceedings of the first Italian Conference on Systemics, Apogeo scientifica, Milan, Italy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Second Order Science

A conversation about second-order science is being fostered within the American Society of Cybernetics (ASC), and elsewhere, including the journal Constructivist Foundations.

Michael Lissack, current President of ASC, delivered this talk at ISSS2015 in Berlin, which was also the first Ranulph Glanville Memorial Lecture, delivered on behalf of ISSS (see this obituary).

This talk 'Dancing with Ambiguity' was also delivered by Pille Bunnel in Berlin as part of the embedded ASC day within ISSS2015. There are three clips in all.

There is more to be written and enacted under the aegis of second-order science. 

Catching up with Maturana

For some time the innovative work of Humberto Maturana has been neglected, or sidelined, within the fields of perception/cognition research as the current mainstream paradigm pursues, to my mind, a barren trajectory. But the situation may be changing - take a look at this Ted Talk which adds empirical evidence to much of what can be found in Maturana's work (which was itself empirically based).

My own 2010 book, Systems Practice: How to act in a climate-change World (Springer/Open University) is shaped by Maturana's biology of cognition.

As may be seen from this site, Beau Lotto, who delivers the Ted Talk has a new model of lab, the Lottolab, under development at UCL in London. It is claimed:

"Lottolab Studio is the world’s first public perception research space. Perception underpins everything that we feel, think and believe. It is the source of all artistic expression and scientific exploration. What we perceive IS who we are." 

Humberto Maturana, in the workshop conversations that I have experienced, always begins by exploring how and why humans in our living can not, in the moment, distinguish between perception and illusion. This is the human condition, as this Ted Talk makes clear.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Images - German summer 2015

These images come from three interrelated events held in Hannover and Berlin in late July, early August 2015 - see this blog for background. I thank my colleagues for providing some of these photos.

Monday, January 18, 2016

More systemic musings?

It may have escaped your attention (but not mine) that my last Blog was posted in April 2015. So what happened to my systemic musings?  Those of you inclined to, or interested in, systemic musings will be well aware that there has been no shortage of issues that warrant, if not demand, some systemic reflection.

One response would be to claim that 2015 was saturated with events and issues where more systemic insight and action was warranted yet obviously lacking! That is, 'the demand' was overwhelming!   How to evidence such a claim?  Not easy if even a sensible thing to do!

Another response would be to claim that my lack of musings were a response to the emotional and work roller-coaster that unfolded in my life from April onwards.  My own experiential evidence gives some credance to this claim!

Musings are a form of practice; the etymological roots (*) of the word encompass several meanings including 'to have one's mind roused'; 'to both love and to be mad'; to ponder, think, remember, show, foretell, warn'.  Musing, as a practice, could be understood as ranging from 'an animal sniffing around' (knowing its environment, or context), to the purposeful engagement in reflexive praxis (i.e. reflection on reflection through theory-informed practical action).  In resuming my blogging it is this praxis understanding of 'musing' that I seek to exemplify, whilst recognising that a praxis in which the acts of thinking and writing are central has its limitations in terms of effecting the sorts of transformative change that contemporary circumstances warrant.

My last posting was over Easter 2015 - a sort of 'calm before the storm' period that unfolded as the commitments made as President of ISSS (International Society for the Systems Sciences) took hold whilst at the same time I juggled my other academic commitments e.g. the CADWAGO project; the STiP MSc; the Systemic Governance Research (SGR) Program and my commitments to the RESILIM-O project.

For a range of reasons which I will outline in a later Blog, the activities of my ISSS Presidency were focused in Germany over the summer of 2015 (July-August).  Whilst demanding they were very successful as I hope the following report makes clear:

July/August 2015
Three events in Germany
1 1. Systemic Inquiry ‘Governing the Anthropocene. Cybersystemic Possibilities?’ Herrenhausen Palace. Hanover 30-31st July 2015 (135 participants).
  • A collaborative activity between WINS (Berlin Workshop in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems) Humboldt University of Berlin and Prof. Ray Ison (ISSS/Open University) funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The collaboration with WINs was consolidated during a period of sabbatical leave at Humboldt University (Program Umwelt Governance led by Prof. Andreas Thiel) by Prof. Ison (April-May2014). It built on earlier collaboration that has led to the production of a Special Issue of Environmental Science & Policy.
  •   Participants came from 32 countries (Brasil, Colombia, Germany, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Mexico, USA, Canada, Sweden, UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Japan, Chile, Ecuador, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, South Africa, Ghana, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, India, China, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Thailand) and comprised 27 PhD students studying in nine different countries (Germany, Australia, Austria, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Colombia, USA, Norway). Participants represented 35 professional and academic organisations concerned with Systems and Cybernetics scholarship.
  •  To our knowledge the event was the first ever joint meeting of scholars from cybersystemic and institutional economics backgrounds. There were at least 26 of the latter participating mainly from Germany or with backgrounds in German academia.
  •   It was also the first purpose-designed event to bring together scholars from such a wide range of organisations concerned with ‘cybersystemics’.
  • The event was co-designed by Kevin Collins and Ray Ison, facilitated by Kevin Collins and built on research/design carried out in Australia as part of the ‘transitioning to water sensitive cities’ events held around Australia in 2009.
  •  A final program can be seen here; in all there were 22 presenters from 13 countries – six were from the German-speaking world.
  •  A blogsite with all presentations and other outputs has been developed; a report has been prepared and sent to the  funders. A more substantial report is being drafted and a  follow-up evaluation is planned (already conducted with PhD students). As noted in the report to the VW Foundation other follow-up initiatives are planned.
  • A number of links to sites concerned with the Inquiry theme - 'Governing in the Anthropocene' can be accessed via the Blog.

2 2. ISSS2015 Berlin.  “Governing the Anthropocene. The Greatest Challenge to Systems Thinking in Practice. Scandic Hotel, Potsdamerplatz, Berlin 2nd – 7th August.
  • ·The conference contained novel design elements which were greeted positively.  These were:
    •   A coherent narrative explicating the conference theme and program structure which was shared widely before the start of the conference
    •  An embedded ASC (American Society of Cybernetics) day-conference, including an evening session with premier presentations of a play (based on Gregory Bateson’s metalogues) and the launch of a “new concept” by Nora Bateson;
    • The first Ranulph Glanville Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof. Michael Lissack, President of the American Society of Cybernetics.
    •  A mixture of keynotes, panels and short presentations (including a Pecha Kucha Discussion) to provide greater variety in the morning sessions and to allow a greater range of voices/perspectives to be heard;
    •   A strong and mutually supportive conference organising team with vital ISSS executive input (Jennifer Wilby) and local knowledge and capacity (Louis Klein and his Berlin-based Systemic Excellence Group);
    • The addition of a several social media platforms to promote and support the overall event led by VP Delia MacNamara and our Platinum Sponsor (College of Exploration);
    • Delivery of 12 morning keynotes (two co-delivered) and one evening keynote; 14 people participated in panel presentations.  152 papers and workshops were delivered in 47 separate afternoon sessions.
    • A wrap-around PhD program with 27 students conducting their own systemic inquiry (see below) and feeding back on their learning/insights to the conference as a whole;
    •  Liaison and collaboration with affiliated organisations and partners – ASC, INCOSE, Systems Dynamics Society, IFSR, IASCYS and Bs-Lab.

33. PhD Systemic Inquiry – ‘Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research: Cybersystemic Possibilities for Governing the Anthropocene’ in conjunction with WINS/Humbolt University, 5ECTS.
  • 27 PhD students participated and completed (i.e. were awarded 5ECTS);
  • Students were diverse in background, nationality, areas of study (from engineering to systemic family therapy) and age;
  • The PhD course focused on the use of systems thinking in research practice - all students conducted their own systemic inquiries in sub-groups based on stage of PhD study;
  • The course was lively as well as intensive, generated strong group cohesion and enthusiasm for the subject matter and was evaluated very positively by all participants;
  • It comprised participation in 1 and 2 above plus 2.5 days of dedicated workshop on 1-2nd August and the afternoon of 7th August.
  • The PhD program design and development built on two previous version conducted at the University of Aarhus, Denmark in 2012 and at Humbolt University in 2014.  The initiative has been pioneered and facilitated by Dr Chris Blackmore (OU), Prof, Sri Skandarajah (SLU, Sweden), Prof Ray Ison (OU/Monash) with assistance from Dr Thomas Aenis (Humbolt University) and the European Branch of the International Farming Systems Research association.
A lot of feedback was forthcoming - most of it very positive. This feedback, subject to permission by the originators, will be posted on the Systemic Inquiry Blog or here in due course.

Over this period a number of very successful learning events were run as  part of the CADWAGO project and in relation to the 'Learning Lab' initiative at Monash.  I will post more about these in due course. The rest of the year started well with a successful visit to China (more later) but then ended badly for reasons I shall explicate in future posts.

In 2015 perhaps the most positive event was that of CoP21 in Paris. Much has been written about the process and outcomes and the imperatives that now confront us collectively.  Responding positively will require as much systems thinking in practice as can be mustered and actioned.  The materials generated from the events held in Germany over the European summer are worthy of consideration by anyone wishing to contribute to the next phase of concerted action to transform how we live in a climate-change world.

* My etymological musings are always aided by reference to Joseph T Shipley's (1984) 'The Origins of English Words. A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. The  John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Experience the systemic impacts of mining on the Oliphants Catchment, SA

As in this article there is a need to bring widespread appreciation to the citzenry of the massive, systemic effects mining is having on landscapes and particularly the functioning of river catchments.  The Oliphants Catchment is the most mined river basin in South Africa - and mining is conducted by many of the same companies operating in Australia. 

Australian's should look to the Oliphants to see how bad it can become.

This article is striking partly because of the photography. The author flew over the area with a Bateleurs pilot – they fly as volunteers for environmental causes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The wrecking of the Hunter Valley, NSW - a cry of anguish

My long term friend and colleague, John Drinan has lived and worked in the Hunter Valley for most of his life.  He has a strong sense of place with links to ancestors, to his children and grandchildren as well as carrying a strong intellectual understanding of what is, and is not happening in the Hunter.  As well as friendhip I myself feel connected to the Valley through 'an Ison tree' which last heard was still doing well on his farm. Hence my concern when John sent me this note a few hours ago:

some of you may have flown over or driven through the Hunter Valley in the past few years. If you haven’t, you might take time to look at it through Google Earth.

You have seen or will see some of the extent of wreckage of this Valley by coal mining. Most of the product goes for export to profit mainly multinationals and the NSW Government.

I have been involved in fighting against the resulting environmental and social damage bequeathed to us and future generations for many years, and keep trying to make more people aware of what is happening. It is not just our problem.

The attached was published as a letter in the Singleton Argus a few weeks ago, and a similar one to the SMH was binned – probably too long or too passionate or too poorly written.

So, I’m resorting to a different approach, and you are one of many friends and others to whom I’m sending this. You may be interested enough to read it and, perhaps, pass it on.

Kind regards

John Drinan
Here are John's two letters in full:

Letter 1

Dear Editor,

Another 45,000 hectares of the Hunter Valley are to be dug up for coal (SMH 28 February). And, to cap that off, the village of Bulga can be wiped out to make way for mine expansion (ABC News 6 March). Good news for some, but not for others.

For one with deep roots in the Hunter Valley, every drive through the wreckage of this once lovely landscape is accompanied by feelings of sickness and despair. Anger, too, at how NSW governments from Askin to Baird have enthusiastically helped mining companies to sack the Valley for short-term gains and long-term pain. Balanced development of the Hunter, once the hope of many, has been trashed in favour of rape and pillage by governments whose members do not have to live with the consequences.

Destruction of streams and aquifers has damaged the waters of a valley unusually blessed with this precious natural resource. Many thousands of hectares of land have been stripped, gouged out, and left as bare, rocky moonscapes or revegetated with varying degrees of success. Entire forests, grasslands and other ecosystems have been wiped out. The grand natural shapes of the landscape have been replaced by featureless mountains of spoil and great holes in the ground. The air is hazy with pollution. 

The economic consequences are little better. The costs of overstretched infrastructure, inflated prices in the boom times, and crashes of incomes and home prices when they bust, affect the whole community. Shrinking industry diversity stems from inability to compete with coal wages, or direct attacks on their lands, and so reduces our community’s ability to sustain itself through the ups and downs. And government makes little provision for the Valley’s future once the flow of coal dollars dries up.

Bulga’s perilous situation and the virtual wipe-out of other villages is just one face of the social damage being done. That lack of concern for everyone’s sense of belonging to the place they call their home and community is breathtaking. 

Future generations will survey the wreckage of the Hunter valley left by our generations and wonder why. They will ask: “What was gained to replace all that has been lost? What right did those generations have to make such blind, selfish decisions? Did they ever think of our needs?”

John Drinan
18 March 2015
Published in the Singleton Argus, 20 March 2015

Letter 2

Dear Editor,

Ian Hedley’s challenging advertorial (Argus 27 March) was a welcome antidote to disappointment that the recent forum on the future of Singleton generated little in the way of new ideas. As Mr Hedley’s contribution has amply shown, there is probably nothing more important or urgent for our Shire. 

How easily we forget that mining booms and busts, and how easily do the booms seduce us into thinking the streets will be paved with gold forever. It is only about 20 years since the last bust, the cries of anguish, and attempts by Council to find alternatives to coal. Regrettably, the industry took off again, thinking for the future lost its urgency, and now we are back in the same hole. Once again we have enjoyed the fat years and ignored common sense that they be used to prepare for the poor ones.

Who is going to break the cycle? It seems our newly elected member of parliament chose not to attend the forum. We can only hope he and the government will soon accept that they have a responsibility to engage with the problem.

It seems some of the coal companies see themselves as part of the solution. The best legacy they can leave the Hunter would be a well-educated community abuzz with ideas, energetically turning them into new enterprises. The issue claimed a remarkable amount of discussion time at December’s Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue workshop. And Coal and Allied and Glencore are offering initiatives encouraging new thinking and action. 

But we need much more, and it would be crazy to leave it to others. If we want a decent future for our kids and theirs, we have to generate the ideas and enterprises ourselves, with help from wherever it can be found. 
Sadly the high wages of the boom lured many of our young away from continuing their education and preparing themselves for a career after mining. So much potential lies waiting there and in the kids still in school. 

The variety of mine service businesses that grew during the boom must have generated lots of new skills and technologies which can be turned to other purposes with the right encouragement. The natural resources of the Valley and established industries such as power generation and agriculture offer so many options.

If Council, Chamber of Commerce, coal companies and others work together, we can re-invent our Shire and the Hunter as a thriving, sustainable society and economy. People and businesses can be encouraged to offer, develop and test their ideas and turn them into viable enterprises. This is what is offered by models such as The Hub – a place where creative people can work alongside other creative people, stimulated by each other and professional coaches.

The possibilities are endless if we can open our eyes and encourage those whose thinking is not stuck in a mould.

John Drinan
Glendon Brook                                                                     
8 April 2015

I am posting this blog from Oliver Tambo Airport, South Africa where the government that Tambo struggled and fought for enshrined in legislation

“The environment is held in public trust for the people, the beneficial use of environmental resources must serve the public interest and the environment must be protected as the people's common heritage.”
(The National Environmental Management Act, 1998)

But here in South Africa Big Coal is king, much as in Australia.  As a recent report notes:
  •  Coal is South Africa’s major primary energy source. More than 90% of our electricity, approximately 30% of the liquid fuel, and an estimated 77% of total energy are produced from coal, and current indications are that it will remain the base resource of South Africa’s energy mix for at least the next 15 years, even if this mix becomes more diverse. 
  • Coal mining and related activities have significant negative impacts on biodiversity, land, air and water quality; causing potentially irreversible and often large scale habitat loss, at times in areas important to the provision of important ecosystem services such as the delivery of potable water. These environmental impacts affect other development options including agriculture and tourism, wildlife and human health. These impacts are concentrated and expanding; in Mpumalanga 61% of the province was under mining or mining rights or prospecting applications in 2014, and new areas have been approved for mining in Limpopo.
This power imbalance between coal interests and citizens and the lands they have responsibility for  has to be broken, and broken quickly.