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.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Can the Guardian foster the actions of a generation of 'guardians'?

"But the risk is now out there – and growing – because policymakers have now woken up to the risks of climate change. “There have been two terrible realisations,” says Michael Jacobs, who used to advise Gordon Brown on the issue. “We have started too late, and it doesn’t matter how much solar and wind power there is – you are still burning all the coal, oil and gas. Even if you do so more slowly, it will still go into the atmosphere and cause climate change.” Jacobs adds that, in the past quarter of a century, when countries could have been putting in place the infrastructure for a new green economy, they have been going in the opposite direction. They have invested in fossil fuel-burning power plants and built energy‑inefficient buildings in cities designed for cars."

This is a sample paragraph from a long and compelling article in the Guardian entitled: Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?  Compelling as it is however, and as responsible as the Guardian has become... and not before time on climate change - there are many more radical thoughts in need of thinking and actions in need of doing.

CGIAR tries FSR revamp

Part of the Global Effort to Tackle Poverty, Hunger and Environmental Degradation - the CGIAR

From March 3 to 6, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, hosted the global systems research and development community at the International Conference on Integrated SystemsResearch for Sustainable Intensification in Smallholder Agriculture. Social and agricultural scientists participating in the conference stressed the importance of agricultural research to be done with a holistic systems perspective, and for better links between research on improvements in specific commodities and natural resources management.

One of the keynote's was  Dr. Bernard Hubert, President, Agropolis International, "Systems Thinking toward Institutional Innovation and Change" which was based on our joint work together over many years.

I only hope the CGIAR goes down a different pathway to that pursued the last time they engaged with FSR (farming systems research).

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

John Hewson - an Australian champion

Those who know anything about Australia will despair at the current government's climate change and post-carbon society policies - in fact it has none of the latter as argued forcefully today by Ian Dunlop.

I am immensely impressed with the leadership that John Hewson continues to provide in this space both nationally and globally - especially w.r.t to carbon divestment.  Those organisations joining this global movement are to be commended as they embody what is both systemically desirable and morally responsible.  The following letter from John via GetUp summarises the arguments:

Dear Ray

Yesterday, there was some deeply disappointing news concerning our fight for a strong renewable energy powered future.

The renewable energy industry -- brow beaten after years of intense lobbying from the big 3 dirty power companies and a vicious offensive from the Coalition, struggling with significant job losses and decline in investment -- caved and reluctantly accepted a huge cut to the Renewable Energy Target (RET). They did this to save their industry, which is under attack. The outcome of this deal would be far from ideal, but our government wants a fate for the industry that is even worse. The death of the renewables industry, and the (short term) rise of the dirty 3: Origin, AGL and Energy Australia.

As a former leader of the Liberal Party I've seen first hand the undue influence big corporations can have over politicians and public policy. It's time to shift the balance away from the big energy companies and their dirty and expensive power habits to Australian consumers who want cheaper and cleaner power.

The dirty 3 companies are the main reason the Abbott Government is squibbing on its clear election promise to keep the RET at 41,000GWH. All three are complete hypocrites. They claim to support renewable energy while walking the corridors of power, lobbying to undermine it.

And, unlike renewable energy backed companies, they've been getting away with screwing households on their electricity bills by hitting customers with almost obscene profit margins as energy retailers too.

We don't need government legislation to break the strangle hold these big power companies have on our household energy, or our own clean energy futures. The dirty energy companies might want to protect their huge investments in coal, gas and coal seam gas, but we can -- right now -- stop them in their tracks.


Join me in sending a powerful message to politicians and the dirty power companies that Australians want renewable energy and we're prepared to vote with our feet to get it. Switch your home or business power, it takes less than 5 minutes and you'll be joining the greenest power company in Australia: click here to switch now

It's the one thing they will not be counting on, and right now it's the very best thing that you can do if you support renewable energy, our clean energy future and the job creation and investment it brings.

Yesterday's outcome is indisputably bad for all of us; for future investment in large scale renewable energy projects and job creation, for our clean energy future and for our power prices.

How did we even get to the point where even the industry that fought so hard for the RET is now accepting a drastically watered down stake in their own future success? You can point the finger squarely at the influence big companies like AGL, Energy Australia and Origin have on public policy, companies with a vested interest in bolstering the status quo of fossil fuel dominance and who have ensured the Coalition break their pre-election promise not to cut the Renewable Energy Target. [1]

These companies only really care about one thing - and that's their profits. So let's hit them where it hurts and switch to a company that supports clean energy and is backed by 100 percent renewable power.

Will you join me and thousands of GetUp members switching their energy supplier, and showing your support for clean energy? Click here: it takes just five minutes online to switch off the dirty 3 energy companies.

John Hewson AM.

PS Want to know more about the campaign or about Powershop? click here to find out more.

[1] "Tony Abbott launching a full frontal attack on the Renewable Energy Industry", Guardian Australia, February 6th 2014

Water issues everywhere

From the good - the Stockholm Water Prize - where the judges say: 

"Today's water problems cannot be solved by science or technology alone. They are human problems of governance, policy, leadership, and social resilience. "Rajendra Singh's life work has been in building social capacity to solve local water problems through participatory action, empowerment of women, linking indigenous know-how with modern scientific and technical approaches and upending traditional patterns of development and resource use."

This award is heartening for those of us who have worked in this field for many years.

To the momentously challenging - where California Governor
Brown orders California's first mandatory water restrictions: 'It's a different world'.

In California the profound systemic consequences of human induced climate change are becoming more obvious by the day - with growing evidence of how traditional livelihoods will be threatened.

Concern about DEFRA's policy effectiveness

A recent posting highlights concerns about the effectiveness of DEFRA, a small ministry by UK standards, in effecting policy internally as well as externally, especially in Europe.

"MPs are concerned that the hollowing out of Defra has left the core Department less effective in persuading decision-makers in other government departments and Brussels to follow its agenda. Firm Ministerial leadership and sufficient in-house expertise is needed at the heart of Defra to ensure it can deliver its priorities effectively."

Some new publications

The following papers have recently appeared or been accepted for publication.

Armitage, D., de LoĆ«, R., Edwards, T., Gerlak, A., Hall, R., Huitema, D., Ison, R., Livingstone, D., MacDonald, G., Mirumachi, N., Morris, M., Plummer, R.,  B. Wolfe (2015) Science-policy processes fortransboundary water governance Ambio (in press).

ABSTRACT: In this policy perspective, we outline several conditions to support effective science-policy interaction, with a particular emphasis on improving water governance in transboundary basins. Key conditions include (1) recognizing that science is a crucial but bounded input into water resource decision-making processes; (2) establishing conditions for collaboration and shared commitment among actors; (3) understanding that social or group-learning processes linked to science-policy interaction are enhanced through greater collaboration; (4) accepting that the collaborative production of knowledge about hydrological issues and associated socioeconomic change and institutional responses is essential to build legitimate decision-making processes; and (5) engaging boundary organizations and informal networks of scientists, policy makers, and civil society. We elaborate on these conditions with a diverse set of international examples drawn from a synthesis of our collective experiences in assessing the opportunities and constraints (including the role of power relations) related to governance for water in transboundary settings. 

Wallis, P., Iaquinto, B., Ison, R.L., Wrigley, R. (2014) Governing irrigation renewal in rural Australia, International Journal of Water Governance 4, 19-36.  

Ison, R.L., Allan, C., Collins, K.B. (2015) Reframing water governance praxis: does reflection on metaphors have a role? Environment & Planning C: Government and Policy (in press)

Ison, R.L., Collins, K.B.,  Wallis, P. (2014) Institutionalising social learning: Towards systemic and adaptive governance, Environmental Science and Policy DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2014.11.002 

ABSTRACT This paper critically examines how public policy makers limit policy and other institutional design choices by a failure to appreciate (i) how situations may be characterised or framed; (ii) how practices that generate neologisms (invented terms or concepts) or reify (make into a thing) abstract concepts can displace understandings, and (iii) the epistemological bases of governance mechanism choices. An inquiry into the coining of the neologisms ‘wicked’ and ‘tame’ problems is reported and the implications for research and policy practice explored. As practices, neologising, reifying, categorising and typologising have unintended consequences – they remove us from the primary experiences and underlying emotions that provided the motivation for formulating these concepts in the first place. The failure to institutionalise the understandings and experiences that sit behind the invention of the terms ‘wicked’ and ‘tame’ problems (or similar framing choices such as ‘problematique’, ‘messes’, ‘lowland real-life swamps’, ‘resource dilemmas’ or ‘complex adaptive systems’) present systemic constraints to institutionalising social learning as an alternative yet complementary governance mechanism within an overall systemic and adaptive governance framework. Ultimately situations usefully framed as ‘wicked’,’ such as water managing and climate change are problems of relationship – of human beings with the biosphere. Re-framings, such as institutions as social technologies and other research and praxis traditions concerned with the breakdown of relationships may offer ways forward in the purposeful designing and crafting of more effective institutions.