Tasmanian Times

Environment

Artificial traps

Mike Bolan

Drought is cutting agricultural production and our ability to generate hydro power1. There’s a world food shortage looming that could create severe famines2. The US financial system is looking incredibly shaky, with that country sliding into recession3. The US sub prime collapse has left global financial institutions with piles of worthless paper4, even those supported by prime properties are in trouble (e.g. Centro). Fuel prices are climbing and there are real concerns about the impacts on costs of production and on already stretched household budgets. Our population is ageing with many more people now requiring care. Australia is indebted to the rest of the world with an external debt of over $750 billion5. And how many of the 300,000 Aussies forecast to default on their home loans live in Tasmania6?

In what way does a pulp mill help us with any of these problems? Yet, apart from shuffling deckchairs, that is the almost sole focus of the Tasmanian government in the future plans department, apart from shattering our rural sector with the PAL Act, of course. If we were serious about our future, we’d have a description of what our future might look like so that we could all help each other work towards it. We’d also realise that local production – local distribution creates a lot more employment than turning forests into business cards.

Artificial traps

One thing we know is that leaders and managers have to act on what is important to have any chance of controlling outcomes.

Professional managers/leaders have training in the discipline, which training includes how to structure ideas and focus activities of the organisation. Yet our governments do not appear able to engage in those activities.

Here’s an example that’s critical to Tasmania.

In order of immediacy, 5 critical priorities for life that appear to be common to all of us are:- air, water, food, shelter, medicine.

Yet when I look at how governments relate to these priorities it appears as follows:
Air – no specific threats
Water – quality and quantity under threat – shortages, toxic chemical threats, boil water requirements in many areas
Food – production capacities threatened by drought and govt policies (e.g. MIS, PAL)
Shelter – Under investment by State government is creating a rental and housing crisis
Medicine – Quality and responsiveness degrading in Tasmania (e.g. Productivity Commission report)
If these essentials are not being acted on as priorities, why not?

To explore one compelling reason, let’s start with a step to the side…

Problems with models

Technically, models differ from the real thing in that many details are left from the model (otherwise it wouldn’t be a model).

Governments are using rational economic financial models as their main determinant for decision making. Unfortunately this is a trap because economic models usually leave out large numbers of things that are important to us, like fuel and water availability.

A dedication to economic models removes our focus from other critical variables such as water shortages, climate change, food and fuel availability. Consequently such critical items are not incorporated in government plans and budgets, indeed they really aren’t on the government’s radar at all. They just suddenly appear when they’re so close you can’t ignore them any more. CRISIS – must do something….

The Howard government focussed so much on economic outputs that voters finally expressed their opposition to ‘externalities’ like cruel refugee policies, abandonment of Australian citizens overseas, presumption of guilt, uncaring workplace changes, going to war on lies, advantaging the wealthy, managing by numbers…the entire gamut of heartless bureaucracy that ends up favouring the corporate sector over taxpayers at large, and costing communities vast sums for very little gain.

This last federal election could be seen as a rejection of the last government’s slavish adherence to narrow economic models, versus a hopeful acceptance of new ways of thinking about our reality that encompass a broader sweep of interest than just the interests of John Howard.

Death by fantasy

Let’s face it, money doesn’t produce anything…it just sits there.

Give a man money when he’s dying of thirst in the desert, and he dies better off.

It is people and their various creative actions with resources that produce value and change.

Money is an enabler but cannot, itself, do any job.

It follows that we should invest in our people and resources. This would mean providing the support and infrastructure that we all need to be ready for a range of possible futures and auditing and apportioning our resources in the interests of our longer term survival.

For example we might change irrigation and farming practices, remove control of food chains by a distribution duopoly, charge royalties relative to company profits for our resources, create incentives for saving water and create superior electric power generation and storage capacities that are distributed to protect us from network outages.

Yet governments appear to be doing none of this. Why not?

I suspect we’re probably looking at the equivalent of mental zombies…their perceptual and processing software is locked into outmoded and rigid ideas…these other things are happening outside their frame of reference, and therefore largely outside their awareness.

We’re trying to play modern games on a 15 year old CP/M computer. The software simply doesn’t recognise the game, it just locks up.

I call their ‘locked in’ attitudes ‘non viable’.

Another view is that they’re locked into a government fantasy, one that could literally kill us if we cannot respond to the threats that are closing on us.
Our brains are wired to be able to deal with a changing environment.

Our governments are not, they are organised to do what they have done in the past. There is very little imperative for change except through the economically focussed Productivity Commission, which means that social and other imperatives are easily lost unless they are political favourites of the government of the day – like gambling, footy and racing.

The fantasy that repeating the same failed behaviour (only more so) will somehow get the desired result gives away those who cannot offer any other choices. It gives away the amateurs, snake oil salesmen , charlatans and…politicians.

If they could describe a better future, they would…but they can’t.

Our government’s have shown that, even with massively increased income, they do not understand, let alone meet, the needs of the people. Instead they are constantly trying to justify their positions by expanding their apparent importance (e.g. inquiries, relationships with big corporates) while constantly restricting our ability to make decisions for ourselves.

With no ideas for Tasmania, our state government is locked into a pulp mill, as if a pulp mill will help us solve our problems.

Let’s review our situation again very quickly.

Oh dear

Drought is cutting agricultural production and our ability to generate hydro power1. There’s a world food shortage looming that could create severe famines2. The US financial system is looking incredibly shaky, with that country sliding into recession3. The US sub prime collapse has left global financial institutions with piles of worthless paper4, even those supported by prime properties are in trouble (e.g. Centro). Fuel prices are climbing and there are real concerns about the impacts on costs of production and on already stretched household budgets. Our population is ageing with many more people now requiring care. Australia is indebted to the rest of the world with an external debt of over $750 billion5. And how many of the 300,000 Aussies forecast to default on their home loans live in Tasmania6?

In what way does a pulp mill help us with any of these problems?

Yet, apart from shuffling deckchairs, that is the almost sole focus of the Tasmanian government in the future plans department, apart from shattering our rural sector with the PAL Act, of course.

If we were serious about our future, we’d have a description of what our future might look like so that we could all help each other work towards it. We’d also realise that local production – local distribution creates a lot more employment than turning forests into business cards.

Our development strategies would try to deal with each of the problems, or better yet, with multiple problems simultaneously. We’d be working to decentralise to cut fuel dependency. We’d be encouraging everyone to grow their own food wherever possible. We’d be investing in public transport and rail freight systems for goods. We’d be developing alternative energy systems to reduce loads on the grid and assure continuity of supply. We’d allocate water for food production and curtail water hungry tree plantations.

Meanwhile, don’t wait for the government. Start planning your own future with the kinds of problems that we’re really facing in mind.

Start figuring out your development strategies before you have to think about recovery strategies.

Mike Bolan
www.abetteraustralia.com

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.

1) http://www.news.com.au/mercury/story/0,22884,22879209-3462,00.html
2) http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23066930-661,00.html
3) http://www.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSL2474133320071024?sp=true
4) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article19227.htm
5) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/as.html
6) http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/02/03/2153047.htm

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Mike Adams

    February 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    As I’ve commented earlier, the only way this mill makes any sense is to the Treasury, who can use it as a money laundering device to convert Oz tax money into Chinese yuan so we can continue to import stuff that we can no longer make economically here.
    Other considerations; climate change, poisonous emissions, damage to other Tamar and later Tasmanian industries, conversion of farms to monoculture, insecticides and wetting agents, appalling governance (despite George Town’s approval of the process!) all fail the financial hurdle. You see, it doesn’t matter to Treasury if the mill is profitable or not, as long as the yuan roll in…
    Meantime Gunns share price recovers nicely and the directors think it’s Christmas every day.

  2. Shaun Caris

    February 5, 2008 at 12:39 am

    In what way does a pulp mill help?

    Well I’ll stick to the facts here. It generates more power than it consumes so helps with the power situation.

    And processing the resource here leads to increased export revenue thus helping with the trade balance and ultimately (in the long term) with the debt situation.

    It is the trade issue that makes service industries etc so ineffective economically. They generally add to imports and do nothing to increase exports.

    Mainland tourists getting here in foreign built planes running on imported fuel then driving around in foreign cars, also running on imported fuel, is bad news as far as debt is concerned. It adds to GDP sure, but it’s spending not earning as far as Australia’s national wealth is concerned.

  3. Bob McMahon

    February 4, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Excellent analysis Mike. To future proof Tasmania will be a herculean task given that government at all levels, and specifically the Tasmanian state government, is predominantly working against the survivability of this island. Food production farmland gone under trees and just about all of Tasmania’s farmland set to disappear under plantations financed and promoted by government, water stolen through the same tax-payer funded MIS schemes , water supplies poisoned, catchments wrecked, infrastructure, public health, public education and public housing failing because government is spending the money on its favourite industries and I don’t need to tell you what they are.

    Tasmania could be a haven, a Noah’s Ark, in troubled times ahead. But don’t expect governments to be anything but a hindrance. The people will have to do it themselves. We are starting now and a good starting point is to sever reliance upon the electricity power grid, to move away from relying upon supermarkets for your food because costs are about to go through the roof, to create your own water catchment so that you don’t get poisoned or have your reticulated supplies rationed or suspended because a favoured industry gets its all, develop strong community networks, develop community programmes to reverse biodiversity decline etc. The future is challenging and exciting but until such time as our governments become part of the solution instead of being the cause of the problem, they will become more and more regarded as the enemy.

    Bob McMahon

  4. Brenda Rosser

    February 4, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    A good summary, Mike, of the multiple (and severe) crises now beginning to impact.

    Why is it that we find ourselves with people in Government who not only refuse to act on these pending disaster but whose policies have actually created them?? Why, why, why???

    If we don’t find the answer to that question and act to prevent a recurrence of these dummy governments we are all stuffed.

    In the meantime, as you say, we should all start growing food and building extra shelter etc.

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