Jan 19, 2019

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue

Until January 26 the ABC’s Saturday Extra will be re-broadcasting highlights from 2018.

Other commentary

Fear of renewable energy

Whenever the lights flicker it’s pretty well certain that there will be an article in The Australian blaming renewable energy, most recently Perry Williams’ “exclusive” Warning as solar ‘failed in grid crisis’ (paywall). The supposed unreliability of renewable energy was his interpretation of an Australian Energy Market Operator report on an incident last August that resulted in frequency instability in large parts of the national electricity grid. The AEMO report points out that the cause was a lightning strike on the Queensland-NSW interconnector, and that the large-scale battery in South Australia helped the system cope with the disturbance. It found problems in frequency control across the grid, particularly in gas and coal power stations which were supplying 96 per cent of the grid at the time.

In response to this hysteria, writing in Renew Economy  Sophie Vorrath points out that coal-fired plants, including newer ones, often cut out, requiring the grid to cope with sudden losses of large chunks of power. She points out that the 13 year-old Kogan Creek power station recently cut out on a hot Saturday afternoon, taking 500 MW out of the grid for several hours. Such events are so commonplace that they are considered as unnewsworthy (unless, of course, some journalist in the Murdoch media can find a remote association with renewable energy.)

Writing in The Guardian Nicky Ison of the Institute for Sustainable Futures lists five renewable energy trends we should expect to see this year. One is the tumbling price of lithium-ion batteries. She points to a Bloomberg report showing that an 18 kWh battery (enough to store a day’s average household energy use) that would have cost $US21 000 in 2010 would cost just over $US3 000 today.

Fear of crime

The first Essential poll for the year asks people whether crime, in various categories, has increased or decreased over the last few years, and a belief in increased crime wins hands down. Two thirds of us believe that drug-related crime and youth gang crime have increased over the last few years. Inconveniently for those who would have us believe that Melbourne’s streets are as dangerous as San Salvador’s the ABS survey on recorded crime shows that the only category of crime with increasing victimisation is sexual assault (mainly in private dwellings). In all other categories, including murder, burglary, robbery and car theft, crime is on a strong downward trend.

The same poll confirms that the Coalition’s primary vote remains stuck below 40 per cent.

Partners in crime

Perhaps only policy wonks read reports from the Australian National Audit Office in their spare time. It’s worthwhile, however, to take a brief look at the ANAO Report on the Coalition’s 443 Million Grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. (It has a stunning picture of a turtle.) While the media have focussed on the Government’s shortcomings – the lack of a competitive process and the Foundation’s $44 million administrative costs – the report is also highly critical of the Department of Environment and Energy, which seems to have shaped its advice in accordance with the Coalition’s wishes.

Who killed the fish?

In any catastrophe, such as the death of millions of fish in the Darling, people with a partisan axe to grind seek to sheet the blame on one single party or causal factor – the NSW Government, the National Party, cotton farmers, water thieves, incompetent bureaucrats, the drought, climate change. (Presumably someone in the Murdoch media is seeking to find a connection with renewable energy.) But catastrophes rarely have one causal factor. In the midst of all the accusations and partisan claims, Nick Kilvert of the ABC Science Unit pulls together contributions from various experts on conservation, agriculture, water management and public policy. (Spoiler – no one is blameless.)

All you need to know about economics

Perhaps only science wonks spend 50 minutes every Saturday listening to the ABC’s Science Show, but even those with no interest in dark matter or the properties of hadrons, leptons and quarks, may be interested in the philosophy of science. Last Saturday’s program (rebroadcast from June last year) takes listeners through the life and work of William Whewell. He gave empiricism a place in science, which, until his time, had been dominated by an emphasis on deductive reasoning.

Although the program does not mention economics, it is notable that economics as taught in universities and as practised by policy advisers is based strongly on deductive models, with real-world observations largely dismissed as irrelevant departures from rationality. In recent years this dominance has been challenged by behavioural economists who have brought a degree of practicality to the discipline. In Australia Ross Gittins has helped us all think about this wider view of economics.

News from a European offshore island

“She had seen how the Europhobic wing of British Conservatism had devoured so many of her predecessors, and concluded that her own safety required her to placate that faction” is Jonathon Freedland’s  interpretation of Theresa May’s strategy, in his column in The Guardian. But he sees Britain’s troubles in a longer historical context, including Margaret Thatcher’s scornful criticism of François Mitterand and Helmet Kohl for their gestures of reconciliation.  “This has been Britain’s European story”, he writes “repeatedly seeing what was a project of peace, designed to end centuries of bloodshed, as a scam designed to swindle the Brits of their money.”

Do Donald Trump, Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and Tony Abbott owe their elections to the influence of liberalism?

On the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report Andrew West interviews political scientist Patrick Dineen, author of Why liberalism failed (re-broadcast from August last year). Was the election of Trump a manifestation of liberalism’s failure? Why is it that liberalism seems to allow for rule by illiberal autocrats? Dineen deconstructs the meaning of ‘liberalism’ in its historical context. He promotes the idea of subsidiarity (and no, it doesn’t mean that governments should yield to parochial prejudices and intolerances.)

Australia’s far-right

While there has been a great deal of media attention given to the threatening and loutish behaviour of 150 thugs at a far-right rally at St Kilda, there has been less serious analysis of the far-right movement in Australia. Writing in Fairfax media, Max Koslowski has an article How Australia’s far-right were divided and conquered – by themselves.  One of their divisions is between traditional Nazi anti-Semitism and support for Israel as a supposed single-ethnicity state. On the ABC’s news website, Joey Watson presents A brief history of Nazism in Australia, focusing on those movements closely associated with Hitler’s National Socialism. Those movements didn’t die in 1945: they’re still alive, but fortunately not flourishing, in 2021.

Saving the ABC

Crispin Hull points out that over the last thirty years, when adjusted for inflation and population growth, the ABC’s funding has been halved. He offers a practical suggestion, within orthodox economic theory, showing how the ABC may live within its reduced means, while still providing quality public interest broadcasting.

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