Weekly salon 23/8

1. The cost of pests

I recall we had some discussion about feral pigs, which rate fifth in a research study by Corey J. A. Bradshaw of Flinders University and Andrew Hoskins of the CSIRO in Pest plants and animals cost Australia around $25 billion a year – and it will get worse:

Shamefully, Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world. And the number one threat to our species is invasive or “alien” plants and animals.

But invasive species don’t just cause extinctions and biodiversity loss – they also create a serious economic burden. Our research, published today, reveals invasive species have cost the Australian economy at least A$390 billion in the last 60 years alone.

Our paper – the most detailed assessment of its type ever published in this country – also reveals feral cats are the worst invasive species in terms of total costs, followed by rabbits and fire ants.

Here is how they stack up:

It depends where you are:

Red imported fire ants are the costliest species in Queensland, and ragwort is the economic bane of Tasmania.

The common heliotrope is the costliest species in both South Australia and Victoria, and annual ryegrass tops the list in WA.

In the Northern Territory, the dothideomycete fungus that causes banana freckle disease brings the greatest economic burden, whereas cats and foxes are the costliest species in the ACT and NSW.

2. Humans are the biggest pest

I remember on our trip down the Rhine in 2008 a tour guide explaining that in Europe ‘nature’ had been mostly pushed into the mountains. Last week Gigi Forster and Peter Martin in the ABC RN program The Economists talk about Valuing nature, which economists mostly don’t. They tell us that humans and their domestic animals make up 96% of mammals on earth, with natural mammals squeezing into just 4%. Apparently domestic fowls make up 70% of the bird population. In the program:

A landmark report has urged the world’s governments to come up with a better form of national accounting from GDP, to reflect the value and depletion of nature. Plus, an update on carbon markets and the emerging field of biodiversity offsets.

Here’s the The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report.

See also:

Economics’ failure over destruction of nature presents ‘extreme risks’Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

This is what we amount to;

This is what we have done:

We will have to learn to live respectfully in nature, or we’ll destroy our nest. It won’t be easy. There was to be a UN biodiversity summit in 2020 in Kunming, China. This has now been delayed for third time due to the pandemic.

Can we stop the Sixth mass extinction event, the Holocene extinction, found to be accelerating?

Our future depends on what we do in the next little while.

3. Insects in trouble too

Dr Sanchez-Bayo, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney, undertook the first global review of studies of insect decline across the world and the reasons for it. See Insect population and species decline a ‘wake-up call’, scientists say:

“What we found is that 41 per cent on average of all insect species that we know are declining,” said Dr Sanchez-Bayo.

“Among those, a third of all the species are going into extinction. They’re in danger right now. The rate of extinction in insects is about eight times higher than the rate of extinction of vertebrates.”

Most of the studies surveyed were form the US and Western Europe:

One study, in Germany, saw a 75 per cent decline in insect biomass over 27 years. Another study in Puerto Rico reported losses of between 78 and 98 per cent over 36 years.

The rates of decline are so dramatic — up to 2.5 per cent a year — that Dr Sanchez-Bayo claims that at current rates there may be no insects in those regions within 10 years.

4. There is another story beneath our feet

For a long time now farmers and landholders have been told that storing carbon in soil was not only a good thing to do, it was something they could make money from by selling carbon credits.

Problem is that there is no solid science to back this up. Gabriel Popkin tells the story in A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change:

One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bacteria, fungi and other microbes than there are humans on Earth. Those hungry organisms can make soil a difficult place to store carbon over long periods of time.

It’s a long article, but the short story is that the assumption that carbon molecules stored in soil cam remain there for long periods of time. What we know now is that no such molecules can be found. Everything can be munched, although some do stick around.

Climate modellers apparently ‘simplified’ the issue by leaving microbial activity out. Some scientists are :

pushing to replace the old dichotomy of stable and unstable carbon with a “soil continuum model” of carbon in progressive stages of decomposition. But this model and others like it are far from complete, and at this point, more conceptual than mathematically predictive.

Researchers agree that soil science is in the midst of a classic paradigm shift. What nobody knows is exactly where the field will land — what will be written in the next edition of the textbook.

In short, they are in a muddle.

5. Pests found inside a hill in Canberra

Here it is:

Every week Federal parliament is sitting Tony Burke, leader for the opposition in the house, sends around to party members on his mailing list some pithy comments. Last week he told of one of his constituents, a woman who is 102 and lives in:

Western Sydney, which is the epicentre of the current COVID outbreak. She’s been on the pension for 40 years – and yet the government sent her a letter saying she’d be cut off unless she left the house in the middle of the lockdown zone to present proof of age documents she doesn’t actually have.

Luckily Burke’s office was able to get the matter fixed by Stuart Robert’s office. However, it continues the narrative that there is no blunder beyond the capability of this government. Their fiercest critic however is possibly Dennis Atkins, now retired and liberated from writing for the Courier Mail. He is particularly eloquent about their leader:

Where would this man be without pollsters dictating his every utterance?

A good question. Michael Pascoe this morning asks another in a must read piece if you want to understand what is going on with COVID messaging and posturing:

The COVID political ground is shifting – is an election moving it?

Here are some other recent Atkins pieces:

Scott Morrison will weaponise climate crisis in pursuit of re-election

As Scott Morrison tries to ‘get out of Dodge’, Australia needs a political reckoning

29 thoughts on “Weekly salon 23/8”

    1. Dear Brian,
      it is great to hear from you again!!
      I don’t know why I haven’t heard anything for a long time – were you ill or am I meantime internettally so incompetent (most likely)?
      However WHAT we hear is bloody awful!
      Mich würde interessieren, was Du für ganz persönliche Konsequenzen aus unserer verzweifelten Lage ziehst!

  1. Maybe it is worth asking how fast new species are being created and what the natural rate of extinction was before the human plague took off by dramatically increasing both numbers and footprint per person.
    Curious about details re the relative endurance of various types of carbon containing material.
    Charcoal containing terra petra soils work in the in the Amazon and might make sense here. Turnbull was pushing the addition of charcoal to Australian soils at one stage.

  2. Greetings, Christoph, more from me in the while.

    The answer to both your questions is probably, yes, but I haven’t been really ill, just problems one gets with the decrepitude of age..

  3. John, I think the new science is questioning the Terra preta story.

    The way I understand it is that adding carbon to the soil, however done, can set up a new environment, and a virtuous cycle. There are big questions, though, about measurement and permanence.

    They say all carbon in the soil is munchable.

    I don’t understand the science well enough to say more.

  4. John, you said:

      Maybe it is worth asking how fast new species are being created and what the natural rate of extinction was before the human plague took off…

    If you want to ask that I fear you will need to become a biologist, whereupon you will find the truth quite hard to nail down.

    From Wikipedia:

      In The Future of Life (2002), Edward Osborne Wilson of Harvard calculated that, if the current rate of human disruption of the biosphere continues, one-half of Earth’s higher lifeforms will be extinct by 2100. A 1998 poll conducted by the American Museum of Natural History found that 70% of biologists acknowledge an ongoing anthropogenic extinction event.[36] At present, the rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the background extinction rate, the historically typical rate of extinction (in terms of the natural evolution of the planet);[7][8][37] also, the current rate of extinction is 10 to 100 times higher than in any of the previous mass extinctions in the history of Earth. One scientist estimates the current extinction rate may be 10,000 times the background extinction rate, although most scientists predict a much lower extinction rate than this outlying estimate.[38] Theoretical ecologist Stuart Pimm stated that the extinction rate for plants is 100 times higher than normal.[39]

    So the short story is 100 to 1,000 times higher than the background extinction rate, and 10 to 100 times higher than in any of the previous mass extinctions.

    We are the champions!

  5. Theists in Canberra have a new looming crisis


    How many ways will they talk down this.

    The %’s aren’t high enough to be conclusive.
    The %’s haven’t been sustained for a 10 year period. By 2031 we will have a better idea.
    The surveyor isn’t reputable.
    Concerns are seasonal.
    The sample wasn’t representative.

  6. Thanks for that one bilb. I attend to agree with Monash academic and political commentator Zareh Ghazarian who said:

      the polling showed there was obvious concern about climate change, but it was impossible to say how this would translate into voting behaviour.

    I think people are distracted by the virus, and are about to be quite significantly distracted by the economy. In a recent survey of four electorates the Nats are interested in, Climate change rated 11th.

  7. John, there was an amazing long-version interview on ABC RN with Matthew Evans – Celebrating soil.

    Healthy soil is virtually alive. Yes the terra petra thing works, but the whole system seems so dynamic that I see difficulty in measuring for genuine ‘carbon farming’.

    He says it is a myth that you can do more than anything for the climate by becoming a vegan. No-one has demonstrated any such claim scientifically.

    He also says that ruminants are not as bad as they are made out to be.

    Chemical fertiliser is bad, very bad.

    And Australia, with generally thin soils has lost roughly half its soil.

  8. Happy Fathers Day as appropriate.

    We are going out to a Thai restaurant where they have outside space, and there isn’t too much ambient noise.

  9. Thankyou, Jumpy, and thankyou for the veiled insult, and thankyou for revealing yet another flaw in the WordPress software.

    Now please vanish.

  10. I had some compulsory watching NRL finals this weekend.

    I’m working on a post on the ‘end of coal’ since we’ve been told 95% should stay in the ground. Should be done tonight.

  11. John, I’m also inclined to think it works, but I’d need to investigate to see whether it sequesters enough net carbon across the whole process of making it to make it worthwhile, and secondly measuring and ensuring it stays there.

  12. Covid post is closed so I have moved covid to here:
    Brian: ‘Held hostage in their own homes’: People forced to stay in isolation long after 14-day period
    People who have tested positive for COVID are being forced to stay inside their homes for weeks longer than the typical 14-day isolation period because of delays in paperwork, according to a member of a NSW public health call centre in a Sydney hotspot.

    Key points:
    A member of staff at a NSW public health call centre says people in isolation are waiting up to 38 days to get discharged from isolation
    The Mayor of Fairfield says he has heard similar stories from constituents
    Greg Barns SC says the situation is grossly unfair
    Colleen* said she was speaking out for fear of the mental health of people who had unnecessarily been forced to stay in their homes.
    “The longest that I’ve seen is up to 38 days, when it usually would be 14,” she told the ABC’s The World Today program.
    “Everyone gets told, ‘You have your COVID, you’re isolated for 14 days, if everything’s good, then you’ll be allowed out,’ and these people just aren’t allowed out.”
    Great incentive to do the right thing and get tested if you have some of the symptoms.
    One wonders how many people don’t get tested when they should because of the disincentives of long isolation.

  13. John, I’ll do a new COVID post ASAP, but not tonight.

    I’ve heard a lot of bad stuff about individual experience, and experiences of those who see themselves as marginalised, shamed, blamed or whatever. For example we had on ABC RN Drive “Fed up, irate and frustrated”: Cumberland Mayor says NSW Premier didn’t respond to pleas for vaccination hub. Several weeks ago she couldn’t find time to talk to them.

    Also mental health is an increasing worry, with Victoria now taking specific action.

    Here in Quinceland we are still OK with just one more school person infected, already in isolation.

    Authorities have established that the NSW person who brought the virus did not break any rules.

    I also heard that the Qld government is allocating $45 million to get Gold Coast businesses moving again.

    It’s a fair bet that none of that money will go south of the border.

    The NSW outbreak has had huge effects on Qld businesses, but I understand business aid from NSW and the Feds stopped at the border.

    It’s the way we are without decent national leadership or competence.

  14. Brian: “It’s the way we are without decent national leadership or competence.” Not just in terms of covid strategy.
    The first confirmed case in Australia was identified on 25 January 2020. Fast forward to 6 Sept 2021 and the Australian figures to date are 63154 cases resulting in 1044 deaths (Ave per month=52), significantly less than the average of 87/month road deaths for the 12 months to July 21.
    Part of the problem is that the main focus has been on the quick fix with not enough effort going towards reducing the damage being done as a consequence of strategies being used.
    Cracked record but I think the damage being done to those near the Qld border is just one example.

  15. Other examples, even worse, include parts of western Sydney – mental health, economic hardship, plus people dying at home without being tested or seeking help, and Wilcannia, where 10% of the population (that was a while ago) catching COVID, plus all the people in aged care who died last year.

    Many tourist ventures in Qld have has almost no business for heading for two years.

    40,000 jobs lost in universities, and uncaring, almost punitive attitude of federal government to fixing damage done. Citizens overseas who could not get back to Australia.

    I could go on.

    No new cases in Qld today, a bunch of our family going to NY art exhibition.

    I went to the city yesterday to visit my friendly dentist, who is expert in extracting money from my wallet, but a nice bloke and good dentist.

    Masks everywhere and people being very careful about personal distancing. Came home by bus at 4pm. Bus nearly empty, with people consciously distancing.

    There was always an option to move the Gold Coast checkpoint south, but NSW state authorities were never interested.

    I’d accept, though, that some Qld decisions on restrictions were over the top.

    ACT has officially extended its lockdown to mid-October, and today directly fingered NSW. They said they had wanted to ringfence the ACT, but NSW were not interested.

    Yes, and a national ‘leadership’ where the focus has always been to look as though they were in control, take credit for all the good stuff, blame others for the bad.


  16. There was always an option to move the Gold Coast checkpoint south, but NSW state authorities were never interested.

    Things got better when male deputy premiers started talking about the issues and agreed on a bubble.
    One of the key problems was that premiers were trying to do and control everything.
    We badly need a rethink of a lot of covid policies including whether state boundaries ae logical covid boundaries or whether smaller areas than the states should become covid control areas.

  17. John, to be honest, I don’t think Palaszczuk is heavily involved in COVID issues, but is willing to do the daily announcement because her strength and simplicity is what is needed at present.

    I think Berejiklian is up to her eyeballs in it, but is struggling because she is still Premier and other things demand her attention.

    We’ve now just landed 190,000 Pfizer jabs, and there is a big push this coming weekend to get vaccination really rolling.

  18. I had a heavy day yesterday, and was rather tired to begin with. I’ve been looking to get a real handle on the IPCC report, and when I turned on the computer after a while I found a couple of links that were completely fascinating.

    So many issues running at present. Have to work today, and some tomorrow, but I think I’ll do a new Weekly salon with issues in order of importance:

      Firstly, IPCC, how much time we’ve got (basically none) and the danger of tipping points. James Hansen reckons the AMOC is a goner, but more importantly the SMOC is in trouble. He thinks the fun will begin this decade.

      As it happens, the IPCC is saying that we have a ‘budget’ of 300 Gt CO2 that we can burn for an 83% chance of limiting temperature to 1.5C. At current rates we’ll chew that up in less than 8 years, so early action is a bit urgent, one might say.

      Secondly, Our fearless leader, whose name POTUS Biden couldn’t remember, has signed up for nuclear subs, which look like the thing to do, the diesel ones we were going to build are hopeless if we got into a real scrap.

      However, in foreign policy terms, we have chosen to tie ourselves to the waning colonial powers, and put ourselves in about the worst possible situation to have civil relations with China.

      Thing is, when the chips are down the one thing you can rely on is that the US and UK will act in their own interest.

      Then there is the possibility Trump may return.

      Yes, and the prospect here of a khaki election.

      Third, COVID. After watching on the 7.30 report the cameras pan through the empty public spaces in Sydney for 5 minutes to music from Simon and Garfunkel’s The sounds of silence I don’t think we should be lecturing NSW on what they do next. Nor should anyone else lecture us.

      However, an epidemiologist I respect (Raina McIntyre from Kirby in Sydney) reckons NSW is heading down a path which will likely give them a nasty outbreak just in time for Christmas/New Year.

      Christian Porter. Time’s up. He should go.

    That’s the outline.

  19. The AUKUS pact, born in secrecy, will have huge implications for Australia and the region
    Some nasty people might want to talk about a desperate prime minister seeing his only chance for the next election is to run a kaki election.
    For some strange reason the price of iron ore has just fallen dramatically.
    Other nasty people are suggesting that we will have a federal election in Nov. Good timing if the vac targets have been reached and the government suspects that the result may not be as good as some people are predicting.

  20. John, November election definitely an option, I reckon.

    Around the world Morrison has demonstrated that his word is not his bond, that he is an unreliable, indeed perfidious partner.

    Morrison has called this a ‘forever’ partnership. Well the French have long memories, have withdrawn their ambassador, and have quite a presence in this part of the world.

    Apparently Morrison had intended to call into Indonesia of his way back from his forthcoming o’seas trip. Seems they have cancelled. No point in talking right now.

  21. No, I have not been bodily abducted. Yesterday and today I had to attend to matters relating to our future in this family. This afternoon I’ve been trying to bring myself up to date with the flood of information that we have now on matters relating to climate and the future of the planet, as well as the deliberate and calculated perfidiousness of our leader, and other important and interesting matters.

    In relation to the PM, take a look at Laura Tingle’s weekly column Australia’s nuclear submarine deal fundamentally changes our relationship with the world:

      Just over three years ago, on August 22, 2018, at a press conference in the prime minister’s courtyard at Parliament House, the then treasurer was asked whether he had ambitions for Malcolm Turnbull’s job.

      He responded by throwing a reassuring arm around his prime minister’s shoulder and declaring: “This is my leader and I’m ambitious for him!”

      “Thanks ScoMo,” Turnbull responded, perhaps just a little uncertainly. Two days later, Morrison had replaced him as PM.

      Throw forward to June 15 this year, and Macron was welcoming Morrison to the presidential palace in Paris after the G7’s meeting in Cornwall.

      Scott Morrison and Emmanuel Macron bump elbows at a press conference.

      Excruciating COVID elbow bumps protocol almost prevailed, except Macron warmly threw his arms around Morrison.

      With Australia under pressure from China, the French President declared: “You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the region, of the threats, and sometimes of the intimidation. I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side.”

      “We are good friends, we are good partners”, Morrison told Macron later in remarks over an official dinner. “We share common goals and we share common values and that’s why our partnership with liberty and affinity I think is one that we’ll be able to progress further this evening.”

      ‘It’s a stab in the back’

      What the PM didn’t mention was that he had just held talks in Cornwall with US President Joe Biden and UK PM Boris Johnson about a proposal for a tripartite alliance, the most spectacular immediate element of which would be dumping the $90 billion plan underway to build French submarines in Australia…

    And, according to the AFR, it wasn’t a recent brain fart. Morrison has been working secretly on dudding the French for 18 months.

    Now he wants everyone in the region to trust him as their powerful, take no nonsense from the Chinese, interlocutor.

    To acquire some subs in 20 years time, when they are actually needed now?

  22. I’ve been thinking about what I need to say on the IPCC report and climate. It won’t fit the ‘Salon’ format, and I don’t want to leave it longer. So that’s next cab off the rank.

  23. Since being vanished by the Bahnisch it’s been good to see that zoot thang back in the sock draw.

    Better for all concerned I’d say.

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