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World-leading

2015, even at this early stage, has been a year of superheated politics and partisan disagreements. Labor, along with much of the rest of Australia, has been horrified by the Government’s approach to fiscal management. The cruel and heartless policies that are the inevitable result of considering vulnerability and need as moral failings, combined with the protection and mollycoddling provided to the rich and powerful – in the Liberal worldview, the morally superior – have disenfranchised large proportions of the Australian electorate.

In return, the Coalition continues to accuse Labor of profligacy and economic vandalism, of an inability to execute on policies and an amorphous raft of conspiracy theories about union corruption. They fudge figures and misrepresent data to support their contentions. As if Australia’s struggles with productivity and international trade competitiveness were not bad enough, the Coalition chooses to repeal taxes and forgo revenue and call it “Labor’s debt trajectory” when they don’t also remove the associated spending measures. [See, for example, the comments to this article.]

Misrepresentations and political rhetoric aside, there are indisputably economic headwinds in Australia’s future.

At the core of the political wordstorm is a simple cruel fact. Australia is not globally competitive. In a globalised world of trade – the world that Tony Abbott and the government are hell-bent on plunging us into via as many free trade agreements as possible – Australia cannot compete.

Australia – Expensive one day, dirt-poor the next

Australia cannot compete on the basis of manufacturing consumer goods. There is truth to the contention that our industrial relations regime is a drag on business competitiveness. Australians have quaint ideas about fair pay, about the importance of holidays, about the necessity of workplace safety. The hard truth is that the regulations in other countries are not as rigid as they are here. Manufacturing clothes in Bangladesh, as a pertinent example, is far cheaper than making them here. Australians generally feel that sweatshop conditions of virtual slavery are inappropriate for workers and should not be supported. Most of the time, we buy the cheaper clothes anyway. Occasionally a fire in factory makes the news and prompts Australians to check the origin of their goods, but these are temporary distractions.

Australia cannot compete on the basis of services. In a world where India and China, the heavyweights amongst a multitude of other nations all struggling to match America’s prosperity, are likely to have over a billion new entrants to the middle class in the next decade or two, there will always be someone overseas happy to provide the same services an Australian could provide, and for much less remuneration. Australia’s education market is currently competitive, but this cannot be expected to last. If Australia’s status as a prosperous nation were to flag, how long would an Australian university degree remain a desirable achievement?

In a global environment, goods and services can be sold either to a domestic or an international market. The important factor to consider is the trade deficit: the imbalance between goods and services produced by Australians and sold to the international market, and the goods and services produced by international markets and sold into Australia. The trade deficit at present is historically bad – and growing worse. This is the true unsustainability in Australia’s economy.

Australia’s current economy is underpinned by the resources sector. The ‘mining boom’ might be over but resources industries and royalties still bring in a large proportion of Australia’s revenue – at the expense of skills, resources, manpower and economic support to any other part of the Australian economy. The Coalition government is well aware of the imbalance in Australia’s output, and is determined to support the mining industries just as long as anyone, anywhere, is still willing to buy the raw materials we dig up. The deleterious effects to manufacturing, to refining, to science and non-mining industry, are well known, but the Coalition’s forward thinking appears to stretch no further than one or two elections ahead.

With a chronic trade deficit, with an economy utterly reliant on mining industries where the terms of trade are deteriorating with a concomitant effect on the country’s revenue and budget position, Australia is in critical need of a differentiating benefit. Australia has little to offer the world, but Australians have plenty they want to buy from the world. That’s a recipe guaranteed, over time, to make this country the “white trash of Asia”.

Neither major party appears to have a good solution in mind for this need. Politicians mouth about Australia being the “clever country” – whilst presiding over consecutive cuts to science and technology research, removal of subsidies to innovation and cuts to schools and universities, over a long time frame. It is true that science and technology are the underpinning of a progressive and prosperous nation. Unfortunately science and technology are the easy targets for a largely ignorant populace easily turned against “ivory tower academia”.

Labor has at least espoused some piecemeal policies aimed at diversifying Australia’s economic base. Its broadband policy (the original NBN plan) was a critical national infrastructure project intended to support the internet requirements of a country in a globally-connected world. Income from the MRRT was intended for an across-the-board cut to the corporate tax rate for small to medium enterprises. Australians are ruefully aware of the fate of these policies. In their place we have ongoing subsidies to fossil fuel industries and the active efforts of senior politicians to secure international venture funding for new mining projects regardless of the environmental cost. The Coalition is fighting a rearguard effort, a vain attempt to prop up the resources industries in this country. A generous evaluation indicates that they are fully aware of Australia’s weakness in every other area of the economy; but if this is the case, a wishful-thinking approach that hopes that Australian manufacturing can recover if we only pour more resources into non-manufacturing industries seems short-sighted, at best. Without a forward-thinking plan to provide Australia a new economic base, the future appears grim.

This author would like to suggest one possible set of policy priorities that could set Australia up for a useful participation in the 21st century global economy.

One possible solution

The first thing to note is that this is unashamedly a spending policy. It has to be. The old maxim is that you cannot tax your way to prosperity (a debatable proposition at best that I have only ever heard espoused from fiscal conservatives); equally, you cannot save your way into prosperity either. Labor understands this: you need to spend – otherwise known as “investing” – in order to reap greater benefits later. The Coalition also reluctantly admits this, but their approach is to acquire the required investment funds by selling things, and then to “invest” in a hands-off manner and hope that the economy will somehow grow just because there are more roads. The Coalition has taken some baby steps in this direction but it is likely that a hands-off approach will not be sufficient.

Funds are required for every useful investment. For this proposed policy, a significant amount of funding would be required. I don’t propose here to mandate a particular way to acquire these funds. Progressives might understand the value of borrowing the required funds, but if government borrowing is too poisonous a political concept at present, then there are a multitude of ways for further revenue to be secured. Let’s just posit a slight adjustment to the levels of superannuation tax breaks, earning $10bn a year. This mid-way figure might be able to appease those who argue against the abolition of the tax breaks while still reining in some of the worst rorting of the system. $10bn p.a. would be plenty of resources to fund the Future Industries Fund.

The Future Industries Fund – the FIF – would be tasked to identify and then intensively support six to ten high-value fields of scientific and technical research. These would be fields of endeavour where Australia has research capability or a natural advantage. As an example, we have almost squandered our natural advantages in the field of renewable energy: with our huge land mass, abundant sunshine and wind and low population, we have been and should be a world leader in this field. That we no longer are is a sad indictment on the policies of both sides of the spectrum. We could reclaim a world-leading position – if we wanted to.

There is the key phrase. “World-leading”. If Australia is going to compete in a global market, it needs something it can sell. That means something only Australia can or will make, or it means making something cheaper and/or better than others. We have already established that Australia cannot both make things cheaper and retain current standards of living for its people. If standard of living is a priority, we must aim to excel either by finding industries at which we can excel – such as the French making wines, or regions of Italy making shoes – or build new industries that put us ahead of the pack.

The proposed policy, the Future Industries Fund, would aim for the latter goal.

Because any spending fund is susceptible to gaming and fraud, the first priority for the FIF would be to establish an oversight group. This group would first be tasked to identify and report on the best industries for the fund to support. Renewable energy might be a logical choice – but we should not take the opinion of a blog author. Clear and firm criteria would have to be met, covering Australia’s current capability in the field, the state of each identified field in the rest of the world, and the potential for the field in creating and sustaining new saleable industries.

Having identified the areas of interest, the fund would transition to supporting scientific and technical research in these areas through a range of grants and subsidies. Obviously, this would include a re-funding of the CSIRO and of University research. Potentially, the government could take part ownership in the technologies which arose from funded research. Any revenue from this should be directed back into the FIF.

It’s not enough to be world-leading inventors and researchers. Research and development only employs a small proportion of the workforce. The FIF would also be tasked to support, again through grants and subsidies, industries that arose to capitalise on new technologies. In the hypothetical example of new solar energy technology, this would include not only the energy companies that build the solar farms, but also the artificers which build the parts for new solar energy projects; the engineering firms that build them and maintain them; the infrastructure companies that carry the energy to the people; and even the resellers that onsell the technology to the rest of the world. The FIF would also support university or TAFE courses that specialised in teaching the new technology, or provide scholarships in specific fields.

It’s not enough to establish a world-leading industry. As soon as you start selling the technology into the rest of the world, the clock starts ticking, and it will not take long before you have competitors in your market. Continued prosperity requires the FIF not to rest on its laurels. Having established an industry, an infrastructure, an educational framework, it needs to continue to support the research and technology that created it. It is necessary to keep pushing the envelope.

There would, of course, be failures. Any new scientific or technical research runs the risk of dead ends, the chance that new technologies developed would be too expensive or too difficult or too ahead of their time to be marketable. Soemtimes, financial support can address this. Renewable energy technologies used to be hugely expensive; with time and continued government support across the globe, the cost has fallen to the point that solar and wind are becoming cheaper than coal, at least in some markets. The FIF would not rely on “the market” to build a new technology up to scale; if the aim is to push the envelope then artificial support is required.

But in some cases, the technologies just might not work. It might require more funding than is worthwhile to find economies of scale. It must be accepted that sometimes a field of research initially seen as promising might turn out to be a failure. Competitors in other countries might make breakthroughs that put them years ahead of the pack and relegate FIF projects to also-rans. In such cases, the FIF must be prepared to redefine its areas of interest and write off the funding already provided.

A progressive vision

Conservatives will likely look at these proposals and choke on their tea. This proposal is for a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy with a whole raft of administrators, where research if funded with no clear business case or projected return on investment, where the government takes an active role in picking and supporting winners. All of this is anathema to the Liberal worldview. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the Liberal worldview, and we’re starting to see where it leads.

This is a simple proposal from a single blog author. There is no Treasury behind this idea. The Universities have not provided expert opinion. But if one hack author can design a set of policies intended to address the fundamental problem facing Australia’s economy, how much more could a progressive political party with the resources of government behind it achieve? I put this proposal forward for discussion. Let’s start reframing the conversation and hope that the political machine is listening.

23 comments

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  1. CMMC

    Good idea, but the existing Future Fund should be doing this.

  2. Phi

    I like the general thrust of this article but I am not convinced that the Liberals and their ‘coal loving’ cousins the Nationals actually give a shit about Australia as a nation – they spend far too much air time telling us how important we are, which only reinforces to me that they are selling us a crock and selling us out.

    They want to kill the aged pension – nothing is surer than that. But first the image of pensioners as decent retired older Australians who have paid taxes over 50 plus working years into the public coffers, has to be changed so that they are seen as old bludgers robbing from the next generation’s till. This is deviousness at its most disgusting. As a blueprint however, it is the same as that used to vilify and demonise asylum seekers. One approach fits all.

    I think the LNP is ideologically driven by a neoliberal dogma and accepts that if the system fails, and it is already showing signs of failing, that, they as individuals will be set to avoid the worst of the fall. The fact that they won’t avoid it is not in their frame of reference.

    Australia has lost it’s independance – it’s sovereignty has gone under the US alliance. Abbott’s seemingly arbitrary determination to join any US sanctioned war he can find is evidence enough for me that, rhetoric aside, he’s not in control of Australia’s foreign affairs. Behind a phalanx of flags, he spins lies and drama to us, but he is singing the USA’s foreign policy tune behind the scenes. Our entire political class is fundamentally dishonest, hence the constant lies, obfuscation and diverting of national attention. Hockey says we are going broke and pensioner, health, education and science have to be cut to the bone, but he can find billions and billions to build war machines and fight in foreign wars. The LNP should be thrown out.

    History is littered with states, nations and empires that have collapsed due to their inability to stem the spiralling costs of wars.

    The trade deals that Abbott waxes lyrically about signing have never been debated, discussed or even revealed to the Australian people. The hidden costs of those deals have not been factored into the Intergenerational reporting, just as the costs of responding to and adapting to climate change have not been factored in. The IGR is high political farce.

    Still, having virtually slit my wrists at the puzzling and mendacious anti-Australianism that defines the Liberal and National parties, I think ozfrenic deserves credit for taking a positive viewpoint and for positing ideas that have merit. Gives one hope.

  3. darrel nay

    Thanks for caring Oxfenric,
    I’ll bet if this article was about feminism or racism that there would be fifty comments by now. Not that feminism and racism aren’t valid issues but I think it shows how we have been divided and conquered by the mainstream media. I guess the lack of comments reflects the fact that many Australians feel dissempowered. We all put our energies into trivial issues like football or Australian Idol at the expense of the real issues which dictate how prosperous our future will be.
    In your article you talk about how we can’t compete with cheap labour from Bangladesh but I would argue that if we decide not to compete then it will amount to quitting. When Holden left Australia they claimed it was to take production to more competitive markets but I think that is garbage – if Germany and Britain can produce vehicles then so can we. Holden used to spend M$200 to develop a new commodore every few years – small wonder they failed here. We need manufacturers who can develop new models to produce and market goods at realistic price points. Thousands of young kids leave school every year who would love to build cars for a living.
    I agree with Ozfenric that we have an opportunity to lead the world in alternative technology. There are many growth industries in the world which Australia could be well positioned to take advantage of. For example, the organic farming industry is growing rapidly but our government OK’s gmos instead while our big chain supermarkets stock their shelves with toxic food. Alternative media is another industry which is exploding but the government wastes our taxpayer dollars on propping up the dinosaur media, it’s propaganda and associated industries like advertising.
    Australia could look at industries which help developing countries – a boom market.
    There are countless opportunities for Australia in the future but we need to be determined to step up to the mark. We need to listen to innovators and entrepreneurs. Maybe if we stop idolising footballers, royalty and rockstars we might be more productive.

    Heads up

  4. darrel nay

    reply for Phi,

    The trade deals that Abbott waxes lyrically about signing have never been debated, discussed or even revealed to the Australian people.

    Our ‘leaders’ have the right to hand our sovereignty over to Burger King if they want to but they need a referendum to do it legally. The ‘free-trade’ agreement signing traitors need to be brought to justice – are our constitutional lawyers asleep at the wheel or are they just corrupt?

  5. Mick

    I am curious how you feel about the concept of peak oil. If it turns out to be true that we are facing unprecedented (though not unpredicted) times where the greasy blood of industrialism as we know it starts getting thin under the ground and unaffordable, we will no longer be able to ignore it’s insidiousness within all spheres of economic activity. It will no longer be taken as a given that operations like shale, nuclear and even solar all receive extremely generous energy subsidisation from oil. In the creation of the technology and also the the infrastructure needed for it to be feasible. I ask because you have touched on so many other crucial factors that make our global and national economies tick, including the sentiments of the citizens and I wonder if you take this into account, and also what effects you might see it having with your possible solution. A solution which i see huge merit in and even potential for it to become a part of the national conversation. It was in a stifling political climate like this that such radical notions were swept into power with Whitlam. Maybe it’s time.

  6. ozfenric

    I do take peak oil into account. Peak oil is at once critical to any examination of future industry, and over-emphasised: as the price of oil pushes consistently higher, the bar for “peak oil” moves as previously unaffordable reserves become profitable. We are approaching a point of equilibrium where the price of renewables decreases enough to meet the rising cost of burnables. It is true that there is a high front-end cost of energy and resources in making renewable technologies; however, even low-yield solar will return its energy cost several times over. As the burning of oil becomes more and more politically / environmentally fraught, industry will adapt, taking on energy generation methods that are perfectly valid, if slightly less profitable than oil used to be. The only people who suffer under that scenario are the fossil fuel generators, and if they have any nous at all they’ll be at the forefront of the replacement technologies.

    There will always be a need for oil, apart from burning it. It’s critical to creating plastics, and thus fundamental to modern life. It’s vital in modern agriculture, and not just as a fuel source. But the time is rapidly approaching when oil will no longer be an acceptable energy source; alternative energy sources will have to bear their own production costs, and the yield will be lower. The economic outcome will be lower growth – but still growth.

    Industrialism as we know it does not have to die. It needs to adapt, and adapt it will.

    BTW, solar / alternative energy was simply one possible example of a leading-edge industry that might be a suitable prime industry. There are plenty more, if we’re willing to identify them and put stonking great amounts of money into supporting them.

  7. Ricardo29

    First and as an absolute priority we need to get rid of this government which is intent on crippling research and innovation at every level, selling off our public corporations despite the loss of revenue streams, closing down industries through lack of support and attempting to subjugate the populace by squeezing real entitlements. But how to do that? Everything that has been written above, both in article and comments, is absolutely true but until there is a political alternative offering support for these ideas, and professing a willingness to pursue them, we seem doomed to continue to experience the bleakness of the Lib/Nat worldview. Bill?

  8. paul walter

    I guess the things is, is there enough of real Labor left to hold to the sort of commonsense implicit in that essay.

    There seems an increasingly thriving section of Labor over the last twenty years that seems seduced by the worst of neoliberalism.

  9. stephentardrew

    The problem of rational facts as opposed to personal opinion is the fly in the ointment for progressives. I think there are a whole raft of alternative approaches that are viable as Kaye Lee and John Keely have defined as Ozfenric has offered more possibilities. The point remains the core paradigm of Labor needs to be re-framed outside of the constraints of neoliberalism and supply side economics. It is so easy to prove the endless failure of neo-conservative cyclical swing from growth to crisis so the solution is to provide a coherent critique of market failures because that is what we are actually faced with. Labor needs to attack the coalition and John Fraser’s austerity as totally and completely fallacious and unworkable. The EU and Germany’s drive to austerity is causing suffering and unemployment worse than the great depression so how the hell can they claim success. It was derivatives and financial sector deregulation which led to the GFC as the Banks were bailed out and their victims made to pay through quantitative easing and selling off of public utilities to the venture capitalists and their vampire squids. Who the hell went to jail. Why don’t Labor scream the facts to the rafters? Is it because the right can’t let go of a failed economic model?

    Supply side economics is one of the only areas where failure can be presented as success as suffering of the masses is presented as the required medicine needed to set things right. This is madness writ large. Just because we missed the last GFC does not mean we will be immune to the next. In fact with conservatives in charge we will suffer a repeat of the US and European experience because there is no way conservatives will make the banks pay.

    So Australia’s success through good financial management is going to be its failure through absence of assertive alternatives presented by Labor. Combine that with its lack of demonstrable pride in the achievement at surviving the last GFC and Labor disappears into mediocrity. The Coalition are leading us down the plug hole yet where is the screaming.

    Labor is the worst sales-rep for its own success. It is a poor example of reframing the narrative in lite of courageous assertion that it is much better at managing of the economy than conservatives. The proof is there but the sales pitch shallow and empty.

    The Labor right need to dowse themselves in facts and reject supply side economics. But who the hell is going to reach the elitist cabala ensconced in their inaccessible castle on the hill.

    Its not that conservatives are smart. Labor have become economic wimps. Lets hear it for unemployment and destruction of manufacturing.

    The silence is deafening. We don’t need policy prescription we need paradigm revision based upon sound criticisms of the facts and promotion of direct action.

  10. wildediana

    sadly, I have not heard or read the liberals or labor espouse such great ideas for our future. As a baby boomer putting solar panels on my roof and installing water tanks was the first thing I did when I bought a house in 2010. When will the electorate demand politicians plan for our wonderful country’s future? I am very concerned for the future of my 3 young grandchildren.

  11. Annie B

    Ozfrenic …a great article – both awful to contemplate, in the first part, and quite brilliant in the second part of it. … where you put forward proposals to better our nation. …. much of which would quite likely work very well, but not with this mob at the helm. … they simply would not buy it.

    …… “we have almost squandered our natural advantages in the field of renewable energy”

    The way forward would have to be Australia, showing the world what wind, sun and ocean can do for energy. The market for fossil fuels is falling and will continue to fall, until we have absolutely no market whatsoever to sell our coal, mining output etc. to. … Which puts us right down the gurgler – thanks sooo very much to the current Government and their blinkered thinking. ….

    Renewable energy is what we have the greatest gifts for – to explore, to develop, to establish industry for, to sell, and to teach about. ….. but while this Government is in power, it will not happen.

    I cannot waste umpteen paragraphs, detailing what I think of this evil mob we have currently at the helm.

    However – I would like to point out, that Australia – its’ people, have NOT stopped thinking, have not come to a grinding halt in their endeavours, and have not given up … because their / our very existence depends upon them / us not doing any of that.

    I further suggest there is a great more entrepeneurial / enterprising endeavour in the Australian populace – and future generations, than we give credit for. … There is however, one small possible problem – that is the actual population of Australia which, considing its’ size ( even though 3/4’s is desert ) – it is very small, by comparison to other countries. We are in fact, a very small country, particularly population wise..

    David beat Goliath all those eons ago – there’s no reason it cannot happen again ! …… Admittedly that may only be a Biblical myth, or perhaps it is a true story passed down through the ages … but its message is clear. – – that giant problems and seemingly impossible situations can be dealt with, and solutions can be found.

    I have every faith in the Australian people, no matter their former ethnicity, living here today, concerned for their children / grand children, will find a way to survive ( survival being the GREATEST of all instincts ) ….

    And let’s face it – at worst we only have 18 months to go before we can put this LNP mob firmly in the gutter where they belong.

    And yes – it’s time Bill stood up …. or perhaps almost time. …. I still think he has some progressive proposals up his sleeve. and is sufficiently savvy enough to know how crucial timing is.

  12. Harquebus

    Like I said, renewable generators do not return the energy used in their manufacture, construction and maintenance. Energy returned on energy invested. Things to consider when factoring energy invested include the transport of everything throughout the extensive supply chain, the smelting of ores and silicon, the manufacture of consumables, plant and machinery, sustaining a workforce and the building and maintenance of associated infrastructure as well as all the electricity used in said supply chain etc., etc., etc., Without the still relatively cheap fossil fuels available to us, these devices would never be built. I say “still relatively cheap” because, a litre of fuel is approximately the energy equivalent of two weeks manual labour.

  13. OzFenric

    Spoken like a true nuclear-advocate, Harquebus. 🙂 EROEI is important, but I’ve not seen anyone arguing that renewables don’t return an EROEI of at least 1. I’d be interested in your sources for that claim. Without seeing your figures, I’d hazard a guess that there’s a raft of assumptions in there that are, shall we say, open to challenge. The most substantial believable concerns with EROEI that I have seen relate to overall societal energy use. For the uninitiated, this means that an energy generator has to not only support the energy used in manufacture, construction and maintenance, but also for the feeding, education, health and general needs of the society it supports. Under some conditions and some assumptions, solar PV (e.g. rooftop solar) can’t support our modern, technological and advanced society, not with the quality of life we’re used to. The assumptions made include estimations of requirements for large-scale battery storage, distribution infrastructure (poles and wires), freight of input resources (whatever that means in the context of wind or solar!) etc. But these do not seem to take into account a raft of probable or potential outcomes. It is likely, for instance, that we will see a large-scale devaluation of poles and wires in favour of distributed energy generation.

    The long and the short of it is, fossil fuels are untenable – anyone who pays attention to climate change and its outcomes must admit this. If renewables really cannot support our current civilisation, then our civilisation will end. I truly hope that this is not the case. More likely we will see changes in the way we make and use energy. Energy efficiency is already an area of significant development in many fields; it may become a critical one. If further advances in increasing the efficiency or decreasing the costs of manufacture and maintenance of renewable energy generation and storage are required, this would seem like a very useful and productive use of a fund like the suggested FIF.

  14. Harquebus

    @Ozfenric.
    When did I mention nuclear? My preferred option is population reduction and control. I am very concerned about resource depletion and climate change. Feed back mechanisms are already occurring and our demise may already be unstoppable.
    Google “Arctic methane release” and “collapsing ice shelves”.

    Despite the $billions invested, renewable energy has not proved itself. It is not up to me to prove that renewable energy will not work. As you are the one advocating this solution, it is up to you to prove that they can.

    Often my comments get caught up in theAimn’s filter when posting links so, for arguments against, google “renewable energy will not work”.

    Arguments for almost always use the economic argument but, that includes the $cost of fossil fuels. They also never factor far enough up the supply chain nor other factors that I have mentioned. Another fault, as you have done, is to use the “if” or “when” certain technologies are available or improved.
    “If further advances in increasing the efficiency or decreasing the costs of manufacture and maintenance of renewable energy generation and storage” Note the word “costs”.
    This is a dangerous gamble and your advocating these inefficient devices lessens the time we have available to implement viable solutions to our “deadly” serious situation.

  15. OzFenric

    My apologies, Harquebus – EROEI is typically argued by proponents of nuclear (along with exaggerated statistics to make nucular look good and renewables bad).

    I generally agree with you. Depopulation is an ugly term but it may be the only viable way out. It’s not my preference. What’s cruelest about it is that the advanced western nations aren’t the ones with the huge populations to worry about, and anyone who claims that we ought to control our birth rate in, say, Australia, is looking in the wrong place. Australia is only growing its population through controlled immigration. Which brings another issue, the slavering requirement for growth at all costs, into sharp relief.

    The issue is far more about hugely disproportionate resource use. Each head of population in the USA uses enormous amounts of resources for their lifestyle. I’m not an advocate of the “live simply” mantra, but there has to be a point of high living standards beyond which further profligacy becomes insupportable.

    My reference to “costs” is in the context of improving EROEI for renewables. At the same time as the total costs of fossil fuels are increasing, we need the total costs of renewables to decrease. This is a process that is happening at rapid pace already, and any arguments that “renewables will not work” reflect the current resource and manufacturing costs of technology as it stands. Researchers in the field (admittedly, a slightly biased sample) believe that total costs for renewable energy sources will be lower than for fossil fuels in the near future. Australia has a lot to offer here – with or without support from an “FIF”. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-2864536/Australian-scientists-announce-solar-energy-breakthrough.html

    In practical terms, I fear that involuntary depopulation may be unavoidable, due to the aforementioned feedback mechanisms. However, this article is about the short-to-medium term future of this one country, and my perspective is that even though we have no certainty that renewable energy technologies will ever be able to support our existing civilisation, we have to try.

  16. Harquebus

    @OzFenric.
    I also fear involuntary depopulation and feel that it is unavoidable. It won’t be pretty.
    In my opinion, population reduction and control is/was the only viable solution and is not even being considered or discussed.
    I regularly email many politicians and journalists on the issues of climate change, resource depletion, scarcity, inequality, economic collapse etc. Sometimes, I even get responses. If you could ask Michael Taylor to forward me your email address, I would really like to add you to my mailing list. No spam I promise. I read a lot and there is a lot out there that main stream media will not touch.
    We are on the same side mate and only disagree on method. Keep up the good fight.
    Cheers.

  17. Annie B

    The conversations between Harquebus and OzFrenic – while interesting ( to a person who is not into technology or engineering at all !! ) …. the back and forths here, tend to smack of serious doom and gloom.

    I dare not join this conversation, as I totally admit to knowing very llittle about EROEI or technical matters raised.

    What I do know is just this …. that after you or anyone – googles ” renewable energy will not work ” ( a defeatist sort of question ? ) …. google then ” will | does renewable energy work “. A more perhaps positive approach, which would surely give balance ? There are many many sites that show why it will work. …. of particular interest to me was the number of areas energy can be sourced from … far more than I ever thought.

    ” Renewable sources of energy include solar, wind, water, biomass, wood, waste, geothermal, wind, photovoltaic, and solar thermal energy.” ….. ( I am not sure how wood gets into that equation, but I guess someone here would know ? ).

    Population control ? Generally – no. But in countries that need it ( some African countries in particular come to mind ) … then yes, some form of birth control should be overseen. ….

    It is a vexing situation, and as long as Governments such as ours keep their rotten noses out of it, and allow scientists to explore ( and GIVE them the money to DO so ) … to debate, investigate, experiment back and forth, there WILL be answers. …

    There is a great deal of hysteria in the world about it all – at this time. …. That hysteria needs to be quelled – somehow.

    Cheers –

  18. Harquebus

    @Annie B
    It is not defeatist at all. There are two sides and only one can be right. I do in fact, hope that I am wrong but, I ain’t.
    Biomass and wood are renewable but, there are too many of us for it to support. Waste? How much should we create? Others you list are limited by geography or physics.

    “In a world overrun with humans, what fate awaits wildlife, fisheries, and forests when the fuels run short?”
    “If it moves, shoot it; if it don’t move, chop it down.” — Old Hillbilly.
    http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc_25_2/tsc_25_2_kolankiewicz.shtml

    Here is some simple math. Both links are about this.
    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” – Prof. Al Bartlett

    Dr Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy
    https://www. utube.com/watch?v=e_VpyoAXpA8
    (Repair URL to view)

    “The bad news is once it gets to this extreme point, it’s over, the tipping point has been reached and the human race is about to be blindsided by one of the most scariest physical phenomenon’s simply and perfectly described by a little equation called exponential growth.”
    http://wildbayarea.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/a-simple-mathematical-phenomenon-is.html

    Please read and view.
    (Links made it this time. Phew.)

  19. Annie B

    I sincerely thank you Harquebus, for giving information here, ( to a person who most likely shouldn’t have joined the debate in the first place ) …. and I DO get the implications of horror that exponential function can imply. … It can and possibly will be, out of control. …. That is frightening.

    I have however, in the past, sat in on many argumentative conferences, discussions, board meetings – where balances are not met – intitially – – – but for the benefit of all, compromises are made. So I have to disagree with an ‘all in’ as proposed by your statement “There are two sides and only one can be right.”…. In science there might not be compromise …. have seen that in the medical profession … individual ego often determines that status. However, for the good of all, there is often an agreement to look at ALL projected ideas and ideals – and most often, good comes from that. Admittedly, I am erring on the side of a psychological / intelligence endeavour, rather than purely science, technology, engineering and geo-physics.

    That’s some of the awful part of all this. …. Without reading the links yet – I think from his short statement, Prof. Al Bartlett might have much to relate ………. and possibly, not all good for the human race.

    I WILL read ( hopefully to understand ) the links you have given. … It is not me I am worried about – I am in my early 70’s so have little time left – in the scheme of things. …. It is my children and grand-children I feel for – and who will have to deal with these dilemmas in the future.

    Have to say however, that an instinct for survival is PARAMOUNT in the human psyche, and can only hope that prevails.

    Also have to say, given the way the young are gradually being led to lesser endeavours in life, ( except for the exceptional few ) … that things ain’t lookin’ too good. ……… I HATE having to say that.

    Will at this time, opt for the positive … that the ‘exceptional few’ ( probably many hundreds, if not thousands, in different countries and cultures ) will be able to get the world out of the mess it’s created for itself.

    I prefer to live in hope – for my adult children and particularly for my grand-children and generations to come.

  20. Annie B

    @Harquebus …. your first link shown did not work.

    For the simple reason that “Yo” was not shown in your link.

    So the link should be – for anyone wanting to access it,is :

    https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=e_VpyoAXpA8

    This one works – and goes to Prof. Al Bartletts “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” ( the Forgotten Fundamentals of The Energy Crisis – part one ). …. it is over 1 hour long.

    But I will stick with it. !!

  21. Annie B

    Having now read the first of your links, I find the very last paragraph most interesting.

    “What can avert this tragic fate? Some fatalists would argue
    that nothing can, that our brittle industrial civilization is inherently
    unsustainable and is doomed to collapse sooner or later.
    Green optimists and cornucopians beg to differ, and have faith
    that humanity still has enough time, capital, resources, and
    cooperative spirit to make the difficult but doable transition to
    a civilization based on renewable energy resources that can
    effectively last for as long as the sun shines. I, for one, remain
    unconvinced by either side. What I do know for certain is that
    for the foreseeable future, all other living things on Earth will be
    profoundly affected for better or worse by the decisions
    (or indecision) and actions (or inaction) that 7.3 billion human beings take.”

    I think perhaps I like the idea of being a Green optomist or cornucopian. !! …. Very much a cornucopian !! 🙂

    The writer – Keon Kolankiewicz – is obviously of two minds ???

    It all remains to be seen.

  22. Harquebus

    Thanks AnnieB.

    I alter the URL to avoid the image being displayed. Looks like they have done something about that.
    You are smart enough to figure it though and should have no trouble understanding Prof. Bartlett.

    I am, on the other hand, a Malthusian.

    Cheers.

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