21 July 2015

Dear Kids …...

Hi Tom and Charlotte.

I hope you are both safe and well.

I am glad that you are both out and about and travelling the world and I want you to know that I think about you every day.

I want you to explore and have adventures and experience everything you can in your journeys and return to me enriched and wiser, but most of all safe.

I worry you know.

It is a Dad’s prerogative.

We are born and then we die.

These are the only two certainties I can assure you of.

What went before and what goes beyond is an unknown so the life that we live between these two events is all that matters.

This is my belief anyway.

The duration of our current existence is indeterminable. I have learned this from experience and as you well know, I have lost people who are close to me in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.

Losing someone you are close to sucks no matter what the circumstances are but that just is what it is.

I don’t want you to experience such losses yet but they are inevitable - so steel yourselves.

Demise is sadness in any exigency however grief is a process that is tied very much to love.

The greater the love – the more significant is the loss.

I have learned this too.

You will as well

We humans are sapient creatures who are as complex as we are unpredictable. I don’t get a lot of things and my life is littered with mistakes of my own making. I try however to deliberate and excogitate from my erring and I hope you will too.

It’s not so easy.

The most perfect things I have ever made are you two.

I never knew that someone like me could contribute to make something – some people - as beautiful as you.

My love for you is boundless and unconditional.

Don’t forget that.

When you both left for your travels I realized that when children become adults they are still your children. This realization that my children have all grown up is a strange phenomena.

It is one that takes some getting used to.

There have been some emotional conflicts with this realisation of mine.

Big ones.

I have this enormous sense of pride in both of you but this is also entangled with a tangible sense of loss as well.

Hope resides there with Fear.

It is a tough and sometimes dangerous world out there that has wars and bombs and earthquakes and tsunamis.

Monsters lurk.

So there is worry and there is pain.

There is always worry and pain in parenting.

There is great joy too though.

There is more joy than anything else.

Much more.

However there is some sense of acceptance in this realisation as well. It resides amongst all this mix of emotions. There is reflection too when I pause and think where you may be and what you may be doing.

We grown ups have all been at this juncture.

This becoming an adult.

It is a Big Moment.

I remember what it was like to feel this all-grown-up emotion when I was your age.

It was a time of freedom and confidence and greatness.

It was Special.

I need you to know though that the need to protect you my children does not diminish as you become adults.

It doesn’t diminish at all.

It is instinctive I think to want to protect you. 
At any cost. 
At all cost. 
However there has been a letting go of sorts - by me of you and by you of your childhoods.

The realization that as you forge your own places in the world I won't be quite as close to you anymore is a wistful emotion.

There is a little ache knowing and accepting that I won't be right beside you any longer - to catch you if you fall. I can only trust now that I have taught you enough to stand strong and to stand up again if you get knocked down.

To keep standing up.

We all get knocked down at times and rising is more noble than falling.

It is more difficult too.

This letting go is both sad and happy for me.

It is both winning and losing.

I know that these feelings will ultimately neutralize each other and then I will be just left with Hope.

Hope that you can make your own way out there and that everything will be all right. 

I want you both to not be afraid to mistakes - for the lessons you learn from mistakes are really important.

Be bold and brave.

You both have voices and don’t be afraid to express your opinions.

Stand up for what is good and right and decent irrespective of the opposition you may encounter.

Don’t ever just be part of the crowd.

I don’t get violence but I have been embroiled in it before.

I don’t like cruelty either and I know that neither of you do either. You will encounter it though.

All too often.

I have been both a victim of it and to my shame a deliverer too. I have felt ignominy and pain in many forms. I am perfectly imperfect and I hope that I have grown from my inadvertence.

I don’t believe in deities or in a faith that is blind.

Why would I?

How could I?

This is a personal thing however - and I am not going to try and influence you one way or another on such matters.

Make up your own minds.

I have seen cruelty and injustice and inequity that horrify me.

The current catastrophes in Greece and Syria and Iraq despair me.

Watching the daily news is a horror story.

I ask myself often what manner of god would permit such atrocities? I have discussed and debated this matter with men of cloth and monks and lamas and their arguments that man is imperfect are sound - but they don’t convince me to worship.

I comprehend the need for belief but my preference is to invest such faith in myself and you my precious children – as well as the other people who I love.

This is a big endowment but I can touch and see it.

Through grim determination I can even shape it.

You can as well.

I believe that the majority of people are inherently good but there are vocal and powerful minorities that are not - and they are the wreakers of chaos and havoc.

They are the ruination of things that really matter.

Please be wary.

I hope that I have taught you enough to understand we human beings are impaired creatures but our development is really quite a simple path of practicing compassion and compunction and lenity.

It is consideration.

It is kindness.

I understand that I am in a minority here in a world awash with religions that seem more confused than me. I think that the supposedly merciful gods worshipped by billions would be appalled by the behaviours of the extremists amongst their devout. Tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of people have perished in conflicts relating to religion.

Look at Syria.


It is why I sometimes wake in fright terrified about why you might encounter in your travels.

I truly am sleepless in Singapore much of the time.

You are both young adults now and I can’t protect you like I could when you are little.

All I can reinforce to you again is to stand strong for what you believe in - and for people less fortunate than you.

This is important.

It is really important.

To many people acts of bravery involve death and destruction and peril and I need you to understand that real bravery is actually the complete opposite of these things.

Heed this my children - gallantry is providing for people who have less than do we.

It is also tolerance and acceptance.

I have known love and hate and joy and despair and I still seek wisdom but it is so difficult to find.

I want you to be wise and you already are in many ways but wisdom is not something we stumble upon.

We accumulate it.

Through our experiences.

My search for self continues  - and so too should yours - but as I age I am discovering that a purpose might be many things and there is simplicity and some satisfaction in just being.

It is my belief that we are formed by what we desire, we are shaped by what we experience but we are ultimately defined by what we do.

For others – not ourselves.

So I endeavour to experience as much as I can – and again – so too should you.

I cram my life with people and events and I move around a lot to take in what I can.

I am restless.

I am reckless.

New cultures, new people and talking to strangers have enriched me yet I still don’t know my true purpose.

Being your Dad is the most important thing though.

I know that much.

I have had a very fortunate life.

I can’t complain.

Even though I sometimes do.

I want you to know that I think that kindness may be the key to everything and life lessons relating to compassion and morality are important but empathy is something that is inherent.

Selflessness is not a natural state but it is an important one.

I want you to frequently put yourselves in other shoes.

I need you to constantly put your lives in perspective.

Please remind yourself of that from time to time

Wealth is not possessions or money.

It is goodness.

It is virtuosity.

It is righteousness and honour.

These are noble and precious things.

They may be everything.

I know where I have been but I still don’t know yet where I am going. You will sometimes feel this way as well.

Particularly as you travel.

At times you will feel lost and dazed and directionless.

Don’t let this distress you.

Just tread a path that causes minimal harm but value and cherish every experience. I want you to immerse and saturate yourself in your surrounds.

I want you to experience experiences.

They are the essence and substance of who you will become.

Remember this as well.

You both have the potential to be anything you want.

For the moment though – in these tumultuous and terrifying times - I think that just being might be enough.

Thinking of you always.

Love Dad xx

15 July 2015

I Love A Sunburnt Country

 It’s happening again.

I have to pretend I am a New Zealander.

I don’t really have to of course – but as an Australian living in Asia it is somewhat embarrassing confessing that I am from Down Under when our politicians back home continue to make such horrific policies and decisions in matters relating to both Immigration and Climate Change.

Where we once seemed to have such a great international reputation as being laid back and friendly people – Australians are now fast being recognised as a heartless and Neanderthal bunch.

I am often asked “Why?” when I am out and about with my Chinese or Singaporean or Indonesian friends and I am verbally attacked on matters of Australian environmental politics so I find it easier now to just say I am a Kiwi.

“Five, sucks, seven, eight”

This is no easy task.

The New Zealand accent bears some similarity to the ‘strine’ that we Aussies speak but the Kiwi’s use of vowels is as dysfunctional as it is disturbing.

It is in fact an abomination.

The United Nations International Climate Change Conference – or COP21 - will be held in Paris in December of this year. It is now 18 years since the Kyoto Protocol was first established.

Australia eventually signed the Protocol in 1998 but it did not ratify it until a Labor Government was elected in 2007.  The then Prime Minister Mr. Kevin Rudd declared that Australia would set a target of reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 60% on 2000 levels by 2050. Mr. Rudd also committed that Australia would establish a national emissions trading scheme by 2010 and set a 20% target for renewable energy by 2020.

All seemed to be heading on track with Australia’s Renewable Energy Targets (RET) with some quite substantial investment in both the solar and wind sectors until February 2014 when the current Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Abbott declared that the RET’s would be ‘reviewed’ and the proposed tax on Carbon would be repealed.

Australia now has the inglorious record of being the only country in the world to ever repeal environmentally focused carbon reduction legislation.

The Renewable Energy sector in Australia has been in rapid decline since then and the likelihood of Australia reducing it’s Greenhouse gas emissions and achieving the targeted 20% of renewable energy now seems most unlikely.

This is a terrible shame.

Senator Christine Milne – who until very recently was the head of the Australian Greens Party declared, “The RET was working brilliantly until Tony Abbott realized renewables were undermining the profits of the coal-fired generators and that’s why he decided to smash it……… he’s removed all certainty from the renewable energy sector and handed it over to his mates in the fossil fuel sector.”

The enormous black and brown coalmines of my country and together with iron ore they have been the mainstay of the economy. They rake in billions of dollars of annual export earnings for Australia and taxation revenue for the Federal government and the mining resources sector were the primary reason that Australia did not fall into recession in both of the Global Financial Crises.

They have made my country wealthy with such an abundance we have been blessed with.

However coal and coalmines and coal power generators are very rapidly becoming as uneconomic as they are unpopular.

The two are intrinsically linked.

The beginning of the end is nigh for coal.

Consumers and voters such as myself want Australia to step up and come up with a rapid and sustainable plan to endeavour to move to a low carbon economy. We would like to transition our love affair with harmful natural resources to the large-scale development of renewable energy.

Our land is vast and empty and is as equally blessed with long days of sunshine and more than 35,000 kilometers of wind swept coastline as it is with coal resources. It is ideal for huge arrays of solar and wind power farms that could easily ultimately provide for the majority of Australia’s domestic and commercial energy needs.

It is both disappointing and perplexing to me that the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott very recently directed the state owned Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to cease all investment in wind and ‘small scale’ solar projects.

The CEFC was set up in 2013 by the then Labor Government.

Abbott publically described Wind Turbines as being ‘visually awful’ and “they make a lot of noise”.

I am not sure if he was asked whether he thought that the horrendous black scars of open cut coal mines or the chimneys of billowing smoke of our coal fired power stations were visually attractive.

I will try and find out.

The Australian electorate and we expatriates abroad are not sure what he is thinking when he does and says such things.

It really is embarrassing.

The offshore wind farm potential alone in Australia is enormous and countries like the UK, Germany and Denmark have very clearly demonstrated their ability to generate commercial volumes of clean wind energy. The UK generates more than 13 gigawatts of power from wind and while Australia’s total consumption of electricity exceeded 220 gigawatts in 2014 – Australia has significantly more offshore areas than the UK where offshore wind farms can be constructed without any impact on local communities.

The sunless Germany produced nearly 26 gigawatts of solar energy in 2014 and their renewable energy production now makes up 30% of their total volume.

We have significantly more daylight hours and massive amounts more open space for mega-scale solar arrays than Germany.

All that is needed is sensible politics and appropriate capital investment by a responsible government.

“Sensible” and “Responsible” government?

Yes I know.

However simply removing the subsidies that are given to the coal and oil sectors would have a big impact - and then giving the same subsidies to the RE sector.

That would be big.

The government seems to have got it the wrong way around.

A 2014 report conducted by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International group titled, “The Fossil Fuel Bailout” suggested that exploration by coal and energy companies in Australia was subsidized by as much as 4 billion dollars per year by Australian taxpayers. This came in the form of tax breaks and direct spending.

The same report estimated that the G20 countries are supporting and subsidizing oil, gas and coal exploration to the tune of US$88 billion per annum.

Yes that is US$88 billion per annum.

Fancy that.

The beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era is well and truly here.

We need to just accept this in a global collaboration to save the planet. We can’t go on burning carbon at the rates that we do to produce energy or we will face ever increasing catastrophic consequences.

There have been decades long warnings by the scientific community that the global use of fossil fuels must diminish to halt the devastating effects of Climate Change and Global Warming. Fourteen of the hottest fifteen years on record have happened since the year 2000 and 2014 and the increased incidence of flooding, heat waves and natural loss events are devastating agricultural, oceanography and society.

Human impact is – at the very least – accelerating global warming.

This is indisputable and we must aim to stop it or at least slow it down. A cessation of the use of fossil fuels to energize our cities and cars and planes is an absolute requisite by mankind for us to prevent us from harming the planet any further.

It is choked already and is in peril.

The science is quite clear and it is as simple as that.

The future of the yet untapped coal in the huge Galilee basin in the state of Queensland is a prime example of the uncertainty of coal mining in Australia. It is an incredibly large hunk of pristine land covering more than a quarter of a million square kilometers. Eight coal extraction operations were initially earmarked for the basin with experts estimating that it contains up to 28,000 million tonnes of dirty thermal coal.

In NSW however, approval was granted a few days ago for the 1.2 billion open-cut coal mine called ‘Watermark’ to proceed. The approval that was granted was by the Environmental Minister Greg Hunt. The mine is to be located on the edge of a place named the Liverpool Plains – a food basin region rich with agricultural history. The mine is predicted to dig ten million tonnes of thermal coal per annum for the next thirty years.

There is already a loud political and community outcry at the announcement.

As there should be.

Thermal coal is the type used to feed the archaic, filthy and highly polluting coal based Power stations.

A report was released only a fortnight ago by the Australian Climate Council stating that if all the coal in the Galilee basin was to be burned - Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions would double to more than 700 million tonnes each year.

The Climate Council of Australia is an independent organisation that was set up by crowd-funding after the current Federal Government abolished and dismantled its own Climate Commission.

Fancy that as well.

It was the people of Australia who had to found and then fund their own Commission of Climate Change - such was the mistrust in their own government. The Mining Industry in Australia is powerful and obscenely wealthy organisation that actively lobbies and influences governments at the State and Federal level.

Whatever interest these magnates have in Climate Change is dwarfed by their fear of dwindling profits. These billionaires have already been hard hit by the plummeting price of iron ore but they have divested resource interests and very deep pockets to protect the mining interests.

The mining sector in Australia employed more than 260,000 people as at May 2015. A decade earlier there were a little over 100,000 employed in mining.

They are a very large and important sector that has whole communities in most states built for purpose to mine.

This goes back more than a century and a half to the Gold Rush days.

The Australian coal industry is massive. It accounted for more than 13% of Australia’s total exports in 2012-2013 – down from 15% the year before. It is Australia’s second biggest export commodity – iron ore being the first.

The export of coking coal generated $22.4 billion of export revenue in the 2012/13 financial year, with thermal coal bringing in $16.1 billion during the same period. Coking coal is the type used to produce steel and thermal coal is used for the production of steam – principally for power generation.

Thermal coal contains less carbon than coking coal – which is also referred to as metallurgical coal. There is currently no alternative commercially scaled process or technology to manufacture steel without the use of coking coal.

Processes such as electrolysis are capable of producing steel sans coal, however it well be at least two decades before the process can be scaled up and commercialized.

I am not sure why I just used the French word ‘sans’ – I just sometimes do.

It means ‘without’.

Technologies for reduced coke consumption in combination with natural gas and electricity are being developed and trialed however the carbon release levels remain very high in steel production.

The world needs to get much better at steel recycling to have a measurably positive impact on Climate Change. Steel is an almost unique material in its capacity to be infinitely recycled without loss of properties or performance. It is estimated that only 30% of the world’s steel is currently recycled where a figure of near 80% could actually be achieved.

We need to wean ourselves off both coal and steel as much as - and as soon as - we possibly can.

A spokesman for the Australian Climate Commission - Professor Tim Flannery - said that Australia was currently responsible for more than one and a half percent of global CO2 emissions.

“We are the 15th largest emitter in the world and the largest per capita emitter on the planet,” Professor Flannery reported.

I recently heard that we are thirteenth but I can’t recall the source.

In April of this year three French Investment Banks - BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe General - announced publically that they would not be funding any of the $16.5 billion required to finance the Galilee basin projects – which are largely being driven by the Giant India Resourcing Company  - Adani. These French banks have all historically been investors in the coalmining sector in Australia and they are allegedly declining to invest on mostly environmental grounds.

This means that now eleven major international lenders have refused to finance the coal extraction project - and none of the four ‘big’ Australian banks have yet to commit either. The preliminary engineering works that were being undertaken in the basin have now ground to a halt and many Australian environmental supporters – including myself – are hoping that this particular batch of coal will forever stay in the ground.

We are hoping that the coal from the Watermark mine stays in the ground as well.

$1.2 billion would go a long way in the Australian Renewable Energy sector. The public street lighting for every town and city in every state of the country could be converted to off-grid photovoltaic LED for less than that.

That’s a lot of clean and green off grid wattage.

It is heartening to see that the export markets for coal from Australia seem to be diminishing too. China’s use of coal reduced by nearly 3% in 2014 and it seems that a similar or greater number will occur in 2015. This is very consistent with the fact that other countries are investing more and more in renewable energy programs to meet their carbon reduction commitments.

I am not a lone Australian voice hoping that both the global and local regulatory frameworks and the trend towards renewable energy options will soon make new coal mining ventures dinosaurs in the modern era.

I may well be in a majority.

All of the big nations of the world are in the process of escalating the rates they propose to reduce their GHG emissions and these will be committed to at the Paris conference. Commitments of between 30% and 40% by the year 2020 appear to be commonplace and are completely achievable.

The tipping point though is now and it is simply by virtue that there is near parity in the unit production cost of RE against traditional coal or gas generated grid power - with the obvious benefit of no production of carbon.

This tipping will escalate further when a global price on carbon is eventually calculated, priced and traded as a commodity. Carbon pricing is inevitable in some shape or form as governments mandate that the production of it is and should be a cost or penalty through a balance sheet deficit.

Such stimulus incentivizes the big polluters in the Mining and Energy sectors to reduce their carbon footprints.

The technology is certainly there and both governments and capital markets are now investing heavily.

I wait with baited breath to see what number Mr. Abbott and his government come up with in the way of Australia’s GHG reduction targets by 2020 - and I hope that it will be comparable to the EU and the United States and Great Britain and Canada.

It needs to be at least 20% and hopefully more.

I have my doubts though and my concerns.

There’s a lot of clout in coal back home and there has been for a long time.

The poem ‘My Country’ was written by a lady named Dorothea MacKellor. She describes her love of Australia as a great “Sunburnt Country – a land of sweeping plains”.

I love my sun-drenched country too.

It is a huge and mostly empty continent blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a saturation of sunshine.

It is well and truly time that we stop mining the carbon and start mining the sun – on a grandiose scale. We owe it the future generations and our great continent is the perfect place for clean energy.

The days of extracting dirty coal and the vile pollution that comes from the now archaic process of burning this to produce electricity must come to an end if Australia is to play it’s part in saving the planet.

And play our part we must.

The argument that our contribution to Greenhouse Gas emissions is tiny compared to the super powers is now statistically quite incorrect and it just doesn’t cut it.

The coal we dig out of the ground has long burnt in the steel furnaces and power plants of Japan and China and India as well as in our own backyard.

C’mon Australia – lift your game.

I am well and truly pussed off - and I really don’t wish to pretend to be a Kiwi any more.