Friday, February 21, 2020

What Malnutrition Looks Like

Also published at John Menadue's Pearls and Irritations

A few days ago, the first Friday in February to be precise, I was banged up in a building dedicated to my survival. The day had barely begun, and I was already feeling the fickle fingers of boredom flit lightly across my mind. The previous afternoon had been spent in painless slumber, awaking long enough for a bite of dinner before dozing through the evening’s entertainment. It was the bewitching hour, and much to the dismay of the night nurse, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed.

After having waded to page 166, my growing indifference with the book I had brought with me to while away the hours reached a critical mass that saw Mr Brand abandoned to the “who cares” pile. I’d had enough fairy floss, I needed some meat and potatoes. That, and our three-ring circus of the absurd was also back in town. Could Aunty, as she had done on past occasions, come riding to my rescue?

I ponied up my 13 bucks and got the telly turned on. The Royal Perth is a venerable teaching hospital and patient internet is a mostly un-needed luxury. With my phone reduced to on-board games, I ruefully contemplated last century’s technology. I scrolled through the 1300 infomercials and product placements of early morning network scheduling in search of the facts that can and often do trump fiction.

I was eventually rewarded with a reference to the put down of the week, politics is, after all, a blood sport. A rambunctious general turned politician had been put in his box a couple of days before by a scientist who had had a gut full. And as the repetition of the 24-hour news channel began to pall, ABC Breakfast, from another stall in the informed Aunt’s stable, arrived with a little bit more variety in her saddle bags.

Not being a regular viewer, the comfort of a studio just ten paces from a coffee machine voiced several times by the live cross reporter in the wind and rain was an irony that almost matched General George Custer’s speed fetish at Little Big Horn. A running jest that only became apparent during the closing credits.

For, you see, the aforementioned coffee machine is located in the foyer of our sometimes-cavalier Aunt’s Southbank home. The studio coach was just those 10 referenced paces from the machine now basking in its 15 minutes.  And when the symphony of reversing trucks and passing trams reached a crescendo, pre-recorded packages were dispatched post-haste forcing mine hosts to play catch-up on live TV. A game they had been playing for two months as they awaited a purpose-built facility.

It is to the presenters’ credit that their skills in dancing to this improvised melody were such that they could serenely maintain a professional façade.

For it is those who can perform under duress, be it a bushfire, a dissembling politician or just turning over rocks, some of which often require serious digging, that Aunty respects and nurtures. It is little wonder that some of the industry’s most talented are joining the regiment.  And those who have successfully ridden with her for some time can easily find a ride at other stations, should they so choose. 

It is these skills that make Aunty not only a national treasure but an essential service. Aunty is there when your phone is not. She can fight on foot as well as on horseback, which she so ably displayed during the east coast’s recent conflagration. When the environment punches back, it is good to know we have her in our corner.

That we allow our politicians to ignore this evidence, is at our own peril. Be it through the blindness, the pettiness or the avarice of these elected leaders, we will be the losers if we allow it to continue. It is the ABC who should be gold plated not the poles and wires. Not only do we need our best people in the saddle, we need the best horses to carry them into battle.  Be it television, radio, or the internet, the infrastructure they require must be given to them in a timely manner.

This lack of resources became apparent at the close of that Friday morning broadcast. A panoramic view of the make-shift studio was followed by a shot of the six-member cast wandered down a corridor leading into the bowels of the building, one hoped to their dressing rooms. Michael Rowland’s wave goodbye underscored the poignancy of the moment. It was a powerful piece of television that the old girl does so well.

We cannot afford to repeat General Custer’s mistake and leave the artillery in a field far away. Nor should we underestimate the ruthless determination of our current foe.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Time to Act is Upon Us

In amongst the sleaze and the glitter of his second memoir, the self- obsessed jester, Russell Brand, drops the observation; “Do we humans yet properly understand the notion of the future? It doesn’t seem that we do.”  Whilst written with a British tabloid audience in mind it is an equally pertinent character trait applicable to those of us who qualify as Scott Morrison’s “Quiet Australians.”

Take my mate Joe’s eldest son, a millennial father of three, all under 10, for example. Gifted a solar roof installation by an indulgent parent instead of doubled down of his good fortune, Joe’s son has elected to install a swimming pool in his postage stamp outer suburban backyard. This $30 thousand home improvement is justified by a) ensuring his offspring’s aquatic enjoyment is enhanced at this early age and b) how it will increase the resale value of his property. Consideration of the future advantages of electric power security is relegated to an afterthought that vies with dreams of being a contestant on a televised gymnastic game show.

This exhibit A in the Morrison catalogue holds its future in their own hands. Not so much at the voting booth but in their willingness to turn the ubiquitous they into a personal us. Like the pundits and the government there seems to be a reluctance to embrace this level of responsibility.

As the father of the Goons, Spike Milligan, wrote almost 50 years ago.

They chop down 100ft trees
To make chairs
I bought one
I am six-foot one inch
When I sit in the chair
I'm four foot two.
Did they really chop down a 100ft tree
To make me look shorter?

Yes Spike, I’m afraid they did. So, sit back, relax, put your feet up. Turn on the tennis. Oh, a politician has been caught with their fingers in till. Or as Mr Eliot so eloquently wrote a hundred years ago “another bank defaulter has confessed.” That will give the pundits something to jaw about. And a pandemic, well that’s not our fault. Fortunately, our world class medical profession is up to the task, they’ve won that match before and for the most part they’re steeped in integrity. So, “Don’t you worry about that.” BTW, who is this week’s winner of Australian Ninja Worrier?

Australia is a relaxed country, an indulgent country, we take great pride in our comfortable, laid-back reputation. Even a lucky country, if the success that’s been under pinned by the husbandry of our indigenous forebears can be called luck. Very few countries can boast the luxury of an honest low-level public servant bothering to contemplate the merits of personal battery storage or an inground swimming pool. Let alone purchase their considered preference secure in the knowledge that if they go with the luxury item the they will provide an uninterrupted power supply.

Well that is all about to change courtesy of global warming. And we must convince the they to adapt to climate friendly processes and products.

Our governments are struggling, they are not up to the job. For the most part their indulgence is just ours writ large. So, with the situation demanding we change our world, we must first change ourselves. Fortunately, that is something of which we are personally capable, should we so choose. 

Not only must we stand up, we must also dismantle the chair. It is very close to its use by date. If we continue as we are, it will collapse with us sitting in it and that is going to hurt big time. If the current bushfires are any indication, we are even in grave danger of self-immolation. But for the they, if there is a profit to be made, making these chairs will continue to be their raison d’être. We need to tell them to stop.

And we must do it in a language they understand. From the homeless dole bludger begging in the street to the chairman of the mob who run the banks, our choices are either to forgo or become DIY experts. To move beyond fossil fuels, we must stop using petrol and become energy independent. If we do that, they will notice, and they will act.

The technology exists to do the latter, if not individually then in concert with our local neighbours. The first is the big ask. We need a transport system that matches our health system. A pedestrian lifestyle is possible in 21st Century Australia, especially in urban Australia, but it’s not all that easy. Although the more people who adopt walking as their primary mode of transport the easier it will become. The joy ride is over, it’s time to put away the toys and become serious.

Climate change has moved in and is here to stay. The future is today on steroids. And like all drugs it has side effects, some of which are deadly. And a tip for Joe’s son, when the time comes to upgrade your accommodation, a house independent of the grid will trump a swimming pool by noticeable order of magnitude. Don’t take my word for it, check out the man with the leather jacket’s response.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

What are they Thinking

To say that a problem is a challenge wearing a hi-vis vest maybe glib, but it does contain an element of truth. One that our governments, both state and federal, would be well advised to investigate as they contemplate the infrastructure needs arising from our spate of climate fires.

At 19,000 and counting, bushfire damaged and destroyed power poles are starting to litter the affected areas of NSW countryside. About which the state government owned electric power distributor, Essential Energy has said “it was looking at replacing destroyed power poles with composite poles, which could withstand high temperatures, and employ other new technology to improve its network.”

Then there is the reputation these necklaces that stretch from town to town are gaining for the part they play in generating bushfires. As reported by the American Electrical Contractor magazine “During the summer of 2018, the Department (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) reported at least 17 more major wildfires that were triggered by power lines.”

In the West examples are emerging of these other new technologies that should become the replacement for the poles and wires that decorate our highways and byways. Utilising solar, batteries and generators, Western Power, the Western Australian State Government owned electrical distribution corporation has started creating micro electrical grids. A 2016 trial of six stand-alone power systems on remote farms in the state’s southwest region has grown to 57 such installations today. And the corporation is currently trialling community sized batteries in a metropolitan setting in Perth’s southern suburb of Mandurah.

Meanwhile further up the coast, 10 hours’ drive from Perth, is Denham, the tourist town and administrative centre for the Shire of Shark Bay. Horizon Power, the State Governments regional electrical power enterprise, is installing a 500w solar farm to power a hydrogen electrolyser to back up the four wind turbines that currently supply 60% of the town’s electricity.  It is hoped that this micro power grid will replace the town’s old diesel generators and supply all the town’s electrical needs.

And in the last six years over three million solar-battery storage systems, that have had a positive effect on 16 million people, have been installed in rural Bangladesh. A pioneer in the micro finance movement, micro solar systems are a natural fit. And the combination of these two systems has seen the creation of nano and micro grids. Utilising peer-2-peer networks Bangladeshis trade electricity, each according to their needs.

With these baby steps in the First world and toddling ones in the Third, one cannot help but wonder what our Federal Government is thinking. Encouraging investment in coal assets will see them become at best stranded, as feared by the ANZ bank amongst others, or at worst a major contributor in our impending suicide. And the high temperature resistant composite power poles are just a continuation of the short sighted, business as usual mindset that saw firefighting experts ignored by the Federal Government.

One can only hope that NSW will in its turn ignore their big brother and embrace the adoption of the small-scale other technology that improves its network rather than more of the same poles and wires technology fed by fossil fuel behemoths.