I watched Jared Diamond (Californian Professor of Geography, Pulitzer Prize winner for ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’)on the SBS Insight program last night. He is in Australia promoting his new book ‘Collapse’ and was interviewed last night with an audience of mostly farmers about the state of Australian agriculture including the drought.
I was a bit confused by his comments. They didn’t seem consistent with what he has written in the new book.
I have reviewed the chapter on Australia (Ch 13, Mining Australia) for the upcoming June issue of British Journal ‘Energy and Environment’. There are some extracts from this review on the IPA website.
I asked my 16 year old daughter (who hasn’t read his book, but watched the program with me) what she thought. She commented that he seemed vague and was good at avoiding the questions.
In ‘Collapse’ Diamond contends that the Australian environment is generally unproductive and has been irreversibly damaged by European farming, forestry and fisheries practices – and is on the verge of collapse.
I agree that the history of Australian agriculture and fisheries includes some examples of collapse and near collapse, but also examples of spectacular renewal.
Given his book is about “how societies choose to fail or survive” I was surprised that the book doesn’t include discussion of the importance of secure property rights, environmental activism or the role of modern technology.
Diamond did make an interesting comment on ABC Radio National on Monday morning. He said that in writing the book he discovered the important role of the elite in complex societies with collapse of societies resulting when the elite “insulate themselves from the consequences of their own actions”.
I thought of how removed Australia’s elite are from the consequences of many of the recent political decisions to close down industries in rural and regional Australia including fishing and timber.
I have looked for a ‘take away message’ in his book and just keep remembering his advice in the last few paragraphs of the last pages (pg 559-560). He suggests that we should all donate to environmental groups, for example WWF. And I wonder, so the elite can keep campaigning?
In reviewing the chapter on Australia I did look at some of our fisheries statistics. Fishery status reports are available at the AFFA website.
I was concerned to learn that the Southern bluefin tuna fishery is shared with Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea and New Zealand. The total global catch peaked in 1961 at 81,605 tonnes and was then in general decline for three decades. Since 1990 the total catch has ranged from between 13,231 tonnes (1994) to 19,588 tonnes (1999). Stock assessments suggest that the parental biomass is low but stable and unlikely to recover to target levels unless all countries agree to abide by national allocations as determined by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. While Australia apparently operates within its allocation, Japan has not agreed to operate within its allocation, and Indonesia does not recognise the Commission.
I have not found transcripts of any of the interviews he has done so far during this visit to Australia, but he did speak on ABC Radio National in January 2003. At the end of this interview he suggests Bill Gates believes our environmental problems will be solved with technology.