I would like to think that Australia’s national broadcaster would take-to-task an American who writes a best selling book that is full of factual errors that denigrate Australia. But instead our ABC just keeps giving him more time on radio to tell his tall tales.
Professor Jared Diamond got a great run on ABC radio last June when he was over here promoting his new book ‘Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive’. Then Robyn Williams ran him again on The Science Show a few months later and for a whole hour.
I complained and was given 15 minutes on Ockham’s Razor last November.
I have reviewed his chapter on Australia and shown it to be full of factual errors, click here for the published paper and I list some of the errors at the end of this blog post.
Michael Duffy invited Professor Diamond to debate me on Duffy’s ABC radio program Counterpoint a couple of weeks ago, but the professor declined.
So the ABC gave him a wad of time last Thursday night, again on a Robyn Williams program, In Conversation. Click here for the transcript.
While the program was billed as putting the professor on the spot – it was anything but a tough interview. Indeed Diamond was given more opportunity to tell more tall tales.
These included that unless we change our ways there won’t be any tropical rainforests left in Australia in 30 years time. That’s right – read the transcript!
He also thought it relevant to make the point that “Australia is the first-world country that has the smallest fraction of its land area covered by old-growth forest.” I thought we were also the driest continent on earth after the Antarctic so how relevant is that statistic? Should we turn our coastal rivers inland so that we can grow forest were there is now desert?
He goes on to state that Japan has a much larger percentage of its land mass as old growth forest. I would guess – and perhaps a reader of this blog might do the relevant calculations – that we have a much larger total area of old growth forest than Japan?
And I can’t believe the following claim but would like more information. He said in the interview last Thursday night that:
“Farmers are bringing pressure to bear on other farmers. Again on my last visit to Australia I had a very interesting time with a farmer in South Australia who was telling me that if a farmer who either leases land, or owns land outright is not taking good care of the land for example by over-stocking it, then local farmers put pressure on that farmer to change his or her practices. And in extreme cases my farmer-friend told me, if a farmer continues to abuse his or her land then even if you own it outright your land may be confiscated.”
Can anybody tell me as a comment below, or by separate email, whether there could be any truth in this claim that freehold land can be confiscated in South Australia?
Just a few of the errors:
In the book the professor gets the price of wood chip wrong suggesting we sell it to Japan for US$7 per ton when official statistics show it sells for A$151 per tonne.
He indicates Australian farmers produce less food on a tonnes per hectare basis than most of the rest of the world, but doesn’t specify which crops. If we consider some of our major crops including cotton and rice – well Australian farmers harvest much more than the world average on a tonnes per hectare basis.
We produce on average 7 tonnes of rice per hectare in Australia while the world average is 4 tonnes/ha and Australian rice growers use 50 percent less water for every kilo of rice produced than the world average. In Australia the average yield for cotton is 1,672 tonnes/ha, while the world average is just 638 tonnes/ha – a lot less.
One of the reasons we manage to produce so more cotton per hectare is because our cotton is all irrigated. This is a reason why we don’t produce so much wheat per hectare. We grow a lot of wheat in Australia, but it is not irrigated, so our yields are low relative to much of the rest of the world.
In the book published by Penguin, Professor Diamond claims that, “it is cheaper to grow oranges in Brazil and ship the resulting orange juice concentrate 8,000 miles to Australia than to buy orange juice produced from Australian citrus trees.” Yet official statistics show Australia exports almost three times the quantity of citrus it imports. During the 2003/04 financial year Australian producers exported navel and valencia oranges worth A$107 million.
Indeed, contrary to the impression give by the professor, Australia exports most of the food it produces with crop exports valued at A$13,269 million in 2003/04.
In ‘Collapse’ Diamond states that Australians are cutting down too many trees and as a consequence Australia’s forests will disappear long before our coal and iron reserves. Some forests have been clearfelled, some have been selectively logged, most have regrown. The area of forest is increasing, not reducing. The area of old growth forest protected nationally has increased from 1.2 million hectares to 3.8 millionh hectares since 1996. Tasmania has 43 percent of its total land are protected in reserves, including 82 percent of its rainforest.