Thoughts, Ramblings and Observations.
The rise in online media in recent years has been a boon for those seeking an independent and alternative source of information outside mainstream news outlets. With such a wealth of information at our fingertips, we are able to become at least moderately informed about any topic within minutes. While this independence brings with it more freedom and flexibility in the issues reported, it also can allow incorrect and downright dangerous anti-science beliefs to take hold, particularly among individuals and groups with limited knowledge or skills required to critically analyse information presented.
Two examples of an anti-science movements that have gained prominence in recent years are the extremely vocal anti-vaccination lobby and climate change denial. Dangerously, both have taken a strong hold in recent years despite an overwhelming body of scientific evidence to the contrary. Two possible reasons for this are a lack of scientific education and knowledge, or simply complete ignorance in support of an agenda or prejudiced viewpoint. In a world that science has greatly improved, we can’t afford to succumb to such viewpoints or we risk going backwards as a society.
The anti-vaccination lobby has been around for a number of years but has grown in strength and voice in recent years with the rise of various online ‘information’ sites, which has seen in a dangerous decline in children’s vaccination rates in Australia to 83% of four year olds - well below the 90% level that ensures community wide protection. This has coincided with an increase in whooping cough cases in recent years from 332 in 1991, to 38601 cases in 2011 (many due to a new, vaccine resistant strain of the disease). The importance of being vaccinated is highlighted by a comparative study published in the American Journal of Pediatrics which found vaccine refusers are 23 times more likely than vaccine accepters to contract Whooping Cough (Glanz et al. 2009) - a strong indication of the effectiveness of immunisation.
There are a number of other ‘facts’ put forward by the anti vaccination lobby which are not substantiated by evidence or worse, are contrary to scientific evidence. The Australian Academy of Science recently released a publication debunking many of the myths pushed by the anti-vaccination lobby, including the downright incorrect link between vaccination and autism.
This is not to say that vaccinations do not come without side effects, but when weighed against the risks of not being immunised these side effects pale into insignificance. An un-immunised child contracting measles is 2000 times more likely to develop encephalitis as a complication in comparison to the risk associated with being immunised.
In scientific circles, vaccination is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. In spite of the evidence, incorrect ideas still take hold to the detriment of children like New Zealand’s Alijah Williams, who recently contracted tetanus and now faces months in hospital after being refused vaccination by his parents. As a society, we owe it to our children to ensure that these diseases are not given a chance and remain a thing of the past.
Climate Change is front and centre of public discussion again after the tragic effects of Hurricane Sandy in North America. One of the unfortunate traits of humanity as a whole is that we are still a very reactive species, and sometimes it takes a major disaster to spur action on any given issue. I am still doubtful whether Sandy is enough of a wake up call.
While it is hard to pinpoint climate change as the cause for a single event, there is one thing most scientists agree on - that climate change systematically caused or worsened Hurricane Sandy, in much the same way that smoking systematically causes lung cancer, or poor diet systematically causes diabetes.
Some effects are relatively obvious in exacerbating the effects of Sandy - the abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic fueling the superstorm. Other effects are more subtle - a high pressure ridge in the absence of the semi-permanent low pressure system over the Arctic this year most likely as a result of the sea ice melt resulted in Sandy making landfall where it usually would have been pushed out sea, causing minimal damage. In Australia, we are seeing the effects also - more severe storms, heat waves and bush fires have been a more common theme in recent years.
These kinds of event are no longer the work of climate models - they are happening now. An interesting study from NASA recently highlighted this - changes in atmospheric humidity are in line with the worst-case scenario climate models - that is, we are looking at a five degree rise in temperature by the end of the century (we have so far seen around 0.8 degrees). The consequences of this are extensive and catastrophic, what we have seen recently across the globe is just the beginning.
We can no longer sit on our hands and take a wait and see approach. The future is now, and the more we delay, the more the costs will increase. It makes both environmental and economic sense to act now, so why not do something about it?
Stories of lives lost at sea are becoming all to common in recent months. One thing it seems everyone can agree on is that this needs to stop, and lives must be protected. Nobody enjoys witnessing tragedy on this scale. People do however disagree on how to solve this issue, and appear to have differing motives for doing so to the point that it is debilitating for parliament.
Amongst all the rhetoric from politicians on both sides, we must ask ourselves as a nation one question:
Should we merely be ‘stopping the boats’, or working to find a genuinely regional solution that offers a holistic approach to meeting the humanitarian needs of asylum seekers, and in particular those deemed as genuine refugees?
We must consider the implications of the motives that seem to be driving current policy.
Currently, the major political parties appear pre-occupied with stopping the boats, or turning them back. Yes, this might satisfy the swinging voter in the outer suburbs concerned about the ‘Asian invasion’, but will it actually assist people in need? Also, importantly but not often considered, how will this effect our relations with neighbouring countries such as Indonesia who are not entirely happy with Australia’s handling of the issue?
Undoubtedly, stopping people from getting on boats means they will not die on sinking boats. However, if we look no further than this, what then? What becomes of the future for these desperate men, women and children seeking a better life away from danger, where they can work and have access to health and education for their own children?
A holistic approach to this issue is needed - we can not simply make it go away.
One thing all parties agree on is increasing Australia’s refugee intake to 20,000 per annum. This would be a good step in removing demand and breaking the business model of money-driven people smugglers, the real enemies in this debate (with the exception of very few claiming to offer safe passage at no profit, a la Oskar Schindler). Given the current deadlock in parliament over the issue, legislating this on its own would be a step in the right direction.
However, this would not be enough to solve the problem. We need to look at the economics of people smuggling. In it’s simplest form, this is a supply and demand issue. If we want to stop people getting on boats, and do so in a humanitarian way, we must ensure there is adequate supply of resettlement places to ease demand for travel by leaky boat. Increasing intake is one part of the solution, but we also must better resource the UNHCR in Indonesia who deal with processing these claims. They are currently greatly under resourced, and as of last week, only 61 refugees had been resettled directly from Indonesia to Australia - vastly inadequate when one considers there are around 10,000 in the ‘queue’ (see more in previous post on queues) to relocate to Australia which offers much better prospects for health, education and employment, particularly given forecast labour shortages as our population ages. Somebody will need to be paying tax to fund all these extra pensions.
When considering this issue, and the fact that there is currently little hope of having claims processed in Indonesia, it is little wonder desperate people try and ‘come in the back door’ as Tony Abbott would put it. We need to start looking at addressing the problem at the source and give people hope of coming to Australia safely - not waiting for people to spend their life savings to get on boats, only to turn them around or send them to Nauru or Malaysia.
Despite all this and the risks involved, jumping on a leaky boat still appeals to desperate families searching for a new life away from oppression. Australia is still seen as a land of opportunity, as it was the English, Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Vietnamese and others many years ago. Judging by the current discussion in the public sphere however, one thing now seems unclear - While still the land of opportunity, is Australia still the land of the Fair Go?
In 1990, Australia’s current shadow minister for climate change, Greg Hunt co-authored an award-winning university thesis titled “A tax to make polluters pay”.
The title says it all.
“Ultimately it is by harnessing the natural economic forces which drive society that the pollution tax offers us an opportunity to exert greater control over our environment.”
Sometime between then and now, his position has clearly changed and is apparent he no longer believes the market is the best way to tackle this issue.
We know that market-based mechanisms work based on past experience. In the United States when acid rain was a major issue in the 1980s, a market-mechanism was proposed and met with the same criticisms currently being levelled at the carbon tax. When The Clean Air Act was introduced in 1990, businesses took the approach that meant the lowest possible cost to reduce their SO2 pollution.
The end result was that the problem was addressed at around a third of the projected cost and the environmental and social costs were minimised.
So why has Greg Hunt changed his attitude toward market-based economics?
What does it say about a nation when it is more concerned about offending an ally than protecting it’s own citizens?
This is very much the perception in the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who this week had to turn to Ecuador as a result of Australia’s own inaction and failure to seek guarantees from Sweden and the United States about his safety.
It raises very serious questions when one of our brightest thinkers and most prominent activists for justice and transparency is effectively abandoned by our own government in light of calls for his assassination by American politicians. We must not forget Assange has acted as any journalist would, by reporting the information that becomes available and has not been found guilty or charged with a crime in any jurisdiction.
Is Australia just a puppet of the USA? It seems more and more the case every time a case like this arises and it is up to us as citizens to let our government know we must put the interests of our own citizens ahead of those of foreign powers.
I grew up believing marriage is about love, but now that I have grown up I am confused. We live in a world where marriages are still forced upon women (and children) against their own will, and where people get married for any number of reasons other than love, while a loving gay couple can not recognise their bond through marriage. So much for the sanctity of marriage?
There is no good reason why a person should be denied the same rights as others because of their sexuality. The current illegality of same sex marriage does not stop relationships from happening. People are born with their sexuality, just like their skin colour, and denying the same rights is a harmful form of discrimination akin to apartheid South Africa.
For anyone serious about protecting the freedom of individuals, legalising same sex marriage should be a top priority. Lets make Australia a fairer place, where two people can legally recognise their love for one another, and end this discrimination. Love knows no boundaries.
I was shocked and disappointed at the decision by Labor to break its promise to increase foreign aid to 0.5% of GNI by 2015, for a number of reasons. According to some estimates, the $2.9 Billion cut from aid could have saved 290,000 lives over the next four years, but to Labor it seems funding fuel subsidies for billionaire miners is more important.
The 21st century is the Asian century and as a tool to ensure our own security and prosperity in these changing times, foreign aid is vital. Educated, healthy children overseas are far less likely to be brainwashed by extremists with a hatred for the west, and far more likely to get jobs, be more productive and earn more money. Richer, friendly neighbours also mean better export opportunities for Australian business and more Australian jobs. Foreign aid not only saves lives, but it is far cheaper than conflict and makes for good long term economic & diplomatic policy as well.
So while 290,000 people are effectively left for dead, the mining industry will help itself to $9.4 billion in tax breaks (over $4,000 worth of free fuel every minute for four years), the vast majority of which will go top up profits for the foreign investors who own 83% of Australia’s mining industry. This is a broken promise that will mean the death of many thousands of the worlds poorest people.