Wednesday, 27 July 2011

An urban dead sea?

In today’s issue of Time, there is a story of how the excessive use of the Jordan River has reduced the level of the Dead Sea by as much as twenty-seven metres since 1980. It also says that the extraction of potash for the making of fertilisers has contributed significantly to this reduction, which almost rivals that of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Whilst the rains of 2010 and 2011 have eased the problems with the Coorong at least for the moment, in southwestern Australia the situation has got creepily bad to say the least. So altered is Australia’s climate by global warming that in the year from April 2010 to March 2011 the lowest rainfalls were as far south as Corrigin in the heart of the Western Australian wheatbelt.

The map presented here from the Bureau of Meteorology shows that if we make our judgments based on the location of the area of lowest rainfall, then Australia’s rain belts have shifted about eight degrees poleward from their pre-anthropogenic-global-warming location (represented by the year from April 1955 to March 1956 with similar positive SOI values for realistic comparison). Most of the rainfalls observed in the super-monsoon belt today have no parallels even during the wettest years before man-made global warming took over. However, this is not likely to create new species very quickly: it is simply likely to expand monsoonal vineforests at the expense of tropical grasslands. Monsoon forests occur when there are wet and dry seasons and the wet season is longer than the dry season, a situation observed definitely in Darwin today when the wet season of 2010/2011 broke the pre-anthropogenic-global-warming record by a whopping 780 millimetres, or thirty-one inches – more than the average annual rainfall in most of Australia.

The result has been that Perth’s water storages, and indeed all rivers in the southwest of Western Australia, have become the same thing as the Dead Sea. Moreover, because in the pre-anthropogenic-global warming age southwestern Australia’s rivers – even if clearing for grain production made those in drier areas saline – were able to support life, the loss stands much, much larger. The western swamp tortoise has already survived artificially for thirty-five years – its existence depends on levels of runoff not seen in southwestern Australian rivers since 1974 when the CO2 level was 100ppm lower and climatic belts about eight degrees closer to the equator.

Ian Smith, the main CSIRO climatologist, has said that the same trends have occurred in the Middle East, though I do not have rainfall data to say how they compare with what is observed in southwestern Australia. Still, if there is anything in common between them, then we really are faced with the need to restrict water use in hot climates. The trouble is that it is much more economic to farm in hotter climates than in cooler ones because:
  1. more crops can be grown per year, so that even if yields per single crop are lower, total yields on the same amount of land can be higher
  2. higher-value crops can be grown in hotter climates than in cooler ones since the most valuable crops – which of course do not grow naturally in large numbers – are in the more biodiverse hot regions
This creates serious economic problems since cool climates tend to be much less fragile and less greenhouse-intensive to live in than really hot ones. (Even though properly cold climates require large amounts of energy for heating, they always have reliable hydroelectric power to produce it, which hot climates rarely do). Nonetheless, the need to avoid the disasters that have already occurred within an expanding tropical belt is something that really should worry people in cool climates who are willing to realise that a major focus on global environmental concerns means growing local even if it means a less high living standard.

Monday, 25 July 2011

How the tsunami has revealed a crisis

According to today’s Bangkok Post, the March tsunami has actually had the serious problem of exacerbating the demographic crisis that has been hitting Japan over the past thirty years.

Whilst the statistics are familiar, what is new is the fact that Japan, despite its exceptionally high population density from the richest fisheries in the Earth’s geological history, and its reputation for encouraging older people to continue working as long as they are physically able to do so, is suffering from an acute labour shortage that will only get worse as the proportion of its population of working age declines by fifteen percent over the next forty years.

The remedies offered, however, really do not look at the problems of Japan’s land scarcity or even the issue of whether government spending is the cause of Japan’s appallingly low fertility, especially with the extreme scarcity of usable land to complement its super-rich seas. Although Wendell Cox says:
As for agricultural subsidies… they would not be the cause of higher housing prices, in my view, unless they block the construction of housing. The subsidies themselves are unlikely to raise the price of land sufficiently to make it too expensive to purchase for home building.
firsthand experience in Japan certainly does suggest to me that agricultural subsidies, which encourage part-time farmers to remain working on very small plots with low-value crops like rice, are blocking the construction of housing that would alleviate Japan’s high prices and most likely increase its birth rate at least somewhat. I have not researched this question myself, but the extent of Japan’s farm subsidies is such that one can doubt Wendell Cox’s claim: rice prices are set orders of magnitude above the world level and imports are very severely restricted. Still, the long-term consequences for Japan of industrialisation are at the same time:
  1. more severe than other Enriched World nations due to the country’s lack of flat land for its large population
  2. very different because, like the rest of East Asia it has the paradox that:
    1. like the polar regions, much of its economy was dependent on fishing rather than agriculture
    2. but owing to the humid, hot summers it could grow at high yields crops designed for hot climates
This has profound effects on Japan’s post-industrial demographics, because the ability of fishing to support communities without demographic decline is in fact weaker even than farming. Even in the cold and rich North Pacific, fisheries cannot compete economically with extensive pastoralism as a protein source, no matter what Martin Taylor might say about government aid to Australia’s pastoralists. Thus, it would take a lot of thought to see how to make Japan’s main natural resource valuable enough to allow for family formation and encourage a less materialistic culture. This is especially true when one considers that the ethos of East Asian culture has been less hostile to materialism than Christianity.

The terrible dilemma for Australia

Yesterday’s Age had the depressing note that the carbon tax - however inadequate and misguided it is - is going to be overthrown most likely at the next election, with Labor’s primary vote down to a record low 26 percent and Gillard’s preferred Prime Minister down to 39 percent. Most of this is clearly over the issue of a carbon tax - which like the far more efficacious mining tax that cost Rudd his job, is a too-late effort to deal with Australia’s dreadful greenhouse gas emissions.

It is rather pointless to think what Australia will be like under Abbott in the long-term future, but simple demographic shifts to growing outer suburbs do point to the potential long-term demise of the Labor and Green parties, whose support is very dependent upon low-fertility academic communities in the inner city. With the carbon tax eliminated and threats to mining company power gone, Australia’s still-unexplored mineral resources (on left-wing political websites one never hears of any new mineral finds or of campaigns to stop proposed exploration abroad) will be able to carry out such greenhouse-emitting steps as:
  • coal production in the Namoi Valley
  • oil exploration in Ningaloo Reef
  • underground coal gasification in the Flinders Ranges
Taken together, these will increase Australia’s advantage in terms of cheap and abundant energy, and raise further the discrepancy in fertility between the car-dependent suburbs and the less conservative inner city (representative of the rest of the OECD). What this will mean over the long term is:
  1. that Australia’s carbon emissions continue to rise as its cities develop into some of the largest in the world by area and even population
    • it has been forecast that both Sydney and Melbourne will be among the five largest cities in the OECD by 2050 as larger European cities decline
  2. that as countries elsewhere in the world shift under scarcity and political pressure to renewable energy Australia retains an abundant supply of fossil fuels to fund its population at energy efficiencies possibly even lower than today
    • especially since a hotter climate means higher household energy use from air conditioning
  3. that the often-ridiculous laws being implemented (such as the recent fatty food tax in Hungary) in the Enriched World serve further to encourage migration to the very national that ecologically can least afford it.
  4. that even if Abbott really is serious about his criticisms of excessive immigration, that his opposition to artificial birth control can be enforced to produce higher birth rates as it cannot in the Enriched World.
    • thus, Australia’s birth rate, which at present is higher than that of other OECD nations but not exceptional, could easily become the highest outside sub-Saharan Africa under Abbott
    • thus, Australia’s already excessive population could well grow even more rapidly than demographic models currently predict, even as the declines in Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand precede as expected
  5. if this is the case, Australia would be able to maintain its present very high electricity and fuel consumption without having the problems of:
    1. importing fuel or electricity
    2. excessive housing prices from a lack of flat, unfrozen land
The problems for Australia’s already endangered soils and ecosystems this likely scenario poses are severe to say the least.

Even if the vastly increased rainfall over the arid interior, which the super-monsoon has already brought, does bring increased pastoral yields in the short term, there is no likelihood this can continue because once rainfall reaches 900 millimetres per flood season, soil fertility will necessarily decline from the intense leaching of the cracking clays upon which the pastoral industry originated.

In the former winter rainfall zones of southern Australia, the situation is even worse. Even if the super-monsoon brings significant October to April rainfall to the southeast, the likely loss of the peaty soils through this super-monsoon rain will mean much lower runoff to rainfall ratios in the alpine catchments like the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Goulburn, Snowy, LaTrobe/Thomson and Yarra, as I show here. In southwestern Australia, anthropogenic global warming has, if we use 2010 streamflows as a guide, reduced runoff by an astonishing ninety-six percent. Even rivers such as the Warren which before anthropogenic greenhouse emissions flowed year-round would become dry streambeds that would not flow even after rare heavy storms should this scenario eventuate. This illustrates a deadly effect of Australia’s old soils: vegetation of wetter climates can actually absorb enough water under anthropogenically reduced rainfall to cause runoff reductions that would not occur under an extraordinarily rare natural drought. Only when the vegetation of drier climates moves to southwestern Australia would occasional heavy cyclonic rains (like April 2008) produce significant runoff.

These threats are terrifying - as much as the pathetic response of ordinary Australians to the small long-term costs of the mining tax. Similarly terrifying is how Europe and China mingle over their own emissions without realising that in the long term there is a far more pressing threat even if they can achieve zero emissions.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My prediction for the 2011/2012 Rock Hall ballot

For the past two years, I have during each winter predicted what artists will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following summer and autumn. I will admit my predictions have been terribly wrong: for both 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 I got a mere two candidates right. Still, I feel as though I should continue making these predictions since I enjoy learning from the debates that result and from people with more experience dealing with the influence of important rock artists - which I never saw during my cloistered childhood in suburban Melbourne.

The 2011/2012 Rock Hall ballot is highly notable because of its critical quality for backlog artists who have been seriously considered for some time but have not been elected in or even reached the ballot. In 2012/2013, a number of critical artists of the radical Bush Senior era (the rap revolution) become eligible and for a number of years I have strongly felt 2012/2013 shall see more newly eligible artists than any year since the “punk revolution” class of 2002/2003, when the success of newer artists became rather constrained by the conflict between critical reputation and the stiflingly restrictive policies of major labels and commercial radio, which punk produced in the US.

There is at this stage not the slightest evidence that any artist newly eligible for 2010/2011 was ever discussed by the Nominating Committee. 2011/2012, however, I have always seen as having two artists certain to be considered very seriously in Guns‘n‘Roses and Soundgarden. Both of these groups were key artists in the late 1980s heavy rock scene: Guns‘n‘Roses recycled the scariest moments of rock, whilst Soundgarden made heavy rock more melodic than anyone before without losing emotion. There is also Salt‘n‘Pepa, whom Digital Dream Door said deserved it but of whom I have no belief they could be inducted before rappers on the current backlog, especially as they lack credibility in critical terms. Eric B and Rakim are a little better respected critically but are also unlikely to get in before backlog rap artists.

In looking at the 2011/2012 Rock hall ballot, I will assume the Nominating Committee is not going to allow any further artists on the ballot as it has been doing lately. The effect of key Bush Senior Era artists starting to become eligible will not really be seen until 2012/2013, and my predictions are for the following fifteen artists to make the 2011/2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot:

- Chuck Willis: A long-praised pioneer rhythm and blues artist with hits “C.C. Rider”, “Betty and Dupree”, “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes” and the number nine “What Am I Living For”, Willis may be undergoing a major revival that ought to see him on this year’s ballot. He influenced Buddy Holly and Otis Redding in later years.

- Joe Tex: Nominated for the fourth time in 2010/2011, Joe Tex’s vocal style has been seen by many as a precursor to the spoken-word vocals of rap. He was not commercially successful until a decade after he first recorded, but in the late 1960s Tex was a key performed in the soul arena and it is likely he will keep getting chances until induction.

- The Five Satins: In the shuffle of vocal groups, the Satins, chiefly known for “In The Still of the Night”, should have a strong chance of making the ballot for the first time. They defined the meaning of “doo wop” with their chief hits “In the Still of the Night” and “To the Aisle”, and influenced many later vocal groups.

- The Moody Blues: The first progressive rock group - later like so many to have overblown pop hits after the “punk revolution” tightened up record company and commercial radio playlists - the Moody Blues seem likely to have a chance this year after Genesis were inducted for 2009/2010. They have often been critically derided but writers like Mark Prindle suggest this is less general than I thought.

- Donovan: The second long-eligible artist to be nominated despite never having been seriously discussed by the Nominating Committee after Leonard Cohen in 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 (inducted), Donovan has long been seen by outsiders as deserving of the Rock Hall due to his success as part of the psychedelic Zeitgeist in the 1960s, although he has not retained a great critical reputation and has recorded only four albums since 1976.

- Captain Beefheart: His death, if we look at the history of reappraisals of dead rock musicians, could well help him to get onto the ballot after having been for a long time considered without a nomination. His disciple Tom Waits’ 2010/2011 induction would give Beefheart a much better chance of getting in the Hall if he is nominated than I thought beforehand, too.

- Laura Nyro: Being a big fan and a semi-regular at her sites, I need to be careful, but despite the reasonable and severe criticism of her nomination by Sampson, it does seem likely that her influence - which is I must admit concentrated outside the mainstream of commercial and critical success - seems to be seen as strong enough to keep her on the ballot whilst the Bush Senior era revolutionaries are ineligible. It may not be enough to get her in whilst she has her chance, but so original an artist would be most welcome in the Hall.

- The J. Geils Band: One which seems likely more because of the enormous support from Dave Marsh, Steve Van Zandt and Jon Landau than because of their critical or even commercial reputation, the J. Geils Band (actually fronted by Peter Wolf who later had a solo career and co-wrote “We Built This City” with Bernie Taupin) are widely rumoured to be a frontrunner for 2011/2012 induction so I cannot leave them off despite their lack of influence and not even a single Grammy for their popularity.

- KISS: One group on the Rock Hall backlog which has had a lot of pressure in its favour, KISS have often been seen as unlikely. However, their immense commercial success in the 1970s and their essential role in the development of pop metal makes KISS an important part of rock and roll history.

- Chic: More critically respected (and in my own experience more listenable) than most acts of the disco era, Chic have been, like Sabbath and the Stooges, consistently on the ballot but opposed by a sufficient number of voters to prevent them from getting in. It seems that in this circumstance it is almost impossible for an artist to be fully rejected, so Chic would have to be likely.

- The B‘52s: New Wave is one genre of substantial popular support which I have not otherwise catered for on this ballot, and the B‘52s, as the most commercially successful act form that genre not in the Hall of Fame, have a good chance this year. Although their true leader was keyboardist Fred Schneider, it would be interesting to see how the presence of two women affects their chances.

- Afrika Bambaataa: The most important hip hop pioneer with their song “Planet Rock”, Afrika Bambataa have long been the only artist first eligible in 2005/2006 to have had a chance. He may not be well-known to the general public beyond his signature song, but that signature song, which was number two hundred and thirty seven on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 songs, is sufficient to make his place in rock history and give him one nomination already. Another seems surely likely.

- The Beastie Boys: Essential as one of the first artists to popularise rap despite being the only significant white rappers until Eminem emerged in the 2000s, the Beasties are also of critical importance in the way in which their sampling of metal groups like AC/DC paved the way for the link between metal and rap that is an often overlooked part of the radical Bush Senior era culture. They were nominated in 2007/2008 and 2010/2011, so it would be predicted the Beasties will appear again this year.

- The Red Hot Chili Peppers: As one of the premier modern rock acts, the Chili Peppers were nominated in 2009/2010 but missed out in 2010/2011. However, it would be hard to see them not having another shot in the near future, despite the fact that the Nominating Committee membership, now better known than before, does not have anyone under forty who might have been exposed to more modern genres of music.

- Guns‘n‘Roses: Although extremely derivative in their musical style, Guns‘n‘Roses were critically and popularly praised during the late 1980s for recycling the scarier moments of the Rolling Stones and 1970s Aerosmith. They attracted a lot of controversy in what was to be a highly controversial age with the cover of their mega-selling album Appetite for Destruction, still acclaimed as one of the best heavy metal albums ever. Their reputation as recyclers of what the critics who make up the Nominating Committee see as the essence of rock give them a strong chance.
If the fifteen artists listed above fail to make the 2011/2012 ballot, it will likely by because one or more of the following artists gets on:

- The “5” Royales: On the ballot in 2001/2002 and 2003/2004, the “5” Royales are the most famous of the doo-wop groups so beloved of the Nominating Committee that have not actually made it. Another chance may well be coming.

- Dick Dale: A commercially unsuccessful guitar god, regarded as the prototype of the whole persona, I have tended to see Dale as a left-field choice for the Rock Hall backlog for some time. With no genuine guitar gods on my list, this may provide Dick Dale with a space of his own.

- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Described as the inventor of jamming in a rock context with their eleven-minute “East West” and eight minute “Work Song”, Butterfield and his band have already reached the 2005/2006 ballot despite never reaching the Top 50 on Billboard, which shows the influence they had in the following few years. Another nomination for somebody so influential on hippie jam bands is not improbable.

- The MC5: After the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, the MC5 are the third in a trio of critically lauded underground bands who were the ancestors of the “punk revolution” in the late 1970s. Nominated in 2002/2003, the induction of the Stooges has not yet given their Detroit brethren another chance, but it may soon.

- Deep Purple: Often thought of as a very bad snub by the Hall, the problem with Purple is the small output of their classic Mark II lineup and the number of personnel changes they have had. If it could be decided to induct only the Mark II line-up they would have the most genuien chance.

- Jethro Tull: If as happened in 2010/2011 the Rock Hall in the absence of newly eligible candidates chooses to put one from deep in the backlog, Tull would have a strong chance. The presence of a small number of instantly recognised monuments from early in their career (“Living in the Past”, “Bungle in the Jungle”, Thick as a Brick, Aqualung) may help them over arguably better qualified candidates.

- The Last Poets: Will the movement towards the beginnings of the Bush Senior era and the rap revolution lead to a re-consideration of a key prototype of hip-hop, who reached number twenty-nine on Billboard with their first album but did not draw attention until rap’s influence became obvious? Maybe, I say, given the way Rolling Stone has focused on rap to much criticism in recent years.

- Donna Summer: The most successful act of the frequently derided disco era, Summer has already had many nominations without an induction. Such a situation has been observed ever since the Rock Hall was first created to ultimately give all but the oldest artists (who thus might not be known to younger voters) a certain pass into the Hall.

- The Cure: An artist who may be passing into favoritism if there is any turnover in the Nominating Committee, the Cure even as it is have a lot going for them as the first “alternative” (I can testify from record stores in the 1990s) group to reach genuine mainstream status.

- Janet Jackson: Although eligible for some time, the way in which Donovan was considered from obscurity last year makes one wonder whether, with her first acknowledged album Control reaching its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, the Nominating Committee might wish to re-consider the most commercially successful singles artist in the US over the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s?

- Soundgarden: The first prominent grunge group, with a unique sense of melody, lyrics that symbolise the Bush Senior era, and a rhythmic complexity that distinguished them from other bands in the genre, Soundgarden have long had critical and commercial respect but the question of whether they are too “metal” for those in the Nominating Committee looms large over their certain credentials.