The federal electoral urgings of the Australian Academy of Science are pretty much what you’d expect. It wants more funding for science, technology and engineering. This will ‘drive innovation and growth into the future’, it says.
The Academy is oh-so-keen on economic growth. It says, “More than three decades of exponential growth in Australia’s per-capita GDP is tapering, and if nothing changes Australia will fall out of the G20 within 15 years.”
But wait! Wasn’t this same Academy sponsoring a Green anti-growth agenda as it cranked up its Fenner Conference on the Environment less than two years ago? The conference, at the University of NSW, was titled, “Addicted to Growth? How to move to a Steady State Economy in Australia.” The Academy approves, brands and seed-funds these annual Fenner gigs at up to $10,000 a time.
The conference flier reads: “Novelist Edward Abbey once noted that ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell’. Our economy is meant to be a ‘servant of society’, not its master, yet is this true today? On a finite planet nothing physical can keep on growing forever – yet that is the ideology of the ‘endless growth’ neoclassical economics that now dominates the thinking of most governments and business. This has led to a rapidly worsening environmental crisis that degrades the nature on which we all depend. We cannot keep avoiding talking about this issue – hence the need for such a conference…”
The Academy has no economics expertise. But it promotes the eco-catastrophism of the global warming religion, having failed to notice that there has been negligible warming for two decades,[i], contrary to all the scary stuff from the IPCC computer modelling.
When common-sense flew out the Academy windows, the leadership became suckers for any variety of green ideology, such as divestment last year of its fossil fuel shares (but continued unprincipled use of fossil-fuel-powered electricity).
Dr Frank Fenner, after whom the conferences are named, was himself a mega-catastrophist, saying warming will make us extinct and whatever we do now is too late. He played a leading post-war role in defeating the scourges of smallpox, TB and Australia’s rabbit plague. He also set up a perpetual endowment fund to support Academy conferences on the environment.[ii]
The Academy’s conference organisers[iii] welcomed multiple green warriors to its platform, such as an ex-strategy adviser to the Green’s Bob Brown, and various home-grown and overseas eco-lunatics. Some were strongly opposed to a zero-growth economy. That’s because they preferred economic contraction.
Speaker Haydn Washington of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy quoted Ted Trainer, guru of the “simplicity movement”, who lusts for a 90% drop in Australian living standards:
“(P)resent rich world levels of consumption are grossly unsustainable and we will probably have to reduce them by something like 90% if we are to achieve a sustainable and just world. Most people concerned about the state of the planet don’t seem to realise how huge the changes would have to be.”
Trainer’s “necessary and non-negotiable radical restructure of our society” would involve complete elimination of growth, eradication of the profit motive except for little firms and co-ops, and shifting of ‘just about all’ economic activity to small-scale, local and highly self-sufficient enterprises. In frugal, cooperative sufficiency we would find true happiness, he urged. We would work for money only two days a week and have the other five days for arts, crafts and personal growth amid a “leisure-rich landscape” and supportive community.
Speaker Erik Assadourian from Worldwatch Institute, was described as “spending a lot of his time raising his toddler son to prepare him for the ecological transition and civilizational collapse most likely in our future.”
The conference was opened by the ABC’s Science Show man Robyn Williams AM FAA, who boasted that, as he was an Academy Fellow, he was a fit person to represent the Academy there. He also claimed that he hadn’t bought any clothes for at least ten years, preferring hand-me-downs, and that he didn’t own a car or mobile phone.
Williams said that in the same year, 1972, that he joined the ABC, he had attended reverentially at the Canberra launch of the Club of Rome and their [failed] Limits to Growth shtick. He was unpersuaded by an odd-man-out speaker there, John Stone of Federal Treasury, who had said [correctly] “that it was all bullshit”.[iv]
Graeme Maxton, from the Club of Rome itself, spoke via video link to the UNSW show. Gushed the organisers: “A thinker of astonishing depth and breadth.”
Robyn Williams, who thinks it clever to threaten punters that global warming will kill their kittens and puppies in 2023, was followed by keynote speaker Dr Brian Czech from the Washington Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. Czech’s theme was ‘Steady State – the time is now’.
Czech opined that down-shifting to no-growth frugality was beneficial in the same way that oppressing smokers from the 1970s did wonders for their own health. Economic policy instruments such as the Fed’s interest rate should be re-oriented against rather than towards GDP growth. The economy downsizing would start with the wealthy nations that could afford it, while making room via United Nations and G20 initiatives for poor countries to do some equitable catch-up. “You solve the poverty problem through contraction and convergence,” he concluded, a little enigmatically.
There were plenty more glum speakers on topics like “Why the growth economy is broken” and “How can civilization survive?”.
Westminster democracy was distinctly passé. Someone called Professor Herman Daly, billed as “Father of the term, Steady State Economy”, was cited for his bright idea for elections in “an ideal democracy”. Each political party would produce a manifesto of equal length. The media would be restricted to covering only debate on the manifestos. “I would be tempted to also recommend that discussion be limited to the written and spoken word — print and radio, including via the Internet,” Daly said. “No TV or posters or other advertising images of good-looking faces, cute babies, or evil monsters.”
University students were given the “exciting opportunity” to contribute posters and abstracts on “eco and social justice”, “over-consumption”, and “transition strategies” towards the zero-growth nirvana.
For stress relief, attendees got music from a group called Wind Energy (“The Lorax’s Lament” and “Earthrise”) and after dinner, they got zingers from Rod Quantock, “an award-winning comedian” who’s been blathering about climate catastrophe for the past decade.
Perhaps I need to remind you again that this event was brought to you by the most august group of scientists we have, the Australian Academy of Science. Anyway, I hope the election winner gives them more money, although the first tranche should be allocated to teaching them some elementary economics.
Tony’s new book, That’s Debatable – 60 years in print is available here
[i] Other than the natural el-Nino induced warming in the past year
[ii] Fenner shared the 1988 Japan Prize of 500m Yen ($A6.5m in today’s money) for preventative medicine. It has Nobel-like status but is for applied science.
[iii] The conference was run by the UNSW, the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy ( NSW Chapter), and the Institute for Land, Water and Society.
[iv] Stone says the Club of Rome founders, including the heads of VW and Fiat, had lined up eminent Australians to applaud their ‘limits to growth’ theory, and he was delegated by Treasury Secretary Fred Wheeler to attend. “I got up and tore into them and some in the audience were terribly upset at the sacrilege. However, I also got some congratulations including from Labor MHR Dick Klugman who was then in New York at the UN. A year later we put out Treasury White Paper No 2, ‘Economic Growth: Is it Worth Having’ . It rubbished the Club’s case and I’m pleased to say that then-Treasurer Frank Crean did not mind us publishing it.”