Category Archives: Quote of the day

Quote: “The earth is what we all have in common”


Quote of the day from the American poet, activist and author Wendell Berry.

Berry has written extensively on politics, the environment and the disruptive impact of agribusiness on traditional values and communities in the United States. Many have called him a contemporary William Faulkner due to the power of his prose.

While I do not agree with all of Berry’s views, it is not possible to deny his powerful prose style and nuanced thinking on a range of issues.

One of Berry’s concepts is “solving for patterns”, outlined in his 1981 essay of the same name. While the essay makes extensive reference to solving problems inherent with contemporary agricultural practices, I think his approach to problem solving has broader application.

In essence: when devising solutions do not consider them in isolation, but try to address many issues and remain mindful of the impacts:

“A good solution improves the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern – it is a qualitative solution – rather than enlarging or complicating some part of a pattern at the expense or in neglect of the rest.”

And that:

“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems. I am talking about health as opposed to almost any cure, coherence of pattern as opposed to almost any solution produced piecemeal or in isolation.”

When one considers the challenge climate change presents, “solving for patterns” is a concept well worth exploring.

Image source: Ilya Genkin (Flicker)

Quote of the day: plugging into a medieval mistrust of scientists


Fairfax environment editor Ben Cubby is one of the better journalists working in the MSM. Quote of the day goes to Cubby in this piece gleefully ripping apart Abbott’s obtuse comments about “invisible markets”:

Best of all, “invisible substance” plugs into a medieval mistrust of scientists and their incomprehensible powers. The sentence links these modern-day alchemists together with the shadowy financiers who would run the so-called markets, trading invisibility while we pay for it. 

Or something. It suggests that Abbott is prepared to wear some public ridicule in exchange for speaking directly to that part of his supporter base that is unmoved by scientific evidence about global warming. 

Never mind that the Coalition is proposing to spend about $10 billion of the public’s money fighting an “invisible substance”. 

That can be hidden behind its earthy rhetoric of “direct action” and a “green army” getting its hands dirty with a hard day’s practical work. 

What the Coalition is really trying to do is wrest back control of the language of climate change, because if it can control the language, and debate on its own terms, it can win. 


Ben nails it.

Abbott doesn’t care about the science, and will happily wage war on scientists.

Dang it Ben, I wish I’d written that.

/golf clap


QoD: The Gorilla is everything humanity is not

In referring to Life on Earth in the last post, I could not help but recall the incredible scene in which David Attenborough confronts the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

In one of the most amazing and beautiful scenes in television history, Attenborough reflects upon humanity and how we have unfairly characterised the gorilla as brutish:

“There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know. Their sight, their hearing, their sense of smell are so similar to ours that they see the world in much the same way as we do. We live in the same sort of social groups with largely permanent family relationships. They walk around on the ground as we do, though they are immensely more powerful than we are. So if there were ever a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature’s world, it must be with the gorilla. The male is an enormously powerful creature but he only uses his strength when he is protecting his family and it is very rare that there is violence within the group. So it seems really very unfair that man should have chosen the gorilla to symbolise everything that is aggressive and violent, when that is the one thing that the gorilla is not — and that we are.”

There is a grandeur in this view of life and our relationship with nature – and a humility and reverence we all too often brush aside in the cause of efficient markets and personal enrichment.

Our debates, politics and discourse have become nasty, brutish and destructive.

We have forgotten what is at stake; and it is not just magnificent species such as the mountain gorilla.

We are at risk of losing that sense of who we really are; a species capable of both barbarity and genius, and whose only home is this planet.

QoD: Do you look to the road ahead, or spend your time looking in the rear view mirror?

Regular reader John posted a comment (reproducing a letter he wrote to the Gympie Times) which I think contained some good metaphors:

ARCTIC melt revealed (The Gympie Times August 28 )

You are driving along when suddenly both your Temperature and Oil warning lights come on, what do you do?

Do your turn up the volume on the radio so that you cannot hear the clanging coming from under the bonnet? Do you adjust the rear view mirror so that you cannot see the smoke billowing from the exhaust pipe? 

Do you pull over and stop the car? 

This year the planet demands our attention, the unprecedented decline of the Arctic sea ice mass this year, which has stunned the scientific community is trying to tell us that we are overheating the planet, the temperature light is warning us to pull over. The almost total surface melt of the Greenland ice sheet this year was the oil warning light now glowing brightly. 

While the skeptics are busily adjusting the rear view mirror, turning up the volume on the radio and declaring the grinding noises under the bonnet as being just natural variability, the planet could hardly make it more clear, you have a problem, pull over now. 

My just arrived, carbon tax adjusted electricity bill increased by less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour, a small price to pay for my children, grandchildren and great grandchild’s future. 

What do you think?

Quote of the day: “It takes trust among many to build a 747”

Ignoring science can lead to fatal results

The Conversation has published an article – which I will republish in full shortly – on the “mega-trends” tipped to influence Australia’s future.

Within the article is a lovely quote which sums up why I trust the world’s scientists when it comes to climate change:

No one person has sufficient knowledge to build and fly a Boeing 747 from Singapore to London. Nor would one person have all the knowledge and skill to create a sustainable aquaculture industry. We can only achieve these outcomes by taking one person’s ideas and through collaboration, connection and trust, adding them to the ideas of many other people…

The science supporting our understanding of climate change is the based upon the work of tens of thousands of individual researchers across the globe. They may have their specialities – from watching Arctic sea ice, studying what is happening to the world’s oceans and analysing satellite data – but collectively their research tells us all we need to know.

No one person can understand climate change: our understanding is built upon the scientific method, collaboration and the trust – fully justified – we place in the world’s scientific community.

The entire campaign waged by the deniers is aimed at undermining our trust in science.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Who would you have build a 747?

The climate deniers, or the world’s scientists?

I think the choice is easy.

QoD: “The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers…”

Quote of the day brings you some additional quotes from William Lloyd Garrison:

The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers


With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.

QoD: “We have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technologies”

E.O. Wilson, a biologist whose work on the social insects I’ve long read with admiration (though I’m less enamoured with his recent work on kin versus group selection) provides today’s quote of the day. It is taken from an article from the Irish Times titled Mental blocks contribute to our inaction on climate change:

If this comes as a surprise, you are by no means alone. “We have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technologies,” is how noted Harvard biologist EO Wilson framed our dilemma. Many scientists suspect the general public is too wedded to magical thinking and heuristic reasoning to truly grasp the implications of what climate science has been spelling out with ever-greater urgency for the last two decades. This is at best a limited explanation.

Evidence from behavioural and brain sciences points to the fact that “the human moral judgment system is not well equipped to identify climate change – a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon – as an important moral imperative”, according to a recent article in the science journal, Nature Climate Change.

Thus I’m not impressed when anyone states “I believe in climate change” or “I don’t believe in climate change”. It has nothing to do with faith – for me at least. I recognise by cognitive limitations and defer not to the expertise an individual, but to the collective knowledge of the world’s scientific community.

I am personally ill-equipped to “prove” or “falsify” climate science: which is why I don’t debate the science. I will read the research in order to deepen my understanding, and ask questions and – yes – even be sceptical. But I believe I have the humility to acknowledge my limitations, unlike some.

The Wilson quote reminded me of the long running discussion that has been raging on my post on countering the denial movement. In response to a question from Sundance, a regular commentator here, on the question of “human nature” I noted:

We are pattern seeking animals, it is what marks our species as distinctive. And is foundational to our survival. Agreed. There is a difference between politics and human behavior, but one informs the other.

I’d also note the “flight or fight” response is also essential to survival (actually that’s a very crude way to describe a complex range of adaptive behaviors, but lets treat it as shorthand). It is near universal among all animals. Deep within the structure of our brain is the amygdala – associated with modulating fear, aggression and memory consolidation. But the flight or fight response can also be maladaptive.

The point is this: the interaction between our psychology, individual values and the norms of our community and society will temper how we react to the world quite profoundly. I have a hunch that the climate change debate is less about left versus right and more about our species and its ability to problem solve.

We evolved in the plains of Africa, and for hundreds of thousands of years lived in extended family groups as hunter gatherers. 5,000-10,000 or so years ago we started farming and building the first cities. In the last 100 years the world’s population has grown from 2bn to almost 7bn. We’ve been to the moon, invented writing and developed complex societies. Our cultural evolution has been stunning, and yes worth celebrating. I celebrate the achievements of our civilisation.

And [all the] while evolution has continued its slow, iterative pace. The cognitive skill set we have is perfectly adapted to foster the individual’s survival instincts has changed little. Put crudely, the problem is beyond the scope of the individual and even groups of individuals.

That’s what makes climate change seem overwhelming – terrifying even. Thus an individual’s reaction in either denial, indifference and at the other extreme fatalism (the world is doomed!) is understandable. Everyone will grapple with these basic emotions – including myself. I have no special knowledge, but I have meditated long on my own response and sought out the best information to ensure I am informed.

Flight or fight responses can be maladaptive: to give but one example of fight or flight misfiring, think of the zebra standing frozen before the lion unable to react.

Climate change is a civilisational challenge that transcends the individual’s ability to both fully understand it’s risks and devise potential solutions. This is why we may be at such a stalemate.

The scientific method is one of our tools in understanding the world, but also recognizing and explaining risk.

Climate science is the early warming radar of civilisation: we can pay attention to the looming danger on the screen, or scream at our instruments in terror and frustration. We can choose to dismiss one set of instruments, and claim it broken. But when all the instruments and all the warning systems are screaming “code red” to ignore them is denial. It’s flight or fight gone awry.

Then we are no different from the zebra standing transfixed in the face of a predator.

Readers here appreciate I am very much focused on exploring and even countering arguments from climate sceptics – this is part of the political debate and the discussion over values. I’ve always acknowledged that. Indeed, my values and centrist politics are stated on the “about page”.

But I see this debate between sceptics and proponents of the science as a tiny component of a much larger, richer and more complex problem of mitigation and adaptation.

And for me that is what is both fascinating and tragic. 

However I think Wilson’s quote sums it up beautifully, and far more concisely than I could.

I am also reminded on a beautiful scene in one of my favorite films, 1993’s Gettysburg (see above), based on the book “The Killer Angels” by Michael Sharma – a fictionalised account that famous battle from the US Civil War.

The scene contrasts our capacity for genius and our frequent descent into barbarity: “What a piece of work is man…”

QoD: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice”

The English language can rise to such majesty – and poetry – that a novel, poem and essay can continue to inspire centuries after its creation:

I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

Today’s Quote of the Day (QoD) is by William Lloyd Garrison, a prominent abolitionist writing in the first half of the 19th century.

He demanded an immediate end to slavery in decades before the US Civil War:

Garrison made a name for himself as one of the most articulate, as well as most radical, opponents of slavery. His approach to emancipation stressed non-violence and passive resistance, and he attracted a vocal following. While some other abolitionists of the time favored gradual emancipation, Garrison argued for “immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves”.

In 1831 he established “The Liberator”, a newspaper dedicated to the antislavery cause.

The above quote is taken from his wonderful essay “To the public”.  When people ask who are the men and women who inspire me, Garrison is among the many.

You and I are the inheritors of that same tradition: on the issue of climate change I will be as harsh as truth; I will not speak in moderation; I will not excuse; and I will be heard.

…which is the response to those who feel chastioned by being called on their child-like fantasies about coming world governments and scientists conspring to manipulate data.

The truth does not merely hurts, it is a blow torch.

Quote of the day: you can’t wish a round planet flat, no matter how many times you blog that

OK, the above  quote is mine , and not the quote of the day. The QotD is by legendary science fiction author Issac Asimov:

All the hundreds of millions of people who, in their time, believed the Earth was flat never succeeded in unrounding it by an inch.’

And the same is true for climate change deniers: all the noise, denial and misinformation cannot change the fact the science is irrefutable.

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