The Meddler

The Good, the Bad and the Really Bloody Ugly

As the Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten delivered his (admittedly quite good) speech on reparations for stolen generations in Parliament this week, I just sat there shaking my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I agreed with what he was saying and was slightly buoyed that he was (albeit a few centuries late) saying it.

I just could not escape the sad irony of the timing.

Not 24 hours earlier Australia made global headlines (again for all the wrong reasons), this time facing allegations of crimes against humanity from a coalition of legal experts.

Bill, you can’t take the high ground when you’re wading through the river on the valley floor.

Well, evidently you can. I meant to say you shouldn’t.

That’s the real trick to having a heart – you don’t get to pick and choose when to use it and when not to because if you stop using it you die.

That our political leaders (or members of society for that matter) even debate that there should be reparations for indigenous Australians is insulting and sad in and of itself.

But when this debate is taking place AT THE SAME TIME that said politicians and members of Australian society are creating an entirely new generation of stolen, forgotten humanity… profound sadness doesn’t even start to describe it.

Maybe ‘stolen’ is a bit misleading in this context – it is probably more apt to borrow from Good News Week and described these 30,000 souls as the Fallen Off the Back Of The Truck Generation.

But back to my point – why do our political leaders find their backbone/heart/soul/conscious on one issue but don’t even mention the other?

Again, we are talking about the International Criminal Court and crimes against humanity!

How can a person, a government, a nation find half their spine? How can their human decency and moral code be conditional or situational?

Migration is as old as human history.

People move around.

Food, famine, disease, war, adventure, empire, persecution – over time the reason for the mass movement of humanity has shifted sure, but it is not a ‘head in the sand’ problem.

On this issue, we are either bad, or we are good.

Good means helping and bad, well we know what that means as were currently a decade and a half into it.

Pain, suffering and death.

We’ve sold our souls, our international reputation and ruined tens of thousands of lives and for what?

In a world of nuclear weapons, weaponised viruses and drunken 85-year-olds driving home from a day at the bowls club, safety and security are relatively meaningless terms.

This Mandatory Detention policy does not keep us safe, all it does is cost millions, hurt people and muddy the moral waters so much that when a politician eventually gets up and does something right people focus on the contradiction and label the action politically motivated.

Child Playground Climbing Behind

Talkin’ Smack

So apparently, not everyone smacks their kids. I know right.

I mean, I’d heard stories but I assumed they were complete and utter lies.

Turns out it’s true.

While at the park with my four (13) and two (four) year old’s last week, my little man decided that throwing and kicking bark would be way more fun than the slide.

The park was not crowded, maybe four or five other kids running around and as many adults applying varying degrees of supervision in between while glued to their smart phones.

So the first warning is delivered in typical ‘good cop’ fashion and carries with it all the naïve hopes of parenthood that a kid will learn a lesson while being told off.

“Come on mate, that’s not very nice, we don’t throw the bark mate, that’s naughty, say sorry to your sister etc etc.”

Minutes later, I’m on the swing with the four-going-on thirteen-year-old when some bark comes flying past.

Volume is adjusted accordingly for ‘bad cop’ mode.

“Ah Ah!! No! Throw it again and you’ll get a smack mate.”

His eyes may have said ‘up yours dad’ but his ears heard the threat well enough as he pointed and said ‘slide peas dad’ as if I had just asked him politely what he wanted me to do for him next.

As ‘bad cop’ was delivered, though, the heads of at least two of the other adults at the park whipped around.

At the time, I just assumed it was for solidarity purposes.

You know, a kind of ‘if you look my way my face will tell you ‘I’m on your dad’s side youngster, and you’re lucky it’s just a smack I’d give you the ironing chord!’ type gesture.

I was wrong.

A few minutes later and the little man’s goldfish brain had kicked in as bark began to fly. He threw it and saw me see him throw it.

Damn, I must now deliver on that threat.

The approach was as huff and puff as I could get so as to disguise the smallest of bum taps in what I had hoped would be an overall package of fear.

Threw in a ‘right, we’re going home now’ (variety is the spice of life after all) as I picked up the big crying lump while his big sister skipped (overly) happily behind us to the car.

You should have seen the looks. I even got one head shake!

They are usually pretty good when we go places, maybe that is why it hadn’t happened sooner, but certainly the experience did make me question my approach to discipline.

Having been back to that park twice for zero bark thrown, I certainly don’t expect to be converting to the non-smacking judgy-judgy club anytime soon.

Ocean Pollution

20 times more polluted than China

Just when you thought we humans couldn’t wreak any more havoc on the planet, we get the news that the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean are up to 20 times more polluted than China.

That’s right – our obsession with cheap plastic has made its way into the ecosystems of organisms living 10km below sea level.

Researchers have gone on a mission to see what pollution levels are like in the deepest “trenches” on earth; these are spots deep in the core of the ocean that are so far away, sunlight can no longer penetrate.

After sampling some of the organisms from these trenches – one of which is near New Zealand – researcher Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in England discovered something pretty bloody scary.

Pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls, previously used widely when manufacturing electrical equipment, were present. And they were showing up in a big way.

In the Mariana trench, Dr Jamieson found, organisms yielded between 495 nanograms per gram and 1,900 nanograms per gram of pollutant.

For comparison: in horrifically polluted areas such as the Liao River in China, the level is around 100 nanograms.

In clean coastal areas, the level is 1 nanogram.

So these deep, dark caverns are up to 1900 times more polluted than our cleaner costs, and 19 times more polluted than the dirtiest rivers in China.

And it’s all happened because as human beings, our focus is so absurdly skewed towards making a profit that we’ve unleashed unhealthy chemicals far and wide, without a second thought as to the long-term consequences.

If they types of pollutants are showing up in the farthest reaches of the planet, can you imagine what kind of damage we’re doing to the sea life that lives closer to the surface?

These “persistent organic pollutants” are known to affect the hormonal, immune and reproductive systems of organisms, and can even cause cancer.

And where do they end up? In our gullets. According to one report, estimates for 2015 showed that global annual fish consumption reached a record high of more than 20kg per person.

We dump crap into the ocean. The ocean life eats it. Then we eat polluted seafood. Isn’t the circle of life grand?

Child playing with hose

Climate change doubled the likelihood of the New South Wales heatwave

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, UNSW; Andrew King, University of Melbourne, and Matthew Hale, UNSW

The heatwave that engulfed southeastern Australia at the end of last week has seen heat records continue to tumble like Jenga blocks.

On Saturday February 11, as New South Wales suffered through the heatwave’s peak, temperatures soared to 47℃ in Richmond, 50km northwest of Sydney, while 87 fires raged across the state amid catastrophic fire conditions.

On that day, most of NSW experienced temperatures at least 12℃ above normal for this time of year. In White Cliffs, the overnight minimum was 34.2℃, breaking the station’s 102-year-old record.

On Friday, the average maximum temperature right across NSW hit 42.4℃, beating the previous record of 42℃. The new record stood for all of 24 hours before it was smashed again on Saturday, as the whole state averaged 44.02℃ at its peak. At this time, NSW was the hottest place on Earth.

A degree or two here or there might not sound like much, but to put it in cricketing parlance, those temperature records are the equivalent of a modern test batsman retiring with an average of over 100 – the feat of outdoing Don Bradman’s fabled 99.94 would undoubtedly be front-page news.

And still the records continue to fall. At the time of writing, the northern NSW town of Walgett remains on target to break the Australian record of 50 days in a row above 35℃, set just four years ago at Bourke Airport.

Meanwhile, two days after that sweltering Saturday we woke to find the fires ignited during the heatwave still cutting a swathe of destruction, with the small town of Uarbry, east of Dunedoo, all but burned to the ground.

This is all the more noteworthy when we consider that the El Niño of 2015-16 is long gone and the conditions that ordinarily influence our weather are firmly in neutral. This means we should expect average, not sweltering, temperatures.

Since Christmas, much of eastern Australia has been in a flux of extreme temperatures. This increased frequency of heatwaves shows a strong trend in observations, which is set to continue as the human influence on the climate deepens.

It is all part of a rapid warming trend that over the past decade has seen new heat records in Australia outnumber new cold records by 12 to 1.

Let’s be clear, this is not natural. Climate scientists have long been saying that we would feel the impacts of human-caused climate change in heat records first, before noticing the upward swing in average temperatures (although that is happening too). This heatwave is simply the latest example.

What’s more, in just a few decades’ time, summer conditions like these will be felt across the whole country regularly.

Attributing the heat

The useful thing scientifically about heatwaves is that we can estimate the role that climate change plays in these individual events. This is a relatively new field known as “event attribution”, which has grown and improved significantly over the past decade.

Using the Weather@Home climate model, we looked at the role of human-induced climate change in this latest heatwave, as we have for other events before.

We compared the likelihood of such a heatwave in model simulations that factor in human greenhouse gas emissions, compared with simulations in which there is no such human influence. Since 2017 has only just begun, we used model runs representing 2014, which was similarly an El Niño-neutral year, while also experiencing similar levels of human influence on the climate.

Based on this analysis, we found that heatwaves at least as hot as this one are now twice as likely to occur. In the current climate, a heatwave of this severity and extent occurs, on average, once every 120 years, so is still quite rare. However, without human-induced climate change, this heatwave would only occur once every 240 years.

In other words, the waiting time for the recent east Australian heatwave has halved. As climate change worsens in the coming decades, the waiting time will reduce even further.

Our results show very clearly the influence of climate change on this heatwave event. They tell us that what we saw last weekend is a taste of what our future will bring, unless humans can rapidly and deeply cut our greenhouse emissions.

Our increasingly fragile electricity networks will struggle to cope, as the threat of rolling blackouts across NSW showed. It is worth noting that the large number of rooftop solar panels in NSW may have helped to avert such a crisis this time around.

Our hospital emergency departments also feel the added stress of heat waves. When an estimated 374 people died from the heatwave that preceded the Black Saturday bushfires the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine resorted to storing bodies in hospitals, universities and funeral parlours. The Victorian heatwave of January 2014 saw 167 more deaths than expected, along with significant increases in emergency department presentations and ambulance callouts.

Infrastructure breaks down during heatwaves, as we saw in 2009 when railway lines buckled under the extreme conditions, stranding thousands of commuters. It can also strain Australia’s beloved sporting events, as the 2014 Australian Open showed.

These impacts have led state governments and other bodies to investigate heatwave management strategies, while our colleagues at the Bureau of Meteorology have developed a heatwave forecast service for Australia.

These are likely to be just the beginning of strategies needed to combat heatwaves, with conditions currently regarded as extreme set to be the “new normal” by the 2030s. With the ramifications of extreme weather clear to everyone who experienced this heatwave, there is no better time to talk about how we can ready ourselves.

We urgently need to discuss the health and economic impacts of heatwaves, and how we are going to cope with more of them in the future.


We would like to acknowledge Robert Smalley, Andrew Watkins and Karl Braganza of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for providing observations included in this article.

The ConversationThe Conversation

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Research Fellow, UNSW; Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne, and Matthew Hale, Research Assistant, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Work Woman

Does having a career make you a bad parent?

Miranda Devine has been up to her usual tricks recently, with a column tantalisingly titled: Don’t let your career make you a bad mother.

The gist of her short missive is that the impact you make on your family is far more important than any job, so don’t lose sight of the bigger picture in the pursuit of a powerful career.

I’m torn.

Because of course, she’s right. Family is more important than anything, period, end of story.

Which means part of me agrees with Devine.

But I also wholeheartedly disagree with her story, because it’s these types of judgemental rants that make mothers of all kinds feel like crap.

Furthermore, if anything, it’s my belief that the current generation can tend to be over-indulgent parents, rather than under-involved.

Modern mums may work more than they did 30 years ago, but they’re also often showing up for school pick up, attending sports days and school concerts, ferrying their kids to events and playdates on the weekends, and generally being super bloody involved in their childrens’ lives.

And they feel so guilty about the one play they missed or the school drop off they rush through, that they compensate in all sorts of lenient and endlessly indulged ways.

Furthermore, in my view, a career and good parenting can go hand in hand.

Where it all goes pear-shaped is when we try to do too much.

And any mother on the planet will tell you: you don’t need a career to feel like your plate is too full.

In any given week, as mums, we can be expected to: make snacks and meals, clean (endlessly), pay bills, prepare children for school and kindy and other outings, run errands, make social plans with friends and family, remember birthdays (and gifts!), arrange home repairs, check in with parents and other relatives, care for others, and more.

Adding ‘work’ or ‘career’ to this list is just adding one more task to an already cluttered schedule.

So in summary: no, Miranda Devine, I don’t believe a career makes you a bad parent. It’s only when you buy into this kind of crap and start doubting yourself as a mum that you do your kids a disservice.