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27 October, 2009

Sea-Walls and Dykes Are Not The Answer

The Australian government is considering measures that would force property owners close to the sea to give up their properties if threatened by coastal erosion or repeated flooding. It is estimated that about 80% of Australians live by the coast. The figure is not so high for other countries but everywhere faces the same problem: global warming is causing sea levels to rise, possibly by as much as 2 to 4 metres in the next fifty years. Coastlines are being eroded and flooded and it will get worse and worse.

Of course, property owners are incensed. There has been a recent 'sea change' rush to the coast and coastal properties have soared in value over the past decade. Owners believe the government should build coastal defences. Failing that, they believe the government should compensate them in full if it pulls them off their land.

Here's what I think. Anyone moving to the coast in the past 10 years must have been off their heads. Anyone investing in coastal properties in the last ten years has made a truckload of money but now the party is over. We've known for a very, very long time that global warming was happening and that sea-level rises were inevitable. If people want to gamble on global warming not happening then that's fine, but it's a gamble they have lost. Tough luck. Maybe next time they'll buy an ostrich farm.

Anyone who has continued to live on the coast despite the sure and certain knowledge that sea levels are going to rise, is also nuts. How many times have they moved house in the past 20 years? How many opportunities have they had to move inland? And now they want the government (i.e. you and me) to build futile sea defences, or to pay them to move elsewhere?

I don't think so.

A compassionate government should provide rehousing assistance to the feeble-minded or gamblers who end up with nothing. As a nation, Australia needs to build more low-rent housing anyway. But no-one forced anyone to buy investment properties near the beach and throw up monstrous high-rises. No-one forced well-off city-dwellers to grab up coastal properties and build million-dollar houses there, turning every seaside town into a yuppie retirement community.

And no-one can force the tax payer to bail all these gamblers and fools out now their 'investment' has turned bad. Surprise, surprise! Climate change is real. Even at the beach you can't bury your head in the sand forever.

16 October, 2009

Help Me Out, America

Calling all Americans. I need your opinion on something.

I've written a book and it's going to be published in February 2010. It's a near-future thriller set in Europe. The background to the tale is that the world is just recovering from a very serious depression brought on by us hitting peak oil. The depression, which lasted fifteen years, was worse than anything experienced yet - millions starved, resource wars were fought, governments toppled.

It's a very minor part of the story but it is mentioned that of all the countries of the world, worst hit was the USA. It's dependence on oil and its strongly consumer-driven economy meant that the effect of peak oil was worse there than anywhere. The economy collapsed. Tens of millions were unemployed and most of them were starving. Riots and civil unrest threatened to turn into civil war as an ineffectual government dickered around with fiscal stimulus. Things looked bad until a strong, right-wing government, with fundamentalist Christian roots was elected and immediately took a firm grip of the situation. (Imagine a strong George W Bush, or a Sarah Palin with brains.) Unfortunately, they use their emergency powers and a mandate from a population scared to death about what is happening, to push through some constitutional changes - abolishing the separation of church and state and ensuring that only candidates affiliated to the official church can run for office.

Over the next couple of decades, the new government does, in fact, stop the country from plunging into chaos, but at enormous cost. Opposition parties are banned, many universities - hotbeds of anti-government sentiment - are closed down under the new blasphemy and insurrection laws. The ones that remain are 're-focused' on theological teaching, with the closure of many 'blasphemous' science departments, especially the biological sciences, geology, astronomy, philosophy, and physics. Theology replaces science teaching in schools. Many, many people are arrested and executed for anti-government and anti-religious crimes and the FBI is turned into a feared and energetic prosecutor of the new laws and policies.

Ironically, although peace returns to the streets and Americans are being returned to work and the homes they had lost, the country's prosperity, without the leading edge science and technology that once powered it, has nose-dived. With GM crops and livestock classed as 'abominations', the (future version of the) Internet strictly censored, and other countries surging ahead in the recovery, America is actually receiving massive food aid shipments from Europe and Asia - a fact the Christian fundamentalists in power are suppressing through their control of all media.

OK.

Here's what I need help with. As an American, does this scenario seem so far fetched, so completely unbelievable, to you that you would have a low opinion of a book in which it occurs?

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