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Letters, Week 7, Semester 2

All the gripes, moans and whinges from Week 7.

letters 1

Hey Chaneg, you’re wrong

Dear Chaneg,

Thankyou for submitting that facile, worthless load of garbage to last week’s Honi – I haven’t had a laugh that satisfying in a while.

I know it’s not your thing but I urge you to spend some time at an anti-coal protest. After experiencing police brutality, corporate security harassment and having to deal with corporate spies sent to destroy your community, I hope you will come to a better understanding of where the power lies between those in the pro- and anti-coal camps and, thus, who the real bullies are in this debate.

You claim that promoting transparency in investment decisions is terrorism – surely you believe that financial institutions have a fiduciary (if not a moral) duty to disclose the nature of their holdings to their shareholders so that the latter may optimise their decision-making? You claim to advocate a free market, and I therefore find your opposition to the perfect information necessary for perfect competition confusing.

The scientific agreement that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global climate change, and that this change poses an enormous threat to the health of communities all over the world, is as strong as the view that smoking cigarettes causes cancer. People concerned about this are hardly misinformed. I assume you believe in scientific consensus when it’s informing your decisions about your health – why are you ignoring reason here?

Fossil fuel subsidy in this country is

a) enormous at $7.7 billion annually

b) the only reason the industry remains competitive.

Fossil fuel companies receive rent reductions, water write-offs, fuel rebates and tax cuts.

In contrast, solar capacity in Queensland and South Australia has this year been surging forward in leaps and bounds, despite every effort by the current government to stymy it.

Coal-powered energy was indeed the hottest innovation of the 1830s, but the world has moved on. India and China are increasingly looking to renewables to meet their rising energy demands. I don’t know if you’ve been to Mumbai or Bangalore, but if you’ve got an idea of how to meet the demands of the urban poor there by connecting them to a coal-powered grid, I’m all ears. The Indian government, along with myself, reckon that distributed rooftop solar is the cheaper and more effective option.

The economic costs associated with climate change mitigation are already enormous, and largely the burden of the world’s poorest people. Communities in flood-prone places like Lagos may already spend 15% of household income stockpiling materials to carry out bridge construction and repairs for the times when the swamps rise. Pacific nations have similar problems on a GDP scale. Claiming that burning more coal is going to help these people is dishonest and disgraceful.

Renewable energy technology is already highly efficient in every environment in which it has been tried seriously. Germany, the world’s 4th-largest economy, has increased its proportion of energy generated by renewables methods from ~5% in 2000 to ~30% today. Again I don’t know if you’ve been there, but I have, and it’s a lot sunnier in Sydney. Many promising innovations have been made recently on the technical side of solar – more efficient panels, panels suitable for a wide range of environments and uses, new ways of storing and transmitting the power they generate. Imagine how efficient solar plants could be with $7.7 billion in government subsidy every year.

There is not the time for the slow and steady approach you advocate. Climactic processes involve complex long-term feedback loops – emissions today will continue to have effects long into the future. We are driving off the edge of a cliff – the further forward we go along the current course, the more difficult it will be to turn around. We have two choices – either we deal with the costs of adjustment now, or we and our descendants deal with the costs of rising sea levels, more frequent and severe hurricanes, droughts, floods and bushfires. You want to plunge us all into the ravine – I say let’s put the brakes on and rethink where we’re going.

A university is supposed to be a hotbed of debate, critique, innovation and progress. You have instead put forward a vision of our uni as a cesspit of nineteenth-century thinking – a vision that would consign us to a role as an irrelevant dinosaur in the most challenging and exciting time in human history. Stop behaving as if your opinion is the only one that matters – learn to learn from others, and fucking change it.

Yours,

Andy Mason

Arts/Science II

ASEN Finance Officer

I agree, Chaneg IS wrong

Dear Honi,

I was bemused to read a recent letter from the President of the University of Sydney Conservative Club Chaneg Torres not only labelling me a financial terrorist, but also berating the University of Sydney for its decision not to make any further investments in fossil fuels.

Ignoring his ad hominem remarks about muesli and latte-sipping (I don’t do either), if Torres claims to be a conservative, he should really get out to rural and regional communities like Maules Creek or Bulga to check out how fairly the coal industry treats conservative landowners. While the 21st century has given us plenty of ways to produce energy, farmers are people that the author’s friends at the Conservative Club could not do without, even if they carefully eschew muesli and lattes (be they dairy or soy). The idea that challenging the expansion of the coal and gas industries is the exclusive preserve of one side of politics is demeaning to all persuasions.

Torres mentions scaremongering by “environmental extremists”, and then goes on to describe how jobs and growth would be destroyed if the entire mining industry were shut down (presumably overnight). Hence we witness how a careful decision by one educational establishment not to increase investments in one particular kind of mineral (fossil fuels) makes the University of Sydney what the mining lobby would call an “anti-mining activist”. I am loathe to give advice to people who would defend the rapid expansion of coal, oil and gas exploitation, but pretending that any kind of criticism of any coal project makes somebody an “anti-mining activist” is bound to back-fire if you are seeking to promote the interests of Whitehaven Coal or Rio Tinto.

Torres accuses me of “spreading lies”, and then goes on to claim that the coal industry receives no government subsidies. Yet the coal industry receives billions of dollars of subsidies, tax breaks and royalty discounts from both state and federal governments every year in the form of port and rail infrastructure, exploration incentives, industry assistance packages and the diesel fuel rebate. The Australia Institute puts this at more than $4 billion a year, while other analyses quote much higher figures. None of these studies count externalised costs like health costs associated with respiratory illness and lost work time, micro-inflation in coal-affected commuities “crowding out” secondary and service industries, road damage, environmental degradation or greenhouse emissions. Not to mention lay-offs now that an oversupplied coal market is shedding the workers that coal executives apparently cared so much about. Coal industry workers in my region represent a fraction of the workforce, but they are part of our communities and deserve a future in stable and sustainable industries.

The fact is that even though the University of Sydney continues to invest in Whitehaven, contributing to the destruction of forest, farmlands and Gomeroi sites at Maules Creek, it has taken the first step, thanks to the brilliant work of Fossil Free USyd, and put itself on the right side of history. Desmond Tutu has even said that the world needs an “apartheid-style boycott” to tackle climate change. While coal stocks have significantly declined in recent years, growth industries like the renewables industry have performed very well. Over recent years, at least thirteen universities including Stanford, 39 cities including Seattle, 44 religious organisations including the Uniting Church and countless other organisations like the Deutsche Bank and the World Bank have made commitments to fully or partially divest from fossil fuels.

Our energy systems are changing, but not as quickly as the climate, and the divestment movement is a sign of hope. It would be tragically ironic if Australian universities were making their money from the growth of an industry which, unchecked, could damage the future of their graduates. I congratulate students at the University of Sydney for pushing it in the right direction.

On a side note, if the President of the Sydney University Conservative Club wants to equate the ANZ hoax with deception, he had better not read the Onion. It’s a scary world out there!

Jonathan Moylan

I also believe Chaneg is wrong on this specific issue

Dear Honi,

Thank you for the letter from the conservative club’s president. This call for the university to maintain it’s investments in the coal and fossil fuel industries was clear to all. It was a pleasure to have such short-sighted ignorance so prominently displayed for all to see.

A few points on his letter. First, I am hardly what he characterised as a “muesli munching, late [sic] sipping activists”. I’m not a huge coffee fan and don’t qualify as an activist. I wear leather, eat meat and support a mixed system of capitalism with government regulation. However, to reply in kind to his description, I wouldn’t expect anything less than ad hominem attacks on a straw-man characterisations from an ignorant, close minded, fox-”news” following conservative.

Throughout his article Chaneg Torres seemed deeply enamoured with empty buzzwords like, “failing industries”, “bullying” and “scaremongering”. All of which he used with a glaring dearth of supporting information.

These calls of “scaremongering and misinformation” are laughable, especially when he quickly follows them up with claims of a failing economy and increased poverty should the coal industry decline. There is a complete failure of understanding that, should these fossil fuel industries continue and climate change worsen, the tourism industry would then be thoroughly undermined.

This industry benefits the economy contributing to almost every other industry, employing over 500,000 (far more than the coal industries 20,000 as sited by Chaneg). This conservative is clearly happy to ignore reality and think small and short rather than long term.

The destruction of tourism is more likely to hurt the poor and our society than if the coal industry is diminished. Who actually gains from the coal industry staying dominant? It’s not the poor as claimed, it’s Gina Rinehart and others that own the mining companies.

His letter also claims the decline of coal will result in their subsidy. Well newsflash genius, fossil fuels are already subsided to the tune of $10 billion a year. In comparison with education; the government wants to cut $130 million from schools and a further $800 million from university students and uncap the fees. Note the subsides for fossil fuels are over 1000% higher than the budget savings on education.

When it comes to scaremongering and misinformation it’s clear from what Torres proudly wrote that the conservatives, as represented here by conservative club, reign supreme.

For the sake of our nation’s well being, the university should be proud to distance itself from the clearly detrimental industry of the fossil fuels.

Yours in #realjobs #realgrowth and #realfacts

John Treep

Am I too late for the ‘Chaneg is wrong’ bandwagon?

Dear Honi,

I am routinely astounded at the ability of certain students to complete an entire major (and even to prepare for honours) in subjects like Political Economy without, apparently, having absorbed any of its content. Judging by his routine letters to Honi Soit, Chaneg Torres seems to be one of these students.

Torres is right to claim that the mining and resources industry is intrinsically linked to our economic future. The market economy is one such link, and there are a bunch of measures like GDP that can be used to describe it (remember ECOP1001?). Unfortunately, market prices might not describe a commodity’s full cost or benefit (it’s a long word: ex-ter-nal-ity). So describing the benefit of the mining and resources industry in terms of the market is grossly inaccurate in a price system like ours that doesn’t fully internalise costs and benefits. In that respect, unqualified statements about the number of people working in coal mines or the price of energy are irrelevant and inaccurate insofar as they allude to some supposed net benefit reaped by the fossil fuel industry (still lost? Try googling ‘climate change’, or if you’re feeling brave, ‘Stern Review’).

On a more empirical note, Torres suffers some peculiar delusions. An industry that receives billions of dollars every year from the government in fuel tax credits can hardly be described as an industry ‘without the need for government subsidy’. In addition, the suggestion that the shareholders affected by Jonathan Moylan’s actions were ‘everyday Australians’ is particularly fanciful, considering that the wealthiest fifth of all households own 90 per cent of all share value in Australia (who said that? Oh, it was Frank Stilwell in Who gets what? Analysing Economic Inequality in Australia. As in, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy Frank Stilwell).

Yours in #realtalk,

D’Arcy Roche

Arts III

Credit where credit’s not due

Dear Honi,

I am disappointed that some Fellows of Senate are taking credit for the success of the Town Hall Meeting, considering that they did not wish the Town Hall to go ahead.

Four Fellows of Senate wanted a Convocation, a body that includes only graduates and academic staff, ignoring students. This is unacceptable to me, and unacceptable to anyone who believes that student consultation is important.

It is of no surprise that three of the Senate fellows who lobbied for the convocation are alumni, but the saddest aspect is that the Undergraduate Fellow of Senate, Patrick Massarani, also felt that current students should not be allowed to have their say.  That also is not surprising.

Frequently, Patrick Massarani falsely claims to represent students. The clear irony of this is lost on him, given the majority of students on campus know him best for prancing along Eastern Avenue in a cravat and a pin-stripe suit, on the way to his ‘office’, making snide remarks about the ‘cheap suits’ of ordinary students.

Whilst I do not agree with the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor on other things, I must commend their imagination in allowing students, particularly fellow low SES students such as Georg Tamm, to express their concerns, whilst under considerable pressure from Patrick Massarani to silent student views.

We must not stop here though. The university must consult students even more widely than it already has, chasing down the opinions of normal students, not ‘student politicians’.

Regards,

Dean Shachar

Commerce (Liberal Studies) II

Life sans god

Dear Editors,

In reply to Luke Tucker’s “Preaching to the Choir” letter. I would like to put forward a couple of points.

Firstly I believe that in his allusions to the idiocy of secularism and the benefits of a theocracy, he thoroughly missed that we live in a secular nation with a secular government. This even goes as far as the Australian constitution which contains an article for the separation of church and state (Article 116).

Going further with this, Luke Tucker takes the traditional and vacuous christian position of appearing to desire a theocracy when speaking from his position of popularity. This shows complete ignorance to an understanding that secularism (i.e. government neutrality) is the best system for allowing each person to believe and worship as they please without interference or imposition – barring actual harm done. I doubt he would be so keen to extoll the virtues of a theocracy if he was in a minority position.

In this letter he calls himself a considered Christian and highlights the names of Timothy Keller and John Lennox as promoting defensible and rational positions. So I’d like ask something of Luke directly; can you show that a god exists without appealing to any logical fallacies or false science? Can you lay out the best possible defence of this beings existence?

In the meantime, as a non-theistic doctor to be, I’ll continue to live for me and for other real people. Not for a god that seemingly can’t even demonstrate its own existence.

Alex Rothman

Beating around the bush

Dear Honi,

Slam poetry may, or may not, be a beautiful art form but how the disregard of linguistic convention, whose primary purpose is presumably communication, leads to more accessible literary expression, as Charlie O’Grady claims, is a mystery to me.

I am also worried by Charlie’s unargued claim that linguistic conventions which slam poetry subverts implicitly reinforce normative ideas about gender, race, ability or sexuality. Perhaps word choices could but I fail to see how grammar, as a set of syntactic rules for the conveyance of meaning, can.

If you’re worried about fetishizing the state of oppression then you should be worried about fetishizing finding oppression in every social structure.

So I’d simply like to ask, please explain.

Perhaps an education in the traditionally rich white male subjects of philosophy, physics and mathematics has left blind, so I wait humbly for an enlightenment.

Sincerely,

James Low

P.S. If a reply which does not use any of these oppressive conventions is possible then I am sure it would greatly informative.

Smoko-loco

Eds,

Earlier today I was berated by a University staff member outside Fisher Library for smoking a cigarette. After a brief conversation, during which I tried to maintain the decency expected of an interaction between two adults, the staff member called me a “disgusting young man” and, yelling over her shoulder in retreat, speculated on the likelihood of my becoming a “productive member of society”.

I believe that today this member of staff has overstepped her duty as an employee, and with flagrant disregard for issues surrounding mental health on campus. The University has declared itself a (mostly) non-smoking institution – fine. Some staff and students take it upon themselves to go on vigilante missions against campus smokers – great. For an employee to implement their vested authority to disparage the wellbeing of a student, however, is unacceptable.

To call another person “disgusting” and question their place in society is a potentially harmful act. Although student bodies have worked hard to create safe and productive spaces for all on campus, it seems there is still work to be done regarding the importance of mental health awareness among administration and staff.

Does the University condone such conduct from a member of its staff, or do they recognise that verbal abuse from positions of authority pose serious threats for students’ mental health?

I write this letter anonymously as I would rather avoid persecution from the same University authorities that have banned our former USU Vice-President from setting foot on campus.

Anon,

Arts IV (Hons)

Finally a break from all you negative ninnies

Dear Honi,

As I understand it, the standard reasons for writing to honi is either because a) You want to complain about a group on campus who did a thing you didn’t like, b) You want to reply to someone who wrote to honi not liking a thing that you did or c) You’re complaining about the crossword.

Being the wildcard that I am I’ve decided to write telling you how I thought something was awesome. I’ve been at uni for five years now and have seen way too many revues in that time, I’ve seen some really hilarious, some really offensive and some really confusing things happen in the name of comedy. But this years Science Revue was probably hands down the best revue I’ve seen to date.

People put way too much effort into producing and performing these shows and give up entire years of uni and having a life to make them happen so I think when a group pull off something really spectacular then they at the very least deserve a written as a procrastination letter to honi.

Good on you guys, and to everyone involved in all of the revues, because revues as a rule are awesome things to do,

Joel Einstein (Director of Jew Revue)

(Disclaimer: I am in no way involved in or connected to Science Revue this year)

A reply from Bill and Cal

We’re not ones to write about ourselves. So, it often falls upon others in the community to pick up the quill and scrawl across the page a thought or two. Thoughts that have, even if just for a moment, passed through their mind, leaving a certain effect on them for days on end.

Cheers to Seany-boy in his recent article canvassed in the Sydney University Honi Soit publication, which perfectly captured the essence of our influence on the lives of our listeners. That a one-time listener could be audibly, but deeply and intrinsically, awoken by the sounds of our on-air voices is testament to the quality of our program, The Bill and Cal Show. We are but simpletons in our radio mission; bringing to the lives of the wider radio milieu a certain certainty in areas of food, fashion, wine and broader contemporary culture.

Be it a sparkle (champagne-derived or otherwise) that we put in your day, a tickle on your tastebuds, or a boost to your jog, our early morning rises are a dedication to the student in all of us – the hard-working; the go-getting; the seeking-satisfaction student.

For all of this, we put ask of you but a simple ‘devoir’ – to pop in the earphones, to turn up the volume dial, and to take solace from the day in the knowledge that Bill and Cal are here, not just for Sean, but all of you at billandcal.com.au

Cheers,

Bill and Cal xx