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Environment and Climate

The ABR Podcast 

Released every Thursday, the ABR podcast features our finest reviews, poetry, fiction, interviews, and commentary.

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Anne Manne

Episode #186

Soul blindness: Clerical narcissism and unfathomable cruelty

By Scott Stephens

In this week’s ABR Podcast, Scott Stephens reviews a book by Anne Manne: Crimes of the Crimes of the Cross: The Anglican paedophile network of Newcastle, its protectors and the man who fought for justice. Why is narcissism a central theme for a book about child sexual abuse? Stephens writes: ‘without the capacity or willingness to be attentive to the humanity of another person’, unfathomable cruelty becomes possible. Scott Stephens is the ABC’s Religion & Ethics online editor and the co-host, with Waleed Aly, of The Minefield on ABC Radio National. Listen to Scott Stephens’s ‘Soul blindness: Clerical narcissism and unfathomable cruelty’, published in the May issue of ABR.

Recent episodes:

In 2020, with Katie Holmes and Andrea Gaynor, Ruth A. Morgan co-authored ‘Doing Environmental History in Urgent Times’, an article which was published in a dedicated ‘In urgent times’ edition of History Australia. With more than 8,800 views since its publication, which coincided with the first Covid lockdowns, the paper has gone on to become that journal’s most read article in its twenty-year lifetime. In it, the co-authors staunchly called for ‘barbed and incendiary histories that hold wrongdoers to account and keep watch over the present’. History writing is an inherently political act, and they stressed – in italics, no less – ‘there is no justice without history’. Four years on, there remains an ever-accelerating and palpable urgency to the work of history writing. With coruscating prose and assiduous scholarship, Climate Change and International History adds its voice to this chorus.

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In this week’s ABR podcast we hear from the runner-up of the 2023 Calibre Essay Prize, Bridget Vincent. Calibre judges Yves Rees, Peter Rose and Beejay Silcox praised Bridget Vincent’s ‘Child Adjacent’ for its wryness and compassion. They noted that it broadened our understanding of the family and interrogated the terrors and moral dilemmas of raising children in the climate crisis. Bridget Vincent is a Lecturer in English at the Australian National University. Listen to her reading ‘Child Adjacent’, published in the June issue of ABR.

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Regenesis by George Monbiot

November 2022, no. 448

This is British environmentalist and writer George Monbiot’s overarching theme in his important new book, Regenesis. While focusing primarily on his native Britain, Monbiot uses a wealth of research – there are almost one hundred pages of notes, and he claims to have read more than 5,000 papers and ‘a shelf of books’ – to argue that the global food production system is in a parlous state. Without comprehensive reform, Monbiot warns, we risk nothing less than the survival of our species.

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On 15 September 2021, Scott Morrison announced his government’s commitment to a defence pact and nuclear submarine deal with the United Kingdom and United States. Abbreviated to AUKUS, this collaboration sent shockwaves through ranks of diplomats, security analysts, anti-nuclear advocates, and members of the Australian public. In signing the AUKUS pact, Morrison signalled Australia’s termination of a $90 billion submarine deal with the French government and reignited concern over Australia’s role in fuelling nuclear proliferation and potential conflict. Drawing upon ‘insider’ knowledge as a former diplomat, Richard Broinowski has contributed to the discussion by placing AUKUS in its historical context in an updated edition of his book Fact or Fission? The truth about Australia’s nuclear ambitions, originally published in 2003.

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This is the third book dedicated to the koala that I have reviewed in ABR in the past fourteen years. That level of attention says much about the place we hold in our hearts for this endearing marsupial. It also relates to the fascinating natural and social history of the koala, along with the wildlife management conundrums it throws up. The koala is probably the most widely recognised of Australia’s animal species. It is also probably the most studied of our roughly 380 mammalian species, so there is a strong knowledge foundation around which to build a good story.

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I don’t know why some people seem to think voting is a great imposition. I love lining up and watching the person behind the table pick up the ruler and find my name. There’s a little warm glow of being one tiny thread in the great muddled ball of string that is the democratic process. Always, in the queue there’s a particular feeling: pleased, proud, everyone hugging to ourselves the little secret of how we’re going to vote. When my kids were at primary school, I loved helping to person the stall churning out the Democracy Sausages.

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Approximately 37,000 years ago, a volcano erupted in the south-east corner of the continent now known, in settler-colonial parlance, as Australia. His name is Budj Bim. As his lava spread and cooled, Budj Bim’s local relations, the Gunditjmara people, set about developing new ways of managing the changing landscape. They would engineer, most famously, a large and sophisticated aquaculture system, one dedicated in particular to the raising and harvesting of Kooyang, or eels. This infrastructure, explains Gunditjmara man Damein Bell, was instrumental in providing food to ‘one of the largest population settlements in Australia before Europeans arrived’.

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Ecologist Steve Morton’s new book opens with a telling anecdote: as a young scientist in Alice Springs, he often advised visiting film crews about promising locations for their nature documentaries. When one group returned after a week in the desert, they reported back on a single hitch in an otherwise successful trip – a lack of wind-blown sand dunes. To fix this problem they cleared spinifex off a dune, creating a large expanse of bare sand, the illusion enhanced by accommodating morning winds.

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There is a debate as long-running as climate change itself: can capitalism, with its demand for endless growth, be sustained on a planet with finite bounds and limited resources? Freemarketeers say yes. For them, the issue is not capitalism per se but an economic model that does not factor in the true cost of emissions. As a result, we the people and the planet are subsidising industries that pollute for free. The counterargument is based on simple intuition: How on earth can capitalism, the unstoppable force be contained inside the inelastic object? This has never received a convincing reply.

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Most people, and certainly most politicians, don’t spend much time or emotional energy thinking about whether human life on this planet will still exist in one hundred years’ time, or what efforts might need to be made right now if we and our descendants are to avoid extinction.

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