We live in interesting times

Adam: It has been a busy time since the last issue. Probably the highlight for me was a lightning trip to Europe. For various reasons I’ve been working on a long-running research project to develop a system that we hope will encourage the reuse of building components. Currently the construction industry is one of, if not the biggest producer of waste materials in Australia, so any means to reduce that waste is a worthwhile step. And while recycling is good, it is better to reuse than to recycle.

My involvement in this research led to an unexpected trip to Manchester to speak at a circular economy conference, followed by a quick run down to London and four days in the Netherlands. As is often the case I wasn’t given much free time – I arrived in Manchester after the flight from Adelaide at 8am, and was speaking at the conference by 11am; I arrived in London the next day at 1pm, and was flying out to Amsterdam at 4pm the day after. In the end I was on 8 flights in 8 days, but I managed to stretch out the Delft aspect of the trip, and that’s where the photo on this issue’s cover came from. I’ve never been to a town like Delft before – my only previous trip to Europe (thanks to Wikipedia, oddly enough) was to Vienna – and Delft is the only place I’ve been to that has almost convinced me to leave Adelaide. I should add that the Delft University of Technology, which was the target of my trip to the Netherlands, is a wondrous place.

Seeing the growing interest in the circular economy is very exciting, and while I now know far more about the use of recycled aggregates in concrete than I ever wanted to learn, the trip was both a wonderful (if rushed) experience and a highly educational one.

On the SF front, our local SF discussion group, Critical Mass, has briefly turned into something more closely resembling a traditional book club in recent months, with a focus on reading and discussing novellas. I must admit that I hadn’t paid much attention to the format in the past – I like the longer form novels when I have time, and short stories when I need something quick – but I’m starting to see the attraction. The standout for me has been the Murderbot series by Martha Wells, but as they feel a bit more like a novel that has simply been published in multiple parts I’m not sure if they are the best example of the novella as a format. That said, the act of reading has been a great pleasure and one that I’ve missed for too long. It is nice to be stealing time to read again, and I’ll need to make sure that I continue to do it.

Finally, for those interested in the Twenty Places novels, a successful Kickstarter means that we’ll be seeing another book in the sequence after all. Harry Connoly’s gritty urban fantasy series has been highly readable, and this use of Kickstarter is a great one. It is always disappointing when a series is dropped, but if fans can fund its continuation we may have a hope of turning that around while removing some of the risk from the author,and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story is ultimately resolved.

Roman: It’s been a strange month, with pointers to different SFnal futures. Of particular concern are the threats against democracy.

Friday, September 30th: Global Climate Strike

I joined several thousand fellow citizens in Victoria Square just before noon on Friday: there had been a constant stream of people heading for the square for the last two hours, so it was no surprise to find a square full of people demanding action on climate change. School students, parents, uni students, office workers, home bodies and others swarmed around the stalls at the square. The crowd was so dense, you couldn’t see more than a couple of metres across the square: while we noticed a few food vans at the southern end of the square, we were stuck at the northern edge, adjacent to the road which bisected the square.

There were four of us, carrying a “Fight for the Bight” banner (Equinor, the Norwegian state part-owned oil company wants to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight). While we couldn’t hear the speeches (the crowd overwhelmed the PA), we chatted to people we knew who were passing by.

Despite the overcast day, the rain held off. By 1 pm, the crowd started to move off to march down King William St to Parliament House. It was big enough to spread out over the traffic lanes, including the tram line, taking twenty or thirty minutes to cover the five blocks to North Terrace. Half the intersection was blocked by people, and the police kept trying to move us off the streets (with little success). More speeches, then people were invited to move on to Elder Park for stalls and a BBQ. I’d estimate the crowd at 17,000, almost three times the number at the climate strike earlier in the year.

Later that day, we heard that the marches across Australia were well attended: Melbourne won the prize with 100,000 attending! (This is apparently the number turning up in London later that day.)

Greta Thunberg at the UN, Sept 23rd

In a moving, emotional speech, Greta Thunberg spoke to the special Climate Summit at the UN: the teenage Swedish climate activist told governments that “you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”

Australian PM missing in action

Scott Morrison, Australia’s current PM was in the US at the time of the UN Climate Summit. He was busy cosying up to US President Donald Trump. He wasn’t invited to address the Climate Summit because it was clear Australia had no new commitments to offer the UN.

His comments on Greta’s speech to the UN were patronising and insulting: he accused her of being “manipulated” and said his kids don’t have to worry about climate change — they can just be kids, and let their parents worry about the problem. Unfortunately, his government seems to be doing their best to ignore the whole problem. They claim coal is the future of energy — he’s even instructed his foreign minister to try and sell more coal in his Asian visits!

The suggestion that Greta doesn’t know about the issue is also insulting: she clearly knows far more than key members of the current Australian government.

This, after all, is an MP who was seen cradling a lump of coal in parliament! (You can just imagine him saying “How Good is that!”)

A few days later, Morrison appeared at the UN General Assembly, claiming Australia was doing its bit, and would meet the Paris Agreement targets.
This isn’t borne out by the evidence.

BoJo ruled out of order, Tues 24th Sept

Just before 7:30pm Adelaide time, we heard news of the British Supreme Court decision on the legality of Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament: 11 judges unanimously ruled that it wasn’t appropriate, suggesting the PM had mislead the Queen, and inviting the Speaker of the House to convene parliament once more. Johnson blusters and threatens to once more try prorogation…

Trump Impeachment Wed 25th September

In the US, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into the President after a transcript of a July call with Ukranian President Zelensky revealed Trump pushed him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — his potential 2020 political rival — and his son, Hunter. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

A separate whistleblower complaint also alleges Trump abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and that the White House took steps to cover it up. Trump has denied doing anything improper.


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