The new challenge for climate action? Populism

2016 is likely to be the hottest year ever recorded — a jump over the second hottest year, 2015. Vast areas of Siberia are burning. An oil sands town burned in Canada. Kuwait recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded outside of Death Valley at 54 Celsius. The Great Barrier Reef bleaches and dies, while hundreds of kilometres of mangroves die en masse in the NT and the Great Southern Reef of kelp forests is dying and being replaced by seaweed banks. The Tasmanian high plateau peat bogs burned for the first time in perhaps a thousand years. The vast Himalayan glaciers that supply water to the world’s two population giants, India and China, are melting far quicker than expected. The North Pole hit temperatures more than 27 degrees Celsius above normal. This month, authorities admitted the jump had taken them by surprise. “We predicted moderate warmth for 2016, but nothing like the temperature rises we’ve seen,” David Carlson, director of the World Meteorological Organisation recently told Reuters.

2016 is the year climate change got real. And after decades of foot-dragging and fossil-fuel seeded denial and delay tactics, it’s also the year the world decided to act. In April, 195 countries agreed to keep global warming below two degrees by signing the Paris Accord. (The aspirational target of 1.5 degrees is almost impossible.) And with renewables now cheaper than new fossil fuel power and wind/solar growing at double the rate of fossil fuels, it seemed change was at last upon us. Pioneering governments in Germany and California have proven grids can handle renewables on a large scale. China is about to ban most new coal stations. For the first time, it seemed possible to thank fossil fuels for their service in liberating us from the bounds of muscle power alone and move to renewables, where fuel is free. At long last, action seemed likely on the most pressing issue of our time. We might — might — have a chance of stemming the worst of climate change.

But there’s a new problem. Populism

The rest at Medium.

How a Chinese-language social media campaign hurt Labor

My reporting on a Liberal-affiliated Chinese social media campaign in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs:

“Melbourne groups on WeChat – the Chinese Facebook – were lighting up with pro-Liberal posts and articles. In group chats of up to 500 people, commentators attacked the ALP and spread claims that voting Labor would lead to vast increases in refugee numbers which would mean fewer family visas, or suggesting that the Safe Schools program would mean boys could use girls’ toilets.”

The rest at The Guardian

Kingdoms of Stone

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The road south out of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is long and dusty. Our guide, Tsuri, drives my wife and I ever southward in the dawn light, before the African sun reaches its full power. We drive past reclaimed white farms and Shona villages and rounded kopje boulders (Dutch for “little head”) set amid maize fields, past rivers and thorn-clad acacias, past vervet monkeys sitting atop fence posts, past small girls offering honey for sale by the side of the road, past the steady stream of buses shuttling Zimbabwe’s diaspora workers home from South Africa.

Our goal is four hours away, an immense stone city once home to a line of powerful and wealthy kings. Great Zimbabwe, as the site is known, is the largest set of stone ruins in sub-Saharan Africa—so large and intricate that when Europeans first began archaeological investigation, they simply could not believe that the ancestors of the local Shona were the builders.

The rest at Roads & Kingdoms

New work

Here are two features I’ve been plugging away at for a while.

The joke that bombed

I met the now-notorious Jalals about a month before their arrest for their public shooting prank that turned out to be mocked-up. Savvy creators willing to mix truth and fiction to get big, fast.

Intro para:

You’ve most likely seen one of the Jalals’ viral videos on your Facebook news feed. Grainy shots of night-time suburbia. Three men in Arab dress cruise slowly down the street in a 4WD. One lifts an AK-47 rifle and takes aim at a man and his young daughter using a payphone, causing them to flee. The sound of tinny gunshots echo through the car’s speakers.
The man bolts, leaving his terrified daughter in his wake. In earlier clips, a man in Arab dress and beard appears, toting a suspicious bag. He tosses it into donut shops, car windows, the open doors of a lift. He throws it over the door of a closed toilet cubicle. He throws it at basketballers, kids playing on wharves, tradies on a lunch break, at a man descending an escalator.

The rest in The Age/SMH here.

The secret lives of international students

There she stood in the frenzied mosh pit, amid flailing arms, flying beads of sweat and the growling ecstasy of the mob, threshing like trawler bycatch. As a teenager in Jakarta, Dea Arida was never allowed to go to hardcore punk gigs, her protective, strict parents considering them dangerous and corrupting. But Australia is a long way from home. Here, for the first time, Dea could immerse herself in the punk band scene. For the first few years, she methodically removed her Blu-Tacked ticket stubs from her bedroom wall each time her parents came to visit. By 2014, when her 14-year-old sister visited, Dea was ready to come out as a hardcore fan. “I took my sister [to the mosh pit] to prove a point to my parents,” Dea says. “Gigs here are safe.” And Dea’s boyfriend came, too. New country, new rules.
As Dea was leaving to study at Melbourne University five years ago, her worried parents showered her with advice. Don’t let guys stay over. Maintain your Catholic faith amid Australia’s secularism. Avoiding alcohol didn’t even need to be said. Dea listened. But she was nursing a secret. “It wasn’t something I told my parents, but the liberal nature of Australia was a reason I came,” she says. “Here, you don’t have to conform to your peers as much. There’s a lot of freedom.”

The rest in Good Weekend here.

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Our Father: A priest and his adoptive children in Papua New Guinea

There is a wordless sweet communion between Thomas and Avia Kano, a brother-sister duo who have come to depend on each other in their parents’ absence. Thomas is the younger one, though he doesn’t look it. He’s already broad-shouldered, with wisps of a beard in the making and a ponytail. He speaks with small hand gestures, meeting your eyes with his, and veers away from words. Adolescence has made him awkward. Avia is small and well-formed, as if pressed from a mould. When school is over, they sprawl on the couch, heedless of the outside world, passing the snufflings of birdlings between them. They nestle on the grass on the foreshore, metres from the home of their patron, a priest, and speak without voices.

The rest at Medium

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Media for AmalgaNations

September? How is the year disappearing so fast? I’ve been a tad snowed under with New Dad Responsibilities, book excitement and impending PhD deadline.

AmalgaNations has been out almost eight months now. It’s been an interesting ride – from early media tarting to a long terrifying silence (was anyone reading it? was it shit? O gods) to a trickle of nice feedback. I sent a copy of the book to travel writer god Pico Iyer, and he wrote a very kind response.

The most interesting and unexpected thing that’s emerged out of AmalgaNations is that writing a nonfiction book has given me a platform to wax lyrical on topics I’m mostly unqualified about. It’s been excellent.

Anyway, in the interests of cataloging AmalgaNations meeja, here’s a short list:

RADIO INTERVIEWS:

I popped up on Radio Australia, ABC 702 Sydney and ABC 612 Brisbane and local stations from Newcastle to Mackay to Darwin to Hobart.

On Sunday Night Safran, I managed to bemuse Father Bob. Here’s the podcast.

More interviews:
ABC’s The Drawing Room with Jonathan Green and Tasneem Chopra

RRR: Breakfasters

SBS radio:

Filipino

Africa

REVIEWS:

Fairfax – The Age / SMH / Canberra Times
Review by Steven Carroll
NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
AMALGANATIONS. By Doug Hendrie. Hardie Grant. $29.95.
Think of a tank with a machine gun directed by a Sony PlayStation controller – it actually happened in the Libyan civil war – and you’ve some sense of the unpredictable way in which cultures, in a globalised world, can intersect. Prompted by a coffee in Footscray, which led to an introduction to African-Australian hip-hop, Doug Hendrie travelled much of the world curious to discover the effects of globalisation. Is it just another form of colonisation, transforming the world into one great homogenised culture, or is something else going on? Culture, Hendrie argues, “has never been static” and preserving cultural purity is impossible. Hybridity, he argues, is the norm and he presents four case studies, from the Philippines to Ghana, that exemplify the amalgams that result when Western culture meets another.

The Australian Way – Qantas magazine: April edition had a nice review – “fascinating and funny”

Melbourne University Voice had a write-up.

FESTIVALS:

I spoke at Melbourne and Brisbane Writers Festivals – terrifying but rather fun to be on panels with the likes of Prof. Ross Garnaut and Linda Jaivin.

EVENTS:
I did a dinner event with the excellent Tony Wheeler at Eltham Bookshop, and also a Wheeler Centre panel discussion with Tony, Laura Jean McKay and Marni Cordell. Here’s the video.

I’ve also spoken at Melbourne University and Croydon Library. Cross-cultural wunderkind Tasneem Chopra invited me to address the Muslim Leadership Program at La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue, which proved to be an interesting discussion that served to educate me more than the participants.

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Kenya’s Silicon Savannah

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A programmer walks slowly down the stairs, holding his laptop in both hands as if steering by it. He passes a mural of Super Mario Bros, circa 1988, and into the entrance of iHub proper – a large, airy space, full of earnest young women and men working on their laptops. A coffee machine hisses in one corner. A quiet game of table soccer is under way. Silicon Valley? Not quite. This is the heartland of the Silicon Savannah, and one of many startup incubators dotting dusty Ngong Road in Nairobi, Kenya.

Everyone is here nursing the same hope – to make the next breakthrough service for Kenya’s enormous and growing population of mobile phone users. More than two-thirds of Kenyans own mobile phones, the highest rate in East Africa. The mobile phone has become Africa’s leapfrog technology – communication, commerce, computing and increasingly, internet access, all rolled into one cheap device.

The rest at New Matilda

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By Christ and the cannon

It’s raining heavily as Camara poles our pirogue across the still, shallow waters of the Bay of Rogues towards the world’s only pirate cemetery. My wife and I hold umbrellas high to fend off the deluge. Ile Sainte-Marie, a sleepy 60-kilometre splinter off Madagascar’s north-east, is ground zero for cyclones sweeping in from the Indian Ocean, and the season is imminent. Villagers wade through the silted bay with nets. When pirates came here more than 300 years ago, the Bay of Rogues was deep and still, secure from cyclones. Better – there was a tiny islet, the Ile aux Forbans, where the pirates could moor their small ships in plain sight. Passing traders would see these tadpoles and not spare them a thought. But lurking behind the island were larger pirate ships, dreaded by sailors, built for speed and for war. The traders – heavy with loot – were easy prey.

The rest at the Sydney Morning Heraldpirate

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Adapting for hope – an Irish nun and South Africa’s poorest people


THERE is a single large tree on the wind-whipped salt-lake flats, the most marginal of marginal land. There are rivals – low scrub across the ground, bent by wind, introduced agave succulents with king-shard stems extending into the dust-filled sky, a few short and spiny trees – but only one tree. How do you create shelter against the stinging dust, the biting wind, the bulbous red-jelly sun that burns from near-dawn to dusk? You can build it out of scrounged wood, tin and plastic, but no one can stay indoors all day. The tree offers free shade beneath its spreading limbs, a patch of cool outdoors, a place to meet, mingle, talk.

This tree is the centrepiece of the founding story of Missionvale, an informal settlement of 120,000 people that has existed on unwanted land at the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for over a century. A new influx came during apartheid, when the coloured township near the wealthy white enclave of Walmer – a township of servants – was forcibly relocated in 1965. The land was too desirable; it could become suburbia. And so eight thousand people were uprooted and moved, their shacks bulldozed, and an entire new township deposited on the saltpans twenty kilometres away. After apartheid, new water pumps were installed and the population ballooned, as blacks and coloured began circulating, seeking a better life. Many found Missionvale and a Xhosa influx took the township to its present size.

No one has paid much attention to it; the middle class of Port Elizabeth drive past on the road to Uitenhage without noticing the timber-and-tin shacks thronging the salt lake. On the tourist map, a giant picture of an impala papers over the shadow city. But a diminutive white Irish nun wandered into this poorest of black settlements one day in 1988, in the last bitter years of apartheid, and knew this was where she wanted to be.

The rest at the Griffith Review

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