A commentary on an age of contradictions

Previously 'The Ramblings of a Bush Philosopher'

Pages in 'A Commentary'

These pages aim at informing; there is little opinion.

Calculate your energy costs
Download costs
Drones: personal experiences
Drones, in general
My main sources of information
Electrical generating methods
Some energy units and conversions
Home heating efficiencies
Reliable sources of information
Science; our most valuable tool
My groundwater programs...
(Well and truly outdated now)

CG Programs
CG Notes
Download page

Photo galleries
Photos and observations...

India; visit 1989; modified 2009
Indonesia; visit 1994; modified 2009
Japan, 2017
New Zealand, 2019
Vietnam, visits2004-08; modified 2017
Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, 2011
Singapore and Malaysia, 2015

Other authors with similar views

Miriam English

Richard Parncutt, The Human Cost of Poverty and Climate Change

Peter Gardner

On St Mary's Peak, Flinders Ranges, S. Australia
During my lifetime (1945-2020...) I have seen great brilliance and abysmal stupidity, great devotion to doing good and great devotion to gaining and holding onto wealth and power at any cost, great advances in science and determined following of religious and other superstitions and delusions, great love and care for our shared environment and far more environmental damage than in any other age. This is an age in which humanity has produced wonderful scientific advances and brilliant art and at the same time has been guilty of dreadful crimes, abysmal stupidity, remarkable blindness and despicable neglect.

It is humanity's intelligence that sets the species apart from the other animals and gives us the power to change the environment; yet many of humanity's actions are prompted by short-term desires, selfishness, superstition or emotion rather than clear-thinking and intelligence; sadly, this is greatly to the detriment of the planet.

There is also an Australian section.

On this page...
Feature page...
Thoughts on ethics

Some thoughts
Some concepts

This world could be a good world, a sane world, fair, just, moral. Why is it not? Apathy, selfishness, delusion and ignorance. The drive to get power and money are forms of selfishness. The short-sightedness that stops the world dealing with climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise, the air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels that kills millions of people world wide each year is, again, stupidity and selfishness.

Science has allowed us to learn a huge amount about our world and universe, yet many people still cling to religion in the complete absence of any supporting evidence.

The belief that one is absolutely right or has access to infallible knowledge – whether it be in the Bible, Koran, Mein Kampf, or anywhere else – is a very dangerous thing; people with such beliefs can do, and have done, great harm. Doubt and scepticism are crucial. I have developed many ideas and opinions on these pages since I started writing them in 2001, but all are open to change. I'm very nearly sure that the Earth is round, about equally sure that there is no God and that we do not have immortal souls, but I admit that I may be wrong.

Most of us hold delusions, I continually try to check that my opinions and beliefs are based on evidence. The important thing is to not believe anything without sufficient justifying evidence, and the converse, to not fail to believe whatever the evidence indicates to be fact. I try to live by that.

Truth, ethics, ethical government, and care for our environment are fundamental needs. The alternative to developing an entirely sustainable way of interacting with our environment is a collapse such as those that history has recorded in civilisations that have disappeared – because their peoples didn't live sustainably.

If you want justice – not just for yourself, but big justice – you have to fight for it continuously. If you choose the alternative, apathy, don't complain about injustice; and remember that it is often those who govern, whether legally and constitutionally, or by default, through the power they wield over the govenors, who are the greatest enemies of the common man. Those who govern like to cast outsiders as the enemy, this is often a smoke-screen, xenophobia diverts the attention of the plebs from the real problems, which are often much closer to home.

The photos on these page are the property of the author, unless otherwise indicated. In many cases permission to use the photos in their low-definition form will be given free of charge, so long as attribution is given; higher definition versions will often be charged for. The photos should not be used without permission or for unethical or dishonest purposes.
This page and site was started, in a much smaller way on or about September 2001; it has been added to and edited many times since. It was last edited on 2021/01/16
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

These pages have allowed me to organise my ideas; in particular they have forced me to make my ideas and opinions consistent. In the opinions expressed on this site I have tried, above all, to be rational. If an opinion is irrational then it is without any value. If any reader believes that some of my opinions are irrational – or simply wrong – I would appreciate being provided with arguments to that effect.

This site was written in Australia from an Australian perspective. (For US citizens – Australia is not to be confused with Austria; it is a predominantly English speaking [well, a form of English anyway] large island nation [almost as big as your own country!] on the bottom side of the world. I am not an admirer of the USA.)


Some of my favourite quotes; that are also pertenent to these pages

"If ever there were a cause which should unite us all, old or young, rich or poor, climate change must be it."
Kofi Annan Secretary General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006

"The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."
Robert Swan, OBE, Explorer and Environmentalist

"Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself."
Sukhraj Dhillon

"Do to others what you would have them do to you."
anonymous, often called The Golden Rule, in one form or another it is common to most major religions.
This – and the question, "What if everybody behaved that way?" – could practically be called the basis of all ethics.

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
William Butler Yeats, 1865 to 1939

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
George Bernard Shaw, 1856 to 1950
I remember once being advised to not worry about that which I cannot change; it seemed good advice at the time. But one must be very sure that one cannot change it; if something needs to be changed and is not being changed, then why should anyone else change it if I am unwilling to try?

"Since the dawn of our species, an unquenchable curiosity has driven us to ask and re-ask the same questions: Who are we? Where do we come from ? Are we alone? Myths offered the first answers: myths of creation and of spirit worlds. From here, one trail led to religion and to answers grounded in faith. But another trail led to philosophy–to reasoning. Pure reasoning at first, then reasoning aided by observation and experiment–what we now call science."
David Koerner and Simon LeVay from Here be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial Life

"Every nation has the government that it deserves."
Joseph de Maistre [Letter on the subject of Russia, Aug. 1811]
Very applicable in the modern world where apathetic and short-sighted voters have allowed democracies to become plutocracies.

Aldo Leopold
"I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the World."
Socrates [Plutarch, De Exilio, v]
A remarkably applicable, even essential, attitude for the modern world. What Socrates could see in c. 300BC the G.W. Bush administration of the USA and the Howard Government of Australia were incapable of seeing in the early 21st century

"An unexamined life is not worth living."
Socrates, Plato's Apology.

"Magna est veritas et praevalebit": Truth is great and shall prevail.
Book of Edras (Ezra), Latin Vulgate Bible
(Unfortunately, in regard to climate change, by the time the truth prevails it will be too late for thousands or millions of species and billions of people.)

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
H. G. Wells, Born 1866/09/21, died 1946/08/13. How much more relevant is this now, when we must greatly reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead, American Anthropologist (1901 – 1978)

"It is foolish to wait until you reach the summit before enjoying the view."
Author unknown, Chinese proverb.

"When the wind of change blows some build walls while others build windmills"
Author unknown, Chinese proverb.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Groucho Marx

"If you think you are too small to make a difference, you've never been in a room with a mosquito."
Annita Roddick (of The Body Shop), from "Business as Unusual"
Consider this before you say that your country (or the world) is a mess but you cannot do anything about it.

"It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness"
William L. Watkinson, 1907.
It has been used by Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International (hence AI's emblem).

"Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things – that takes religion."
Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate.

(The above saying would be more accurate if the word 'religion' was replaced with the word 'delusion'. Religion certainly will serve as the needed delusion, but it is not the only delusion that will cause good people to do bad things; for example there have been several people, at least one of whom was well-meaning, who did great harm spreading a deluded belief that wind turbines caused illnesses. Fortunately this particular delusion seems to have died a natural death.)

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
Voltaire, French author, humanist, rationalist, and satirist (1694 - 1778)

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."
Eleanor Roosevelt, US politician, diplomat and activist (1884 – 1962)

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
A summation of Voltair's beliefs on freedom of thought and expression, actually written by Evelyn Beatric Hall
Contrary to that, I would doubt that anyone has the right to knowingly lie.

"We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality."
Ayn Rand
Very pertinent in an age in which we can see what must be done (eg. in regard to climate change) but are not doing it.

"The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?...the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?..."
Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832
On discussing whether animals should have rights as people have rights.

"In reality one could say that never have so many stayed in school so long to learn so little."
Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery, 1972

"The lesson of history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government will try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. My hope is that you will not be content to be successful in the way our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you."
Howard Zinn – Address to Spelman College, 2005. (Also see a Howard Zinn quote on civil disobedience on another page.)

"Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse."
African proverb

"The essence of science is skepticism. The essence of religion is faith."
"Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a method."
Author unknown

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke
The alternative is to leave running the world to politicians and the various business lobbies. The executives in charge of multinational companies that employ many of the lobbyists have enormous power and very little morality.

"The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction."
Bertrand Russell (1872 to 1970), from Let the People Think, 1941
Again, religion comes to mind.

"It seems to me that science has a much greater likelihood of being true in the main than any philosophy hitherto advanced (I do not, of course, except my own). In science there are many matters about which people are agreed; in philosophy there are none. Therefore, although each proposition in science may be false, yet we shall be wise to build our philosophy upon science, because the risk of error in philosophy is sure to be greater than in science. If we could hope for certainty in philosophy the matter would be otherwise, but so far as I can see such a hope would be chimerical."
Bertrand Russell, Logical Atomism
Russell was in my opinion possibly the pre-eminent philosopher of the twentieth century. I don't think this should be thought of as diminishing the importance of philosophy; if we are to truly understand science we must understand some philosophy, and how could we make any sense of life without philosophy?

"It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."
Bertrand Russell
The claim that wind turbines make people sick is one such.

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
Bertrand Russell
Alan Jones comes to mind in the first group. Look up the Dunning-Kruger effect

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
Isaac Newton

"If a thousand people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
Chinese proverb
Very apposite to religion. A billion Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that all the Muslims are wrong; a billion Muslims believe that all the Christians are wrong and Mohammed had all the answers. They all believe a foolish thing.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind"
Mohandas Gandhi
Bombing a nation in return for a terrorist attack is only going to achieve more hatred.

"Live simply so others may simply live"
Mohandas Gandhi
Consume less so that you are responsible for less environmental damage.

"But I have not met anyone who seriously argues that the world could support 12 times the current [human] impact, although an increase of that factor would result from all [current] Third World inhabitants adopting First World living standards."
"In the long run, rich people do not secure their own interests and those of their children if they rule over a collapsing society and merely buy themselves the privilege of being the last to starve or die."
From Collapse by Jared Diamond, 2005

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away."
From Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854

"When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty"
Author unknown: variously attributed to Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson.

"I believe that the proper utilization of time is this, if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy."
The Dalai Lama, From "The Art of Happines: A Handbook for Living"
I would go further and say that we should try to serve the biosphere; that is, work for the welfare of all life on earth. The damage that Man is doing to the planet harms all living things. Compassion for all is the key.

"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty
Pertinent to the right to voluntary euthanasia, assisted dying and suicide as a rational decision

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."
John Philpot Curran, Lord Mayor of Dublin
The reference to God is a bit archaic, but the concept is very true.

"One has to realize that the powerful industrial groups concerned in the manufacture of arms are doing their best in all countries to prevent the peaceful settlement of international disputes ..."
"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
"The only two things that are infinite in size are the universe, and human stupidity. And I'm not completely sure about the universe."
Albert Einstein, 1879 to 1955
(He might have replaced 'human stupidity' with 'human selfishness'.)

"Causes shall not be multiplied beyond necessity."
William of Occam (alternatively spelled Ockham), 1285 to about 1343
Ockham's Razor: Why hypothesize a god when the hypothesis serves no useful purpose?

"What is morally wrong cannot be economically right."
Gordon Brown (PM of Britain), 8th December 2004. The Pope Paul VI memorial lecture, CAFOD, London.
Why can so few politicians see this?

"When you are trying to change people's ethical views, you accomplish nothing by clashing your views against theirs – all you get is a counterthrust. It is far better to show that the conclusion you wish them to draw is implicit in what they already believe, albeit unnoticed."
Bernard E Rollin; Science and Ethics

"A busy woman is a happy woman"
Zac Sibenaler; not entirely seriously

"Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."
Cæsar in Cæsar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw, 1898
Religion leads us to such barbaric ideas.

"There are perhaps 5% of the population that simply can't think. There are another 5% who can think, and do. The remaining 90% can think, but don't."
Robert Heinlein, 1907 to 1988

Epicurus rejected the idea of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god. There are several interpretations of what is called the "Epicurean paradox" (or trilemma):
  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  • Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  • Is he both able and willing? Then where did evil come from?
  • Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
As summarised by David Hume:
  • If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
  • If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
  • If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?
It is worth my mentioning here that Epicurus lived about 300 BC.

"I aimed to make the Earth a better place – and failed miserably"
Professor Harry Messell
(However, the world was probably a better place for his having lived.)

"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguishable from the truth."
Daniel Kahneman
Relivant to climate science denial

"I don't understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress."
Ed Begley, Jr.

"People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
    Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
    Succeed anyway.
The kindness you show today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    Be kind anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
    Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
    Give the world the best you have anyway."
Kent M. Keith The Paradoxical Commandments, 1968

"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again"
Generally credited to Stephen Grellet, but without proven attribution

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
Herman Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall and commander of the Luftwaffe, at the Nuremberg trials.
Pertinent to the way President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Howard treated their respective peoples just before the second Iraq War.

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
Joseph Goebels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945

"Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."
Moses instructing the captains of Israel in the Bible, Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 15 to 18; and yet many people claim that we can learn ethics from the Bible!
Some of the above were from Pithy Sayings.

Some thoughts

One of the most important things that you can do is to consider the consequences of your actions. Perhaps the single most important thing that you can do is to examine all your beliefs and see if they are supported by the available evidence.
What right does anyone else have to tell me how and when I must die? More in some thoughts on euthanasia.
When considering whether something is worth doing, ask yourself, will it make the world a better place?
People demand cheap energy, the environment demands the energy we use be clean; this is why we need to replace fossil fuels with renewable power.
When climate change is destroying the world as we know it, why is only about one person in a thousand making a serious effort to do anything about it?
Put 3kW of solar panels on your roof and you save four of five tonnes of CO2 per year; help get a twenty turbine wind farm built by spreading the facts on wind power and you will have a part in saving 180,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. (No one, including you, will ever know what you have achieved – or failed to achieve!)
Little good can be done by lying; little harm by telling the truth.
If you try you may fail, if you do not try you will certainly achieve nothing.
Normality is nothing to be proud of.
Anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. (variation on Murphy)
This is a wonderful world, if you can overlook the selfishness, greed, stupidity, naïvity and delusion in so many of its people. There is also amazing kindness, unselfishness, compassion and dedication to doing good in many people.
In this world increased artificial intelligence might be good, but decreased natural stupidity would be a whole lot better.
You can do a lot of good in this world, but it is best to not expect recognition for your efforts (if you do get recognition, so much the better).
The ideal power station would be available all the time, would produce low-cost emission-free electricity, and would be able to increase and decrease its generation quickly to follow the variation in demand. The ideal power station does not exist.

Catchy, simplistic, but true

"For every hour that a wind turbine operates there will be about one tonne less CO2 going into the atmosphere."

"A wind turbine operating for three hours reduces CO2 emissions as much as taking one car off the roads for a year."

The above statements apply to utility scale wind turbines (about 3MW) operating in mainland Australia.


Some concepts

There are a number of concepts that are used on these pages that not all readers will be familiar with. This index (created in April 2010) aims at pointing to places in these pages that best explain the concepts.

Australia – too small to make a difference to climate change?
Base load; relating to electricity supply;
What is climate change? What could we be doing about it?
Climate change denial, A; B; C; D; E; F; G
Contraction and convergence; equitable sharing of the atmosphere
Corporate greed: an unjust distribution of income;
Demand side management, or price-responsive-load, relating to electricity supply;
Dying languages
Embodied energy (and embodied CO2)
Energy units, definitions and conversions;
Energy density;
Energy return on investment (EROI);
Ethics: a hugely important subject that is little understood by most;
The Great Golden Age
Land ownership, or land stewardship?
Ocean acidification
Ockham's Razor
Payload ratio;
The Scientific method; many talk about science, who could say exactly what it is?
Science in practice;
Sustainable energy;
Our civilisation is unsustainable;
Weight-to-power ratio;
Who is 'the enemy'?, whom should we fear?;
Wind power concepts.