One year ago today, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the first caused by a coronavirus.
As we enter year two of the pandemic, let’s remind ourselves of some sobering statistics. So far, there have been more than 117.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world; more than 2.6 million people have died. A total of 221 countries and territories have been affected. Some 12 of the 14 countries and territories reporting no cases are small Pacific or Atlantic islands.
Whether the race to end the pandemic will be a sprint or a marathon remains to be seen, as does the extent of the gap between rich and poor contestants. However, as vaccines roll out across the world, it seems we are collectively just out of the starting blocks.
Developing safe and effective vaccines in such a short time frame was a mission as ambitious, and with as many potential pitfalls, as walking on the Moon.
Miraculously, 12 months since a pandemic was declared, eight vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been approved by at least one country. A ninth, Novavax, is very promising. So far, more than 312 million people have been vaccinated with at least one dose.
While most high-income countries will have vaccinated their populations by early 2022, 85 poor countries will have to wait until 2023.
This implies the world won’t be back to normal travel, trade and supply chains until 2024 unless rich countries take actions — such as waiving vaccine patents, diversifying production of vaccines and supporting vaccine delivery — to help poor countries catch up.
The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective in preventing symptomatic and severe COVID-19. However, we need to continue to study the vaccines after being rolled out (conducting so-called post-implementation studies) in 2021 and beyond. This is to determine how long protection lasts, whether we need booster doses, how well vaccines work in children and the impact of vaccines on viral transmission.
One of the most salutary lessons we have learnt in the pandemic’s first year is how dangerous it is to let COVID-19 transmission go unchecked. The result is the emergence of more transmissible variants that escape our immune responses, high rates of excess mortality and a stalled economy.
Until we achieve high levels of population immunity via vaccination, in 2021 we must maintain individual and societal measures, such as masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene; improve indoor ventilation; and strengthen outbreak responses — testing, contact tracing and isolation.
The outcomes of even momentary complacency are evident as global numbers of new cases once again increase after a steady two month decline. This recent uptick reflects surges in many European countries, such as Italy, and Latin American countries like Brazil and Cuba. New infections in Papua New Guinea have also risen alarmingly in the past few weeks.
Some fundamental questions also remain unanswered. We don’t know how long either natural or vaccine-induced immunity will last. However, encouraging news from the US reveals 92-98% of COVID-19 survivors had adequate immune protection six to eight months after infection. In 2021, we will continue to learn more about how long natural and vaccine-induced immunity lasts.
The longer the coronavirus circulates widely, the higher the risk of more variants of concern emerging. We are aware of B.1.1.7 (the variant first detected in the UK), B.1.351 (South Africa), and P.1 (Brazil).
Variants may transmit more readily than the original Wuhan strain of the virus and may lead to more cases. Some variants may also be resistant to vaccines, as has already been demonstrated with the B.1.351 strain. We will continue to learn more about the impact of variants on disease and vaccines in 2021 and beyond.
Given so many unknowns, how the world will be in March 2022 would be an educated guess. However, what is increasingly clear is there will be no “mission accomplished” moment. We are at a crossroads with two end games.
In the most likely scenario, rich countries will return to their new normal. Businesses and schools will reopen and internal travel will resume. Travel corridors will be established between countries with low transmission and high vaccine coverage. This might be between Singapore and Taiwan, between Australia and Vietnam, and maybe between all four, and more countries.
In low- and middle-income countries, there may be a reduction in severe cases, freeing them to rehabilitate health services that have suffered in the past 12 months. These include maternal, newborn, and child health services, including reproductive health; tuberculosis, HIV and malaria programs; and nutrition. However, reviving these services will need rich countries to commit generous and sustained aid.
The second scenario, which sadly is unlikely to occur, is unprecedented global cooperation with a focus on science and solidarity to halt transmission everywhere.
This is a fragile moment in modern world history. But, in record time, we have developed effective tools to eventually control this pandemic. The path to a post-COVID-19 future can perhaps now be characterised as a hurdle race but one that presents severe handicaps to the world’s poorest nations. As an international community, we have the capacity to make it a level playing field.
In the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, seven out of 50 Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. This has raised more questions than it has answered about where the Republican Party is going.
It still looks like Trump’s party, but for how long? Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, says Trump’s power over the party will “wane”. He will certainly hope so. The Republican Party of Louisiana has already censured Cassidy for his disloyalty to Trump.
On the other hand, Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s top allies, believes Trump and his supporters are so important to the future of the party that Republicans should nominate his daughter-in-law to replace retiring Senator Richard Burr (who voted to convict).
Some in the party see Trump as a major liability who will only get more toxic. He is the first president since 1932 to oversee the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term. Joe Biden got the highest vote share of any presidential challenger since 1932 in the highest-turnout election since 1900, earning 7 million more votes than Trump.
However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised more of his opponents.
Despite all this, Republicans came within 90,000 votes of winning both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2020. Many Republicans believe Trump is an electoral asset who helped them outperform expectations and narrow the Democrats’ margins nationwide.
Unlike in 2012, there won’t be a Republican Party autopsy of the election defeat. Large numbers of Republicans doubt the outcome of the election, and most of the party’s legislators are unwilling to tell them otherwise.
So what might the future hold?
For now, the two sides are stuck with each other.
These threats have quickly evaporated. The most a new conservative party could achieve is to damage the electoral prospects of Republicans (something Trump might have contemplated in the face of the impeachment threat).
The American electoral system, which is winner-takes-all from top to bottom, is notoriously unforgiving to would-be third parties. Even people who feel alienated from their own parties are better off staying and fighting for power rather than forming a new party, which would never get anywhere near power.
It has been more than 160 years since divisions over slavery destroyed major parties in the United States. The Republican and Democratic parties have survived since the Civil War despite numerous fractures and even violent conflicts.
Congressional outcasts occasionally defect to the other major party. But, more often, members at odds with their party eventually retire and are replaced by new members more closely aligned with its direction. This process is one of the factors leading to the current polarisation of Congress.
Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has become the focus of concerns about right-wing extremism in the Republican Party. Greene has a long history of amplifying dangerous conspiracy theories on social media.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned that “loony lies and conspiracy theories” are “a cancer for the Republican Party and our country”. Greene fired back: “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully. This is why we are losing our country.”
House Democrats moved to strip Greene of her membership of congressional committees after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy refused to discipline her.
But Greene’s central conspiratorial grievance – that Trump was robbed of a rightful victory in the 2020 election – is an article of faith and a politically energising force for much of the Republican base. Trump raised US$255 million dollars off it in the weeks after the election.
Many Republicans in Congress acquiesced to the “stolen election” fantasy, some with the excuse that they are faithfully representing their constituents. Even McConnell waited weeks before acknowledging Biden’s victory.
Republicans who openly acknowledged Biden’s victory and dismissed claims of widespread election fraud faced anger and censure from state party organisations, as well as from Trump himself. Republicans who backed impeachment saw immediate retribution, and will almost certainly have to defeat well-supported primary challengers in the future.
The historical willingness of American conservatives to police extremism has been overstated. It doesn’t matter that Trump and Greene are poison to the larger electorate. Neither election losses nor the stigma of “extremism” are enough to kill right-wing political movements in America.
Accepting the Republican nomination in 1964, Barry Goldwater declared that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice”. Goldwater went on to one of the largest electoral defeats in history, but within 15 years his movement, led by Ronald Reagan, had thoroughly conquered the Republican Party, taken the White House and reshaped American political culture. Trump’s followers have similar ambitions.
No one knows yet what role Trump will play in future Republican politics. His recent attack on McConnell suggests he at least wants to continue to punish Republicans he sees as disloyal. The possibility Trump could run again will make politics awkward for Republicans eager to claim his mantle for their own presidential ambitions.
The prospect of “Trumpism without Trump” has enticed conservatives and worried liberals ever since the Trump phenomenon began. Republicans have learned to rail against “globalism” and the “deep state”. They are unlikely to return to comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.
Trump has breathed new life into old conservative staples such as law and order and the perils of socialism. But Trump’s relationship with his supporters goes far beyond his political positions, or even the grievances and emotions he harnessed.
Trump’s appeal was based on the perception that he had unique gifts that no politician ever had. He cultivated a media image that made him synonymous, however incorrectly, with business success. His tireless verbal output, whether through Twitter or at endless rallies, created an alternative reality for his followers. Many saw him as chosen by God.
That kind of charismatic magic will be extremely difficult for any career politician to recapture. Republicans may discover that Trumpism is not a political movement but a business model, a model only ever designed for one benefactor.
If I offered you money for something, an offer you didn’t have to accept, would you call it a grab?
What if I actually owned the thing I offered you money for, and the offer was more of a gentle inquiry?
Welcome to the world of television, where the government (which actually owns the broadcast spectrum) can offer networks the opportunity to hand back a part of it, in return for generous compensation, and get accused of a “spectrum grab”.
If the minister, Paul Fletcher, hadn’t previously worked in the industry (he was a director at Optus) he wouldn’t have believed it.
Here’s what happened. The networks have been sitting on more broadcast spectrum (radio frequencies) than they need since 2001.
That’s when TV went digital in order to free up space for emerging uses such as mobile phones.
Pre-digital, each station needed a lot of spectrum — seven megahertz, plus another seven (and at times another seven) for fill-in transmitters in nearby areas.
It meant that in major cities it took far more spectrum to deliver the five TV channels than Telstra plans to use for its entire 5G phone and internet work.
Digital meant each channel would only need two megahertz to do what it did before, a huge saving Prime Minister John Howard was reluctant to pick up.
His own department told him there were
better ways of introducing digital television than by granting seven megahertz of spectrum to each of the five free-to-air broadcasters at no cost when a standard definition service of a higher quality than the current service could be provided with around two megahertz
His Office of Asset Sales labelled the idea of giving them the full seven a
de facto further grant of a valuable public asset to existing commercial interests
Seven, Nine and Ten got the de facto grant, and after an uninspiring half decade of using it to broadcast little-watched high definition versions of their main channels, used it instead to broadcast little-watched extra channels with names like 10 Shake, 9Rush and 7TWO.
TV broadcasts are actually a good use of spectrum where masses of people need to watch the same thing at once. They use less of broadcast bandwidth than would the same number of streams delivered through the air by services such as Netflix.
But when they are little-watched (10 Shake got 0.4% of the viewing audience in prime time last week, an average of about 10,000 people Australia-wide) the bandwidth is much better used allowing people to watch what they want.
Among the buyers were Telstra, Optus and TPG.
The money now on offer, and the exploding need for spectrum, is why last November Fletcher decided to have another go.
Rather than kick the networks off what they’ve been hogging (as he is doing with community TV) he offered them what on the face of it is an astoundingly generous deal.
Any networks that want to can agree to combine their allocations, using new compression technology to broadcast about as many channels as before from a shared facility, freeing up what might be a total of 84 megahertz for high-value communications. Any that don’t, don’t need to.
The deal would only go ahead if at least two commercial licence holders in each licence area signed up. At that point the ABC and SBS would combine their allocations and the commercial networks would be freed of the $41 million they currently pay in annual licence fees, forever.
That’s right. From then on, they would be guaranteed enough spectrum to do about what they did before, except for free, plus a range of other benefits
The near-instant reaction, in a letter signed by the heads of each of the regional networks, was to say no, they didn’t want to share. The plan was “simply a grab for spectrum to bolster the federal government’s coffers”.
It’s not as if the networks own the spectrum (they don’t) and it’s not as if they are normally reluctant to share — they share just about everything.
That’s right. Nine and Seven use the same computers, same operators, same desks, to play programs.
One day it is entirely possible that a Seven promo or ad will accidentally go to air on Nine, just as a few years back some pages from the Sydney Morning Herald were accidentally printed in the Daily Telegraph, whose printing plants it makes use of.
All the minister is asking is for them to share something else, what Australia’s treasury describes as a “scarce resource of high value to Australian society”.
There’s a good case for going further, taking almost all broadcasting off the air and putting it online, or sending it out by direct-to-home satellite, removing the need for bandwidth-hogging fill-in transmitters.
Seven, Nine and Ten have yet to respond. Indications are they’re not much more positive than their regional cousins, although more polite. They’re standing in the way of progress.
Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
In a historic vote today, Donald Trump became the only US president to be impeached twice.
By a margin of 232–197, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives voted to charge Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” for his role in encouraging the insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol last week.
When Trump was impeached by the House last year for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, no Republicans joined the Democrats in the vote.
This time, however, ten members of Trump’s own party supported the effort to remove him from office.
Now that the House has voted to impeach Trump, a trial will be held in the Senate, though the timing of this is unclear at the moment.
For Trump to be convicted, 67 senators need to vote in favour. If all 50 Democrats and independents vote to convict Trump as expected, then at least 17 Republicans would need to join them.
So far, only three (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey) have indicated they would do so. Mitt Romney, a vocal Trump critic, will probably join them, and Susan Collins is a possibility.
Even though the most powerful Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is said to be privately supporting the impeachment effort (and publicly said he hasn’t decided how he will vote), the numbers required to convict Trump will likely still fall short.
Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, has said the president “will be remembered as an aberration” when he leaves office after noon on January 20.
Nevertheless, the Republican Party will go on. And it will need to find its identify in the post-Trump era.
Do they continue with the arch-conservatism of the past decade that gave rise to the Tea Party and Trump, or do they return to the more traditional Republican politics associated with George W. Bush, John McCain and Romney?
While some Senate Republicans have loudly declared their allegiance to Trump, others appear to be suddenly on the fence.
Lindsey Graham, who went from being one of Trump’s most outspoken opponents to his staunchest backer in Congress, last week broke with Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. However, Graham is strongly opposed to impeachment.
If you’re McConnell, you want to be remembered for defending the Senate and the institution.
The most prominent Republican to join the impeachment effort in the House is Liz Cheney.
The daughter of former US Vice President Dick Cheney has only been in Congress since 2017. After just two years, however, she was elected chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-most senior Republican position in the House after minority leader (Kevin McCarthy) and minority whip (Steve Scalise).
A rising star in the party, Cheney surprised many when she said she wouldn’t run for the open Senate seat in Wyoming last year, opting to stay in the House.
With both McCarthy and Scalise voting against impeachment today, Cheney’s move suggests she is positioning herself as a leader of the anti-Trump faction in the party, with eyes on perhaps becoming the first female Republican House speaker.
It must be noted that a significant portion of the American electorate still supports Trump and his policies. According to FiveThirtyEight, about 42% of Americans do not support impeachment. And among Republicans, just 15% say they want him removed from office.
Whoever leads the Republican Party post-Trump will need to consider how they will maintain the rabid support of his “base”, while working to regain more moderate voters who defected from the party in the 2020 election.
The reason McConnell is reportedly said to be considering voting to convict Trump is that is would make it easier to purge him from the party.
But purging Trump will be difficult. Even without Twitter, the power Trump wields is immense. The fear among many Republicans is that he can encourage primary challenges to any incumbents he feels have wronged him.
He’s done this many times before. In 2018, Trump strongly endorsed Brian Kemp in his successful campaign for governor of Georgia, but when Kemp rejected his claims of election fraud in November, Trump announced he was ashamed of having supported him. Trump loyalists are already looking for a primary challenger to him.
Trump doesn’t appear to want to go away quietly, which is also a cause for concern from a security standpoint.
This week, a leaked internal FBI bulletin warned that armed protests are planned for all 50 states and Washington DC in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
Some state capitol buildings have begun boarding up their doors and windows, while 15,000 National Guard troops have been mobilised for deployment to the nation’s capital ahead of expected violence and unrest.
This is an unfortunate sign of how many expect Trump’s supporters to respond to both his impeachment and Biden’s inauguration — even with Trump finally urging against further violence and unrest.
Most presidents aim to leave office with the nation better off than when they entered, but Trump’s legacy appears to be cementing a more divided country, where his brand of aggressive “conflict politics” may be the new norm.
This is a no-win situation for the country. And Republicans are still trying to figure out which side of history they want to be on.
In a post-election poll for the University of Melbourne’s US election webinar series we asked the several hundred people in the audience if President Donald Trump’s defeat would mean the death of “Trumpism”. A full 92% said “no”.
Now that Democratic challenger Joe Biden has won the election and will become the next president, the logical question for the Republican Party is: what’s next?
Will Trump — and Trumpism — remain dominant features of American life after the election, and if so, what does this mean for the Republicans?
If you are conservative, there are at least five reasons to feel concerned about Trump’s legacy — and another five to be optimistic about it.
1) Biden has won the presidency with the largest popular vote tally in American history (more than 75 million and counting).
His mandate is considerable for this reason. He now gets to establish the country’s political agenda, both domestically and internationally. Republicans will seek to block him at every turn, but as they have now lost the presidency, they have also lost the initiative.
2) Trump’s enduring popularity (no Republican has ever received more votes in a presidential election) means he will continue to set the agenda and tone of conservative politics for at least the next few years.
This will no doubt upset conservative critics and “Never Trumpers” like David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin, as well as activists at the Lincoln Project, who have articulated a revulsion for Trump since he became a presidential contender.
For them, he represents a brand of populism antithetical to conservative values like the importance of institutions in public life, reverence for good character and the rule of law.
3) Trump’s ability to galvanise grassroots conservatives around the country means polarisation is set to endure.
This will happen at two levels. Polarisation will likely deepen between the two parties, making bipartisan decision-making on COVID-19, China, climate change and the national debt impossible.
And the rift between the two wings of the GOP will likely widen, making a return to civility and compromise more nostalgic than real. The party looks set to be a noisy voice of discordant protest – “This election was stolen!” – rather than a key force of conservative renewal.
There is already evidence of division within the GOP over whether to support Trump’s claims of electoral fraud, with many choosing to remain silent rather than pick a side.
4) Despite being the party that liberated African Americans from slavery after the Civil War, the Republicans remain too white and too rural today.
These twin demographics are in long-term decline, which makes replicating Trump’s electoral success on the national stage a losing game. As long as Trump’s brand of ethnic nationalism and white identity politics endures, Republicans will find it hard to build the governing coalitions necessary for national power.
The GOP needs to appeal more to non-whites in the cities and suburbs. Trumpism complicates that task.
5) If the party can’t reach more diverse voters, this creates a climate where conservatism is increasingly depicted by its opponents as illegitimate and politically incorrect.
Public discourse will mutate further into a shouting match of the extremes. The reasonableness and common sense so crucial to the conservative disposition will struggle to be heard.
1) Significant parts of the political and judicial systems look likely to remain in conservative hands.
With Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment, the Supreme Court also has six conservative-leaning justices (against three liberals).
As a result of all this, conservatism will remain a vital institutional component of American politics.
2) Despite Trump’s loss, there was still a strong Republican vote among those who feel they’ve been ignored or forgotten by the Democratic Party.
The poorest states in the union generally voted GOP, while the richest went Democratic. This trend has been evident for some time, but was affirmed in the election.
And though Biden made some inroads among white voters without college degrees, their support for Trump remained strong. He won six in ten of those voters nationally, according to The Washington Post exit poll.
Expect Republicans to hone their working-class appeal as they build toward taking back the White House (with or without Trump) in 2024.
3) A white demographic decline need not spell disaster for the GOP. Despite his dog-whistle racism, Trump performed better than expected among Black voters. According to The New York Times and Post exit polls, which took into account early voting, nearly one in five Black men voted for Trump.
He also laid to rest the canard that Latino and Asian voters are the exclusive preserve of the Democratic Party. Trump fared better among both demographic groups than expected, particularly among Latino voters in Florida and Texas, where he increased his vote margin from 2016.
Overall, Trump won 26% of the non-white vote, according to the Times and Post exit polls. The trick now is to turn this into a lasting multiracial conservative voting bloc.
4) Albeit crudely, Trump has tapped into a fervour for conservative politics among large sections of the voting public that his predecessors could not and that his successors can draw strength from.
He outperformed the pre-election polls in key battleground states when everything from an economic recession to a global pandemic suggested he would struggle.
Getting past Trump’s long shadow will be a central issue for Republicans – 52% of GOP voters said they cast their ballots in professed loyalty to him.
5) The Biden win obscures how riven progressive politics have become.
Biden was a compromise candidate — the only one acceptable to both the progressive and moderate wings of his party. According to The New York Times exit poll, just 47% of Democrats voted for Biden, mainly because they supported him, while 67% said they were voting against Trump.
Biden will have to learn how to bargain not just with Republicans in Congress, but with his own side. This task would be exhausting for any leader, not least for the oldest man to ever hold the office.
Trump has increased the appeal of American conservatism, even as he has complicated its meaning. Republicans and Democrats must now find a way of appealing to a forgotten American middle class that Trump energised. That could be his most enduring and positive legacy.
That is good for democracy. And if Republicans can make this support routine, it could be good for conservatism and the diversity of ideas on which the American experiment itself depends.
This week, the bushfire royal commission is due to hand down its findings. Already, the commission’s officials have warned the status quo is “no longer enough to defend us from the impact of global warming”.
Australia’s young people appear to know this all too well. Preliminary findings from our recent research show many young people are worried about the future. And those directly exposed to the Black Summer bushfires suffered mental health problems long after the flames went out.
Young people with direct exposure to the bushfires reported significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety, and more drug and alcohol use, than those not directly exposed.
It’s clear that along with the other catastrophic potential harm caused by climate change, the mental health of young people is at risk. We must find effective ways to help young people cope with climate change anxiety.
Our yet-to-be published study was conducted between early March and early June this year. It involved 740 young people in New South Wales between the ages of 16 and 25 completing a series of standardised questionnaires about their current emotional state, and their concerns about climate change.
Our early findings were presented at the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) conference online earlier this year.
Some 57% of respondents lived in metropolitan areas and 43% in rural or regional areas. About 78.3% were female, about 20.4% male and around 1% preferred not to say.
Overall, just over 18% of the respondents had been directly exposed to the bushfires over the past year. About the same percentage had been directly exposed to drought in that period, and more than 83% were directly exposed to bushfire smoke.
Our preliminary results showed respondents with direct exposure to the Black Summer bushfires reported significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress, adjustment disorder symptoms, and drug and alcohol use than those not directly exposed to these bushfires.
Many young people were clearly concerned about the future. One 16 year old female respondent from a rural/regional area told us:
From day to day, if it crosses my mind I do get a bit distressed […] knowing that not enough is being done to stop or slow down the effects of climate change is what makes me very distressed as our future and future generations are going to have to deal with this problem.
Another 24 year old female respondent from a rural/regional area said:
It makes me feel incredibly sad. Sad when I think about the animals it will effect [sic]. Sad when I think about the world my son is growing up in. Sad to think that so many people out there do not believe it is real and don’t care how their actions effect [sic] the planet, and all of us. Sad that the people in the position to do something about it, won’t.
Young people directly exposed to drought also showed higher levels of anxiety and stress than non-exposed youth.
Those with direct exposure to bushfires were more likely than non-exposed young people to believe climate change was:
Both groups were equally likely — and highly likely — to believe that the environment is fragile and easily damaged by human activity, and that serious damage from human activity is already occurring and could soon have catastrophic consequences for both nature and humans.
One 23 year old female respondent from a metropolitan area told us:
I feel like climate change is here now and is just getting worse and worse as time goes on.
One 19 year old male respondent from a metropolitan area said:
I feel scared because of what will happen to my future kids, that they may not have a good future because I feel that this planet won’t last any longer because of our wasteful activities.
When asked how climate change makes them feel, answers varied. Some were not at all concerned (with a minority questioning whether it was even happening). Others reported feeling scared, worried, anxious, sad, angry, nervous, concerned for themselves and/or future generations, depressed, terrified, confused, and helpless.
One 16 year old female respondent in a metropolitan area told us:
I feel quite angry because the people who should be doing something about it aren’t because it won’t affect them in the future but it will affect me.
Though they were slightly more upbeat about their own futures and the future of humanity, a significant proportion expressed qualified or no hope, with consistent criticisms about humanity’s selfishness and lack of willpower to make needed behavioural changes.
One 21 year old female respondent from a metropolitan area said she felt:
a bit dissappointed [sic], people have the chance to help and take action, but they just don’t care. I feel sad as the planet will eventually react to the damage we have done, and by then, it will be too late.
Many participants listed COVID-19 as an extra stressor in their life. One 18 year old female said:
Slightly unrelated but after seeing all of the impacts on a lot of people during the COVID-19 pandemic, all of my hope for humanity is gone.
A 25 year old woman told us:
Due to the fact of this COVID stuff, we are not going to be able to do a lot of activitys (sic) that we did before this virus shit happen (sic).
A 16 year old male said:
At present with how people have reacted over the COVID-19 virus there is no hope for humanity. Everyone has become selfish and entitled.
Irrespective of bushfire exposure, respondents reported experiencing moderate levels of depression, moderate to severe anxiety and mild stress. They also reported drug and alcohol use at levels that, according to the UNCOPE substance use screening tool, suggested cause for concern.
We are still analysing the data we collected, but our preliminary results strongly suggest climate change is linked to how hopeful young people feel about the future.
We are already locked into a significant degree of warming — the only questions are just how bad will it get and how quickly.
Young people need better access to mental health services and support. It’s clear we must find effective ways to help young people build psychological resilience to bushfires, and other challenges climate change will bring.
University of New England researchers Suzanne Cosh, Melissa Parsons, Belinda Craig
and Clara Murray contributed to this research. Don Hine from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand was also a contributor.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Given the recent commentary about the reforms proposed for the news media sector, you would be forgiven for thinking Google and Facebook are the only game in town.
The planned reforms arose from last year’s Digital Platforms Inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which focused squarely on the corporate behaviour of these two tech behemoths.
It is clear Google and Facebook will be the first platforms regulated under the draft mandatory code that will potentially force them to pay for content produced by Australian news media companies. The move is a response to what the ACCC describes as “a significant bargaining power imbalance […] between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook”.
This idea that news companies are essentially stuck with Google and Facebook, for better or worse, is a common view. Yet while that might have been true a few years ago, media companies are realising there are other ways to cultivate readers, and there’s no need to be beholden to tech platforms that generate clicks but don’t want to pay for the privilege.
In the mid-2010s, many news companies seemed to follow Facebook’s every move. When Facebook promoted video, the media invested in video. When it down-ranked clickbait headlines, content writers frantically altered their style to maintain their presence in the news feed. Newsrooms have had a similarly dependent (albeit less direct) relationship with Google.
The focus on adapting to Google and Facebooks’s algorithms completely changed newsroom practices over the past decade, as journalists have weighed editorial considerations against audience metrics.
This dependency developed at a time when major platforms, particularly Facebook, were engaging substantially with the distribution of news. But in recent years this trend has declined, as governments have begun to regulate platforms in response to concerns over “fake news”.
Facebook performed perhaps the most public pivot, changing its algorithm in January 2018 to promote content from users’ friends and family. As a result, traffic to news sites fell, leaving profit-starved media companies to pursue alternative strategies or simply lay off staff.
In our research, published earlier this year, we spoke to 15 Australian journalists and editors who had collectively worked across 11 media companies after the dust had settled from the 2019 crisis.
We asked them whether their companies still depend on Facebook for traffic, or whether they have moved to other platforms, or are now doing something else entirely to cultivate their readership.
Many respondents, particularly those who had worked at newer companies focused on social media, revealed they had followed the demands of the Facebook algorithm at times. They had pivoted to video and had focused on share counts. However, respondents working at older media companies also noted that lots of readers still visited their publication’s home page, which challenges the idea that companies depend totally on Facebook.
Companies were also exploring different ways of generating revenue. These included placing ads inside content (known as native advertising) and holding events.
The standout trend, however, was a renewed focus on subscriptions, ensuring that a certain percentage of readers actually paid money for the news product at some point.
The Conversation (which does not charge for access to its content) was one of the newsrooms that saw a steep drop in traffic as a result of the January 2018 algorithm change. As such, it has pivoted its digital strategy to prioritise the channels over which it has the most control, particularly its daily newsletter.
That’s not to say companies have stopped trying to engage with big platforms. Many are consciously trying to make their news easy to find via Google search (a process called search engine optimisation. Some companies (including The Conversation) have also begun distributing news through Instagram (which is owned by Facebook).
Yet although the big platforms are doubtless here to stay, our research reveals a distinctly changed relationship between news and social media, compared with the past decade. Many companies, particularly newer ones like Buzzfeed and Vice, previously built huge audiences off the back of social media, and grew at a dizzying rate as a result. Now, companies are more interested in securing a stable revenue stream than in harvesting clicks.
This has become even more important amid the economic chaos caused by COVID-19. Advertising spending has dried up, leading to another round of media industry layoffs.
This suggests news media are still struggling to secure an alternative income stream to plug the hole in advertising revenue. The big question is whether big tech platforms will step in and help fill the gap by making financial contributions to news providers. Google’s current campaign against the draft mandatory code suggests they are deeply unwilling to do this.
Our research shows the relationship between news media and big tech platforms is far from straightforward. This is supported by a recent survey, which found that while many young people access news through social media, older people still prefer television or news websites. Not every Australian gets their news via social media.
There may come a time when platforms become the central access point for news, but it hasn’t happened yet. This doesn’t mean the ACCC should abandon platform regulation, but it does mean news companies are probably wise to find other ways of reaching their readers while they still can.
Understandably, given we are in a crisis, the government has baulked at including superannuation contributions in the A$140 billion worth of $1,500 per fortnight wage top-ups it will be directing to six million Australians.
As the JobKeeper fact sheet puts it:
It will be up to the employer if they want to pay superannuation on any additional wage paid because of the JobKeeper Payment.
This is in the middle of a treasury led Retirement Income Review that is considering, among other things, whether the current 9.5% of salary contribution should be increased to 10% and then to 10.5% and then in a series of annual steps to 12% by 2025.
In considering the idea (it is actually leglislated – if the government decided not to go ahead it would need to unleglislate it) it helps to go back to basiscs.
The trouble with money is most people are so busy looking at it they are blind to what’s going on in the real economy – by which I mean the production and distribution of goods and services.
Our current material standard of living depends almost entirely on our current ability to produce goods and services (assuming for a moment imports are funded by exports).
Similarly, our standard of living in 2050 will depend almost entirely on our capacity to produce goods at that time. This means it has little to do with how much money is in our superannuation accounts.
Part of the justification for superannuation is to get us more resources in retirement, and it will for those who have big super balances, but it won’t do much to change the total amount of resources available at the time.
Often it’s put another way. We are told baby boomers need to fund themselves in retirement, instead of relying on pensions paid for by those who are still in the workforce.
But imagine a perfect scenario where every retired baby boomer has $1 million in super, freeing those still working from the tax burden of funding the pension.
When the boomers are using their super to buy services and goods, who are they going to take them away from?
You guessed it, those still working.
They’ll be giving up resources to support the retirement of boomers, whoever supplies the cash.
If there was no superannuation and the government instead taxed current workers in order to fund retiree consumption, the real cost to workers would be the same. That cost is the provision of goods and services to retired people instead of workers.
Individuals can indeed save for the future by foregoing some goods and services today in order to have more of them later. Financial planners refer to it as consumption smoothing.
But an entire society can’t save for the future through consumption smoothing.
If Australia as a whole consumes fewer goods and services in one year, it is likely to reduce rather than increase its future wealth because it is fully utilised labour and capital that drives investment and productivity.
That’s what lies at the core of misunderstandings about the superannuation system. Foreign investment aside, it can’t allow an entire society to save for the future to support itself in retirement.
It can skew the distribution of resources in future years, away from those of working age and those with low super balances towards those with (tax concession subsidised) high super balances.
If our goal is an adequate and sustainable income in retirement for all Australians, our main priority ought to be ensuring that those remaining in the workforce are productive enough to support themselves, their children, those without work and those who have retired.
In other words, if you’re worried about the economic impact of our ageing population on our material standard of living (and there are reasons not to be worried) you would want our focus to be on productivity, rather than retirement savings.
To the extent retirement savings are used for productivity enhancing investment, that’s good. The reality is much of our retirement savings are funnelled relatively unthinkingly into an already bloated financial system where they expand speculative bubbles.
Elsewhere I’ve referred to it as Australia’s first compulsory Ponzi scheme.
Like most important economic questions, the best retirement income system is not, at its core, solely an economic question, it is also a moral and political question about distribution and inequality.
So, with that in mind, here’s what my personal moral (plus economic) analysis tells me would be the best retirement income system.
The best way would be to get rid of compulsory superannuation, give all the money back to account holders (slowly to avoid too much inflation), mandate a 9.5% pay rise in its place and redirect the tens of billions of dollars we currently spend on superannuation tax concessions toward rent assistance, a higher Newstart allowance and a higher pension.
With retired renters better looked after, a moderate (say 20%) increase in the pension, and continued indexation of the pension to wages, no retired Australian would be living in poverty.
It’d be sustainable so long as we ensured sufficient worker productivity, primarily through full employment, appropriate infrastructure investment and well-supported education, training and research.
There, problem solved.
Australia is a “land of climate extremes”. This is especially true for our cities, which have become hubs of extreme summer temperatures. This past summer was the second-hottest on record for Australia, following the 2018-19 record, with average maximum temperatures more than 2°C above the long-term average.
Even without global warming, cities already face a problem — the urban heat island effect, whereby inner urban areas are hotter than the surrounding rural areas. Urban heat islands are caused by factors such as pollution, energy consumption, industrial activities, large dark concrete buildings, asphalt roads and closely spaced structures.
Evidence from Australia’s major cities shows average temperatures are 2-10°C higher in highly urbanised areas than in their rural surroundings.
Governments and policymakers can use a variety of cooling strategies combined with community engagement, education and adaptation measures to cool Australian cities.
Green infrastructure includes parks, street trees, community gardens, green roofs and vertical gardens. In tropical and subtropical climate zones, like much of Australia, green infrastructure is a cost-effective cooling strategy.
Evidence suggests a 10% increase in tree canopy cover can lower afternoon ambient temperatures by as much as 1-1.5C, as the chart below shows. Similarly, in parks with adequate irrigation ambient temperatures can be 1-1.5°C lower than nearby unvegetated or built-up areas.
We can increase street tree canopy cover by planting more shade trees on footpaths, lanes and street medians. Where there is little space for parks and street trees, green roofs and walls may be viable options.
The use of water as a way to cool cities has been known for thousands of years. Water-based landscapes such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and bioswales can reduce urban ambient temperatures by 1-2°C. This is a result of water heat retention and evaporative cooling.
In addition to natural water bodies, various other water-based technologies are now available for both decorative and climatic reasons. Examples include passive water systems, like ponds, pools and fountains, and active or hybrid systems, such as evaporative wind towers and sprinklers. Active and passive systems can decrease ambient temperatures by 3-8°C, as the charts below show.
Water-based systems are usually combined with green infrastructure to enhance urban cooling, improve air quality, aid in flood management and provide attractive public spaces.
Building materials are major contributors to the urban heat island effect. The use of cool materials on roofs, streets and pavements is an important cooling strategy. A cool surface material has low heat conductivity, low heat capacity, high solar reflectance and high permeability.
Evidence suggests that using cool materials for roofs and facades can reduce indoor temperature by 2-5°C, improve indoor comfort and cut energy use.
Cool materials commonly applied to buildings include white paints, elastomeric, acrylic or polyurethane coating, ethylene propylenediene tetrolymer membrane, chlorinated polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, thermoplastic polyolefin, and chlorosulfonated polyethylene.
Lighter aggregates and binders in asphalt and concrete, permeable pavers made from foam concrete, permeable asphalt and resin concrete are standard cool pavement materials.
Building cool cities for a hot future
Shading can decrease radiant temperature and greatly improve outdoor thermal comfort. Providing shading on streets, building entries and public venues using greenery, artificial structures or a combination of both can block solar radiation and increase outdoor thermal comfort. Examples of artificial structures include temporary shades, sunshades and shades using solar panels.
Performance analysis of various projects in Australia suggests the cooling potential of the combined use of the different strategies discussed above is much higher than the sum of the contributions of each individual technology, as the charts below show. The average maximum temperature reduction with just one technology is close to 1.5°C. When two or more technologies are used together the reduction exceeds 2.5°C.
The chart below shows the peak temperature reduction for all cooling strategies.
People are significant contributors to urban heat through their use of air conditioning. The waste heat from air conditioners heats up surrounding outdoor spaces.
Projections show cooling demand in Australian cities may increase by up to 275% by 2050. Such a trend will have a great impact on urban climate, as well as increasing electricity use. If this is powered by fossil fuels, it will add billions of tons of carbon pollution.
Climate-responsive building design and adaptive design techniques in existing buildings can minimise occupants’ demand for cooling energy by reducing indoor and outdoor temperatures.
Local governments can prepare for and respond to heat events through emergency response plans. However, emergency responses alone cannot address other challenges of urban heat, including human vulnerability, energy disruptions and the economic costs of lower workplace productivity and infrastructure failures.
Long-term cooling strategies are needed to keep city residents, buildings and communities cool and save energy, health and economic costs.