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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 57, December 2011

Best wishes to all for Christmas and the New Year. Last Newsletter for 2011? I think it is. However, if something like a draft for the Kakadu Bushwalking Strategy comes out, I'll put it out in a special newsletter before I head to southern Chile at Christmas.

All the non-Walkabouts sections of this newsletter are things which I found interesting. Even if you don't have time to have a look now, you might want to keep the newsletter and have a look at your leisure some other time. I hope you enjoy the newsletter and, as per the Darwin section below, I hope to see at least two of you in February.

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In this issue

Kakadu Bushwalking Review Update

The response to the questionnaire was great.

Almost 800 people filled in at least a part of it. I just hope something useful will come of it. There were some serious problems with "sorry business" which caused some serious delays. The first draft report MAY come out in December. The final draft should be available for public comment in April.

Aboriginal culture is still alive and strong in Kakadu. Anyone who visits Kakadu needs to be aware of this and that the Aboriginal traditional owners still own and manage the park. By law, their cultural needs take precedence over most other matters.

'Sorry Business' is the time after the death of someone who is from the Community. As with many cultures and communities around the world, death in a community is respected in different ways. Indigenous Australia is made up of many groups, tribes and clans that share similar protocols for the period of mourning for a deceased Aboriginal person, referred to as 'Sorry Business'.

There may be some local and regional differences between Aboriginal communities for the period of mourning, although broadly speaking it is common courtesy and respectful to not mention the name of the deceased, to not show photographic images of a deceased person unless agreed to by the relevant family, and to vacate the place where a person has died. There is a mourning period where the deceased person’s name and image cannot be used. This period differs between communities ranging in length of time from a week, a year or indefinite. Some communities also offer a mourning name.

The two paragraphs above were taken from a website Aboriginal Cultural Protocol for Mourning. You can find additional information about 'sorry business' on the Australian Academy of Medicine and Surgery Sensitive Areas page.

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The Wet Season

On 8 November I completed the largest revision to our website since the new website went online in early 2010. I completely rewrote the Wet Season page.
It now links to two completely new climate statistics pages and to two completely new wet season information pages.

I'd very much appreciate any comments and suggestions as to how it could be improved further.

I'll also repeat what I said when I had to speak to a recent tourism conference in Darwin. "If I had to choose between running trips in the wet season or the dry season, I'd ignore the commercial reality and go with the Wet." Having said that, I'll now tell you what wet season trips are still available.

One trip is a definite departure. Kakadu Super Circle No. 1: 8-28 January is the only trip anyone offers where you visit Jim Jim and Twin Falls on the ground in the wet season. I got the last booking I needed to put in the food drop about a week before it had to go in. It made it, just before the road shut. I put in enough extra food for three more people and have already sold one of those places. (Unless people are very light eaters, we can't take more than eight.)

I strongly recommend that anyone considering this trip have a good look at both the new trip notes and the new photo gallery which went onto this website in late August.
I strongly recommend that anyone interested in doing this trip book it now. I am not sure that I'll be able to offer it in its current form ever again.

The only other wet season trip with bookings is the Green Kimberley Light: 13-28 January. This offers you minimal pack carrying on a trip which allows you to experience some of the best that the Kimberley has to offer. It is divided into five very different sections, any of which can be done on its own.

The only other January trip which is still available is the Northern Carr Boyds: 29 January - 4 February. If anyone wants to book this trip in combination with section five of the Green Kimberley Light, I'll give them an extra discount. Please ask for details. The size of the discount will depend on the number of bookings.

It's now or never. If the January trips don't have enough bookings to guarantee departure by Monday 12 December, they will have to be cancelled. Any February or March trip which doesn't have at least three bookings by 20 December will have to be cancelled. The office can be manned only part time while I'm in South America so I need to know whether or not a trip is likely to run before I go.

It's also worth noting that airfares are exceptionally cheap — and available — at this time of year.

A very special offer — see Frontline Australia in the Darwin section below.

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Willis's Walkabouts — What Is It?

The heading above may seem a strange one, but the comments on some of the post-trip questionnaires we received this year show that some people who book our trips don't understand the nature of what we offer. To the best of my knowledge there is no one else who offers what we do. Our clients must provide their own breakfasts and lunches on all trips. They must either provide their own gear or choose from our limited selection of hire gear. We don't tell people exactly what to bring; we give them as much information as possible and tell them to decide for themselves. I can't think of another tour operator who puts that much responsibility on their clients or who asks them to read as much. For the vast majority of our clients, it works.

How do I know it works? The overwhelming majority of our clients in the past ten years have been repeat customers or people who have come based on recommendations from friends who have done one of our trips. The vast majority of the post-trip questionnaires we get back say that people are happy with what they got. We can always do better so we use those replies to try and improve what we are doing.

Why does Willis's Walkabouts exist?

It exists so that Russell Willis can go bushwalking and meet interesting people. It exists so that I can offer a similar opportunity to my other guides. It exists so that we can share our love of the country and experience with others. It's not now, and never has been, very financially rewarding, but as long as I made enough to keep from going broke, that didn't matter. When you are thinking about which trip to do, always remember, every trip in the program is one which I enjoy doing myself. I wouldn't have it any other way.

As mentioned in the last newsletter, Wild magazine ran a two page article about me in the last issue. That issue is no longer available for sale, so you can read it here.

Willis's Walkabouts Is Small — Small and Unpredictable

Only 105 people took part in our Australian trips this year. Another 9 are going to South America. Numbers like that mean some things people would like to see are impossible.

The reading is essential

Unfortunately, more and more people don't read it all. If they did, some of them would not book at all or would cancel within the seven day, 100% money back period.

Where to?

I wish I knew. Access is becoming more and more of a problem in some areas. I've already seen a few changes to where we can go next year. I expect more. There are so many things in flux that I really have no idea what the business will look like in 12 months time. I hope it will be much the same, but I honestly don't know.

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Australian Trips in 2012

April: Banggerreng or the 'Knock 'em down storm season'

According to the Met Bureau, April is still the wet season. It's not, but it's certainly not the dry season either. Banggerreng, in April, is the season when the rain clouds have dispersed and clear skies prevail. The vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Short, sharp, windy storms early in this season flatten the spear grass; they are called 'knock 'em down' storms. On rare occasions, a late season cyclone will drop masses of rain, prolonging the Wet. We already have bookings on three April trips. As much as I enjoy the Bungles and Osmonds, it's been so long since I've been able to do either of the first two, that I'd jump at the chance.

May-June: Yegge or the 'Cooler but still humid season'

The beginning of the dry season isn't like the later part. Yegge, from May to mid-June, is relatively cool with low humidity. Early morning mists hang low over the plains and waterholes. The shallow wetlands and billabongs are carpeted with water lilies. Drying winds and flowering Darwin woolly butt tell the local Aboriginal people that it is time to start burning the woodlands in patches to 'clean the country' and encourage new growth for grazing animals. We already have bookings on four trips during this season.

In Leichhardt's Footsteps

In Leichhardt's Footsteps: 10-30 June is such a special trip that it deserves a section of its own. This is one of the most exciting trips we have ever been able to offer, retracing the steps of one of Australia’s greatest explorers, Ludwig Leichhardt. Leichhardt’s epic 1844-45 journey took him from Brisbane to the now long abandoned settlement of Port Essington in what is now Arnhem Land. Accompanied by an Aboriginal guide, we will follow a small part of that route through a part of southwest Arnhem Land, finishing near Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu. Although this will be the 8th time we've offered this trip, it will be only the second time it's run. Not only will it run, it's already half full. Get in soon if you're interested.

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Darwin — One of the World's Ten Best

Darwin has been named as one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2012, ahead of all other Australian destinations. The Lonely Planet's new travel book on the best things to see and do next year lists Darwin as the 10th best city in the world to visit.

"It was once easy to dismiss Darwin as a frontier town full of brawling fishermen, dreamy hippies and redneck truckers. With a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia's Top End," the book says.

The two paragraphs above were taken from an Australian Geographic newsletter. The Lonely Planet website doesn't have much, if anything, more to say — they want you to buy the book.

Airfares are as cheap as they have ever been. Whether or not you are a bushwalker, Darwin has lots to offer and so do our parks, all the more so at this time of year when a hotel room costs far less than it does in the Dry. The Tourism Top End website has lots of information. For something a bit out of the ordinary, I recommend having a look at the locals link on the main Tourism Top End page.

I love the city which has been my home since 1974. Even if you aren't planning on doing one of our trips, I'd be happy to answer a few questions about the place or point you to where you might find the answers.

Frontline Australia

On the 19th of February 1942 an event occurred which changed Australia forever. Australia was bombed by enemy forces at Darwin. "The official government death toll was more than 240 with hundreds of other casualties. Many more died and were injured in subsequent attacks on Northern Australia over the following 21 months. It was a defining moment in Australia’s history, one which highlighted the tenacity of those living in Darwin and the Australian spirit."

The quote above is taken from the Frontline Australia website, a special site which has been set up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. The commemoration will include a "re-enactment of the first bombing raid by the Australian Defence Forces on Sunday 19 February 2012 from 9.30am". That is the day after our Kakadu Light trip finishes and the day our Kakadu Highlights No. 2 trip begins. We will delay the departure of the latter by a few hours so participants can witness the bombing re-enactment.

I think February walks are good anytime. 2012 is extra special. For that reason, I am going to make a very special offer. I will run either Kakadu Light for as few as two people at no extra charge or Kakadu Highlights No. 2 for as few as three people at no extra charge. Not only that, I will extend the 15% three-month advance purchase discount to 20 December. If neither trip gets three bookings by 20 December, I'll have to sadly cancel them and offer to put on a weekend walk for the Darwin Bushwalking Club instead. February walks are too good for me to miss.
If both trips get bookings, I'll need five on the 2nd one so I can afford to pay another guide.

There's more. From 17 February 2012, Darwin will have direct flights to and from Townsville.

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Overseas Trips in 2012

At this point, we only have two overseas trips beginning in 2012. Both look as if they may book out so you might need to get in soon if you are interested. At this point, we are not sure whether or not we will be able to offer trips to South America and/or southern Africa as well. If you think you'd be interested in a trip to either area, please let me know.

Vanuatu: 15 June - 3 July One of our guides, Ed Hill, spent the better part of a year working with the locals in Vanuatu. He's now back in Australia and has organised the itinerary described in the recently updated trip notes. There is a special, optional extension which can be added onto the end of the trip.
We can only take eight. We have given first choice to those who have already expressed an interest. If you didn't get that email, we will open it to others a week after this newsletter goes out — if we still have spaces available. We are already down to only two left. We will take a wait list and may be able to run a second trip. Please let us know if you are interested in either.

Sweden and Norway: July-August. For years, two of my Swedish clients have been asking when I'd come over to go bushwalking in the northern summer. 2012 is the year. They have kindly offered to do some of the organising and will be coming along on most of the trip. The trip notes have been updated and include a few photos. Even if you're not ready to book yet, please let us know if you'd like more information as it comes to hand.

See the next section for a possible third trip.

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The Disappearing North

We are going to be walking very close to the arctic circle on the trip to Sweden and Norway next year. The arctic is the part of the planet where the climate is changing fastest. "Scientists say that over the last 10 years the average size of the polar ice sheet in September, the time of year when it is smallest, has been only about two-thirds the average during the previous two decades. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, a Norwegian group studying the Arctic, forecasts that within 30 or 40 years the entire Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summer. "

The Northwest Passage by sea across northern Canada and Alaska is the one that got the publicity. But the Northeast Passage is the one that's already become commercially viable. "In 2009, the first two international commercial cargo vessels traveled north of Russia between Europe and Asia. This year, 18 ships have made the now mostly ice-free crossing." You can get the full story in the NY Times article Warming Revives Dream of Sea Route in Russian Arctic. I found the graphic showing September ice cover very interesting.

My first trip to the edge of the arctic was way back in 1969. I've made several trips including three as Willis's Walkabouts since then. In some ways, it's becoming unrecognisable. Maybe it's time for something very different.

Anyone interested white Christmas in 2012 or 2013? I've long wondered what it would be like to be somewhere where the sun never came up or came up only briefly. There's a full moon on 28 December 2012 and on 17 December 2013. That would help you to see to get around, especially with snow on the ground. If you think you might be interested in a Christmas trip to Alaska and/or the Yukon in 2012 or 2013, please let me know.

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An Australian Bubble

Housing in Australia is possibly the least affordable in the world. People from outside the country look on our prices as a bubble that will inevitably pop. Are they right?

“Australia was one of the few countries in the world where house prices made new highs following the Great Financial Crisis, and its housing market is in nosebleed territory.” John Mauldin, Endgame

That thought was in my mind when I heard something about house prices on ABC radio last month. When I logged onto the ABC website, I couldn't immediately find the one I'd been listening to, but I found lots more references to an Australian housing bubble, beginning with a clip from August which said that, "Research has revealed as many as 30,000 houses in Melbourne have been on the sales market for more than two months."

As Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” When I tried a Google search for "Australian Housing Bubble", I found a story that began, "One aspect of housing and stock market bubbles continually repeats: the vast majority of economists either miss or deny their existence." I thought that short article had as good an explanation as I've seen about why economists often don't get things right, especially things like bubbles. There's even a Wikipedia article about the Australian Property Bubble.

Our current mining boom depends on exports, a huge percent of which go to China. The Chinese economy depends on exports. Their two largest export markets are the European Union and the USA. The US economy is in trouble and Europe is worse. If China sneezes, Australia catches cold — or is it pneumonia?

Don't believe it can happen? Have a look at a recent newsletter from John Mauldin. Scroll down to the section labelled "Time to Start Watching China". Some of the statistics there suggest that Chinese demand for our minerals may be about to drop dramatically. (The whole newsletter is well worth a read.)

John Mauldin is a writer I admire. I found his recent book written with Jonathan Tepper, Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle and How It Changes Everything, thought provoking, especially the chapter on Australia. If you are interested, here are a few quotes from that chapter. John Mauldin's two main weekly newsletters, Thoughts from the Frontline and Outside the Box are free. You can subscribe on the John Mauldin website.

Does all this have anything to do with Willis's Walkabouts? It most certainly does. If people can't afford holidays, I won't be able to run many trips.

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Watarrka bushfire

The photo at left is a time exposure of the night sky from one of the campsites on our September trip to Watarrka (Kings Canyon area) national Park in the Centre. That glow is at least 30 km away.

All but one of our campsites were in rocky areas where we'd have had no problem if a fire did come through. Fortunately we had no worries as fire crews managed to keep the fire from jumping the Kings Canyon road so it never got into the area where we were walking. The fires did, however, force us to change our return route to Alice Springs.

Bushfires in northern Australia are no where near as intense as they are down south. Nonetheless, they can cause major damage. If you have about 50 minutes to spare, I can recommend a recent video presentation by Grant Allan of Bushfires NT, Seeing Through The Smoke about the central Australian bushfires this year.

The North Australian Fire Information website has a wealth of information. Click on NT South to see what it was like over the course of this season. Click on NT North and you can see that active fire management has meant more early (May-July) cool burns and fewer destructive late (September-November) fires.

As a final note, while looking at the bushfire presentation above, I discovered another interesting video by Peter Latz about 20 Years of Buffle Grass If you are interested in the history and ecology of central Australia, that too is worth watching.

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New on the Website

Illustrated Trip Notes

Back when few people had broadband, I tried to keep the PDF trip note files as small as possible. Internet connections are now faster and I can even make illustrated PDFs a bit smaller than used to be the case. I've added photos to a number of the trip notes. You can see a full list of which ones have been done near the top of the What's New page on our website. The Drysdale notes need more photos but the others are pretty much done. Hopefully the new notes will give people a better idea of what to expect.

I'd very much appreciate any comments or suggestions as to how I could further improve the trip notes.

A New Trip for 2012

I took a detour out to the Davenport Range National park on my way to Alice Springs in September. It had been so long since I'd been there that I'd forgotten just how much it has to offer. I had a bit over a week between a meeting and when the trip began so I did some exploring in the East Macdonnells as well. I put a comment on the Willis's Walkabouts Facebook page and uploaded a small photo gallery from those explorations.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should bring back my old Centralian Explorer trip. The idea is to use 4WD vehicles to get to a variety of interesting places, some of which few people have even heard of, and do short walks of no more than three days as we do a big loop east and north of Alice Springs. I've listed it for 26 August to 7 September 2012. Before I take it much further, I'd be interested to hear if anyone thinks that the idea is worth pursuing.

Finally, It's worth noting that there are heaps of messages of all kinds on the Russell Willis Newsfeed page on Facebook, the Willis's Walkabouts page is restricted to things about Willis's Walkabouts.

If you are like me, on FAcebook without completely understanding it, you might be interested in 12 Things You Didn’t Know Facebook Could Do.

Kimberley Coast Video

Some time ago, Tracey Dixon prepared a short video, What A Difference A Day Makes showing the impact of a cyclone passing near King George Falls earlier this year.

Tracey has now prepared a 14½ minute video of the 2011 Kimberley Coast epic and put it onto a special Willis's Walkabouts YouTube channel. That's by far the longest of the eight videos you can find there. Even on our longest, most strenuous trip there was time to do a bit of fishing and enjoy the flowers. And, in spite of an incredible deluge, there were blue skies for a good part of the time.
Many thanks, Tracey.

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Books for Christmas

On my recent trip to central Australia, I made a visit to the Old Timers' Museum where I discovered a small treasure trove of out of print books about the Top End. I couldn't resist and bought them all. I now have one to three copies of each of the following, $20 each including post to anywhere in Australia, all soft cover, all, in my opinion, great books.

Greg Miles was one of the first rangers in Kakadu, finally retiring in the early 2000s. Few people can match his level of knowledge of the park in all its seasons.

In addition to the books above, I have the two books produced by Geoscience Australia. They are the best overall references I have seen to these areas.

For the right person, all of these would make great Christmas presents.

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Environmental Issues

Willis's Walkabouts has Advanced Ecotourism Certification. Besides making sure that our tours are as eco-friendly as possible, I believe that this comes with an obligation to promote other environmental issues. Here are some important ones.

I may not agree with everything that GetUp tries to do, but I strongly believe in their idea of grass roots activism. If I don't speak up on issues I care about, then I feel that I have no right to complain about whatever happens later. That's a thought to consider.

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Are We Being Ripped Off?

Of course we are. What we can do about it is another, more difficult question. This section is a combination of three very different things which I found interesting when I came across them.

Petrol Powered Automobiles

The technology to produce a viable electric vehicle has been around for some time now. This power point presentation shows how that technology has been deliberately suppressed. I'd heard some of this before, but this was the first time I'd seen it all in the one place. The more people who see this, the more likely it is that something positive will happen. Please have a look.

Text message costs

Phone companies make a lot of money from text messages. I recently came across a NY Times article about how Free texts pose threat to carriers. That got me thinking about texting in Australia. I've often heard things on the radio asking me to text in something, noting that it would cost 55 cents to do so. Someone is making a big profit out of that. When I looked up the average cost in Australia, I found a Sydney Morning Herald article suggesting that our text message costs averaged the highest in the world. It's a bit out of date, but when you look at what people in other countries are paying, you have to wonder.


Another NY Times article, Tests Reveal Mislabeling of Fish began, "Scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful."

That reminded me of an Australian scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that fish sold as 'barramundi' in most of Australia seldom was the real thing. (I might add that Asian farmed barramundi tastes very different to Australian barramundi.) Food Standards Australia did a survey which suggests that the problem isn't as bad here. That web page offers a link to the full survey results. For whatever reason, their link doesn't work. I did some digging and the one here does.

Health Care

If you can remember the amazing debates that occurred in the US before they passed the health insurance law last year, you might find it hard to believe that there was already a government health insurance program that covered everyone — everyone over the age of 65 that is. More amazingly, "The government estimates that Medicare and Medicaid expenses will leap from 6.4% of GDP this year to 10.7% in 2029." The US government doesn't have a very good record when it comes to such estimates. "In 1967, the year after Medicare commenced, the House Ways and Means Committee forecast its cost at $12 billion in 1990. It turned out to be $110 billion — nine times as much."

Some of those costs are based on what I consider to be somewhat perverted incentives built into the system. People in the final year of their lives are surprisingly likely to undergo surgery. Australia's public health system is far better than America's, but we have similar problems. Earlier this year, the Medical journal of Australia published an editorial Futility in end-of-life care. I wasn't able to find the current figure but we spend a very high percentage of our health care budget in the final year of people's lives. Much of that is concentrated in the final month or two. All that money is why we have such long waiting lists for some procedures that would vastly improve peoples' lives. to quote from the article, "Palliative care and aged care should not primarily be the province of the hospital and the acute health care system, and our continued acceptance of this and of the concentration of health care spending in the last months of life is no longer tenable."

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Changing Times — Interesting Times

If you are reading this, chances are you grew up in a world very different to the one we live in today. Personal and business computers, mobile phones, GPS, the internet — none of them were around when many of you were growing up. Get rid of them tomorrow and our society would collapse. Onward to our brave new world.

Economic Theory

The 22 October issue of New Scientist had some interesting articles about economists and their theories. The average life span in the developed world is up to around 80 years, but "A lack of concern for the future is built mathematically into economic theory, and this carries through to the behaviour of companies and governments. That article suggests that theories may be changing, but I suspect it will be a while before something more realistic makes it into mainstream economic textbooks.

That same issue had an editorial Economics joins the real world, at last which concluded that "the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as escaping the clutches of the old ones." It also contained an article How mathematical modelling seduced Wall Street which began, "How often are we guilty of a type of naivety both in science and in life by insisting that the things we don't understand really do fit into the boxes of the things we imagine we do; that the facts fit our models of them?"

I will be fascinated to see whether or not some of these ideas get put into practice. Unless we die young, we all eventually retire. The new ideas could have a dramatic effect on what we have to look forward to.

Climate Change

While more and more people seem to be accepting that the world's climate is changing, there is still a good deal of disagreement about what is causing it and what to do about it. Here in Australia, we are seeing more extremes. We don't always notice what is happening elsewhere. The NY times had a very long article With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors. It's not just the Brazilians chopping down the Amazon, it's temperate forests around the world under threat. I think it's well worth a read.

It's worth having a look at the other articles in the Temperature Rising series. "Articles in this series focus on the central arguments in the climate debate and examine the evidence for global warming and its consequences."

The best summary I've seen of what we really do know about climate change and what we still don't know is in the 22 October issue of New Scientist. If you don't subscribe to the magazine, you can't see the full articles, but the links below will give you a taste of what's there. If you can get a copy, I'd recommend having a look. Even without the links, the list below is worth reading.

There are more "don't knows" than "do knows" in the list above but that's true of a lot of science. Here are a few quotes from an editorial in that same issue of New Scientist.

"Would you jump off a skyscraper? What if someone told you that physicists still don't fully understand gravity: would you risk it then?
We still have a lot to learn about gravity, but that doesn't make jumping off a skyscraper a good idea. Similarly, we still have a lot to learn about the climate but that doesn't make pumping ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere a good idea....
Even if the will to slash emissions were there, it would take decades. Unfortunately the will is not there — many influential people still deny there is even a problem....
By the time the need for drastic action becomes blindingly obvious, the best opportunity to curb harmful change will have been squandered."

A Finite World

Whether or not we wish to recognise it, we live in a finite world. It's the only one we have. When the global financial Crisis hit in 2008, governments were telling their citizens that it was their patriotic duty to go out and spend. (It's worth noting that Australia has one of the highest levels of private debt in the world, far higher as a percent of GDP than the US.) I can't help but wonder how long this will go on.

The NY Times had a number of people contribute to a debate Can the planet support 10 billion?. That may be debatable, but it's hard to deny that increasing numbers must inevitably change the quality of our lives. Science fiction often predicts things well in advance of when they occur. When I read the debate articles I couldn't help but remember a couple of science fiction stories I read many years ago. In one, traditional farming could no longer support the world's population, so food was almost entirely grown in tissue culture vats. Though some of the popular foods were cultured muscle tissue, people no longer had any concept of eating animals. It turned out that the favourite, was human.

In another story, virtual reality had become much more rewarding than the real world. People lived their lives hooked into computers and robotic machines that fed and cleaned them intravenously. In some ways, I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen.

The one I remember best was an article by Isaac Asimov who did the maths of population growth. Asimov worked out the average size of a person and extrapolated continued population growth at the then current rates. Given those figures, in 6000 years, the span of recorded human history, the human race would have consisted of a solid ball of flesh expanding radially at a velocity in excess of the speed of light. The population isn't growing as fast as it was in the 1960s when the article was written, but it is still growing. At some point it has to stop.

Birthrates are already falling. "As Japanese, European, Chinese and American women have fewer children, is the global economy endangered? Or is that trend a healthy step toward balancing the population explosion in many developing nations?" Fewer babies, for better or worse was another NY Times debate. Whatever your own views may be, it's always worth hearing all sides of the debate.

A local politician came to a Tourist Association meeting in Darwin at the end of November with a vision of Darwin with a population of a million in another 60-90 years. I've watched Darwin grow from a bit under 40 000 to a bit over 100 000. Given present trends, I can see how it could reach a million, but I can't see that happening without a drastic change in lifestyle. Houses and other buildings designed for our climate do exist, but there are almost none being built. Put a million in Darwin and you'd add another 10% to Australia's energy expenditure just on air conditioning. It's a frightening thought.

What Sort of Society Do We Want?

I've lived in both Australia and America. The American Dream and the Australian Dream have a lot in common. I found a blog What is the American Dream?: Duelling Dualities in the American Tradition thought provoking. It begins, "Throughout our history, there have been alternative, competing visions of the "good life" in America. The story of how these competing visions played out in our history is prologue to an important question: What is the American Dream and what is its future?" I think it's well worth a read.

Christmas seems to be a particularly appropriate time to reflect on how we treat the less fortunate members of our society. The OECD recently produced a study where they rated their 31 members on various measures of social justice. For what it's worth, New Zealand was 12th, Australia 21st and the USA 27th.

We live in interesting times. As I said in the last newsletter, 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

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News About This Newsletter

Help Needed

Spell checks aren't perfect. What I include and how I word what I do put in this newsletter could be better. Anyone want to volunteer to be a proofreader and get a sneak preview on any special offers I might have?


Before I finish one newsletter, I'm already working on the next. I often find that I've got too many interesting things for a single newsletter. I'm also always looking for other interesting items I can add. I'm particularly interested in environmental issues, especially those which might affect bushwalking and in the technology which is shaping our lives. As I said in one of the sections above, Suggestions welcome.

Sending the newsletter

The program I use to send the newsletters is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.

Finally, since this should be my last newsletter for the year, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, to you all!!
Russell Willis

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