Andrew Lohrey’s long voyage of discovery

Politics can chew you up and spit you out – or it can be the springboard for a whole new life.

Andrew and Amanda Lohrey on the water at Falmouth

Andrew and Amanda Lohrey on the water near their home on Tasmania’s east coast.

Here’s some sage advice for embattled politicians: if you don’t want to finish up bitter and twisted, stop thinking of politics as a career. Instead, treat it as a social contribution of limited duration.

Take Andrew Lohrey. He might have lived a life of resentment after his pioneering effort to save Tasmania’s southwest wilderness went unrecognised, but not a bit of it. Instead he took a very different path, an immense intellectual task that continues to enrich his life to this day.

After completing year 9 at St Marys Area School he was in turn a carpenter, a grape picker, a miner, a stockman and a painter on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, back when Paul Hogan was doing the same thing. All the while he was pondering something deeper – the human mind.

After working as a counsellor he returned to Tasmania to complete a degree with a psychology major in 1970, but politics beckoned. Elected as a member for Lyons (then named Wilmot), he served in successive Labor governments from 1972 to 1981.

As environment minister he got into trouble by asking too many awkward questions about the business of hydro and forestry, and was dropped from the ministry in 1979. After a stint as Speaker of the House of Assembly, he returned to Cabinet in 1981 as national parks minister.

Over six frantic months in that year, Lohrey presided over creation of the South-West National Park and then initiated the process to have Tasmania’s contiguous western wilderness parks awarded World Heritage status.

It took three months, raising the issue every week, for Lohrey to get the proposal through an argumentative Cabinet. Premier Doug Lowe sent it to then-PM Malcolm Fraser, then a month later he sacked Lohrey for commenting publicly on matters outside his portfolio.

Keen to build conservation credentials ahead of a federal election, Fraser approved the nomination and sent it to UNESCO in Paris. Then newly-elected premier Robin Gray, ignoring Fraser’s move, sent in the bulldozers to start construction of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam.

But the World Heritage nomination hung over the project like a cloud. In December 1982, while conservation groups were organising a blockade of watercraft to stop barges carrying earthmoving equipment to the dam site, southwest Tasmania was declared World Heritage property.

In support of the World Heritage listing Lohrey joined the blockade. He was arrested and for a few hours held in Risdon Prison – the only sitting Tasmanian politician to be jailed over the blockade.

The next year Bob Hawke’s new federal government argued in the High Court that the dam project breached Australia’s World Heritage obligations. The court agreed, and its verdict stopped the dam cold. Lohrey’s long stand in support of the southwest wilderness was finally vindicated.

But just keeping a parliamentary seat warm was not his idea of a career. Heeding colleagues’ advice that effective political life has its limits, he left politics for good in 1986 to resume his passion, psychology. Which is where his interesting life gets even more interesting.

Practical people keen to make their mark on the world find it hard to understand why inner lives are so important to some people. To them, whatever moves people to object to wilderness dams or coal mines or ocean pollution can be a complete mystery.

But to Lohrey, it is all utterly fascinating. After leaving politics he went to Berkeley, California, to study semantics, before completing a doctoral study with the University of Technology, Sydney on the infinite complexities and interplay of meaning, consciousness, language and science.

His advanced studies landed him consultancies as a forensic linguist analysing court evidence to ascertain truth and authorship. His work was instrumental in demonstrating that key evidence in the notorious 1978 Sydney Hilton bombing case was false.

Lohrey developed and expanded his theories in multiple publications over succeeding decades, including his doctoral thesis, The Meaning of Consciousness (1997), and his latest, The Evolution of Consciousness: a new science, about to be published by ICRL at Princeton University.

These books enter a place that we have all sensed at various points in our lives but not even begun to articulate. In Lohrey’s analysis, patterns become clearer, threads begin to join, and our integral relationship with the universe starts to make sense.

Lohrey draws on multiple sources of wisdom, in psychology and philosophy, spiritualism and religion, but he is at pains to point out that his is not a religious journey. His quest to understand the universe falls firmly within the Western intellectual tradition.

As the subtitle of his latest work suggests, he is pursuing a new science. It looks at many of the phenomena that inform quantum physics and accepts many of its findings, but it also recognises the limitation of science’s reductive method, instead seeking a more holistic understanding.

Lohrey’s life has been enriched by his partnership of over 40 years with Amanda Lohrey, a past winner of the Patrick White Award for her significant contribution to Australian literature. Her classic 1984 novel The Morality of Gentlemen was based on a famous Tasmanian waterfront dispute in the late 1950s.

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We all lose from Abbott’s climate vandalism

Tony Abbott may have lost the fight for Peter Dutton to become prime minister, but he has seen off Turnbull along with his minimal climate policy.

New treasurer-to-be Josh Frydenberg can scarcely believe his good fortune as he leaves the Liberal party room with PM-designate Scott Morrison.

New treasurer-to-be Josh Frydenberg can scarcely believe his good fortune as he leaves the Liberal party room with PM-designate Scott Morrison.

There’s a good argument that the remarkable events of last week were simply our rough-hewn institution of parliamentary democracy working as it was always meant to work.

Our representative system is designed to ensure that all points of view in public life are fairly represented in decision-making at the top. It’s a safety valve to stop dissent from turning into an angry mob – a bit messy, but nowhere near as messy as that angry mob.

Leaders like to claim a mandate from the people. Bob Hawke did so when Paul Keating challenged him in 1990; so did Kevin Rudd when Julia Gillard took his job in 2010, and Tony Abbott when Malcolm Turnbull overthrew him in 2015. But they were all wrong.

Under our representative system, Scott Morrison is prime minister not because we the people say so, but because that’s what most members of the main party in the parliament’s majority coalition have decided. The voters get to determine the majority; the majority gets to choose a leader.

Unfortunately for Malcolm Turnbull, a party can change its mind more than once between elections. Last week, in the first challenge to his leadership since the last election, the Liberals endorsed him; two days later they rejected him. For political fickleness, that has to be a record.

The Coalition will pay a price for that when we next go to the polls. Instability at the top indicates dysfunctional government, and Morrison’s rise to prime ministership – he called it a “new generation” – is highly unlikely to survive the next election.

Tony Abbott might linger longer. Coming out of the meeting that elected Morrison he suggested that he still has work to do to make Australia “as strong and as good as it can possibly be”. That’s as near as he came to explaining why ousting Turnbull meant so much to him.

So we can assume that voicing his loud and angry opposition to the National Energy Guarantee, crafted by former environment minister and now treasurer and deputy Liberal leader, Josh Frydenberg, was also in his mind helping to make Australia strong and good.

I never had much time for the NEG. I saw just one thing in its favour: in the Coalition’s near-empty climate policy locker, this was the one item that might be made to work. Without it, nothing.

Though they never produced modelling to back up their claims, Frydenberg, Turnbull and Morrison all highlighted the NEG’s capacity to bring down power prices and improve supply reliability. Whenever possible they avoided mentioning climate and carbon emissions.

But the NEG in its final form looked like something the Labor opposition might support – a scheme whose emissions provisions could be toughened up in future. It was looking as if that might yet allow the NEG bill to pass both houses and become law. Alas, no.

Down the years, seeking a consensus on climate policy has been an excruciating experience. A big majority of Australian economists has long argued that economy-wide measures are the most cost-effective way to control emissions, but it took a decade to secure John Howard’s tepid support.

Kevin Rudd’s monumental Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bit the dust in 2009 when, as his first act after seizing his party’s leadership from Turnbull, Tony Abbott withdrew Liberal support.

Next, Julia Gillard’s carbon scheme imposed a tax on electricity from fossil fuels. It had a clear, measurable impact on emissions, but Abbott’s three-year campaign against it finally bore fruit with his election win in 2013. A year later the scheme was axed.

Abbott always knew that some in the electorate wanted action on climate, so as prime minister he never quite abandoned the policy space. But “Direct Action” is a dud: an expensive scheme to buy carbon abatement out of the public purse which has had no impact on ever-rising emissions.

Under Turnbull there was always hope, however faint, that something might emerge. Frydenberg supported an emissions intensity scheme but it was scuppered by Abbott-led opposition. The same fate befell chief scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target, put together at Turnbull’s request.

The NEG combined the wish to make power more reliable and affordable with the imperative of bringing down emissions, a need that business was increasingly focusing on given rising international pressure to increase Paris commitments.

Now, thanks to Abbott and a small cohort of followers including MPs Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly and Tasmanian senators Eric Abetz and Jonathon Duniam, there’s nothing left except the fast-expiring Renewable Energy Target.

Though coal power is already costlier than renewables, the Abbott crew wants public money spent on building new coal-fired power stations. They also claim that we are a minor emitter on the world stage. But Australian emissions are climbing, and per person, we are the world’s largest emitter.

They didn’t get their man in the top job, but they have done their damage. We are all losers.

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Tomorrow’s weather: hot, stormy, fiery

Science’s warnings about a warming Earth are getting sharper as each year brings new shocks. The Turnbull government must be on another planet.

If this is winter… Fire crews attending a fire near Salt Ash, Just north of Newcastle, at the weekend. PHOTO ABC News/Nancy Notzon

If this is winter… Fire crews at work near Salt Ash, just north of Newcastle, at the weekend. PHOTO ABC News/Nancy Notzon

How do we feel about winter bushfires every year? That’s the sort of question we need to ask ourselves in light of what recent scientific papers say about the trajectory of global warming.

Eight months after a midwinter wildfire destroyed homes in Los Angeles, last week in the depths of a southern winter scores of fires erupted in coastal lands from Queensland to southern NSW. Big August blazes are rare in NSW records; I could find just one, in the Hunter Valley in 1996.

Two weeks earlier, NSW had sent fire crews to California, now at the height of summer, to help fight record-breaking conflagrations there. It’s not beyond imagining that at some point our two countries’ fire services will be unable to supply off-season help to the other.

This northern summer is one of the hottest on record. It includes the world’s highest recorded daily minimum (42.6C, Quriyat, Oman), a record high temperature for Africa (51.3C, Ouargla, Algeria), and unprecedented 30C-plus temperatures, with forest fires, in Europe’s high Arctic.

Jan van Oldenborgh and colleagues in the World Weather Attribution consortium found a strong human imprint on this summer’s European heatwave. And globally the next four years are set to see even more extreme heat, according to a statistical study published in Nature Communications.

Reading what is now being said about our climate future in the context of unseasonal wildfire in both hemispheres, it’s hard to avoid apocalyptic thinking. Scientists’ fears cover a multitude of climate change symptoms, each one with huge ramifications for humanity.

Melting permafrost is adding methane to the atmosphere. Marine life is feeling the heat – and acidity – in the ocean. Food production is threatened by rising sea levels and more extreme weather including drought and flood, adding to social chaos and threatening ecosystems and human health.

I’m alarmed by what I read and see no point pretending otherwise. So is UK geographer Jem Bendell, who wrote this month that “a climate-induced form of economic and social collapse is now likely”. He says we should now focus on what he calls “deep adaptation”.

A Nature paper in June looking at 50 years of rainstorms in Australia concludes they are set to become far more severe than anything previously experienced. Modelling projects yet more flash floods, especially in urban areas, and (unfortunately for food production) larger wet-dry extremes.

Even more unsettling is a paper by a high-powered international team comprising lead author Will Steffen of the Australian National University and 15 others from the US and five European countries, published in late June by the National Academy of Sciences (US).

The team is laden with decades of experience across all relevant scientific disciplines including earth system physics, chemistry and biology, ecosystem management, and the social and economic impact of climate change. Their analysis of the state of the climate is not to be taken lightly.

The paper looked at the potential for self-reinforcing feedbacks pushing global climate across a threshold that – even if human emissions were reduced – could send it on a destabilised “Hothouse Earth” pathway, with temperatures 4C or 5C higher than at any time in the past 1.2 million years.

The team concludes that even if humanity were to meet the Paris target of 2C of warming by 2100, other factors in play might already have set off a cascade of feedbacks before then.

The paper reflects the group’s extensive experience in advising government and looking at practical aspects of applying science findings in the real world. It says that while the outlook is grim, a more stable climate is achievable and notes signs that a shift is already happening in this direction.

A supporting discussion paper looks at possible solutions, pointing out the now-overwhelming need for “a coordinated, deliberate effort by human societies to manage our relationship with the rest of the Earth System”.

“Stewardship of the entire Earth System” is what’s needed, says the paper, including things like “decarbonisation of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioural changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values”.

This is a call to governments and citizens of the world to put aside all differences in a common cause. Saving as much as we can of our civil society, built out of centuries of struggle and pain, is surely worth almost any effort.

Meanwhile, our government is trying to convince us that mitigating emissions is of no importance compared to lowering electricity prices and improving grid reliability, while former PM Tony Abbott wants Australia to build new coal power stations and renege on its Paris commitment.

Such shocking ignorance could be remedied if government MPs chose. With parliament sitting this week, they could invite Canberra-based Steffen across Lake Burley Griffin to discuss his paper and remind them why rapid, decisive action to cut emissions is so important.

If they feel the time Steffen spent on Julia Gillard’s Climate Commission makes him suspect if not an enemy, they could also invite along his boss, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt, who is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Surely they wouldn’t argue with him?

Sadly, I think they would. To them, man-made climate change isn’t a physical reality so much as a matter of ideology, and nothing will convince them otherwise. A winter fire-storm raging across Sydney might make them think twice, but probably not.

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