A bit more integrated …

I’ve been building this ‘new’ site for almost a year now, posting (very) intermittently, and uploading much of the content from my old site, as well as updating it. The focus has mainly been on economics, development, climate change and sustainability, under the banner of ‘integrated development’. But I realise I’d left out a whole area – that of spirituality and religion. I’m not sure why really – it’s such a critical area of life for most of the world’s people. It shapes cultures, countries and geopolitics. As my friend Matthew Clarke points out in his new book Development and Religion, when development agencies ignore religion, they ignore a fundamental part of what is important to local communities and societies.

Spirituality and religion is also deeply personal of course, and it was also a core part of my own journey, having studied theology in my 20s. Over the past few years that importance had been fading for me for various reasons, but now, to my great surprise, it has surged back into my consciousness, both for my own personal journey and also its relevance and importance for eradicating poverty, and shifting to an ecologically sustainable economic path.

So I’ve added a new static page on Spirituality, which I’ll update periodically. I welcome suggestions for resources and links. I’ll also start making my posts a bit more diverse than the purely ‘professional’ stuff on economics, climate change etc, which, let’s be honest, can be a bit dry at times. Hopefully this broader approach will make this site a bit more reflective of a truly integrated development policy research agenda.

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Heron Island

I’ve spent the past week on Heron Island of the coast of Gladstone in Queensland at the Heron Island Complex Systems Summer School, staying at the University of Queensland’s Research Station.

It’s been a terrific week, with presentations on everything from bees, to finance to the Mayan civilization. Oh – and the snorkelling has been spectacular. This morning’s sitings were a bunch of sea turtles, a reef shark, a gazillion tropical fish and a half dozen manta rays. Brilliant.

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Tackling tax havens

You may have heard of the role of the Cayman Islands, Jersey, the Isle of Man, the US state of Delaware and others as tax havens. But guess which one tops the dismal list of those facilitating global tax evasion and money laundering? Switzerland! So much for that image of a global public citizen.

This week I attended a terrific talk by John Christensen who is the founder of the Tax Justice Network. Around half of the finance for world trade passes through tax havens to avoid taxation. Tax havens hide and facilitate the laundering of trillions of dollars on behalf of dictators, organised crime, high-wealth individuals and multinationals. Some $11 trillion in assets are held offshore, which deprives governments of around $250 billion annually.

Why are they a problem? (From http://www.tackletaxhavens.com/ )

1. Tax havens help rich people hide money that should be spent on schools, hospitals, roads and other public services

2. Tax havens force poor people to pay the taxes of the rich

3. Tax havens help criminals hide their loot

4. Tax havens help dictators and their cronies plunder the resources of developing countries

5. Tax havens allow banks to dodge financial rules and regulations

6. Tax havens corrupt markets, concealing insider dealing and supporting aggressive tax dodging by multinational companies

7. Tax havens create a private world of secrecy, impunity and power for rich elites

8. Tax havens widen the gap between rich and poor people

9. Tax havens make laws in secret which affect us all

10. Tax havens degrade our faith in democracy

The Tax Justice Network  also publishes a financial secrecy index which is a monumental amount of work and well worth checking out. Follow them on twitter at @TackleTaxHavens

Nicholas Shaxon’s book ‘Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World’ is also a terrific overview.

UPDATE: Check out the great article in The Age by Ben Butler on ‘Counting the Cost of Tax Havens’

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Solar thermal power in Spain

Last Monday I heard a fascinating talk by Santiago Arias, the technical director of Torresol Energy, which runs the new 19.9MW Gemasolar 24hr solar power plant.

From Torresol’s website:

Gemasolar is the first commercial-scale plant in the world to apply central tower receiver and molten salt heat storage technology. The relevance of this plant lies in its technological uniqueness, since it opens up the way for new thermosolar electrical generation technology.

Characteristics of Gemasolar:

  • Rated electrical power: 19.9 MW
  • Net electrical production expected: 110 GWh/year
  • Solar field: 2,650 heliostats on 185 hectares
  • Heat storage system: the molten salt storage tank permits independent electrical generation for up to 15 hours without any solar feed.

The seminar was hosted by Beyond Zero Emisisons and the slides and more information are available here. Well worth a look.

Another Melbourne University seminar that looks interesting this Wednesday is on ‘The Future of Solar Power in Australia‘.  There’s a bit of a theme here!

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The future of transport in Australia

Tonight I attended a useful seminar on the future of transport in Australia organised by the Melbourne Energy Institute and the Grattan Institute. Chaired by Professor Roy Neel, Chief of Staff to former US Vice President Al Gore and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, speakers included:

  • Ms Fiona Calvert, Director Strategy and Resource Efficiency Policy, Policy and Communications Division at the Department of Transport, Victoria;
  • Prof Nicholas Low,Professor of Environmental Planning, Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, and Associate Director and Founder of GAMUT  – The Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport;
  • Mr Patrick Hearps, Research Fellow, Melbourne Energy Institute, University of Melbourne;
  • Mr William McDougall, Principal, Public Transport, Practice Leader, Sinclair Knight Merz.

There was a live webcast, but I’m not sure if the footage is being uploaded somewhere. I hope so.

UPDATE: The webcast has been uploaded here.

One point I’d missed was a fascinating Guardian article by John Vidal on information from Wikileaks that cables from the US embassy in Riyadh “urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%.” If true, and few seem to believe that official Saudi reserve statements are accurate, the economic implications are serious.

MEI’s next seminar is on November 16 on ‘The Future of Solar Power’ – should be interesting.

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Climate change talks

Well clearly I’m not overwhelming this site with posts so far!

So to break the silence, here’s a clip of a talk I gave on the 10th of August at an event organised by Lighter Footprints. Thanks guys for organising a terrific night and for uploading the clip. The slides I’m referring to can be found here.

To see the other speakers, Alan Pears from RMIT University and the Federal MP for Chisolm Anna Burke, click here and scroll down to the entry for 10th August.

Alan and I gave similar talks this week at a Community Forum that Anna organised. My slightly updated slides can be found here.

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Welcome to my new site

Hi all,

Thanks for visiting. Well this site is very clearly under construction – including the colour schemes. I’ll gradually migrate much of the content over from my previous site which can be found here.