Friday essay: public ‘pash ons’ and angry dads – personal politics started with consciousness-raising feminists. Now, everyone’s doing it

On March 17–18 1973, more than 600 women gathered in Sydney for a “Women’s Commission”. Speaking to broad themes such as motherhood, work and sexism, dozens of women recounted their struggles: to obtain contraception, or a decent education, to complain about the chauvinistic men in their workplaces. Women shared personal stories they had never told in public before, building trust, forging sisterhood.

While most of the media were excluded from the gathering, a journalist from the Australian Women’s Weekly was permitted to attend. She explained to her readers this was not just a chance to complain, but “out of a mass of personal testimony, the nature and extent of the problems facing Australian women were gradually revealed”.

The event’s goal was to transform personal stories into shared knowledge and ballast for political action. It was emblematic of the new politics of gender and sexuality in the 1970s, and it would go on to produce enormous transformations in the lives of women and sexual minorities.

Thanks to “personal politics”, the everyday lives of Australians have been transformed in areas like no-fault divorce, providing safe abortions, decriminalising homosexuality, and introducing health and welfare programs tailored to women and LGBTIQ+ people.

Political change continues to be driven by personal stories.

Non-binary mother April Long was a co-complainant, with Equality Australia, to the Australian Human Rights Commission after the 2021 Census failed to ask questions about sexual orientation, gender diversity and variations in sex characteristics. When filling in the census, “I was invisible, [our child] was invisible, my family was invisible.” The Australian Bureau of Statistics issued a statement of regret and promised to review its gender and sexual classifications for the 2026 Census.

However, describing private pain and distress has not been the exclusive political strategy of the marginalised.

Our research reveals that groups and individuals we might regard as privileged have just as effectively deployed personal stories to secure what they describe as a “return” to traditional family forms, gender roles and sexual identities.

In the late 1970s, for instance, men’s rights groups described an epidemic of despair among divorced men to argue for changes in family law. They would begin to be successful in the mid-1990s – and family law is still hotly politically contested. More recently, claims of personal distress have been weaponised against gender diversity and trans rights.

Anti-transgender rights activist ‘Posie Parker’ and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson at a 2023 ‘Let Women Speak’ anti-trans rally.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

And while some of those now using personal politics are clearly conservatives, political contests over gender and sexuality cannot solely be understood through the lens of left and right. Many of the parliamentary debates produced by these campaigns have been resolved by conscience votes, because party positions on questions of gender and sexuality remain elusive.

How, then, should we assess the impact and legacy of personal politics?

Making the personal political

The phrase, and later slogan, “the personal is political” is often credited to US feminist Carol Hanisch. In her 1970 essay of the same name, Hanisch described how a growing feminist movement had been propelled by women who had come together in small groups to discuss their experiences of intimate and everyday life, in a process called consciousness-raising.

“One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems,” she wrote. “There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.”

Women who shared their problems in a supportive group not only realised their problems were widely shared, but helped build a political movement that sought to explain and overcome them. A question as simple as “who cleans the toilet in your house?” (the answer, almost always, was women) sparked wide-ranging conversations about women’s domestic labour, men’s attitudes towards housework, and the social and cultural system that naturalised women’s responsibility for all household chores, especially the most unpleasant ones.

The slogan had purchase in Australia too. The Women’s Commission of 1973 followed the establishment of local consciousness-raising groups as a tool of transformation and discovery.

One woman told Cleo magazine in May 1974 that consciousness-raising had created “the most unbelievable change” in her when she realised she shared the same problems as the women in her group: “Gee … if I’m crazy, then they’re all crazy too!”

Gays and lesbians also found the practice energising. In 1975, the Sydney Gay Liberation Front declared in a pamphlet that its consciousness-raising group was “the guts, the heart and soul of the movement”.

“The personal is political” became a call for feminists, as well as gay and lesbian activists, to develop theories about the structures and dynamics that limited their everyday lives, and a political practice to transform them. Within a few years, speaking and writing in public about experiences of discrimination had become a prominent part of Australian national culture.

These activists drew links between oppressions in the private space of the home, offhand comments in everyday life, and the legal regimes that constrained the lives of women and homosexuals. “Overt oppression faces me every day,” said Richard Wilson, a member of Gay Liberation in Sydney, in 1973.

My parents are continually trying to straighten me out. I am continually accosted by Jesus Freaks who angrily damn me for my unnatural sins, and hatefully threaten me with God’s judgement […] I am continually intimidated by authority figures.

He described being “harassed by pigs” for publicly showing affection to another man, and being “dragged” to Glebe Police Station for “a little talk” with two detectives who “leaned” on him and another man.

“I left my husband five years ago,” wrote a woman who had found refuge at Elsie, the first feminist women’s refuge, established in March 1974, in August of that year.

My husband used to make me write my grocery lists down on paper and then I had to read it out to him and he would tell me I didn’t need all these items and then I put the prices down beside each item and add it up and that is how much money he used to give me.

Protesters politicise everyday life at International Women’s Day March in Melbourne, 1975.
Australian Overseas Information Service Pictorial Library/National Archives of Australia

Some lawmakers and critics decried this public storytelling in moral terms. They suggested it was pornographic, scandalous, trivial or some combination of all three. They were suspicious this could be a foundation for political action, dismissing it as merely “navel gazing”. For them, these concerns did not belong to the domain of politics: they were complaints about private worlds.

In 1979, John Brown, a Labor parliamentarian, dismissed these stories as exaggerated accounts from “militant feminists who trumpet aloud” their intimate troubles and sexual lives. But these activists had moved the boundaries of acceptable political speech, as well as the kinds of evidence that would be used to support arguments for change.

A Women’s Electoral Lobby poster from the early 1980s.
Women’s Electoral Lobby/Jessie Street Memorial Library

In that same debate, his party colleague Barry Jones noted the House of Representatives did not contain a single female voice. Feminist and gay activists occasionally set up “embassies” outside parliaments precisely because their voices were not being heard where the decisions were being made.

Bill Hayden, then leader of the Labor opposition, insisted the only way to consider the “abortion question” was to listen to “experiences (of women from) real, practical life”. This, he argued, would produce legal regimes that demonstrated “sensitivity about the rights of those people”.

Women’s stories about their own lives and experiences were becoming an expected element of political debate.

Pursuing legal change

In 1970, in every state, sex between men was criminally sanctioned, but this soon began to shift. After very limited reforms in South Australia in 1972, which provided a legal defence of privacy to the crime of sodomy, more expansive reforms were passed in that state in 1975. Reformed legislation provided near equality for homosexual and heterosexual sex.

In 1980, after a concerted campaign by the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition, Victoria passed reforms that activist Jamie Gardiner proudly proclaimed were the “best in the English-speaking world”. They removed any reference to sexual orientation in the laws and drew boundaries between criminal and lawful sex. Policing practices, however, still targeted intimacy between men in public in ways they did not target heterosexual couplings.

Slowly, over the next two decades, sex between men was decriminalised in all states and territories. The campaigns were led by activists who spoke confidently about their own experiences. Sometimes, they performed their intimate lives in public to campaign for change.

Public “kiss-ins” were a useful strategy. In 1979, activists gathered outside a pub in Melbourne to protest discriminatory policing. And in 1995, activists “pash’d on” in Taylor Square in Sydney, inviting the public to discern any difference between the intimacies of straight, gay and lesbian couples.

In 1975, the Whitlam government finally passed the Family Law Act, after two previous attempts. The Act introduced no-fault divorce to Australia and was heralded as a feminist success story.

Since 1959, laws had required the attribution of fault in the legal dissolution of a marriage. This substantively shaped the financial settlements that followed. Women who found the courage to leave unhappy or violent relationships in the 1960s were often deemed to have “deserted” their marriages. It was no coincidence that nearly 50% of Australians beneath the poverty line in the early 1970s were single mothers.

Feminist activism had revealed the home could be a space of profound oppression, and argued for a legal framework that did not reinforce these inequalities. In 1976, stories abounded of women flocking to court to free themselves from coercive, limiting marriages.

A queue of women outside the Family Court, the week it opened in 1976.
Stewart McRae for the Courier Mail/ National Library of Australia

Transforming abortion laws proved thornier. By 1975, abortion had been reformed in the Northern Territory and South Australia. In New South Wales and Victoria, evolving case law provided specific defences to the crime of abortion – enabling safe abortion to be provided more widely in private clinics and a few hospitals. From 1975, Medibank rebates were nationally available for the procedure, making it more accessible.

With these case law protections in place, by 1975, a reporter from The Age was surprised to discover an expansive abortion ecosystem. He noted a woman could procure a safe abortion “virtually on request and without fear of prosecution”. However, abortion retained an ambiguous legal status in many states.

Abortion is now decriminalised in every jurisdiction in Australia. A 2021 study found 76% of Australians support access to abortion. But abortion provision remains contested.

Some publicly funded Catholic hospitals will not provide terminations, producing what activists described last year as a postcode lottery for legal healthcare. Public and private provision is rare outside the big cities.

Strange political bedfellows

This new form of politics produced passionate commitment from those inside and outside parliaments, which also placed politicians under considerable pressure.

In relation to that 1979 debate, for example, more than 10% of all the petitions submitted to parliament that year concerned abortion. It took a long time to table all these representations.

Parliamentarians also complained their offices had ground to a halt under a deluge of phone calls and letters from concerned constituents. The attorney general was sure the 1975 Family Law debate was one of the longest in living memory.

These debates also confounded the two-party system that organised Australian parliamentary politics. While Labor and the Liberal party (and its predecessors) had long disagreed about the economic principles that should govern Australia, both parties assumed that a woman’s primary duty was to maintain a heterosexual family, and to produce children who would replicate this model in future generations.

Activism that challenged this view – often by telling stories about the inequalities and oppressions of sexual and family life – challenged the heteronormative foundations of both parties.

This often fractured parties down the middle, and consensus on the politics of gender and sexuality remained elusive. As a result, many of the debates prompted by personal politics were resolved in parliament by allowing politicians to cast conscience votes. This meant party discipline would not determine how MPs voted, nor how they would respond to this politics in public life. It sometimes produced strange political bedfellows, as Labor and Liberal MPs voted together.

Several key pieces of Commonwealth legislation were passed because members were released from party discipline: the 1975 Family Law Act, a 1979 motion to protect Medibank funding for abortions, the 1983 Sex Discrimination Act, and the more recent legalisation of same-sex marriage. Parliamentary debates about state abortion laws were almost always resolved by conscience votes.

This also made their outcomes much less predictable, and MPs sometimes found their individual positions scrutinised much more closely. From 1972, the Women’s Electoral Lobby surveyed individual candidates, rather than parties, about their positions on various issues concerning women.

Our research reveals a political culture less determined by party divides than we might expect: one often punctured and animated by questions of intimate, family and sexual life.

Intimate suffering as a political tool

Stories of distress and pain have often been key weapons in the arsenal of personal politics. In the 1980s, the intimate languages of grief and suffering often reinforced political claims during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

While gay men were not the only group affected by this epidemic, they were perhaps the most heavily impacted by its consequences. Candlelight vigils, held annually from 1985, combined the collective expression of grief with powerful claims for government action. The first vigil in NSW, in 1985, ended at the state parliament, where activists protested about recent legislation that forced doctors to disclose the identities of HIV-positive patients to the government.

HIV/AIDs vigil, Sydney, 1996.
C.Moore Hardy/City of Sydney Archives

Later, in 1992, activists recreated a hospital ward on the front lawn of the NSW health minister, where men forced a public engagement with their suffering and distress. This was no performance, however: the men in those beds needed hospital admissions. They confronted the public with their ravaged bodies to seek more hospital beds to deal with the epidemic. About a week later, on February 4, one of those hospital-bed protesters, Brian Hobday, lost his battle with HIV/AIDs.

Once, it would have been unthinkable for a government to fund a health program to address the needs of gay men. But by the 1990s, they were funding organisations that sent “safe-sex sluts” to hand out condoms at gay-dance parties to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs.

But marginalised and oppressed groups who had been excluded from full citizenship and participation in political debate were not the only ones to mobilise stories of intimate distress to seek change. Groups that sought very different legal reforms were also using personal stories for political effect.

Family Court violence

Men’s and fathers’ rights groups emerged in the lead-up to the 1975 Family Law Act and have continued to push back against feminist-led reforms to family life since.

Groups such as the Divorce Law Reform Association emerged in the late 1960s, sharing stories of distressed fathers who were required, by law, to support their divorced spouses and children.

The ‘Divorce Law Reform Association’ campaigning for no-fault divorce in Canberra.
Australian Overseas Information Service Pictorial Library/National Archives of Australia

After the Family Law Act passed, a rather angry masculinist activism argued for the “return of the fault factor”. The association’s president threateningly predicted “violence” if these male “victims” of oppression did not have their grievances recognised.

The Lone Fathers’ Association circulated stories of men who “considered kidnapping, even suicide” because of delays in the Family Court and a sense they were not being given a “fair go”.

Such groups argued the Family Law Act had turned divorced fathers into wage-slaves because they were required to provide child support, even if they had very limited custody.

No-fault divorce, the Divorce Law Reform Association argued, was making it “too easy” for women to leave marriages. At a Senate inquiry in 1980, it argued legal determinations of fault were required to “preserve the benefits, worth, stability and integrity of marriage” and prevent an ocean of male distress that was unfolding without it. A father was, and should remain, “the head of his own house”, the association argued.

In the early 1980s, the Family Court, its judges and their families became the target of lethal violence. Between 1980 and 1985, a series of bombings and shootings resulted in the death of one Family Court judge and another judge’s wife. They also resulted in the serious injury of Family Court judges. In 1984, the Family Court in Parramatta was bombed, though in this case no one was injured.

One 1983 book published during this reign of terror argued fathers had been “judicially discarded” by the court and it was the denial of their rights as fathers that drove this violence. It opened:

Tragedy. Heartbreak. Shock. Confusion. Despair. These are too often the bitter fruits, the luckless harvest of so many people who have been through the process of the Family Court.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, activists secured sympathetic coverage of a spate of murder-suicides in which men killed their families and themselves. The press positioned these men as confused and desperate victims, driven to violence by a legal system that had been transformed by feminist thinking.

The “cause” of this violence, whether directed towards judges or families, was widely represented as a Family Court system that did not attend to men’s needs. As feminist scholar Therese Taylor observes, these activists had managed to turn “murder into the final proof of paternal love”.

Men’s sheds, Safe Schools and funding

From the mid-1990s, “men’s sheds” proliferated across Australia, and from 2010, they began to receive Commonwealth funding. There are now at least 1,250 of them (with access usually restricted to men). They promise to address isolation, poor mental health and suicide among (particularly older) men by providing “traditional” male activities and social contact.

The Australian Men’s Shed Association provided personal testimonies in its submission to a 2009 Senate Inquiry, which would eventually lead to the first injection of Commonwealth funding. After retirement, said Rob), “at times I was so distressed and nervous that I couldn’t think straight and in those darker moments I sometimes thought of doing myself in”. He said he “came to the men’s shed to get my mind out of the darkness and to occupy myself”.

Men’s sheds have been big winners under the National Men’s Health Policy, with additional remarkable success in state-based grant programs. In 2010, Men’s Sheds were awarded Commonwealth funding to support their expansion across Australia. In 2020, their funding was increased. A recent report commissioned by the Commonwealth government found most sheds reported being “well-funded and well-resourced”.

A very different fate befell the Safe Schools program, a health education project developed to better support gender- and sexually diverse children and teenagers. The voluntary program, which provides education materials and support for teachers, was developed in Victoria and was rolled out nationally with Commonwealth support in 2014.

Two years later, in 2016, conservative campaigners pressured schools and governments to wind back the program. This prompted an outpouring of community support. Queer and trans youth spoke powerfully in nationwide rallies about the impact the program had on their lives.

Students rally in Brisbane for the implementation of the Safe Schools program.
Ed Jackson/AAP

At a Perth rally in 2016, 15-year-old Oscar, a self-identified LGBTIQA+ Australian, explained why safe schools are needed. “For many students, school is a battleground – social rejection, abuse, peer-shunning and isolation turn life into a daily struggle,” he said. By “gutting” Safe Schools, the government was risking “not only the safety but the very mental health and the very lives of our children”.

A formal review commissioned by the Commonwealth government found that Safe Schools material was effective and appropriate. And yet, Commonwealth funding was discontinued after 2017, although some state governments stepped in, either to directly replace the federal funding or to fund programs that reflected the principles of Safe Schools.

Both men’s sheds and the Safe Schools program provide safe spaces and address poor mental health. Both have used shared personal stories of distress to argue for their existence. But while funding for men’s sheds is ever increasing, a gender-specific program of support for young LGBTIQ+ people found that the dissemination of personal stories of distress could not defeat their opponents.

What next?

Personal stories of suffering and distress have been potent political tools for women’s and gay rights. But they have also been effectively wielded by groups that seek to reinforce what they describe as a “traditional” gender and sexual order. It seems important to remember, then, that 1970s activists identified how those “traditions” maintained inequality and oppression.

Today, the personal is (still) political. Political contests around gender and sexuality will inevitably continue to provoke and unsettle. The next battlegrounds are trans rights, the continuing struggle to maintain and expand reproductive health care, including abortion services, and meaningful action on gendered violence, including family law reform and improved support for legal aid and women’s refuge services.

Personal storytelling is affecting and politically effective, but justice cannot be achieved through storytelling alone. To rely on storytelling risks becoming trapped in a politics of competitive complaint that reinforces disagreement, rather than seeking collective transformation. Activists need to engage in full-throated, nuanced critiques of a gender and sexual order that still works to marginalise, exclude and oppress.

The most effective campaigns have not simply told personal stories; they have made powerful arguments about inequality and injustice that mobilised Australians to engage in the political process. They have also, more often than not, resisted a politics of reassurance and recognition. Instead, they have admitted they are actively challenging the status quo.

This essay draws on Personal Politics: Sexuality, Gender and the Remaking of Citizenship in Australia by Leigh Boucher, Barbara Baird, Michelle Arrow & Robert Reynolds (Monash University Press). Läs mer…

Want to sleep longer? Adding mini-bursts of exercise to your evening routine can help – new study

Exercising before bed has long been discouraged as the body doesn’t have time to wind down before the lights go out.

But new research has found breaking up a quiet, sedentary evening of watching television with short bursts of resistance exercise can lead to longer periods of sleep.

Adults spend almost one third of the 24-hour day sleeping. But the quality and length of sleep can affect long-term health. Sleeping too little or waking often in the night is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Physical activity during the day can help improve sleep. However, current recommendations discourage intense exercise before going to bed as it can increase a person’s heart rate and core temperature, which can ultimately disrupt sleep.

Nighttime habits

For many, the longest period of uninterrupted sitting happens at home in the evening. People also usually consume their largest meal during this time (or snack throughout the evening).

Insulin (the hormone that helps to remove sugar from the blood stream) tends to be at a lower level in the evening than in the morning.

Together these factors promote elevated blood sugar levels, which over the long term can be bad for a person’s health.

Our previous research found interrupting evening sitting every 30 minutes with three minutes of resistance exercise reduces the amount of sugar in the bloodstream after eating a meal.

But because sleep guidelines currently discourage exercising in the hours before going to sleep, we wanted to know if frequently performing these short bursts of light activity in the evening would affect sleep.

Activity breaks for better sleep

In our latest research, we asked 30 adults to complete two sessions based in a laboratory.

During one session the adults sat continuously for a four-hour period while watching streaming services. During the other session, they interrupted sitting by performing three minutes of body-weight resistance exercises (squats, calf raises and hip extensions) every 30 minutes.

After these sessions, participants went home to their normal life routines. Their sleep that evening was measured using a wrist monitor.

Our research found the quality of sleep (measured by how many times they woke in the night and the length of these awakenings) was the same after the two sessions. But the night after the participants did the exercise “activity breaks” they slept for almost 30 minutes longer.

Identifying the biological reasons for the extended sleep in our study requires further research.

But regardless of the reason, if activity breaks can extend sleep duration, then getting up and moving at regular intervals in the evening is likely to have clear health benefits.

Participants who did the exercise activity breaks slept for almost 30 minutes longer.
miniseries/Getty Images

Time to revisit guidelines

These results add to earlier work suggesting current sleep guidelines, which discourage evening exercise before bed, may need to be reviewed.

As the activity breaks were performed in a highly controlled laboratory environment, future research should explore how activity breaks performed in real life affect peoples sleep.

We selected simple, body-weight exercises to use in this study as they don’t require people to interrupt the show they may be watching, and don’t require a large space or equipment.

If people wanted to incorporate activity breaks in their own evening routines, they could probably get the same benefit from other types of exercise. For example, marching on the spot, walking up and down stairs, or even dancing in the living room.

The key is to frequently interrupt evening sitting time, with a little bit of whole-body movement at regular intervals.

In the long run, performing activity breaks may improve health by improving sleep and post-meal blood sugar levels. The most important thing is to get up frequently and move the body, in a way the works best for a person’s individual household. Läs mer…

Yes, we are a more equal society than most, but not quite as mobile as the Productivity Commission suggests. Here’s why

If you listened to the Productivity Commission, you would think Australia was a pretty equal place in terms of income and wealth, and particularly good in terms of equality of opportunity.

Its major investigation released last week, entitled Fairly Equal?, found Australia’s income mobility is second only to Switzerland’s.

It’s a high-quality piece of work, created by linking personal income tax, social security and census records and also linking records across generations. This allows the commission to examine how children fare compared to their parents.

The Australian Financial Review welcomed the findings by declaring they “surprised everyone”, which certainly wasn’t true for researchers in the field.

They were broadly consistent with earlier findings.

But the report largely neglects something important that is likely to matter a lot for equality and equality of opportunity.

It’s the role of housing.

Imputed rent matters

There are many ways to define income. The Productivity Commission defines it conventionally but narrowly, excluding so-called imputed rent.

Imputed rent can be thought of as the income someone gets from themselves for something they own, usually a home.

Homeowners can be thought of as renting to themselves.
Shutterstock

It’s easy to see if you think about landlords. The rent they receive from their tenants is income. If they happen to be their own tenants, paying notional rent to themselves, it remains a benefit and remains income for the purposes of the national accounts.

The Bureau of Statistics calculates imputed rent by applying market rents to owner-occupied dwellings.

Imputed rent is often used in studies of inequality.

When it is, Australian incomes look more equal than when it is not. This is because older people tend to have low cash incomes but high imputed rents.

But more importantly, and more so for Australia than for the United States or Germany, including imputed rent lowers estimates of intergenerational mobility.

So far, only one Australian study has examined this. It finds that including imputed rent cuts Australia’s intergenerational mobility by 22%.

Although this finding should be interpreted cautiously, on the Productivity Commission’s intergenerational mobility graph it would make Australia more like Canada than Switzerland.

Capital gains matter

The Productivity Commission has also paid scant attention to capital gains.

In recent years property price increases have been so large that some houses have earned more than their owners have.

A definition of income that includes changes in net worth may also show Australia was less equal and less generationally mobile than generally thought.

I am working on incorporating changes in the value of housing into measures of inequality and mobility. I don’t yet have results I can share, but they might turn out to matter a lot.

Wealth matters in its own right

If we are really interested in intergenerational mobility (what chance we’ve got of getting a different financial station in life to our parents) it’s worth considering how easy it is to get to a different place in the wealth distribution as well as the income distribution.

Here, the results are mixed, and perhaps concerning.

The commission relies on a study that finds wealth mobility is higher in Australia than in the United States.

But those findings are driven by children aged 20-39. In Australia, the correlation between parental wealth and children’s wealth appears to grow stronger when those children reach middle age.

Indeed, from age 40 onwards wealth mobility becomes lower in Australia than in other places including the US.

Again, there are reasons to interpret these findings cautiously. But they are enough – for now – to persuade us to be cautious in celebrating our apparently exceptional economic mobility.

And enough to encourage us to shift our focus from narrow measures of income towards broader measures of wellbeing, especially those that include housing.

Read more:
Your parents’ income doesn’t determine yours – unless you’re ultra rich or extremely poor Läs mer…

Strong progress – from a low base: here’s what’s in NSW’s biodiversity reforms

The laws designed to protect the environment in New South Wales are completely ineffective, according to the scathing Henry Review in 2023.

In response, the state government this week announced a major overhaul of the Biodiversity Conservation Act, introduced in 2016. The Minns govermment has committed to introducing 49 of 58 recommendations made by the review, either in full or in part.

First up will be reform of biodiversity offsets – the easily gamed and largely ineffective requirement for developers to offset their destruction of vital habitat with gains elsewhere.

The state government is also promising to align reformed biodiversity laws with national and international goals, and set goals and targets to tackle threats, bring species back from the brink, and conserve landscapes at scale.

Good news? Certainly – especially given the federal government has delayed reforms to national biodiversity laws. But there are still big gaps – especially around how to actually stop land clearing, which is a major driver of species and ecosystem loss in the state.

These changes are essential, if we are to curb rapid and increasing rates of nature loss. Without them, around 500 species are predicted to become extinct in NSW over the next century and many nature-dependent industries – such as tourism, water supply and agriculture – will suffer.

How do you fix the offset problem?

Offsets are popular with governments because they offer the possibility of having your cake and eating it too. You want to develop a prime chunk of waterfront land, even though there are endangered koalas feeding in the trees? That’s fine, as long as you protect and improve koala habitat elsewhere to create an environmental gain equal to your destructive impact.

Well, that’s the theory. In reality, research has demonstrated offset projects rarely achieve their promise of enabling development with no net-loss of biodiversity.

Researchers have found biodiversity offsets in NSW are permitting major biodiversity losses to occur now in return for a “promise” of uncertain future gains.

The biodiversity value of 21,928 hectare of habitat already cleared under this policy in exchange for averting loss’ elsewhere is estimated to need 146 years to be regained.

The Minns government committed to reforming the biodiversity offsets scheme before winning the election. It will be the first nature law reform pushed through NSW parliament this year, while other reforms are not expected to reach state parliament until 2025.

So what are these proposed reforms? Key measures include:

requiring developers to take genuine steps to avoid and minimise impacts on biodiversity, before moving to offset their impact
making payments into a biodiversity conservation fund only as a last resort. At the moment, developers often just make a payment to the government fund to “balance” their impact
closing a loophole where mining companies can claim a “discount” against their environmental impact if they have plans to rehabilitate the mine site in future
increasing transparency through public reporting.

Nature is a big tourism drawcard. The Blue Mountains National Park alone attracts five million visitors each year, creating almost 3,000 jobs.
Jaana Dielenberg

What else has the government promised?

Other important promises in the NSW government’s plan include:

bringing the state’s Biodiversity Conservation Act in line with national and international biodiversity conservation goals
introducing a new nature strategy with targets for tackling threats, recovering threatened species, conserving landscapes and working to restore and connect fragmented landscapes across public and private land
reviewing conservation programs to boost restoration efforts and support the goal of no new extinctions
increasing recognition of First Nations cultural values and connection to Country, including bringing traditional ecological knowledge into environmental assessment processes
expanding private land conservation agreements to recognise and protect Aboriginal cultural values and traditional ecological knowledge.

What was missed?

While these measures are positive, there’s one big gap – the failure to take stronger action against native vegetation clearing.

The speed at which intact natural habitat is being destroyed in NSW has actually increased since the current biodiversity laws were introduced in 2016.

The NSW Government’s own data show almost 100,000 hectares of native vegetation was cleared every year after the act was introduced.

This is equivalent to a strip of land the entire length of the NSW coastline and almost 1 kilometre wide being cleared – every year.

The lion’s share (83%) of the clearing was done for farming, though infrastructure claimed 10,000 hectares and forestry claimed more than 6,000 hectares a year.

This week’s announcements included a commitment to review vegetation clearing codes. This is a welcome step but much more needs to be done to stop the large scale loss of habitat for native animals and plants in the state.

Stopping the routine clearing of native vegetation will require both carrots and sticks – incentives and regulations.

Clashing laws

There’s another unresolved problem. The Henry Review found the effectiveness of the state’s biodiversity laws are being actively undermined by other state laws. When environmental conservation and economic growth clash, the economy usually wins.

While the environment minister can comment on major projects with environmental impact, such as mine sites, in many cases their concerns can be ignored by other ministers and the project can be approved even if the environment minister objects. This needs to change.

Genuinely protecting native species and ecosystems in NSW means the government has to elevate the environment as a priority with an equal seat at the table during decision making.

The Darling River near Brewarrina, NSW was in a poor state in 2019, as natural low flows combined with extraction for irrigation.
Jaana Dielenberg

No-go zones for development

The Minns government announced it would increase the consideration of biodiversity in planning by producing maps which identify areas of current and future high biodiversity value.

This is a step in the right direction. But the government did not take up the review’s recommendation to institute development no-go zones around natural places of particular value, such as vital Ramsar-listed wetlands and critical habitat of threatened species.

No-go zones would provide clarity for developers and protect the habitat of our most critically threatened native species.

Progress – from a very low base

So how should we see these reforms? It’s progress, most certainly – but starting from a very low base.

The natural infrastructure (functioning ecosystems, habitats and species) that underpin the economy and wellbeing of NSW has been steadily eroding since European arrival. The health of 90% of Murray Darling Basin rivers is rated poor or worse. Some 78 species have been driven to extinction and at least 1,000 more risk the same fate.

The Australian Fritillary butterfly has been seen only once in 20 years near Port Macquarie. It was formerly quite common in coastal swamps in Queensland and NSW.
Garry Sankowski

Without major reform, half of these species are projected to go extinct over the next century, according to the Henry Review.

We often take biodiversity for granted. Trees, shrubs, mammals, birds, insects, fish – they’ll always be there. But the natural world can only take so much punishment. Humans are also part of the natural world. We rely much more on functioning ecosystems than we would like to think, to provide clean water and air, pollinate and grow our crops, and attract tourist dollars.

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What will Australia’s proposed Environment Information Agency do for nature? Läs mer…

Why the stinky durian really is the ‘king of all fruits’

There’s little else in the food world that brings about as much social turbulence as the durian. This so-called “king of all fruits” is considered a delicacy across its native Southeast Asia, where durian season is currently in full swing.

Global interest in the pungent food has also grown considerably in recent years. But despite this, the durian continues to be loathed as much as it is lauded. What’s behind its polarising nature?

Loved and loathed in equal measure

The international market for durians grew 400% last year. This is mainly due to China, where demand has expanded 12-fold since 2017.

Durians for sale at a store in Shenzhen, China.
Shutterstock

And although heavy rain and heatwaves have resulted in lower yields, the projected growth for 2024 looks promising.

But not everyone is a devotee. The durian often becomes a prickly topic in my conversations with friends in Southeast Asia – with family members clashing over its loud presence in the kitchen.

Durian is even banned in various hotels and public spaces across Southeast Asian countries. In 2018, a load of durian delayed the departure of an Indonesian flight after travellers insisted the stinky cargo be removed.

Due to their smell, durians may be banned in some shared spaces.
Shutterstock

The fruit’s taste and smell are notoriously difficult to pinpoint. One article touting its benefits describes its odour as a rousing medley of “sulfur, sewage, fruit, honey, and roasted and rotting onions”.

Cultural and historical perspectives

Regardless of its divisive qualities, the durian has a central role in Southeast Asian cuisine and cultures. For centuries, Indigenous peoples across the region have sustainably grown diverse species of the fruit.

At Borobudur, a ninth-century Buddhist temple in Java, Indonesia, relief panels depict durian as a symbol of abundance.

A 2016 celebration of the durian harvest at a village in central Java, Indonesia.
Shutterstock

In Malaysia, it’s common to find courtyards full of durian trees in people’s homes. These trees are cherished, as they provide generations of family members with food, medicine and shelter.

The durian also features in creation stories. In one myth from the Philippines, it’s said that a cave-dwelling recluse named Impit Purok concocted a special fruit to help an elderly king attract a bride. But when the king failed to invite him to the wedding party, the furious hermit cursed his creation with a potent stench.

In the West, the durian was first recorded and observed in the early 15th century by Italian merchant and explorer Niccolò de’ Conti. De’ Conti acknowledged the fruit’s esteem throughout the Malay archipelago, but considered its odour nauseating.

Workers in Malaysia preparing durian for export.
Shutterstock

Early Western illustrations of the fruit can be found in Dutch spy and cartographer Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s book Itinerario (1596). The author remarks that the durian smells like rotten onions when first opened, but that with time one can acquire a taste for it.

Another scientific account comes from the 1741 book Ambonese Herbal, by German botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius. Rumphius identified the fruit’s tough outer skin as the source of its pungency, noting how the people of Indonesia’s Ambon Island had a habit of disposing of the noxious rinds on the shoreline.

A fruit of contradictions

In Southeast Asian film and literature, the durian exerts a powerful yet contradictory effect on the senses. Director Fruit Chan’s film Durian Durian (2000) homes in on these polarising tendencies.

Set in Hong Kong, the film traces the transformation of the characters’ attitudes towards the durian. While the fruit incites revulsion at first, it eventually becomes an object of affection among the family portrayed in the film.

Durian Durian follows the story of a young girl named Fan (Mak Wai-Fan) and her sex worker neighbour, Yan (Qin Hailu), in Hong Kong.
IMDB

This acceptance of the durian doubles as an analogy, reflecting the family’s acceptance of one of the main characters’ life as a sex worker.

In contrast, the Singaporean film Wet Season (2019) by Anthony Chen highlights various traditional views of the fruit. For example, the illicit affair between a teacher and her student calls attention to a persistent belief in the durian’s ability to arouse sexual desire and boost fertility (although any aphrodisiac benefits remain scientifically unproven).

A number of literary works also probe the durian’s cultural complexity. Singaporean poet Hsien Min Toh’s poem, Durians, opens by referring to the fruit’s “unmistakeable waft: like garbage and onions and liquid petroleum gas all mixed in one”.

At the same time it frames the durian tree as a canny being, as it never allows falling fruit to harm the vulnerable humans spreading its seeds on the ground below.

Durian trees are a common sight in Malaysia.
Shutterstock

US poet Sally Wen Mao attends to the enigma in her poem Hurling A Durian. She notes how on one hand the fruit nurtures desire, while on the other it purges memory like a poison. Mesmerised by its perplexing allure, the poet inhales its penetrating scent and strokes its rind until her fingers bleed.

The future and conservation

Although 30 species of durian are known to science (and more continue to be identified), only one species, Durio zibethinus, dominates the global market. Unfortunately, the growing demand for this one type is causing harm by displacing native forests, flora and even Indigenous communities.

In Indonesian Borneo, or Kalimantan, oil palm plantations threaten durian diversity by leaving less room for diverse species of durian to be cultivated. This imperils the cultural practices and beliefs linked to the durian tree.

It also impacts all the other animals that rely on the fruit. Elephants, orangutans and many other endangered fauna relish the durian, while bats and other pollinators help sustain its diversity. As such, effective conservation efforts must engage meaningfully with local people and species.

Perhaps, if past depictions of the durian helped shape its reputation, then new depictions could help conserve this king among fruits.

Durian is sold on the streets across several countries in South-East Asia.
Shutterstock Läs mer…

Soccer and religion have more in common than you might think

People around the world have been captivated by two major soccer tournaments in recent weeks: The UEFA European Football Championship, which Spain won, and Copa América, which Canada finished fourth in.

Soccer creates connections between players and the spectators alike — they feel unified when they participate in the activity together. This experience, which scholars call “collective effervescence,” fosters a sense of unity among participants, even if they don’t know each other personally.

This emotion — that you are a part of something bigger that transforms lives, that the sport offers — is similar to the feeling religion gives. Religious studies scholars have long observed similarities between sport and religion. Namely, that both offer strong emotions and connections with others.

This connection between sport and religion is not new. Throughout history, sport has played a significant role in communal and spiritual life, underscoring its enduring power to bring people together.

Sport and religion

The ancient Olympics were played in honour of the god Zeus, and Olympia, the site of the games, had numerous religious sanctuaries, temples and sports facilities. Another ancient sport, the Mesoamerican Ball Game, also likely had religious significance for its participants.

While visible religious symbols are absent from the soccer field (but alive elsewhere), the fervour of fans attending soccer matches is often compared to religious worship. For many, attending a game provides an escape from everyday life.

Performers take part in the official ceremony of the flame lighting for the Paris Olympics, at the Ancient Olympia site, Greece, on April 16, 2024.
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Rituals, defined as “patterned, repetitive, and symbolic enactment of cultural (or individual) beliefs and values,” are an important aspect of both religion and sport. Rituals are a way for people to express and reaffirm their belief systems.

Soccer has many moments that feature ritualistic behaviour. At the beginning of the game, for instance, captains shake hands and exchange pennants. These actions are typically seen as gestures of friendship, but scholars have demonstrated the ritual significance of gifts. The intention behind the gift and the accompanying etiquette matters.

Gifts are extensions of people who give them. Similar to diplomatic gift exchanges or the way people bring housewarming gifts to a friend’s new home, gifts are a visible promise that more exchanges will occur in the future.

Demonstrations of faith

Players also make demonstrations of their faith while playing. Some players make religious signs when they enter or exit the field, seeking support from their faith during the game.

During the 2022 World Cup, the Moroccan team recited Surah Al-Fatiha, the first chapter from the Quran, before penalty shootouts. Some Muslim players prostrate after scoring a goal in a demonstration of gratitude.

Not all personal rituals connect with religions, but they are still highly symbolic. Lionel Messi is known for pointing two fingers upward to celebrate his goals. He once explained this is to commemorate his late grandmother, who passed away in 1998 when he was 11 years old. She brought Messi to his first football game as a child.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Peru during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at the National stadium in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 17, 2023.
(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Similarly, American soccer player Sophia Smith honoured her late teammate, Katie Meyer, in 2023 by imitating a past celebration Meyers made at the 2019 national championships. Through these rituals, the players, and those who watch them, cross time and space.

Fan behaviour

Fans also engage in ritualized behaviour, expressing their collective identity through their clothing and cheers. The soccer scarf, historically a practical item, became a widespread symbol of unity and support because of how easy they were to make by hand.

Soccer fans are particularly known for their distinctive chants, which evolved from late 19th-century practices into their current forms in the 1960s.

In some countries, soccer is so significant that games become national events. For instance, the British grocery store chain Tesco announced altered hours on July 14 to allow its employees to watch England play in the UEFA final.

A fan takes photos to soccer scarfs prior to a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Granada FC and Real Madrid at Los Carmanes stadium in Granada, Spain, on May 11, 2024.
(AP Photo/Fermin Rodriguez)

Superstitious minds

Soccer, like any sport, contains elements beyond players’ control. A team needs to play well to win, but it also needs luck.

Studies show the team that kicks off a game has a higher chance of scoring. In penalty shootouts, the team that starts has a considerable winning advantage. Since coin tosses decide both kickoffs and penalty shootout order, these moments of luck can be pivotal.

Players frequently adopt pre-game and in-game routines in hopes of influencing the outcome of the game. These behaviours can include sitting in the same spot on the team bus, wearing particular clothing or jewelry, eating specific foods, listening to certain music or putting shoes on in a specific order. Any deviation from these routines can cause anxiety and potentially impact performance.

Read more:
Why people love to delude themselves with sports rituals and superstitions

Many players have tattooed references to people important to them, as well as also symbols and mottoes. Studies show that tattoos function as embodied memories and constant reminders of things that are important for their owners. Also, tattoos help their owners gain agency over their bodies and feel more unique and confident.

No study can demonstrate a link between these activities and so-called luck players have during a game. It’s impossible to prove that eating specific food or wearing a ribbon results in scoring a goal. However, the effectiveness of this kind of ritualistic behaviour is undisputed.

Rituals that are repeated in a specific order can help control stress levels and make people feel like they have more agency. One cannot control the result, but one can take action for their own well-being. Läs mer…

Ukraine recap: the bleak prospect of a Trump-Vance White House

Ukraine will no longer exist by 2034, or so says former Russian president and Kremlin attack dog, Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev didn’t say so in as many words. But, reflecting recently on the outgoing Nato leader Jens Stoltenberg’s dream of Ukraine joining within ten years, he said none of the current leaders would still be in office by 2034 and that it was “quite possible the notorious country 404 will not exist either”, using the reference to the 404 error message displayed when a webpage can’t be found to suggest the existence of Ukraine was a mistake.

But the Russian media has joined the dots, reinforcing the Kremlin’s message that it may well be a long war, but that Ukraine, which is not a real country in any case, would not win.

One person who, by his own admission, doesn’t “really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other”, is Donald Trump’s pick as running mate, the junior senator for Ohio and arch-isolationist, J.D. Vance. Vance has made no secret of his opposition to US aid to Kyiv, something that puts him in lockstep with Trump.

So Vance’s appointment to the Republican ticket is bad news for Ukraine and equally worrying for Europe, write Stefan Wolff and David Dunn, experts in international security at the University of Birmingham. Vance sees the main threat to the US as coming from China and contends that US military aid, including – for instance – Patriot air defence batteries, would be better off being supplied to Taiwan in volume. Vance sees Volodymyr Zelensky’s aims to restore Ukraine’s 1991 borders as “fantastical”.

Since Vladimir Putin sent his war machine into Ukraine on February 24 2022, The Conversation has called upon some of the leading experts in international security, geopolitics and military tactics to help our readers understand the big issues. You can also subscribe to our fortnightly recap of expert analysis of the conflict in Ukraine.

Without US support, write Wolff and Dunn, Ukraine cannot defeat Russia in the field. And, given how untrustworthy Putin has shown himself to be – as evidenced by the collapse of the two Minsk ceasefire agreements struck in 2014 and 2015 – it’s hard to imagine any peace deal forced on Ukraine being anything but temporary. Putin’s aggression thus rewarded is the nightmare scenario for Kyiv’s European allies, particularly those that share a border with Russia.

Read more:
A Trump-Vance White House could undermine European security – and end up pushing Russia and China closer

There’s no doubt that Russia has had the better of the conflict over the past 12 to 18 months. Sheer weight of numbers and a huge disparity in stockpiles of weapons and ammunition have enabled the invaders to keep Ukraine’s military pinned down across the frontlines, while making almost continuous incremental gains, week by week.

But if Ukraine is being ground down on land, the maritime conflict is another matter. Just this week, Ukraine’s navy spokesman, Dmytro Pletenchuk, claimed: “The last patrol ship of the Black Sea fleet of the Russian Federation is bolting from our Crimea just now. Remember this day.”

It’s a remarkable story. Basil Germond, an expert in naval warfare at Lancaster University, writes of how – despite having a far smaller navy than Russia – Ukraine has fought a nimble campaign in the Black Sea and has managed to sink more than one-third of Russia’s ships and forced the remainder of the Black Sea fleet to relocate from its traditional anchorage in Sevastopol in Crimea to safer waters in the port of Novorossiysk.

Read more:
Ukraine war: Russia has the upper hand in the ground war – but at sea it’s a different story

What price peace?

Zelensky, meanwhile, has called for a second international peace summit in November, and has called on Russia to attend. Whether this means he is prepared to negotiate over sovereignty is not yet clear. But the Ukrainian leader will be well aware of how tired many of his country’s people are growing of this conflict – not forgetting that for many people in the east of Ukraine and Crimea, it has now lasted a decade.

The state of the conflict in Ukraine as at July 17 according to the Institute for the Study of War.
Institute for the Study of War

A recent poll found that 44% of Ukrainians want formal peace talks with Russia to begin as soon as possible, up from 23% in May 2023. Nick Megoran, professor of political geography at Newcastle University, thinks that Zelensky’s starting points of the full withdrawal of Russian troops, reparations and the creation of a tribunal to prosecute Russian war criminals are eminently reasonable, but believes that it would be useful and instructive to consider Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine in the first place.

Clearly the idea repeatedly raised that Ukraine had been over-run by neo-Nazis is absurd, Megoran writes. But many Ukrainians still celebrate the exploits of Third Reich collaborator Stepan Bandera. And there is evidence of some linguistic and cultural discrimination against minorities – markedly those in Russian-speaking regions. This much has been noted by non-partisan international bodies such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Centre for Minority Issues.

There are also differences of opinion over national boundaries. None are justification for Russia’s invasion, the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians or the well-documented war crimes. But an awareness of Russia’s complaints, Megoran believes, would make a meaningful peace deal more possible.

Read more:
Russia’s reasons for invading Ukraine — however debatable – shouldn’t be ignored in a peace deal

Two camps

Earlier this month, Nato leaders gathered in Washington to celebrate the alliance’s 75th anniversary. It was also a chance to welcome a newcomer: Sweden attended its first summit as a full member. And it was a swansong for outgoing secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. Mark Webber, an expert in international politics at the University of Birmingham, has noted a change in focus for the alliance, understandable in an era of instability and uncertainty.

The war in Ukraine has focused minds, particularly among European member states, on the need to boost defence production, and there is much discussion of increasing members’ defence budgets. This has been a subject of much discussion recently during the UK’s general election campaign. Training and coordination are also high on the agenda on an ongoing basis. As Webber notes here, while Nato may still be able to boast of being ready to “fight tonight”, the question remains as to how long for.

Read more:
Nato at 75: a muted celebration for an alliance facing uncertain times

While Nato may be taking pains to renew and refocus itself, a new – rival – Eurasian bloc is developing, centred on China and Russia. A recent meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, attracted members and “dialogue partners” with a combined 30% of global GDP.

As Stefan Wolff notes here, the aim of China’s president, Xi Jinping, and Russian president Vladimir Putin as the prime movers behind the SCO is to set the organisation up as a counterweight to Nato and to use it as a leverage to reduce US influence in the region.

And with the possibility of a new, isolationist, Trump-Vance administration in the White House by the end of January 2025, this feels less far fetched than it might have done a decade ago.

Read more:
Xi and Putin talk up growth of their Eurasian bloc organisation as counterweight to Nato

Ukraine Recap is available as a fortnightly email newsletter. Click here to get our recaps directly in your inbox. Läs mer…

Why we find extreme weather so fascinating

When climate change leads the news, it’s often down to a hurricane, heatwave or flood. And, judging by our most widely read environment stories over the past decade, extreme weather really is one of the main ways the public (or at least our readers) learns about climate breakdown.

This roundup of The Conversation’s climate coverage comes from our weekly climate action newsletter. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 30,000+ readers who’ve subscribed.

The movie Twisters is released this week, a remake of the 1996 film with an added “s”. Simon Dickinson of the University of Plymouth says the fact Hollywood commissioned a remake is further evidence that “people are fascinated by extreme weather and the devastation it can cause”.

Dickinson explains there is a deep underlying psychology behind this, beyond people simply wanting to see stuff crash and burn. For him, people are interested in extreme weather and watch movies and videos of hurricanes, tornadoes and so on, “because they connect us to people, places and ideas. Sometimes, this is about being able to visualise concepts we’ve heard about but never seen with our own eyes.”

Read more:
Twisters follows a superstar storm chaser – obsession with extreme weather has a deep underlying psychology

He recently conducted a study examining why people were watching live footage of hurricanes and storms on YouTube:

I found people wanting to see things they’d repeatedly heard reference to, such as the eye of the storm or the exact moment a hurricane made landfall. In one discussion in the comments, people wanted the wind to stop because they were only there to see if they could witness an ‘eye’. For these people, videos of extreme moments helped connect what they’ve been told with what they could see (even if only through a screen).

This will feels familiar to anyone who, like me, has been down a tornado rabbit hole on YouTube to see what the fastest winds on Earth might actually involve. (Check out this particularly harrowing video of a father and daughter surviving a twister in their shelter in Illinois, then emerging outside just 90 seconds later to find their neighbourhood in ruins).

Surviving an F4 tornado in Washington, Illinois.

Climate change is, of course, the main concept that extreme weather helps people visualise. None of us can “see” 1°C of warming, but we can all watch small islands being flattened or homes being flooded.

In the big picture, it’s safe to say a warmer world means more extreme weather. But that “does not mean all extreme weather events are being made stronger or more frequent”, says Friederike Otto, a climate scientist and co-founder of the World Weather Attribution project, which investigates to what extent climate change has influenced particular episodes of extreme weather. In 2020, she described how scientists were increasingly able to provide climate–weather attribution within the news cycle.

These “rapid attribution studies” are important, she writes, “as they provide scientific evidence while the event is still in the news and everyone is still paying attention – not months later after the academic peer-review process.”

To help address [controversy over the lack of peer-review], rapid attribution studies use peer-reviewed methods, make data publicly available, and regularly submit to peer-review journals after the fact.

Read more:
Yes, climate change can affect extreme weather – but there is still a lot to learn

All this means we can state the links between a given hurricane or heatwave and climate change with more certainty than ever. So are these extreme weather “events” a useful moment to talk about climate change?

Linked to climate change? We no longer have to wait years to find out.
victor yankee / shutterstock

Joshua Ettinger, a climate communication expert at the University of Oxford, researches how extreme weather can reduce the “psychological distance” associated with climate change. “While climate change can feel abstract and vague,” he writes, “extreme weather is something people can experience firsthand.”

People won’t necessarily draw a link between the two, however. Ettinger says that research offers “contrasting results”:

Some studies have found that extreme weather events lead to an increased belief that human-driven climate change is occurring and greater support for climate action. Others find no effects or suggest that these effects are only temporary.

But you can make a difference, says Ettinger. He points out that simply talking about climate change is a good way to inspire climate action, and that extreme weather – whether seen on TV or experienced first-hand – provides a useful conversation starter. “We can use these moments as opportunities to engage our families, friends and communities in discussions about how climate change may relate to these events, and what we can do about it.”

He notes a few guidelines for these discussions. When talking to someone about a hurricane, heatwave or flood, “affirm the validity of their emotional response – whether they are afraid, angry, hopeful or worried. There is no one right way to feel about climate change, so listen to what they have to say and then share your own perspective too.”

You might be accused of “politicising” the weather. Ettinger suggests how you can (respectfully) push back against this claim:

This argument is a discourse of climate delay [which tries] to shut down climate discussions and cast doubt on the need to act very quickly. These arguments disingenuously assert that acting on climate is too expensive, too late, or that someone else should take care of it – and they are becoming increasingly common.

If we shouldn’t discuss climate change when extreme weather occurs, then when is the right time? … If talking about climate change politicises the weather, so be it.

Read more:
Extreme weather events are exactly the time to talk about climate change – here’s why

Outside of work, I try not to rant about climate change too much, and instead gently guide things in that direction. Perhaps you do something similar. These are tough but worthwhile conversations.

Dickinson, writing about Twisters, says the big challenge for scientists is to “harness this fascination in a way that stimulates knowledge and behavioural change beyond the small window of the event itself”. Hopefully, this newsletter has helped in that regard. Läs mer…

How the UK’s new government is promising to kickstart the economy – and what it still doesn’t have an answer for

The new Labour government has fully laid out its plans for the UK in its first king’s speech to parliament. There were 40 new bills in the speech, aimed at setting a clear agenda focused on growing the economy and improving living standards for working people. And yet there were several pressing issues that went unaddressed.

The government says its aims are to stimulate economic growth, enhance workers’ rights and promote environmental sustainability.

Among the top priorities are the planning and infrastructure bill and the national wealth fund bill, which are designed to boost the economy.

The government also intends to empower local regions through an English devolution bill, and advance the UK’s commitment to Net Zero emissions with the GB energy bill.

Additionally, workers’ rights will be strengthened via the employment rights bill, and public safety will be bolstered through the crime and policing bill as well as the border security, asylum and immigration bill.

It is a packed agenda with many bills, which set out to stimulate what Labour is calling a revitalised economy after years of Tory mismanagement.

Labour’s new Chancellor Rachel Reeves is leading the government’s efforts to revitalise the economy.
Fred Duval

Chancellor Rachel Reeves has made it very clear Labour expects to grow the economy and pay for initiatives that way. In other words, without having to raise taxes.

A significant shift in transport policy is marked by the nationalisation of railways and the establishment of Great British Railways. This will take us back to the days of British Rail when the state ran the train system in the UK.

The success of this approach will be dependent on the reliability of the trains, after years of problems with delays, and private contractors facing criticism for the way they ran train services.

The government had to take over some services because of poor performance. So, a fully functioning, efficient rail system will be vital to Labour’s plans to get the country running well again.

But despite this ambitious legislative programme, several pressing short-term challenges remain unaddressed.

A notable omission is the issue of public sector pay. The government faces the urgent task of finding an extra £7 billion annually to bring public sector wages in line with private sector earnings, which have risen by 4% since 2010.

Currently, public sector wages are lagging behind, with nurses, teachers, and doctors earning 5%, 10%, and 15% less than 2010 levels, respectively.

Without addressing this wage disparity, the government may struggle to meet its pledges, such as recruiting an additional 6,500 teachers and reducing NHS waiting times.

These targets are again key to ensuring the country is running well, and is not dogged by inefficiency in many different sectors.

Local council finances also present a critical challenge, with nearly 10% of councils facing bankruptcy this year, and half expected to go bust during this parliamentary term unless budgets are increased.

Potential solutions include providing direct financial aid to struggling councils, allowing them to raise council taxes further, or reducing mandatory local services. Each of these options carries significant drawbacks, either burdening the Treasury or proving unpopular among residents.

Education, education, education

Ensuring the country has the talent to drive Labour’s economic “recovery” means education funding is a key area.

And higher education finance is an area of concern, with university tuition fees frozen since 2017, raising the spectre of potential university bankruptcies this year.

The recent decline in income from foreign students has exacerbated financial pressures on universities. The government faces a difficult decision: whether to allow universities to increase tuition fees, which would likely provoke student backlash, or to enable them to admit more overseas students, risking criticism from those advocating for reduced net migration.

What’s more, the issue of water quality and the financial stability of water companies, like Thames Water, demands attention. With a debt of £15.2 billion and cash reserves only sufficient until May 2025, Thames Water may require government intervention to ensure continued service to 16 million households in the south east.

The government must decide whether to wait and hope the company can secure private sector funding or to proactively place it under special administration, a form of temporary nationalisation.

Prison overcrowding also remains a significant problem, with the potential to address it through planning reforms to build more prisons. However, the King’s Speech did not propose any sentencing reforms to alleviate this issue. These unresolved challenges necessitate tough decisions from the government, which, while not requiring new legislation, will likely be both costly and unpopular.

Labour has promised to build 1.5 million homes over the next five years to help solve the crisis in the supply of housing. This will require the full support of construction companies, who must have the capacity to build on this scale, and local authorities which are under pressure to restrict building.

There was some legislation in the king’s speech designed to make this happen, which was essential given that the previous government missed a similar target during its five years in office.

The Planning and Infrastructure Bill is to “accelerate” the delivery of housing and infrastructure projects by reforming the planning system.

By making local authority planning decisions quicker and more straightforward, the government hopes to clear the logjams preventing building from going ahead.

There are questions about whether this goes far enough in order to reach the target of new homes, and only time will tell us whether it is sufficient.

Small businesses may feel left out of the government’s agenda, but there is plenty of content designed to stimulate the economy and get the country moving in the direction Labour wants. Läs mer…

How published images of a ‘happy couple’ can hurt victims of domestic abuse

According to the UK’s Femicide Census, between 124 and 168 women have been killed by men in the country every year for the past 15 years. Most of these have been by current or former partners. These stories are, sadly, frequent and do not always make the news – but when they do, they must be told more sensitively.

Domestic abuse campaigners and charities have criticised a number of media outlets for publishing photos of happy couples, taken before the woman’s attack or death at the hands of her partner. Critics say these images, often accompanied by language of surprise that “a nice guy” could commit such a horrific act, can hurt those affected by domestic abuse.

During my ongoing research into the reporting of domestic abuse, carried out with Women’s Aid and the Independent Domestic Abuse Service (IDAS), I have spoken with survivors in focus groups and interviews about the impact of these images.

Participants have said that publishing such photos creates a false narrative of a relationship, misrepresenting the reality of the situation, and can feed into a perpetrator’s belief that he hasn’t done anything wrong.

One survivor, who was asked by newspapers and magazines for images of her and her ex-partner together, explained that when the perfect, happy, smiling images of a couple are published it can make the victim feel inadequate, as if it was her fault for not leaving the perpetrator.

There are, of course, many reasons people cannot or do not leave their abusers. Several participants explained they had no means to escape, while being subject to every type of abuse, leaving them stripped of any income or emotional strength. Other women told me these photos brought back traumatic memories of when they were in a toxic and damaging relationship.

Read more:
Why victims of domestic abuse don’t leave – four experts explain

The way media depicts domestic violence can affect the survivors depicted in the stories and their families, as well as others currently experiencing abuse. Research has found that: “News stories often blame victims, fail to convey [domestic violence’s] prevalence or explore its causes, or generally provide decontextualised accounts of domestic violence.”

Language matters

Another frequent criticism of domestic abuse press coverage is the language used – friends or neighbours stating the alleged perpetrator was a “nice guy” or “never seemed odd or aggressive” – can also be damaging.

As a journalist writing for mainstream publications for nearly three decades, I understand why reporters need to build a picture for their audience of who someone was. In some cases, it shows how manipulative the perpetrator was. In others, it is part of balanced reporting, especially when someone hasn’t been convicted or the case isn’t legally active.

However, this comes with the caveat that each case should be individually assessed, depending on the evidence available. Journalists should always be considerate of the effect their words have on victims, survivors and their families.

As the women I spoke to explained to me, perpetrators are very good at portraying one image to the outside world. But in reality, that can be the polar opposite of how they treat their victims. As the sexual-assault lawyer Ann Olivarius has pointed out: “Violent men ARE ‘nice guys’. They’re nice to everyone but the women they abuse. That’s the whole point.”

An estimated 1.7 million women experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the last year.
Chay_Tee/Shutterstock

Domestic abuse charities have called for journalists to reframe the language we use in cases of domestic abuse. Women’s Aid advise against using the term “domestic violence” and instead state “domestic abuse” should be used where possible, as domestic violence can send a message that if you are not being hit, then it doesn’t count as abuse. Coercive control has been against the law since 2015.

This is similar to how the Samaritans produced guidelines to create change when reporting on suicide. As explained by Will Gore of the National Council for Trainee Journalists: “Samaritans has done an excellent job in raising awareness of the need for care when covering suicide – and of explaining the research which lies behind its advice for reporters. The simple fact is that good journalism in this arena saves lives.”

The next stage of my research is to create an online resource for student journalists on how they can ethically and sensitively report on the subject of domestic abuse, which I hope to share with other journalism schools.

If you or someone you know is affected by abuse, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247.

For further advice on how to report ethically on the subject of domestic abuse please refer to Women’s Aid media guidelines. Läs mer…