Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Federal Government should review its support for Westconnex

Contemporary Urban Transport Policies needs to be targeted directly at:

  • Reducing vehicle kilometers of motor vehicle travel (or VKT) by at least 10 per cent.
  • Reducing road transport greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent (by 2050).
  • Doubling the share of urban trips provided by walking, cycling and public transport.
  • Increasing Road Freight productivity by 30 per cent
  • Increasing car occupancy rates (from 1.4 to 1.7 across cities).
  • Making new vehicles emission free. 

Instead, in New South Wales, we have Westconnex, which will directly increase vehicle kilometers of travel by 600,000 kilometers.

The Westconnex project comes amidst a relative outpouring of Federal Government inquires into urban transport policy. These include:

May 2014: A Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into ‘Public Infrastructure’. The report found:
Roads are the least reformed of all infrastructure sectors, with institutional arrangements around funding and provision remaining much the same as they were 20 years ago’

December 2014: House of Representatives inquiry into infrastructure, planning and procurement. This highlighted the need for ‘changes in the way the Government addresses infrastructure planning and funding’.

March 2015: Treasury published a report called Competition Policy Review: Final Report, led by Ian Harper. This found:
Roads are the least reformed of all infrastructure sectors, with institutional arrangements around funding and provision remaining much the same as they were 20 years ago’

May 2015: Infrastructure Australia published a Report entitled ‘Australian Infrastructure Audit’. This found:
‘Market reforms have significantly improved the efficiency and competitiveness of the energy sector and more recently the telecommunications sector… [there is] a pressing need to commence the task of moving towards alternative institutional and governance arrangements in the roads sector

May 2015, The start of an Inquiry into ‘Smart Infrastructure by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. Submissions came from
  • The Institute of Engineers Australia, which highlighted the findings of the Productivity Commission (above)and cited ongoing concnerns with regard to ’infrastructure governance arrangements, including processes determining infrastructure strategies and rigorous analyses of specific projects’.
  • The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, led by Australia’s new Chief Scientist Alan Kinkel, which called for a ‘reduction of car numbers on the roads, combined with electric and autonomous vehicles in the future’.
  • Telstra, which found:
    • If we continue to build and operate roads as we do today we are likely to need about two and a half times more road capacity in 2050 than we have today, to cater for this population growth. However our study estimates that, using a simple but realistic set of assumptions, the road capacity requirement in 2050 will be roughly equivalent to the capacity existing today. This is due to the impact of technology adoption over the next 35 years which is predicted to lessen the need to build new infrastructure.

 November 2015: The Government responds to the Harper Review’s focus on the ‘reform of road pricing and provision… [which] is the least advanced of all transport modes and holds the greatest prospect for efficiency improvements..." The Government recommended:
Governments should co-operate to implement more "cost-reflective" tolls and charges with new technologies, subject to independent oversight. Fuel tax and registration fees should be eased

 Clearly there is a need for the Federal Government to review its support for Westconnex.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mapping the Future: Teaching Arts and Humanities

Debate about the contemporary 'crises' facing the humanities us thriving. See, for example, the American Historical Association's 'Career Diversity for Historians' Project, the debates initiated by Armitage and Guldi (discussed in the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog), and a myriad of other examples.

The contribution of 'Mapping the Future: Teaching Arts and Humanities at Stanford' has been one of the best. This report argues: 

The Arts and Humanities are motivated by intellectual curiosity and desire to contribute positively to society.

At a more pragmatic level, the Arts and Humanities promote an emphasis on self-reflexivity about the nature of evidence. They acknowledge that statistics are vital, but will never give us the definitive truth of our situation; that images are not transparent to their referents but constructed artifacts with meanings circumscribed by context and caption; that the ‘objective’ and ‘real’ reflects specific economic interests, class backgrounds, and political ideologies.

The corollary of this understanding is a relational understanding of the truth, a sense that our own position in time and place is irreducibly part of the truth at which we arrive. This means that the terms of enquiry need to constantly evolve to reflect the changing conditions of the present.

Transferrable skills include strategic intelligence, inductive thinking and the exercise of practical judgment; cogent, critical thought; sophisticated skills in analysis and interpretation, and persuasive powers of speaking and writing.

These skills help to act adroitly in a digitized, globalized, discovery-driven economy marked by rapid change, increasing interdependence, transformative technologies, and multimedia communications.
The Stanford Humanities project articulates a broad set of transferrable competences thus:
  • the ability to absorb, analyze and interpret complex artifacts or texts, often of foreign provenance;
  • the capacity to write intelligently, lucidly, and persuasively;
  • the ability to participate effectively in deliberative conversation
  • the capacity to speak intelligently, lucidly and persuasively
The American Historical Association has a slightly revised list based on: communication, teamwork, numeracy, confidence:
  • Communication, in a variety of media and to a variety of audiences
  • Collaboration, the ability to work collaboratively toward a common goal especially with others who hold different opinions or values or don't share the same worldview
  • Quantitative literacy: a basic understanding of the ways numbers convey information
  • Intellectual self-confidence: The ability to quickly master information and form intelligent opinions beyond one’s expertise and to pivot among many tasks (i.e. the ability to step beyond the comfort zone of expertise and experience).
  • Digital literacy or engagement, which is not so much a separate skill set as a thread that runs through the previous four

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

History Manifesto

David Armitage and Jo Guldi published History Manifesto online and in print in October 2014. Writing in the context of contemporary ‘policy stalemates’ related to climate change, the authors examined the capcity of history to identify and construct ‘vectors of reform’ and to ‘expand our sense of options for the future’. ‘Historical reasoning… lays a path’, they argued, between the climate-determinism of the sciences and the economic vision of continuous technological innovation and growth.

So what is historical reasoning? Armitage and Guldi write of history’s power to:
·      Understand cultural bias and explain where things come from
·      Compare various kinds of data, even when they come from radically different sources
·      Frame questions more and more broadly, track between big processes and small events, and discern (and rank) multiple sources of causality.
·      Synthesise and arbitrate (i.e. reduce a lot of information to a small and shareable version)

Ultimately, Armitage and Guldi define history as a tool of social and political reform with the capacity to:
·      Speak back to the institutions of governance
·      Cut through the fundamentalisms of scientists and economists
·      Destabilise the neo-liberal story that a free market will automatically produce new forms of technology that will ameliorate the worst effects of climate change

Most importantly, history provides a means to ‘escape the conceptual fetters of the present moment’ and to shape an alternative, democratic future. They write:
The possibility of conceiving of a reform tradition is of vital importance for sustained engagement with agriculture and climate change at any level other than that of professional economics or climate science.