Anna Rose: Madlands

Anna Rose: Madlands
Melbourne University Press, 2012

Madlands is the story of the making of ‘Can I Change Your Mind’, the reality TV show I discussed here a little while ago, as told by the younger and more positive of the protagonists.

Anna Rose begins by saying that she embarked on the project in the hope of getting the climate change problem through to a large general audience, despite her fears that she would be manipulated by the producers into untenable, indefensible positions or undermined in the editing of the footage they shot. In the event, her fears were partially realised and this book is, to a certain extent, her means of explaining some strangenesses in the show and presenting segments which were left on the cutting room floor. (There were some good ones, too, such as the great interview with Naomi Oreskes which has since turned up on YouTube.)

Anna visited Townsville recently on the book-promotion tour and we went along to support her (and, incidentally, Mary Who? Bookshop which hosted the event) and see what she is like in real life. I’m happy to say she was as great in person as she seemed on TV – warm, positive and articulate. Now that I have read the book I have some difficulty in separating it from the TV show and the author for this review but I will do my best.

Cover of 'Madlands'Madlands was written and published in haste (two and a half months is very quick for 90,000 words) but the writing is fluent and, perhaps because of the haste, refreshingly uninhibited by second thoughts: this is what Anna saw, this is what happened, and this is what she thought about it.

The book follows the sequence of the show, from first meeting Nick Minchin near Moree and introducing him to her uncle, to their final chat on the beach of Heron Island.

It soon became clear to Anna that the producer was trying primarily to ‘make good TV’, i.e. that he would put drama and entertainment ahead of accuracy or fairness, and that Nick was not going to change his mind about climate but was going to use his political skills against her attempts to get her message across. She, of course, was primarily motivated by the desire to inform the audience about climate change.

To the extent that each of them pursued those aims they worked at cross purposes, something which vaguely unsettled the show but is much more clearly articulated in the book. Madlands, however, allows Anna to say what she wanted to say on TV, and each chapter tends to comprise a journey, an interview and her reflections on what wasn’t said but, she thinks, should have been. The latter often includes significant chunks of climate science, presented simply enough for the average reader to grasp easily.

The book is unavoidably episodic, since a dozen journeys and as many interviews (with some rather interesting and eccentric people, admittedly) don’t make for a cohesive story line and there is no real character development to tie it all together. Anna just does her best to stay on top of events, while Nick is determinedly impervious to any argument she might present. She does understand him better by the end of the journey than at the beginning but neither of them have changed their minds.

In spite of minor faults, Madlands is an easy, pleasant read. But who should, or will, read it?

It contains a lot of the basic science of climate change but it is not a great climate-science primer (Picturing the Science is far better) because its focus is elsewhere. It also has a lot of interesting and useful insights into activism and the politics of climate change, but the same applies: it isn’t focused on the topic, so there are better books on the subject. In the end, it is inextricably bound to the show which spawned it, in that most of its readers will be drawn to it by the show and the readers who get most out of it will be those who have seen the show.

In her talk at Mary Who? Bookshop, Anna quickly sketched her strategy for shifting public opinion. It grades the population according to a sequence from ‘actively opposed’ to doing anything about climate change, through ‘passively opposed’, ‘neutral’ and ‘passively supporting’ to ‘actively supporting’ action on the issue. And her approach is to forget the active denialists (because they are a tiny group and won’t change anyway) and try to move everyone else one step to the right in her chart  – ‘passively opposed’ to ‘neutral’, ‘neutral’ to ‘passively supporting’, or ‘passively supporting’ to ‘actively supporting’. Hopefully many of her readers will learn more about the science and politics through Madlands and make just such a shift.

There are some really nice tee-shirts on the AYCC site and you can buy the book there too if you’re not close enough to Mary Who? Bookshop.

What’s around – mid July 2012


Hover-fly on cream flower
Hover-fly (Syrphidae) on a Rosella flower, with ants on foliage if you look for them hard enough

We seem to be just easing out of a period of unseasonably cool, damp weather as I write and the invertebrates haven’t liked it any more than our tourists. It’s supposed to be dry and sunny here at this time of year, for goodness’ sake! We still have a reasonable variety of insects and spiders but numbers of each species are low and their activity is also low: they are cold-blooded (cold-ichored??) and, like reptiles, lethargic in cooler weather.

That said, we do have …

  • Butterflies: Junonia hedonia and Eurema, as usual; occasional Hesperidae, Migrants and Evening Browns; and not much else.
  • Moths: The usual grass moths; one or two others incuding Geometridae attracted to house lights at night.
  • Flies (Diptera): little green Dolichopodidae and hairy bluebottles as always, a few Hover-flies and Stilt-flies.
  • Mosquitoes (also Diptera): just enough to be annoying. We have had a few cases of Dengue Fever in Townsville recently, courtesy of the unseasonably wet weather permitting mozzies to breed and spread it from person to person.
  • Spiders: jumping spiders are still around but the small orb-weavers (Silver orb-weaver, Jewel spiders and St Andrew’s Cross spiders) predominate.
  • Ants (Hymenoptera): tiny ones when you look for them.
  • Wasps and bees (also Hymenoptera), ‘true bugs’ (Hemiptera), and dragonflies (Odonata): very few indeed. Mantises: even fewer.

A month ago and a year ago

Midwinter dragonfly

Just for those who have been missing dragonflies …

Dragonfly resting in long grass
Midwinter on Mount Stuart

Even in midwinter we have dragonflies and other insects, even on the very exposed top of Mount Stuart. This photo was taken on almost the shortest day of the year and well into our dry season. I’m not sure whether the cold or the dry has the greater impact on insect numbers, to be honest, but they are well down at this time of year even in sheltered spots like my garden.

On the same visit I saw a hover-fly, an orb-weaving spider or ten (Nephilengys and two species of Leucauge, plus the spiky Austracantha), quite a lot of grasshoppers, an orange and black mud-dauber wasp, some little yellow Eurema butterflies, a couple of spotty moths and one or two other insects. Getting out of the house did me good and the views are terrific, but I have to say that the bug-hunting will be better in a few months’ time.

Extreme weather – Townsville

Weather is not climate (climate is what you expect, while weather is what you get) but bizarre weather can be a sign of a changing climate. In fact, Hansen showed a while ago (see my discussion here) that if the climate is warming, which no reasonable person seriously doubts any more, then we will get more extreme weather events – and you can read ‘more extreme weather events’ two ways, because they will individually be more extreme and there will also be more of them.

This is being borne out very close to home for me. I noted recently that Townsville had had the coldest May day in 22 years. Early this week we had the wettest July day in more than 70 years. The Townsville Bulletin reported that …

More than six times the total average July rainfall was dumped across Townsville in just 24 hours with an average of 89mm clocked from 9am Monday [July 9] to 9am [Tuesday]. More than 40 regions from Bowen to Cairns were drenched with over 100mm of rain …

Daily rainfall records were set along the northern coastline … With 145mm, Innisfail recorded their wettest July day in 125 years while Lucinda totalled 141mm, making it their heaviest rain in 118 years. Burdekin residents also saw record-breaking falls with Home Hill’s wettest July day in 87 years and Ayr’s heaviest falls in 59 years.

Just a little less locally, cane farmers fear another wet winter will reduce their yield and delay their harvest. But wet winters are part of the longer-term climate change on which our extreme weather is superimposed.

The BoM publishes interactive Climate Trend Maps and playing with them is simultaneously kind of fun, instructive and perturbing. Here are some maps to to think about, if you haven’t time to play:

  • Queensland annual rainfall, diminishing rapidly along the coast except up around Cooktown – but the *winter* rainfall is actually increasing, although not as much as the annual total is decreasing. Spring rain is not changing much, so the decreased annual rainfall is actually a large decrease in Summer-Autumn (our Wet), partially compensated by a small increase in Spring (on the North coast) and Winter.
  • At the same time our maximum temperatures are trending higher in all seasons (click here and toggle through the seasons).
  • So are sea surface temperatures, which is one reason coral reef scientists despair about the future of the Great Barrier Reef – see the press release and Statement from the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, 9-13 July 2012.

Nocturnal visitor, Agathia pisina

Green moth with brown markings
Agathia pisina, Geometrinae, Geometridae

A handsome visitor called on us last night, attracted to the lights – Agathia pisina, of the Geometridae family. Like many of our moths, he doesn’t appear to have a ‘common’ (English language) name. This page on Don Herbison-Evans’ excellent site (scroll about halfway down) shows him amongst his closest relations, many of whom are also very beautiful.

In Australia the species is known only from Queensland’s tropical coast but their range extends at least to the Solomon Islands.