Factbox: Successes and failures in past Mars attempts

Fewer than half of the attempts by global space agencies to reach Mars have succeeded since 1960, with the United States in the clear lead.


Here is a list of past key Mars missions:


DEC 1971: The Soviet space agency’s Mars 3 lander reaches the Red Planet’s surface but its instruments stop working after 20 seconds, likely due to massive dust storms at the time of landing.

JULY/AUG 1976: US space agency lands two probes, Viking 1 and 2, the first to send images and perform chemical analysis of the soil on the Red Planet.

SEPT 1997: NASA’s Mars Pathfinder succeeds in the first deployment of a lander and small free-ranging robotic rover on the Mars surface.

JAN 2004: The US space agency’s rovers Spirit and Opportunity land successfully on Mars. Opportunity continues to send back data today.

MAY 2008: NASA’s Mars Phoenix works for 155 days in the planet’s arctic region.


NOV 1960: Soviet space agency launches Sputnik 22, an attempted Mars flyby mission, but it disintegrates after entering Earth’s orbit.

NOV 1971: Soviet space agency’s Mars 2 crashes on Red Planet’s surface.

MAR 1974: Soviet space agency’s Mars 6 goes silent before landing.

MAR 1974: Soviet space agency’s Mars 7 is lost before entering Mars’ orbit.

NOV 1996: Russian space agency’s Mars 96 fails at launch.

DEC 1999: NASA’s Mars Polar Lander crashes on Mars.

DEC 2004: European Space Agency’s Beagle 2 attempts Mars landing but contact is lost before touchdown.

There have also been multiple attempts to send orbiters to circle the Red Planet or do flybys. Today there are three orbiters in operation around Mars, two US-launched (Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) and one European (Mars Express).

Most recently was Russia’s failed attempt to launch its Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, a $165 million spacecraft designed to travel to the Martian moon of Phobos, scoop up soil and return the sample to Earth by 2014. Mission control lost radio contact with the craft hours after the November 2011 launch, and in January the 13.5 ton vessel plunged into the ocean.

Next generation of robots to help manufacturing

Amid the gloom about the prospects for manufacturing in Australia — and the difficulties facing an economy dominated by small businesses (nearly 90% of Australian manufacturing capacity) — there is some cause for optimism.


A new generation of lightweight, assistive robots looks to provide small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with new options to improve their competitiveness and meet the challenges of high costs and a shortage of skilled workers.

The news is good for workers, too. Robotic “smart tools” offer a means of removing danger and monotony from the work environment and, in striking contrast to conventional beliefs, provide a way to retain the existing workforce for longer.

Studies have shown that robots can boost productivity, but this productivity dividend is dependent on a human workforce able to set them up, maintain them, and make creative decisions about how best to complete work tasks. In a US case study of Marlin Steel, introduction of robots not only boosted quality of company product, but increased employee remuneration.

The manufacture of robots is a growing source of employment. A 2011 report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics found that 150,000 people worldwide are already employed in the engineering and assembly of robots.

This report also identifies use of robotics in SMEs as essential to win back manufacturing from countries with low labour costs. In this case, the introduction of robots is capable of maintaining the viability of manufacturing in developed countries – and preserving manufacturing jobs.

Assistive robotics offer a high-productivity solution that could also help Australian manufacturing integrate into regional value chains, as recommended in the recent Asian Century white paper.

Lightweight robots can be integrated into the Australian workplace as assistants to workers in three ways.

The first is as “intelligent tools”, which work together with human workers. Mobile assistants, manipulators, “smart” picking, lifting and handling systems, and robotic welders, gluers and assemblers enable automation of short-run production processes, and provide a flexible solution to increase efficiency of production.

Secondly, robots can also be used as tools to augment the abilities of human workers in manufacturing processes. Powered exoskeletons enable workers, regardless of age or gender, to lift and manipulate heavy loads safely. Wearable machine vision systems can alert workers to workplace hazards in real-time, including hazards which can’t be detected visually, such as radiation and high temperatures. Mobile assistive robotic trainers and tele-immersive training systems enable experienced staff to remotely mentor workers who are new to a work environment.

The third way is as “smart” field tools, which enable human workers to manufacture items under hazardous or challenging conditions. Tele-operated mobile tools and vehicles are already in use in the mining industry, enabling work to be supervised remotely in an environment that is safe and comfortable for workers. Rigs which facilitate micro-manipulation and micro-assembly enable workers to conduct micro-assembly of complex items without strain to eyesight. Virtual and augmented reality systems allow workers to manipulate tools while remote from the factory floor, therefore reducing risks of work-related injury such as repetitive strain and injuries from use of tools.

So why is robotics changing? Conventional industrial robots — such as those used in automotive manufacturing — are heavy, programmed for one task, fixed in place on the factory floor, and expensive to buy, install, program and maintain. They are also potentially hazardous to humans, so workers are usually excluded from the robot workspace. But the next generation of lightweight robots is different.

A number of technological advances have made this new generation of lightweight robots possible.

First, the next generation of robots can “see” the workplace using advanced vision systems (including stereo and infrared cameras and multi-modal imaging), high precision sensors and perception algorithms.

Secondly, the new generation of robots is mobile. They know where they are and can navigate within the workplace thanks to navigation, localisation and mapping technologies – such as Wi-Fi localisation, beacon-based navigation, simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), and accurate 2D or 3D modelling.

Importantly, human workers are now able to easily communicate with robots via voice and visual gesture recognition. Sophisticated human-robot interactive interfaces allow shared autonomy and human supervisory control. Additionally, augmented and virtual reality robotic systems allow workers to work remotely in hazardous or physically demanding working environments and to tele-operate and tele-supervise remote equipment. Emerging global high-speed wireless communication systems such as the NBN provide the required infrastructure for these technologies.

Manipulation technologies, including force-amplifying exoskeletons (frameworks worn by workers to provide mobility and lifting assistance), dexterous manipulation (grasping and moving complex objects using robotic “fingers” or claws), and multi-robot cooperation make for a working environment that is safer for the workforce and enable any worker – regardless of sex or age – to effectively perform physically onerous or dangerous tasks in complete safety. Robotic tools similar to existing micro-surgery rigs enable workers to perform miniature component manufacturing and assembly tasks with precision and dexterity – without risk to their health.

Finally, the new generation of robots would not be possible without smart fabrication. Miniaturisation and smart and lightweight materials make for small, light, smart robots. These robots can move rapidly around a workplace, respond to commands to fetch tools, rapidly shift stores of materials and finished product, and complement human activities.

Alberto Elfes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Blog: Getting to know our neighbours

Defining ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ has been the subject of some debate since the release of the Federal Government’s White Paper in October last year.


But how much do we know about the neighbourhood we are calling our own?

Yassmin Abdel-Magied takes a closer look.

Last month I found myself in the hot and humid Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur with five other ‘cultural exchange’ participants and a diplomatic entourage. I was a guest of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and our mission was to learn as much as we could about this nation’s rich tapestry in one week.

Malaysia is often seen as an exemplary model for Muslim countries around the world; a country with a Muslim government where halal food is abundant and hijab fashion shops sit comfortably next to Chanel and Hermes.

For me, the opportunity to delve beneath the surface was an experience that offered much to reflect on, particularly for a migrant Muslim who calls multicultural Australia home.

A country of primarily three ethnicities, Malay (60.3%), Chinese (22.9%) and Indians (7.1%), the Malaysians have an interesting political landscape. Curiously, what it means to be Malay is embedded in the constitution of the nation; someone who is born to a Malaysian, who professes to be Muslim, speaks Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) and adheres to the Malay customs.

The comfort with religious identity that seems prevalent in Malaysia is in stark contrast to the strongly secular environment in Australia. The promotion of pro-Bumiputra policies (affirmative action policies for ethnic Malays designed to create opportunities and increase their share of corporate wealth) are also an accepted part of the nation’s landscape – at least by the Malays that we spoke to.

The policy has definitely created a strong Malay middle class, so in that sense it has worked. However, it has created a sense of resentment among people of other ethnicities, which feel discriminated against in their own nation.

The Chinese and Indians seemed frustrated at the fact that they are essentially relegated to second-class status. For me, this brought to the fore issues around personal and national identity and how policies are implemented, however well-intentioned.

As Australians it seemed natural to be shocked at a policy that discriminates based on racial identity, but we would do well to remember the Northern Territory Intervention. We too applied policies that discriminated based on race and ethnicity for a particular socio-economic objective.

It is interesting that both the Australian and Malaysian governments have been comfortable in continuing such policies, particularly when there have been such strong expressions of disapproval in both nations.

A week in Malaysia barely scratched the surface of this complex country, but it was apparent that Australians should not strive to change our neighbours, or that we should change to suit their ways, but that we become cognisant of the fact that our practices and make-up are different and that difference should be respected.

As neighbours we should focus on understanding the perspectives of our fellow Asia Pacific nations and realise the importance of history in their actions. Rather than always viewing them through the prism of an Australian lens, we must appreciate that there is more than one set of lenses to be worn.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an Australian Muslim who was born in Sudan and grew up in Queensland. She is a mechanical engineer by profession and is the founder of Youth Without Borders. Yassmin was the Queensland finalist for Young Australian of the Year in 2011.

Moon mining a step closer with new lunar soil simulant

By Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Australian researchers have developed a substance that looks and behaves like soil from the moon’s surface and can be mixed with polymers to create ‘lunar concrete’, a finding that may help advance plans to construct safe landing pads and mines on the moon.


Valuable rare earth minerals, hydrogen, oxygen, platinum and the non-radioactive nuclear fusion fuel Helium-3 (He-3) are abundant on the moon. NASA and other space agencies have shown interest in lunar mining but the US is yet to ratify a 1984 treaty that would strictly regulate moon resource extraction.

However, even if moon mining was allowed, lunar conditions are so different to Earthly conditions that new machinery may have to be invented to develop resources found there.

Furthermore, the cost of transporting materials made on Earth would be prohibitive, forcing scientists to come up with ways to build certain equipment using material only found on the moon’s surface.

A research team led by Dr Leonhard Bernold, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of New South Wales, has created a new lunar soil simulant that closely resembles samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts.

Dr Bernhold said such a simulant is essential to test lunar mining systems on Earth and may help researchers develop ways to create a waterless concrete using lunar dust, a component of the moon surface material known as regolith.

“We now know a lot about the mechanical properties of the regolith on the moon so we can create something that simulates it. We have tried to match it as close as we can,” said Dr Bernhold.

Dr Bernold’s lunar soil simulant is made up primarily of very fine basalt particles taken from a quarry in Kulnura on the NSW Central Coast.

“These particles are a byproduct of crushing the basalt to serve aggregates for making concrete or asphalt, but are too tiny to be useful and have to be thrown away,” said Dr Bernhold.

“On the moon, those small particles are abundant, having being created by small meteorites hitting the lunar surface at high speed over millions of years, thus breaking larger stones down into tiny particles.

As well as providing a substance on which Earthly mining techniques can be tested, the simulant soil can also be mixed with polymers to create a lunar concrete, said Dr Bernold.

“So, for example, we can find ways to create an in-situ resource utilisation material to build a landing pad for rockets on the moon. When rockets are landing, they blow away fine soil and it’s like a sandblaster blasting everything around,” he said, adding that a proper landing pad on the moon would reduce the dangerous sandblaster effect.

“Everything we ship from Earth will cost a lot of money, so we want to do as much as we can from the material that’s available there on the moon in abundance.”

Dr Bernold, who said NASA had shown interest in his findings, is presenting his simulant this week at the Off Earth Mining Forum hosted by UNSW.

Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at the University of New South Wales said a lunar soil simulant would help researchers better understand the properties of moon dust.

“The main value in this work is to do with the soils on the moon being so different to the type of soil on the earth and the type of soil most mining machinery is dealing with,” he said.

International treaties and special space laws would be needed to work out who had ownership rights to material mined from the moon, said Dr Dempster.

“I understand there’s an environmental argument around it too but if you were to mine the moon or an asteroid or other planets, there’s not going to be the environmental impact that local mining would have on the local biosphere. It’s a way of mining such that the mining process itself doesn’t produce any negative environmental impact,” he said.

“Obviously, however, you need to produce a lot of energy to go and do it.”

Students working with Dr Bernold are studying methods for harvesting and storing solar heat energy on the moon in a ‘lunar battery’ using materials found on the moon.

Greens leader Milne a political survivor

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne is a survivor.


In February 2011, six federal MPs stood in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard in Parliament House to announce the details of Labor’s forthcoming carbon tax.

Julia Gillard, Greg Combet, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Brown have exited federal politics, but Milne remains.

Milne, a former high school teacher, was elected to the Senate for Tasmania in 2004.

She took over the Greens leadership from Brown – who had been the public face of the party since its formation – in April 2012.

As leader, Milne has been a key figure in delivering Labor’s Clean Energy Future legislation, putting the spotlight on coal seam gas development, banning the super trawler and standing up for the rights of asylum seekers.

She also ended the Greens agreement with Labor – signed after the 2010 election to deliver a minority government – citing the poor design and low revenue earnings from the government’s mining tax.

Gillard’s reaction to Milne’s decision was a curt: “Thanks, righto …”

But such a dismissal denies the importance of the Greens to Labor’s prospects for re-election.

Labor will rely heavily on the minor party (which scored 11.8 per cent of the vote in 2010) for preferences in the race for Senate spots and inner-metropolitan lower house seats where the environmental vote is highest.

The Greens will also continue to hold the balance of power in the Senate until June 30, 2014, making a strong working relationship between the leaders of the key parties crucial to the passage of legislation.

Milne has vowed to recontest the Greens leadership after the election, which is spilled automatically after a poll.

She says the Greens party has “big things to deliver” in the coming term, including making the big banks and miners pay more tax, support for renewable energy and a better deal for the unemployed and refugees.

Marriage equality is a personal issue for Milne who has a gay son, Tom.

Unlike Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Milne doesn’t face re-election in 2013 because her Senate term has another three years to run.

And the 60-year-old Milne, a veteran of the Franklin River campaign in 1983, is not one to shirk a fight.

I knew nothing of bribery until after ISL collapse: Blatter

BERNE, July 14 –

“I did not know until later, after the collapse of ISL in 2001, about the bribery,” the head of soccer’s world governing body told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview to be published on Sunday.


“It was FIFA who then filed a claim at that time and set the whole ISL case in motion,” he added, referring to May 29 2001 when, after ISL collapsed, FIFA filed a claim for ‘suspicion of fraud, embezzlement as well as misappropriation of funds’.

“When I now say that it is difficult to measure the past by today’s standards, this is a generic statement. To me bribery is unacceptable and I neither tolerate nor seek to justify bribery. But this is what I am accused of now.

“The Swiss Federal Court has this week proven wrong all those people, who for years have accused me of having taken bribes. Now it is on record what I have always said: I have never taken nor received any bribes,” said Blatter.

“Now the same people are trying to attack me from a different angle: ‘Okay, he has not taken any bribes but he must have known.’

“Once again, I only knew after the collapse of ISL years later. And this is because we instigated the whole matter. The people who attack me now know this is the case but still they persist. They want me out.”

A Swiss prosecutor said in a legal document released this week that Havelange and former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira took multi-million bribes on World Cup deals in the 1990s from ISL.

ISL sold the commercial rights to broadcast World Cup tournaments on behalf of FIFA. It collapsed with debts of around $300 million in 2001.

Blatter, who has been with FIFA since 1975, and succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, said on Thursday he knew that payments were being made. He referred to them as “commission” and said they were not illegal at the time.

Asked in a question-and-answer session with FIFA’s own website (www.fifa.com) on Thursday if he had known of payments, Blatter replied: “Known what? That commission was paid? Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense.

“Today, that would be punishable under law. You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards.”

Havelange is still FIFA’s honorary president while Teixeira quit his post earlier this year, shortly after resigning as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Syrian conflict engulfs university campus

“There are many arrests and raids, especially against Sunni students excelling at their studies,” said an engineering student who gave her name only as “Amira”.


“The atmosphere is tragic… it is not easy to study when people are being killed everywhere,” she said.

“Emotionally, it is a feeling of daily humiliation because of inspections by our peers of the ‘loyal sect’,” she said, referring to the minority Alawite community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The complex sectarian make-up of the campus reflects that of the central city itself.

Sunnis consider themselves the true natives of Homs and never took kindly to the mass influx of Alawites, who adhere to a branch of Shiite Islam, in the late 1960s when a military coup brought Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father and predecessor, to power.

Another student, Abu Baha, 23, said the sectarian faultlines began to surface soon after a revolt against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, quickly morphing into a civil war in which according to the UN more than 60,000 people have died.

“With the beginning of the revolution, the university devolved into a fifth column of the security forces,” said Abu Baha.

The engineering student described plain-clothes security agents patrolling the campus while the army was deployed on rooftops to bombard neighbouring Baba Amr district in a fierce assault last year.

A disturbing phenomenon, he added, was the arming of pro-regime students.

“The student union became real shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), each one given a weapon and free reign to insult or arrest fellow students for uttering a single word about freedom,” he said.

Mainly divided along confessional lines, Homs has experienced the worst sectarian violence of the 22-month revolt.

Activists accuse the authorities of deliberately fomenting sectarian strife, pointing to a day in July 2011 when some 30 people from various confessions were killed in a bloodbath the regime blamed on the opposition.

All the students quoted in this article, interviewed online in coordination with an Al-Baath student in Beirut, said they had lost friendships during the conflict ravaging Homs, where opposition areas remain under army blockade.

Divisions became “more pronounced after repeated arbitrary arrests, usually because of reports by pro-regime students, most of them Alawite,” said engineering student Abu Mohammed.

“My relations with Alawite students were completely finished after I realised what they were doing.”

“On the days of massacres you find opposition students are upset while pro-regime students are ecstatic with victory,” Amira said grimly.

Professors too are embroiled in the conflict, whether in interrogating students or working to conceal their own personal views.

“Most are afraid to speak about the situation, but in my faculty there is an Alawite professor who spends 70 percent of his lectures provoking opposition students. No one dares challenge him because we would not graduate,” said Abu Baha.

One Al-Baath University professor, himself displaced from Homs, said he went into early retirement due to the prevailing stressful atmosphere and fear of being kidnapped or killed during his daily commute.

“Many students have dropped out. The only ones left are pro-government. The rest are called ‘those from traitorous areas’,” he said during an interview in Beirut, refusing to be named for fear of his safety.

Abu Mohammed naively thought the academic sphere was a safe zone to discuss the uprising when it first erupted.

“In December 2011 I was arrested on several charges, including collaborating with an armed group to kill the dean of the architecture faculty, because of a heated debate with a loyalist Alawite student.”

He was expelled from university and said he was imprisoned for one month without evidence. “Only then did I become truly conscious about the injustice in my country.”

But despite the difficulties, some students, among them Abu Qusay, remain hopeful about the future.

“Employment opportunities were always limited due to nepotism and most young Syrians had been planning to work abroad after graduation, but after the success of the revolution I expect job opportunities to be equal between all Syrians,” he said.

“I am optimistic about a bright future for me in my country.”

NRL season all but over, Cowboys concede

North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott concedes the Cowboys chances of making the NRL finals are almost dead, saying only something special in the final six weeks of the season will steal them a top eight spot.


After a disappointing 18-16 loss to fellow Queensland strugglers Brisbane on Friday night, a result which appears to have ended Neil Henry’s chances of coaching at the club next season, Scott said the Cowboys would need to win out to give themselves a hope.

But rather than calling it a miracle, the Queensland and Test prop said he believed anything was possible if they could win their last six games.

The Cowboys host competition front-runners South Sydney next week before a tough run home which includes finals aspirations Penrith, Cronulla, Gold Coast and Newcastle.

“It’s not impossible,” Scott said.

“I think we’ve certainly made it tough on ourselves and I think we’re at times playing footy that will get us into the eight if we maintain it.

“At the moment it’s just stupid individual errors that’s really hurting us.

“Win the next six and it’s possible but we’ve got to play a lot better than we did tonight.”

Next week North Queensland chairman Laurence Lancini will reportedly tell Henry, who signed a contract extension earlier this year, that the club will be looking elsewhere for a head coach next season.

Henry said his side had been made to pay for defensive misreads and communication breakdowns, and some players deserved better from their teammates.

The Cowboys were exposed repeatedly down their right edge defence, with all three Broncos tries coming from combinations down that side.

“We’re putting a lot of effort in to the game and we dominate field position for large parts of it,” Henry said.

“The players deserve better decisions off each other.

“They’re the men out there doing the hard yards, they’re working their backsides off for each other and they’re committed but they deserve better for each other in crucial parts of the game.

“And they didn’t do that for each other (against Brisbane) and that’s the difference, simple as that.

“It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s not a lack of will out there, it’s a couple of crucial decisions.”

Henry said he could do little if the Cowboys board decide to terminate his contract.

“I hope not but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’ve got six games to go and potentially six wins and then we’ll all be marching into the finals, hopefully.

“We’ve got a big game against Souths next week and we can’t repeat (Friday night) or the season is well and truly over.”

Safety probe after Japan tunnel collapse

Japan has ordered inspections of ageing highway tunnels after a fiery collapse that killed nine people, with suspicions about the cause of the accident centred on decaying ceiling supports.


The government pledged a thorough review and said “significant investment” would likely be required in the motorway network, parts of which including the accident site were built during the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

“As a major factor, we suspect ageing,” an official from highway operator NEXCO said, referring to the tragedy at the Sasago tunnel which passes through hills near Mount Fuji 80km west of Tokyo.

Engineers on Monday began inspections at three other tunnels in the region with the same design, as well as the Sasago carriageway.

There are around 20 such tunnels nationwide, reports said. Footage from inside the tunnel showed concrete panels had collapsed in a V-shape, possibly indicating some kind of weakness in the central supporting pillars suspended from the roof, experts said.

NEXCO said safety inspections consist largely of visual surveys, with workers looking for cracks and other abnormalities, or listening to the acoustics of the concrete and metal parts by hitting them with hammers.

Officials admitted that during the five-yearly check of the ceiling in September there had been no acoustic survey of the metal parts on which the panels weighing up to 1.5 tonnes rest. Emergency workers were still at the nearly 5km tunnel, but more than 24 hours after the cave-in, efforts had shifted from rescue to recovery.

Three vehicles were buried on Sunday when concrete ceiling panels crashed down inside the tunnel.

Witnesses spoke of terrifying scenes as at least one vehicle burst into flames. Emergency workers had collected five charred bodies – three men and two women – from a vehicle by early Monday.

One report said the victims were all in their 20s. They also recovered the body of a truck driver, identified as 50-year-old Tatsuya Nakagawa who reportedly telephoned a colleague immediately after the incident to ask for help.

Three other deaths have been confirmed, an elderly man and two elderly women, who were all in the same passenger vehicle, officials said.

“I offer my deepest condolences” to those affected, NEXCO Central president Takekazu Kaneko said.

“First and foremost, the rescue operation is our priority. We are also inspecting our tunnels that use the same design.” Japan’s extensive highway network criss-crosses the mountainous country, with more than 1500 tunnels.

Around a quarter of these are more than 30 years old, according to the Transport Ministry.

The country is also prone to earthquakes and despite a tightening of safety regulations over the past 20 years, older structures could be vulnerable to the regular movements, experts have warned.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government had ordered immediate action to shore up the transport system.

“The prime minister ordered the transport ministry to do its utmost in the rescue operation, to find out the cause at an early stage, to take thoroughly preventive measures against similar accidents,” he said.

“We will have to make significant investment in public transportation systems and will need to ensure its durability. We need to review infrastructure as it ages.”

Japan had an infrastructure boom in the 1960s and 1970s as the economy went through a period of spectacular growth.

But experts warn that as they age, many tunnels and bridges will need to be replaced – not an easy task for a government that already owes more than twice what the economy makes in a year.

Comment: Media is missing climate in heatwave story

By Simon Divecha, University of Adelaide

As Australia stares at “a once-in-20 or 30-year heatwave”, with temperatures over 40 degrees, it is likely that more extreme weather events similar to this are in store for us.


The probability of this occurring is well researched. (For example, Professor Barry Brook has previously outlined Adelaide’s situation.)

Australia’s media largely fails to link climate change to the heat. There have been more than 800 articles in the last five days covering the heatwave. Fewer than ten of these also discuss “climate change”, “greenhouse gas”, carbon or “global warming” (from a 3 -7 January 2013 Factiva news source search conducted on 7 January at 4pm).

Even with the occasional mention, these articles often obscure the link. Tim Blair’s Carbon Kings story in the Daily Telegraph is a good example. It reports on a tweet from Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons:

Peter: Will the politics of carbon tax/climate change alter with this extraordinary, sustained heatwave hitting the southern states?

Tim: It’s called summer, Peter, and the carbon tax won’t make any difference.

Death caused by extreme heat is usually of interest to the media. For example 370 people died from extreme heat in Victoria during the same week that there were 173 deaths in the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

For the future, a PWC report shows extreme heat in Melbourne could, without mitigation by 2050, kill more than 1000 people in a heat event. Climate change is likely to increase both extreme heat events and bushfire danger – as discussed in a recent Climate Institute briefing paper and by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

What could change a large proportion of our reporting?

Numbers and threats like these seem to be losing salience with the Australian public, or at least our media. The lack of reporting certainly aligns with research that demonstrates “Fear Won’t Do It”. Could this be a reason why Australia 21’s Beyond Denial: managing the uncertainties of global change argues that “our leaders and the community at large are still in denial (or studiously unaware) of the realities of global change”?

Climate change and sustainability practitioners need to address these issues. This is where more of the same, more figures, statistics, research and evidence might be necessary but are not going to be sufficient. While statements like the Prime Minister’s are important we need to go further. Some of the standout interventions highlighting broader approaches include Futerra’s Rules of the Game (principles of climate change communications) and the American Psychological Association Task Force on the interface between psychology and global climate change.

What is also clear is that climate change is a complex, tangled problem. Moreover, unlike a public health campaign – such as one to stop smoking – it is difficult to talk about the evidence and avoid creating fear without agency. That is, people may worry about climate change, but feel there’s nothing they can do about it (unlike smokers, who can stop).

As this is a complex, multi-systemic problem, no short article like this one can offer a silver bullet solution. For general principles however we need to remember the strong call to avoid what philosophers and futurists, such as Ken Wilber and Richard Slaughter, call “flatland”. Flatland is a social perspective which insists that if we can’t measure it, it does not matter. In this “flatland” we lose sight of the fact that “values play a significant role in climate change debates”. Consequently, we often focus just on statistics, research and other directly measurable, objective evidence.

On agency, the German Advisory Council on Global Change tells us that far from being unable to make a difference:

Individual actors can play a far larger role in the transformation of social (sub)systems than the one that has been accorded to them for quite some time.

The council, a scientific advisory body to the German government, places individuals as one of four pillars for a sustainability “Great Transformation”. For more, see its beautifully written report: World in Transition: A social contract for sustainability.

Tying this together, and back to this week’s media, the call is to highlight what we care about. This might be the impact on the elderly, care for our gardens, our pets, as well as our awe of nature around us or adrenalin sports in it. We need to do so recognising that this is a narrow tailored approach for individuals and communities.

A good example of targeted peer-to-peer engagement is Al Gore’s climate ambassadors program that has now presented personally to 7.3 million people globally. Models like this – prioritising engagement around what we love and value – can narrowcast to individual cares. Ultimately this drives demand for good news coverage.

Personally, I’ll remember to talk, blog and tweet more on agency than fear.

Simon Divecha does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.