References – Part 7: Magical Mystery Tour


82: Heidi and Shane

The 1822 figure for the population of Dubai comes from Modernity and tradition in Dubai Architecture by Luiza Karim (retrieved 19 April 2010).

On the road again

The 2005 figure for the population of Dubai come from Scibd.


83: Sunrise on Nimbin

The basic Nimbin information is from Lonely Planet, Australia, 2005 edition. The Nimbin population information is from the 2006 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This head count apparently does not include ‘multiple occupancy’ rural properties, that is: hippie communes. I don’t recall where I first sourced the unemployment rate. However, it is quoted several years later in Local Government Area FAST FACTS 2008.


Earth Systems

Matters relating to the understanding of consciousness (including the crucial questions: what is it and which animals have it) are fraught with definitional and conceptual problems. To quote James Trefil: ‘… it is the only major question in science that we don’t even know how to ask.’

One common way of assessing this feature of animals’ psychic apparatus is through the ‘mirror test’. This consists of putting an animal in front of an appropriately sized mirror and seeing if the animal in question is self-aware enough to recognize itself a separate entity within the world.

Surprisingly few of the animals one might regard as self-aware are capable of performing this apparently straightforward introspective task. Humans can do it from a young age. Chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants can all do it. Crows can do it. Dogs and cats (along with the vast majority of the animal kingdom) cannot.

Dog owners sometimes express scepticism at this. One reason, perhaps, is that dogs, have undergone selective breeding, across tens of thousands of years, which makes them hard-wired to react productively to humans. Experiments have demonstrated that dogs are much more able to anticipate human desires and moods than, say, chimpanzees, even though chimpanzees are far more intelligent.

An alternative view of consciousness, brilliantly set out in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan, is that if a beetle has a brain that is one millionth of the size of a human brain, then it has broadly one millionth of the human’s mental capabilities, and that everything in between is a spectrum. At that point ‘consciousness’ becomes a questions of degree, rather than a fundamental mental quality. It’s an area where human understanding is steadily increasing. One day soon, we may learn to interpret whale songs.

For a (technical) overview of philosophical questions of consciousness, have a look at this page on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.


85: The Byron Bay Experience

The hydrogen-burn rate for the sun is quoted here. Regarding the timing of the sun’s transition to a red giant, stellar evolution is extremely well understood (hundreds of billions of data points and all that). For a fascinating take on the question of the sun’s future, and thinking really, really big, have a look at this fascinating future timeline (accessed 21 May 2011).


86: Six Rides North

I got the numbers for the number of beaches in Australia from the back of a Rizla packet in Nimbin. I don’t recall my original source for Queesnland’s growth rate, but the number is quoted on this Queensland TV website.

Here are some notes on the three Australian Prime Ministers, over which Carlton and Colin held diametrically opposed views:

  • Gough Whitlan was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, having won two elections as head of the Labour party, in 1972 and 1974. He was removed, with great (and abiding) controversy, by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.
  • Paul Keating was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996. He took over as Prime Minister, and leader of the Labour Party, from his predecessor Bob Hawke. Mr Keating had a reputation for being bolshie but clever. He once put his hand on the Queen’s back, to the outrage of royalists and the British tabloid media.
  • John Howard was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007. He won four general elections, for the Liberal Party, in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004. No one in Newtown liked him.

In short, the general perception in Australia was that John Howard was right wing, Paul Keating was left wing and Gough Whitman was very left wing.


87: Appetite for Destruction

The main basis for my whale knowledge during this period was Mark Carwardine’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. The numbers for the blue whales killed in the Arctic Ocean during the 1930/1931 hunting season comes from this study of blue whales on They are also quoted on this excellent Carnivora site.

I couldn’t find my original source for the 99 percent reduction in blue whale numbers from 1864 and 1966, so during the fact-checking stage I went into the data myself in some detail. I didn’t not come across a definitive study of the overall global reduction, although the 99 percent certainly holds true for the crucial Antarctic populations. The global reduction is unambiguously higher than 95 percent and, based on the data I looked at, 99 percent cannot be far out. Have a look at this paper on Evidence for Increases in Antarctic Blue Whales Based on Bayesian Modelling.

For the estimated global blue whale population look at the COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus (as per the reference page for Part 6). Mark Carwardine’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises estimates it as being in the ‘low thousands’.

In understanding humanity’s affect on the ecosphere over the past 60,000 years, getting a feel for the extinction of Earth’s land megafauna is instructive. Before humans came along, just about every land ecosystem had large, impressive animals (just as Africa does today, with its elephants, lions and wildebeest etc). Without the imposition of the human super-predator, those sorts of animals fill stable niches in stable ecosystems.

However, the majority of that megafauna was killed off by prehistoric humans. For example, as recently as 30,000 years ago, woolly rhinoceros were native to Europe (and one of the main food sources for that epoch’s prehistoric Europeans). But, as any European will tell you, there are no longer rhinoceros in Europe. This isn’t because rhinoceroses are poorly adapted – they’re superbly adapted (if one doesn’t kill them all). They are just too big to hide from humans.

Woolly rhinoceros survived in Siberia until 8,000 years ago. China had rhinoceroses into recorded history. They all got killed too.

For a sense of the dimensions of wonder that prehistoric humans stripped from the Earth’s ecosphere well before modern history (the dire wolves, giant sloths, elephant birds, woolly mammoth, cave bears …) – just think how amazing an elephant would be if you’d never seen an elephant.


88: Queenslanders Are Peculiar

The figure for the numbers of cows within 250 kilometres of Rockhampton comes from Lonely planet, Australia, 2006 edition, p365.


89: 1,000 Kilometres, No Dramas

The wingspan of a fully grown fruit bat comes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Regarding global energy production – in the original email I quoted figures for total energy production (i.e. with nuclear and renewables added in), but to my frustration, and after many hours of poring over energy reports, I couldn’t source those numbers. I therefore settled for the ‘primary energy’ numbers in the book (which basically means fossil fuels).

One total-energy number I could source is 420 exajoules for 2000 (compare to the 355 exajoules quoted in the book for primary production). I’ve also seen 712 predicted for total energy production in 2030. See this discussion document from the World Energy Council.


World Systems

As noted in the book’s bibliography, the first narrative is from the websites of Al Gore and Greenpeace (accessed early 2007).

As one who agrees that the world is experiencing CO2-induced climate change and that it’s a key problem for human civilisation, I regard Greenpeace’s language, in particular, as wildly overblown, hysterical, silly and unhelpful.


90: Finding Nemo

The number for the amount of scuba divers ever killed by sharks on the Great Barrier Reef (i.e. zero) comes from a talk by a marine biologist I attended in Cairns the day before we went diving.


Zoe and Eden



Last night in Australia


Back to References Menu


  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter