Austerity has damaged the ability of Greece to defend itself against fire threats

It is Wednesday and I have been busy on other writing projects. But today I offer some data analysis on the Greek fire tragedy as well as a short video promoting a very important festival that is coming up. Then I offer some personal insights on the accusation by the right-wing press that on-line learning is just a ruse for lazy “work-shy” professors. And to calm us after all that – we have some fine jazz from 1960.

Resist Festival, October 16-17, 2021

I recorded a short video for the organisers of the – Resist Festival – which will finally be held in the UK over the weekend, October 16-17, 2021.

The Festival is part of the Resist: Movement for a People’s Party, which has been in the planning for some time now but its launch, originally planned for May 2020, was delayed by the pandemic crisis.

The video explains why I agreed to be part of the Festival, albeit from my remote location in Australia, given the external border restrictions imposed on travel by the Australian government at present.

I think the venture can energise grassroots activity at a time when our traditional political voices are largely divorced from the needs of our societies and globe.

It would be great if you can get involved with the Festival.

There is strength in numbers always.

Greek fires and austerity

The recently released – Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis – Working Group 1 Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is terrifying to say the least.

I make that statement as a layperson in terms of climate science, which is why I won’t comment much on the science.

The projections are that climate change is:

… is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions …

… is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.

Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.

Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century.

For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities.

Pretty scary and it comes in the week that Greece is undergoing shocking fire tragedies, which now appears to be a regular occurrence as the Northern summers get hotter and the rainfall abates.

A recent Reuters Report (August 10, 2021) – Angry Greeks criticise government response after wildfire devastation – informs us that in the face of devastating fires, the “emergency services failed to respond to … calls for help”.

The Greek population is asking why the services are incapable of responding to a predictable disaster that climate change has been threatening to make worse for some time now.

I also note that I have done extensive research on behalf of the Firefighting union in Australia on a variety of concerns over the years and have a very good understanding of the sector and its challenges.

The report tells us that the “head of Greece’s firefighters federation … said 5,000 firefighters needed to be hired immediately.”

It also appears that the firefighting equipement is “ageing” as a result of a lack of government spending.

A government official claimed that they had increased fightfighter numbers to 14,736 (an increase of 16 per cent) in the last three years.

The same issue came up during the catastrophic 2018 fires in Greece and at that stage there was a lot of speculation that the austerity program inflicted on Greece by the Troika (European Commission, ECB and IMF) had undermined the firefighting capacity of the Greek government.

It is difficult to get coherent data to conclude definitively.

But here are two graphs derived from Eurostat data that tell a story.

The first shows the euro outlays on fire-protection services by the Greek government from 2001 to 2019. The data is annual and one has to convert a percentage of GDP into actual euro expenditure given that Eurostat has in the last two years mysteriously stopped publishing the direct expenditure data for this category for Greece.

In the early days of Eurozone membership, government expenditure on fireprotection in Greece grew in proportion with GDP and by 2009 was 1 percent higher (as a proportion) than it was in 2001.

That proportion has been maintained but in euro terms, the austerity was extremely damaging because as GDP plunged by up to 25 per cent, so did actual outlays on services.

That meant cuts to equipment and firefighters at a time when fire risk was increasing rapidly.

With the Greek economy basically stagnating, those cuts have not been restored.

The dotted line shows a simple linear trend based on the 2001-2007 average growth in total expenditure, which would have maintained the GDP proportion as well.

So a dramatic shortfall in where Greece might have been had it not been decimated by the political (ideological) forces in charge of the European Union

And, of course, the fire risk doesn’t understand ideology or austerity – the trees are still there to burn no matter how many firefighters there are.

The second graph shows the annual rise in firefighting expenditure by the Greek government.

Since 2012, as the fire risk increased, there has been slightly negative growth.

That is a significant reason why Greece is burning out of control at present.

I was also interested in tracing what the cuts in spending meant for employment in the fire services.

Recall, above, that the government official claimed that there were now 14,736 firefighters.

From the – World Fire Statistics 2009, No. 14 – we learn that:

Firefighters: 15,500

Fire stations: 290

So in 2021, by the government’s own admission there are 14,736 firefighters.

On that basis there are less workers being employed to fight fires.

The data is somewhat inconsistent, however.

The most recent – World Fire Statistics 2021, No. 26 – thinks there are:

Firefighters: 15,927

Fire stations: 285

It doesn’t really matter that much whether we quibble about a few more or less fighters now relative to 2009.

The point is that there should be many more fighters now than in 2009 given the increased risk.

Austerity has left Greece in an extremely vulnerable position on a number of fronts.

Lazy university academics

I saw this Tweet the other day from – Robert Halfon – who is a British Conservative MP representing Harlow and the Villages and occupies the position as Chair of the Education Select Committee.

He included an article from the UK tabloid, The Sun, written by one Natasha Clark, whose own Twitter feed has been dominated for some time by whether Geronimo should be put down or not.

The sentiment was clear – university academics are lazy and taking advantage of the pandemic to further their “work-shy” ways – having a sort of holiday on full pay is what the article suggests.

Essentially, the assertion is that by asking students around the world to undertake on-line learning as part of a sensible response to dealing with the pandemic, especially the Delta variant which seems to like infecting younger people, the universities are “conning” the students and not delivering value for money.

We could raise, initially, the question of why higher education students are being asked to pay for their education.

I wrote about that issue in these blog posts:

1. I feel good knowing there are libraries full of books (October 29, 2010).

2. Strong public benefit from tertiary education in Australia (September 29, 2014).

You will note that my own position on these issues moved a bit as more data became available to help us understand the situation better.

But I don’t want to revisit that discussion here.

I also don’t want to get into the issue of learning modes and student propensities. That is a complex area and far from resolved given the evidence that is available.

Some students find on-line learning difficult while others flourish.

We all learn in different ways, which is why a modern teaching program has to be multi-dimensional in the way it presents its pedagogy.

But on-line learning has really been forced upon us as an existential matter given the pandemic.

The point of the article is that university academics are “work-shy” and have to be “ordered back to class”.

First, teaching on-line is difficult for the academic – staring into a screen via Zoom from your office – without being able to read eyes or other body language.

So as a first choice for academics, we would much rather be back at our campuses, mixing with our colleagues and going face-to-face with the students.

Second, the idea that teaching on-line is less work (the “work-shy” inference) is completely wrong and reflects the fact that the journalist (nor the MP who recycled the stupid Sun article) have probably never had to prepare higher education courses for on-line delivery in their lives.

Halfon was a salesmane before he entered the political arena and Clark seems to have been a journalist only.

My experience in developing pedagogy at the University level for on-line delivery is that it is much more time consuming and challenging than preparing material for face-to-face delivery.

Much more thought and time spent in developing material is required.

It is not our first choice.

And my experience now developing material for MMTed has taught me how onerous developing multimedia content is.

Our first four week course that we ran in March 2021 took a team six months to develop.

A standard 13-week course of around 4 hours of ‘contact’ is another matter again.

Music – The John Wright Trio

This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.

I felt like something clean and traditional.

So I dug out my copy of – South Side Soul – which was recorded on the Prestige lable in 1960 by the US pianist – John Wright.

I first encountered his playing in the early 1970s and discovered he had recorded 5 albums on Prestige between 1960 and 1962.

He faded from the scene quite early and worked as a librarian but came back with another album in 1994.

He was a great player and his trio was clean as clean can be.

I still play this album a lot.

It features John Wright on piano, Wendell Roberts on bass, and Walter McCants on drums, which was the first of many trio configurations he used in his early years.

I was especially interested in John Wright because he saw the clear links between a musical life and an activist life.

He was involved in the US civil rights movement in the 1960s.

He said in an – Interview – from August 2011, six years before his death, that:

The first time I marched was in Gage Park. Ben Branch was part of the movement and affiliated with Jesse Jackson. They thought that I and a few other fellows should never march, because we didn’t have much tolerance, and what they wanted was people to march who could withstand the dogs and the throwing the bricks and rocks and the name calling, I wasn’t ready for that, just coming out of the military, seeing in the South how we were treated …

He later became inspired by MLK when he came to Chicago.

A great talent, but too much whisky early on.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. The logic of tabloids is to exploit whatever comes along, in a ongoing effort to sell paper to readers and marketing space to advertisers.
    When nothing comes along to exploit, they’ll make up all sorts of lies to offset the emptiness.
    If you live in a country that still have reliable news outlets, which people can choose to read/watch, rather than tabloids, then you might consider yourself to be lucky.
    In Portugal, all media outlets, including public tv broadcaster, have become tabloids, so there’se nothing else on the news stand, or on tv, that you might consider serious information.
    They haven’t yet read the sun article.
    Once they do, we’ll have the same smear opening the 20h00 news.

  2. Dr. Mitchell,

    Thanks for the music recommendation; it is great.


  3. I’ve been writing in a few blogs for a while that climate change and now COVID-19 mean we have to change everything we do. That is we have to reconfigure our entire economy. All non-essential, high impact consumption will have to be foregone if we want to survive. There are some clear examples. These recommendations may well run counter to what many people like to and want to do.

    (1) Remove all fossil fuel subsidies;
    (2) Remove subsides for all non-essential and discretionary activities;
    (3) Reduce tourism, cruises and international travel by 90%.
    (4) Stop building professional sports stadiums and holding international sporting events.
    (5) Build more hospitals and quarantine stations instead.
    (6) Use bicycles and mass transit instead of automobiles.
    (7) Use autonomous electric taxis instead of mass transit until the pandemic is quashed (if ever).
    (8) A renewable energy build-out.

    These are just a few. Of course, recommending some of these things will make me as popular as a fly at a barbecue. But our current way of life is completely unsustainable. The short list might appear to raise problems for a fiscal spending recovery. I don’t think so on reflection. The economic activity should all be there, especially with high spending in education, health, housing, welfare and infrastructure including a new renewable energy system. However, in the medium run (not long run anymore) we will need to grapple with implementing a quantitatively non-growth, circular economy. Qualitative (knowledge , culture and technology) growth should remain possible.

  4. just another shout out for the music recommendations
    spent last week listening to Yusef Lateef live at Ronnie Scotts – outstanding. It will stay on high rotation.

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