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Why the Many-Worlds Interpretation Has Many Problems

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It is the most extraordinary, alluring and thought-provoking of all the ways in which quantum mechanics has been interpreted. In its most familiar guise, the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) suggests that we live in a near-infinity of universes, all superimposed in the same physical space but mutually isolated and evolving independently. In many of these universes there exist replicas of you and me, all but indistinguishable yet leading other lives.

The MWI illustrates just how peculiarly quantum theory forces us to think. It is an intensely controversial view. Arguments about the interpretation of quantum mechanics are noted for their passion, as disagreements that can’t be settled by objective evidence are wont to be. But when the MWI is in the picture, those passions can become so extreme that we must suspect a great deal more invested in the matter than simply the resolution of a scientific puzzle.

The MWI is qualitatively different from the other interpretations of quantum mechanics, although that’s rarely recognized or admitted. For the interpretation speaks not just to quantum mechanics itself but to what we consider knowledge and understanding to mean in science. It asks us what sort of theory, in the end, we will demand or accept as a claim to know the world.

After the Danish physicist Niels Bohr articulated and refined what became known as the Copenhagen interpretation — widely regarded as the orthodox view of quantum mechanics — in the 1930s and ’40s, it seemed that the central problem for quantum mechanics was the mysterious rupture created by observation or measurement, which was packaged up into the rubric of “collapse of the wave function.”

The wave function is a mathematical expression that defines all possible observable states of a quantum system, such as the various possible locations of a particle. Up until a measurement is made and the wave function collapses (whatever that means), there is no reason to attribute any greater a degree of reality to any of the possible states than to any other. It’s not that the quantum system is actually in one or other of these states but we don’t know which; we can confidently say that it is not in any one of these states, but is properly described by the wave function itself, which in some sense “permits” them all as observational outcomes. Where, then, do they all go, bar one, when the wave function collapses?

At first glance, the many-worlds interpretation looks like a delightfully simple answer to that mysterious vanishing act. It says that none of the states vanishes at all, except to our perception. It says, in essence, let’s just do away with wave function collapse altogether.

This solution was proposed by the young physicist Hugh Everett III in his 1957 doctoral thesis at Princeton, where he was supervised by John Wheeler. It purported to solve the “measurement problem” using only what we know already: that quantum mechanics works.

But Bohr and colleagues didn’t bring wave function collapse into the picture just to make things difficult. They did it because that’s what seems to happen. When we make a measurement, we really do get just one result out of the many that quantum mechanics offers. Wave function collapse seemed to be demanded in order to connect quantum theory to reality.

So what Everett was saying was that it’s our concept of reality that’s at fault. We only think that there’s a single outcome of a measurement. But in fact all of them occur. We only see one of those realities, but the others have a separate physical existence too.

In effect, this implies that the entire universe is described by a gigantic wave function that contains within it all possible realities. This “universal wave function,” as Everett called it in his thesis, begins as a combination, or superposition, of all possible states of its constituent particles. As it evolves, some of these superpositions break down, making certain realities distinct and isolated from one another. In this sense, worlds are not exactly “created” by measurements; they are just separated. This is why we shouldn’t, strictly speaking, talk of the “splitting” of worlds (even though Everett did), as though two have been produced from one. Rather, we should speak of the unraveling of two realities that were previously just possible futures of a single reality.

(The many-worlds interpretation is distinct from the multiverse hypothesis, which envisions other universes, born in separate Big Bangs, that have always been physically disconnected from our own.)

When Everett presented his thesis, and at the same time published the idea in a respected physics journal, it was largely ignored. It wasn’t until 1970 that people began to take notice, after an exposition on the idea was presented in the widely read magazine Physics Today by the American physicist Bryce DeWitt.

This scrutiny forced the question that Everett’s thesis had somewhat skated over. If all the possible outcomes of a quantum measurement have a real existence, where are they, and why do we see (or think we see) only one? This is where the many worlds come in. DeWitt argued that the alternative outcomes of the measurement must exist in a parallel reality: another world. You measure the path of an electron, and in this world it seems to go this way, but in another world it went that way.

That requires a parallel, identical apparatus for the electron to traverse. More, it requires a parallel you to observe it — for only through the act of measurement does the superposition of states seem to “collapse.” Once begun, this process of duplication seems to have no end: you have to erect an entire parallel universe around that one electron, identical in all respects except where the electron went. You avoid the complication of wave function collapse, but at the expense of making another universe. The theory doesn’t exactly predict the other universe in the way that scientific theories usually make predictions. It’s just a deduction from the hypothesis that the other electron path is real too.

This picture gets really extravagant when you appreciate what a measurement is. In one view, any interaction between one quantum entity and another — a photon of light bouncing off an atom — can produce alternative outcomes, and so demands parallel universes. As DeWitt put it, “Every quantum transition taking place on every star, in every galaxy, in every remote corner of the universe is splitting our local world on earth into myriads of copies.” In this “multiverse,” says the physicist and many-worlds proponent Max Tegmark, “all possible states exist at every instant” — meaning, at least in the popular view, that everything that is physically possible is (or will be) realized in one of the parallel universes.

In particular, after a measurement takes place, there are two (or more) versions of the observer where before there was one. “The act of making a decision,” says Tegmark — a decision here counting as a measurement, generating a particular outcome from the various possibilities — “causes a person to split into multiple copies.” Both copies are in some sense versions of the initial observer, and both of them experience a unique, smoothly changing reality that they are convinced is the “real world.” At first these observers are identical in all respects except that one observed this path of the electron (or whatever is being measured) and the other that path. But after that, who can say? Their universes go their separate ways, launched on a trajectory of continual unraveling.

You can probably see why the MWI is the interpretation of quantum mechanics that wins all the glamour and publicity. It tells us that we have multiple selves, living other lives in other universes, quite possibly doing all the things that we dream of but will never achieve (or never dare to attempt). There is no path not taken. For every tragedy, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s character being hit by a van in the many-worlds-inspired 1998 movie Sliding Doors, there is salvation and triumph.

Who could resist that idea?

There are, of course, some questions to be asked.

For starters, about this business of bifurcating worlds. How does a split actually happen?

That is now seen to hinge on the issue of how a microscopic quantum event gives rise to macroscopic, classical behavior through a process called “decoherence,” in which the wavelike states of a quantum system become uncoordinated and scrambled by their interactions with their environment. Parallel quantum worlds have split once they have decohered, for by definition decohered wave functions can have no direct, causal influence on one another. For this reason, the theory of decoherence developed in the 1970s and ’80s helped to revitalize the MWI by supplying a clear rationale for what previously seemed a rather vague contingency.

In this view, splitting is not an abrupt event. It evolves through decoherence and is only complete when decoherence has removed all possibility of interference between universes. While it’s popular to regard the appearance of distinct worlds as akin to the bifurcation of futures in Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a better analogy might therefore be something like the gradual separation of shaken salad dressing into layers of oil and vinegar. It’s then meaningless to ask how many worlds there are — as the philosopher of physics David Wallace aptly puts it, the question is rather like asking, “How many experiences did you have yesterday?” You can identify some of them, but you can’t enumerate them.

What we can say a little more precisely is what kind of phenomenon causes splitting. In short, it must happen with dizzying profusion. Just within our own bodies, there must be at least as many splitting events affecting each of us every second as there are encounters between our molecules in the same space of time. Those numbers are astronomical.

The main scientific attraction of the MWI is that it requires no changes or additions to the standard mathematical representation of quantum mechanics. There is no mysterious, ad hoc and abrupt collapse of the wave function. And virtually by definition it predicts experimental outcomes that are fully consistent with what we observe.

But if we take what it says seriously, it soon becomes clear that the conceptual and metaphysical problems with quantum mechanics aren’t banished by virtue of this apparent parsimony of assumptions and consistency of predictions. Far from it.

The MWI is surely the most polarizing of interpretations. Some physicists consider it almost self-evidently absurd; “Everettians,” meanwhile, are often unshakable in their conviction that this is the most logical, consistent way to think about quantum mechanics. Some of them insist that it is the only plausible interpretation — for the arch-Everettian David Deutsch, it is not in fact an “interpretation” of quantum theory at all, any more than dinosaurs are an “interpretation” of the fossil record. It is simply what quantum mechanics is. “The only astonishing thing is that that’s still controversial,” Deutsch says.

My own view is that the problems with the MWI are overwhelming — not because they show it must be wrong, but because they render it incoherent. It simply cannot be articulated meaningfully.

I’ll attempt to summarize the problems, but first, let’s dispense with a wrong objection. Some criticize the MWI on aesthetic grounds: People object to all those countless other universes, multiplying by the trillion every nanosecond, because it just doesn’t seem proper. Other copies of me? Other world histories? Worlds where I never existed? Honestly, whatever next! This objection is rightly dismissed by saying that an affront to one’s sense of propriety is no grounds for rejecting a theory. Who are we to say how the world should behave?

A stronger objection to the proliferation of worlds is not so much all this extra stuff you’re making, but the insouciance with which it is made. Roland Omnès says the idea that every little quantum “measurement” spawns a world “gives an undue importance to the little differences generated by quantum events, as if each of them were vital to the universe.” This, he says, is contrary to what we generally learn from physics: that most of the fine details make no difference at all to what happens at larger scales.

But one of the most serious difficulties with the MWI is what it does to the notion of self. What can it mean to say that splittings generate copies of me? In what sense are those other copies “me?”

Brian Greene, a well-known physics popularizer with Everettian inclinations, insists simply that “each copy is you.” You just need to broaden your mind beyond your parochial idea of what “you” means. Each of these individuals has its own consciousness, and so each believes he or she is “you” — but the real “you” is their sum total.

There’s an enticing frisson to this idea. But in fact the very familiarity of the centuries-old doppelgänger trope prepares us to accept it rather casually, and as a result the level of the discourse about our alleged replica selves is often shockingly shallow — as if all we need contemplate is something like teleportation gone awry in an episode of “Star Trek.” We are not being astonished but, rather, flattered by these images. They sound transgressively exciting while being easily recognizable as plotlines from novels and movies.

Tegmark waxes lyrical about his copies: “I feel a strong kinship with parallel Maxes, even though I never get to meet them. They share my values, my feelings, my memories — they’re closer to me than brothers.” But this romantic picture has, in truth, rather little to do with the realities of the MWI. The “quantum brothers” are an infinitesimally small sample cherry-picked for congruence with our popular fantasies. What about all those “copies” differing in details graduating from the trivial to the utterly transformative?

The physicist Lev Vaidman has thought rather carefully about this matter of quantum youness. “At the present moment there are many different ‘Levs’ in different worlds,” he says, “but it is meaningless to say that now there is another ‘I.’ There are, in other words, beings identical to me (at the time of splitting) in these other worlds, and all of us came from the same source — which is ‘me’ right now.”

The “I” at each moment of time, he says, is defined by a complete classical description of the state of his body and brain. But such an “I” could never be conscious of its existence.

Consciousness relies on experience, and experience is not an instantaneous property: It takes time, not least because the brain’s neurons themselves take a few milliseconds to fire. You can’t “locate” consciousness in a universe that is frantically splitting countless times every nanosecond, any more than you can fit a summer into a day.

One might reply that this doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a perception of continuity threading through all those splittings. But in what can that perception reside, if not in a conscious entity?

And if consciousness — or mind, call it what you will — were somehow able to snake along just one path in the quantum multiverse, then we’d have to regard it as some nonphysical entity immune to the laws of (quantum) physics. For how can it do that when nothing else does?

David Wallace, one of the most ingenious Everettians, has argued that purely in linguistic terms the notion of “I” can make sense only if identity/consciousness/mind is confined to a single branch of the quantum multiverse. Since it is not clear how that can possibly happen, Wallace might then have inadvertently demonstrated that the MWI is not after all proposing a conceit of “multiple selves.” On the contrary, it is dismantling the whole notion of selfhood. It is denying any real meaning of “you.”

I shouldn’t wish anyone to think that I feel affronted by this. But if the MWI sacrifices the possibility of thinking meaningfully about selfhood, we should at least acknowledge that this is so, and not paper over it with images of “quantum brothers and sisters.”

The science-fiction vision of a “duplicated quantum self” has nevertheless delivered some fanciful, and undeniably entertaining, images. If splitting can be guaranteed by any experiment in which the outcome of a quantum process is measured, then one can imagine making a “quantum splitter”: a handheld device that measures, say, an electron’s intrinsic quantum angular momentum, or spin, which can be thought of as having two states, either pointing up or down; it then converts the result to a macroscopic arrow pointing on a dial to “Up” or “Down.” This conversion ensures that the initial superposition of spin states is fully decohered into a classical outcome. You can make these measurements as often as you like just by pushing the button on the device. Each time you do (so the story goes), two distinct “yous” come into being.

What can you do with this power to generate worlds and selves? You could become a billionaire by playing quantum Russian roulette. Your quantum splitter is activated while you sleep, and if the dial says Up then you’re given a billion dollars when you wake. If it shows Down then you are put to death painlessly in your sleep. Few people, I think, would accept these odds on a coin toss. But a committed Everettian should have no hesitation about doing so using the quantum splitter. For you can be certain, in this view, that you’ll wake up to be presented with the cash. Of course, only one of “you” wakes up at all; the others have been killed. But those other yous knew nothing of their demise. Sure, you might worry about the grief afflicted on family and friends in those other worlds. But that aside, the rational choice is to play the game. What could possibly go wrong?

You’re not going to play? OK, I see why. You’re worried about the fact that you’re going to die as a result, with absolute certainty. But look, you’re going to live and become rich with absolute certainty too.

Are you having trouble comprehending what that means? Of course you are. It has no meaning in any normal sense of the word. The claim is, in words aptly coined by the physicist Sean Carroll in another context (ironically, Carroll is one of the most vocal Everettians), “cognitively unstable.”

Some Everettians have tried to articulate a meaning nonetheless. They argue that, despite the certainty of all outcomes, it is rational for any observer to consider the subjective probability for a particular outcome to be proportional to the amplitude of that world’s wave function — or what Vaidman calls the “measure of existence” of that world.

It’s a misleading term, since there’s no sense in which any of the many worlds exists less. For the “self” that ends up in any given world, that’s all there is — for better or worse. Still, Vaidman insists that we ought rationally to “care” about a post-splitting world in proportion to this measure of existence. On this basis, he feels that playing quantum Russian roulette again and again (or even once, if there’s a very low measure of existence for the “good” outcome) should be seen as a bad idea, regardless of the morality, “because the measure of existence of worlds with Lev dead will be much larger than the measure of existence of the worlds with a rich and alive Lev.”

What this boils down to is the interpretation of probabilities in the MWI. If all outcomes occur with 100-percent probability, where does that leave the probabilistic character of quantum mechanics? And how can two (or for that matter, a thousand) mutually exclusive outcomes all have 100-percent probability?

There is a huge and unresolved literature on this question, and some researchers see it as the issue on which the idea stands or falls. But much of the discussion assumes, I think wrongly, that the matter is independent of questions about the notion of selfhood.

Attempts to explain the appearance of probability within the MWI come down to saying that quantum probabilities are just what quantum mechanics looks like when consciousness is restricted to only one world. As we saw, there is in fact no meaningful way to explain or justify such a restriction. But let’s accept for now — just to see where it leads — the popular view of the MWI that two copies of an observer emerge from the one who exists before a measurement, and that both copies experience themselves as unique.

Imagine that our observer, Alice, is playing a quantum version of a simple coin-toss gambling game — nothing as drastic or emotive as quantum Russian roulette — that hinges on measurement of the spin state of an atom prepared in a 50:50 superposition of up and down. If the measurement elicits up, she doubles her money. If it’s down, she loses it all.

If the MWI is correct, the game seems pointless — for Alice will, with certainty, both win and lose. And there’s no point her saying, “Yes, but which world will I end up in?” Both of the two Alices that exist once the measurement is made are in some sense present in the “her” before the toss.

But now let’s do the sleeping trick. Alice is put to sleep before the measurement is made, knowing she will be wheeled into one of two identical rooms depending on the outcome. Both rooms contain a chest. Inside one is twice her stake, while the other is empty. When she wakes, she has no way of telling, without opening the chest, whether it contains the winning money. But she can then meaningfully say that there is a 50-percent probability that it does. What’s more, she can say before the experiment that, when she awakes, these will be the odds deduced by her awakened self as she contemplates the still-closed chest. Isn’t that a meaningful concept of probability?

The notion here is that quantum events that occur for certain in the MWI can still elicit probabilistic beliefs in observers simply because of their ignorance of which branch they are on.

But it won’t work. Suppose Alice says, with scrupulous care, “The experience I will have is that I will wake up in a room containing a chest that has a 50-percent chance of being filled or empty.” The Everettian would say Alice’s statement is correct: It’s a rational belief.

But what if Alice were to say, “The experience I will have is that I will wake up in a room containing a chest that has a 100-percent chance of being empty”? The Everettian must accept this statement as a true and rational belief too, for the initial “I” here must apply to both Alices in the future.

In other words, Alice Before can’t use quantum mechanics to predict what will happen to her in a way that can be articulated — because there is no logical way to talk about “her” at any moment except the conscious present (which, in a frantically splitting universe, doesn’t exist). Because it is logically impossible to connect the perceptions of Alice Before to Alice After, “Alice” has disappeared. You can’t invoke an “observer” to make your argument when you have denied pronouns any continuity.

What the MWI really denies is the existence of facts at all. It replaces them with an experience of pseudo-facts (we think that this happened, even though that happened too). In so doing, it eliminates any coherent notion of what we can experience, or have experienced, or are experiencing right now. We might reasonably wonder if there is any value — any meaning — in what remains, and whether the sacrifice has been worth it.

Every scientific theory (at least, I cannot think of an exception) is a formulation for explaining why things in the world are the way we perceive them to be. This assumption that a theory must recover our perceived reality is generally so obvious that it is unspoken. The theories of evolution or plate tectonics don’t have to include some element that says “you are here, observing this stuff”; we can take that for granted.

But the MWI refuses to grant it. Sure, it claims to explain why it looks as though “you” are here observing that the electron spin is up, not down. But actually it is not returning us to this fundamental ground truth at all. Properly conceived, it is saying that there are neither facts nor a you who observes them.

It says that our unique experience as individuals is not simply a bit imperfect, a bit unreliable and fuzzy, but is a complete illusion. If we really pursue that idea, rather than pretending that it gives us quantum siblings, we find ourselves unable to say anything about anything that can be considered a meaningful truth. We are not just suspended in language; we have denied language any agency. The MWI — if taken seriously — is unthinkable.

Its implications undermine a scientific description of the world far more seriously than do those of any of its rivals. The MWI tells you not to trust empiricism at all: Rather than imposing the observer on the scene, it destroys any credible account of what an observer can possibly be. Some Everettians insist that this is not a problem and that you should not be troubled by it. Perhaps you are not, but I am.

Yet I have pushed hard against the MWI not so much to try to demolish it as to show how its flaws, once brought to light, are instructive. Like the Copenhagen interpretation (which also has profound problems), it should be valued for forcing us to confront some tough philosophical questions.

What quantum theory seems to insist is that at the fundamental level the world cannot supply clear “yes/no” empirical answers to all the questions that seem at face value as though they should have one. The calm acceptance of that fact by the Copenhagen interpretation seems to some, and with good reason, to be far too unsatisfactory and complacent. The MWI is an exuberant attempt to rescue the “yes/no” by admitting both of them at once. But in the end, if you say everything is true, you have said nothing.

We needn’t fear a scientific idea that changes our view of macroscopic reality. But an idea that, when we pursue it seriously, makes that view inchoate and unspeakable doesn’t fulfill the function of science. The value of the many worlds, then, is that they close off an easy way out. It was worth admitting them in order to discover that they are a dead end. But there is no point then sitting there insisting we have found the way out. We need to go back and keep searching.

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Dear Wentworth Voters: Here’s 123 Things Our Leaders Did To ‘Confront’ Climate Change

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A recent ReachTel poll commissioned by Greenpeace Australia found that for the voters of Wentworth – former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat – tackling climate change was their number one priority. With the Wentworth by-election to be staged on Saturday, Liam McLoughlin thought it timely to help the good voters of the eastern suburbs focus their minds on the Liberal Party’s action on climate change over the last five years. It’s a long list… actually, it’s a long Shitlist.


Tony Abbott eats an onion. Just because.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott*

  1. Abolishes key ministerial positions of climate change and science – 16 September 2013
  2. Abolishes the Climate Commission – 19 September 2013
  3. Denies there is a link between climate change and more severe bush fires and accuses a senior UN official of “talking through their hat” – 23 October 2013
  4. Abolishes the Antarctic Animal Ethics Committee which ensured research on animals in the Antarctic complies with Australian standards – 8 November 2013
  5. Cuts 600 jobs at the CSIRO – 8 November 2013
  6. Abandons Australia’s emission reduction targets – 12 November, 2013
  7. Downgrades national environment laws by giving approval powers to state premiers – 9 December 2013
  8. Removes the community’s right to challenge decisions where the government has ignored expert advice on threatened species impacts – 9 December 2013
  9. Approves the largest coal port in the world in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area – 10 December 2013
  10. Approves Clive Palmer’s mega coal mine in the Galilee Basin which opponents say will severely damage Great Barrier Reef – 11 December 2013
  11. Overturns the “critically endangered” listing of the Murray Darling Basin – 11 December 2013
  12. Scraps the COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water – 13 December 2013
  13. Starts dismantling Australia’s world leading marine protection system – 13 December 2013
  14. Axes funding for animal welfare – 17 December 2013
  15. Defunds the Environmental Defenders Office which is a network of community legal centres providing free advice on environmental law – 17 December 2013
  16. Scraps the Home Energy Saver Scheme which helps struggling low income households cut their electricity bills – 17 December 2013
  17. Cuts funding to the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Programme which makes it mandatory for large energy-using-businesses to improve their efficiency –17 December, 2013
  18. Requests the delisting of World Heritage status for Tasmanian forests – 21 December 2013
  19. Breaks his promise to provide a customs vessel to monitor whaling operations in the Southern Ocean – 23 December 2013
  20. Defunds all international environmental programs, the International Labour Organisation and cuts funding to a range of international aid programs run by NGOs such as Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE Australia and Caritas – 18 January 2014
  21. Exempts Western Australia from national environment laws to facilitate shark culling – 21 January 2014
  22. Appoints a climate change skeptic to head a review of our renewable energy target – 17 February 2014
  23. Blames carbon pricing for the closure of Alcoa smelters and rolling mills and the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs, despite the fact the company states it had no bearing on their decision – 19 February 2014
  24. Axes funding earmarked to save the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction – 28 February 2014
  25. Cuts hundreds of jobs at the CSIRO – 14 March 2014
  26. Cuts 480 jobs from the Environment Department which help protect places such as Kakadu, Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef – 7 April 2014
  27. Scraps the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) which was set up to support new and emerging renewable technologies and in doing so breaks an election promise – 13 May 2014
  28. Axes industry and community clean energy programs including the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, the National Low Emission Coal Initiative, Energy Efficiency Programmes, the National Solar Schools Plan, Energy Efficiency Information Grants and Low Carbon Communities – 13 May 2014
  29. Cuts Australia’s Animal Welfare Strategy – 13 May 2014
  30. Rips a further $111.4 million over four years out of the operating budget of the CSIRO – 13 May 2014
  31. Reduces funding to the Australian Institute for Marine Science – 13 May 2014
  32. Breaks a promise to have one million more solar roofs across Australia and at least 25 solar towns – 13 May 2014
  33. Breaks a promise to spend $2.55 billion on the Emissions Reduction Fund by committing less than half this amount in the budget – 13 May 2014
  34. Terminates the Office of Water Science research programme – 13 May, 2014
  35. Slashes the Biodiversity Fund – 13 May, 2014
  36. Scraps the National Water Commission – 13 May, 2014
  37. Axes the carbon tax with no viable policy to address climate change or Australia’s emission targets – 17 July, 2014
  38. Repeals the mining tax on the profits of big coal and iron ore companies – 2 September 2014
  39. Cuts spending on science and innovation to the lowest levels since the data was first published – 07 October, 2014
  40. Describes coal as “good for humanity” while opening a coal mine in Queensland – 13 October, 2014
  41. Refuses to contribute to the fund Green Climate Fund, which Abbott described the year before as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” – 17 November, 2014
  42. Cuts  CSIRO funding, which means that CSIRO will lose 1/5 of its workforce  – 24 November, 2014
  43. Cuts the Climate Adaptation Outlook Independent Expert Group – 15 December 2014
  44. Cuts the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee – 15 December 2014
  45. Abolishes the Subcommittee on Animal Health Laboratory Standards – 15 December 2014
  46. Abolishes the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee – 15 December 2014
  47. Abolishes the Emissions Intensive–-Trade Exposed Expert Advisory Committee –15 December 2014
  48. Disbands the Commonwealth Environmental Water Stakeholder Reference Panel – 15 December 2014
  49. Abolishes the COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water – 15 December 2014
  50. Abolishes the Bureau of Meteorology Water Accounting Standards Board – 15 December 2014
  51. Abolishes the National Marine Mammal Scientific Committee – 15 December 2014
  52. Disbands the National Marine Mammal Advisory Committee – 15 December 2014
  53. Abolishes the National Landscapes Reference Committee – 15 December 2014
  54. Abolishes the Technical Advisory Committee for the Coal Mining Abatement Technology Support Package – 15 December 2014
  55. Abolishes the Marine Council – 15 December 2014
  56. Appoints a climate skeptic who praised Rupert Murdoch as the “starting point for green innovation” to the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment – 21 December 2014
  57. Cuts $12.5 million from the National Heritage Trust – 12 May 2015
  58. Establishes a Commissioner for Wind Farms – 24 June 2015
  59. Slashes the renewable energy target – 24 June 2015
  60. Intense lobbying keeps Great Barrier Reef off UNESCO’s world heritage in-danger list despite many government decisions which threaten it – 2 July 2015
  61. Directs the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop investing in wind power – 12 July 2015
  62. Bans the Clean Energy Finance Corporation from investing in roof top solar panels and other small scale solar energy – 12 July 2015
  63. Reduces Australia’s carbon emissions reduction target – 11 August 2015
  64. Tries to introduce laws to stop citizens exercising their legal rights to stop big developments that damage the environment – 19 August 2015



Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Veni, Flickr).

 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

  1. Approves Carmichael coal mine – 16 October 2015
  2. Environment Minister Greg Hunt claims selling India Australian coal will cut carbon emissions – 10 Dec 2015
  3. Approves Abbot Point Coal Terminal expansion – 22 December 2015
  4. Presides over a drop in Australia’s ranking on the Environmental Performance Index of 10 places – 28 January 2016
  5. Approves logging in Murray Valley National Park – 28 February 2016
  6. Tries to loan Adani $1 billion to build a railway link to the Carmichael mine and promises to “fix” native title problems – 11 April 2017
  7. Describes Labor’s emissions trading scheme as “jobs destroying”, a handbrake on the economy, leading to “much higher energy prices.” – 27 April 2016
  8. Says coal will be important for “many, many decades to come” – 25 October 2016
  9. Seeks changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to stop conservation groups challenging environmental ministerial decisions – October 31, 2016
  10. Says “if anyone had a vested interest in showing you that you could do really smart, clean things with coal, it would be us” – 1 February, 2017
  11. Opens $5 billion infrastructure fund for “clean-coal” power stations – 3 February 2017
  12. Hires Sid Marris, former head of climate and environment at the Minerals Council of Australia, to be his climate and energy adviser – 3 February 2017
  13. Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal to question time and says “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared.” – 9 February 2017
  14. Ignores advice that renewable energy was not to blame for South Australian blackouts – 13 February 2017
  15. Oversees 3.4% rise in emissions within 12 months and 7.5% increase since the Abbott-Turnbull government scrapped the carbon price – 01 March 2017
  16. Diverts funds from Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund coal with carbon capture and storage – 31 May 2017
  17. Stops releasing pollution data that used to be announced on a quarterly basis – 7 July 2017
  18. Attacks South Australian renewable energy policy as “ideology and idiocy in equal measure” – 14 August 2017
  19. Lobbies AGL to delay closure of ageing Liddell coal power station for another five years – 5 September 2017
  20. Dumps Clean Energy Target – 17 October 2017
  21. Plans to reduce environmental spending to less than 60% of 2013-2014 budget – 13 December 2017
  22. Data released in the week before Christmas shows highest greenhouse gas emissions on record when land use change emissions excluded – 19 December 2017
  23. This data shows emissions increasing to 2030 and beyond – 19 December 2017
  24. Declares climate policies are a big success – 19 December 2017
  25. Climate policy review loosens the safeguard mechanism that sets limits on pollution – 19 December 2017
  26. Government fails to list a single piece of critical habitat for protection despite 1800 species and ecological communities being identified as threatened in Australia – 6 Match 2018
  27. Backs Pauline Hanson’s motion for new coal-fired power stations – 27 June 2018
  28. Turnbull’s signature emissions reduction policy, the National Energy Guarantee, described as having ‘no benefit’ to emissions – 18 July 2018.
  29. Personally approves $443m fund for Great Barrier Reef Foundation, an organisation with ties to BHP, Shell and Peabody Energy – 31 July 2018.
  30. Removes emissions reduction target from National Energy Guarantee – 20 August 1018



Scott Morrison is sworn in as the 30th Australian Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

  1. Appoints Angus Taylor, long-time campaigner against the Renewable Energy Target and a fierce critic of wind energy, as Minister for Energy – 26 August 2018
  2. Appoints Melissa Price, a former general counsel for Crosslands Resources, which owns the Jack Hills iron ore project in Western Australia, as Minister for the Environment – 26 August 2018
  3. Appoints Matt Canavan, who doubts the importance of climate change mitigation and is a strong advocate of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine but dismisses the battery storage facility, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, as the “Kim Kardashian of the energy world”, as Minister for Resources – 26 August 2018
  4. Angus Taylor indicates more taxpayer money for existing coal and gas – 30 August 2018
  5. Revealed that the Marine Park Authority had to scale back surveys in 2017, a year of massive coral bleaching, due to lack of government funds – 2 September 2018
  6. Angus Taylor says there is too much wind and solar in the electricity grid – 5 September 2018
  7. Tries to water down climate change resolution at Pacific Islands forum – 6 September 2018
  8. Union tells Senate inquiry that 87% of members who work in threatened species management in the environment department and other government agencies thought Australia’s effectiveness in protecting critical habitat was poor or very poor – 7 September 2018
  9. Resources Minister Matt Canavan says Paris agreement “doesn’t actually bind us to anything in particular” and doesn’t stop Australia building new coal plants – 7 September 2018
  10. PM says National Energy Guarantee “is dead” – 8 September 2018
  11. Tony Abbott advocates scrapping of renewable energy subsidies – 11 September 2018
  12. Report shows Australia’s transport emissions rose 3.4% from December 2016-December 2017 – 13 September 2018
  13. Angus Taylor announces Morrison government won’t be replacing the renewable energy target “with anything” beyond 2020 – 18 September 2018
  14. Approves private tourism development with helicopter access in Tasmanian world heritage wilderness – 31 August 2018
  15. Morrison says Australia will meet its Paris emissions targets “at a canter” despite no emissions reductions policies and statements from the Energy Security Board to the contrary – 5 September 2018
  16. Australia receives bottom three ranking for environmental policy among wealthy nations – 18 September 2018
  17. Government tells Great Barrier Reef scientists to focus on projects which make the government look good and encourage more corporate donations – 26 September 2018
  18. Releases data showing March quarter increase in emissions of 1.3% on a Friday afternoon, which was a public holiday in Victoria and the same day as the release of the banking sector royal commission interim report – 28 September 2018
  19. Describes $444m Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant as the “right financial decision” – 1 October 2018.
  20. Data reveals 770,000 hectares (three times the size of the ACT) of forests in the Great Barrier Reef catchment zone have been cleared since Tony Abbott was elected in 2013 – 4 October 2018.
  21. Senate inquiry into threatened species told Australia’s environment laws have been “white-anted with loopholes” and hears of “massive and pervasive non-compliance with legislation” – 8 October 2018
  22. PM rules out providing more money for global climate conferences and “all that sort of nonsense”– 8 October 2018
  23. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says Australia should “absolutely use and exploit its coal reserves” despite IPCC warnings of climate catastrophe and says Australia wouldn’t change climate policy because of “some sort of report” – 9 October 2018
  24. Matt Canavan responds to the IPCC calls for phasing out coal by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by saying “many argue that coal markets are in structural decline when nothing could be further from the truth” and “our coal is the envy of the world and we should promote it proudly” – 9 October 2018
  25. Melissa Price responds to the IPCC report by saying “every year there’s new technology with respect to coal and what it contributes to emissions. So I think to say it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow” – 9 October 2018
  26. Angus Taylor says the government would “not be distracted from our goal of lowering power prices for Australian households and small business” and “coal will continue to play a vital role in our energy mix, now and into the future” – 10 October 2018
  27. Former Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg responded to the grave IPCC warnings with “If we take coal out of our energy system, the lights will go out on the East Coast of Australia” – 9 October 2018
  28. Chairman of Coalition’s backbench energy committee Craig Kelly says the government needs to axe renewable energy subsidies – 16 October 2018
  29. Melissa Price reported to have told the former president of Kiribati at a dinner in Canberra ““I know why you are here, it’s for the cash. For the Pacific, it’s always about the cash. I have my cheque book here, how much do you want?” then accused of misleading Parliament over it – 17 October 2018

To be continued…

* Full credit to Sally McManus for this section thanks to her work on Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage.


The post Dear Wentworth Voters: Here’s 123 Things Our Leaders Did To ‘Confront’ Climate Change appeared first on New Matilda.

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1 day ago
Sydney, Australia
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Humble Leaders are the Best, Says Lean and now the WSJ

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This article from the WSJ caught my eye last week (might be behind their paywall): The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses Organizations are making a push to hire and promote workers who lead effectively but don't seek the spotlight In today's post, I share some thoughts and related reading... The post Humble Leaders are the Best, Says Lean and now the WSJ appeared first on Lean Blog.
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AgileSHIFT an overarching agile framework

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Schermafdruk 2018-10-17 11.04.16Many organizations are struggling to implement agile delivery frameworks to increase their level of agility, and many organizations fail. One of the reasons is the culture clash between a traditional organization and the agile culture. Only implementing agile delivery frameworks in e.g. your IT department is not enough.

AXELOS has developed a framework (see attached Quick Reference Card/QRC AgileSHIFT) that prepares people for transformational change by creating a culture of enterprise agility. The AgileSHIFT framework helps organizations to undergo a transformational change, to adopt a ‘survive, compete and thrive’ mindset. It will help to bridge the gap between the current and the target state (the Delta in AgileSHIFT) by embracing a range of agile, structured and hybrid approaches across the organization. The existing severe split between ‘run the business’ and ‘change the business’ will vanish. Now called, in this framework, Run the Organization and Change the Organization. Everyone is a change-enabler, encouraged and empowered to make change happen.

AgileSHIFT (QRC, 181012) v1.0To download: AgileSHIFT (QRC, 181012) v1.0

The AgileSHIFT framework explains why we need enterprise agility. There is an increasing pace of change (VUCA: volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), the role of technology (from technology supported, via technology enabled towards technology centric), the delta between the current and target state of your organization and disruptive influences by enablers (as the gig economy, remote working, cloud storage and online presence), inefficient markets and black swan events.

To accommodate what we have to do the AgileSHIFT framework defines enterprise agility, principles and practices. Enterprise agility is the ability of an organization to move and adapt quickly in response to shifting customer and market needs. The five principles are: Change will happen so embrace the status quo, challenge the status quo, develop an environment where everybody adds value, focus on the co-creation of customer value and tailor your approach. The five practices are: Plan to be flexible and adaptable, engage stakeholders, build collaborative teams, focus on the co-creation of customer value and measure value.

The how (corresponds with the AgileSHIFT delivery approach) is expressed in the AgileSHIFT framework by the roles, the AgileSHIFT workflow and an iteration and by tools and techniques. There are three roles: the AgileSHIFT team, sponsor and coach. A simple iteration approach is explained but depending on the situation you have to choose the right approach. Tools and techniques include: customer stories and epics, relative estimating and story points, AgileSHIFT task list and roadmap, swarm, kanban, canvasses and agendas. For the last two there will downloads available.

To show your understanding of AgileSHIFT, foundation and practitioner certification will be possible.

In the next picture, I have positioned AgileSHIFT.Grasp session (Scaling Agile, 180526) v1.1

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2 days ago
Sydney, Australia
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The 5-Point Plan to Averting Mega-Project Disasters

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Mega-projects, better known as large-investment, complex and lengthy projects, bank on everything under the sun, from the right manpower to the right machinery and equipment.  They are projects that carry risks associated with lengthy durations, frequent scope changes and cost overruns.


Given that stakeholders invest huge sums of money in the project, project managers can’t afford to guesstimate project constraints. Besides the price tag, the usefulness of the outcomes produced, promised returns and extent of ongoing maintenance to sustain the final product all influence buy-in to a mega-project.  Therefore, it is of paramount importance to equip yourself with the tools of today that address futuristic challenges associated with calculating the project’s schedule and cost estimates.


Considering the interlinked dependencies that determine consequential milestones reached, the linchpin holding your projects together lie in workforce efficiency. After all, skilled labor drives your projects forward. Knowing how to avoid a mega-project disaster with tangibly preventive measures not only lets your project stay the course but also adds value for years to come. So, as far as project plans go, wouldn’t you want more certainty?


Which 5 points contain mega-project uncertainties?


A mega-project relies on timely knowledge-transfers, given that the people who started working on the project may no longer be associated with it. The knowledge they pass on, therefore, strengthens your future project team’s understanding of what needs doing. Combining the best practices of project and resource management gives rise to the following 5 procedural techniques –


1.      Scientific Resource Scheduling Estimation


The scene for a project’s expectations is set during its initiation and planning phases. Given that labor costs form a significant portion of the resourcing overhead, finding and assigning the right people to the right projects ensures your projects don’t suffer from unprecedented delays resulting from unavailability, schedule conflicts or missing resources.


The challenge here is two-fold; for one, mega-projects require hyper-specialized skills. This invites a gig workforce where temporary hires such as contractors work alongside your full-time staff. But, in the event that the contractors you’re scouting out are committed to other assignments, the onus falls on you to either structure your team with last-minute hires or have your full-time staff upgrade their knowledge areas with requisite learning schemes.


Given that such programs consume their time and determines their ability to orient around new work, getting the project off the ground within the proposed window would seem next-to-impossible.


In addition, you need current data centering around both the quality and quantity of experienced labor, skill-types and technical resources. While your project teams are informed of client expectations, work packages and deliverables, your stakeholders are informed of the exact costs, schedule, project scope and effort investments involved in order to approve and release funds for the project.


You’d naturally have your eye on a tool that gives you a vision board over both resource and project schedules. With an instant overview over how schedules are placed, you’ll find skill-matches per project specifications as well as gauge your staff’s utilization rates against their availability to commit.


This way, even if extenuating circumstances result in absenteeism midway through the project execution, secondary resources can be deployed on to it in a move that accomplishes two objectives at once, i.e., reducing bench-time clunks while ensuring no one is overworked in the last minute and that schedules stay on track even when originally committed team members are no longer available.


team collaboration on mega-projects



2.      Team collaboration


As is with any large-scale project, tasks inevitably spill over one another, requiring multiple resources across the enterprise to be roped in. Given the different bodies of knowledge involved, encouraging teams to collaborate effectively results in an environment conducive to optimal productivity.


When a fresh pair of eyes weighs in, project teams can take up tasks that were overlooked or left undone on account of newer priorities temporarily displacing the original priority list. Further, secondary skills can be utilized on tasks to speed things along the curve by project team members who have the necessary know-how. Besides extracting and leveraging potential on work, team collaborations encourage comprehensive project documentations.  By factoring in where and how effort investments happened, current members creating a template for escalating issues which lets future teams minimize the possibility of repeated rework and extension requests.


While benefits alignment isn’t always immediately realized in a mega-project, collaborative efforts decides the success and number of milestones reached, irrespective of when they occur. Therefore, encourage your teams to support one another and have free-flowing information channel that lets them communicate with each other to raise requests.  This induces objectivity and ensures no one is tripping up their teammates by withholding critical data.


3.      Stakeholder Support Via Regularized Reporting


A Stakeholder analysis matrix classifies your stakeholders by their order of importance and involvement. And while this lets you identify and balance competing interests, keeping your stakeholders involved in the stages following initial approval lets them know how their monetary investments are paying off. The first step in doing so is to standardize reporting regulations that mandate everyone’s findings are recorded with precision.


90% of projects are impacted by ballooning costs, according to the Iron Law of mega projects, giving rise to questions concerning how, where and why the spends exceeded originally calculated costs. Often, it takes someone else to spot something you never realize you missed. This is where executive-level management reports come in. Subject to the regularity of project reporting and experiential judgment, your stakeholders can retrieve insights to suggest remedial actions that control costs.


So long as your reporting analytics reflects updated information in real-time, your stakeholders would receive progress status updates throughout the project lifecycle. And given the duration and complexity of mega-projects, the more closely involved your stakeholders from beginning to end the better.


4.      Revisit,  Revise, Repeat


Plans change, which invariably affects your project’s progress trajectory. Keeping track of changes to your original project plan lets you determine if the change was warranted and resulted in either a long or short-term benefit.


When you’re hard pressed for time but need to revisit the project’s original plan, the easiest route is to cast several what-if scenario permutations at once. For instance, you can compare your staff’s planned hours against actual hours pulled from individual timesheets to level them. If the actual hours invested exceed the estimated hours, you can instantly determine that the project would take longer to finish. Conversely, if the actual hours were minimal, it’ll indicate that the project has a high likelihood of finishing early, thus pointing you to resources who are free to be utilized on pending assignments. You can accordingly make revisions to schedules and modify resource bookings such that your staff are notified of changes in real-time, thus letting them reorient without disrupting existing processes.


5. Transparency over project policies in change management


Project governance ensures that senior management and junior executives alike comply with change management policies. It informs them of the strategic direction of the project’s execution while letting them know how their role and future in the company is affected.


Mega-projects are increasingly entering the tera-era phase where investment costs rise up to the very trillions. When strategic leadership changes hands, establishing and following procedures via an organizational framework lets you collect information over the usage of your workforce, project management methodologies, tools and templates. Extending this to gig contracts lets you establish a rapport with employees possessing hyper-specialized skills while remaining cost-efficient with true project billing worth.


Framing governance starts with inspecting your firm’s existing business processes in order to determine the need for change. If it results in a direct or indirect benefit such as reduced timelines for project delivery, structural longevity or minimized costs, the next step is to regulate project audits with agile benchmarking. It not only establishes the metrics per user role that lets you monitor project performance but also readies you for the eventuality that these parameters are likely to change per project in the future. This way, no-one is thrown off guard when change management is introduced!


Tell us, what is your current mega-project management strategy to avoid disasters? Take these points home and see where they fit best with your strategy!


Author Bio :


Aakash Gupta heads the Business Development wing at Saviom Software. He has authored extensive pieces on the best practices concerning Enterprise Project portfolio, resource management and workforce planning.  Receive the very latest updates from him, here.

The post The 5-Point Plan to Averting Mega-Project Disasters appeared first on Project Accelerator News.

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9 days ago
Sydney, Australia
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Looking for a task management tool

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I am looking for a task management tool to organise work across people and contexts. So far we are with Trello, but I’m not happy with it.

What do I need?

  • a pool of tasks, some of which are shared with the others and belong to projects
  • being able to assign a task to multiple contexts (projects/views/boards/tags)
  • an overview on those tasks that I can easily tweak
  • personalised views and organisation of the tasks (including shared) for the other team members

RTM+iGoogle combo

I actually had something that worked very well when during my PhD time. It was a combination of Remember The Milk for task management and iGoogle (discontinued) that I used to create an overview on the work to be done. It was a really handy combination and I really regret of not posting a blogpost about it then (it still somewhere in drafts, but doesn’t make much sense without the screenshots).

My tasks in RTM were organised into smart lists, which essentially allow showing one task in a many different contexts. For example, something like “write an introduction to chapter 3” could be shown in “PhD: discuss with profs”, “PhD: Chapter 3” and “Next week”.

I had a couple of iGoogle overview pages, each of which included a bunch of customisable gadgets used to show tasks from RTM smart lists. As far as I remember I used two views the most. One included an overview of everything related to my PhD, another – all the tasks, including non-work ones sliced by urgent/important, locations and types of activities (e.g. “all writing” or “all shopping”).

The only real problem I had with that combo was lack of intergration of non-work tasks between me and Robert, since he used Trello at work. I could send him tasks by email, but this is how far it got. But for my own tasks it worked perfectly, allowing me to add tasks easily, to snow them in various combinations and to switch contexts easily.

iGoogle was discontinued around the time when I stopped working. I continued to use RTM on and off. At slow periods it was too much hassle: I operate pretty well with a paper lists that I update as soon as needed. At more busy times I missed the dashboard of iGoogle to manage the complexity and reverted to a combination of paper lists for urgent tasks and various reminders/events for long-term and repeating tasks.

Trello and what doesn’t work

Now, since we work together with Robert, I decided to give a try to Trello. We also added kids to the mix, with the oldest two having their own Trello accounts and learning how use them. We have tried various paper lists with the kids – they work for a short term projects, but do not help much with repeating tasks, so an online option is something I wanted to explore (another one is a paper version of Scrum :).

I created a couple of boards and started to fill them in, share and do things. I quickly run into the problem of getting a good overview across the boards. Trello home page and a personal overview both have a very limited way of showing what’s up. Yes, I can filter and orders the tasks, but what I miss being able to organise them in space manually and switch on/off specific contexts.

I schould have been warned about lack of proper overviews in Trello when Robert told me that he uses one board to manage work and private tasks. Since higher level overviews do not work for me I ended up doing the same – adding everything into one board. Of course after that I quickly lost overview within that board as well as the flexibility of choosing contexts (e.g. focusing on homeschooling tasks only).

I also miss the flexibility of RTH smart lists: I’d love to be able to have a task in a “project” and “today” lists simultaneousely and allowing the kids to add it in some other list of their own.

By now I’m pretty frustrated with it, but not giving up before digging dipper in what are the options within Trello. May be what I need can be done with add ons or saved searches feature of the paid verstions. Of course, any advice, experiences or ideas for alternatives are welcome.

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9 days ago
Sydney, Australia
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