Monthly Archives: April 2018

Australian Politics 2018-04-30 15:56:00


Malcolm Turnbull backs Gonski report call to move from mass learning to tailored education

Gonski is a lawyer and a notable networker. He has no experience as a teacher or educationist.  His report is an expression of conventional pious hopes and nothing more.  It's all old hat to real educationists.  The devil is in the detail.  How do you make it happen?  Nobody knows.  Most British private schools achieve something like it but they cost a bundle.  They need to charge like that to get the low staff-student ratios required.

So even to attempt to carry out its recommendations in government schools would take at least a doubling of teacher time.  Where do we get the extra teachers?  How do we pay them? 

Turnbull is safe in endorsing it as he won't have the job of implementing it.  The States will. The State governments will regard this as just a Chinese puzzle and do very little in response to it. It's just a pipe dream

David Flint comments: "Gonski- more of the same. More reviews, more money, poor discipline and a national disaster- constantly falling standards in education. As usual, Canberra  succeeds in only making the problem worse"

The Prime Minister has thrown his support behind what he's described as a blueprint to lift Australia's lagging educational performance, laid out in a report by businessman David Gonski.

Malcolm Turnbull has urged state governments, teachers and parents to back the recommendations in Mr Gonski's report on achieving excellence in Australian schools.

Mr Gonski's second major review into Australian education said the country must urgently modernise its industrial-era model of school education and move towards individualised learning for all students.

Too many Australian children are failing to reach their potential at school because of the restrictive nature of year-level progression, the report said.

It calls for the implementation across states of a new online assessment tool that teachers would use to diagnose the exact level of literacy and numeracy a child has achieved.

Teachers could then create individual learning plans for students that would not be tied to what year group they are in.

If formative online assessments were established and reported nationally, it would downgrade the intense focus on the yearly NAPLAN tests in favour of continuous, real-time measurement of student progress.

The Federal Government has agreed to implement all of the report's recommendations, and it hopes to use it to develop a new national schooling agreement.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he would enter into talks with the states and territories about how to implement Mr Gonski's recommendations.

"We want to see a system out of this report where each student is stretched to the maximum of their capabilities each and every year over the 12 or 13 years of their schooling," Senator Birmingham said.

"It really is essential that teachers know and are able to chart where their students are up to in terms of what they're learning, how they're progressing and that parents are fully engaged as part of that process as well."

Mass education model holding back students

The report was commissioned by the Federal Government last year after the passage of its amended schools funding legislation.

Mr Gonski said in his report that the structure of Australian schools reflected "a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children".

The report recommended shifting from that industrial education model to one where schools focused on achieving each individual student's "maximum potential growth in learning each year".

It found current assessment tools in schools did not provide teachers with "real-time or detailed data on a student's growth".

"In our report we're suggesting: let's take some time to allow teachers to have more time to improve their art — and not to improve it because it's not good, but to keep up-to-date with all that's happening around the world and in their profession."

While tests like NAPLAN and the international sample test PISA provided "a useful big picture view of student learning trends across Australia and the world", they provided limited assistance to teachers at the classroom level, the report said.

It also said the current "rigidity of curriculum delivery, and assessment and reporting models" were holding Australia back.

Several state governments lodged submissions to the Gonski review, pointing out that current assessment tools used by teachers were not uniform across all schools.

The Victorian Education Department described current assessment tools in its state as "idiosyncratic".

Mixed-ability classes preferable

Many schools rely on gifted and talented programs to extend bright students but the report said evidence showed that mixed-ability classes were preferable.

It said streaming children by ability "has little effect in improving student outcomes and [has] profoundly negative equity effects".

It recommended overhauling the curriculum to focus on "learning progressions" that extended all students, regardless of ability.

Other key recommendations included:

    Setting up a national inquiry to review curriculum and assessment in years 11 and 12

    Establishing a national educational research institute

    Implementing greater principal autonomy

    Providing more rewards for high-performing teachers

    Overhauling the current A-E grading scale to instead measure progression gains

    Introducing a "unique student identifier" for all students that allows progress to be tracked across time, even if a student changes schools or moves interstate

A special meeting of the Education Council will be held on Friday to discuss the recommendations in the report, titled Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.

Mr Gonski was commissioned by the Gillard government in 2011 to compile a major report on school funding.

The review formed the basis for what is known as the Gonski legislation that created a baseline resourcing standard across all schooling sectors.

Findings 'not supported by research', 'lack detail'

But the report has not been welcomed by all in the sector, with the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) describing it as a failure.

Senior research fellow at the CIS, Jennifer Buckingham, said the report offered no clear guidance to schools and did not meet the review's terms of reference.

"Many of the findings are not supported by research, and lack detail about implementation," Ms Buckingham said.

    "For example, the disproportionate attention to policies that facilitate 'growth mindset' have no evidence-basis in terms of impact on student achievement.

"Likewise, the pre-occupation with increasing the focus on general capabilities has no support in rigorous research about curriculum design and how children learn."

The Australian Education Union said it was concerned the report was coming at a time when the Federal Government was cutting funds to public schools over the next two years.

Union president Correna Haythorpe said it was about properly resourcing disadvantaged schools and students.

"We do have outstanding teachers across Australia who are delivering a very high-quality curriculum, but the reality is that they are missing out on the resources needed to close the student achievement gap," she said.


More African vibrancy in Melbourne

Rental property trashed and police cars smashed as wild party involving dozens of African youths descends into violence. Police cars and property were smashed and damaged at wild Melbourne party

A rental property has sustained thousands of dollars in damage and four police vehicles have been smashed after officers arrived to shut down an out-of-control party in Melbourne in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The party, held at a property in North Melbourne, was an online rental booked under a false name and bears striking similarities to a spate of recent wild parties throughout the city.

Police arrived at the 17 Shands Lane address at about 2am in response to noise complaints and were pelted with rubbish and other objects, including damage to four police cars at the scene. 

'It's outrageous. It's criminal behaviour and we won't tolerate it,' Senior Sergeant Adam Tanner told the media on Sunday.

The partygoers allegedly shouted 'you can't come in ... get a warrant' when police knocked on the door, a witness told 7 News.

The party guests have been described as being of African appearance, Victoria Police told Daily Mail Australia.

Around 50 youths were found at the party and were asked to leave but police discovered 'significant damage' had been made to the property.

Numerous items were recorded as stolen such as a TV and microwave and walls that had been 'punched or kicked in', Sergeant Tanner explained.

'The group dispersed but then began throwing objects at police from a nearby laneway,' leading Senior Constable Lee Thomson said.

Police took cover for safety and later found their patrol cars had been significantly damaged with smashed windscreens, some side mirrors kicked off and panels dented.

Neighbours described waking to the sounds of banging and shouting, abusive language and youths jumping and running across police cars. 

'They were running down the street and jumping on the cars,' a father of two and resident of the area told the Herald Sun.

Another resident Meg Moorhouse said the party-goers became violent quickly, loitering in the alleyway and using 'abusive language' toward police.

'It was aggressive,' she told the Herald Sun.

'They were drinking in the alley. They left broken bottles and were yelling.'

'I think they [party attendees] need to party in normal places ... whether it's in pubs or in public areas that are enforceable by law, or in their own homes,' another neighbour told 7 News. 

The youths reportedly did not leave the street until about 8am, and it's the second out-of-control party to have been hosted at the property over the past fortnight, according to neighbours. 

The $460 per night four-star North Melbourne rental home was listed on multiple rental sites but the 'strict house rules' include 'no parties' and noise levels needing to 'be kept at an appropriate level at all times'.   

No arrests have been made and witnesses are continuing to be questioned by police.

Police are speaking to the owners of the property and investigating the details of the person who made the rental booking.

The police vehicles are also being processed by crime scene services and distinctive footprints have been recorded from the scene.

Piles of rubbish and broken glass can still be seen outside the property and a locksmith was seen changing the locks.


Cutback to funding for Catholic schools

Members of Victoria’s 500 Catholic school communities will be watching next month’s federal budget to see if the Turnbull Government is serious about tackling their concerns over the Gonski 2.0 debacle, Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Executive Director Stephen Elder says.

‘It’s been less than  12 months since Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham stood up to announce a new era of fair funding had arrived, yet in that time over 600 Catholic schools across the nation have already lost an average of nearly $600,000 each, or just under $2,000 per student,’ Mr Elder said.[PB1]

‘The fine print of the Gonski 2.0 legislation – discovered only after the bill had passed the Senate – showed that over-funded independent schools will transition down to their new funding levels over 10 years, while their Catholic equivalents will have just six years to accommodate the changes, leaving them over $1 billion out of pocket.[PB2]

‘This not only makes a mockery of Mr Turnbull and Senator’s Birmingham “no more special deals” rhetoric. It can’t be called “needs-based funding” either.

‘About one hundred thousand families have students in a Catholic school across the state. We are the biggest school system after the government sector by far.

‘Spread those families across Victoria’s 38 federal electorates and they have real punch at the ballot box.

‘That’s why, with the whiff of an election in the air, we expect to see signs on 8 May the Turnbull Government has recognised the need to rebuild bridges with the Catholic education community.’

Mr Elder said Catholic school communities expect action on three key priorities.

‘We expect to see signs in the forward estimates that no special deals means no special deals; that the transition measures for non-government schools don’t see the smaller, more exclusive independent sector given a four year free ride that leaves Catholic schools over $1 billion behind.

‘We expect to see signs to show the government is serious when it talks about needs-based funding and is prepared to finally act on the recommendations of the Final Report of the Gonski Review Panel from more than five years ago and replace the fatally-flawed school socio-economic status, or SES, score system.

‘We expect to find clear indications that the government is looking at fair and accurate measures of need for non-government schools – measures that won’t slash funding for Catholic parish schools while lining the pockets of wealthy independent schools.

‘With Gonski 2.0, Mr Turnbull and Senator Birmingham put the horse before the cart. With the Budget, they can begin to put things right.’

Media release received via email. Further information: Christian Kerr, 0402 977 352

The sexual, racist and homophobic remarks that got a police officer booted from the force

A Victorian police officer has been dismissed from his post in the transit safety division after a decade of derogatory and racist remarks were revealed during a disciplinary hearing.

The man, whose identity isn't revealed, allegedly told a constable she had a 'cracking a***', offered to slap another's 'just once' and made comments about public service officers not being Australian or greeted them as 'homos'.

When she replied that she had, he continued with: 'Don't worry if I want you, you will know about it,' the Herald Sun reported.

While the officer contested his dismissal upon reviewing the comments Police Registration and Services Board Victoria upheld the decision.

While the police officer was later diagnosed with mental health issues, he made a point of saying his actions were only an effort to promote camaraderie.

The board said his unprofessional and repeatedly disrespectful conduct was made worse by the fact he didn't appear willing or able to alter his behaviour.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

The S&P 500 Goes Sideways in Week 4 of April 2018

The S&P 500 closed the third week of April 2018 at 2,670.14. If you closed your eyes at that time, and didn't open them again until after the market closed at the end of the fourth week of April 2018, you would barely notice anything changed, with the S&P 500 having hardly moved to close the week at 2,669.91, a change of just 0.23 points.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2018Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 27 April 2018

Overall, investors appear to be about equally splitting their forward attention between the current quarter of 2018-Q2 and the more distant future quarter of 2019-Q1. Which is to say that the last week was not much different from the week that preceded it.

The lack of market movement during Week 4 of April 2018 coincided with a week in which there was very little in the way of market-moving news. Here are the more notable headlines from the week.

Monday, 23 April 2018
Tuesday, 24 April 2018
Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Thursday, 26 April 2018
Friday, 27 April 2018

If you're looking to consider additional events of potential significance, Barry Ritholtz tallied up the positives and negatives for the U.S. economy and markets in the fourth and final week of April 2018.

On a final note, it is only a matter of time before investors might shift their forward-looking attention more fully to a particular point of time in the future. If you're looking to identify your next investing opportunity, all you need to do is to anticipate when investors might shift their attention and to identify which particular point of time in the future they might shift their focus toward.

How good of an investment opportunity it might be will then hinge on what expectations investors have for changes in the growth rate of dividends are at that point of time. Easy, right?

28/4/18: Unintended Consequence of Tax Audits

The law of unintended consequences applies to all policies and all state systems design, including tax policies, tax laws and tax enforcement. This is a statement of truism. And it  works both ways. A well-designed policy to promote income supports and aligned incentives to work, for example, can have an unintended impact of increasing fraud. Conversely, a measure to enforce the policy to prevent fraud can result in undoing some of the positive impacts of the policy which it was designed to deliver. These statements are also a form of truism.

However, rarely do we see research into the unintended consequences of core tax policies delivering a negative view of the perceived wisdom of regulators and enforcers. Instead, we tend to think of tax laws enforcement as an unquestionable good. Fraud and tax evasion prevention are seen as intrinsically important to the society, and the severity of penalties and punishments imposed on non-compliance (whether by error or design) is seen as being not only just, but pivotal to the sustainability of the entire tax system. Put differently, there is an inherent asymmetry in the relationship between tax payers and tax enforcers: the former face potentially devastating penalties for even minor infringements, while the latter face zero cost for wrongfully accusing the former of such infringements. Tax audits are free of consequences to enforcers, and tax audits are of grave consequences to those being audited.

In this environment, tax audits can lead to severe distortions in the balance of intended and unintended consequences of the tax law. Yet, rarely such distortions are considered in the academic literature. The prevalent wisdom that the tax authorities are always right to audit and severely punish lax practices is, well, prevalent.

One recent exception to this rule is a very interesting paper, titled “Tax Enforcement and Tax Policy: Evidence on Taxpayer Responses to EITC Correspondence Audits” by John Guyton, Kara Leibel, Dayanand S. Manoli, Ankur Patel, Mark Payne, and Brenda Schafer (NBER Working Paper No. 24465, March 2018).  Five of the six authors work for Uncle Sam in either IRS or Treasury.

The paper starts by explaining how EITC audits work. "Each year, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sends notices to selected taxpayers who claim Earned Income Tax credit (EITC) benefits to request additional documentation to verify those claims." Worth noting here, that IRS' EITC audits are the lowest cost audits from the point of view of the taxpayers who face them: they are based on email exchanges between IRS and the audited taxpayer and request pretty limited information. In this, the EITC audits should create lower unintended consequences in the form of altering taxpayers' behavior than, say, traditional audits that require costly engagement of specialist accountants and lawyers by the taxpayers being audited.

So, keep in mind, fact 1: EITC audits are lower cost audits from taxpayer's perspective.

The study then proceeds to examine "the impacts of these correspondence audits on taxpayer behavior." The study specifically focuses on the labor market changes in response to audits. Now, in spirit, EITC was created in the first place to incentivise greater labor force participation and work effort for lower income individuals. The authors describe the EITC as "the United States’ largest wage subsidy antipoverty program."

Thus, keep in mind, fact 2: EITC was created to improve labor supply choices by lower income individuals.

As noted by the authors, "because these correspondence audits often lead to the disallowance of EITC benefits for many individuals, we are able to examine how the disallowance of EITC benefits affects individuals’ labor supply decisions." The authors use audits data for 2010-2012 and have accompanying administrative data for 2001-2016, so the "data allow for analysis of short-term changes in behaviors one year after the audit, as well as persistent or longer-term changes in behaviors up to six years after the audit".

The study "results indicate significant changes in taxpayer behavior following an EITC correspondence audit. In the year after being audited, we estimate a decline in the likelihood of claiming EITC of roughly 0.30, or 30 percentage points. The decrease in the likelihood of claiming EITC benefits persists for multiple years after the EITC correspondence audits, although the size of the effect is reduced over time." In year four, the likelihood of audited EITC filers still filing EITC claims is 1/4 of that for non-audited higher risk EITC filers.

Now, logical question is: was the decrease down to audits weeding out fraudulent claims? The answer is, not exactly. "Much of the decline in claiming EITC benefits following an EITC correspondence audit appears driven by decreases in the likelihood of filing a tax return." Authors suggest that 2/3rds of the decline in EITC filings post-audit is down to taxpayers stopping filing any tax returns post-audit. Which means that even some of the taxpayers who continue to file returns post-EITC audit are dropping out of EITC system.

Audits seem to trigger reductions in tax liabilities post-audit for self-employed taxpayers (ca $300 in a year following the audit) and no changes in tax liabilities post-audit for wage earners. This suggests that post-audit reported incomes either fall (for the self-employed) or remain static for those in employment. This, in turn, suggests that EIDC audits do not lead to improvements in income status for those audited by the IRS. In other words, audits do not reinforce or improve the stated objectives of EITC (see fact 2 above).

"For the Self-Employed, we estimate an increase in labor force participation (where labor force participation is defined in terms of having positive W-2 wage earnings), possibly indicating some reallocation of labor supply from self-employment to wage employment. In contrast, for Wage Earners, we estimate a decrease in labor force participation following the EITC correspondence audits."

Thus, we have fact 4: self-employed are likely to switch their income from self-employment to wages post-audit, while wage earners tend to drop their labor force participation post-audit.

The former part of fact 4 suggests can be reflective of fraudulent behavior by some self-employed who might over-state their self-employment income prior to audit in order to draw EIDC tax credits. The latter effect, however, clearly contravenes the stated objective of the EIDC system. On the first point, quick clarification via the authors of the study:"Intuitively, some lower-income individuals may increase reported self-employment (non-third-party verified) income, possibly by choosing to disclose more income, invent income, or not disclose expenses, to claim the EITC, but if they are detected by audit, they may become averse to inventing self-employment income for purposes of claiming EITC and without this income they may not file a tax return. These taxpayers may perceive the payoff from not filing as better than the payoff from filing and correctly reporting income."

Now, one can think of the effect on self-employment to be a relatively positive one. "Following the disallowance of EITC benefits due to an EITC correspondence audit, taxpayers with self-employment income on their audited returns appear more likely to have wage earnings in the next year, perhaps to offset the loss of EITC as a financial resource." But that is only true if we consider self-employment as a substitute for employment. In contrast, if self-employment is viewed as potentially entrepreneurial activity, such substitution harms the likelihood of entrepreneurship amongst lower earners. The study does not cover this aspect of the enforcement outcomes.

In measured terms, if EITC audits were successful in reinforcing EITC intended objectives, post-audits, we should see increases in wages and earnings for EITC audited individuals. Thus, we should see migration of lower earners EITC recipients to higher earners. Put differently, the share of higher earners within EITC eligible population should rise, while the share of lower earners should fall.

This is not what appears to be happening. Instead, we see increase in density (share) of lower earnings and slight decreases in densities of higher earnings:

Unambiguously, however, the study shows the damaging effects of audits: they tend to reduce labor force participation, offsetting the intended positive effects of the EITC program, and they tend to increase income tax non-filing, effectively pushing taxpayers into a much graver offence of income tax non-compliance.

Yet, still, we continue to insist that punitive, aggressive audit practices designed to impose maximal damage on tax codes violating taxpayers is a good thing. There has to be a more effective way to enforce the tax codes than throwing pain of audits around at random.

Ortega’s not out of the woods yet.

Boz and Francisco Toro have an op-ed in the Washington Post on The unlikely origins of Nicaragua’s epic wave of protest.
Given the intensity of the protests, what triggered them sounds surprisingly small: a modest pension reform that raised taxes between 1 and 4 percentage points and cut benefits by 5 percent.
Needless to say, that’s not the whole story. Ortega has spent more than a decade dismantling Nicaragua’s democracy. His Sandinista Party has stolen elections for the Nicaraguan congress and stacked the judiciary with cronies, and controls nearly every mayoral seat. The president reformed the constitution to grant massive concessions to a Chinese developer for a canal that will never be built plus projects that benefit Ortega’s party, allies and family. He has tried to silence dissent by buying off many of the major media outlets. The Sandinista-controlled courts allowed Ortega to run for a third term in 2016, which he won under blatantly unfair conditions.
Pension reform is something tangible everyone was able to understand - contribute a greater share of one's income and receive fewer benefits. However, the reforms took place against in an environment of decreasing legitimacy because of the Ortega family's dismantling of democracy. I mentioned the underlying causes last week as well. Nonviolent protests against the regime's actions have been taking place this weekend. Ortega's not out of the woods yet.

Are we doomed?

In a recent post, I mentioned that there is a growing body of belief that it is now too late to save ourselves from the disaster that is climate change. This little bit of news made working on a "solution" video incredibly difficult. I should have given examples of this school of thought but right on cue, The Guardian put up a story of someone who is firmly in the "We're doomed" category.

There is much to be valued in the case Mayer Hillman is trying to make. He is a social scientist and anyone looking at the sociology of climate change has more than ample reason to be alarmed. I am constantly distressed at the irrelevant efforts even gifted climate scientists engage in whenever they venture beyond shouted warnings. I shudder to think of the major heel-dragging when the financial sector is told they MUST fund the transition to the solar-powered future. I am amazed at the number of people with fancy degrees from fancy colleges who believe utter nonsense because they never really learned 7th-grade science or the difference between a big number and a very small one.

Hillman is mostly right. But there are reasons to think he maybe looking at the wrong people. There are MANY such reasons but two are most significant to me:

1) In spite of being woefully underfunded, the people who have been beavering away at making solar panels have performed a miracle. Most of the world's populations live in sunny climates. Cheap solar energy will transform their lives. Replacing the fire-based infrastructure in the more "developed" economies will be more difficult, but $.75 a watt with no fuel costs is a POWERFUL argument. Climate change is a Producer-Class problem and they have done well in this esoteric world. Energy is everything—we cannot solve any of the other environmental problems until we solve the energy dilemma. But now we have an incredibly important tool—a working replacement for fire itself.

2) I am incredibly impressed with the net-zero house my brother built for himself. Everything works and since the solar panels are on the backyard side of the roof, there is no way this solar house announces itself. The systems are virtually noiseless and there is plenty of hot water. But this outcome was far from easy. My brother brings a lot of skills to the table along with a lifetime of accumulating tools—he has LOTS of them and knows how to use and maintain them. He always reads the manuals. In short, he is far from being a run-of-the-mill DIY. He more resembles those frontier inventors like the Wright Brothers (and Thorstein Veblen's father who figured out ways to make harsh places like Minnesota habitable.) He subscribes to the first law of Peirce's Pragmatism—if something isn't working, then try something else. So out of the misinformation and boastful claims of the solar world, he was able to distill enough useful information to build his complicated house from parts he could buy online—and make it work. I am not suggesting that anyone could have done this—that is obviously NOT the case. But is demonstrates that it CAN be done and those who think the solar future will be painful and ugly are just wrong.

'We're doomed': Mayer Hillman on the climate reality no one else will dare mention

By Patrick Barkham, 26 Apr 2018

The 86-year-old social scientist says accepting the impending end of most life on Earth might be the very thing needed to help us prolong it

“We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”

Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.

From Malthus to the Millennium Bug, apocalyptic thinking has a poor track record. But when it issues from Hillman, it may be worth paying attention. Over nearly 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional wisdom. In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning rules to stop their spread. In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways – only now are some closed lines reopening. In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for houses – finally adopted as government policy in 2007. And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth.

When we meet at his converted coach house in London, his classic Dawes racer still parked hopefully in the hallway (a stroke and a triple heart bypass mean he is – currently – forbidden from cycling), Hillman is anxious we are not side-tracked by his best-known research, which challenged the supremacy of the car.

“With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport is almost irrelevant,” he says. “We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

While the focus of Hillman’s thinking for the last quarter-century has been on climate change, he is best known for his work on road safety. He spotted the damaging impact of the car on the freedoms and safety of those without one – most significantly, children – decades ago. Some of his policy prescriptions have become commonplace – such as 20mph speed limits – but we’ve failed to curb the car’s crushing of children’s liberty. In 1971, 80% of British seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own; today it’s virtually unthinkable that a seven-year-old would walk to school without an adult. As Hillman has pointed out, we’ve removed children from danger rather than removing danger from children – and filled roads with polluting cars on school runs. He calculated that escorting children took 900m adult hours in 1990, costing the economy £20bn each year. It will be even more expensive today.

Our society’s failure to comprehend the true cost of cars has informed Hillman’s view on the difficulty of combatting climate change. But he insists that I must not present his thinking on climate change as “an opinion”. The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warm by 3C by 2100. Recent revised climate modelling suggested a best estimate of 2.8C but scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.

Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. “This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical.”

Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever, says Hillman. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”

Although Hillman has not flown for more than 20 years as part of a personal commitment to reducing carbon emissions, he is now scornful of individual action which he describes as “as good as futile”. By the same logic, says Hillman, national action is also irrelevant “because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero carbon it would make almost no difference.”

Instead, says Hillman, the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

Hillman doubts that human ingenuity can find a fix and says there is no evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried. But if we adapt to a future with less – focusing on Hillman’s love and music – it might be good for us. “And who is ‘we’?” asks Hillman with a typically impish smile. “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”

A small band of artists and writers, such as Paul Kingsnorth’s Dark Mountain project, have embraced the idea that “civilisation” will soon end in environmental catastrophe but only a few scientists – usually working beyond the patronage of funding bodies, and nearing the end of their own lives – have suggested as much. Is Hillman’s view a consequence of old age, and ill health? “I was saying these sorts of things 30 years ago when I was hale and hearty,” he says.

Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.”

Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.

Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.” more