Monday, November 06, 2023

Autistic problems

The article below could be misleading. Autism occurs on a spectrum -- from completely non-verbal people to high functioning autistics who can live a fairly normal life. I am one of the latter.

And although I had a rather withdrawn childhood, I was pretty happy. I just read a lot of books instead of going out socially. And seeing I am now 80, I can't complain about my lifespan.

My autistic withdrawal was largely responsible for the failure of my four marriages and other relationships but I enjoyed all four marriages plus some good relationships. And they all ended amicably. And my three university degrees came easily.

So at 80 I find myself with several girlfriends and live in material comfort. On balance, autism has been for me a privilege. So I wanted to say all that as a counter-balance to the tale of woe below. Not all autistics are the same

Below are two pictures of me taken 60 years apart (yes, 60). Do they suggest a life of suffering?

I was in primary school when I told my mother for the first time that I wanted to die.

At age 12, tortured by tiny noises in my head, I had my first nervous breakdown.

At 16, when my father died from a long, traumatic fight with cancer, I fell into a deep depression I couldn’t escape from.

At 23, while studying overseas, I battled an unknown illness that left me dizzy, half-deaf and in constant pain. As fellow exchange students went clubbing and enjoyed German Christmas markets, I stopped eating and wandered the empty, icy streets of Berlin alone contemplating suicide.

By the time my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack and when I was 27, I’d already resigned myself to a life of suffering. Despite medication and therapy, depression and anxiety had been my constant companions.

Unbearably sensitive to the world, unable to sleep, constantly sick, and achingly lonely, I also couldn’t shake the feeling there was something else going on. Something was secretly, fundamentally “wrong” with me.

Why did I feel alone in a crowd? Why couldn’t I verbalise my innermost feelings? Why was eye contact painful, and human touch sometimes electric?

Why did I feel comforted and connected lying alone listening to the same albums on repeat but feel nothing talking to the people I knew in real life?

At 28, I was finally diagnosed with autism.

Though finding out I am autistic has made my entire life made sense, my relief at the diagnosis has been short-lived. As well as looking back and reassessing every pivotal moment in my life, I’ve begun to look forward, and the future is terrifying.

As well as experiencing higher rates of homelessness and being eight times more likely to be unemployed, autistic people have a life expectancy 20 to 36 years shorter than the general population.

Though the exact reason for this horrifying lifespan discrepancy is unknown, it’s most likely got something to do with the comorbidities autistic people often live with.

As well as facing physical and neurological comorbidities like congenital abnormalities, epilepsy, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disease, autistic people are also prone to psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder.

We’re also more far more likely to commit suicide.

In one Australian study of autistic people without intellectual disability, 66 per cent of respondents reported suicidal ideation, with 35 per cent reporting suicide plans or attempts – about five times higher than the general population.

But why can life be so unbearable for autistic people?

The sad reality is that we’re just not made for the neurotypical world. In a world built by and for neurotypical people, is it any wonder that autistic people struggle to work, house ourselves, or fight constantly against our physical and mental illnesses?

In Australia, up to 75 per cent of autistic people do not complete education beyond year 12, with a federal parliamentary inquiry finding that a “significant proportion of autistic people are reliant on their families and/or government funded services and benefits, such as income support payments”.

What governments fail to mention, however, is that these income support payments are rarely above the poverty line, with many autistics ineligible for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) let alone the DSP (Disability Support Pension) anyway.

Currently, the maximum “basic rate” DSP a single adult can receive is just $501 per week. With Australia’s poverty line at $489 per week and the median rent in Sydney now at $670 per week, it’s hardly surprising that even autistic people with access to the DSP or NDIS are struggling.

So how can we make life better for autistic people, and help change the terrifying statistics we live with?

In my opinion, it begins with our governments and communities listening to us – to what we really need to not only survive, but thrive.

In October, Australia’s first National Autism Strategy (NAS) opened for public feedback, and I’m hoping our voices will finally be heard.

Having grown up in poverty and government housing, with no idea I was autistic, I’m lucky I’ve made it out. Though it’s taken a huge toll on my mental and physical health, I’ve managed to graduate university, hold ‘good; jobs, make friends, and find secure housing (well, as secure as rentals can be). Today, even with a diagnosis and (expensive, self-funded) support, I still struggle. Mostly, however, I am doing OK.

But I’m in the minority. And like my parents who died young and the quirky, sensitive friends I’ve lost to suicide, autistic people deserve better.


Australians unlikely to give up meat, become vegetarian to help environment, study shows

A La Trobe University study asked more than 700 Facebook account users who lived in Australia about their beliefs on climate change, the impact of meat consumption on the environment, and their meat intake.

The report found respondents, who were aged between 18 and 84, believed reducing and eliminating meat intake were ineffective ways to address climate change.

They reported low willingness to engage in either action, despite participants showing increased awareness of meat-eating impacts on the environment.

"Although past research has shown that animal agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, our participants believed reducing and eliminating meat intake to be some of the least effective actions against climate change," co-author and provisional psychologist from La Trobe University Ashley Rattenbury said.

Australians are among the biggest meat-eaters in the world, a trend the study highlighted.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum reported that Australia had the world's second-highest annual meat consumption per capita in 2018, behind the United States.

Two thirds of the La Trobe University study participants said having limited options when eating out was a barrier to adopting a vegetarian diet.

"[The sentiment] 'I like eating meat' was the most common barrier," co-author Matthew Ruby, from La Trobe's School of Psychology, said.

"That maps on to many other past studies that [have found] most people eat meat because they like it.

The La Trobe research was compared to a similar study conducted in 2003 by Emma Lea and Anthony Worsley, from Deakin University, which asked hundreds of Australians for their beliefs about barriers and benefits to vegetarianism.

Only one third of Lea and Worsley's participants agreed that limited options when eating out were a barrier, despite there being far fewer vegetarian options available 20 years ago.

Other 'green' actions favoured over vegetarianism
The La Trobe University study also asked participants about their perceptions of the effectiveness of stopping or reducing meat consumption, compared to how willing they would be to engage in other actions that benefited the environment.

"Participants thought that cutting back on meat and stopping eating meat were the least effective things they could do and as such were the least willing to do those, particularly to stop eating meat," Dr Ruby said.

"They are very happy to get more energy from renewable resources, to recycle things more, to buy fewer new things — which all do have an impact.

"But considering the amount of meat that the average Aussie eats, cutting back on meat would have more of an impact than some of those in terms of emissions."

Researchers hoped the findings would help organisations and campaigners better understand attitudes around environmental dietary behaviours.


Labor’s renewable ‘investments’ are just blowing in the wind

The floundering offshore wind turbine industry received some welcome news from Australia last week with a strong hint from Jim Chalmers of more sugar on the table for renewable energy.

The promise of what the Treasurer euphemistically called “more decisive action across all levels of government” is a sign of increasing desperation as the government’s emissions-reduction timetable falls hopelessly behind.

The giant boring machine crawling beneath the Snowy Mountains is an apt metaphor for the government’s progress towards its 2030 target. Both projects were based on heroic assumptions, ­neither were adequately surveyed, and both have turned into giant sinkholes for capital that could be better spent elsewhere.

Joe Biden’s dream of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind turbines by 2030 is in tatters after a string of cancelled projects. Last week, Danish wind energy company Orsted dropped two projects that would have installed more than 200 giant turbines off the New Jersey coast. Orsted’s stock has fallen 60 per cent this year and The New York Times estimates it will have to write off billions of dollars in investments in the two ­projects. Orsted is not the only company encountering headwinds.

Britain’s target of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 can only be met with substantial subsidies and revenue guarantees. The Swedish company Vattenfall abandoned a giant offshore wind project off the Norfolk coast earlier this year, blaming a 40 per cent rise in costs. The latest auction for offshore wind licences failed to attract a single bid.

Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, BP’s head of low-carbon energy, told a Financial Times conference on Wednesday that the US offshore wind industry was “fundamentally broken” and required a “fundamental reset” to help the nascent market grow. Mounting problems included approval delays, long timelines and escalating interest rates that have caused financing costs to soar.“There’s really not a Plan B right now,” environmentalist Jeff Tittel told the New York Times. “It’s a political disaster.”

Enter Energy Minister Chris Bowen who told the Asia Pacific Offshore Wind and Green Hydrogen Summit in August that Australia had big ambitions for offshore wind. “We aren’t just building an industry from scratch,” he said. “We are building an industry in which we want to be a world leader.”

Bowen has announced five offshore wind zones in the past year, with a sixth between Bunbury and Perth expected to be formally ­announced this month.

The numbers, sprinkled like fairy dust in the minister’s press ­releases, are too silly to believe. The Hunter, Illawarra and Southern Ocean zones alone will provide enough electricity to power 16 million homes, according to the minister. In a country of 9.7 million households, that would be impressive if it were true, rather than a scribble on the back of an envelope.

We are told that the energy ­capacity of the five offshore wind zones in the eastern states will be 43GW. That means constructing 5400 turbines with a boilerplate capacity of 8MW, or one a day for the next 15 years. On a conservative installation cost assumption of $US1.3m a megawatt, that would require a capital investment of $86bn.

“We need you,” Bowen told the industry gathering. “We need your capital. We need your investment. We need your experience.

“The Australian government is deadly serious about our journey to become a renewable energy superpower.”

Reducing emissions is not as easy as Labor seemed to assume when it announced its 82 per cent renewable-energy target two years ago. The construction of onshore wind, grid-scale solar and transmission lines has fallen way behind the government’s timetable. Offshore wind, with its long lead time and significant capital costs, is an even larger challenge.

Yet building the extra generation capacity to meet the government’s 2030 target is only the beginning. The additional power that would be needed to manufacture green hydrogen on an industrial scale has barely been discussed. Yet the amount is considerable.

Plans for the proposed renewable energy hub in Gladstone, Queensland, for example, include a facility to export 4MT of green hydrogen a year. That would require 110GW of renewable energy capacity, according to a presentation by Gladstone Ports Corporation chief executive Craig Haymes at a recent engineering conference. It means an extra 10,000 wind turbines or 2500sq km of solar panels, an area the size of Fraser and Mornington Island combined.

Some attendees thought Haymes may have been trying to can the project by putting the figures on the table. Yet in a statement, the Corporation said Haymes had merely wanted to illustrate “the potential for renewable energy for Queensland and the opportunities this presents”.

Green hydrogen is at a nascent stage. It is an inefficient and hazardous way of storing electricity, and there is no serious industrial ­demand. It comes with huge capital constraints.

Yet governments in the US, Europe and Australia are investing billions of dollars of seed capital into hydrogen produced by renewable energy without a care in the world as to where the energy will come from.

In a speech to The Australian’s Economic and Social Outlook Conference last week, Chalmers flagged a “uniquely Australian” revamp of energy policy to prize an extra $225bn in capital from the hot little hands of private investors. He promised measures in the 2024-25 budget “to get private capital flowing towards our priorities effectively and efficiently”.

The hubris in this statement bodes poorly for our future prosperity. Diverting the flow of such huge sums of private capital to government pet projects, however noble the intentions, is the road to economic ruin. The investors withdrawing from renewable energy projects are responding to price signals. Private investors have a keen nose for snake oil. They are trading off costs and benefits and assessing the technical feasibility of projects with rigour this government has failed to match.

“Australia is, to be honest, a bit like the kid who forgot to study for an exam early in the process and is pulling all-night study sessions,” Bowen told the August conference. “But now we are working 24/7 to catch up.”

The tragedy is that Australia was gifted the chance to learn from the mistakes of others. Bowen’s obstinacy comes at a price.


Police investigate Islamic preacher ‘Brother Ismail’ over Hamas, jihad comments

A southwest Sydney religious centre has refused to condemn a preacher who delivered a radical sermon that called on Muslims to wage jihad, declared Australia hypocritical for labelling Hamas’s massacre of innocent Israelis as terrorism and claimed Anthony Albanese had “dirtied” a mosque with “lies”.

The comments, revealed by The Australian, are now the subject of a NSW Police investigation and have been slammed by political and Jewish leaders.

“Brother Ismail” gave a sermon at Al Madina Dawah Centre in southwest Sydney after the ­October 7 massacre in Israel, taking aim at the Prime Minister, the government, and Islamic leaders who had criticised jihadi groups, as well as calling jihad the ­“solution”.

He also called Australia “hypocrites” for describing Hamas as terrorists but forgetting about its own “dark” colonial past.

“There is no other way to ­defend Muslims … they are looking forward to joining the mujahideen,” said Brother Ismail, whose full name has not been ­disclosed.

An Al Madina Dawah Centre spokesman refused to condemn Ismail’s comments, saying ­Palestine’s Muslims “unequivocally” had “every right to defend themselves”.

“Our centre, and the entire Muslim community, stand by anything that is authenticity quoted from the Koran and Sunnah,” the spokesman said.

He said the government had “marginalised Australia’s Muslim community by aiding Israel against innocent Palestinian people”. “(There are) double standards that allows dual Australian and Israeli citizens to participate in the current conflict freely, without the Jewish community ever feeling being pushed to the corner,” the spokesman said. Ismail said in his sermon that those Hamas terrorists who committed the October 7 attack on Israel were not terrorists, but “freedom fighters”. “That hypocrite Albanese … came and dirtied one of the mosques … putting the mouth of hypocrisy and lies to Muslims, (saying) that we love and respect Muslims,” he said.

“Allah exposed his lies when he (Mr Albanese) said Israel had the right to defend itself and labelled Hamas as terrorists.”

Ismail said the nation was collectively “hypocrites” for calling Hamas terrorists while, he said, forgetting its “dark” history.

“Did you really forget what your ancestors did to the country’s Indigenous people,” he said.

“How they killed them, how they chained them like dogs … did you forget that you celebrate every year a massacre you did to the Indigenous people. “You want to come and teach us about morals?”

Ismail threatened that such moves could risk the safety of Australia’s “security system”.

“When you start labelling Muslims as terrorists, you are pushing us into a corner,” he said.

“You are creating a test for the national security system, we will not back down …”

Ismail dared the government to deport him for his comments. “If the government or ASIO like it or not, if they want to deport me or not – jihad is the solution for the Ummah (the Islamic community)…” he said.




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