"We, in the UAE, have no such word as 'impossible', it does not exist in our lexicon." - Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and UAE Prime Minister
Let’s start with the mea culpa: when I downed tools in July to work on a new book, I thought I might be out of action a month. As the record shows, it’s now November and I’m only just getting back into the swing of things. This, plainly, was because I badly underestimated the sheer amount of work that would need to go into this new project.
Mistakes were made.
In fairness, I should have known better. Expanding a story I wrote for Rolling Stone last year into a full length book that examined the Australian petroleum industry was no simple task. The pressure to deliver was only compounded by the fact I’ve owed my publisher a manuscript for about two years now and the South Australian government gave me a Fellowship to go make it happen. Thanks to the associated grant money, I suddenly had the cash to go and properly sink my teeth into what I consider to be one of the single most significant stories of our time.
Thing is, it also brought about a huge sense of personal obligation to deliver by contributing something new to this story. And boy howdy, did I make the effort to follow through. Over the course of the last year, I’ve travelled through New South Wales, up to the proposed site of the Middle Arm project in the Northern Territory, I poured over documents in the National Library and hunted down materials held in the National Archives and The British Library. I pestered experts, and waylaid colleagues (you know who you are). I ranted and raved about niche aspects of the story to strangers who looked at me like… well:
The actual writing ended up taking about three months. Compared to previous projects, this was different. Unlike previous projects where there was an artistic element to the work, this crystallised into an investigation. The subsequent process of constructing the book was complex, owing to the need to balance so many competing factors in production. The single-minded focus required to distil down so much nonsense into something coherent was exhausting.
By the end, I was a wreck. The week I delivered, I sat in the barber’s chair to deal with my crop of Mad Scientist hair. As I stared into the mirror, I was cognisant my barber — a lovely man — was attempting to hold a conversation with me, even as I struggled to finish a sentence. After two weeks of R&R, I had begun to recover from this burn out but Covid swept through the house. Before I knew it, a whole month was gone.
What matters is that the manuscript for Slick, barring one chapter, is now with my publisher and entering the earliest stages of production. Unfortunately, however, my work is not over. The final chapter remains.
In pursuit of a fitting end to this story, I’ll be burning the last of my grant money to jet off to Dubai on Monday (4 December) to attend the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) as accredited media. It’ll be a final attempt to close out the story at a critical international meeting of governments to deal with an issue which represents an existential threat to humanity.
Already, early reports suggest things are not off to a good start. COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber has, according to the BBC, been using the unique access granted by his position to broker deals on behalf of the Abu Dhabi national oil company, which he also runs. Al Jaber, for what it’s worth, only landed the gig running COP after an intense lobbying campaign led by such ignoble figures as former US Presidential Candidate John Kerry and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. These facts alone should give enough indication of where things are going.
There are also questions about what the Australian government will do when its delegation lands in Dubai, particularly with calls to plan for the phase out of fossil fuels. The Santos pavilion, placed front and centre by the Coalition at the last COP, will be gone, but there are questions about what the government actually means when it calls for “more ambition” on climate change.
If you’re interested in following along, you can find my upcoming reporting about all this in The Saturday Paper and maybe others. If there’s time, I may also put together a dispatch for Raising Hell, but don’t count on it. Odds are good there will likely be no resumption of the newsletter before the end of the year. The current plan is to bring it all back online by 16 January — and holy shit is it necessary. Have you seen what’s happening out there? You can’t turn your back on these bastards for five minutes without them torching the joint for the insurance money.
With my singular, laser-like focus on a single project for so long, my backlog of stories, projects and investigations remains. I also want to share teasers from the book and have some very fun things in mind leading up to publication.
Until then, however, I gotta run. I got a plane to catch.
The Last Couple of Months: 4 July to 31 November
Where I recap what I’ve been doing this last
fortnight so you know I’m not just using your money to stimulate the local economy …
Here’s a couple of the stray stories I’ve been working on both before and after my hiatus. Unfortunately, there are a couple more that aren’t live as of publication, but so it goes.
Before You Go (Go)…
Are you a public sector bureaucrat whose tyrannical boss is behaving badly? Have you recently come into possession of documents showing some rich guy is trying to move their ill-gotten-gains to Curacao? Did you take a low-paying job with an evil corporation registered in Delaware that is burying toxic waste under playgrounds? If your conscience is keeping you up at night, or you’d just plain like to see some wrong-doers cast into the sea, we here at Raising Hell can suggest a course of action: leak! You can securely make contact through Signal — contact me first for how. Alternatively you can send us your hard copies to: PO Box 134, Welland SA 5007
And if you’ve come this far, consider supporting me further by picking up one of my books, leaving a review or by just telling a friend about Raising Hell!