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Category Archives: Environment

Protesting Against Adani: The National Day of Action

Melbourne.

“Be careful, you might get run over.” So squawks an administrator from the local RMIT University as she dashes towards Princess Park, Melbourne. The need for this jet propulsion enthusiasm is clear: a gathering is being organised in the park, amongst other venues, in a national day of action. The bogeyman? The Indian monster mining concern, Adani.

Across some 45 venues in Australia, protestors gathered, banners flown, speeches given. “I have a two-year old daughter,” exclaimed Bondi surf life saver Simon Fosterling at the Sydney end of the protest on Saturday, “and I don’t want to have a conversation with her in 10 years time and the mine’s gone ahead and she says to me ‘dad, why didn’t you do something’.”

Adani is one of many examples how a world after democracy works, with a country’s functionaries – in this case Australia’s – no better than bureaucrats pushing the agenda of the unelected, giving funeral orations on sovereignty. Exit democracy; welcome lobbies and sweetheart deals.

When members of parliament enthusiastically extend their hands to a company which has little intention of being left to the predations of the free market, we know that the world has been inverted. Natural economic selection might be what is promoted by the free-traders, but the practice is a fiction.

Behind many a significant Australian politician is a staffer, a lobbyist, or an obscure official with some profane tie to the natural resource industry. (Think Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Adani lobbyist and Bill Shorten’s former chief of staff Cameron Milner).

In Australia, those against market intervention, coddling and backing fortunate “winners” against unfortunate losers, don different hats when to comes to certain industries. In those instances, parliamentarians become socialists for the corporation, divvying up tax dollars for those engaged in sacred pursuits, especially those renting the earth.

Be it a fawning Labor government in Queensland (water rights and royalty concessions) or the accommodating Conservative government in Canberra (a huge loan), Australian politicians have been salivating at every chance to throw money at the Indian concern. This is rampant corporate colonialism, and the natives have arms widely stretched in almost treasonous welcome.

The glowing achievement of this effort will be a near billion dollar loan for the company, footed by the Australian tax payer via the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. The money will subsidise a proposed railway line from the mine site in the Galilee Basin to Abbot Point coal port.

The effort is all the more impressive in its soiled quality given the steadfast refusal by the banking sector to fork out anything for the corporation. Adani’s efforts have so far failed to convince any major bank that their Australian coal venture is a sound one. Coal is seeing its last days, and only the dinosaurs continue worshipping at its shrine.

The impetus for some of the organisers behind the Saturday protest came from the juicy outlining of Adani’s exploits in the ABC’s Four Corners program, though Stop Adani and a range of groups have been busy documenting the company’s exploits for some years. The court record of the company, spanning employment, environmental and criminal law, is thick.

The ABC team did much in revealing the nature of Adani’s corrupt modus operandi while also receiving a disconcerting welcome at the hands of police whilst being detained in an Indian hotel. But it also revealed a stunned former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who could barely believe that Australia’s public purse was being allied to the company’s venture. “I’m very, very surprised that the Australian government, uh, for whatever reason, uh, has uh, seen it fit, uh, to all along handhold Mr Adani.”

A central fear about its proposed operations is what will happen to the environment, most notably the already imperilled Great Barrier Reef. Ravaged by coral bleaching and climate change, the reef’s fragile existence is further threatened by an Indian family’s private interests. Imagine, for instance, a repeat of the 2011 oil spill off the coast of Mumbai, where an unseaworthy vessel carrying 60,054 metric tonnes of Adani coal found its way to the bottom of the ocean.

Added to that the company’s reluctance in pursuing cleaning up operations, and the picture gets gloomier, given that 60 million tones of coal could be passing through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

The company’s operations over the years reveal a persistent track record of ecological criminality and despoliation, thinning out tourism industries, destroying beaches and poisoning rivers. To this can be added contentious and patently dangerous employment practices, some involving child labour.

To add a delightful rounder to the resume, Adani is also adept in its book keeping. Evading taxation is one of its fortes, with Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice noting how “13 of the 26 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned in the Cayman Islands.” This must surely be the more ironic, if fiendishly brilliant endeavour: to avoid paying tax while receiving tax funds.

Saturday saw the release by the Stop Adani group of polling figures by ReachTEL that 56 percent of Australians were against the mine. (This, of course, is hardly overwhelming opposition, but counts as something).

The movement against Adani has found public voice, and gathering momentum. Environmental prudence is finally finding steam, supported by apocalyptic visions of poisoned reefs and river beds. The political agents of mismanagement are, however, ready to do their worst. Mining fundamentalism remains in charge.

 

Resting Sea Shepherd: A Pause in the Whale War Saga

What a colourful run this outfit has had. Branded in 2013 by Judge Alex Kozinski of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as pirates, the Sea Shepherd crew will be hanging up their hooks while rethinking their whale protection strategy. Their long designated enemy, the Japanese whaling fleet, will be given some respite this hunting season.

A crucial point here is evolution. The environmental battle, spearheaded by the Southern Ocean Whale Defence campaign, had become more troublingly sophisticated. “Military” tactics, claimed founder Captain Paul Watson, were being used by Japan. An already slippery adversary had raised the bar.

But Watson, in his announcement, was attempting to give some lustre to the long-term efforts of the project. Against absurdly gargantuan odds, a small organisation’s resources were mustered to save whale species from imminent extinction.

“In 2005 we set out to tackle the world’s largest and most destructive whaling fleet.” It was a destruction centred on targeting 1,035 whales, including an annual quota of 50 endangered Fin whales and 50 endangered Humpbacks. The sceptics were to be found on all sides: they doomed the organisation’s mission to imminent, crestfallen failure.

The humble, worse for wear Farley Mowat was enlisted to harry Japanese whalers across the Southern Ocean. But to it were added, over time, the Steve Irwin, the Bob Barker, the Sam Simon the Brigitte Bardot and the Ocean Warrior.

For Watson and his dedicated piratical crew, the law of environmental protection often lagged, while political action and matters of enforcement proved timid. States with greater power and resources were simply not keen on ruffling Japanese feathers. Statements if disapproval hardly counted.

Japanese whalers have faced the legal music in a range of venues, though as with everything, the might of the gavel doesn’t necessary restrain the might of a state, whether directly used or incidentally employed. In November 2015, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha was fined $1 million by the Australian Federal Court for hunting minke whales within an Australian sanctuary as defined by Australian environmental law. The whaling company cared not to turn up nor subsequently cough up.

Enter, then, the organisation’s insistence on the use of “innovative direct-action tactics”, thereby putting a premium on investigation, documentation and the taking of “action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas.”

Preventive tactics, such as those employed in 2013 in the Southern Ocean, would feature attempts to prevent Japanese ships from taking refuelling sustenance from a tanker. On cue, both the crew of the Japanese vessels, and Sea Shepherd, would release material suggesting that the other had deliberately attempted to ram their ships.

On reaching the legal courts, the Sea Shepherd book of cetaceous protection tended to look more blotted. The Japanese angle in these instances was to emphasise the danger posed to crews, the potentially lethal bravado of the Sea Shepherd warriors. To do so offered a sizeable distraction from the legitimacy of the hunting activities.

“When you,” directed a stern Judge Kozinski, “ram ships, hurl glass containers of acid, drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders, launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate.”

For years, the militant nature of the organisation brought various agents, and agencies, into play. It used guerrilla tactics of gumption and daring, though it was the sort of audaciousness that divided opinion, even in the environmental ranks. Such methods may well been crude but few could dispute their effects. In 2012/3, Japanese whalers, according to Watson, returned with a meagre 10 per cent of intended kills.

The strategy of the Japanese whaling fleet, as Watson reflects, has always been shape shifting, apologetics followed by bellicosity; the fictional narrative of science overlaying arguments of culture. While still flouting legality, the number of intended whales has fallen to 333, a victory that can be, to a degree, chalked up to Sea Shepherd’s techniques of mass irritation and disruption. But to this can be added a more expansive scope embraced by their adversary: wider killing grounds, more opportunities to gather their quarry.

By 2016/7, it was clear to Watson that the Japanese were still able to net their quota, albeit at greater expense in terms of time and cost. That same hunting season also threw up a few new realities: the use by the Japanese of “military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd movements in real time by satellite”. While the group, assisted by their helicopter, did get close to capture evidence of whaling, they “could not physically close the gap.” Hence the sombre admission by Watson: “We cannot compete with their military grade technology.”

Sea Shepherd’s mission remains, as outlined on its web site, “to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.” But more than a few in the Japanese whaling fleet will be pleased at the organisation’s absence this killing season.

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed on Twitter at @bkampmark.

 

August 15, 2017: the most important day in the future

They say we can’t predict the future, but I’m damn sure we can do a lot to control the course of it.

When we look back on our own past, our country’s past, or even the world’s past … there will be a hundred signposts that we missed that could have taken us down a better path. Maybe it’s our job to now leave our own signposts. The events of tomorrow can only be guided by the events of today. If we decide to do nothing today then nothing will happen tomorrow.

Let us assume that the straight line we call ‘time’ continues on its merry way, and as we follow it to see what has happened – or not happened – we’ll be able to see that much of the events in the future are not without our influence. August 15, 2017 is a very important date in the future. Probably the most important day, as it is the first day in our future, and every event beyond this tiny 24 hours will be shaped by it.

Shall we follow that line? I’ve found the line here, at Future Timeline and a lot of what awaits us is unpleasant, yet clearly our doing. Can it be undone? Probably not, but we can control the scope of it. Anyway, let’s get moving, there’s lots to see:

2020: Glacier National Park and other regions are becoming ice-free.

2035: The Arctic is becoming ice-free in Summer.

2040: Average global temperatures have risen by two degree.

2045: Major extinctions of animal and plant life.

2050: 45% of the Amazon Rainforest has been destroyed. Air quality and visibility is declining. Bushfires have tripled in some regions. The Dead Sea is drying up.

2060: Global mass migrations of refugees. Flood barriers erected in New York.

2070: Average global temperatures have risen by 4 degrees.

2080: Polar bears face extinction. One in five lizard species are extinct. Deadly heatwaves plague Europe. Traditional agriculture is decimated.

2099: Sea levels are wreaking havoc around the world. 80% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost.

2100: Extreme drought is effecting one-third of the planet. Emperor penguins face extinction.

2190: The West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to disintegrate. This area will later be populated by over 1 million people who settle on the exposed land surface.

2200: Artificial intelligence dominates the planet.

I’ve only selected a handful of the zillions of things that await us in the future, but of those, are they really beyond our control? Can they be changed by whatever happens on August 15, 2017?

They say we can’t predict the future, but I’m damn sure we can do a lot to control the course of it.

 

Contrarian views on temperature have melted away

By Keith Antonysen

It should not have been necessary to write about increasing global temperature; but, with Trump as leader of the US there appears to have been a resurgence of contrarian opinion. Trump and his cabinet are climate change deniers; evidence does not support their views.

When considering the time span climate science has been developed over, the sophistication of equipment used to ascertain that anthropogenic climate change is occurring, the observations made, and objective factors displaying change; it is difficult to understand that contrarians exist.

A recently released mega report makes it difficult for a contrarian to  put up valid opinions in relation to temperature. The report had been put together by 450 scientists using the references of thousands of scientists from properly reviewed science research.

Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report outlined: “Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor.

Quotes from a newly republished report in New York Times had mistakenly believed they had received a leaked document:

The frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation and extreme heat events are increasing in most regions of the world and will continue to rise in the future ….  (Very high confidence).

Also,

Alaska and Arctic surface and air temperatures are rising more than twice as fast as the global average. (Very high confidence).

A very high level of confidence, means “… strong evidence (established theory, multiple sources, consistent results, well documented etc.) high consensus.” (https://assets.documentcloud.org)

Lack of temperature increase has been a fall back opinion constantly promoted by contrarians; yet, there are numerous research papers published in peer reviewed Journals which show that temperatures have constantly been increasing. There is objective evidence that temperature is increasing in the Arctic Ocean displayed by:

After 24 days at sea and a journey spanning more than 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles), the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica has set a new record for the earliest transit of the fabled Northwest Passage. (https://www.cnbc.com, 2017).

Other sources have also commented on the newly re-published report:

“A range of key climate and weather indicators show the planet is growing increasingly warm, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, said the annual State of the Climate Report.”

And:

The report confirmed prior announcements that 2016 was the hottest year since contemporary records began, marking the third year in a row that global records were broken planet-wide. Both land and sea surface temperatures set new highs. (Planet marks new highs for heat, pollutants, sea level in 2016: report).

Also:

Each year from January to June, hundreds of scientists from around the world crunch the numbers on the previous year’s climate, reviewing and cataloging everything from the humidity of the atmosphere, to the number and strength of hurricanes in every part of the ocean, to the size of the Arctic sea ice pack. (climate.gov).

Greenland is often portrayed as an area which suggests that temperatures were higher during the Medieval Warm Period than currently; but, fairly new research from Baffin Island, Canada, shows that such an opinion is not viable. The Barnes Ice Cap on Baffin Island has only been hit hard three times by high temperature over 2.5 million years.

Contrarians often state that sea level rise is not happening; but, till so far explanations for “sunny day floods” in South East USA have not been forth coming.

Contrarians can nit pick; however, they have no solid evidence to support their views, they do not have any research which can be identified as having a very high level of confidence.

Keith Antonysen is retired. He is a keen gardener, photographer, kayaker, and recreational fisher. The Vietnam War and later the flooding of Lake Pedder created an interest in politics which led to a passion for social justice issues. Currently very concerned about lack of action on climate change. Keith is not a paid up member of any political party.

The tactile experience of climate change

There can be no-one in this country by now, barring the unborn, who has not experienced, first hand, some extreme weather event. There are those in the climate change “warmist” camp who cry the ”Aha!” moment at these disasters, while those in the “denialist” cabal give a banal yawn and implore us all to “move on, there’s nothing to see, business as usual.” Meanwhile, the water rises or the sun beats down brutally! The science is in, but in public media debate, both contradict each other … (opinionated) impasse on the scientific field.

Where to from here?

Politics? Forget it! We; the people are the politics and if we cannot come to an agreement, we can hardly expect our representatives to get any guidance from this quarter, especially not in a divisive parliament. We must look elsewhere.

There is another reference point to which we can draw information. A vast congregation of untapped wealth of knowledge, dismissed up till now because of its “unqualified to verify” position. Below the elite scientific field, there are the professions which deal everyday with environmental variables and have vast experience with the subtle changes that are the “canaries in the mine” on climate shifts. Professionals who sift, plunge, mould, till, taste, sniff and feel the variables of the product they manufacture, facilitate or grow. These are the farmers, orchardists, apiarists, veterinary surgeons, livestock breeders, dedicated gardeners and sundry outdoor workers. These people, whose accrued knowledge would have fine-tuned their intuitive radar to the variables of seasonal regularity and have to make sometimes swift adjustment to counteract natural disasters are and indeed/should be used more for a weather-vane on the long-term observations of climate change. They have the stored wisdom and collated records of their experiences.

For instance:

At the entrance to my property, there are three underground tanks of average 3mx3mx3mdeep. There are two others up near the house. If I did a 360deg turn, I could point out at least another half dozen on other properties in the near vicinit … all dug by hand (ie: pick and crowbar and shovel by the pioneers … and through a solid strata of “calcrete” most prevalent in this Mallee country. It is called calcrete for a good reason, the first part of the word denotes the calcium part and the second gives clue to the concrete part … bloody solid stuff … no-one would even start to dig that many tanks and line them with home-burnt lime mortar and do the run-in/run-off swales without some confidence that they would fill regularly. No way! The work would be too back-breaking!

Those tanks are in the same location as when they dug them (obviously!), the swales are still in the same location, the “lay of the land” is still the same … but according to the lady (of the original pioneer German family) they have never filled for forty years … and I have only seen them fill suddenly once in the eleven years we have been here … and that was a cloudburst of gigantic proportions – quite unusual for these dry parts. So what has changed? Only one thing; the rainfall. The Goyder Line has shifted further west and south from here. The climate has changed.

Many multi-generation cropping/animal farmers have kept “paddock records” over the generations. They could tell a story. Orchardists too have their cropping records, vets have knowledge of animal behaviour fluctuations … interrupted breeding cycles due to weather variables etc. Apiarists, particularly, have a keen sense of “knowing” the behaviour of their ‘wards’. Even the humble home-gardener will relate their observations on the strangeness of certain plants over the last several decades! I can recall one “expert” Italian gardener shaking his head in disbelief a number of years ago at the strange event that “this is the first time in my life that I have not been able to sprout my own tomato seedlings as usual.” And I ask; If an Italian cannot grow a tomato?! (please, no racist slur – I am half Italian – and I grow tomatoes!).

The local GP is in a position to observe patterns in unusual viral or fungal infections, these tell of the “migration routes” of seasonal illnesses and can inform what is “in the air” at any one particular time of year.

As an avowed “warmist” who lives within, literally, a stones’ throw of the Goyder Line, I can see some unusual changes in the mallee in regards to flora/fauna cycles. The mallee being a “frozen in time” bio-forest with an exacting evolution to suit an exacting country and climate, any sudden changes are quite noticeable. Here is where we could use the expert opinions of fauna and flora observers to explain the reason for such variables in this and other areas of interest.

These are people and situations that we can all relate to. The scientists of both sides of the argument have reached populist deadlock, perhaps it is time to start to listen to our own collective “elders” in our own community, after all, it is us, now, who are affected, it is us, now, who must act if there is something to be done. We do not need anymore catch-cries from the rabble, but let us listen carefully to those with tactile experience in a variety of fields. I am certain there are those in the fields mentioned who read and listen with head-shaking disbelief to the ravings of some commentators and could, with the help of their own collected statistics enlighten a lot of us to the reality of climate variables that have become definite shifts to a precarious precipice.

The window of life

Climate change is one of the hottest topics (pardon the pun) when it comes to discussion on this site but we haven’t published many new climate articles recently so readers, justifiably, have sought out the older articles to continue the exchange of ideas and opinions.

A new article is clearly overdue.

And I have just the thing!

Well, it’s not exactly new. It’s a piece I wrote many years ago for the now defunct Café Whispers, but for want of a ‘new’ article here on climate change … I’ve taken the easy option. Nonetheless, it is just as pertinent today as it was at the time of writing.

I wrote:

Life, whether it be teeming in the universe or just the rarest of miracles, has either way been lucky to find a home on our fertile planet; that small, insignificant rock (in galactic terms) that just happens to be sitting in the right place of our solar system for life to survive.

It’s quite nice here. Apart from the extremities it’s not too hot, not too cold. If we keep it like that then I’m sure our stay here won’t be tenuous.

But just how lucky are we mortal types to have found this nice little spot to populate?

Immeasurably lucky, actually. Paradises like planet Earth are as accidental as the creation of life itself. It is like an oasis amid a burning, scorching desert devoid of surrounding life.

The galactic desert that surrounds us does not welcome life. Even our own sun, without which our planet would be sterile and without life, is miraculously at a safe distance so that life can prevail.

It is worth considering how fortunate we are to be able to exist on this small rock.

The center of the sun is a ‘mere’ 14.5 million degrees Celsius. A piece of it the size of a pinhead would generate enough heat to kill a person from 150 million kilometres away. How wonderful that the outer layers of the sun are much ‘cooler’, thus enabling life to exist on this planet. The coldest places in our solar system can be found at its edges where it is minus 273 degrees. How wonderful that our planet isn’t any further, or closer, to the sun.

Under what temperature extremes could human life survive? I’m guessing somewhere from a chilly minus 40 to a blistering 60. In planet Earth the gods have offered us a very small window of life.

Why then, are we so determined to damage it?

Look at the sludge that this planet has become. Look at the filth in the air, in the water and the earth of western countries and developing countries. It’s beyond belief. We see industries which are happy to choke the land, waterways and air for the sake of more profits.

The planet, obviously, isn’t important any more. Our term here is considered a right, not a privilege.

As it is it is a hostile planet: no-one gets off alive, but it’s still the best home we have.

What was once the solar system’s paradise, is now its rubbish dump. If we keep trashing it, destroying it, polluting it, playing with its climate … how long before we receive our eviction notice? How long before the window of life closes on us?

 

Book Review: Surviving the 21st Century

Surviving the 21st Century Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them is Julian Cribb’s latest book. I was halfway through Chapter Two when I thought, “This book should be mandatory reading for every politician around the globe.” Everyone, politician or not, can benefit and learn from the insights and information Cribb shares with us.

Cribb takes complex global issues and distills them into a crystal clear picture of where we currently stand. Surviving the 21st Century will not be as easy as our leaders would have us believe. After my thought of required reading for politicians, I read the dustjacket reviews. I know, I know – odd timing, convention suggests I should have read them first, but I prefer to make up my own mind.

One of the dustjacket reviews by Professor Clive Hamilton, author of Requiem for a Species and Earthmasters:

With astonishing breadth of knowledge and acute observational skills, Julian Cribb has given us a book that is a kind of report on the state of life on the planet. At the centre of life on earth, he tells us, is the creature known as homo sapiens – self-deceiver, degrader, destroyer, anything it seems but sapiens. And yet, if we peer through the gloom is that a spark we can just make out, the spark of wisdom?

Jenny Goldie, past president of Sustainable Population Australia writes, “This is an important book. Few others deal with so many confronting problems in an integrated way.” The added emphasis is mine. This is what I see as the greatest value of this book to any reader: scientist, politician, educator or layperson. Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas says, “… absolutely essential reading for all politicians and policy makers, voters and young people everywhere. … Grandparents should read the book with particular care.”

Ten Greatest Threats

Cribb takes the ten greatest threats to human existence and suggests we do “the very thing we humans have always done best: understand and find co-operative solutions to life-threatening challenges”. He doesn’t just describe the threats, he offers solutions.

Cribb got me in the first chapter, Homo suilaudans. The Self-Worshipper. He describes how we ended up with the sapiens tag simply so the father of taxonomy could avoid a massive dispute (or possibly worse, given the era) with the religious fanaticism of his time. Heaven help anyone who suggested humans were not some form of divine special creation. Cribb asks the question, did this actually set a terrible trap for humans? Perhaps it did. “A name is who you are.” Or who you think you are, or want to be. As this book so clearly describes, we are not wise. Not at all.

A Topsoil Fact

Some of the facts Cribb covers I was already aware of. But I have learnt much. One learning that I found particularly interesting involves topsoil. Cribb relates how today’s crop varieties are developed to grow in modern, degraded soils. Such crops are lower in micronutrients and higher in carbohydrates and this situation is a major driver of the global obesity pandemic and other diet related diseases. I look at such things from a personal perspective – is this likely to be contributing to the ever increasing and as yet unexplained incidence of auto-immune conditions? I share this to illustrate we are ALL impacted, all readers will find relevance. All of the threats are relevant to all of us – it is our survival at stake.

The water situation globally is horrifying. Deforestation. Population growth. Bringing all these problems together is what Cribb does so well. Big problems, readily solved. If we use some wisdom.

I don’t want to share spoilers – this book is one each reader needs to discover at their own pace. I could not read this book in one session. It is damn scary. It is also immensely encouraging because while the facts are disastrous, Cribb clearly shows there are ways we can get through this. Ways to ensure surviving the 21st century.

If we stop being Homo delusus.

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.” – Voltaire (Surviving the 21st Century, p 171)

Like, you know, “clean coal”.

Fund Science

One conclusion I came to is the current trend of many in power ignoring science, of slashing funding for scientific endeavour, has to stop. That, my friends, is up to us, the voters.

I’ve never demonstrated or marched – been tempted a few times over the years, but never did. On Saturday, April 22, I marched. For science. I’m interested in surviving. I want my grandchildren to survive. I publish this review on ANZAC Day. My father fought in World War II – he didn’t fight so we could become extinct – at our own hands.

March for Science

“Please let me know the truth about Adani”

In supporting the Adani coal mine has Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk contradicted her pre-election promises to defend the Great Barrier Reef and promote ecologically sustainable development? AIMN reader Miriam English puts this to the Premier in this letter.

Dear Annastacia,

I was filled with great hope and happiness when you and your government were elected here in Queensland, deposing the callous and autocratic Newman government, however I’ve since become worried about what is happening to you and your government. Many friends who are firm Labor supporters attempt to quell my fears, saying that you have good and sensible reasons for what you’re doing, though their explanations don’t really sound very plausible to me.

Please, please let me know the truth. I’d like to support you, but am increasingly concerned that you may have abandoned your voters.

Can you please let me know why you support the Adani coal mine despite all the evidence against it?

Jobs. Even Adani’s own accountants admit he lied that it would provide many jobs, as it would be one of the most heavily automated mines in the world. It won’t provide the 10,000 jobs he was fond of saying. It will be unlikely to provide more than a few dozen ongoing jobs. Balanced against the Barrier Reef and all the hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect long term jobs it provides, the mine seems a bad choice. And that’s not to mention all the countless jobs and long term potential income to Queensland if we fostered growth in the booming renewable energy fields rather than the collapsing market for coal.

Money. Adani has a very bad record of gaming the system and of outright corruption. Queensland won’t see tax income from the coal mine. He will undervalue what it mines, ship it through tax haven countries, jacking its value up, then to India where he will sell it at vast profit, with Australia seeing none of that money. The billion dollars the federal government wants to give him will likely go straight to the Caymans. I find it difficult to believe we’ll see a cent of that invested here. Australia, and more importantly, Queensland, will lose enormous amounts of money from this mine. Compare that with the Great Barrier Reef which reliably generates billions of dollars via tourism, being one of the greatest wonders of the world. And let’s not forget the flow of money from technological and medicinal developments that are constantly coming out of rich ecosystems, such as the Reef. Also, worldwide, far more money was invested last year in renewable energy than in coal. Renewable energy is now a booming industry. Every dollar spent on coal is a dollar not spent in tomorrow’s renewable energy bonanza.

Market. The coal market has collapsed and continues to free-fall all around the world. China and India have stopped more than 100 coal projects. USA has no new coal-fired power stations intended and is gradually decommissioning all their old ones. Scotland has now gone completely coal-free. Beijing has just this past weekend closed the last of its coal-fired power plants. China’s peak coal use was in 2013 and is falling rapidly. India has declared it will end all coal imports in a couple of years. The world’s largest coal companies have been going broke as the demand for coal falls through the floor. Now is the very worst time to open a new coal mine. No financial group wants to invest in it — it’s why Adani turned to the Australian government for handouts. In contrast, the worldwide market for renewable energy is booming. Queensland is uniquely positioned to cash in on that… if our government removes the roadblocks. We could be making billions from renewable energy technology instead of wasting billions on coal.

Law. The law on Aboriginal Land Rights states that their land can’t be stolen from them. They must agree to any use of their land. They don’t agree to the Adani mine. That should be the end of it. So… we steal it anyway? The transparently illegal swindle of changing the law to make the theft superficially “legal” doesn’t actually make it right or moral. It is still illegal under international law and violates UN treaties we’ve signed. How can anybody have respect for a government that doesn’t respect its own laws? How can anybody have respect for laws so easily perverted?

Image from abc.net.au. Photo by Leonie Mellor

Environment. Adani has a terrible record of environmental vandalism, even flouting local laws and bribing local officials rather than fixing such damage. He is the last person to be allowed anywhere near Australia’s hyper-delicate ecosystems.

Climate. We would have no hope of meeting our CO2 emissions limits if the Adani mine goes ahead. Climate change is a genuine problem for all of the world, but especially for Australia with our proneness to drought and heatwaves. 97% of climate scientists around the world agree on the danger of global climate destabilisation. If you asked 100 doctors for diagnosis of a pain and 97 diagnosed you with early stage cancer, but 3 said you’re fine and to ignore it, who would you believe? If you believed the 3, how about after you find they’re funded by organ harvesting companies? Coal and climate change are killing the Reef. The recent collapse of coal around the world is the first good news we’ve had on climate change for a long time. It means we just might be able to stabilise temperatures, and actually work toward reducing them again. If the Adani mine goes ahead that is a threat to that. If instead we encourage renewable energy we can create jobs, make money, improve our image, and meet our emissions obligations. We might even be able to save some of the Reef.

Energy. Coal is a dirty, polluting energy source. Even if it didn’t have so many drawbacks, it is simply more expensive now than wind power and solar thermal energy. Solar photovoltaics now rivals coal in cost, and as its efficiency and price trend continues, will soon be more profitable yet less costly than coal. Queensland has far more sunshine available than most places around the world. Geothermal “hot rocks” are also available to Queensland for similar cost as coal. It seems to be irrational to continue to subsidise a dirty, expensive energy source when we have such easy availability of sun and wind. People might suggest that coal gives baseload electricity, but so do solar thermal power stations — they give power 24/7. Smart grids, like the Northern European countries have built also allow wind to provide baseload power. Most Australians live along the coast, which is where wind power is most predictable, with the temperature differential between land and water causing wind to blow from the water onto land during the day and land to water during the night. Solar photovoltaics electricity can also be evened out using batteries.

I hope you can calm my fears and explain your reasons for apparently contradicting your pre-election promises to defend the Reef, promote ecologically sustainable development, and limit global warming.

Best wishes,

Miriam English

There are two wolves and they’re always fighting.
One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope.
Which wolf wins?
Whichever one you feed.
— Casey in Brad Bird’s movie “Tomorrowland”

Would anybody else like to contact the Annastacia Palaszczuk about their similar concerns? You can reach her via her Contact the Premier page here).

Let’s talk about Energy subsidies

By Peter McCarthy

On March 13  2017, there was an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review entitled Wind and Solar can only win on a tilted playing field. Not surprisingly, penned by Brendan Pearson, the chief exec of the troubled Minerals Council of Australia.

Knowing the track record of trickiness from the Minerals Council, I thought it would be interesting to see what a little background check might reveal. I must admit to some trepidation because, when politics is involved, you have to be careful about the sources you use, but as it turned out, by using the same sources as Mr Pearson, International Energy Agency, the picture is far more interesting.

As it turns out the figure quoted is just about right, but what Brendan failed to mention is that subsidies for the Fossil Fuel industry are 4 times the size of those for renewables. Ouch.

Let’s look at the Global figures for 2014 so we get a fair comparison:

  • Fossil Fuels $550 billion a year and climbing.
  • Renewables $120 billion and climbing too, but remember Renewables is gaining market share so it is to be expected.

Currently Renewables are meeting an impressive 30% of the Energy market just with current technologies and new developments like Reposit are heading towards covering peak demand issues. It’s just a matter of time before the basket of technologies cover the market. Maybe before they finally get “Clean” coal off the ground.

To me, those figures look about even given the percentage of the Energy market both serve. That alone makes a strong case for Renewables because on current figures, the attempt to meet 2DS (limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees scenario) is predicted to fail when we hit 3.6 degrees. A horrifying figure almost double the target. (World Energy Outlook figures). We simply can’t afford to generate any carbon without serious damage to the climate.

Not feeling nervous yet?

Here is the killer punch. The US EPA did an in depth study of the cost that fossil fuel pollution has on the health of Americans. Bear in mind that chaps like Brendan Pearson give a wide berth to any consideration of the health impacts of his product.

On US figures, the fossil fuel industry gets a free pass to the tune of 14 to 35 cents per kilowatt hour which is actually higher than the unit price in some areas. To put that in perspective that’s a full 6% of US GDP. Compare that to the official subsidy of about 0.7% of GDP and you start to see how serious that oversight is.

Interestingly, this is not an issue with Renewables with the possible exception of manufacturing plants depending on what chemicals may end up being used. It will certainly be many orders of magnitude less than the problems caused by fossil fuels where everyone cops a serve.

Even leaving aside the health impacts, the case for Renewables is a strong one and unfortunately for Mr Pearson, the Industry is well aware of the problems facing his product. He may be able to influence a few pollies with things like “clean” coal, but it’s a non-starter with Energy companies and Financiers. Unless the taxpayer foots the massive bill, the sums just don’t add up. Even if a political party starts funding it via the taxpayers, at best it will only last until the next Election and then the Voters will deal with the incumbents.

Our Pollies get a 3 year term, the Industry needs about 20 years to turn a profit. Unless you can buy both sides of the political spectrum, you have 3 years to break even. No wonder only a few short sighted pollies are up for it.

This article was originally published on 1petermcc’s Blog.

 

Climate change, power and coal

You may have noticed it’s been a bit hot lately. In fact, if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month. Let’s just read that again so it really sinks in – if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month.

The UK Government (amongst a lot of other experts in the field) states that Climate Change is happening, noting that

13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century and in the last 30 years each decade has been hotter than the previous one. This change in temperature hasn’t been the same everywhere; the increase has been greater over land than over the oceans and has been particularly fast in the Arctic.

It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the UK Government is by nature conservative, as the Conservative Party is the ruling party at present. The same UK Government website goes on to list a number of detrimental effects of life (as they know it) changing in the UK as a result of climate change.

Regardless of the date you choose to start to measure from, and the scale of the graph you choose to draw, there is an upward line going to the right. Great if you’re looking at a company’s sales or share price, not so good if you are looking at the health of the world we want to leave for our descendants.

A number of scientists explain climate change as similar to pouring water into a bath. There is a lot of water in the bath and the water level is continually moving upwards. Dependent on where the spout you are using to pump water into the bath is located, there is a reasonable chance that the waves created by the water entering the bath will appear to reduce the height of the water in the bath on a momentary basis at points along the waveform; your brain will see though that the level is still rising. Climate change is where we are continually pumping chemicals into the atmosphere, which changes the way heat is dissipated. Let’s look at the UK Government’s website again:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere create a ‘greenhouse effect’, trapping the Sun’s energy and causing the Earth, and in particular the oceans, to warm. Heating of the oceans accounts for over nine tenths of the trapped energy. Scientists have known about this greenhouse effect since the 19th Century.

The higher the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. Recent climate change is happening largely as a result of this warming, with smaller contributions from natural influences like variations in the Sun’s output.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since before the industrial revolution. Other greenhouse gases have increased by similarly large amounts. All the evidence shows that this increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity. The increase is mainly caused by:

  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals

About 43% of the carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. Deforestation reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide and releases the carbon contained in those trees.

So what does our ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ government do when South Australia again suffers electricity shortages? It claims that the fault for the outages is solely due to the state’s high (by Australian standards) use of renewable generation capacity. To emphasise the fact, Treasurer Morrison acts like a 5 year old taking his new toy to show and tell by bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.

Turnbull started this crusade when the entire South Australia power supply went down in September 2016. Turnbull claimed that the network was not secure:

Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

“If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power,” he told reporters in Launceston.

“You want to know that the energy is secure.”

While Energy Minister Frydenberg did acknowledge that the September 2016 power failure was caused by a significant weather event, ‘home town hero’ Senator Xenophon claimed that South Australia had become the laughing stock of the nation.

The reality is that the weather caused significant damage to not only the interconnector from Victoria and the national grid, it also caused significant damage to high voltage towers that took power from the base load generation equipment in South Australia around the state, as well as local cables that feed power into people homes. To make it even better, Turnbull knew that the September 2016 blackout had nothing to do with renewable energy.

Turnbull said: “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.”

However, Turnbull also linked the blackout to South Australia’s use of renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.

He said state governments needed to stop the “political gamesmanship” that had seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables accounted for only 4.5% of its current energy mix.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”

Seems that the facts weren’t allowed to spoil a good story, as this event preceded President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s invention of the ‘alternative facts’ term by some months.

Fast forward to 8 February 2017 and 40,000 South Australians underwent the torture, euphemistically called ‘load shedding’ – where the electricity supply doesn’t meet the demand. Intelligent Energy Systems have suppled three graphs which explain the problem. The ‘National’ electricity grid (which doesn’t operate in the NT or WA) works on an economic free market system. The economic theory being that if the demand is there, various operators of the (generally) privatised power stations will bid for the ability to supply power. On 9 February, according to the ABC:

South Australian Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for choosing not to turn on the second unit at Pelican Point on Wednesday.

“AEMO admitted that they got their demand forecast wrong in SA, and when they realised that, it was easier for them to load shed customers than turn new generators on,” he said.

But Mr Koutsantonis also revealed that three generators were out of action due to technical issues.

“There were communication problems on Eyre Peninsula, which meant 75 megawatts of Port Lincoln baseload generation could not be dispatched into the system,” he said.

Yes, you read it right, the market regulator chose to ‘load shed’ rather than ask a South Australian power generator to commence generation. In essence, the market regulator chose to withdraw power from 40,000 people rather than generate more power! And Turnbull claims it is because South Australia uses too many renewable energy sources. Isn’t the Liberal Party the party of small business – don’t they understand how the free market works? If they did (and actually wanted to ‘fix’ the problem), surely they would be asking the market regulator A(ustralian) E(nergy) M(arket) O(perator) why it is not allowing the market to operate?

Maybe there is an ulterior motive here. Remember Treasurer Morrison passing a lump of coal around Parliament a couple of weeks ago? Remember Turnbull’s ‘stirring’ speech accusing Opposition Leader Shorten’s apparent desire to live in a waterfront mansion? Remember the brouhaha surrounding the shortage of electricity in a state that does successfully generate a fair proportion of its electricity need from renewables? Perhaps, according to Paula Matthewson, writing on The New Daily’s website they are all related.

Onlookers may have been puzzled to see the coal passed along the government’s frontbench and then among its backbenchers (in direct contravention of the parliamentary rule against the use of props), but the purpose of the Treasurer’s behaviour was clear.

Mr Morrison set out to prove to agitating Liberal conservatives that, if there’s going to be a change of Liberal leader, he is the man to take the fight to Labor on totemic conservative issues such as coal-based electricity.

There are a few points to note here. Apparently Queensland has larger spikes in demand for power than South Australia does. Surely, if there is a reason to question how individual states manage the generation of power, all eyes should be looking at Queensland!

The vast majority of Queensland’s energy is supplied by coal and gas. In 2015, Queensland had just 4% of its supply coming from renewables, compared to South Australia, which had 41%.

“Clearly these figures show that other dynamics like market concentration and gas prices are contributing to these price spikes and volatility, not the penetration of renewable energy,” McConnell [Dylan McConnell from the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne] said.

While the events in Queensland have not raised an eyebrow, the smaller volatility in South Australia last year hit the front page of newspapers around the country, with politicians and rightwing commentators blaming the state’s reliance on renewable energy, calling for a halt to renewable energy expansion.

The push against renewables was supported by the coal lobby too, with the Minerals Council of Australia saying the reliance on renewables “exposed families and businesses to higher prices, supply instability and greater reliance on imported power”.

The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening and carbon pollution reduction processes don’t work! Well, no it doesn’t actually:

Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard’s Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a “carbon tax” and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.

And finally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated:

“Clean coal” plants that the Turnbull government has flagged could get clean energy subsidies, are more expensive than solar, wind and gas-fired power and would lead to higher electricity price rises, analysts have warned.

Support for what the government calls “clean coal” stations – ultra-supercritical plants, which still emit greenhouse gas – would also be at odds with a 2015 OECD agreement under which Australia agreed not to fund any type of coal power in developing countries if cleaner options were available.

 

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Abrupt Climate Change: there’s strength in the science

By Keith Antonysen

Various contrarian opinions are based on the fundamental premise of anthropogenic climate change in relation to how light interacts with radiated infrared. Seth Miller, a scientist, provides some history; and then, criteria in relation to how science matters can be rationally evaluated (1). Seth Miller uses 9 criteria to show the strength of the science in relation to the greenhouse impact of carbon dioxide (2).

Experimentation has provided credence to the notion of CO2 and how it interacts with radiated infrared, Seth Miller’s article discusses computer experimentation (3); while, a number of physical experiments have also taken place beginning with Eunice Foote (4).

Scientists when they write up their research do so for the benefit of their peers, not for lay people who have no expertise.

It is very clear that lay persons often misinterpret science, for any credible argument to be made the criteria provided by Seth Miller need to be met (5).

The Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) has stated: “Our window of time to act on climate may be shrinking even faster than previously thought” (6). The MCC has come to the conclusion that with the most pessimistic assessment that carbon emissions will extend temperature up to 1.5C over pre-Industrial levels within a year (7). The optimistic view expressed by the MCC is that it will take  emissions 4 years before the 1.5C mark is reached (8).

In relation to 2C above pre-Industrial levels the MCC indicates that the most pessimistic view is that it will take 9 years to reach the mark (9). The more optimistic view is that it will take 23 years to reach 2C above pre-Industrial levels (10).

Anton Vaks et al studied cave structure in permafrost areas, areas where permafrost has been intermittent; as well as, caves where permafrost has not been evident (11, 12). Their research found that 1.5C above pre-Industrial levels was a temperature when permafrost began to thaw (13).

The issue being that permafrost areas contain huge amounts of carbon and methane.

A recent study in relation to soils has found that soils are expelling CO2 at quite an alarming rate (14, 15).

Quote:

“Here we present a comprehensive analysis of warming-induced changes in soil carbon stocks by assembling data from 49 field experiments located across North America, Europe and Asia. We find that the effects of warming are contingent on the size of the initial soil carbon stock, with considerable losses occurring in high-latitude areas.”16

Also:

“Under the conservative assumption that the response of soil carbon to warming occurs within a year, a business-as-usual climate scenario would drive the loss of 55 ± 50 petagrams of carbon from the upper soil horizons by 2050” (17).

The Washington Post explains that as soils become warmer microbes increase their rate of respiration leading to an increase in methane and CO2 (18).

The N-ICE2015 Research Team ventured into the Arctic to overwinter from January till June 2015 on the Ice Breaker Lance (19). They were able to show how ice structure is at risk of being melted during storms; storms create upwelling of denser warmer waters which then impacts on sea ice (20).

Quote:

“Atlantic water (~+3.0°C) that flows into the Arctic Ocean west of Svalbard is relatively heavy and it sinks down to below the fresher and colder Arctic water. If left alone, it ends up at 70 m depth – where it melts little ice! But it isn’t left alone.

Storms over open water mix the ocean and bring the warm Atlantic water to the surface. The same storms set the ice adrift, which also causes mixing. Storms in the Arctic can be fierce….” (21).

Satellite technology is able to display ocean level rise, and temperature of oceans (22). The so-called “hiatus” did not occur, oceans were taking in temperature while surface temperatures were not increasing as quickly as they had previously (23).

For climate change contrarians to have any real arguments, they need to show how the 9 criteria outlined by Seth Miller are met.

The Arctic influences climate of the Northern Hemisphere particularly. Upwelling of warm waters off Antarctica is causing melting of ice sheets from below has been noted. Oceans comprise about 70% of the Earths surface; they store huge amounts  of energy. The prospect of stopping temperature increasing over 2C above pre-Industrial times is almost impossible without huge changes being made. Coal must stay in the ground, gas needs to be phased out, and transport needs to be changed to electric power. Currently politicians are fiddling at the edges, when strong policies are needed.

References:

(1) https://extranewsfeed.com/what-climate-skeptics-taught-me-about-global-warming-5c408dc51d32#.ctb2gbxyl

(2) ibid

(3) ibid

(4) http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/09/02/the-woman-who-identified-the-greenhouse-effect-years-before-tyndall/

(5) https://extranewsfeed.com/what-climate-skeptics-taught-me-about-global-warming-5c408dc51d32#.ctb2gbxyl

(6) http://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/01/10/ticking-carbon-clock-warns-we-have-one-year-avert-climate-catastrophe

(7) ibid

(8) ibid

(9) ibid

(10) ibid

(11) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130619101521.htm

(12) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N71YvYqJWQc

(13) ibid

(14) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/30/the-ground-beneath-our-feet-is-poised-to-make-global-warming-much-worse-scientists-find/?utm_term=.efe2ee660e8c 

(15) http://www.nature.com/articles/nature20150.epdf?referrer_access_token=BmdEW8DcS0_ks0i61YBpCNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0Mik0TTmks8PdSiUZYeb2RTaphlX9NVLOupuFx1YhgjDvGGeCLPerMk5rv-tyJz7fQBSvInaTGQGDbQKyl8dEQ3ryikLEhZzteF3zYBsc5xuxW-J1mRmwTlD1g7oRmO-wYU13uaJWxiX_JYo73-QOiw-xbfizWVmxTl7WobjHv0aA3HuaRfCjjDo7iAXcmTnopHAVNo1IUS6t-uks2yPD8Njji9_kt4Cuq_XDe05iWGzAG2Opek86KQOQ56qcKDZ2dz-axysuRpK0HrijYzRjCMBhUKZpSj6yvsSA3vHISGvLc_9lwCgYE7xpjDspdEFU_afQfXEtjGYp3Rj-QzZz3X&tracking_referrer=www.washingtonpost.com

(16) ibid

(17) ibid

(18) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/30/the-ground-beneath-our-feet-is-poised-to-make-global-warming-much-worse-scientists-find/?utm_term=.efe2ee660e8c

(19) http://www.framsenteret.no/n-ice2015-following-sea-ice-from-dark-winter-to-sunny-spring.5852100-373134.html#.WIfFXLGr2YX

(20) ibid

(21) ibid

(22) https://youtu.be/aDB7QBjxoW8

(23) ibid

About the author: Keith Antonysen is retired. He is a keen gardener, photographer, and recreational fisher. The Vietnam War and later the flooding of Lake Pedder created an interest in politics which led to a passion for social justice issues. Currently very concerned about lack of action on climate change. Not a paid up member of any political party.

 

The Australian Government’s planned phase out of unleaded petrol is on the nose

By Dr Anthony Horton

Earlier this week, the Australian Federal Government announced a plan to phase out unleaded petrol within 2 years. The basis of this plan is unleaded fuel sold in Australia has the highest sulphur concentration of 35 OECD countries – according to the current Australian fuel quality standards, the sulphur concentration of unleaded fuel is 500 parts per million (ppm). As part of their announcement, the Government launched two Regulations and a discussion paper covering fuel quality, vehicle efficiency and vehicle emissions in Australia. Having reviewed these documents, the omission of the health impacts of benzene emissions from petrol leaves me to conclude that the Government’s planned phase out of unleaded petrol is a bit on the nose.

In the Regulations and discussion paper there is a clear focus on the economic impact(s) of increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in Australia and of tightening Australia’s fuel quality standards. Economic impact(s) are certainly an important consideration – cost benefit analysis has been part of standard business operations for decades. Drilling down into the economic positions presented in these documents however, I find it particularly interesting that the economic impact in terms of health outcomes is discussed in terms of particles, oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Sulfur (SOx) and ground level ozone. This is interesting because while particles, NO2 and SO2 and ozone are important emissions from vehicles, a thorough economic assessment of the health outcomes should also include benzene. Benzene has replaced lead in petrol and is an aromatic compound – one of the first chemicals you may smell when filling up your petrol tank.

As someone who has worked in air pollution monitoring and management for more than 15 years and completed a PhD examining the excess lifetime leukaemia risk of exposure to benzene in petrol, I find the omission of benzene from the health outcome discussion disappointing. Like many chemicals, benzene has acute and chronic exposure symptoms and has been known to be carcinogenic (extremely harmful to humans) since the 19th century. The acute (short term) exposure health effects range from dizziness and euphoria to vomiting and loss of consciousness. The chronic (long term) exposure heath effect is leukaemia – based on exposure to very high concentrations over many years in occupational settings. As a result of the link between occupational exposure to benzene and leukemia, benzene has been phased out in many industries in which it was used (e.g. chemical manufacture).

As part of my PhD I conducted a study of personal exposure to benzene in petrol and recruited participants who were not exposed to benzene as a result of their occupation or from smoking. In addition to monitoring participants’ personal exposure, I monitored benzene concentrations at petrol bowsers, along freeways and in multi-storey carparks. Suffice it to say the highest concentrations were found at the bowsers which may surprise some people given that refuelling may only take 1 minute or so (depending on the capacity of the fuel tank). I suspect that many people fill up their vehicle fuel tank without giving much thought to the emissions that are around them.

The last stage of my research was a risk assessment which sought to determine what added cancer risk refuelling once per week posed over a lifetime. I used a World Health Organisation (WHO) risk assessment methodology which based the risk on a lifetime of 70 years. I found that the excess lifetime risk of refuelling once per week was approximately double that of commuting in Perth. Throughout most of North America and Europe, laws have existed for decades which mandate equipment being attached to the bowser hose that is essentially a vacuum. When you insert the nozzle from the bowser into your vehicle fuel tank, the vacuum forms a seal around the nozzle and tank so that your exposure is greatly minimised (if there is any exposure at all). To date, only one Australian state (New South Wales) has introduced a rollout of vapour recovery at petrol bowsers.

A previous article I wrote last year ‘Australian Government review of vehicle emissions has a now familiar aroma of disappointment’ discussed the Federal Government’s announcement of a working group charged with the responsibility of examining the implementation of Euro 6 vehicle emission standards for light duty vehicles (cars and vans), fuel quality standards, fuel efficiency measures for light duty vehicles (focusing on CO2) and vehicle emissions testing. In my article I expressed concern that the Government was ignoring the exposure of petrol station customers to benzene at the point of sale and in this week’s announcement regarding the planned phase out of unleaded petrol, it appears that the Federal Government has again missed an opportunity to reduce air pollution emissions and improve the health outcomes of Australian motorists by failing to acknowledge that any review and discussion of fuel quality and vehicle emissions in Australia must include benzene.

About the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Protecting the Sacred

By R D Wood

At present many of our best natural features are treated as a resource rather than the precious environment they really are. That is to say, sites that are sacred are not seen as such. If one considers current regulation surrounding Indigenous sacred sites in Western Australia one notices the paucity of the system.[1] If a site is declared sacred it enters a registry. This is determined through a bureaucratic process involving traditional custodians. Whether the site is worthwhile to begin with must come from Indigenous people themselves even as the government can veto this. However, if a mining company desecrates the site, the fine it pays goes to the state government. In other words, the state government accrues revenue based on a value system that it does not take entirely seriously, and hence is complicit with companies in neglecting sites of profound importance. It is not only that the fine is set too low to act as a deterrent against multinational entities; it is that there is no incentive to stop desecration because the state government does not sufficiently care.

As a comparison, imagine if the Buddhists, Sikhs or Muslims were the ones who gained a fee if the Sistine Chapel was destroyed? It would rely on their goodwill or economic self-interest to ensure they did not change it or simply knock it down. This means there is a mismatch in a system of value, which simply underscores the colonial tensions at the heart of Australia. We need to realise that Indigenous legal systems deserve better representation when administering their own affairs through prescribed body corporates, which includes the ability to set and manage boundaries, raise fines, and ratify sacred sites. This way we will get a better outcome for people in the community and manage to educate people about how sacred the place really is. That this is the only moral outcome needs not be restated.

This is also the case when it comes to recognising the importance of wilderness as wilderness be that James Price Point, Beeliar Wetlands or the Great Barrier Reef. How do we put a price on the great outdoors? How do we put a price on exploring beautiful places that interest us all? Our frontier needs to be there as a possibility for how we live our lives right now, and how we intend our children too as well. Why do we continue to pollute our oceans rather than see them for the deep wellspring of life that they truly are? To overcome this we need to elevate all sorts of collective action that already takes place such as Clean Up Australia Day and the Walkajurra Walkabout. We are doing OK, but we must do better.

In that way we often think of the whale and not the water. We fail to see the forest for the trees. A whole permacultural vision of Australia acknowledges that we need to integrate systems-level thinking into our environmental consciousness. That means understanding that a price on carbon is simply one beginning. We need to think through all pollutants as symptoms rather than simply blame one part of the system. We need to undertake a reorganisation that is sustainable through understanding the whole and not the part. This is not to say we cannot tinker at the edges, but that we need to keep going to encourage genuine structural change through legislation that encourages a better form of daily life. We know enough is never enough when it comes to protecting the places that matter to us.

It might mean turning our waste into a resource so we do not further encroach on places that are sacred. This is not only through encouraging the consumption of recycled products as a type of substituted good, but also about finding worthwhile things in our discarded piles. Why can’t a tip be mined? Why can’t water be recycled for toilets? Why can’t we have fruit trees on public property? At the level of re-using though, there is something to a society that does not pride itself on a cycle of fast consumption and inbuilt obsolescence, something to those old glass milk bottles, something to the fact that a car once lasted twenty years. The government can regulate in this regard. This is not only about banning pollutants, but protecting consumers from the harm that ails us all.

 

[1]To read more about this I recommend Tod Jones’ article, ‘Separate but unequal: the sad fate of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia’, The Conversation, 7 December 2015.

 

Technology Population and Behaviour; Connecting the Dots

By Sean Hurley

Our species has come a long way since early human history; we have left behind the life of the hunter gather and learned to manipulate our environment to our benefit. We have continually enhanced our ability to create to such a point that it is now having detrimental impacts on our tiny planet. Where once the horizon appeared to be a far off place, the world an expanse beyond our comprehension, and our desire to explore and learn has revealed just how confined we are on this rock hurtling through space. While we have learned to dominate our surroundings, we failed to consider the damage our actions are having on our life support systems.

As we come to understand the harm we have inflicted upon our global home, we have still found it difficult to question the fundamental social systems which have encouraged that behaviour. Instead we can tend to blame technology for certain undesirable social outcomes, or blame overpopulation for our inability to provide for each other.

We appear to be predisposed to maintaining the system whatever the cost, and we find anything else we can to point at as we try to find reasons for poverty, unemployment, climate change and species extinctions to name a few. However, we show a deep reluctance to question the fundamentals of advanced human society. How are we behaving and what drives that behaviour? What is driving the numerous global declines we are experiencing in the 21st century: technology, overpopulation or is there something else behind it? Something we don’t want to see.

Abrupt Climate Change: A Shallow Dip Displaying the Complexity of Climate Change.

By Keith Antonysen

On a New Zealand radio station Guy McPherson suggested that humans would be extinct within 10 years, he made these comments on 24 November 2016. (1) McPherson thankfully is an outlier in the concept of human extinction in such a short time frame.

Other commentators debunk McPherson (2); though, in research terms the referred article has been bypassed by new research. Powell, when assessing climate science journals suggested that there are something like 12,000 peer reviewed articles published each year (3).

In 2016 meta Reports have been published in relation to the Oceans (4 ), the state of the Arctic (5), and a UNEP Report on Emissions (6 ). These Reports have used hundreds of references, and represent the work of numerous climate scientists. It is facile to merely write these major Reports off with the comment that they belong to some kind of conspiracy which has an ideological basis, or they are being promoted for monetary reasons. The Reports rely on observed data, satellite data, and modelling.

All of these meta Reports have as an underlying theme of CO2 being a greenhouse gas. Already in the 1850s Eunice Foote was experimenting with CO2 and found that the interaction of light and CO2 created warmth (7).

The lead comments from chapter 2 of the Oceans Report states:

“Rapid and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions is required in order to prevent the massive and effectively irreversible impacts on ocean ecosystems and their services.”

“It is thus of critical importance that changes in the ocean are taken into account in climate talks, and a relevant architecture for this must now be developed. “ (8)

Also, from the Executive Summary:

“Sea surface temperature, ocean heat content, sea-level rise, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations are increasing at an accelerating rate with significant consequences for humanity and the marine species and ecosystems of the ocean.” (9).

The Report comments on how there are already changes in Oceans providing difficulties for coral reefs, trouble for particular species and ecosystems. These matters need to be dealt with in a changing and uncertain future (10).

Through the warming of Oceans there has been significant changes in the distribution of sea weeds. Warm water based sea weeds have moved their habitat range from 26 to 1,250 kilometres North and South of the  Equator from environments they had traditionally been found at (11).

An assertion from UNEP Report: “The strengthened long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement require even stronger actions than previously identified, calling for accelerated efforts pre-2020, as well as increasing the ambition of the Nationally Determined Contributions. “ (12)

The Oceans and UNEP Reports provide information that indicate the enormity of the scale of climate change; in relation to Oceans normally sea level rise and acidification are discussed; whereas the Oceans Report extends discussion through broaching aspects of flora and fauna, some examples being micro-organisms, plankton, sea weeds, sea birds, and marine animals. The UNEP Report stresses the need for more action to be completed by nations to keep emissions lower than discussed at COP21 in Paris.

In relation to the Arctic “The fact that the Arctic is changing fast is well known: extent of sea ice, the condition of the Greenland ice sheet, the unusually warm temperatures are all widely reported – as are the new shipping routes opening up, and the oil exploration efforts. Less prominent, but also reported, are the stories of Indigenous Peoples whose livelihoods are disappearing, or whose villages are becoming uninhabitable.” (13) The Arctic Resilience Report discusses a number of changes; including shift to ice free summers, collapse of fisheries, and changes in the landscape (14).The Arctic is subject to human driven climate change which has an impact on risk factors in the Arctic Region (15).

A matter of concern: “The great ice sheet of Greenland was long believed to be resistant to climate change, as it takes thousands of years to respond to changing conditions. Recent observations suggest, however, that major changes in the dynamics of parts of the ice sheet are occurring over time scales of only years. The ice has been thinning at rates higher than expected due to warmer summers as atmospheric temperatures rise.” (16)

The ABC (US) found some stark comments in the Arctic Resilience Report: “While some changes, such as warming temperatures, are gradual, others, such as the collapse of ice sheets, have the potential to be not only abrupt, but also irreversible,” says the Arctic Resilience Report. “This means the integrity of Arctic ecosystems is increasingly challenged, with major implications for Arctic communities and for the world as a whole.” (17).

Temperatures have been extremely high in the Arctic over the last months with measures being up to 20C above normal. (18) (19).

In conclusion, it is very difficult to do justice to the meta Reports discussed; the aim of these comments was to display the complexity of climate change.  Clearly, many matters which have a bearing on what is happening in relation to climate have not been discussed. The meta Reports provide some optimism providing real attempts are made to reduce carbon emissions. Though real efforts to create change have not yet occurred, McPherson states that extinction is inevitable; a more likely situation is that the carrying capacity of humans, and flora and fauna species on Earth will be heavily reduced.

(1) http://planet3.org/2014/03/13/mcphersons-evidence-that-doom-doom-doom/

(2) http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/07/09/climate-consensus-deniers-97-percent-is-wrong

(3) http://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_consensus_on_anthropogenic_global_warming

(4) https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2016-046_0.pdf

(5) http://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/ArcticResilienceReport-2016.pdf

(6) https://newclimate.org/2016/11/03/emissions-gap-report-2016/

(7)  http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/09/02/the-woman-who-identified-the-greenhouse-effect-years-before-tyndall/

(8) https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2016-046_0.pdf

(9) ibid

(10) ibid

(11)  ibid

(12) https://newclimate.org/2016/11/03/emissions-gap-report-2016/  (through second hyperlink)

(13) http://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/ArcticResilienceReport-2016.pdf

(14) ibid

(15) ibid

(16) ibid

(17)  http://abcnews.go.com/International/arctic-undergoing-rapid-ice-melt-speed-global-warming/story?id=43806027

(18) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/17/the-north-pole-is-an-insane-36-degrees-warmer-than-normal-as-winter-descends/?utm_term=.f11749cbda18

(19)  http://www.techtimes.com/articles/187237/20161128/a-warming-arctic-svalbard-archipelago-to-experience-average-annual-temperatures-above-freezing-point-for-the-first-time.htm

Keith Antonysen is retired. He is a keen gardener, photographer, and recreational fisher. The Vietnam War and later the flooding of Lake Pedder created an interest in politics which led to a passion for social justice issues.  Currently very concerned about lack of action on climate change. Not a paid up member of any Political Party.

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