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Tag Archives: Paris

We have failed.

There is no need to spend more than a very few words on this post. For the first time in recorded history, probably the first time since our species’ primitive ancestors crawled out of the sea, we have reached the point of two degrees above normal. Two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Think about that for a moment. That’s the figure that the world’s scientists and politicians have agreed marks the advent of dangerous climate change. It’s the figure that has been the de-facto goal of global efforts to avoid, ever since the Kyoto agreement in 1997 and agreed and reinforced innumerable times since. Two degrees is the figure the world has come to view as the mark of success or failure of our efforts to halt climate change. It’s half a degree above the goal agreed at the recent Paris accords.

Two degrees is probably enough to trigger tipping points, starting a chain of unstoppable changes that will irrevocably, radically and rapidly change the planet we live on to something unrecognisable.

We have just reached two degrees of warming, and we show no signs of even making progress towards reversing the trend. The two degrees figure incorporates the effects of a powerful El Nino effect in record heat for February, the hottest month ever recorded. It is possible that heat readings for March may be less terrifyingly extreme than February. Perhaps we’re not yet permanently two degrees above normal. Regardless, the trend is undeniable.

Climate change continues. Climate change is accelerating. Mankind is making no real effort to stop it. We will not survive this. If this milestone does not spur governments to action, likely nothing ever will.

It doesn’t get any more stark than that. We have failed, we are failing, we will fail.

‘Day to Day Politics’ with John Lord

Saturday 21 November

1. Whether those of us on the left of politics like it or not it has to be recognised that as Marius Bensen puts it:

The Australian public has been watching Turnbull in different roles on the public stage for decades, but it looks like his performance as Prime Minister is the most acclaimed to date’”.

For years now Australians have been complaining about the quality of our leaders and the revolving door quality of it. In the absence of a Whitlam-like figure has Turnbull maintained the rotation?

2. A wooden boat has neared Christmas Island and been boarded by the navy, sparking speculation it could carry asylum-seekers. Will they really just tow it back to sea, wave goodbye and shout “safe journey”? Is that what they call saving lives at sea?

3. Clive Palmer is advocating that only the Church should have the right to marry people. Everyone else gets a civil union. Now that’s equality for you.

4. Yesterday I wrote that Scott Morisson said he was back on track to a surplus. But what is the importance of a surplus?

In the past 79 years we have had 12 of any significance. Once by Ben Chifley, three times by Bob Hawke, and eight times by John Howard, who shared another with Rudd, who was elected during the 2007-08 fiscal year. The surpluses by Howard came from an unprecedented, never to be repeated mining boom and the sale of public assets.

5. The Arts community was stunned when the Abbott Government announced earlier this year it would redirect $104.7 million from the Australia Council to a new fund administered by the Arts Ministry. New Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has come up with new guidelines for the distribution of funds but is it just a rebrand or a meaningful plan?

6. On a not so newsy day here is something to think about:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom or our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” (​Robert Kennedy 1968).

7. The weekly poll aggregate reading now has the Coalition well ahead of its position at the 2013 election, with Bill Shorten’s personal ratings continuing to sink. The latest is 54.4-45.6 to the Coalition

8. It says much about the decline in American society when an individual of dubious character like Donald Trump could even remotely be considered worthy of standing for the highest office. Suggesting that some citizens should wear something that identified them as somehow different from other citizens is obnoxiously outrageous in the worst possible way. American freedom?

9. In a week and a half the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will begin in Paris. Delegates from 195 countries, plus representatives from countless companies and NGOs, will come together with the avowed goal of reaching an agreement on climate and emissions. I dare to hope that I will never have to say this again:

“In terms of the environment. I wonder what price the people of tomorrow will pay for the stupidity of today”.

All up, there will be more than 40,000 attendees. That’s a lot of delegates, but what they’re trying to achieve is a colossal enterprise that will affect the billions now living and all those who will ever be born.


Free speech does not mean it should be free from ethics. Like truth for example”.

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie Sheen, Je suis ce que je suis

Ok, I’ve been sitting around and trying to work out the middle way.

Yes, it’s a worthwhile question and it’s already been asked by many. Why so many pages about Paris and so few about all the other victims of people using weapons indiscriminately?

Of course, the question divides, because many of the people who are angry about Paris see it as typical of the left who apologise for all the terrible people in the world and if only we all got a little bit angrier, then everything would be ok, because, well that’s the way it works in the movies isn’t it? The hero is slow to anger, but when he does he wastes all the bad guys and it’s all ok, so if the left would just stop watching those arty films where things end badly, then maybe they’d understand that life isn’t like that, it has happy endings when the hero just uses his gun. And we’re the hero, aren’t we?

I’ve spent a large part of my life being angry about things. Not most of it. But a large part of it. Anger rarely solves anything. Sometimes, as that punk, Johnny Rotten once told us, it’s “an energy”. But usually it doesn’t usually solve anything.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about what could we do about Paris and I asked myself a lot of interesting questions. Like what would surrender look like? What would happen if we said to the terrorists, you win, what are your terms for peace?

Yes, yes, I know they don’t have any terms for peace. But it’d be interesting to ask them that. I mean, what would they say? We don’t want peace? Perhaps. But there’s also a possibility that the question could make them spend the next few years arguing with each other about whether they should ask for something or simply tell us that they don’t want peace at any price. At least that might stuff up their planning …

And then tonight, while I was still trying to work out a thoughtful response to the Paris attacks when I noticed a post on Facebook which I’ll quote loosely as “F*ck you, Charlie, don’t expect us to feel sorry for you.”

Now for a second, I’d forgotten all about the story on the news where I heard that Charlie Sheen was going to reveal that he was HIV positive in an interview, and while I’m tempted to have a long discussion about the nature of the word reveal that’d just be a distraction. At the time, I thought of all the “Je suis Charlie” posts and thought that this person was blaming the magazine for the Paris attacks. I was outraged and was about to pull out all the verbal guns and …

Then I remembered Charlie Sheen.

And I felt silly.

Not least, because when we have a media that thinks that Charlie Sheen’s HIV revelation is worth telling us about before he actually reveals it, I should already know not to expect anything better! While I could say thanks for the health warning, I realised that it’s probably wiser to just remember that book I read “Amusing Ourselves To Death” and realise that the nightly news is just entertainment and to expect it to be anything less is about as ridiculous as to expect that sportspeople should be role models just because they are slightly faster, more agile or bigger than the average person.

Why expect better from the media? Silly me.

I posted this a couple of years ago, but he seems the best Charlie to listen to right now.

P.S. When a part of Melbourne is evacuated because someone left a pair of shoes, it seems that the terrorists have won. Perhaps surrender is not as silly as it sounds.



First rule of war: Know thy enemy

(An update to this article was added on 18 November.) 

Following the attacks in Paris on the weekend, there is little doubt that we – along with most of the rest of the Western world – are at war with ISIL. And at the risk of stating the obvious, the key to winning any war is knowing who the enemy is and correspondingly, who our allies are.

But understanding who’s an enemy and who’s an ally in this conflict seems to be something that many are struggling with. This is understandable – to some extent at least – as many still think of war as something that is fought between nations. But as I wrote last weekend, this is not a war which is defined by physical boundaries. You can’t point at a specific nationality – or even a specific religion – and say everyone of that nationality or religion is the enemy.

Jumping on the enemy bandwagon…

Unfortunately that hasn’t stopped some from using the tragedy of war to try and garner support for their own particular message of hatred and/or bigotry. Here’s some homegrown examples:

  • Tony Abbott – has been out and about, using this tragedy to push his stop-the-boats mantra, warning that terrorists are hiding in the ‘flood of refugees‘; and
  • Pauline Hanson – who has also grasped the opportunity to push her own particularly brand of bigotry, calling for a “Royal Commission into Islam” and demanding that Australia immediately cease all migration from “Muslim” countries.

The sad and tragic irony of this is that the likes of Abbott and Hanson have – albeit unwittingly – become voices for ISIL, pushing the very message that ISIL want them to push.

Pushing hatred and bigotry is exactly what ISIS want

Commentator Waleed Aly’s message on The Project yesterday evening made this very clear:

In Aly’s words:

“ISIL’s leaders would be ecstatic to hear that since the atrocity in Paris, Muslims have reportedly been threatened and attacked in America, England and here in Australia. Because this evil organisation has it in their heads that if they can make Muslims the enemy of the West, then Muslims…will have nowhere to turn but to ISIL…

We all need to come together, because it’s exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.”

But instead of coming together, many are being taken in by fear mongering – and as a result confusion reigns about who’s an enemy and who’s an ally.

Being French doesn’t make you a terrorist. Nor does being a refugee.

Just look at the response to the fact that a Syrian refugee passport was found next to one of the terrorists last weekend. Suddenly more than a dozen US states have said they will bar Syrian refugees and many countries in Europe are talking about putting up fences and barbed wire to protect their borders – as though this will somehow keep them safe.

The fact that at least five of the terrorists were French nationals and their leader was Belgian is just completely ignored in discussions around how to prevent terrorism – instead the focus is on refugees. Nobody is suggesting that we close our borders to all French and Belgian citizens – even though they were the bulk of last weekend’s terrorist cell – because we recognise that this would be absurd. Being Belgian or French doesn’t make you a terrorist. Nor does being a Syrian refugee.

Fighting the real enemy

The bottom line is that the very best way to fight ISIL at home is to fight racism, to fight bigotry, to welcome refugees, to support Muslims in their fight against extremism – because this is the exact opposite of what our enemy wants us to do.

If we don’t do this – if we allow the likes of Abbott and Hanson to divert our attention to their petty biases and bigotries – then instead of fighting the real enemy, we will be fighting our allies and doing ISIL’s work for them. And the outcome of this could be catastrophic.

In the words of Sun Tzu:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose every battle.” (The Art of War)

UPDATE on 18 November 2016

Since I first wrote this article, authorities have confirmed that the Syrian passport found near the body of one of the terrorists was a fake, and that the terrorist attack was ‘homegrown’. It had absolutely nothing to do with any refugee from Syria or elsewhere. This suggests what many have suspected – that the terrorist may have been carrying a Syrian passport for the purpose of turning Westerners against refugees.

Unfortunately, the terrorists’ ploy appears to be working, as state after state in the US – undeterred by facts – confirms that it will no longer take refugees from Syria. Since I wrote this article yesterday, the number has more than doubled to 26 states. Further, conservative Republican candidates like Donald Trump are falling over themselves to support ISIS through their fear-based rhetoric – with Trump calling for the US to shut mosques and using the Paris Tragedy as an argument to support US gun laws.

This post was first published on ProgressiveConversation.


All you need is love

If only we all shared the thoughts on life of AIMN reader Richard O’Brien, what a much better world this will be.

Beyond expressing my deepest sadness, it is not my place to speak for the people of Paris, or Beirut, or the countless other places where people have died for someone else’s cause of late. Many others will use these sad events to promote many different agendas, for many different causes. For the most part they are different sides to the same dice, where no matter what number you roll, someone ends up paying for it.

As I see it the world is divided. That divide runs through all beliefs, religious and not. It is a divide that runs through all countries, cities, towns, even families. The rich and the poor, the Left and the Right. It is a divide between those who choose to hate, and those who choose to love.

Right now we are all sharing a planet with 7.3 billion other people, dependent on one of trillions of suns in one of billions of galaxies. We’re still here because the people who choose to love outnumber the people who choose to hate by many to one.

You may not change the world in any noticeable way if you choose to love, and the people who choose to hate won’t go away. But we’re only on this planet for a relatively short time, and I guarantee you, if you choose to love you’ll enjoy that time more, and hurt less people doing it.


You can’t fight an ideological war by shutting physical borders

As news came out yesterday evening that a Syrian refugee passport was found next to one of the terrorists in the Paris attacks on Friday, predictably the media pounced, and all the right wing refugee-demonisers came out in force. Our very own stop-the-boats-fetishest, Tony Abbott,  spoke with his media team – the Daily Terrorgraph, sorry Daily Telegraph – who today published an article with the following headline:

Former PM Tony Abbott warned IS terrorists are hiding in a flood of refugees
(Daily Telegraph – November 15, 2015)

And Abbott wasn’t the only one. US Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz came out on his personal blog yesterday saying:

We need to immediately declare a halt to any plans to bring refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS to the United States.” Ted Cruz – November 14, 2015

Never mind that the French government has yet to validate that the terrorist was the actual owner of the Syrian passport. Never mind that at least one of the other terrorists was a French national, and that his father and brother have been arrested. Never mind that the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year were both born in France. And even more importantly – never mind that the terrorists perpetrating these attacks are the same people that refugees are fleeing from because they too, have been victims of these terrorist groups.

Clearly none of these actual facts matter to the likes of Abbott and Cruz. According to their logic, this attack could have been prevented if only Europe had stopped the boats, had forced tens of thousands of refugees to stay and face almost certain death at home or risk starvation in the already overcrowded refugee camps along the borders of their home countries.

The idiocy of this proclamation is astounding. It reflects the fact that many of our political leaders – and those in the media – have yet to grasp the fact that this is an ideological war being fought in an age where there are no borders around information, no borders around ideologies.

Prior to the advent of new communications technologies last century, governments could – at least in theory – stop information flows across borders since information had to be physically carried across by a person (whether as a book, document or a an idea in someone’s head).  But in this century, people don’t have to connect in a physical space – they can connect in cyber space. Ideologies can cross any border they like with no passport, no visa, no stops.

NoFloodwatersMayCrossHereSuggesting that having stronger physical borders will have any impact on the battle against these horrific terror attacks, is the equivalent of suggesting that you could stop flood waters from overflowing by putting up a sign instructing them not to.

The reality is that we are living in a different time – a time where there are no borders around ideologies. Strategies that focus on defeating terrorists groups with traditional warfare strategies alone are doomed to fail as they don’t take into account that at its core, the war against these groups is not a physical battle, it’s an ideological one. And ideological battles are not won and lost on battlefields or at borders, they are won and lost in people’s hearts and minds.

This article was originally published on ProgressiveConversation

Does anyone truly believe that violence can lead the world to a better place?

Does anyone truly believe that violence can lead the world to a better place?

There can be only one reason for the attacks in Paris and that is to draw the West into increased military action in the Middle East, and from the sounds of it, that has been the call from many people today.

To those whose answer to the bombs and bullets is bigger bombs and more bullets, I would say you are being manipulated in the same way as the ignorant deluded handful of people who carried out these attacks.

How can you claim to be on the side of right when you use the same methods – go to a foreign country and kill innocent people?

How can you speak of national security and protecting your borders as you invade other countries?

How can you claim to be protecting human rights as you bomb hospitals?

How can you claim to be fighting for freedom as you lock up the people fleeing from oppression?

We have removed countless despots and dictators but rarely has it gone well.  We install corrupt governments or leave when it becomes politically inconvenient to stay and leave people to cope with the mess we leave behind.  We train and arm paramilitary groups and then abandon them and show surprise when they team up with others we don’t care for.

The armaments industry is a huge global business with no ethics.  Defence forces are empire builders who demand hundreds of billions to ‘keep us safe’ as they spark aggression around the world.

If you kill people, others will want revenge.  Where does it stop?

Is humanity capable of civilisation?  Capable of tolerance?  Capable of accepting the responsibility of caring for and nurturing all children, educating them, and protecting the environment so they can have a future?

Billy Connelly used to do a skit about his mother belting him for hitting his sister.  Are we to respond to violence with violence and see ourselves as saviours?

Until we learn to respect each other and the planet we share, we are doomed to let those who would use us for their own power and profit pull the strings.

What hope is there for Paris?

By Dr Anthony Horton

What hope is there for Paris if we’ve learnt nothing from the 1952 London Great Killer fog?

According to a recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review, researchers from Kings College London announced earlier this year that pollutant concentrations in Oxford Street in Central London exceeded the 2015 annual limits in the first four days of this year. Despite this scenario being played out across other London streets, Mayor Boris Johnson will not be introducing more stringent air quality policies/legislation until 2020.

The centrepiece of Johnson’s 2020 actions is an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which is hoped will reduce the pollution load from “dirty vehicles” and in turn, cut the number of premature deaths related to air pollution exposure. Owners of polluting vehicles will be fined 100 British pounds if they drive into most areas in central London.

London is particularly vulnerable to natural winter fogs as it is surrounded by low hills with marshes on its outskirts and a river running through it. As a result of its topography, temperature inversions are common. Classically, air temperature decreases away from the earth’s surface. If you ever board an aircraft and watch the flight path on your screen, you may recall this from the temperature readings that are posted across the display. In an inversion however, the opposite happens and warm air traps cold air below it. If you want to visualise a temperature inversion, imagine your city being surrounded by a box of some kind with a lid. Essentially, the lid being closed down on the box is the inversion-and any pollutants from chimneys, smoke stacks and other sources below it are essentially trapped.

A “pea souper” as London were sometimes referred to, were so thick that people couldn’t see their own feet. As London grew in size and population, such fogs increased in frequency and persisted for longer and longer periods of time. For a number of decades, successive Parliamentary laws were watered down to the point that they were effectively useless. Fines were no deterrent, and Magistrates reportedly felt sympathy particularly for smaller companies who couldn’t afford to update furnaces to more efficient models.

The British people loved their open fires and shunned closed stoves which were popular in Germany. Politicians did not have the courage to ban coal use and legislate the use of gas or electricity instead. Fast-forward to modern day London, and the Government is reducing subsidies for wind and solar farms so as not do upset rural voters which these facilities are typically constructed.

In 1952 the “Great Killer Fog” lasted for five days and killed approximately 4000 people. Following the heinous devastation of the Blitz, such an event was the last thing London needed. I can remember sitting in Climate and Atmospheric Science lectures at University and seeing reports/images of this event. I can also recall the impact that footage and discussion had on me. It was certainly one of the influences on the direction of my studies and ultimately my career choice.

A Clean Air Act was passed by Parliament 4 years after the event with the aim of controlling domestic pollution sources by introducing “smokeless zones”-areas in which smokeless fuels had to burnt. Following the introduction of the Act, domestic emissions decreased as a result of smoke control areas, the use of electricity and gas increased, cleaner coals were burnt, power stations were relocated to rural areas and tall chimney stacks were used on power stations.

The Environment Committee of the London Assembly labelled Johnson’s delaying acting on air quality until 2020 as inexcusable, based on an estimated 4000 premature deaths per year. Conservatives are reportedly concerned that bringing Johnson’s plan forward would not realise sufficient benefits that justify additional costs and restrictions on vehicle owners or the scale of the impact on the London economy.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Johnson stated that introducing the ULEZ was unreasonable before Euro 6 vehicles are widely available and people and businesses had sufficient time to prepare. The London Health Commission and the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal Colleges of Physicians have called for the ULEZ to be implemented earlier than 2020, should cover a wider areas, be based on stricter standards and include stronger incentives.

The situation Boris Johnson finds himself in is rather interesting given what has recently been announced here in Australia. The Turnbull Liberal Government recently announced a review of vehicle emissions and as part of their announcement, Euro 5 vehicle emission standards would be implemented for light and heavy vehicles. Euro 6 standards are also reportedly being considered.

For all of the criticism of Boris Johnson, at least he has announced a plan to introduce a zone within which heavier polluting vehicles will be fined for entering-as part of long term plan to effectively phase the use of such vehicles out. I can’t imagine any politician at any level in Australia having the courage to suggest a plan along the lines of Johnson’s-and we are certainly all the poorer for it-from environmental, health and economic perspectives. Such a lack of courage and conviction doesn’t really bode well with Paris practically around the corner does it? If we haven’t learnt in 60 years, how can anything of real substance be learnt in the 19 days until the meeting and/or applied over the 12 days of the meeting itself?


This article was originally published on The Climate Change Guy as What hope is there for Paris if we’ve learnt nothing from the 1952 London Great Killer fog?

rWdMeee6_peAbout 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.


Billions of dollars are needed post Paris just to maintain pledges

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the pledges made in the lead up to the Paris climate conference in December will require more than $13 trillion of energy efficiency and low carbon investments in order to be realised.

More than $1600 billion was invested worldwide in 2013 to provide energy, which has more than doubled since 2000. Just under 10% of that ($130 billion) has also been invested in improving energy efficiency. More than $1100 billion of the $1600 billion is related to the extraction and transport of fossil fuels, refining oil and the construction of fossil fuel fired power plants.

Over the next 2 decades to 2035, the level of investment required annually just to supply the world’s energy needs will rise to $2000 billion and expenditure on energy efficiency will need to increase to $550 billion. This equates to an investment of more than $48 trillion worldwide-$40 trillion in energy supply and $8 trillion in energy efficiency.

Of the $40 trillion required for energy supply, approximately half relates to fossil fuel extraction, transport and refining. A further 20% is related to expenditure in power generation-$6 trillion in renewables, nuclear ($1 trillion) and $7 trillion in transmission and distribution. The majority of this will be needed in emerging economies (parts of Asia other than China, Africa and Latin America), although ageing infrastructure and climate policies across the OECD also mean that significant investment will also be required in member nations.

By far the largest share of the $40 trillion is required to offset reduced production from existing oil and gas fields and to replace power plants and assets nearing the end of their productive lives. Compensating lower output consumes more than 75% of upstream oil and gas expenditure and replacing “retired” power plants necessitates more than half of the total investment in electricity generation in OECD countries.

In terms of the $8 trillion required for energy efficiency in the next 2 decades, approximately 90% will be required in the transport and building sectors. Two thirds of this will be centred in the European Union, North America and China, based on the size of their respective vehicle markets and current or future vehicle efficiency standards, efforts in the European Union and North America to improve the energy efficiency of appliances and building stock, and China’s drive to improve the efficiency of its industrial sector.

Government policy measures and incentives are increasingly shaping capital investment decisions, rather than signals from competitive markets. In many countries Governments directly influence investment in the energy sector, through ownership of oil and gas reserves or control of power generation capacity through State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Some OECD Governments are now once again influencing energy markets again where previously they opened them to competition, in a move to promote low carbon electricity sources.

Mobilising the private sector to invest in energy will require a deliberate effort to reduce both political and bureaucratic uncertainties. Pressures on public funds and the need for new technology and expertise create opportunities for the private sector, however the conditions are not always conducive for such investment.

The supply of long term finance for investment in the energy sector is not guaranteed, even with new types of investors emerging. The expansion of shale gas and the production of tight oil in North America are two examples, arising from entrepreneurial companies. Emerging State and private companies are increasing their investment in many nations outside the OECD, and the expansion of distributed renewable energy systems (e.g. rooftop solar photovoltaic systems) and energy efficiency initiatives are bringing small businesses and households in the investment mix.

In countries other than the US and Canada where external financing is more readily available, new sources of finance via bonds, securitisation, equity markets or institutional investors (e.g. pension funds and insurance companies) must be unlocked in order to reduce the reliance on bank loans (which could be constrained by new capital adequacy requirements following the last financial crisis).

More than $2 trillion of investment is required in Europe to maintain the reliability of the electricity system. This is unlikely to be forthcoming given the current design of power markets. In addition to the rapid expansion of low carbon electricity generation, approximately 100GW of additional thermal capacity is needed in the next decade. The wholesale electricity price is currently too low to incentivise the level of investment required in those new thermal plants.

Credible policies and innovative financing can be a bridge to a low carbon energy system. In the next 2 decades, approximately $900 billion of investment is required in low carbon energy supply, and energy efficiency expenditure of the order of $1 trillion is required. Dependable policy signals are required to ensure that these investments offer a sufficiently attractive return. Getting prices right is through carbon pricing and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is essential. A lot of work is still required to match the currently available instruments with the specific requirements of low carbon energy projects. Time, a realistic approach and determination are required in equal measure to harness the skills of the financial sector and apply them to the global ambition to reach essential climate change targets.

rWdMeee6_peAbout 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.


The dark side of diesel

By Dr Anthony Horton

It’s fair to say that the Volkswagen diesel emissions revelations have captured the world’s attention. As a scientist with a background in air pollution monitoring and management I must admit that the amount of attention the issue has received intrigues me – from the perspectives of both the media reporting of the issue and of course the public reaction.

I’m particularly interested in the media’s reporting of the issue in terms of what a test method is, what is emitted under test conditions and what an emission standard or limit is. I see the way it has been reported as a public demonstration of the scientific method-questioning the way something is, testing/analysing it, comparing the results against a standard and determining what that means. From my perspective these steps are fundamental, and the more the public can see why scientists do what they do, why they do it and the part science plays in society the better. However this is not really the place for a lesson in the scientific method. Instead, I would like to look at diesel emissions from another perspective.

Diesel emissions from vehicles are comprised of a number of pollutants, with the most significant being nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates. The latter were the first pollutants emitted from vehicle exhaust to be identified as toxic in 1993 by a team from Harvard University in their groundbreaking Six Cities Study which involved more than 8000 adults over more than 14 years.

The study’s findings were significant because the mortality risk in “dirtier” cities (cities that are more heavily polluted) was strongly associated with fine particles, and life expectancy in these cities was reportedly 2-3 years less than “cleaner” cities. The findings also gave rise to new air quality standards which have in turn progressively lowered particulate concentrations and improved health outcomes over the past two decades.

In the time since the Six Cities Study, hundreds of studies have given rise to similar conclusions. One study in the UK estimated that nearly 30,000 people are killed each year from exposure to particulates (more than obesity and alcohol combined and 10 times the number of people killed on roads). The UK Government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution estimates that it is a factor in an additional 200,000 deaths.

In June 2012, The World Health Organisation (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that diesel exhaust was a probable human carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence that personal exposure is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

Head of the IARC Monographs Section Dr Kurt Straif stated at the announcement that the air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances, and that outdoor air is a leading cause of cancer deaths from an environmental perspective. The scientists conducting the evaluation reviewed in excess of 1000 academic papers on polluted air and small particles in that air. The IARC also reported that in 2010 air pollution was responsible for 223,000 deaths in lung cancer patients worldwide.

France has the highest percentage of diesel cars of any European country’s vehicle fleet as a result of successive Governments subsidising diesel fuel to such an extent that it is cheaper than petrol. In March this year, an increase in air pollution resulted in Paris being the most polluted city in the world for a short time, with the smog being so thick that many of the city’s landmarks including the Eiffel Tower were invisible. In addition, the Volkswagen revelations have increased the pressure on the French Government to act on vehicle emissions and the associated air pollution.

A car free day was implemented in Paris last week (September 27) at the suggestion of the Paris Without Cars group. The car free day was limited to approximately one third of the city, covering an area between Bastille and the Champs Elysees and the outer Bios de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes between 11 and 6pm. In the remainder of the city, cars were allowed to travel at 20 km/hour. Despite the limited scope, Elisabeth Pagnac who lives in a tower block in the east of the city reported the dramatic difference in the skyline and commented that it had never been as blue and was very different without the layer of pollution that typically hangs in the air.

In addition to implementing the car free day, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has made a vow to end diesel use on the city by 2020 and promote less car usage and cleaner vehicle. She also plans to extend car free areas further along the Seine River.

Regardless of the extent to which the decision to implement a car free day was or wasn’t influenced by the Volkswagen revelations, I think that implementing such a day was a bold decision. As an Australian I can’t help but wonder how many Mayors would have the courage to do the same in their cities. As a scientist I wonder about three points-1) whether the Volkswagen revelations and in particular discussions on the emissions will cause Regulatory Authorities around the world to rethink/ revise the process they use to assess/audit emissions sources (of all types, not just cars) and any associated data, 2) whether the revelations will cause people to pause and consider the full impacts (eg. environmental, health and economic) of their potential purchase as part of their buying decision process, and 3) the future of diesel vehicles.


rWdMeee6_peAbout 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.


Laggards or Leaders

While Joe Hockey labels Australians as “lifters or leaners”, governments are similarly judged as “laggards or leaders”.  In one fell swoop this government has taken us from being a world leader to a despised laggard.

You could be forgiven for not knowing there was a climate change conference in Bonn in June.  In fact, I am not even sure if we actually sent anyone.  The last I heard, the delegates were standing around at Sydney airport wondering what to do because the PM’s plane had flown off to France full of photographers and businessmen, relegating the delegates to catch commercial flights, but the PM’s office, who control such things, had neglected to give approval for their expenses.

Since I had heard no reports of the conference I looked for myself.  This was the first story I came across.

Australia awarded Fossil of the Day at UN Climate Talks for Trying to Reconvene Flat Earth Society

June 10 2014, Bonn – Germany: CAN bestows the first Fossil Award of the Bonn UNFCCC negotiation session to Australia in recognition of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stupendously brazen denial of the catastrophic risks posed by climate change in his effort to form an alliance of “like minded” countries opposed to action on climate change, already dubbed by some as a new “flat earth society.”

News accounts report that the Minister has enjoined Canada in his new coalition and is reaching out to other countries including the UK and India “aiming to dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing.”

CAN salutes the Abbott’s commitment and consistency in his willful blindness to the catastrophic economic costs incurred by climate change.

He has also recently announced his intention to keep climate change out of the upcoming G20 talks hosted by Australia arguing that  climate change is inappropriate because such talks are primarily about economics.

Prime Minister Abbott must have missed the IPCC memo which spells out that climate change is the economic problem facing our age – it’s already costing us, but it doesn’t cost the earth to save the world.

He is clearly looking for recognition of his visionary approach to climate change, and CAN is proud to be among the first to step out and congratulate his dedication to the fossilized past.  [In case you were wondering – no, this isn’t a joke.  Abbott has really done this.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.]”

This came on the heels of the report from the conference in Warsaw in November last year.

November 22, 2013

This year’s Colossal Fossil goes to Australia. The new Australian Government has won its first major international award – the Colossal Fossil. The delegation came here with legislation in its back pocket to repeal the carbon price, failed to take independent advice to increase its carbon pollution reduction target and has been blocking progress in the loss and damage negotiations. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!

Some people have described our new Senators as a “breath of fresh air”.  What I see is ill-informed naïvity.  Clive Palmer has somehow convinced these “ordinary people” that Australia will be better off without a carbon price and a mining tax.  Nice going Clive.

Tony Abbott has managed to do the same, telling us that our cost of living will go down, jobs will be created, and investment money will flow….but don’t bet the house on it.

This unholy alliance has sent Australia backwards but they will not prevail.  Their actions will be increasingly condemned as the world forces them to take action on the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced.

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Abbott will face enormous pressure at the G20 summit later this year, and at the climate change talks in Paris next year, despite his efforts to remove discussion from the agenda.  Under pressure from Obama, in a typically immature approach to control the language, Abbott agreed to discuss “energy efficiency”.

A recent poll by the Lowy Institute showed that after six years of declining public concern about climate change, the trend had reversed with 45 per cent of people saying it is a “serious and pressing problem”.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that smart, decent people are waiting for this temporary nightmare to pass and have viable plans for the direction our future must take.

In July 2012, Beyond Zero Emissions produced a document called “Laggard to Leader – How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity”.  The main thrust of the study is:

  • Australia must stop using the promise of a global treaty that won’t eventuate to duck responsibility for its ballooning coal and gas exports.
  • A moratorium on coal and gas expansion followed by a phasedown will drive a massive increase in global renewable energy investment.
  • Australia can lead the world to cheap, abundant renewable energy by deploying off-the-shelf, zero carbon technology that will grow Australia’s prosperity.

The International Energy Agency warned in 2012, “the door to a 2°C trajectory is about to close”.  To keep the door open, global emissions must peak and begin to decline by 2020 at the absolute latest and then keep declining to zero by between 2040 and 2050. We are in “the critical decade”.  Decisions we make today will largely determine the state of the climate system within which all subsequent generations must live.

The world’s nations gathered in Durban in late 2011 to continue long-standing negotiations towards a comprehensive international treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The best they could agree was that they would aim to negotiate by 2015 an agreement requiring some countries to start reducing emissions beginning in 2020. These negotiations cannot be relied upon to secure the emissions cuts that are required. “It is clear”, argue the editors of the world’s preeminent scientific journal, Nature, “that the science of climate change and the politics of climate change … now inhabit parallel worlds”.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Australia where the Federal Government and its State Government counterparts are aggressively supporting a massive programme of investment in new mines, wells, pipes and ports. These projects will see Australia export a staggering amount of highly emissions-intensive coal and gas during — and well beyond — the critical decade.

Australia is already the world’s largest coal exporter, responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s traded coal, and is the fastest growing exporter of liquefied natural gas. The emissions embodied in Australia’s fossil fuel exports already total much more than our “domestic” emissions. Based on data accumulated by Australian Government agencies, Australia’s combined coal and gas exports are projected to more than double between now and 2030.

To allow this to occur would be catastrophic for global efforts to avoid dangerous climate change: it would mean Australia would be causing more than 1 in every 10 tonnes of the greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted into the atmosphere in 2030 consistent with a 2°C warming trajectory.

Australia is the steward of its natural resources. They belong to all Australians and we can choose what to do with them. When our exports of coal and gas are burned, the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the product of these choices. The fact that these emissions are not counted in Australia’s “carbon accounts” under UN carbon accounting rules has previously been used as an excuse for us to ignore their consequences.

But these rules are based on the idea that all countries will have emissions reduction targets, the achievement of which will “add up” to the global cuts necessary to stay within the 2°C limit. With the UN negotiations deadlocked and no foreseeable prospect of such an international regime emerging in the necessary timeframe, this excuse is not acceptable.

Hoping, against all probability, that the negotiations will reach a breakthrough just in time, while at the same time making the problem they are trying to solve significantly worse is a dangerous, counterintuitive and counterproductive approach for Australia to take.

It is well beyond time to approach the global challenge of preserving a safe climate in a very different way. It is time to put leadership towards zero carbon prosperity at the heart of our response.

The logic of “Cooperative Decarbonisation” is simple. Each country must phase down to zero or very near zero the greenhouse gas emissions associated with every economic and social process over which it has control or influence.  Instead of drawing lines at national borders, this approach recognises that, in a globalised economy, countries have shared responsibility for many of the emissions that occur in any one place. As such, countries should use every lever they have to eliminate those emissions within their “sphere of influence”, including the fossil fuels they export and the goods they import.

Clearly, international cooperation will be required — particularly to ensure that the goals of sustainable economic development are achieved and that wealthier countries assist low income countries to make this essential transition. But instead of trying to do it all in one “grand bargain” as they are today, countries should work in smaller groups, focusing their efforts on the individual sectors and processes that cause emissions — working to leave fossil fuels in the ground, preserve the world’s forests and make renewable energy affordable for all.

Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is one of only a small handful of countries that can lead this process. The main reason for this is simple: our sphere of influence over global emissions is immense. Our high domestic emissions make us an important player, on par with nations like France, Spain and South Korea. But it is our ballooning coal and gas exports that make us a truly critical influence on global emissions.

We can use this position to focus the attention of world leaders on the most important, yet least discussed part of the climate problem: the fact that only one eighth of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves can safely be burned. Australia can help make that which is currently “unthinkable” — a global fossil fuel phase out — a reality.

We need an Australian moratorium on new fossil fuel developments: a bold move from the world’s largest coal exporter that can serve as the centrepiece for a wider call to action. Such a move would maintain the current global price of coal and stop it from falling by an expected 30% this decade. It would be one of the few conceivable ways that any single country could jolt world leaders into action, creating the economic and political momentum to commence immediate global discussion on the best and fairest means to phase-out fossil fuels.

Thankfully, Australia’s global power does not arise only from our ownership of the resources that are fuelling the problem. As the beneficiary of world class solar and wind resources, we also hold the key to the most important solutions.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy are essential to decarbonising the world’s energy system. Thanks largely to the targeted investments made by Germany and other European countries when these technologies were more expensive, they have sailed down the “cost curve” and are now price-competitive with fossil fuel energy in many markets. Germany’s installation of almost 30GW of solar PV brought PV prices down by an incredible 65% over the past six years.

The other crucial technology is concentrating solar thermal (CST) with storage. This technology, which is operating today in other countries, produces 24 hour energy from the power of the sun. The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan showed that powering the Australian economy using predominantly CST is technically and economically achievable, starting now, in ten years. The greatest gift that sunny Australia could give to the world is to repeat for CST what cloudy Germany did for solar PV: through smart policies and targeted investments, enable the deployment across Australia of enough CST to make this game-changing technology cost-competitive with fossil fuels everywhere.

Cheap renewable energy will solve some of the most challenging problems facing humankind this century — from climate change, to oil scarcity, to energy poverty — and allow us to build a global economy on foundations as reliable as the rising sun.

Australia has the power to make it happen.  It is up to us to insist that it does.

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