Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Supporting Local Businesses

I am amazed at how many businesses are home-based in our area. It is great to see as it is a wonderful way to enjoy a less pressured lifestyle and of course, lower your carbon footprint!
By supporting our local businesses we are building resilience in our communities.

I recently purchased a gift at the newly opened Art at Heart Gallery, 67 Sugars Rd, Anstead. It is run by renowned artist Jacqueline Hill and well worth a visit.

Also a wonderful local eco business is Gumnut Hill, makers of environmetally friendly stationary. Perfect for that last minute Christmas gift. Contact them through their website They also have a stall at the Northey St City Farm Markets

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Climate Change - an update on the science

Professor David Karoly from University of Melbourne presented an update on the science of climate change at the annual Australian Geothermal Energy Conference in Adelaide in November 2010. Click on talk to see the presentation. In particular see slide number 16 which shows that Australia needs to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and 90-97% by 2050 for its fair share of emissions in order to have a 50-50 chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming. At the December 2010 Cancun climate conferenced most countries of the world committed to the 2 degree limit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

NASA stunner: Warmest November on record, 2010 Meteorological Year Warmest as well

November 2010 was the warmest November on record according to NASA temperature data. While this might not seem surprising for a year that has already seen record warm months, Novembers record comes in the midst of a moderately strong La Nina, (a short term climate variation that causes a temporary cooling of temperatures worldwide due to the effect of cooler sea temperatures in the pacific) and during a prolonged minimum of the solar cycle.

Here's the NASA November temperature anomaly map:

Colours a how much the temperature was above (or below) the 1951-1980 average. The map clearly shows the La Nina (blue/ cooler than normal sea temperatures in the tropical pacific) as well as the cold temperatures in the UK that have been getting so much attention. Turns out though that this is totally negated by warmer than normal temperatures pretty much everywhere else, especially in and around the Arctic.

"According to NASA climatologist and Goddard director James Hansen, the main driver for the increased warmth was the Arctic, where temperatures in Hudson Bay were "10˚C above normal" for November. That month, Hansen says, "sea ice was absent while normally that [body of water] is covered by sea ice." Water devoid of ice absorbs much more solar radiation than water covered with ice, which reflects much of the radiation back toward space."
Unlike the calendar year, the Meteorological Year runs from Dec to Nov. With the Nov 2010 data now in 2010 is the warmest in the 130 year record at 0.65 dC above the long term average, surpassing the last record of 0.62 set in 2005. It now looks almost certain the 2010 calendar year will also set a record. Whether the 2010 record is enough above 2005 to be statistically significant remains to be seen, but it certainly reinforces the trend of rising global temperatures.

Here's the NASA map for the 2010 Meteorological Year temperature anomalies.

Again this is temperatures compared to the 1951-1980 average. Note: NASA make all of this data publically available and you can view temperatures graphs and create you own maps etc here.

Update: some commentary from NASA can be found here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

TTKD December "Meeting" - Christmas celebration this friday

Instead of our monthly meeting TTKD will be having a Christmas celebration this friday.

We'll be supporting the Transition to a "Slow Christmas". ie: "spend less money, spend more time".

We will be having a very relaxed evening where we all come together to create Joy and Laughter & celebrate the year as we enjoy a potluck dinner together.

Bring some music or musical instruments to play, some food and drink to share (low food miles is possible) and a Secret Santa (either something grown, made, recycled, sustainable or just fun!)

When: Friday Dec 10th from 6pm
Where : Carol's place (if you don't know the address email us)

There's a BBQ available for all to use.
RSVPs by email appreciated.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hotheads, airheads and hardheads: Climate change reporting and The Australian

The Weekend Australian has launched a vigorous defense of its reporting on climate change. This particular ball seems to have got rolling when editor Chris Mitchell starting threatening to sue academic Julie Posetti for defamation. Her “crime”? Tweating the musings of a former journalist at The OZ about what it was like to report on climate change (not a happy time it seems). Lost to The OZ seems to be this audio recording of former said journalist, backing up the content of the tweats. (Also see here and here for more reaction).

Amusingly, after essentially trying to shut down criticism of their climate change coverage, The OZ then launched into a defense of publishing all and any opinions about climate change.

There is no dispute that The Australian has opened its news and opinion pages to a wide range of views on the existence and extent of climate change”.

Scientifically there is no doubt about the “existence” of climate change (the IPCC called the evidence “unequivocal”) and The OZ spends half the editorial saying they accept the science, so to defend publishing views that question the “existence” of climate change is to defend the publishing of information you know to be factually incorrect. This is false balance at the expense of accuracy. Oddly enough, just posting an online comment under one of their stories comes with the message that your comment may not be posted if it contains obvious errors of fact. So how come this seems to be ok in opinion articles and more worryingly in news articles, which readers should be able to expect are factually accurate?

One of my "favorites" in this area is this opinion piece. Here, the author starts off his ridiculous diatribe that the world is rapidly cooling towards an ice age by claiming that temperatures fell by 0.7 degrees in 2007, completely at odds with reality and such a bizarre thing to say I can only assume the author simply made it up. But this is apparently ok to publish without any fact checking, cos, you know, all views are equally valid or something.

Now to be fair, this example is from an opinion piece, which are liable to be full of nonsense, and The OZ’s main argument is that they accept the science and, news coverage notwithstanding, this is reflected in their editorials

While the views of climate sceptics have been represented in the news and opinion pages of the newspaper they have not been reflected, and have been seldom mentioned, in the paper's editorials”
The OZ cites many editorials including one from the 12th of March 2010 where they said:

For the record, The Australian has long accepted the probability of anthropogenic climate change and favoured the introduction of an emissions trading scheme”

but this very same editorial also said:

“But reputable scientists and stakeholders deserve their say, regardless of whether they subscribe to a newspaper's editorial line. This is why we have published views as diverse as those of geologist Ian Plimer..”

Except that Plimer ruined his reputation by publishing a error riddled book on climate change containing many bold but incorrect claims for which he has systematically refused to either provide supporting scientific evidence, or retract. This kind of behaviour is a death knell for scientific credibility. It also highlights one of the major criticisms of the media's coverage of climate change, “skeptics” don’t seem to require any credibility to be taken seriously by the media. Or as nobel prize winning energy secretary Steven Chu saidIf you look at the climate sceptics, I would have to say honestly, what standard are they being held to? It’s very asymmetric. They get to say anything they want

This March 12 editorial also said:

“Climate change is a new, inexact and contestable science, and the computer modelling on which all of the more alarming claims depend are only ever as good as the data fed in. As well as greenhouse emissions, that data should take account of other determinants of temperature, primarily the sun and the heat of the earth's core. Current predictions for sea-level rises range from a few centimetres to catastrophic levels of several metres that would swamp coastal areas. Faced with such variations, it would be negligent not to examine first-hand observations, even when they contradict the results churned out by laboratory computers.”

There is a lot wrong with this paragraph but before I break it down, re-read it and consider how it gels with their statement “the views of climate sceptics… have been seldom mentioned, in the paper's editorials”. You don't, of course, actually have to quote "skeptics" to push their views.

New, inexact and contestable: Climate science really begins with Svante Arrhenius, who was first to calculate how much the world might warm if C02 was doubled, in the late 19th century. But to be charitable to The OZ, you could say the field didn’t start to get broad agreement and knowledge till the 1979 Charney report which predicted a rise of ~3 dC for a doubling of C02, something that ~30 years on is still our best estimate. And in case you think 30 years is a short time in science, well that makes it older than most of molecular genetics (DNA sequencing, the human genome project, DNA fingerprinting etc), but no-ones calling that a “new”, or “inexact”.
Furthermore, all science is “contestable”, except that real scientists do their contesting in the peer reviewed scientific literature. Most “skeptics” are not doing science, they are doing PR, which is why they “contest” in the media.

Models: The skeptic obsession with computer models is really quite bizarre. Knowledge of climate is based on an understanding of the physics of the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect. On top of this (as Jim Hansen has explained) our knowledge comes from: 1) understanding how and why climate changed in the past and 2) observations of how the climate is responding today. Models come third and are partially used to save modern scientists the several years Arrhenius spent doing all these physical calculations by hand.

Heat from the earth's core: The scientific literature shows that heat from the earth's core equates to less than 0.1 Watts per square meter. Energy from the sun is 342 W/M2, while the back-radiation from the greenhouse effect is 324 W/M2, thousands of times larger. Just the increase in greenhouse gas heating equates to ~3 W/M2, over 30 times larger. So heat from the core is insignificant and yeah models take the sun into account. I hope the issues with this statement was just basic ignorance.

Sea level: The current rate of rise is 3.2 mm per year or 32 cm per century. So a few cm is out. Also this rate is likely to increase as thermal inertia means melting of icesheets (i.e.: Greenland and West Antarctica) starts slowly before gathering pace. Uncertainties in how fast this melting will occur explains much of the varied predictions for sea level.
Sea level around the world is based on long term observations from tidal gauges and now measured with incredible precision by satellites. The agreement is excellent. Does the writer know what a scientific observation is? And yes these observations are “churned out by laboratory computers” in so far as continuous worldwide satellite measurements of sea level is a little laborious to collate and process by hand.

Back to the present day and the editorial attempts to blame those raising the alarm about climate change for the public confusion about it:
The reality is that, despite the science, a good deal of uncertainty exists in the minds of many people, a situation that has not been helped by the exaggerated claims of some about what to expect.”

Sounding the alarm when there's a real threat is not alarmist, it’s prudent, that’s why we have fire alarms, and 000. In reality and as shown by some of the examples above, I’d wager a good deal of the uncertainty that exists is due to the exaggerated claims about the unknowns and uncertainties in climate science found in the media.

Ps: this post is, of course, an opinion piece and may not represent the views of TTKD, though I have certainly tried to keep it factually accurate.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The nuclear option: Should nuclear energy be part of Australia's low carbon future?

The debate about nuclear power has really heated up in the last few days. Should it be part of a low carbon future? Is it essential for providing future baseload power? Is it economically viable? Or do other renewable technologies render it unnecessary?

Here's a round up of some interesting articles:

Prof Barry Brook in The Australian summarizing a paper he has recently published, he claims nuclear will be the cheapest baseload power source.

Prof Mark Diesendorf in the SMH summarizing his paper that in fact nuclear power is not economically viable and is soon to be (are already is) being out-competed economically by renewable energy.

Surprising though it may be, both could be (at least partially) correct. Nuclear power is economically viable in places like China, where they can build the plants quickly and cheaply. History and current facts show the west builds plants slowly and expensively (ie: overtime and over-budget). The nuclear industry is saying new 3rd gen plants will fix this, only time will tell. Conversely, most future predictions of cheap renewable power require a continuation of the sharp drop in price of renewables, Brook is somewhat skeptical about this, Diesendorf I gather, is not. Given the drop in price that comes from economies of scale, industry learning curves and R&D some continuation of the drop in price seems highly likely.

Furthermore there was an interesting debate article in the SMH this week about nuclear power featuring Barry Brook (again), Ann Henderson-Sellers, a Greenpeace spokesperson and someone from the uranium industry.

Meanwhile the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has released a report into making alternatives to coal power financially viable. The author Dr John Burgess has found that both renewables and nuclear power are likely to be viable in the future. But he also points out the most important part of this whole debate, whether you want a nuclear future, a renewable future, or just a low carbon future, is to put a price on carbon to ensure the stuff gets built.

Ps: Since this is a controversial area I should point out that any opinions expressed about nuclear power are mine alone and are not an official position of Transition Kenmore.