Saturday, November 26, 2011

Climate "skeptics" return to smearing scientists with new batch of hacked emails

As some of you might have read in the news, whoever hacked the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK in 2009 has released another batch of the decades worth of emails that they stole at the time. A large number of investigations cleared the scientists of any scientific wrong doing (as we blogged at the time) but they were critisised for being somewhat evasive to freedom of information requests (even though many of these were being sent in a purposeful attempt to waste the scientists' time).

Like last time the MO of the "skeptics" is to cherry pick small snipets from the thousands of emails and make all sorts of wild claims based on them. Of course this can require pretending the snipets mean the opposite of what the scientists meant, but these sort of niceties (honesty perhaps?) don't seem to matter a lot to some it seems. The probable reason for this is that from a quick reading of sceptic blogs, it really doesn't look like there is much in these emails for them to go on. Scientist Barry Bickmore called these the B-list emails, climate scientist Gavin Schmidt "two year old turkey" and they are probably right.

To show you what I mean here is one commonly blogged email snipet

Phil Jones, CRU, to Jonathan Overpeck, Arizona University, 8 February 2008 (email 3062)

“We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written [...] We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff."

Skeptic response: Wow, those scientists are removing evidence that climate change might not be bad.

Here's a good example of why you should always be skeptical of quotes with ellipses. And yes, after wading through several "skeptic" blogs this is what they are saying. Here's the full quote, with bolding by me:

We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written that sounds as though it could have been written by a coral person 25 years ago. We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff. What we want is good honest stuff, warts and all, dubious dating, interpretation marginally better etc."

Hold on a minute. When you read the whole email it is clear the scientists are saying they think Michael (Michael Schultz) is being over optimistic and what they will need to do is change the text to better emphasize the uncertainties.
The fact is that the "skeptic" interpretation of the email is simply impossible once you have read the whole paragraph unless you are either breathtakingly dishonest, or too lazy to actually read the email before telling the world what it means because you are too busy throwing mud.

For more explanations and debunking see, here, here and here.

One other thing I'd like to mention is that "skeptics" seem to be getting excited about the fact that some of the scientists in the emails are criticising other climate scientists. Firstly this obviously shows that any claims all the scientists are in it together is nonsense. But far from being a bad thing, or casting doubt on scientists and their work, this criticism is a good thing, because this is how science works. Scientists are of course the true skeptics in the room.

Non-scientists may not realise it, but scientists love to argue, disagree, hell they will often write scientific articles pulling apart each others findings, so it should come as no surprise that they can be very candid in their (supposedly) private emails. As a scientist myself I know that those I work with are happy to sharply critisise the work of other scientists, even those we know and like or have collaborated with. Sometimes scientific criticism can get nasty, but it also leads to better science as people work to improve their methods, data and conclusions.

What this penchant for disagreement and critisicism means is that when scientists do come to a consensus ie: that the world is warming, humans are causing it and it's likely to be bad, it's because such a large body of work has accumulated that scientists can't produce any solid evidence that the consensus is wrong and so accept the overwhelming weight of data. Most scientific research is done at the frontiers of knowledge and so commonly this is where disagreements happen, but over time problems are resolved and former frontiers become well understood. This is why jumping up and down about 10 year old criticisms of what has since become well established science is just silly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

International Energy Agency: the door to 2°C is closing

These are the words from the 2011 World Energy Outlook recently released by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Although a conservative organization the IEA take climate change very seriously and included in their report detailed investigations of potential energy senario's and how they will affect climate change.

Here's their most salient conclusions (emphasis mine)
We cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change if the long-term target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C, as analysed in the 450 Scenario, is to be achieved at reasonable cost. In the New Policies Scenario, the world is on a trajectory that results in a level of emissions consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more.

Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permissible by 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already “locked-in” by our existing capital stock (power plants, buildings, factories, etc.). If stringent new action is not forthcoming by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035, leaving no room for additional power plants, factories and other infrastructure unless they are zero-carbon, which would be extremely costly. Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment avoided in the power sector before 2020 an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

For a more detail discussion see Skeptical Science, basically the IEA looked at 3 future scenario's:

Business as usual = 6°C warming
New Policies (governments meet all pledges made to date) = 3.5°C warming
450ppm (requires much greater action) = 50% chance of limiting warming to 2°C.

2°C warming is seen at the red line we don't want to cross, therefore it is clear much more world action is required.

Time is of the essence to take action to meet a 450 ppm target because existing polluting infrastructure (power plants, factories etc) is almost at the level that uses up all our "carbon budget". The implication of this is that unless action is taken now then worldwide by 2017 any new infrastructure will need to replace those already existing or be zero carbon, or we blow the budget. This is why some news stories have reported we have "5 years" to act on climate change before it is too late.

This is also why those who claim they support climate action, just not now, are misguided. Such a "strategy" is not only far more expensive in the long run, but runs the risk of beginning too late because the "locked in" polluting infrastructure is already great enough to cause dangerous climate change. The fact is a coal plant will operate/ pollute for 50 years, while new but inefficient buildings built today could be around for even longer.

The good news (from Australia's point of view) is that with the passage of the carbon price, we'll be getting started on action. One of the early effects (and perhaps one that is already being felt) will be that new power generation in Australia probably won't include coal plants and that more efficient buildings, factories and appliances will become the norm.

I'll leave the last word to the IEA:

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Transition Town Kenmore Meeting - Beyond Zero Emissions and feedback from the Sustainability and Environmental Engineering conference

Thursday November 17
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start
Kenmore Library Meeting Room 3

This month we will have two short talks.

Our own Blake Barrett will present: "Conversation for Change" and Feedback from the Escaping Silos Conference. "Conversation for Change" is a 5-7min conversation with a climate change skeptic be they family, friend, neighbour, or colleague. Feedback from the Escaping Silos Conference, will focus on the workshops and panel discussions from Octobers Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering Conference. Speakers included Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff and Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption.

Ed Parker from Sustainable Jamboree will present the Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) Stationary Energy Plan. This is a comprehensive blueprint to show how Australia can move to 100% renewable energy in 10 years. Developed by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), an independent, not-for-profit organisation, based in Melbourne but with pro bono technical collaborators and volunteer supporters around Australia. A Brisbane-based environmental activist and BZE presenter, Ed Parker will outline the science, technology and economics of this technically feasible Zero Carbon Australia plan. For more information see the attached flier and/or

As usual please feel free to bring along a plate to share for supper after the meeting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Carbon price passes - Australia to (finally) act on climate change

With a vote of 36-32 the carbon price has passed the senate is now set to become law. This means that the price on carbon pollution (and the associated compensation to households and business) will begin next year. Australia will now (finally) join the growing list of countries taking meaningful action on climate change.

It is probably worth repeating why putting a price on carbon pollution is so important and why it (necessarily) forms the foundation of climate change action.
Currently it is free for companies to emit unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, but these emissions still have a cost, through the negative effects of climate change. It is just that currently we, (the taxpayers), have to foot this bill, effectively providing a subsidy for polluting industries. In such a situation why would companies spend money to reduce their pollution? A carbon price changes this by shifting the cost to the polluters, giving them an incentive to reduce pollution. By applying the carbon price across most (or all) of the economy we can let business find the cheapest ways to reduce pollution and grow new industries based on clean technology.
A carbon price is also different from the Coalitions so called "direct action" measures where the government would use taxpayers money to pay some businesses to reduce emissions. Because this policy doesn't apply across the economy, many businesses would still be increasing their levels of pollution and have no incentive to do otherwise, nor will there be a market mechanism to find the cheapest carbon reduction possibilities. This makes it debatable whether the Coalitions direct action policy would be able to reduce emissions at all, as a decrease in one area could be canceled out by increases elsewhere.

Although the carbon price is the foundation of the "Clean Energy Future Package" there are other important elements. As we noted previously the "Carbon Farming" aspect of the package has already passed into law. Still to pass into law is the formation of ARENA, which is a new independent agency that will integrate existing money and programs for renewable energy. The Coalition have stated they will support this so expect the law to pass early next year. Also still to be introduced into parliament is the independent Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will have $10 billion dollars in new funding for commercialization and deployment of clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Like the carbon price the Coalition opposes this money for clean energy and so we can expect a new fight over CEFC early next year. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Desertec - work to start on ambitious solar scheme

The ambitious plan to cover Southern Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East with solar power plants connected to Europe via a supergrid looks to be on course to get started in 2012. The Desertec plan kicks off next year with the construction of a 500 MW solar thermal power plant in Morocco, a trial solar plant that will hopefully be the first of many.

The Desertec plan appears to be predominately driven by the Germans who have been pushing ahead aggressively with renewable energy at home, with a number of German companies being large players in the world of engineering and renewable energy. However, Germany isn't an ideal location for many types of renewable energy so the Desertec scheme eventually plans to cover Europe, North Africa and some Middle Eastern countries with a integrated supergrid allowing power to be produced in any of these locations and then sent where it is needed. Ie: Geothermal from Iceland, Hydro from Scandinavia, Wind from the UK, Solar from Spain, North Africa and the Saudis can be routed whereever it is needed.

If managed successfully Desertec stands to be a win-win situation for both Europe and Africa, providing clean power for Europe as well as electricity and economic development to many African nations. After-all it's not as though there is a shortage of sunlight in the desert so why not use it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

California approves carbon price to start in 2013

Some good news on the international climate change front, California has approved a plan for a state wide carbon price beginning in 2013. With a unanimous vote the California Air Resources Board adopted a cap and trade system that will put a price on carbon pollution.

Why is this important? Well for lots of reasons:

1. It helps demonstrate how other countries (and states) around the world are acting on climate change.

2. California has a huge economy, which, at $1.9 trillion dollars is the largest of any US state. So large in fact, that if California was a country, its economy would be one of the 10 biggest in the world. That economy is about to get less polluting.

3. California is generally ahead of the rest of the US when it comes to things like clean energy, energy efficiency etc. If it is successfully implemented, the California cap and trade scheme will have a positive influence, promoting climate action in other US states and potentially by the US federal government as well.

Although the Californian scheme is designed somewhat differently from the carbon price here in Oz, the basic idea is the same. Polluters will now have to pay to pollute, instead of taxpayers effectively subsidising polluters by picking up the tab for all the damage their pollution does.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sustainability and Environmental Engineering Conference

Escaping Silos

The Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (SSEE) brings you the SSEE 2011 International Conference in Brisbane on the 24-26 October 2011 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.

'Escaping Silos' will showcase pragmatic examples of actions that have overcome change resistance and the elements that contributed to the breakthroughs; engaging business leaders, scientists, politicians and educators that are influencing sustainability within engineering. Local and global integrated solutions across professions, industry sectors and communities will be highlighted, addressing the impact of economic policy and social directions.

The conference will deliver a dynamic and thought provoking combination of renowned international and national speakers, including:
Annie Leonard author of the Story of Stuff
Paul Gilding author of The Great Disruption
Amanda McKenzie AYCC founder
Krista Milne City Design
Carol Boyle University of Auckland

1.5 hour Q&A panel sessions from $25* - Discussion forums with industry leaders in Sustainability

These Question & Answer sessions are designed to engage you directly with the innovative viewpoints of world renowned sustainability leaders, aiming for new thinking outside the box in cross-sector integration and delivery of organisational value. The sessions will adopt an interactive format, where attendees can post questions before hand, the moderator will launch the discussion and guide it through some of the more challenging terrain posed by the audience.
Day 1 – 24th October - Silo? What Silos? With Annie Leonard
Day 2 – 25th October - Which Way out? With Paul Gilding

*Q&A Session Cost:
Conference delegate................. included
Student/Unemployed/Retired....... $25.00
SSEE & EA Member...................... $35.00
Non-Members.............................. $40.00
Conference non-delegates may register through the Engineers Australia Qld Division website:

Q&A session: Silos? What Silos?
Time: 3:15 for 3:25 Start
Venue: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
To create a sustainable future we need to understand the silos that limit us, so we can escape them. This session explores why and how we build them in the first place. Engage with Annie Leonard (Author of The Story of Stuff), Professor Ian Lowe (Australian Conservation Forum President), Richard Sanders (Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy), Bruce Mitchell (Mitchell Builders), Nadga Kunz, among others.

Annie Leonard - Author of The Story of Stuff
Annie Leonard, brings her international perspective on sustainability across industries, materials life cycle and emissions trading approaches, providing practical tools to ‘escape silos’: seeing the big picture, understanding connections across systems, and embracing new sustainable approaches to transform our societies. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Q&A session: Which way out?
Time: 2:45 for 2:55 Start
Venue: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
To meet the challenges we need clear answers to some big questions. This session explores the mechanics of creating the changes defined during the conference. The challenge of creating a sustainable future is so large and the nature of the problems so fundamental, it is critical that we break out of our current thinking to design new solutions. Engage with Paul Gilding (Author of The Great Disruption), Matthew Wright (Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions), Cath Bremner (Chief Operating Officer, Low Carbon Australia), David Hood - National President Elect Engineers Australia & Chair of Australian Green Infrastructure Council).

Paul Gilding - Author of The Great Disruption
Paul Gilding, brings compelling insights to the ‘very important engineering sector audience’, from his entrepreneur experiences as the founder and director of a successful world leading organisation in corporate sustainability strategy. Also, as a sustainability advocate, Paul outlines steady-state economy impacts on enhanced business productivity and communities’ connectedness. “It’s time to stop just worrying about climate change” says Paul Gilding. We need instead to brace for impact because global crisis is no longer avoidable. This Great Disruption started in 2008, with spiking food and oil prices and dramatic ecological changes, such as the melting ice caps. It is not simply about fossil fuels and carbon footprints. We have come to the end of Economic Growth, Version 1.0, a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we lived beyond the means of our planet’s ecosystems and resources.

AngliGreen Meeting and Old Friary Open House

Sunday 23 October 2011, 10am to 4pm

The next AngliGreen meeting will be held in conjuction with an Open House at the Brookfield Centre to remember the Old Friary. The day commences at 10am and will have a festival feel with folk singing, Taize music, a harp recital, story telling, art work and much more. AngliGreen will have their office open and will also be selling plants. The meeting will commence at 2pm with Dick Jones speaking on weed control.

Location : Brookfield Centre for Spirituality, 139 Brookfield Rd, Kenmore Hills
Contact : or Ann Ellis 3312 0207

Vera Street Community Garden Workshop: Building the Soil, Preventing Pests

Sunday 23 October 2011, 1.30 to 3.30pm

You are invited to the final of Vera Street Community Garden’s three-part series of permaculture-based workshops. This month’s workshop will cover improving the soil in your garden to promote healthy plants, prevent pest and predator problems and control weeds. There will be guidance on composting and recycling in your garden.

Cost: Free for members, $10 for non-members (includes membership if desired).
RSVP: by email, or call Gillian on 3871 3139 (after hours).

Hands-on workshop! Please wear covered shoes and a hat.
Proudly Supported by The Lord Mayors Suburban Initiative Fund and The Councillor for Toowong Ward

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

TTKD October meeting: Carbon Nation Film Screening

At the Transition Town Kenmore October meeting will be showing Carbon Nation, a film that is ideal for people who are new to the area of climate action.

Carbon Nation is a climate change solutions movie that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change! Join us for Carbon Nation (84 mins) followed by a short film about Australia’s Beyond Zero Emissions Zero Carbon Australia Project.

Watch the trailer here

Cliff Etheredge, West Texas Wind Farmer Photo Credit: Peter Byck

About the Film: Tired of the doom-and-gloom news about climate change? Carbon Nation is an inspirational, upbeat, non-preachy, non-partisan film that illustrates how solutions to climate change make great business sense, among other things. You’ll meet a host of entertaining and endearing characters along the way.

Thursday October 20, 7.30pm
Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ride to work day - This Wednesday 12th Oct

It's not too late to be part of this years Ride to Work day on October the 12th (Wednesday).

Be part of Australia’s biggest active workplace event with tens of thousands riding into work.

It doesn’t matter if you ride to work, school or uni everyday, or haven’t been in on two wheels since high school, the important thing is to get involved and make your ride count.

Meet other cyclists; share routes, tips and stories;and if you are lucky enough to work at UQ, score a free breakfast.

You can register along with 10s of thousands of others at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Powershift 2011

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) are running their annual Power Shift next month and this year it is in Brisbane. Tickets are still available and it'll no doubt be an awesome weekend for all involved. Here's the details:

"Power Shift 2011 is coming to Brisbane on Saturday 15 - Monday 17 October. If you are aged between 15-29 or know someone in this age range who may be interested... Start the transformation.
Climate change is the challenge and opportunity of our generation – it’s not about politics, its about ensuring a safe future for young people across Australia. Power Shift 2011 will be the moment when our generation comes together, and starts the transformation we need to become a nation powered by renewable energy.

In September and October, thousands of young people will come together for two incredible summits in Perth and Brisbane. Together we’ll engage with the solutions, make our voice heard, and launch a campaign to transform the country."

For more info, check out

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September TTKD Meeting - Sustainable Transport for Kenmore

The TTKD September meeting will feature sustainable transport planner Linda Fullerton talking about sustainable transport for Kenmore.

When: Thursday 15 September from 7.30pm
Where: Kenmore Library (meeting room 3)

Linda is a transport planner who focuses on providing sustainable and integrated outcomes. For most of her career she has been employed by consultants but her recent professional experience includes strategic planning roles at TransLink and Brisbane City Council and guest lectures for UQ and QUT students.

Her presentation will cover:
  • What is and isn't sustainable transport
  • The impacts on urban living and society by continuing current practices
  • The economic, environmental, community, health and social benefits of sustainable transport
  • How to change travel behaviour
  • What we need to do to encourage sustainable choices by decision makers

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Carbon farming legislation passes - first part of carbon price package becomes law

The carbon farming initiative (CFI), which allows farmers and land managers to earn credits by reducing pollution and sequestering carbon in trees and the soil has passed the parliment and is set to become law.

The basic idea here is that carbon credits can be earned for various practices that either reduce emissions from the land sector or sequester carbon dioxide. These credits can then be sold as offsets to polluters both in Australia and overseas. In this way farmers etc can earn money from better land management practices and reforestation etc. Overall carbon farming is only a small part of the carbon price package and will only equate to a small amount of the greenhouse gas reductions between now and 2020. However it does provide an incentive to use the land more sustainably and turn the land into carbon sinks.

One of the questions about carbon farming is its ability to reduce emissions or sequester carbon in the long term. Ie: If you sequester carbon by planting trees and then these trees die in a drought. Clearly verification of actual emission reductions followed by long term monitoring is going to be necessary. Despite these challenges, carbon farming does have potential and seeking to tap this potential is a worthwhile endeavor.

Nb: For those interested in comparing the climate change policies of Labour and the LNP.
While carbon farming is a minor part of the governments carbon reduction plans, the LNP hopes it will provide the majority of greenhouse gas reductions under their proposed policy. However, although the LNP say they support the CFI it in principle, they voted against it. Politics eh?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have your say on public transport in the Western Suburbs

If you have any suggestions or comments regarding public transport in the Western Suburbs (and I know many of you do!), here is your chance to be heard.

Wilson Lowe is receiving email feedback from people in the Western Suburbs regarding any suggestions or comments about public transport in the area. He will collate all of the feedback and take it to the next Public Transport Advisory Group Meeting. His email address is

More information regarding the Public Transport Advisory Group can be found here:

Native Bee Workshop

with entomologist and stingless bee keeper, Dr. Tim Heard, CSIRO.

When: Saturday October 29 9.30 a.m. - 3.30 pm
Where: The Hut (47 Fleming Road Chapel Hill 4069)

As well as explaining the natural history of our native stingless bee, Trigona carbonaria, Tim will demonstrate keeping a colony, and you will have the chance to taste the honey.

If you have a colony in a hollow log that you would like to transfer into a box, Tim may be able to do it for you at the workshop. Please let us know beforehand.

Morning tea and lunch will be provided.

Bookings are essential. Please contact Pam Jones (Secretary) at or ring mobile 0419648154.

Cost: $25 ($20 for THECA members).

You can send your form to THECA, P.O. Box 804, Kenmore, 4069.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The University of Queensland Solar Array

As hopefully many of you are aware, a couple of months back the largest flat-panel solar PV system in Australia was opened at the University of Queensland. With just over 5000 solar panels spread across the rooftops of 4 buildings it's an impressive sight.

The UQ Solar Array

The array can generate 1.22 megawatts at peak production and is expected to supply 5-6% of the peak power demand of UQ. With a peak demand of ~25Mw UQ is a big energy user so it is good that it's electricity just got a little greener. So good on UQ for building it and also to Prof Paul Meredith for all his work making it happen. No word on whether Paul enjoys being the new poster boy for the university as a consequence.

Professor Paul Meredith

This system isn't just being used to provide electricity though, it's also a research tool for studying intermittent power sources, use of battery storage and panel shading analysis etc. The UQ solar energy website also has a live feed where you can view historical plus real time data about how much electricity the solar array is generating.

The fact that the array is the largest in the country also shows how far we have to go in getting significant amounts of solar PV onto the grid. The UQ solar array is 1.22 Mw, while the next largest is on the roof of the Adelaide show grounds and comes in a 1 Mw. A large coal fired power plant would often be ~1000Mw. Also due to different capacity factors a ~1000Mw coal plant may well generate the same amount of power at ~2000Mw (or more) of solar PV.

Obviously one of the advantages of solar PV is its modular nature in that you don't need to make your power plants 1000Mw. But of course size does help with economies of scale. According to UQ the cost of the panels + installation was around $4 for every watt of generation capacity. Obviously this is more expensive than the coal price for a large electricity user like UQ, but I think it will eventually pay for itself in lower electricity costs (UQ gives a saving on the website but it is not clear to me if this has been calculated from the domestic tariff or the actual UQ tariff). One thing that will make it break even much more quickly would be the introduction of a carbon price, one reason why pricing carbon will be a boon for renewable energy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Carbon price package presentation from TTKD August meeting now available online

There were some requests for a copy of the talk given by Mike Clark on the Government's proposed clean energy future/ carbon price plan at our most recent meeting.

A pdf copy of the talk can now be found on Scribd and is embedded below. The pdf version is without some rather extensive notes contained in the power point to help explain each slide. The powerpoint is also available on Scribd.

Carbon Price Package

Nb: The presentation also contains some extra slides (30-34) not shown in the talk

Monday, August 15, 2011

TTKD August meeting: The Carbon Tax/ Clean Energy Future Package

- Confused about the carbon price package?
- Concerned about the cost?
- Keen on clean energy?
- Got questions?

You are not alone. Come along to the Transition Town Kenmore August meeting where we will dissect the Clean Energy Future package.

Mike Clark, our local policy enthusiast, will be presenting the details of the package, followed by Q&A and general discussion.

We hope to see you all there.

Thursday 18 August,
from 7.30pm
Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Room for optomism - climate action in China

The rising emissions of carbon dioxide in China is one of the favourite excuses of those who would rather not act on climate change for not doing so. However, a look at what is actually happening in China and their future plans makes it clear they are taking climate change very seriously.

Obviously compared to Australia, China is in a different position with a rapidly developing economy and rising standards of living pushing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.

Announcements in the last week or so have shown that China plans to:

- Introduce a feed-in tariff for solar power, which is likely to spur massive growth in solar PV generation.

- Set a cap on total energy use, which will help them in their plans to:

1) Improve energy efficiency
2) Set up a number of regional greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes.
3) Track of progress of indiviual provinces towards their emissions goals
4) Integrate regulatory policies such a greener building codes into a national policy.

China's overall goal is to decrease the "carbon intensity" of their economy by 40-45% by 2020. By carbon intensity they mean that a unit of economic active will produce ~40% less carbon emissions that it previously did. Even with these improvements China's emissions are going to continue to rise for the time being (however without serious action so will ours in Australia). What these actions aim to do is slow the emissions increases in China and stabilise them as quickly as possible, at which point they will likely still be considerably lower per person than here in Oz.

These actions in China, while helping them to continue to dominate the clean energy race, will also help to put them on a path to stabilising their carbon emissions. However, nothing promotes progress like progress and we in Australia, as one of the worlds top 20 largest economies and top 20 largest C02 emitters, have a responsibility to play our part by cutting our own emissions and then pushing China to do even more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

High speed rail in Australia

This week the government released stage 1 of a detailed study into high speed rail (HSR) for the east coast of Australia that would eventually connect Brisbane-Newcastle-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne.

The major findings of the study, which were widely reported, were:

1) That the entire project would cost between $61 and $108 billion dollars (spread over several decades).
2) Train journeys between Bris-Syd and Syd-Mel would be ~3 hours, while Syd-Canberra and Syd-Newcastle would take an hour or less.
3) Trains would travel ~200 km/h in urban areas and up to 350 km/h elsewhere
4) Fares could be similar to air travel (eg: Bris to Syd from between $75 and $177 for non-business and business class respectively)

This report investigates potential routes and station positions, project costs and likely passenger numbers at various fare prices. It didn't conduct a detailed cost benefit analysis of the entire project (this will be in stage 2 to be released next year).

The idea is to have stations in the city centres of Brisbane, Sydney etc. From here trains will exit the city by tunnel (allows higher speeds, better safety and less resumptions). Near the city edge the trains will emerge, speed up to ~350 km/h and head to their destination with a small number of stops at major populations centers in between. For example Brisbane-Sydney would likely stop near the city outskirts (say Logan) and then at the Gold Coast with a total of 5-7 stops between the cities.

The passenger demand modeling in the study has some interesting findings:
1) Modeling predicts 54 millions passengers a year by 2036.
2) City terminus stations should be in the city center, moving them outside of city center decreases demand significantly.
3) The "rural" and commuter city (ie: Newcastle, Gold Coast) stops are important to patronage numbers with the majority of total journeys not being between the major cities. A lot of patronage will be from Canberra - Syd and Newcastle - Syd etc.
4) HSR would move a lot of people from plane travel to train travel, as well as stimulate extra travel because of the new opportunities available to people.
3) The Brisbane to Sydney route isn't predicted to have huge patronage numbers. Given the long distance and large cost of this route compared to other connections, it suggests to me any Brisbane to Sydney link would be last to be completed.

Overall high speed rail offers the chance to have a more sustainable, but still convenient, transport option for the east coast. It also offers a possible solution to Sydney's current need for a second airport for which there is no politically acceptable place to put one.
The cost of HSR is obviously large but would be spread over 10-20 years and it is likely any HSR would be built in stages. It is unlikely that HSR would ever repay the building cost but would be expected to run at a profit. Over decades we spend similar amounts of money on road transport without any second thoughts or demands that many of our road make a profit.
Moreover, as well as being a good way to get around, HSR would bring economic benefits to those areas connected to it.

The report identifies the cost of buying the land along the preferred route at $6 billion dollars, purchasing this would be a good start for government action, so that even if only some of the sections are economically viable now, the land for the rest will be available in the future.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The government's carbon price mailout

I've just finished reading the Gillard governments' carbon price mailout which arrived yesterday.

It reinforces in my mind, how, by creating a comprehensive policy, they have also created quite a complex policy. Although the household compensation is only one aspect of the package it takes up the vast majority of the handout. (For anyone reading who wants to know how you and your family will be affected the best way to check is this online calculator). As far as I can tell everything in the mailout is more or less correct and I thought the section "How will a carbon price cut pollution?" was quite good with some pertinent points:

"Currently, releasing carbon pollution is free despite the fact that it is harming Australia's environment

A carbon price changes this. It puts a price on the carbon pollution that Australia's largest polluters produce. This creates a powerful incentive for businesses to cut their pollution, by investing in clean energy or finding more efficient ways of operating"
I think this is quite a good way to explain in a nutshell how and why a carbon price will be effective. It seems the govt has decided to back off talking about how carbon pricing will change consumer behaviour at the household level (although it will to some extent) and focus on where most of the action is, which is investment decisions by large companies, especially the large polluters.

The mailout does spend a bit of time talking about one aspect of the package that I like, which is the increase in the tax free threshold from $6000/year to over $18 000/year. I have seen some commentators criticize the package for including things like this, saying it makes it too complex and distracts from the main message. On the other hand, since the package needed to include household compensation anyway, why not utilise the chance to introduce a tax change recommended by the Henry review and which the economic boffins think is a good idea.

Conversely the mailout spends very little time talking about the $10 billion dollars for clean energy in the carbon package. $10 billion dollars is a serious chunk of change and should be a big shot in the arm to the industry. Hopefully this policy has got into the general consciousness of the public despite all the other parts of the package competing for airtime.

Lastly, it is always going to be somewhat controversial when a government carries out public education campaigns. I can understand why some would rather the government not spend any taxpayer money on such things. On the other hand, this is a large and complex policy with important implications for the country. A loud, well funded and often misleading campaign has and is being run against it. In such a case do people not deserve to be given the facts lest they form their opinions based on incorrect or misleading information? In this the mailout does ok but isn't perfect, while it is clear from reading it that not everyone is fully compensated, perhaps unsurprising there are no profiles on a family from the minority of Australian's (generally the wealthy) who won't be fully compensated. Guess that's PR for you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Unravelling a few of Australia's climate change myths

Australia has recently been host to a fairly prominent visitor from the UK, no not that one, I mean Sir Richard Lambert. Until recently Lambert was Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, the UK's top business and industry organisation. So it's fair to assume he has a good knowledge of how business is affected by and responds to carbon pricing like they have in Europe.

Lambert has clearly been quite surprised by the nature of the climate change "debate" in Australia and has contributed a post to ABC The Drum "Unravelling a few of Australia's climate change myths". Worth a read. See him also on Lateline business.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Being skeptical of the skeptics - Bob Carter edition

Adj Prof Bob Carter is one of Australia's most prominent climate "skeptics". Unlike most climate "skeptics" he is a scientist, although the number of scientific papers he has published on climate change are few to nonexistent).

A couple of months back Bob gave a talk to the Sydney Mining Club where he repeated many of his claims, including that the planet is not warming due to greenhouse gasses and that he doesn't think it is warming at all. Personally I'm skeptical of his claims and I'm not the only one, a statistician/ climate scientist who blogs under the name Tamino, decided to do what real skeptics do and test Bob's claims.

The result (which I highly recommended people read if you have time) is an incredible demolition of Carter's claims. Here's just one of them.

Bob takes the temperature record of the lower atmosphere as determined by satellites (which started in 1979) and claims it doesn't show warming. He then claims that temperature trend is for flat temperatures before and after 1998 with a jump in the middle. Here's the slide:

Scientifically this is bizarre, the correct way to check for warming is to calculate the trend over the entire series, but Bob doesn't like this idea (hint: it shows warming). But actually it gets worse because it turns out his red "trend lines" are not trend lines at all. He just made them up to show the answer he wanted, which was no change in temperature. How do we know? Because when Tamino calculated the change in temperature over this time period he got this.

In both cases the trend is up, ie: temperatures increased.

But I'm a skeptical person so I shouldn't just take Tamino's word. So I went and drew some trends too using the same data. It's easy, you can do it here.
I checked the temperature trend in the atmosphere since 1979 and the trend since 1999 (Carter's second red line) and lo and behold I found that Tamino was right and Carter's "trend" was fake.

What Carter has done wouldn't be acceptable for a first year university student, but Carter is suppose to be a scientist and this is just one of the errors in his presentation.
From all this I draw two conclusions.
1. Whatever credibility Carter once had in the climate debate, it's gone.
2. It is good, although time consuming, to be skeptical of both those you agree and disagree with. That way you know, as Whitey Ford said, "who's real and who's faking".

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hi Mike, good summary. The following was put out by the ACF in its Habitat magazine in its children's section. Maybe this is the level of communication required:)
Seven Good Reasons To Say Yes To A Price On Carbon Pollution:
1. Big Polluters Pay, Not Individual taxpayers ( the carbon price will be paid by less than 1% of businesses who are responsible for 75% of Australia's carbon pollution).
2. There's a New Incentive
to cut pollution and innovate...
3. The money charged to big polluters
wont all go to the govt - some will go to reneweable energy..
4. ..and some will go to help people
on low incomes struggling with bills...
5. There'll be new jobs
cleaning upexistng industries and building new ones... ( up to 700,000 new jobs)
6. Cleaner air
will mean better health for all.
7. We'll finally be doing something positive about climate change.


Friday, July 15, 2011

10 things to know about the carbon price

We now know the details of the governments package to tackle climate change by pricing carbon pollution. My live blog about the carbon price was a bit messy. So I've cleaned it up a bit.

Here are the 10 important points:

1. A price on pollution of $23 a ton

2. Pollution cuts of at least 5% by 2020 and 80% by 2050

3. Scheme starts as a "tax" but moves to an emissions trading scheme in 2015

4. 500 biggest polluters will pay for their carbon pollution

5. Price rises will be modest - expected to raise average prices by 0.7%

6. Compensation for households will see most better or no worse off

7. Tackling climate change now is cheaper and easier than waiting or doing nothing

8. Over 10 billion dollars for renewable energy

9. Money for storing carbon in land, improving biodiversity, closing down the dirtiest coal plants and helping industry be more efficient.

10. Vulnerable industries who are trade exposed get generous assistance

For more detail on each point see this post.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

TTKD July Meeting - Responsible and Ethical financial management + a quick carbon price chat

Steve Putt is the Managing Director of Viridian Wealth Management Pty Ltd, a financial planning firm that specialises in strategic advice, and responsible investment.
Steve has 15 years experience in the financial services industry. He has a passion for sustainability, and believes that not only should be people be aware of what their money is up to, but that they can drive social change by marrying their personal beliefs with ethical wealth creation strategies.

His talk to Transition Towns Kenmore will cover his background, how Viridian Wealth Management Pty Ltd came to be, and some tips on finding out what you can do. Steve believes that most people are unaware of the companies they support with passive investment decisions, specifically through their superannuation.

He believes it is an important message to hear that people have choices in how they invest, which can drive social and environmental change.

After Steve has spoken and we have had a Q&A about ethical / sustainable investing, if people want we can also discuss the carbon price package.

When: Thursday 21 July, 2011. 7.30pm
Where: Kenmore Library

NOTE: New day! Meetings now on Thursdays

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some journalistic takes on the carbon price

Couple of interesting pieces in the SMH today regarding the carbon price/tax

Ross Gittins: Give and take: this new tax is a piece of cake

Explaining how a carbon price can work even though people are being compensated.

Lenore Taylor: Facts assail Abbott's Chicken Little act

Fact checking Abbott's arguments against the carbon tax.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How will a carbon price effect me?

If you are wondering this question then you should head over the Governments new website Clean energy future.
In what must be a first for any government they have managed to produce a fairly attractive looking website, but more importantly it allows you to calculate you and your families' level of assistance and therefore how the carbon price will affect your family budget. You can do this here.

If you are interested in more technical details of exactly what income ranges end up better and worse off then Greg Jericho has the details.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Expert reaction to the carbon price - mostly positive

"This is a strong climate change policy package. It will allow Australia to do its fair share in an effective global effort to reduce the risks of climate change, and to do so at reasonable cost."
- Prof Ross Garnaut

The Conversation website has been rounding up expert reaction to the Govt's Carbon Pricing package, while Prof Ross Garnaut's full response is here.

Like Prof Garnaut, the majority of experts have reacted favorably to the scheme on the whole. There seems to be general agreement that this is a better scheme than the CPRS.
The method to provide much of the compensation by raising the income-free threshold to $18 000 has been widely praised as good policy in that it compensates people, simplifies the tax system and also means ~1 million people won't need to file a tax return.
Other experts like the renewables money, the formation of mostly-independent agencies to recommend future policy to government, the money for carbon sequesteration in the land etc.

For more, see the linked articles.

Update: Prof Frank Jotzo chimes in, again he's pretty positive about the package

Carbon price - live blog and first reactions (updated)

1. Carbon price to start at $23 a ton
- basically what Garnaut recommended. And rising at 2.5% a year above inflation. About $1.30 a year I think (assuming 3% inflation).
- Note that the original CPRS was going to start with a introductory price of $10 a ton but then was expected to move to around $20-25 once it got fully underway).

2. Aim for a cut of 5% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
-The 2020 target is quite low but by switching to a emissions trading scheme where the government caps the amount of pollution this could certainly be ramped up. The 80% target by 2050 is in line with the science.

3. Switch from a tax to emissions trading scheme in 2015.
-Again this is what Garnaut recommended, fixing the price at the start of the scheme will provide some certainty for business as every gets used to paying for carbon.
- The ETS will have a price floor of $15 (ie: the price won't be able to drop below this and will provide some certainty for investors).

4. The carbon tax will be levied at the 500 biggest polluters.
-They will then have an incentive reduce their emissions to reduce their bill. This will have a big effect on investment decisions especially when deciding on new electricity generation.

5. Price rises are predicted to be modest - 0.7% over the whole economy in 2012/2013
- Because polluters will pay more, many will pass on these costs to their customers. However the rises won't actually be that large, much smaller than GST for example.
- ie: About 80c a week rises in food prices
- Price rises for the average household are estimates to be $9.90/week but compensation will be $10.10/week

6. Most people will get compensation and be no worse off
- Tax free threshold will be tripled to $18 000 a year
- Pensioners and self-funded retirees will receive compensation
- I like these tax cuts, basically we are going to tax something we don't like (pollution) and tax something we do like less (work).
-Lower income households are expected to be about 20% better off. I guess the idea here was to make sure there are no nasty surprises for those who can least afford it.

7. Treasury modeling show that the earlier you start tackling climate change the cheaper and easier it is. Jobs and economic growth will see little effect. Economic growth will only by 0.1% lower than it otherwise would have been.

8. There is funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency
- The renewable energy fund is worth over 10 billion dollars.
- This appear to have two parts, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will manage both which consists of:
~10 billions dollars in new money. Similar to a "Green bank" in that it will provide funding for renewable energy projects.
~3.2 billion in existing money for funding of R&D through to deployment will be also be managed by the AREA
All together this will help to get renewable energy plants built. A big positive and certainly much better than what was in the CPRS.
- There will be money for industry to make themselves more energy efficient. This will help to modernise industry making them more competitive and also reduce their emissions.

9. Emissions intensive and trade exposed industry's will get 94.5% compensation. Which will decrease slowly at 1.3% a year. There is also extra money for some areas like the steel industry.

10. There is money for carbon farming (sequestering carbon in trees and the land) and also for retiring the dirtiest coal fired power plants by 2020.

11. Offsets - Offsets are going to be allowed, including international offsets.
- Until 2015 when the ETS phase starts only domestic offsets will be allowed (ie: carbon farming, free planting etc)
- After 2015, up to 50% of emissions reductions can come from overseas. (This is considerably less than in the CPRS). Expect moves to link our ETS with that in NZ and the EU, one place we may see international offsets is in NZ forestry. Offsets in developing countries will likely also be allowed but the rules will need to be strict to make sure these are real and verifiable.

Overall, this is probably about the best that could be achieved when you needed the Greens and Tony Windsor to agree and some parts are better than I expected. I give it a pass mark.

For more information see ABC news here.
There is also a lot of detail on the policy on the Govt website Clean Energy Future.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Solar thermal first as Spanish solar plant provides 24hrs of uninterrupted electricity

The newly completed 19.9MW Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal (CSP) plant has become the first to provide 24hrs of uninterrupted electricity into the grid. Utilising the "power tower" design where a field of mirrors focuses the sun onto a central tower, Torreso's plant also contains tanks of molten salt which can be heated to ~500 dC and then used to produce electricity once the sun goes down.

The power tower with molten salt storage CSP is designed to provide power during the day while also storing excess energy as super hot molten salt to provide up to 15 hours of extra electricity. Torreso's Gemasolar plant, which only started operating at full capacity in late June is the first CSP power tower plant to incorporate salt storage, an addition that greatly increases its capacity factor (the percentage of time the plant is producing electricity).

Torresol believes that over time its new plant will produce electricity for the grid on average 20 hours a day, with 24hr production possible during the summer when sunlight is at a maximum.

This milestone is important as it expands the ability of renewable electricity technologies to provide baseload or near baseload electricity either separately or in conjunction. CSP with molten salt storage was also a key component of the Beyond Zero Emissions 100% renewable energy plan for Australia. Seeing the technology demonstrated successfully will help the case for building similar plants here in Australia.

Given Gemasolar is a first of a kind, the cost of building it was obviously more than for established renewable technologies such as wind. But you need the deployment of technologies to bring down costs through building up knowledge about how to construct, run and improve plants and to generate demand which fosters further innovations and generates economies of scale. Let's hope Gemasolar is the first of many.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monthly meeting change: TTKD now meets on Thursdays

Starting with our July meeting, TTKD is changing it's meeting night to the 3rd Thursday of the Month.

So, only the night has changed, it is still the 3rd week of the month and we will still meet at the Kenmore library at 7.30pm. The advantage of meeting on Thursdays is that it is no longer after-hours so as long as you arrive before 8pm you can get in the building without someone giving you access.

We'll have more information about our next meeting on Thursday July 21st soon.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tony Abbott, Carbon Pricing and Epistemic Closure

Another day, another group of experts report that if you are going to act on climate change then carbon pricing "is the most effective way of achieving least-cost abatement".

One might think that when practically all the experts in a particular field are confident that one course of action is the best one, you should at least give them the benefit of the doubt, be they doctors recommending treatment, climate scientists saying we're warming the planet or economists saying a carbon price is cheaper and more effective than direct action.

But not Her Majesties leader of the opposition. Faced with this latest report Tony Abbott has responded by claiming that the experts are wrong and probably incompetent.

Last year there was a lot of talk in American conservative political circles about Epistemic Closure, which in this case was taken to mean close-mindedness and/or an ideological attraction to an idea despite the evidence.

Previously I had assumed that Abbott's opposition to any form of carbon pricing and favoring of "direct action" was a purely political position. Whatever Labour is for, he is against, a rather cynical position with no real interest in what policy might be best for the future of this nation. But comments like this make me wonder if actually he does believe he is correct, despite the fact all the experts tell him he is wrong. A diagnosed case of epistemic closure?

PS: Abbott's citing of Bjorn Lomborg in support of his position is hardly inspiring. Lomborg to put it simply, is not credible.

PPS: The opinions in this piece are solely my own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brissie's own TRANSITION PICNIC - Sat 9th July

Click image to expand

From noon, Saturday 9th July, at New Farm Park rotunda (or nearby). BYO picnic lunch. See flyer for more info.

It would be great to know who's coming, so please RSVP here.

One little detail - BCC charges for the hire of the Rotunda - so we haven't booked it! Instead we'll just turn up and try our luck; if the rotunda is in use we can shift to the alternative area nearby (marked below on the map).

Still open to offers of entertainment, and suggestions for promotion - please add comments here.
Come along, bring a friend, and spruik for 60 seconds on your particular project.

See you at the picnic!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bellbowrie Flood Recovery Community Event this Saturday

The Bellbowrie Community Association are delighted to bring you the Lord Mayor’s Flood Recovery Community Event from 10am to 4pm on Saturday June 25th 2011 (this weekend) at Booker Park, Birkin Road, Bellbowrie.

Transition Town Kenmore District will have a stall in the Art and Environment Space. We will have some 'Backyard Farmers' produce and some homemade cleaning remedies on display as well. It would be lovely if you could come along and say hello!

More information is available here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

TTKD June Meeting - What’s happening at Sustainable Jamboree? + Permablitz update

Ngaire McGaw, convenor of Sustainable Jamboree will be speaking about what actions they have been taking and what successes they have had across the river in the Jamboree ward.
Sustainable Jamboree is a volunteer group which partners with ordinary people as well as experts to organise forums, films, programs, campaigns, and policy papers as outlined on their website. Sustainable Jamboree is once again a finalist for this year’s Premier’s ClimateSmart Sustainability Awards.
We will also continue planning our next permablitz.

When: Wednesday 15 June, 2011.
Where: Kenmore Library

Access via the after hours lift entrance on the ground floor. It’s under the library, right by the car park, behind the library’s main escalator entrance. Someone will let you in. If you arrive late and there is no one there please press the buzzer for meeting room 3 and someone will come down.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Garnaut releases final review - offers a prescription for a carbon price

Prof Ross Garnaut has just released his final 2011 review report, where he outlined the case for and the design of a price on carbon.

It's a hefty tome, but many of the basic details are the same as we reported on a few months ago.

1) Australia has an obligation to reduce its emissions along with other developed countries, with the proposed carbon price not committing us to more action that most other countries are taking.

2) A price on carbon is the cheapest most effective way to reduce emissions.

3) Garnaut recommends starting with a fixed price (the carbon tax) of between $20-30 a tonne before moving to a floating price (an emission trading scheme) several years later.

4) Lower and middle income earners should be compensated primarily through tax cuts by raising the tax free threshold. Other money raised by the tax will go to trade exposed industry, carbon farming and innovation.

For some expert analysis, Prof John Quiggin is blogging the chapters as he reads them and providing some commentary too. Recommended if you want more information but don't want to read the whole report or summary report.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Say Yes to action on climate change

Join organisations, communities and individuals all across Australia who are saying YES to action on climate change and a price on pollution!

Join us online, and please come to take part in the National Day to ‘Say Yes’, when events will be held around the country:

Brisbane Riverstage, City Botanic Gardens

1 pm – 2.30pm Sunday 5 June

Join the event on facebook

TTKD invites you to join us, along with organizations and individuals from all walks of life to call for a safe climate for everyone.

say YES to cutting pollution, say YES to renewable energy, say YES to a healthy environment, say YES to a sustainable future

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Climate action in the UK - Conservative government announces 50% cut by 2025

With getting any sort of action on climate action in Oz such a tough challenge, you'd be forgiven for thinking that no other countries were helping show the way.
Last week however the UK conservative-lead coalition government announced they will be making a 50% cut in carbon emissions by 2025. This won't just be an aspiration either, it will be the law of the land. i.e.: legally binding.

This is the most ambitious carbon pollution reduction target of any developed country and comes at a time when the UK economy has been struggling. So why are they doing it?

Well for one thing they are acting in line with what the science says developed countries need to do to limit dangerous levels of global warming.
Also of great importance, they believe moving to a low carbon economy will create innovation, investment and jobs and so be an overall benefit to the economy.
And thirdly, as it stands the UK is highly dependant on imported fossil fuels and their north sea oil supplies are decreasing. Moving to a low carbon economy will make the UK more energy independent and so less venerable to swings in the oil price and less dependent on Russian natural gas etc.

So with the UK moving towards such major cuts, it makes you realize that the cuts proposed in Australia of 5-15% by 2020, aren't that large by international standards.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Community Spirit Alive in Christchurch

A lovely story of a community pulling together to hang on to their local area after the Christchurch earthquake. It is only a pity it often takes such a tragedy for people to realise the important role community can play in one's life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Malcolm in the middle

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has created a bit of a storm this week after offering a straightforward critique of the Liberal parties' own climate change policy on ABC Lateline (transcript and video here).

Turnbull who has long publicly favored a market based scheme as opposed to the Liberal's "direct action" policy, is probably guilt of making that unforgivable mistake in politics, telling the truth, without any spin.

So what did Malcolm say?

Well, basically, he explained how the "direct action" policy works.
"Direct action" allows polluters to pollute and then the government uses taxpayers money to buy pollution offsets. While this can decrease "net" pollution, it doesn't create a low carbon economy and as business pollution levels continue to rise you need to buy more and more offsets to reduce your overall levels of pollution. In the long term with Oz needing to cut its carbon pollution emissions by 80% or more, these taxpayer funded offsets would become "very expensive".

Some quotes:

"But the way it works is that the taxpayer - the taxpayers' money would be used to buy carbon offsets from farmers, so that as industry pollutes, the Government would then spend taxpayers' dollars to buy carbon offsets to offset that pollution."

"if you want to have a long-term technique of cutting carbon emissions, you know, in a very substantial way to the levels that the scientists are telling us we need to do by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change, then a direct action policy where the Government - where industry was able to freely pollute, if you like, and the Government was just spending more and more taxpayers' money to offset it, that would become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead."

Turnbull is also in hot water with the Libs, but lauded by Labour, for saying that the "two virtues" of the Libs direct action policy "from the point of view of Mr Abbott and (shadow environment minister) Mr Hunt" are that a direct action policy is easy to stop if 1) climate change isn't real, or 2) if you decide acting on climate change is too hard. Considering the enormous weight of evidence that humans are causing climate change and it is a serious problem we need to deal with, my impression is that Turnbull is telling us the Libs either don't know the science, and/or don't take climate change policy seriously.

Why is all this important?

Probably because since both major parties are offering climate change policies it is important to view each critically. The Liberal's policy isn't efficient and in order to work could be very expensive on the taxpayer. Even more importantly because there would little/no incentive for polluters to cut their pollution, Australia would fail to move to a low carbon economy, a serious problem is the long run.

Update: Malcolm Turnbull has issued this defense/ explanation of his interview comments on his website. Basically he uses a lot more words to say the same thing and points out that what people took as him been critical was simply him accurately explaining the policy (though I think they are probably one and the same).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Promoting renewable energy in Queensland

Way back in the mists of time (so sometime in mid 2010 from memory), Transition Kenmore put in a submission to a state government inquiry into "Growing Queensland’s Renewable Energy Electricity Sector". This was set up to look at potential renewable energy targets, what the government could do to promote renewables and the value for money from Govt policies etc.

The Environment and Resources Committee has now released its recommendations. So let's have a brief look at their vision for the future. (Quick note, these are committee recommendations not official govt policies).

1. The inquiry wants the state government to encourage the federal government to get on with the job of putting a price on carbon. - A carbon price will encourage investment in renewables. It will also go someway towards mitigating one identified "barrier" to renewables, which is that they are more expensive that polluting sources of power because these polluting sources get free use of the atmosphere as their garbage dump.

2. The governments top priority should be energy efficiency. - To some degree this makes sense, efficiency is a cheap way to decrease greenhouse gas pollution, although it doesn't actually make power stations any cleaner.

3. The governments second priority should be to set a target for 20% of QLD's electricity to come from gas fired generation by 2020. - This is a bit of an odd one, since the inquiry didn't set out to look at this non-renewable form of electricity at all, but somehow more gas generation has become a more important priority that any policy regarding renewables.

4. The QLD government should set an aspirational target for 20% renewables by 2020. - This is the same level as the mandatory national RET scheme. So while it would appear the committee would like more renewables, they feel no great need for QLD to lead the way or try to surpass the national average.

5. Replace diesel generators with renewables in remote Indigenous committees. - A worthy goal, but not one that will have a large impact on the make up of the state's power generation.

6. Review of the current feed-in tarrif. Is it cost effective? Should it be available to larger sized solar arrays and non solar technologies? Would interest free loans to help buy the systems be a better scheme? - From memory, TTKD proposed the Govt look into allowing the cost of renewables systems to be paid off via council rates bills over ~10 years, but this obviously didn't make the cut, perhaps because it requires council participation.

7. A few recommendations for getting more households to buy Greenpower and to allow future public charging stations for electric vechicle to be supplied with renewable energy.

So there you have it, no recommendations to specifically encourage large scale (ie: 10s to 100s of Mw) renewable energy power plants in Queensland, or that the government should invest in making these happen. No recommendations relating to helping connect renewable power plants to the grid despite the fact this was identified as a "key barrier" faced by renewables. A bit of tinkering here and there, an aspiraitonal renewable energy target and a hard target for lots more gas power plants (which still emit a lot of greenhouse gasses).
One could be tempted to conclude that an inquiry which was designed to recommend how best to promote renewables but which then spruked non-renewables gives a good insight into the priorities of the government.

Somewhat ironically, given the fairly tepid nature of the report, it is interesting to note that the LNP members of the committee issued a dissenting report. It is heavy on taking points, has no policy suggestions for promoting renewable energy, and leaves one with the feeling that although these members say they support renewable energy, that's about the current limit of LNP policy.

Pretty uninspiring all round really.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Carbon pricing silly season - The Australian edition

Yesterday I remarked on the rather alarmist headline the SMH ran on the front page. But it seems like The Australian is doing its best to get in on the act with "Summer of disaster 'not climate change': Rajendra Pachauri"

Reading the article though, its clear thats not what Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, said.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri said the general observation that climate change was bringing about an increase in extreme weather events was valid but scientists needed to provide much finer detail.


"What we can say very clearly is the aggregate impact of climate change on all these events, which are taking place at much higher frequency and intensity all over the world.

"On that there is very little doubt; the scientific evidence is very, very strong. But what happens in Queensland or what happens in Russia or for that matter the floods in the Mississippi River right now, whether there is a link between those and climate change is very difficult to establish. So I don't think anyone can make a categorical statement on that."

Again this stuff isn't rocket science, climate change changes the climate. The air and oceans are warmer than they used to be. The atmosphere contains more water vapour. Warmer temperatures mean more heat waves and more moisture in the air provides more fuel for storms.

Or as top climate scientist Dr Kevin Trenberth put it, speaking about the effect of climate change on weather events

"there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago"

So basically climate change has a hand in all the weather nowadays, the "systematic influence", and can act with a La Nina, or an El Nino to create more and greater extreme events than would have happened otherwise. But did climate change "cause" an single event? Well that's very difficult to answer without a lot of study, although studies are now starting to appear showing human caused climate change can make individual extreme weather events more likely to occur.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Carbon pricing silly season

Those trying to have a rational discussion about carbon pricing must feel like they are stuck in a never-ending silly season. Today's topic is the $40 a tonne magic number for a carbon price, with the headline in the usually fairly reliable Sydney Morning Herald screaming "Carbon price shock: now it's $40 tonne".

Except that it almost certainly isn't.

A report to be released on Wednesday will apparently show that a carbon price of $40 a tonne will be required for gas generation to compete with/replace black coal. This isn't really a surprise and I have been under the impression for some time that a carbon price of less than $30 a tonne will make brown coal uncompetitive, with a higher price of ~$40 a tonne for black coal. As far as I know can tell, this means even at a $25 dollar a tonne starting price, the dirtiest brown coal power stations (ie: Hazelwood) will need to start cleaning up their act, start running only as peaking plants instead of baseload, or look to close. A price on carbon will have the biggest effect on the most polluting plants first which is brown coal, (which generates 26% of Australia's electricity).

So what about black coal? Well (and this is where the SMH headline goes all wrong), just because a carbon price doesn't start high enough to make a polluting form of power uncompetitive, doesn't mean it won't over time. The carbon price will rise as time passes and will reach a point where it hits $40 in today's money at which time black coal will become uncompetitive (and plants will start to close etc).

But there is another effect we need to remember too and that is new power generation. Power plants are long term infrastructure and need to be profitable over many decades (or they won't be built). Even if the initial carbon price doesn't make black coal uncompetitive a clear signal will have been sent to the market about what power plants will be profitable in the long term with a rising carbon price. The effect, which may be starting to be felt already after several years of carbon price discussion, is the that the dirtiest forms of power generation (ie: coal) simply won't built anymore. Which will certainly help to clean up the electricity industry given the steady stream of new plants opened every year.

Ps: I should note that from an environmental POV, or if you only wanted renewable energy to be competitive, a carbon price of $40 (or higher) would make sense. What I'm trying to point out here is that carbon pricing works in both the short and long term and that the price doesn't need to start high to be effective.

PPS: the actual SMH article was pretty ok, mostly its issue was the silly headline. Although it's probably not as bad as The Australians' "Westpac chief Gail Kelly joins carbon tax revolt" when, as the article made clear, she said no such thing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Climate Scientists rap - "I'm a climate scientist"

From last week's Hungry Beast show on the ABC comes a comes a very novel mash up: Actual climate scientists and rap. This has been posted on quite a few sites but in case you havn't seen it, here it is.

Warning, they're "keeping it reeeeal", so there is a lot of bad language in this video. So if you don't like swearing, there is a cleaner version here. And if you don't have a sense of humour you probably should resist from watching altogether.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

TTKD May Meeting - Permablitz updates and future ideas plus a general gardening discussion

At our May meeting we will get an update on the vege gardens that TTKD permablitzed in 2009 and 2010. We will hear from Louise Orr, Brenda Whybrow and Carol Shantal about what worked, what didn’t and what’s happening now in their gardens.

It would be great to start thinking about doing some more permablitzes soon!

We will also have a general group discussion about gardening in our community. Have a think about what you have grown well, what you have tried to grow but haven’t been able to and what you would like to grow but don’t even know where to start!

When: Wednesday 18 May, 2011
Where: Kenmore Library
Time: 7:30pm

Remember we are at a new venue: Kenmore Library at the Kenmore Village Shopping centre.

Here's the details for getting in:
Use the After Hours Lift Entrance on the ground floor. It’s under the library, right by the car park, behind the library’s main escalator entrance. Someone will be there to take you up to the meeting room. If you arrive late and there is no one there please press the buzzer for meeting room 3 and someone will come down and let you in.