Monday, March 28, 2011

Effectiveness of greenhouse gases

For the more technically minded, I posted an article on my blog on why different greenhouse gases have different effects, e.g., methane is molecule for molecule a more powerful warmer than carbon dioxiode. Short answer to that one: there is very little methane comparatively speaking; were there a similar amount of methane and carbon dioxide, adding methane would actually have a lower warming effect.

If you want to find out more, go to my blog. Any error corrections or requests for clarifications welcome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SMH: Carbon won't cost the clever consumers

Alan Pears is an adjunct professor at RMIT University and an expert on things like energy efficiency. Last year I saw him give an interesting talk to the alternative technology association. Today he has an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald " Carbon won't cost the clever consumers" explaining how, with a bit of thought, most people could cut their energy use and keep their power bills down by moving to more energy efficient appliances and avoiding wasteful products.

"Consider a typical annual household electricity cost of $1500. If you've bought a new fridge in the past few years, your bill is up to $200 lower than it would have been if you still had the old fridge. Improved energy efficiency has cut running costs.

On the other hand, if you have those trendy halogen downlights, your bill is probably $200 more than it would have been with traditional lighting, because you are running many more lights."

He also points out that, with a bit of thought, many business's can cut their energy use too, cutting their carbon emmissions while actually saving money.

"The top 200 energy-consuming industries in Australia have been required to look for energy-efficiency measures under the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program. So far, they have identified 8.3 per cent savings at an average carbon cost of minus $100 a tonne avoided. These measures will slash their carbon costs - and make them handsome profits."
These examples, plus more in the article, remind me that, when we talk about behavioural change and using less electricity, we don't mean sitting around in the dark. We mean people taking advantage of better, more efficient technology and manufacturers making products that take less energy to create and less energy to run. We mean inventivising behavioural change that is goood for your wallet and the planet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

To encourage recycling, it pays to learn from zer best.

The Germans are well known for taking their recycling seriously, helping this along has been coming up with effective ways of encouraging people to recycle. Leo Hickman reports from Neustadt an der Weinstrasse where 70% of waste is recycled.

So how do that do it? Simple really, residents pay for every bag of rubbish they create, while recycling collection is absolutely free. The charge for waste is separated from rates so people know exactly how much money their rubbish is costing them. So, the less waste you create, the less you pay.

The reason for Neustadt's success is simple, says Weiss. "It's all about providing financial incentives and education. We don't charge citizens anything for the recycled waste they leave out. And the less waste you put out for incineration – we've had no landfill in Germany since 2005 – the less you pay.

"Having no incentive to reduce waste is poisonous to your aims. We have a separate, visible fee that is intentionally not embedded within a local tax."

Clearly the scheme works. And why wouldn't it...

A car towing a trailer full of construction waste pulls up at the weigh-station by the entrance gate. Weiss wanders over to inspect the contents. "This weighs about half of tonne. If will cost €270 to dump it as it is. Or if the car owner sorts it into separate types of waste — timber, paper, plasterboard etc — it will cost him just €17. That, in summary, is our system. We provide a major incentive to recycle."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Garnaut recommends a starting carbon price of $20-30 a tonne

Earlier today the government's climate change advisor Prof Ross Garnaut released his carbon pricing proposal. It was part 6 of a series of updates he has been making to his 2008 climate change report. Garnaut's report is not government policy but it likely to be influential in deciding how to proceed in implementing a carbon price.

There is a good description of the main points here (though the headline is perhaps a little inaccurate), the report can be found here.

Here are some of the key points:
  • It is in Australia's interest to play our part in limiting climate change by reducing our emissions and working to secure global agreements to reduce emissions.
  • A market based mechanism is the cheapest way to reduce our emissions.
  • The effect of carbon pricing on the economy will be "modest".
  • Garnaut has endorsed the plan to start with a fixed price (the carbon tax) before moving to an emissions trading scheme (price set by the market ie: supply and demand).
  • Starting with a fixed price provides more certainty and stability when the scheme starts, allowing everyone to get used to a world where carbon pollution has to be paid for. Emissions trading is favoured in the long term for its ability to direct money for reducing emissions to the cheapest means of doing so.
  • The carbon price should start at $20 to $30 per tonne and rise every year before being set by supply and demand under an ETS.
  • A large amount of assistance (free permits) to business that produce products for overseas markets is favoured, this will be phased out over time (Nb: this is similar to in the EU ETS)
  • Garnaut recommends household assistance should be mainly via tax cuts focusing on low and middle income earners, with some more targeted assistance for low income earners.
Not everyone will agree with all of Garnauts' recommendations, but he does provide some details policy people can now start to debate. For the average person the big picture remains the same: Polluters start paying for pollution, people are compensated for price rises.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Human Health Impacts of Open-Cut Coal and Coal Seam Gas Mining

Coal seam gas has been in the new a lot lately and some of you may have seen the movie GasLand, which is about another kind of gas but with some related issues. This forum may be of interest.

Queries: Drew Hutton – Phone: 0428 487 110
Human Health Impacts of Open-Cut Coal and Coal Seam Gas Mining
Venue: Abel Smith Lecture Theatre, The University of Queensland
Address: Blg 23, St Lucia Campus - Located at top of Campbell Rd
Public Forum: Thursday 17 March 2011 6-8pm
Speakers Include:
  • Dr Dick van Steenis, UK physician, local govt advisor on public health impacts of coal mining.
  • Assoc Prof Peter Dart, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, UQ and ACF Council.
  • Professor Jack Ng, UQ National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology.
  • Ms Peta Ashworth, CSIRO Qld Director Energy Transformed Flagship Program
  • Prof Kerry Carrington, QUT Law Faculty and Head of Justice Program
Coal and CSG mining are not only impacting on the environment but also on human and community health. Chemicals released as particulates or vapours from the processes, or used in extraction such as the fraccing chemicals have the potential to release toxins into the environment and cause a range of illnesses from asthma to cancer. The tensions in the community, differences in life style of the "locals" and the workers in these industries, as well as the loss of agricultural and even town land to mining can lead to mental health problems and violence. Communities need support to strengthen their resilience to cope with the changes. These issues need to be addressed in planning how these industries are allowed to operate.

Jill Duggan: Lessons from the EU emissions trading scheme

Jill Duggan is an expert in carbon pricing, having been involved in the UK and European Union (EU) emissions trading schemes (ETS) as well as advising regional schemes in the USA. She has been visiting Australia and yesterday she gave a talk at UQ on the EU emissions trading scheme, how it's been going and lessons they have learned. There was plenty of jargon on offer but also some take home messages.

  • The EU is on track to meet is carbon pollution reduction targets of a 20% cut from 1990 levels. (The cuts required of different countries vary and some like Germany have an individual targets of ~40%, which is pretty impressive).
  • Before a carbon price was introduced, there was a lot of nervousness about the effects of carbon pricing on the EU economies. However as the scheme has been implemented and improved this was subsided and many now view the various EU climate change policies as positive measures to move the EU countries to a low carbon economy.

As the for the scheme itself Jill emphasized the importance of:

  • Keeping the carbon pricing scheme simple and transparent
  • Strong regulation of carbon pricing
  • Not allowing too many overseas offsets (although these had initially seemed attractive because of the perceived low cost of emissions cuts, they don't help move your economy to a low carbon future and both business and government in the EU were seeking to limit their use)
  • The effect of having a carbon pricing scheme and enforcing strict compliance with the emissions caps can cause a larger decrease in emissions than you would expect just from the carbon price alone. Ie: You can get more emission reductions than expected based solely on how much a ton of carbon costs the polluter.
  • Carbon pricing is not a magic bullet, other complementary policies are very useful but carbon pricing underpins the multiple policies used to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. (Ie: Complementary policies are useful at a more local level to target specifically areas, an example of this is improved building standards in the UK to increase the current poor energy efficiency of buildings).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Purpose of a Carbon Tax

Many commentators seem to think the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce consumption. This is only part of the story, as many uses of energy have inelastic demand, i.e., the amount you use is independent of price up to the point where you can’t afford it, and go out of business or have to make major changes in your lifestyle. The increasing price of oil and the consequential change in price of petrol is a case in point. Car usage hasn’t changed much. It can’t for those who do not have access to public transport and have no other option for commuting.

While some of the problem can be addressed by infrastructure changes (e.g. spending more on public transport rather than roads), those changes don’t rely heavily on a carbon tax.

The bigger purpose for a tax that is seldom mentioned (but is a key component of economic models) is narrowing the price gap between clean and dirty energy. That has the biggest effect on large-scale investments, such as new power stations, and it is hence critical that we put the scheme in place soon and have a realistic plan for ramping up the price.

In the meantime of course we should still address the other components of the problem including changes in infrastructure, mandatory renewable energy targets and promoting energy efficiency (where but in Brisbane do shopkeepers air condition the streets, I ask with tears in my voice).

Any alternative to a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme needs to fit in with the big picture. It must at very least include a mechanism for promoting clean energy over dirty energy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Garnaut: Climate science has "strengthened" since 2008, calls out media for false "balance"

"observations and research outcomes since 2008 have confirmed and strengthened the position... that the Earth is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause"

Prof Ross Garnaut, has been releasing a series of updates to his 2008 climate change review. The latest is to update the science of climate change.

Garnaut concludes that the science showing the world is warming and that humans are responsible has become more certain since 2008. The report also concludes:
"The statistically significant warming trend has been confirmed by observations over recent years:
    • global temperatures continue to rise around the midpoints of the range of the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the presence of a warming trend has been confirmed;
    • the rate of sea level rise has accelerated and is tracking above the range suggested by the IPCC; and
    • rates of change in most observable responses of the physical and biological environment to global warming lie at or above expectations from the mainstream science."
Scientists, and especially the IPCC (which works by consensus) are often cautious with their conclusions. Garnaut finds evidence for this noting that:

"It is an awful reality that no major developments in the science hold out realistic hope that the judgements of the 2008 Review erred in the direction of overestimating the risks of climate change."

In his press conference Garnaut also points out that many the media are doing a poor job of explaining the science as they will:

"seek to provide some balance between people who base their views on the mainstream science and people who don't. That is a very strange sort of balance. It is a balance of numbers of words and not a balance of scientific authority"
This false balance is well known, given that some 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, giving the other 3% (and various non climate scientist "skeptics") 50% of the airtime creates the illusion of controversy. Of course some don't even bother to find a "skeptical" "scientist", a self described weather forecaster who previously wrote a book on reading cats paws is a good enough expert for some in the media.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Climate change cage match: Abbott debates Abbott

Some, (humour?) from Crikey: Climate change cage match: Abbott debates Abbott.

With all the focus on Julia Gillard's change of heart on how to price carbon it's worth seeing what Tony Abbott believes. Some excerpts:

As the Gillard government’s plan for a carbon prices sends Coalition stocks soaring, attention is increasingly focusing on what opposition leader Tony Abbott believes in about climate change and how to deal with it. Today in Crikey, Tony Abbott debates one of his most formidable opponents on the issue — Tony Abbott....

On climate change:

Tony Abbott:I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have significantly increased since the spread of industrialisation, but it seems that noticeable warming has only taken place between the 1970s and 1990s.

Tony Abbott: We have a clear policy on climate change. Climate change is real.

On how to reduce emissions:

Tony Abbott: I think that the science is far from settled but on the insurance principle you are prepared to take reasonable precautions against significant potential risks, and that’s I think why it makes sense to have an ETS (emissions trading scheme).

Tony Abbott: What we need is environmental direct action. We need action which is actually going to make a difference. What we don’t need is a whopping great new tax masquerading as a green measure.

Tony Abbott: ....Still, a new tax would be the intelligent skeptic’s way to deal with minimising emissions because it would be much easier than a property right to reduce or to abolish should the justification for it change.

I would also note this quote:

''If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax? Why not ask motorists to pay more? Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more?''


Well i doubt it. Abbott's pronouncements on climate change leave it very difficult to know what he actually believes. Except perhaps that he has taken the Groucho Marx approach to any climate change policy advocated by Labour. This does seem rather unfortunate because in the UK for example the conservative PM Margaret Thatcher was one of the strongest early voices for action on climate change. A position the British Conservative party still embraces today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

TTKD March Meeting: Being Prepared for Emergencies and New possibilities for TTKD

Be Prepared!

Following our recent flood events much has been said about being prepared with an emergency kit. Garry Willett, who ran our ebike bulk buy, has put together a presentation on his personal emergency kit PLUS 3 unique items he has organised to be available with a ‘bulk buy’ discount;
a water purifier, a gassifyer stove and a bush kettle.
So come along and learn as well as share any tips you might have.

This will be followed by ‘New possibilities for TTKD’ led by Philip Machanick

Wed March 16th at 7:30pm
Uniting Church Hall
982 Moggill Rd, Kenmore

See you there!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Would Australia going it alone by instituting a carbon price?

Well no, actually:

A European Union climate expert has described Australian opposition to a carbon tax as bizarre, diplomatically pointing out Britain's Conservatives were more co-operative in opposition.

Jill Duggan, who managed Britain's initial emissions trading scheme (ETS), said there was an incorrect perception that Australia would be going it alone if it put a price on carbon.

"The thing that struck me is how the debate has changed here and also that wide perception that I keep hearing that Australia shouldn't go first," she told reporters in Canberra today.

"Coming from Europe, that sounds slightly bizarre because there are 30 countries in Europe that have had a carbon price ... since the beginning of 2005."

Unlike Australia the EU has been making progress in cutting carbon emissions and switching to clean energy. Their carbon pricing hasn't been without its hitches (since they were the first) but their experience does provide countries starting later (like Australia) with plenty of lessons in how to design an effective scheme. Of course it isn't just the EU with carbon pricing, even our little old neighbour New Zealand has an emissions trading scheme.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SMH: Start an industrial green revolution

"IT'S called carbon leakage and everyone's against it: the possibility that Australia could bring in a carbon price only to see jobs lost as industries relocate to lower-cost, dirtier countries overseas, with the unintended consequence that global greenhouse gas emissions go up instead of down."
So starts a great business day piece by Paddy Manning in the SMH a few days ago. On a topic that will be another carbon pricing flashpoint this year. Compensation for industry. Especially for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries (EITEs).

"The problem is, the carbon leakage argument has been misused. In reality, especially in sectors like aluminium and oil, we are turning into one of the brownest destinations around, with some of the oldest plant powered by the dirtiest energy, whooping it up under one of the lowest implicit or explicit carbon price regimes in the developed - or fast-developing - world.

We are in danger of being had. It's not at all about Australia losing jobs or investment or international competitiveness as we move to price carbon ahead of the rest of the world. It might have been that way in the '90s, when we first started debating the climate issue.

In 2011 the EITE compensation debate is often about saving certain industries the effort and expense of investing in best-practice plant and equipment to lower carbon emissions intensity."

The basic idea being that some industries calling for compensation are extremely polluting and inefficient due to an almost complete reliance on coal fired electricity and old technology. I guess a subtext here is that despite knowing since the late 80s that unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions were likely to be a bad thing, some industries have done nothing to clean up their act and are now demanding the government pay them to do so/ keep them afloat in a world where they can no longer pollute for free. On the other hand according to Grattan analyst Tristan Edis:

"Australia's steel makers, Edis argues, have invested in newer, efficient plant and have a legitimate case for compensation."

Overall the question we need to ask is:

"Should the Australian government be propping up industries that will fight to survive a fundamental realignment of our economy, or should it - at a time of record low unemployment and widespread skill and labour shortages - help workers shift into more competitive sectors of the economy?"

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Carbon price musings 1: Petrol should be included

Nobody likes petrol price rises but an effective carbon price should include transport fuels.

Carbon pricing creates many options, one is whether transport fuels should be included. In my opinion, they should be. There are multiple reasons for this, but they generally fall under preventing market "distortions".

1) Making emission reductions more expensive

Not including large segments of the economy in the carbon price means that more greenhouse gas emission reductions need to be squeezed out of a smaller section of the economy in order to meet your targets. The overall effect of this will likely be a higher cost for reducing emissions. The reason for this is that any low hanging fruit (ie: cheap ways of reducing emissions) in the transport sector will be essentially off-limits and you might be forced to make more expensive reductions in the sectors which are included.
The point of a market mechanism is to allow the cheapest emissions reductions to be made. To achieve this you want to include the largest amount of the economy possible.

2) Creating perverse incentives

Excluding transport fuels from the carbon price could have the perverse effect of actually promoting fossil fuel use (the exact opposite of what the scheme is trying to achieve). A good example of this is public transport by train. Electrified trains are mostly powered by electricity from coal (although they still produce less C02 per person than driving a car). Under a carbon price electricity rates will rise and so will train fares. If fuel is not included and does not increase in price, the net result will be to encourage driving and so more C02 emissions. In cities like Brisbane with over crowded roads the last thing we need is more congestion and more pollution.

No one like rises in petrol prices, but the rise being promoted by the coalition of ~6 cents a litre (although no one can be sure if this is at all accurate) is not extreme. In fact petrol prices in most capital cities have increased by significantly more than this in the last few months and the world hasn't ended.

So the government should include fuel in the carbon price and not cut other fuel taxes to prevent any actual rise in the price. Compensation either through rebate checks, cuts to income taxes (better to cut a tax for productive activity ie: work, than a tax for consumption ie: fuel excise) or benefit schemes would be better. This way compensated households can spend the rebate as they see fit and there will be an incentive for people to find ways to cut their fuel consumption.

A final note: Tony Windsor (one of the rural independants) has expressed concern that unlike city dwellers, people in rural areas don't generally have the option of public transport (although that doesn't mean there is no way for them to decrease their fuel use of course). I don't think I agree with him that rural regions should be excluded from a carbon price on transport because of this, but it might be worth looking at higher compensation for people in rural areas etc.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clean energy could be a windfall for jobs

"RESEARCH has found that a $45 a tonne carbon price could create almost 8000 more permanent jobs in the electricity sector by 2030 than there are now and 26,000 more temporary manufacturing and construction jobs, as tens of billions of dollars are invested in clean energy projects."
Some good news today showing how a carbon price should lead to the creation of lots of new jobs as investment in renewable energy cranks into gear. Because it makes polluting forms of electricity generation pay (at least some of) the cost of that pollution, a carbon prices makes renewable energy a more attractive investment. Business investment creates jobs, and according to this study more jobs will be created "greening" the electricity industry than would be lost from not building so many coal fired power plants. Good for the economy AND the environment.

Backyard Farmers at Moggill Markets

Despite the continuing rain, a number of us had managed to grow quite an abundant number of seedlings for sale, some produce and lots of fresh herbs. What fun we had! People were delighted with our idea of producing what you can in your backyard then bringing it along to share.
Ted Whybrow amazed many as he shared his knowledge of Bunya Nut preparation. Some people had never seen one before let alone know how to eat them! A great way to share knowledge and learn what grows when in our local area.
See you there next month!

Lets get Brisbane Council onto this!

Council food policy says go organic, go local

Mon, Feb 28, 2011

Council documents, NSW

Adopting ethical eating habits is easiest when done by the individual or household. It’s less easily done at the institutional level, however that is just what the City of Sydney is doing with its new Ethical Food Guidelines.

The guidelines, adopted in late 2010, make the City’s food procurement compliant with its strategic plan – Sustainable Sydney 2030. Developed in-house, the Guidelines cover food procurement for council catering using council funds and for council-managed events. They do not apply to contracted services such as Meals On Wheels, although suppliers have been requested to work towards compliance with the Guidelines.

The Guidelines complement the City’s initiatives in popularising a sustainable food supply, such as its community gardens (through its Community Gardens Policy, adopted in February 2010), the city farmers’ market and grant support for initiatives such as the Chippendale Fresh Food Co-op, grants for events organised by Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, the Myrtle Street edible verge plantings and the Peace Park community composting trial.

The Guidelines favour organic, low fat, non-GM, local and seasonal foods, although a means of identifying local foods – those produced within the Sydney foodbowl – is not provided. This will remain a challenge until a ‘locally grown-local produce’ label is devised and adopted.

Reusable or biodegradable crockery and eating utensils, avoiding bottled water for indoor events and, preferably, for outdoor events (the City has a mobile filtered water trailer where people can fill their bottles at events) and the elimination of non-recyclable packaging are other contents of the Guidelines, as is the selection of appropriate cafes and restaurants when entertaining visitors to the City for council business.

The Guidelines provide information on the impact of the food system as well as on the relationship between food and personal health. Fair Trade beverages are approved although there is a preference for made-in-Australia foods, and palm oil is to be avoided in food products due to its association with deforestation in South east Asia.

Adventurous document for a council

This is an adventurous document for a council.

for more