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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Electric cars part 2

In my recent post on the Volt and Leaf electric cars I neglected to mention there is already one mass produced electric car on the streets in Australia. The Mitsubishi - iMiev.

The iMiev is similar to the Nissan Leaf in that is it a pure electric vehicle with no internal combustion engine. Similar to the Leaf it gets about ~12o km per charge. Also like the Leaf the iMiev can be both 220V (ie: household electricity) charged or high voltage fast charged.

Doing some comparisons: the iMiev has both a smaller battery pack and a less powerful electric motor than the Leaf, but is quite a bit smaller and lighter overall, which allows it to get a similar range. The Volt is also bigger and heavier than the iMiev, but has a similar sized battery pack since it only runs all electric for ~55km before its backup petrol engine kicks in. Looking at their specs it would seem the iMiev is similar to the Leaf in being ideally suited as a city or commuting car.

The advantage of the iMiev is that it is already available in Oz, at least to lease, while the others don't arrive till next year. As Mitsubishi ramps up production over the next few years we should be seeing of few more of them around.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Electric cars - An important solution in a world of peak oil.

Last week ABC Catalyst looked at peak oil and how high petrol prices are here to stay. An obvious response to these issues is to make the economy (and the people within it) less dependent on oil by using less of it. This week Catalyst went to America to preview one of the core solutions to this problem - electric cars.

Electric cars have come along way in the past decade or so and two currently on sale in the USA are the Chevy (Holden) - Volt and the Nissan -Leaf. There has been a lot of buzz about these cars, and both have won several "Car of the year awards".

There are a lot of advantages to electric cars, beyond just reducing oil use. Electric motors are much more efficient than petrol engines, so this and the high price of oil make electric cars much cheaper to drive per km. With no tail pipe emissions electric cars help to clean up polluted city air and of course emit no greenhouse gasses. In fact if your electricity comes from renewable sources then they truely are zero emissions vehicles.

So how do they work?

Well the Volt is a plug in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). It has a battery which powers an electric motor. In electric only driving it can travel ~55 km on a single charge. Then as the battery gets depleted a small petrol engine starts up which powers an electric generator to keep the car going and give it a total range of ~600km. In this way the Volt eliminates "range anxiety", the fear you'll run out of battery charge and be stuck somewhere. But here's the clever bit, most people drive less than 55km in their daily commute, which means you can charge the battery between commuting and continually run in all-electric mode. Then if you want to drive long distance on the weekend, you still can. The volt plans to be, and is, a replacement for the main family car. Another benefit is the battery can be charged from a normal residential power point, making this process nice and easy.

The LEAF (unlike the Volt) is a pure electric vehicle (PEV), it has no petrol engine at all, instead it has a lot of batteries and an electric engine. Since it is all electric it's battery range is longer than the Volt at ~110 km. Only having one engine (and not being a hybrid) also makes the Leaf cheaper than the Volt. The leaf is ideal for shorter trips or commuting but although the batteries can be high voltage fast charged in ~30minutes it isn't ideal for long trips.

Photo: Tennen-Gas. Permission: cc-by-sa-3.0

Both these cars should be hitting our shores in 2012.

For even more info about these cars, see the wikipedia pages on the Volt and the Leaf

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Oil Crunch - Peak oil on a special edition of Catalyst

The age of cheap, plentiful, oil is over. That's the unmistakable conclusion from last weeks ABC Catalyst program - The Oil Crunch. If you missed it, you can view the program and extended interviews here.

Catalyst went and interviewed the chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), an organisation that advises many countries, including Australia, and which is about as mainstream as you can get on energy issues.

The news was "not very bright". According to Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, world crude oil production peaked in 2006 and;
"Existing fields are declining sharply..... just to stay where we are today, we have to find four new Saudi Arabia's". That is a tall order."

So to underline this point, the IEA now says peak oil (of crude) was likely in 2006. Peak oil doesn't mean that there is no oil left, or even that we have used most of it, just that the amount we can pump every day is in decline.

So what are their projections for the future? Well in the past the IEA were projecting the world could pump 120 million barrels of oil per day by 2030, compared to the ~88 million it pumps today. Nowadays, even under an optimist projection, oil production will only increase to 96 million barrels of oil a day in 2035. There are three important points to be made about this.

1) The only reason oil production can increase in total is due to "unconventional" oil. However much of this is oil made from coal, or extracted from Canadian tars sands. This oil has much higher greenhouse gas emissions that conventional oil and from a global warming perspective is a terrible idea.

2) Some groups such as the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) believe that even these new IEA figures are far to optimistic. They believe that the decline in pumped crude will be much faster, because we simply don't have the ability to bring new oil fields online fast enough to replace the declining existing ones, something that Dr Birol admits is possible. (Prof Kjell Aleklett President of ASPO is also interviewed by Catalyst).

3) Supply and demand.
Under optimistic IEA projections oil supply (by including all sources no matter how polluting) can only increase slightly to 96 million barrels per day in 2035, but oil demand is increasing rapidly, especially in Asia. Both the IEA in their World Energy Outlook and the US Govts' Energy Information Agency (EIA) 2010 Energy Outlook predict demand above this level of supply, with the EIA projecting consumption of liquid fuels to be "110.6 million barrels per day in 2035".

This simply won't work, either the world will have to find huge amounts of extra oil (biofuels?), or there won't be enough oil to meet demand, which will mean high prices and economic disruption. This is the real issue of peak oil, not that oil does peak, but that when it does world demand will still be rising and supply won't be able to keep up. We are left in my opinion with a new economic TINA, reduce our dependence on oil.

As for solutions, well they are out there, this post is long enough already but for a start you might want to check out the next edition of Catalyst where they will be checking out electric cars. While this SMH article foreshadows the forthcoming Beyond Zero Emissions report on a sustainable transport system to follow up their zero carbon power generation plan.