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.