Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carbon price in 2012 - Gillard shows some leadership

"Australia will set a carbon price from July 1, 2012, as an interim measure until a full emissions trading scheme can be introduced three to five years later, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says.".......

"This is an essential economic reform, and it is the right thing to do," Ms Gillard told a news conference. "Carbon pollution is a threat to our country, and a threat to our future prosperity."

See the full SMH article here. More excerpts below. The basic idea is to start with a straight carbon tax and then transition that into an Emissions Trading Scheme over time. Economically using a market mechanism to price carbon is the most efficient (ie: lowest cost the economy) way to go. Also crucial is what happens to the money raised by the Tax and/or Emissions Trading. According to the PM.

Ms Gillard said the carbon price set by the government would be fair.

"Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs," she said.

"And the government will always support those who are in need of assistance with cost of living pressures."

This is the right thing to do and if managed correctly will help shield those on lower incomes from price rises and help businesses invest in low carbon tech and clean business practices.

Reading comments on various newspaper stories it seems that how this all works is poorly understood, with people asking how a carbon price could work if you also compensate people? The answer is to remember a carbon price doesn't just act on consumer behaviour but also on business investment and decision making.

I.e.: A carbon price will increase the cost of electricity from coal, leading to higher power bills, but it will also make building new dirty coal power plants (and keeping old ones running) a much less attractive investment. Instead cleaner plants will be built which will lower the C02 generated. Meanwhile consumers will be reimbursed for cost increases, which you can spend on anything, so you could use it to pay the higher power bill, or you could put it towards more efficient appliances or solar hot water etc to help lower your bill. This is the point of a market mechanism, you can make the decision that's best for you.

Despite today's announcement important questions remain to be answered:

What will be the starting price and at what rate will it increase?

What is the emissions reduction target to 2020 and 2050?

Will transport be included?

What level of "compensation" will be offered to business?

Some of which I'll try to opine on in a future post.

The Gas Rush - ABC Four Corners on the coal seam gas industry

If you missed the ABC Four Corners expose on the coal seam gas industry in Queensland and NSW, you can still watch it on ABC iview .

From the website:

"With access to guerrilla activists and their undercover filming, Matthew Carney reports on the coalition of farmers, local townspeople and even a corporate titan who want to halt Australia's gas rush.

Imagine you are running a successful farming operation; then one day a man from the gas company arrives with news that a coal seam gas field lies beneath your feet. From there 3 wells are sunk, then another 18. And then a proposal for another 30, turning your property into a thriving gas field, while threatening the viability of the working farm."

From farmers powerless to stop gas companies accessing and drilling on their land, to leaking gas wells, water bores contaminated with methane and fears for the future of the Great Artesian Basin, the show makes compelling viewing in detailing just what is happening only a few hours drive away.

You can watch it here for the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A New Year, Clearer Vision Workshop summary

Ian Plowman ran a very useful workshop for our Wednesday 16 February meeting to help us identify goals for the next 12 months, based on the practice of Meetings Without Discussion. Here is a short summary of the outcomes of the meeting, followed by a brief description of the process Ian uses. We had a smaller turnout than the average at this meeting, which was a pity because Ian’s approach is interesting especially if you have long been frustrated at decision-making meetings that go nowhere or produce sub-optimal outcomes.

We identified the following as the top-priority goals for the next year (from highest to lowest in votes):
  1. increase publicity
  2. organise a festival
  3. invite other groups to join in activities
  4. start a community garden
  5. set up a fun committee
This picture illustrates the big picture outcomes, as we summarised them. The top part of the picture is the summary that had the highest votes as representing the outcome; the bottom part the statement with the second highest number of votes.

The next stage is to convert all this to even more specific goals, including allocation of responsibilities and identifying resources, which would be useful to slot into another meeting soon, though it should not take up a whole meeting.

The Process
The general principle of the process is to reduce talking, to avoid the gap caused by extroverts who like to think things through by talking, and introverts who prefer to work through an idea mentally before expressing it.

The first stage was to ask everyone, in  groups of 5, to write down what they would say to a person 12 months from the meeting date what had been achieved over the last 12 months. Then each person in turn stood up with their imagined future conversation on a large piece of paper, and invited each of the other participants, chosen in an approximately random order, to say something positive about what they had written.

The next stage was to put all the large pieces of paper on the floor, and walk around choosing one point from each that we liked that we did not write ourselves.

We then split into different groups to come up with a unified statement based on the previous thoughts. This again started with each individual writing, before sharing ideas to produce a summary of the best points. We all voted on which of these new summaries was the best. Each person’s vote in this round counted as 2, but they could not vote for their own statement. In the second round of voting, they could vote for their own statement, but each vote counted as 1.

We then identified goals based on the summaries, and the same voting procedure applied to identify the top goals: round one, 2 votes per person, scored each goal, with votes for your own disallowed, and round two, one vote per person, allowed voting for you own goals.

Feedback Summary

After the workshop Ian invited participants to comment on what worked, what didn’t and what would have made it better. The table below summarises responses.

What workedWhat didn’tWhat would have made it better
wisdom without discussionsummarising different opinions into onemore time to write a better summary
facilitation worked very wellsmall group may not be fully representative
getting everyone involved; getting people thinking; effective manager; bouncing of ideasno closemore time -- a few ideas -- more clarification?
the processmore of the group present; more time to consolidate; goal activities resources responsibilities
our own thoughts, ideas used; all participated but not threatening; no hoggers, boggers etc.
choosing the goals and voting processstill had dominant folk in the immersion stagemore time to plan actual activities + responsibilities arising from goals
no talkingsummary stage a little hardsome hints on how to do the summary stage
space for range of ideas & opinions; practical outcomes

Increased flood risk linked to global warming

"Likelihood of extreme rainfall may have been doubled by rising greenhouse-gas levels"

Two very topical scientific papers have just been published in the prestigious journal Nature showing a connection between human caused climate change and the increasing intensity of rain and snow and the increased risk of serious flooding. For more see here and here.

It has long been known that a warmer atmosphere holds more water and an observed increase in extreme precipitation events has been documented but this increase had not been formally tied to human caused climate change. Two groups of scientists have now found humanities' fingerprints on the increased rainfall in the northern hemisphere in the later 20th century and in increasing the likelihood of a specific extreme flood in Britain back in 2000 (perhaps up to twice as likely).

So while it is still true that climate change does not solely cause an extreme weather event such as a unprecedented flood, it is clearly possible for climate change (and hence human activity) to make one more likely.

The present studies looked at the northern hemisphere and a flood in the UK only, so the results do not directly extrapolate to the flooding we have recently experienced. Such a "fingerprinting" analysis may well already be underway but it will be some time before we hear the result. The results though, show that the effects of climate change are already being felt and point towards a future where (globally) extreme rain and flooding events are much more common if we don't curtail our greenhouse gas emissions.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A victory of sorts: $100 million reinstated to the Solar Flagships Program

I recently wrote about how many of the budget cuts to pay for flood and cyclone rebuilding were coming from climate change and clean energy programs. Now in a victory of sorts The Greens have convinced Labour to reinstate $100 million dollars into the Solar Flagships Program in turn for them supporting the flood levy.

This is important as the Solar Flagships program is designed to get large scale solar power up and running in Australia and appeared (to my semi-informed opinion) to be the least defensible of all the climate related budget cuts. We should not forget however, that the majority of the climate change and clean energy budget cuts will remain.

So what does it all amount too? The optimist in me hopes the cuts were because Labour thought they were cutting inefficient programs made less necessary by the looming carbon price. The pessimist in me wonders how much Labour actually care about transitioning to a clean energy, low carbon economy. While my inner cynic wonders if Labour, knowing they would need to cut a deal with The Greens to get the flood levy through, purposely proposed climate related cuts to ensure The Greens would come to the table. A victory of sorts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beyond Zero Emissions training on the renewable energy plan

Last year Beyond Zero Emissions released the Zero Carbon Australia energy plan, outlining how Australia could move to 100% renewable electricity.

Now BZE are going to be running training sessions in Brisbane for people who want to learn about the energy plan and how to explain the plan to others. If you are passionate about a renewable energy future then this is for you.

More information and how to RSVP here.

Date and details:
26th and 27th of February
9.30am - 4pm
QUT campus in the city centre
B124 in B Block

PS: Thanks to Ngaire for all the hard work she is no doubt putting in making this event happen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

SMH: Disasters present opportunity to build for zero emissions future

"The estimated 28,000 houses to be rebuilt in Queensland after the floods can use designs and commercially available technologies to drastically reduce their climate impact. The same holds for those as yet unknown scores of buildings devastated by Cyclone Yasi. Combining energy efficient designs, sustainable materials and products with onsite renewable energy production will significantly reduce electricity waste and carbon emissions."

Excellent opinion piece in the SMH today by Trent Hawkins from Beyond Zero Emissions about how the disasters in QLD create an opportunity to rebuild in a resilient, low energy and climate friendly way. Some more excerpts below.

"As the adage states: every disaster brings with it opportunity. In Queensland there is the opportunity to rebuild homes to minimise energy use and climate-changing carbon emissions. The homes built today in this mammoth rebuilding effort can help limit climate change, but only if the Gillard and Bligh governments take leadership."

"Rebuilding is mainly a case of reintroducing those traditional designs that made the most of their surroundings, but with enhancements. An updated version of the original Queenslander-style house can become a model for sustainability in the sub-tropics. In coastal areas, ventilation is critical. The Queenslander-style building uses elevated floors, wide sun-facing verandahs, louvered windows and timber shutters to cool houses with natural ventilation. High ceilings, insulated roofs and ceiling fans can assist in cases of low natural airflow. Lightweight construction materials, such as timber, lose heat quickly and simultaneously combat high humidity levels. To provide the small amount of heating required during South Queensland's mild winters, architects can include good passive solar design, roof and wall insulation and some internal, insulated thermal mass."

There is also a wider opportunity to create something positive by considering our building standards overall

"In 2011, Beyond Zero Emissions is preparing a detailed blueprint outlining a pathway for a zero-carbon building sector in Australia. Our report will propose appropriate retrofits to all existing buildings in Australia for energy efficiency and recommend necessary attributes for new zero-emissions buildings.

Australian Building Codes Board member Caroline Pidcock has also drawn attention to the need for a zero emissions buildings policy. ''We're really just fiddling around the edges in Australia [when it comes to achieving energy efficiency],'' Pidcock says. ''In the UK they have mandated that by 2016 all houses will have zero net emissions.''

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier Anna Bligh might use COAG to follow the British government's lead and institute a national zero net emissions buildings policy."

Excellent advice, thanks Trent.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Senate enquiry on wind farms

There’s a senate enquiry on The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms, Steve Fielding’s going away present to the nation. Responses due by 10 February, so hurry if you can contribute.

This is a field where the denialists go crazy so a few sensible inputs would be useful for balance. Here are the terms of reference:
The social and economic impacts of rural wind farms, and in particular:
  1. Any adverse health effects for people living in close proximity to wind farms;
  2. Concerns over the excessive noise and vibrations emitted by wind farms, which are in close proximity to people’s homes;
  3. The impact of rural wind farms on property values, employment opportunities and farm income;
  4. The interface between Commonwealth, state and local planning laws as they pertain to wind farms; and
  5. Any other relevant matters.
The questions of course are loaded because they do not consider the alternative, large open-cut coal mines and pollution from fossil fuel power stations.

Here are a few more links for those thinking of responding:

And finally, here is what I submitted:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Coincidence or climate change?

The fact that the two biggest natural disasters on record to hit Queensland have occurred within three weeks of each other is not a coincidence. It is a direct result of the Pacific Ocean being warmer than we've ever known it to be.

"While the flooding events and cyclones experienced this year aren't caused by climate change, the record warm ocean temperatures provide conditions more conducive to exacerbating these naturally occurring events associated with La Nina," Dr Ash explained.

ABC The Drum has a interesting piece by freelance journo Matt Granfield on the relationship between climate change, La Nina and the extreme weather events here in QLD this summer.

The nub of it is that, as Matt writes,

"Climate change is not the reason for the disasters, but according to the people in charge of providing solutions in Australia, climate change caused by human activities has made the floodwaters higher and the cyclones bigger and more powerful than they otherwise would have been."

Entire article can be found here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Citizen science opportunities in climate science

Citizen science projects involve members of the public helping scientific research by collecting or processing scientific information. With large numbers of people contributing research projects that would be too laborious for a handful of scientists to carry out become possible.

Citizen science projects have great applicability to climate science given the enormous amount of data that can be collected worldwide to inform our understanding of the climate. They are also very useful for gathering historical data. The further back through history we go the more sparse our data on temperature and climate. Much data does exist though in old log books which if digitized can improve our understanding of past climate.

Climate citizen science initiatives include Old Weather (which transcribes ship logbooks to gather otherwise sparse ocean data) and Data Rescue at Home (digitizing various historical weather records from around the globe). So if you have a few spare hours, or want something else to do while watching the cricket, why not help improve our understand of the world?

Ps: If anyone is familiar with other climate citizen science projects, leave a comment.