Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Going to Work or Staying Alive - which would you chose?

The very excellent Ross Gittins is keeping the spotlight on Australia's shabby climate policies by noting that most economists dismiss them as ineffective and inefficient.

He criticises Tony Abbott for saying he'd never put the environment ahead of the economy and jobs. Gittins says,
This separate-box thinking is like saying you'd never put staying alive ahead of going to work. Lose your life and whether you get to work or not hardly matters.
Economists recognise that the economy is a "wholly owned subsidiary of the environment" as noted by Professor Herman Daly of the University of Maryland.
Gittins spells it out.
The point is, all human activity - all our producing and consuming - depends directly on the natural environment. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the shelters we build and the energy we use all come from the ecosystem that surrounds us.
Why is this hard to understand for political leaders like Tony Abbott? How can he not see that going to work can't happen if you're not alive. The economy can't happen if the environment is trashed.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Electic Cars Spreading Faster Than Ebola

There are now more than 100,000 electric cars on America's roads. Two and a half years ago that number was just 345. That's an increase of 28,986% - a faster growth rate than Ebola which is currently doubling every 2-3 weeks.

This is a game-changer for transport and for electricity generation. Suddenly everyone realises that Elon Musk isn't in the transport business - he's in the battery business. His Tesla car was just a stepping stone to a much bigger idea - the idea that storage is the holy grail of clean energy.

Canny financial analysts can see this coming. Elizabeth Fry writing for Platinum Asset Management, says
Elon Musk’s plans to develop the Gigafactory are one of the most exciting stories around. He's putting himself front and centre of this move to use solar as a reliable source of power for everything from cars to aircraft. Everyone is going to need batteries. Tesla's plans to disrupt a trillion dollar car industry as well as a trillion dollar electric utility industry, stops and starts with producing cheap battery packs that allow solar energy to be discharged at night. No question, Musk has his eyes on more than cars. The car market is just the first hurdle.
Until now, discussion about the transition to clean energy has mostly been locked up in the domains of environment or science/technology, so it's great to see it spreading to the area of finance and investment. Now I want to see these discussions spread further and occupy space in domains like health, justice and economics.

As they say, the Stone Age didn't end because they ran out of stones. Right now the Age of Coal is ending - and it's not because we've run out of coal. It's because something better has come along.

How do we stop things that spread exponentially? Governments are committing a lot of resources to stop the spread of Ebola. Similarly, incumbent industries are trying to hold back the flood of clean energy technology. Smart governments need to prevent this.
The US government worked with the car industry to announce policies that will limit CO2 emissions from cars. With the car industry onside and sensible policy settings, electric vehicles are thriving in America.

In Australia it's a very different story. Australia's clean energy uptake is struggling against the headwinds created by incumbents supported by national and state governments that prefer to stay in the Stone Age.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah acted on flood warnings

The IPCC's warning rings loud and clear in their report on the impact of climate change. They find that climate change is already being felt in all corners of the globe and some parts of the natural world may already be undergoing irreversible change.

The prudent response is to reduce the risk of further damage, get out of harm's way, or prepare for the worst. 

Noah prepared for the worst, but most of our leaders can't quite get their heads around the problem. Progressives are moving forward timidly, conservatives prefer to look to the past rather than the future, and those in thrall to fossil fuel incumbents are busy denying there's any problem at all.

Instead, the incumbents have managed (quite successfully) to cast doubt over specific and detailed forecasts to suggest that the risk either does not exist, or can be safely ignored - as though people should decide not to insure their house because the insurer couldn’t tell them when and how damage might occur.

As the effects of climate change begin to bite more sharply, perhaps we'll all move along the spectrum – progressives will adopt urgency, conservatives will move forward carefully, and the fossil-fuel incumbents will do an about-turn and cast about for a way to be relevant in the new clean energy future.

The sooner we all act like Noah and take the warnings seriously, the less damage we'll cause. And that will be good for the millions who live in low-lying river deltas. Millions of Bangladeshis who have nowhere else to go will be able to stay home. And wouldn't that be a good thing, especially for governments who are allergic to the thought of a million little arks sailing in their direction.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What's under the Christmas tree for good boys and girls?

On Friday, our quarterly electricity bill arrived. I ripped it open and pored over the pages. Studied the numbers and the graphs. I discovered that we used 25% less electricity than in the comparable period last year. So our bill was only $210.

Our bill tells us that our average daily consumption was about half that of comparable households. High five! Way to go, us!

The bill also told us that our hard-working solar panels generated 85% of the electricity we consumed. Whoo-hoo!

The icing on the cake of all this wonderfulness is that we get paid 60c kWH for the electricity we generate - for every last kWH. That added up to a very cheerful $300.

Over the last billing cycle, we earned $90 more than we spent on electricity. With Christmas around the corner, that sounds like an extra $90 for Christmas goodies. Oooooh. I wonder what we'll get?

The moral of the story is that if you want extra treats under YOUR Christmas tree, invest in solar energy now!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chasing Will-O'-The-Wisps

Has Ross Gittins been chasing will-o'-the-wisps? Today, he is full of regret that he has indeed been wasting time while the climate change elephant in the room got bigger and stronger. He concludes today's article:
Did I ever doubt that climate change represented by far the greatest threat to Australia's future economic prosperity? Never. Should I have said this more often, rather than chasing a thousand economic will-o'-the-wisps? Yes.
Oh, yes, Ross, we wanted you to speak up more than you did, even though we enjoyed and appreciated everything you wrote. For me, you're the full monty, nothing less than a National Living Treasure. But still, we wished you would be more forceful about the impacts of climate change. I even wrote you a Twitter message about it, and your gracious reply agreed with me.

Suddenly, I'm seeing a shift in opinion across the whole spectrum of climate change opinion. Everybody is moving to the 'more concerned' end of the spectrum. Not only are deniers becoming harder to find, but mild-moderates, like Ross Gittins and Alan Kohler, are becoming more serious and more vocal.

Perhaps it's the zeitgeist. Or the effects of extreme weather events like Australia's recent floods, fires and heatwaves, or superstorms like Sandy (USA), and super-typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines.

There's no doubt that the efforts of Australia's new conservative government to undo current policies (policies that are already beginning to constrain carbon emissions) are causing the mild-moderates to speak out. Winning three 'Fossil of the Day' awards in the first week of the UN climate talks in Warsaw has also drawn attention to the bizarre policies of this government.

Alan Kohler sums up current government policy succinctly:
In essence, Australia’s LNG export boom and high domestic gas prices will make it very difficult for the Coalition to get re-elected if it sticks to current policies.
So, while deniers have been denying, moderates have mostly ignored the problem and got on with regular activities. Suddenly, things have changed. Abbott has won an election and whipped effective policy out from under us. Now moderates are worried. They realise that regular activities aren't so very important after all. They're distractions – will-o'-the-wisps that vanish in the clear light of day.

I look forward to reading Ross Gittins in the weeks and months ahead. What will it look like when he's no longer chasing will-o'-the-wisps?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Work Makes You Free

Satirising the blatant upside-down statements of Nazi Germany, where the gates to death camps were signposted "Work makes you free", George  Orwell's famous book, "1984" (published in 1949) includes the line, "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

The power of the spoken word to contradict actions is nowhere more obvious than in pronouncements of the current Australian government.

In action, the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, is busily dismantling policies like carbon pricing that has begun to reduce Australia's carbon emissions. He wants to defund renewable energy initiatives and dismantle climate policy advisory bodies. He has already dumped the Climate Commission – an independent body set up to provide reliable and authoritative source of information on climate change, and help inform the debate on this issue of national significance.

His Direct Action alternative policy reverses the widely accepted “polluter pays” policy to “pay the polluter”. It fails to focus on fossil fuels (responsible for three-quarters of Australia’s emissions plus exports), is inequitable, unworkable, limited by the available budget, may encourage inflation and manipulation of abatement cost, and is difficult to quantify. This increases uncertainty and ramps up the potential for political games.

While he takes a wrecking ball to effective policies, he repeats the mantra, "Climate change is real and we should take strong action against it."

What to believe? Words or action?

Few people who entered Auschwitz believed the words over the gate. The activities inside the camp belied those words profoundly.

Similarly, Australians can't believe Greg Hunt's words because they are so dischordant with his actions. He's practising the upside-down communication that leads to nonsensical pronouncements like "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

In this case, our ignorance is the Coalition government's strength. That's why they are clamping down on information flows in every way they can. It's much easier to govern an ignorant population.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Monsters - Bigger, Stronger, More Dangerous

Climate Change is making our familiar monsters bigger, stronger and more dangerous.

Supertyphoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) blew past the definition of a Category 5 storm. It looks like it's time to create a new category, just as Australia has created a new category for fire alerts - we now have 'Catastrophic' sitting above the old 'Extreme' Fire Warning.

The diagram above shows how warming oceans provide the energy that makes cyclones/typhoons/hurricanes bigger, stronger, and more damaging.

Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the Australian National University, says scientists understand how a hotter, moister climate is already affecting storms such as Haiyan. 
Once cyclones form, they get most of their energy from the surface waters of the ocean. We know sea-surface temperatures are warming pretty much around the planet, so that's a pretty direct influence of climate change on the nature of the storm. Prof Will Steffan.

Data compiled from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows sea temperatures were about 0.5 to 1 degree above normal in the waters to the east of the Philippines as Haiyan began forming. The waters cooled in the storm's wake, an indication of how the storm sucked up energy.

So, when someone says, "We can't say that climate change made that storm worse," you can reply, "We can say that climate change is making tropical storms worse. It's a brave person who would claim that doesn't apply to this particular storm. Especially when, like Haiyan, it is the biggest storm ever to make landfall." 

Without strong action to reduce emissions, we are ensuring there will be ever-bigger monsters battering our children.


News from the Transformation tab.

Apple has announced plans to open a new factory in Mesa, Arizona — a facility that will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one.