Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Discount for up-front payment

You need a new washing machine and you need it now! Who is offering the better deal - the guy who says you can pay the full price on delivery, or the girl who offers a 20% discount for cash payment upfront?

If you don't have the cash, you might think that you have no option but to pay the full price on delivery. Or you might figure that you could borrow the money, pay cash, collect the 20% discount, then repay what you borrowed, and still be ahead. If you actually have the cash on you -  it's a no brainer!

When ExxonMobil boss, Rex Tillerson, acknowledged man-made global warming but said society will adapt, he was selling the line that paying for goods after they are delivered is a good idea.  This is a line that benefits ExxonMobile because it lets them keep making money selling fossil fuel while the cost of dealing with the consequences is borne by society.

The costs of paying for the consequences of climate change became more apparent this year as we counted the cost of recovering from drought,  storms and flooding.  For example, Superstorm Sandy  caused an estimated $50 billion worth of damage to the New York region.

Economists say that whatever happens we can't escape the costs of damage caused by rising CO2 emissions. The stark benefit of paying upfront is that this is the only way to avoid the worst extremes of climate change. If we don't pay upfront, we risk average temperature increases of 4-7C by the end of the century. The World Bank warns -
A global temperature increase of about 7 degrees will lead to “unprecedented heat waves, severe drought and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems and associated services.”
So, how much is the upfront payment option? About 0.1% of GDP over 40 years, according to Treasury modelling for Australia's carbon price legislation.

Worldwide, the IPCC (2007) report said keeping greenhouse gas concentrations low would cost less than 3 percent of world gross domestic product by 2030.

That sounds like a deal you'd want to snap up.


News from the Transformation tab.  

Abu Dhabi: The largest single-unit solar power plant in the world is expected to be completed by the end of 2012 and officially open in the first quarter of 2013.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ducks in a row for retrofits

When you get all your ducks in a row things go swimmingly. You can hit the sweet spot.  That is exactly what is happening in Victoria where the State government is retrofitting government buildings to improve their energy efficiency.

Under the program, taxpayers will save around $1 billion in energy and water bills for their public buildings over the next 25 years. The government has invested $100 million so far and expects to invest $400 million in total.

Why has this project gone swimmingly when so many other programs have gone belly up? The reason is that it got all its ducks in a row. The ducks were the client (the government), the project parameters, and the contractors who carry out the work.

Both the client and the contractors (through their industry body the Energy Efficiency Council) researched programs in other countries and identified four best-practice principles for retrofits.
  • Financial model. The program requires service providers to design and install energy and water saving solutions, and to guarantee annual cost savings. Winning contracts are those that guarantee the highest level of savings in a seven-year pay back period.
  • Whole of government. The administrator gives individual government departments the tools and templates for managing projects.
  • Project administration. A central project facilitation group sets mandates for agencies to achieve retrofit targets, and guides tenders to a panel of pre-qualified service providers.
  • Targets were set as a percentage of energy consumption. Victoria’s target required each department to retrofit sites accounting for 20% of energy consumption by 2012, which was achieved, and 90% by 2018. Energy savings were anticipated to be 25 per cent but some buildings have doubled that outcome and the average is 42 per cent.

The central administration of projects across all government departments means that projects have been tendered in stages to avoid boom and bust cycles, ensuring a steady stream of work. Contractors know there is a stream of work stretching out to 2018, and they have been able to build a skilled workforce to meet the demand. This enhanced capacity will, in turn, multipy benefits across the whole property sector.

The program might be called the Greener Government Building program, but it is not run by the Environment agency, it is run by the bean counters in Treasury. In a curious reversal, this is the opposite of greenwashing, where products and programs try to look greener than they are. In this case, the environmental benefits are underplayed and the program is run mainly as a cost-saving exercise. What do you call that? Dollarwashing?

The Victorian program is a shining success and other State governments are following suit. They are working to get their ducks lined up so they can reap the benefits of energy efficiency retrofits.


News from the Transformation tab.   

China plans to build 3GW of solar thermal power stations by 2020. By the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015), China’s installed capacity of solar thermal power will exceed that of photovoltaic generation. The 2000-MW in Shaanxi by Shandong Penglai Dianli and eSolar is the biggest project on the drawing board.  Source: CleanTechnica.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The meek shall inherit the earth

Maryanne is the wife of a friend of mine. A few years ago, she and her sister were deeply affected by the death of their mother. Although they had children of their own, they seemed to mourn their mother for years. I wondered what kind of woman she was and began to picture a person with special qualities, a paragon of virtue - love, charity, generosity? Or maybe she was eloquent, or gifted, or a passionate activist?

Some time later I had the chance to ask my friend about his mother-in-law. He said she was a rather meek woman who was bullied by her husband.

Suddenly I saw that this was a case where enduring love and commitment were aroused by frailty not by strength.

This got me thinking. We look for leaders who are strong and confident, and we forget that the most powerful moral force is exerted by the frail and the weak. They arouse our protective love.

Right now, the world looks to rich and powerful countries to lead the way on climate change. We have applauded European countries for their clean energy initiatives and we desperately want the U.S. to step forward and lead us to the new clean energy future.

Our disappointment in their recalcitrance feels like ashes in the mouth.

But how uplifting to see that the poorest countries are speaking out. Listen to this bold promise from Bangladesh. It promises unilateral action with no caveats, no ifs or buts. 
Let me affirm that Bangladesh, as a responsible member of the international community, will never exceed the average per capita emission of the developing countries. This is our commitment to a low carbon development path.
We expect such commitments and responsible behavior from those who have contributed most to climate change crisis over decades. It is time for them to act positively in the interest of present and future generations. 

More than most countries, Bangladesh knows the impact of climate change. They have 100 million people who will be homeless when sea levels rise by one metre in the next 1-2 generations. They're not standing back helpless, they are demonstrating the kind of action that is needed from all of us.

They are offering their widow's mite. If we count the value of a gift not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back we see the generosity of Bangladesh in promising to limit their per capita carbon emissions to the average of developing countries.

We open our hearts to the fragility of life in Bangladesh. Their honest promise calls us to action so that 100 million peaceful Bangladeshis can have some land to inherit. 


News from the Transformation tab.   

Australia will join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a U.N.-led initiative to cut short-lived climate pollutants such as soot and methane. Other countries that have joined the initiative include major emitters such as Germany, Japan, the UK and the U.S, and developing nations such as Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. Source: Reuters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shell pisses in the swimming pool

Public swimming pools are used by everybody. Bad behaviour by even one person spoils the pool for everyone.

It's the same with the atmosphere. It is used by everyone and bad behaviour by a few are spoiling it for all.

We are travelling to our apres-carbon future and many of our good citizens are working to clean up the atmosphere at considerable personal expense and inconvenience. We are learning new habits, installing insulation, solar PV, putting on an extra jumper in winter, using the car less, trying Meatless Monday, and doing a thousand other things.

So it's not surprising that good citizens shake their fists at dirty corporates who piss in the pool. We won't be sedated with their platitudes because we are looking at actions not listening to lies.

And what do we see? We see oil companies rushing to drill for oil in the Arctic Sea now that global warming has cleared the summer sea ice. We see ExxonMobil spending $100million a day looking for new oil and gas reserves in hard-to-reach places.

They are looking for even more oil and gas that will pump heat trapping gases into the atmosphere. They're pissing in the pool.

One day, this will be illegal. Right now, perpetrators can piss in the pool with no cost other than occasional outbursts of scathing fury or a small levy in those jurisdictions with carbon pricing.

The pool is getting skanky and becoming a health hazard.When it gets to be a festering swamp of disease, perhaps legislators will declare it illegal to piss in the pool, and we'll be willing to pay any price to purify the water so it is safe again.


News from the Transformation tab.  

Netherlands. Researchers at Utrecht University have developed a catalyst that enables the production of plastics from wood-based biomass using waste such as branches, plant stalks and prunings. They have produced bioplastics with the same characteristics as petroleum-derived plastics. No special facilities or technology are needed to produce biomass plastic as it uses current technology. The new catalyst sets the stage for plastics manufacturers to produce no-carbon plastics. Source: PackagingProfessional.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stockholm - are we there yet?

Remember when car trips seemed endless? Remember when you couldn't tell the difference between two hours and ten hours? Remember when you were the whiney kid in the back asking, "Are we there yet?". Maybe you have also been the adult in the front seat desperately fending off "Are we there yet?" with sing-a-longs, I Spy, and Animal, Vegetable and Mineral.

I remember being that whiney kid as we drove over dirt roads on our annual pilgrimage from Kingaroy to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. The four or five hour drive was eternity to me. Now, the dusty country roads have been paved with bitumen, and kids are easily entertained with portable DVD players. Even the 12 hour trip from Sydney to Brisbane doesn't generate quite the same bored queries about  arrival. 

These days, my impatience is about the journey to the new Clean Energy Economy. Our whole nation is on a decades-long journey from the Dinosaur Economy, based on fossil fuels, to the new Clean Energy Economy.  Oh! I'm so impatient to get there. 

We creep, creep, creep along, hampered by billionaires protecting their dinosaur assets. I have to keep reminding myself that we will get there eventually. We have no choice but to make this journey.

The journey seems so fragile when leaders say we don't really need to go, or they make blood promises to dismantle the moderately effective vehicle we're travelling in, to replace it with a cobble-de-fudge of tokenism. 

Then a government minister, Greg Combet, comes out with both guns blazing and stands up for this journey and the vehicle his government has crafted, and my hopes lift again. 

Not that they lift to the point of asking, "Are we there yet?" I'm just pitifully grateful that the rickety vehicle is still lumbering forward.

So, I go and check out the Transformations tab to take heart from the vigorous actions that are underway worldwide. Once again, I see that we're not the only vehicle lurching along the pot-holed road. Instead I see hundreds of other vehicles of all shapes and sizes making the same journey. Countries, provinces, cities, corporations, individuals - it's an exodus, a flood of refugees abandoning the old dinosaur economy. 

Some vehicles are bruised and battered, tied together with string, crammed with occupants arguing with each other. Others are robustly confident, cruising with aplomb towards their goal. Many are inward-looking, taking care of their own, but a few have tow-lines attached to little clusters of vehicles that have wheels but no engines. Not everyone has a tow line. Now and then, you see broken down vehicles on the verges. These poor vessels have no chance of making the journey. Will their passengers transfer, eventually, to other vehicles? Will someone take them in?

One of the most confident vehicles cruising in the vanguard of this cavalcade is Stockholm.  It is awash with advanced green technologies deployed to meet the long term target of carbon neutrality by 2050. It is well on the way to the first milestone in 2015 when it will use 100% renewable electricity and have per capita carbon emissions of 3 tonnes (c.f. USA at 22 tonnes).

Are we there yet? Already 80 per cent of all the buildings in Stockholm are connected to a district heating system largely fueled by burning the city's combustible waste.

It's funny. Stockholm is already so sure of the journey and so far along the track that they hardly need to ask, "Are we there yet?". On the other hand, Australia is so uncertain about the journey and so tentative about the vehicle, that it is not yet ready to ask, "Are we there yet?".

But I'm ready. I'm making the journey. I'm asking, "When will we get there? Are we there yet?". I'm decarbonising. Got the solar panels. Got the greenpower. Replacing gas heater with heat pump. I'm not there yet, but I'm definitely on the road. 

What about you?


News from the Transformation tab. 

Stockholm is a low-carbon leader with strong initiatives across many areas. By 2015 electricity will be 100% renewable and CO2 emissions will be 3 tonnes per capita (c.f. USA at 22 tonnes). Most (80%) buildings  have district heat mostly fueled by the city's combustable waste. Sewage plants provide biogas for 6,000 cars, all municipal waste vehicles and some 300 buses. Stockholm is well on the way to being carbon neutral by 2050.  Source: BusinessGreen.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Self proclaimed climate agnostic

"I'm a climate agnostic", he said smoothly. It sounded so reasonable. Who is this guy, I wondered. Then I looked at his blogroll.  It featured Bishop Hill, Watts Up With That, Jo Nova, Jennifer Marohasy, Climate Audit and a few other stalwarts from the AGW denier echo chamber.

That didn't add up, so I pointed out that a genuine agnostic would have a few reputable science blogs on his blogroll. His response was to round it out with credible blogs like SkepticalScience, Real Climate and Tamino, and write a blog post showing that he has read them.

Of course this window dressing doesn't actually MAKE him agnostic on the topic.

The only people who can honestly claim to be agnostic on the topic of global warming are those who aren't familiar with the subject and don't give it much thought. You know the ones - they're the people who are busy juggling work and study and family, caring for loved ones, or deeply interested in other things. Maybe they can tell you the history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the breeding line for Crufts champions, but they don't pay much attention to climate change.

Anyone who looks honestly at the evidence will accept the basic facts:
  • The temperature record (land, sea and satellite) shows that the planet is warming - it was up 0.7C in the twentieth century. (What credible scientist claims that this isn't true?)
  • Physics shows the mechanism by which greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. (Is anyone out there denying the fundamental physics?)
  • Evidence that a doubling of greenhouse gases will result in estimated 3C warming (estimated range is 1.5-4.0C). (The range is widely accepted.)
  • The data shows that atmospheric CO2 levels have risen dramatically since the industrial revolution - from 280 ppm to 392 ppm. (Who questions these straightforward measurements?)
  • The predicted consequences of global warming are unfolding as expected: sea levels are rising, oceans are more acidic, glaciers and ice sheets are melting, Arctic sea ice is thawing, summers are longer, biological and physical systems are changing, and weather extremes are more frequent.

An honest agnostic will quickly conclude that human activity is lifting CO2 levels and causing global warming. When they have decided this, they aren't agnostic any more.

When people who are familiar with the wide range of evidence  for AGW call themselves 'agnostic', they are claiming to be flying pigs - a logical impossibility. Perhaps they have an agenda and are wolves in sheep's clothing. Or perhaps their personal vanity simply enjoys the noble and expansive domain of 'agnostic' and they can't allow themselves to make a decision because they don't want to give up being so high-minded.

Agnostics are fence-sitters. They say they can't make up their minds. They tick the DON'T KNOW box on surveys. The words of Churchill before WWII apply to climate change agnostics,
They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. 

Climate change deniers who adopt the agnostic position are often militant agnostics who say that NO ONE knows.

Being genuinely agnostic is an open-minded position, but it is very different from good faith scepticism. Good faith scepticism includes a readiness to engage with the data, whereas agnostics seem to stand back from meaningful engagement - maybe they are simply more interested in the pedigrees of spaniels.

A persistent agnostic or militant agnostic adopts a determinedly static position. It's a do-nothing stance taken by those who don't want to see action.

Some long-time climage change agnostics and sceptics do move on, but, like children who are late for school, they never seem to catch up properly. They seem to become 'luke-warmists' who accept that the globe is warming but claim that it's not happening quickly and we don't need to inconvenience ourselves by reducing carbon emissions.

Late for school

People may like to call themselves agnostic because it gives them a noble respectability, but if they continue to spread misinformation under the heading "I'm a climate agnostic" it is a sly deceit.

Let's call a spade a spade. If it walks like a denier and talks like a denier, it is not an agnostic.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here is a recent snippet.

Private investors are putting almost $1 trillion annually into green businesses and technologies, bringing the total invested worldwide since 2007 to $3.6 trillion as of July 2012. Germany, Japan and the US lead in private green investments and China, Brazil and India lead among emerging nations. R&D investments are strongest in the automotive, semiconductor, and electrical components and equipment sectors. Source: SustainableBusiness.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

No Succession Plan for ExxonMobil

These are the 12 biggest corporations on the planet according to Forbes. You'll notice that 6 of the 12 are oil companies. There is no clearer picture of the Dinosaur Economy than this list. In 40 years time, none of these oil companies will be in the top 12.  Even if they manage to make the transition to clean energy, I doubt if they'll be in the top 12. In 40 years time, with most coal, oil, and gas phased out, world energy markets will look very different.

The dominant form of energy will be electricity generated by a combination of rooftop solar PV, utility-scale solar thermal, wind generators and hydro. Ownership of the utility-scale solar and wind generators will be a combination of public and private. I wonder whether a handful of global corporations will come to dominate electricity generation as they have dominated oil and gas? Somehow I think not. In order to dominate they would have to control all the various forms - hydro, wind, solar PV and solar thermal - each of which has very different constraints.

Even if an oil company got big in wind generation by dominating engineering, manufacture, building and running wind farms in dozens of countries, could they be similarly big in PV, solar thermal and hydro? Not a chance.

The other major energy source in 2050 will be biofuel though it is unclear how big this sector will be. I suspect that markets in sunny climes will promote EVs over internal combustion engines running on biofuel, because solar power will be more cost-effective than any of the biofuels. Biofuel will be attractive for specialty uses (aviation, oils, plastics) and will, in effect, be too valuable to be used for transport that can be electrified. There is a chance that oil companies could dominate the biofuel market, but it will be a tiny market compared with the current oil/gas market. Biofuel suppliers are not likely to be among the biggest corporations in the world.

I used to think the oil companies were securing their future by beginning the transition towards post-carbon corporations. Reports like this from Bloomberg (May 2012) support the notion.
BP has invested $7 billion in alternative energy since 2005. ExxonMobil is spending $600 million on a 10-year effort to turn algae into oil. And Royal Dutch Shell has invested billions of dollars in a Brazilian biofuels venture, buying up sugar cane mills, plantations, and refineries to make ethanol. In the U.S., Shell produces small lots of so-called drop-in biofuels—engine-ready products that can replace gasoline—from a pilot plant in Houston that uses sugar beets and crop waste.

BP is the company that has been most explicit about positioning itself for the post-carbon world. Their Beyond Petroleum slogan signalled a clear intent to be a long-term contender. However, they are finding it a rocky road. It's not easy to leap from drilling, pumping, refining and selling liquids and gases, to running factories that make photovoltaics. They had a go at it, but they withdrew in the face of strong competition from China. They still have investments in a couple of wind farms, and they're big in ethanol with a 10% share of the world market. So perhaps you could say they're still in the game and have a chance at being somebody in 2050.

The Royal Dutch Shell investment in Brazillian biofuel looks serious. Maybe that is the core of their succession plan, so perhaps they'll still be somebody too.

But ExxonMobil? I don't think so. Last week, I connected some dots that seemed to show that they have no succession plan.

I discovered that ExxonMobil spends  $100 million every day trying to find more oil and natural gas in increasingly inaccessible places like deep oceans, Siberia and now the Arctic. How does $100 million a day compare with $600 million over 10 years on algae development mentioned by Bloomberg? It looks like this - the $600 million for algae doesn't even register on the graph compared with $365 billion for oil and gas.

Does this look like ExxonMobil is serious about having a post-carbon future? Does this look like a succession plan? If they were serious about having a Plan B, they'd be partnering with the Pentagon to put $100 million a week into biofuel, instead they're spending $100million a day looking for more oil and gas that will end up as stranded assets

No wonder the oil companies are fighting tooth and nail to preserve and extend their current activities. They see that the post-carbon future does not have a big role for biofuel where they have relevant expertise, and they can't find a way to dominate the markets for PV, solar thermal and wind turbines. In those markets, they are bit players.

Without an effective  Succession Plan, ExxonMobil is wringing as much as it can out of current operations. When the carbon party is over, it will join the rest of us on the sidelines watching the new kids strut their stuff on Forbes Biggest Corporations list.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here is a recent snippet.

India's government has approved a $4.13 billion plan to spur electric and hybrid vehicle production over the next eight years, setting itself an ambitious target of 6 million vehicles by 2020. Source: PlanetArk.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Economy is the Pied Piper

Those who claim that our economy can't afford to replace fossil fuels with renewables are mesmerising us with lies and leading us to a wasteland, just as the Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin off into the wilderness.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles' wings.
Robert Browning

The glittering promises of a joyous future based on coal, oil and natural gas are as real as the Piper's promise of sparrows as bright as peacocks.

Every credible economic advisor says that tip-toeing around carbon emission reduction will cost more in the long run. Here's what the very excellent Australian Treasury (the guys whose advice has made Australia the stand-out OECD economy) says. 
Early global action is cheaper than delayed action. For economies like Australia, deferring action on climate change will only lead to higher long-term costs as emission-intensive technology, processes and outputs are locked in.

Nevertheless, we have governments that seem to be mesmerised by a magical Piper as they continue to subsidise fossil fuel industries and give permits to new coal mines, oil wells, and gas wells as though fossil fuels are not destroying our future with their carbon emissions.

In Australia, we have a government that brought in a carbon price of $23/tonne based on a world where CO2-e emissions can rise to 550ppm. Yes, 550ppm, not the 450ppm that gives a 75% chance to keep average global warming within the 2°C guardrail, and not the 350ppm that many credible scientists recommend as the maximum for a safe climate.

When will they wake from sleep and understand that countries can't be run to the misbegotten tunes of economists? As we come ever closer to the absolute resource limits of a finite planet, some economists are beginning to realise that growth economics is a fantasy.

Tim Jackson, economics commissioner on the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission says,
The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist.

So, don't be taken in by those who say that the 'joyous land' of the future will be based on coal, oil and natural gas. Recognise them for what they are - persuasive folk who spin yarns about horses born with eagles' wings.


In the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Browning describes how government officials responded when the Piper claimed his fee for ridding the town of rats.
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gipsy coat of red and yellow!
They refused to pay the thousand guilders and ended up paying a much higher price when the Piper led all their children away. Right now, we're acting like that Mayor and Corporation. We're not willing to pay the price of an immediate transition to a low-carbon economy. Our children and grandchildren will pay a very heavy price. As extreme weather events become daily fare, oceans acidify, and sea levels rise, many will pay with their lives.

We have to pay the piper, dance with the one who brought us.

We can't argue with Mother Nature, but we can, and must, side with ecologists against economists.


H/T David Oertel for noting that the economy is the Pied Piper.


Snippet from the Transformation tab.

China estimated it may spend $373 billion on projects for conserving energy and reducing emissions in the five years through 2015. The State Council announced a plan to reduce by 2015 the amount of energy it uses to produce every unit of gross domestic product by 16 percent from 2010 levels. In the five years through 2015, China is aiming for energy savings equal to 670 million tons of standard coal equivalent energy. Source: Bloomberg.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gas reserves give us enough rope to hang ourselves

Like many other countries, Australia is in the thrall of gas. The Australian government identified gas as a stepping stone on the path to decarbonising our economy when it was believed that replacing coal generators with gas would be an effective interim measure in decarbonising our economy.

This position comes from politicians practising the art of the possible and throwing the fossil fuel industry a bone.
OK boys, we can't have as much coal, but, look!, we'll have gas instead.
It's a clever move because it pits one fossil fuel (coal) against another (gas). That makes it one set of guys in hard hats against another, which is much better than pitting the hard hats against the beanie-capped renewable brigade, or the Knitting Nannas, who can call upon moral principles that are more powerful than crude commercial arguments.

The art of the possible is modest. It lacks ambition and is hobbled by caution. It won't rouse us to the national effort that is needed for the energy revolution that lies ahead. So it is entirely deserving that the 'gas as transition' strategy has come unstuck in all kinds of ways.

The deep unpopularity of coal seam gas projects in local communities has unleashed a groundswell of local action expressed powerfully in the Lock the Gate campaign.

Another major problem with the 'gas as transition' idea is that emerging evidence shows that gas won't cut the mustard when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

As the International Energy Agency says,
The high gas scenario shows carbon emissions consistent with a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°C. A path towards 2°C would still require a greater shift to low-carbon energy sources, increased energy efficiency and deployment of new technologies including carbon capture and storage (CCS), which could reduce emissions from gas-fired plants.
If coal generators are replaced by gas generators that endure for 30-40 years, they will be emitting carbon dioxide for decades to come. This won't meet the timetable required to keep average global temperatures below the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate.

Yet another difficulty is the emerging data that gas is no cleaner than coal when things like fugitive emissions are taken into account.

No wonder that the hard-nosed Jeremy Grantham, former chairman and chief investment strategist for the $100 billion funds manager GMO Capital, recognises additional gas reserves as a trojan horse - beguiling but dangerous.
The major disadvantage of all of these extra (oil and gas) reserves, though, is that they will give us more rope with which to hang ourselves by frying the planet.

If we are to prevent dangerous global warming and keep the planet within the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate, 80% of gas, coal and oil reserves will need to be left alone. They will be stranded assets unless/until carbon capture and sequestration becomes commercially viable.

What to do?

Be informed. Have a questionning mind. Support the Lock the Gate campaign and the 100% Renewables campaign.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Don't ask little of me - you might get it.

We are a lucky generation – we're living at the dynamic beginning of massive global transformation. It's a time to ask big things of ourselves and of each other – just as Winston Churchill did in a speech to the British people at the beginning of WWII.
We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history. ...  I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Winston Churchill

Nothing calls the human spirit to effort better than the promise of great difficulty. The comprehensive energy revolution that lies before us is a massive task and this is the critical decade.

This is the decade when Australia needs to make a serious start on a national plan to shift electricity generation from 8% renewables to 100% renewables.

Beyond Zero Emissions, a climate policy think tank, has produced a roadmap that shows how Australia can do this over just 10 years, at a cost of 3% of GDP. The Zero Carbon Australia plan involves approximately 6,400 wind generators (7.5 MW capacity) and nearly 200 Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) plants spread across Australia's best solar and wind regions. Here's how it looks.

The new CST plants and wind farms would be built in clusters and joined to the national grid that will be enhanced with additional HVAC lines as well as some HVDC lines for longer distances. HVDC power lines lose only 3% of power per 1,000 km.

The focus on two technologies, CST and onshore wind turbines, is a result of several factors.
  • CST and wind turbines are commercial off-the-shelf technologies so there is no delay in getting started.
  • Australia has excellent solar and wind resources (e.g. we have plenty of room for onshore wind turbines so we don't need any of the more expensive offshore wind farms).
  • Together, CST and wind can deliver reliable baseload power that is sufficiently flexible to dispatch power at short notice and cope with variability of demand and changing weather conditions. CST with salt storage delivers electricity 24 hours a day because the molten salt stores heat from the sun to keep the turbines turning through the night.

Australia is not alone in planning continent-wide electricity grids that rely on renewables. Desertec has done similar planning for a grid that encompasses Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Like Australia, deployment is at an embryonic stage. A CST plant has been commissioned in Tunisia while Saudi Arabia and UAE are rolling out ambitious programs for utility scale solar power. They are positioning themselves for the post-oil era so they can continue to be energy exporters.

In the US, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) demonstrates that the US (lower 48 states) could be 80% renewable by 2050.

The Australian government is comissioning its own study to show how Australia's electricity could transition to 100% renewables by 2030 or 2050.

So now the thought has been thought, it's hard to unthink it. We are at the beginning of an energy revolution. The transition to 100% renewables will be a battle, tooth and nail, with wealthy and powerful fossil fuel interests. They will oppose every step that reduces markets for their coal, oil and gas.

Churchill was lucky, the European theatre of war in WWII lasted only five years. In contrast, our battle with fossil fuel interests will last for decades. It will take toil, tears and sweat, and even blood. Plenty of blood has been spilt defending oil resources, and it is likely to happen again.

That's why I say we are a lucky generation. We live in times that ask a lot of us. Can we rise to the challenge?
Don't ask little of me, you might get it.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here are recent snippets.

Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Africa are building utility-scale solar generators using Concentrated Solar Thermal technology. Source: ConstructionWeek

Morocco maintains a national renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy that includes renewable energy sources meeting 42% of electricity demand by 2020. Source: Cleantechnica

Friday, August 17, 2012

Superhero Costumes Optional

Climate Haka, Knitting Nannas and now Don't Just Sit There, Do Something. There are hundreds (thousands? millions?) of authentic voices calling for action on climate change. They come in every accent and flavour, and each one has its tribe of followers.

Joylette Portlock's voice blends her solid science background (PhD in Genetics) with a sense of fun and the down to earth practicality of raising two small boys. The result is Don't Just Sit There, Do Something – a series of videos where Joylette plays multiple roles to present climate change issues.

The six-minute videos showcase reliable information with lots of humour and, best of all, each video ends with two recommended actions – one personal and one aimed at systemic change. For example, Episode Six about air quality ends with a personal recommendation to set your airconditioner a little warmer, and a systemic recommendation to sign a petition to support safer limits on particle (soot) pollution.

For me, the best thing about these videos is that they pull no punches about the impact of climate change AND the actions they recommend match this level of seriousness. The actions are  very do-able, and the systemic actions are especially important for driving large-scale change.

I don't know about you, but I find it mind-numbing to sit through presentations that warn that 100 million Bangladeshis are likely to be displaced by rising sea levels and then to be told that I can help prevent it by sharing my lawn mower with my neighbour. It feels like a woefully inadequate response.  Individual actions are important, but we also need radical reform of energy systems at the global level.

If you like a little humour with your climate messages check out the inspiring videos from Don't Just Sit there, Do Something. They'll put a smile on your face and inspire you with hope.

Then share them with everyone you know!

Yep - that's a recommended action. 


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's a recent snippet.

US Wind capacity has reached 50GW and will hit 60GW by end of 2012.  50 GW of wind power capacity represents the generating power of 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear power plants. Source: RenewablesBiz.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stick to your knitting

"Stick to your knitting" is good advice for modern distracted minds. When we stick to our knitting, we mind our own business and stay on task.

In Australia, Knitting Nannas Against Gas are minding the business of farming women and focusing their efforts in a campaign against the Coal Seam Gas wells that are damaging Australia's farmland. A convoy of women (calling themselves Knitting Nannas Against Gas) is visiting Queensland farming properties where gas wells and pipelines cross the countryside. At one farm they say:
They talk about not making judgements until you've walked a mile in someone's boots. Celia Makay doesn't have a lot, and certainly not shoes to spare. Today, Nannas and others walked a mile in the unnatural mud of the CSG pipeline dividing her property. I tremble with indignation.
A few days ago, I wrote about macho climate activists with visible tattoos and quoted Bill Clinton's call for salt-of-the-earth working men to stand up for renewable energy. Strong and energetic men are a powerful force in any community, and once they are roused to action they can move mountains.

Women have a different kind of power that is just as effective. When those patient women who knit intricate clothes, shawls, blankets and toys for their loved ones are roused to action, we REALLY take note. It takes a lot to stir our Nannas to hit the campaign trail.

Knitting Grandma by Antonia Lanik-Gabanek

Each of the 'tribes' that make up our community – macho workers, loving Nannas, students, tech geeks, policy wonks, minorities, parents, educators, hobbyists/club members and more – has its own style. Climate activism and environmental protection needs all of these different styles, from Knitting Nannas to Climate Haka and all the hybrids in between.

So, ask yourself, what is YOUR tribe? What is your style of activism? Who will you team up with to counter the lobbying dollars of the fossil fuel incumbents?

It is not our grandmothers' weather any more, fossil fuels will be stranded assets, and our governments need to hear from all the tribes in society.


UPDATE: 20 February 2013. Knitting Nannas had a big win this week when the State government announced new restrictions on CSG.  The new rules will protect homes and some agricultural activities, but the Nannas won't give up till the rules also protect water.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's a recent snippet.

The US Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank has signed an agreement with South Africa's Industrial Development Corp.  pledging $2 billion in finance for solar, wind and other clean-energy projects that use U.S. technologies products and services. South Africa has set a target to reduce carbon emissions by 34% by 2020 and by 42% by 2025.   Source: SustainableBusiness.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Climate activism with tattoos

Are renewables too girly? Is energy efficiency too tame? Are EVs for milksops? Where's the challenge for the testosterone-endowed warriors in the silent acceleration of an electric car? What is big and bold about recycling and using LESS of something?

Social responsibility doesn't usually jive with a macho image and Edwin Stafford and Cathy Hartman argue here that climate communication needs to be more macho if it is to reach new audiences.

As an example, they note the success of the Don't Mess with Texas anti-littering campaign that reduced roadside littering by 72% in the first two years and went on to become  a cultural phenomenon.  The slogan has been popularly appropriated by Texans, appears on memorabilia merchandise and is even the official motto of the Virginia-class submarine USS Texas.

In my part of the world, tattooed Rugby League players are the epitome of macho. When tough Rugby League players like Tongan Fuifui Moimoi or Samoan Frank Puletua are aroused to defend their families they can wear shell necklaces and feather skirts and no one messes with them.

With his ever-accurate social radar, Bill Clinton put his finger on it recently when he said -
The more people with visible tattoos who advocate for clean energy, the more success it will have in Washington. You win the tattooed vote and we’ll have the damnedest environmental policy anybody ever saw.

While Texans are tough, nobody does 'don't mess with me' better than New Zealanders. The ancient Maori haka is presented before every Rugby Union game - check out this 2010 international game.

It's time for a climate haka.

It's time for machos with tattoos to carry green shopping bags with attitude.

It's time for tough men to stand up to defend their homeland so that no one messes with the future of their children and grandchildren.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet.    

The Chinese government has confirmed it has increased its target for solar energy by 40 per cent, pledging to deploy 21GW of capacity by 2015. The move is is accompanied by new minimum targets for renewable energy use that will be imposed on energy firms and grid operators, and means that renewables will account for 9.5 per cent of the country's energy mix by 2015. Source: BusinessGreen

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Popcorn catastrophe

Ken Ward observes that when climate activists cry catastrophe! and then list benefits like green jobs and reduced oil imports to be gained if we take preventative measures, [it] is odd and confusing behaviour, like running into a crowded movie theater and shouting "Fire! -- and don't forget to buy popcorn on the way out, with all the unexpected traffic, it's on sale!".

This reminds me of one of my disappointments with Australia's current government. Despite heads rolling, it has succeeded in passing the Clean Energy Legislation that puts a price on carbon, compensates low income households and small businesses, and invests in renewables. In the weeks leading up to implementation, it ran an ad campaign about it. What did they say?

Did they mention that this legislation is a response to the catastrophe of climate disruption, like "We know the cinema is on fire, here comes the fire brigade!"

Did they say, "We're on the job, making Australia a safer place for future generations."

No, they ran ads of soothing domesticity that said, "You'll get some money. Aren't we nice?"

That's it. Nothing else. Indeed, they didn't even mention the legislation!

This is like addressing the crowd in the cinema and not mentioning the fire that has started in the projection room, saying instead, "There's a street parade outside they are throwing coins to the crowd."

Little wonder that Australians are disappointed and confused by their government.

Nevertheless, muddled as they are, the Government is better than the Opposition who have promised to undo the Clean Energy Legislation. That's like disbanding the Fire Brigade. I guess that their messaging is consistent. Given that they don't fully acknowledge climate disruption, it's like saying, "There is no fire so we don't need a Fire Brigade."

Eventually, all countries will get onto war footing to fight climate disruption. In the meantime, as individuals we can match our words and actions to the magnitude of the problem and call a spade a spade, as the very excellent James Hansen does in this Washington Post article today.

UPDATE: Researchers note that altruism and personal gain tend to cancel each other out. Appeals to self-interest can backfire and accidentally encourage people to behave selfishly in other areas. Source: NatureClimateChange. There's another reason that governments should encourage pro-environmental behaviour for the greater good and not just for personal monetary gain.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet.   

British supermarket chain Sainsbury has installed over 69,500 solar panels on its stores, laying claim to the title of Europe's top solar generator. The company said that it has 16MW of solar capacity spread across 169 of its 572 UK supermarkets, meaning that collectively the firm manages the largest solar array in Europe. Source: BusinessGreen

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bucket brigade - better than watching the house burn

Climate change deniers who patrol the second defensive line, the moat, agree that the planet is warming but they dispute that the cause is human greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).  They say that there is not enough evidence to support this view and governments should not act until there is more evidence. This is just a delay tactic, and fortunately it has been ignored by nearly every government on the planet many of which have spent the past two decades enacting policies and plans that have started their transition to low-carbon economies. Examples of recent action are shown on the Transformation tab above.

Richard Muller is the latest scientist to support the view that human generated GHGs are the main forcing element behind the current warming. He argues, as many others have, that when you compare the few vaguely plausible explanations for changing climate - greenhouse forcing, solar forcing, aerosol forcing, big changes in albedo - one fits the data MUCH better than any of the others. That one is greenhouse gases.

It's like a race between the contenders, and GHG has lapped the field twice to come in well ahead of the pack. This is not enough for some people, they want GHGs to win the race at the speed of light before they'll accept the evidence. 

Paul Fisher put it like this:
If a house is burning down and I suggest a bucket brigade, slow and cumbersome as it might be, there is no value in pointing out the chances of it working are slim unless you have something better to use in replacement. Simply allowing the house to burn down is not a useful solution. It is, at least, time to stop pretending the house isn't full of bad wiring that should be replaced, even if we can't agree there are already sparks and the walls are smoking.

UPDATE: David Potter points out that the bucket brigade metaphor is similar to Roosevelt's words in WWII:
Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose....
 USA President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 11 March 1941, on lending resources to the UK

The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet.  

The following countries have banned single-use plastic bags:  China, Bangladesh, South Africa, Botswana, Italy, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Other countries have cut usage dramatically by imposing a fee: Ireland, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria and Wales. Single-use plastic bags generate greenhouse gases in their manufacture and pollute the environment when discarded.  Source: The Conversation and PlanetArk.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The castle walls are breached

The defensive walls of the Denier citadel were breached today by Richard Muller's announcement that he is no longer sceptical about climate science.
Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

This particular 'road to Damascus' moment carries weight because Muller was outspoken in his criticism of aspects of the temperature record and he attracted significant funding from the Koch brothers (fossil fuel billionaires who fund climate change deniers). Arch-denier Anthony Watts took the extreme step of cancelling his vacation and imposing a three-day silence on his blog in readiness for the BIG announcement. Perhaps he was preparing his next line of defence, or gathering forces for a new defensive position. He has already reneged once on his commitment to accept Muller's findings. This latest announcement backs him into an even smaller corner.

To many who work in the field, Muller's latest announcement merely brings him up to date with where the science was in the mid 1990s.
At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of a few years!

This  event has me thinking of those wonderful defensive structures - the medieval castles of Europe and the Middle East.

Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire, Dyfed, Wales, is a great example. Like most castles, it was constructed in a location with natural defences. Kidwelly was originally a timber castle built by the Normans about 1100 on a prominent ridge overlooking the river Gwendraeth.

Over the centuries it was rebuilt in stone and embelished with new defensive features.

For more than 400 years Kidwelly Castle provided a safe place for citizens to retreat when attacked and  housed garrison forces that could sally forth to attack mauraders and fight rivals. Its river, moat, steep berm leading to castle walls, towers, gates, parapets and other defensive features made it relevant and effective.

If an outer defence was breached, the defenders moved back to the next line of defence. If it came to the worst, defenders could withdraw to a single tower where they could hold out in the hope that relief forces would come to their aid.

Climate change deniers have the same approach to defending the Denier citadel. Here are the defensive lines around the citadel.
  1. The outermost defence is an earth berm where the mass of defenders rattle their spears and chant, "It's not warming! It's not warming!"
  2. The next line of defence is the moat where the defenders shout, "It's warming but it's not us! It's the sun! It's water vapour! It's a natural cycle! It's a squirrel!"
  3. Then there are the outer walls of the castle, where diminished defenders run to and fro shouting, "It's warming, we did it, but it's not a big problem. Warm is nice, CO2 is good for plants, Greenland was lovely in the medieval warm period."
  4. Then there is the inner wall of the castle, where the handful of remaining defenders stumble around muttering, "Yes, it's warming; yes human activity is the cause; yes, it will be horrible - but mitigation is too hard/expensive, so let's plan to adapt instead."
As each defense is breached, some of the defenders have their 'road to Damascus' moment and become advocates for action. Others fall back to the next line of defence. A few lost souls remain forever in No Mans Land crying in the wind, "It's not warming!" and "Look! It's a squirrel!"

Time passes and by 2050 the Denial citadel will be as irrelevant as the ruin of today's Kidwelly Castle. However, while Kidwelly Castle leaves a beautiful monument to the necessities of past culture, the relic of the Denier Citadel will be a monument to shame.

UPDATE: Anthony Watts's response to the Muller announcement was, "Look! It's a squirrel!" Maybe he thinks that's a useful tactic at any of the the defence lines - the berm, the moat, the outer and inner walls. Maybe he will still be shouting "It's a squirrell!" when the last defenders are holed up in the last tower. Or maybe he has joined the lost souls in No Mans Land, crying out for relevance.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet.  

Bangladesh is installing nearly one thousand domestic solar systems every day. Over nearly two decades Grameen Shakti has set up a rural network to supply and maintain small solar systems that are affordable. By the end of 2012 it will have installed a total of one million solar systems and has expansion plans to install five million systems by 2015. Source: RenewEnergy.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How much air in the tank?

Scuba divers pay a lot of attention to the amount of air in their tank. Their lives depend on it.

In the same way, climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Whereas scuba divers are concerned when their air supply runs low, scientists are concerned when the amount of greenhouse gases gets too high.

Scientists have calculated how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere and still stay within the limit of 2C warming. They calculate that the atmosphere can hold an additional 565 GT (gigatons) of CO2.  Two degrees centigrade is the target that world nations have agreed upon as a target. Scientists say this will give a 50% chance of avoiding the worst consequences of global warming.

Two degrees is not a get out of jail card, with 2C we have 100% chance of getting all the serious consequences of global warming (increased drought, heatwave, flooding, ocean acidification, storms and floods, and rising sea level) as well as a 50% chance of copping the very worst (massive loss of arable land, loss of coastal cities, mass species extinction, runaway global warming).

565 GT is the equivalent of about 15 GT a year between now and 2050. However, the IEA reports that the world emitted twice as much last year (31.6 GT in 2011) and the trend is rising. These figures give rise to two thoughts:
  • At current emission levels, we will reach the 2C 'safety' target by 2030 and extreme weather events will have quadrupled.
  • We need to halve our emissions right now and then reduce them to zero by 2050.
When a scuba diver's tank is running low, they don't ignore it ("Faulty dial, always lies"), or negotiate with it ("Come on, tank, give me another 30 minutes and I'll give you a shiny hologram sticker to make you look pretty.") or threaten it ("Give me more air or I'll kill your wife and children. I know where you live.")

It's the same with 565 GT. We can't ignore it or try to negotiate or threaten it. Yet this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry is doing. They are sitting on current known reserves of coal, oil and gas that would pump 2,795 GT carbon dioxide into the air if burnt. And they are busily looking for more - ExxonMobile spends $100 million every day on exploration for new reserves.

With a limit of 565 GT, the remaining 80% (2,230 GT) will be left in the ground as stranded assets unless carbon capture becomes economically viable.

The new Laggard to Leader report from Beyond Zero Emissions asks Australia to take the lead in recognising that 80% of the world's fossil fuel reserves cannot be used by putting a moratorium on new coal exploration and mining. Australia currently dominates world coal with 27% of all trade so our actions can have a big impact.

When Australia stops expanding its coal industry it will be like the scuba diver who recognises his tank is getting low and starts heading back to the surface.  At that point we'll be swimming hard, hoping we make it in time to avoid catastrophe.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet. 

Saudi Arabia announced that it would install 41,000MW of solar over the next two decades (25,000 in solar thermal and 16,000 in utility-scale solar PV). The Saudis are not wasting time – there’s too  much money to be saved. The cost of the initiative is estimated at $100 billion, but it is estimated to save 523,000 barrels a day, or more than $19 billion a year at current oil export prices). This month the Saudis announced that the first of their solar auctions, totaling 2,000MW, will be held early in 2013. The second round of 2,500MW will be held in 2014. Source: Reneweconomy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blessing the fleet

The ancient practice of blessing the fleet continues to bring comfort and ceremony to modern lives. This picture shows the modern fishing fleet in the small NSW town of Ulladulla getting its annual belssing. Apart from being a tourist attraction, blessing the fleet is also an example of magical thinking like our little practices of 'touch wood', crossing fingers, careful references to the 'Scottish play', or religious prayer practice.
I don't mind the colourful ritual of fleet blessings because I know that these ceremonies do not displace laws that require ships to be sea-worthy, to carry adequate safety equipment and for crew to be suitably qualified. The real work of blessing the fleet is done by the lawmakers and bureaucrats who set standards and ensure the fishmen stick to them.

While lawmakers have been active in ensuring safety at sea, they have been quite lax in giving us laws that require greenhouse gas pollution to be curbed to levels recommended by the best scientists on the planet. In the case of recent droughts, bushfires, storms and flooding, all exacerbated by climate change, we have been left to rely on church prayers. In the recent 10-year drought in NSW,  church congregations prayed for rain every week.

These prayers had questionable effect on the drought and were remarkably useless at reducing a prime cause – Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. We continue to top the list of world's worst emitter at 19 tonnes per capita.

Under a business as usual scenario, the Bureau of Meteorology predicts that NSW will be 3-4C warmer by 2070. This will quadruple the number of extreme weather events like droughts, heatwaves, violent storms, floods and bushfires. Ocean acidification will wipe out fish stocks so the fishermen of Ulladulla won't need a blessing because they won't be going to sea.

One can only hope that these events trigger a mass outpouring of magical thinking in the form of prayer rallies. Perhaps that will inspire our legislators will get to work to address the root cause of the problem by enacting legislation to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. Fingers crossed.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet.

The US has cut carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in recent years — down 7.7 percent since 2006.  By the end of 2012, US carbon emissions will be the same as in 1996. Reductions are due to lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector. Source: Think Progress.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Journey of Possum and Sugar Glider (2)

The Journey of Possum and Sugar Glider began here. After the Guru told Possum that he had to reduce his carbon emissions before he could find Nirvana, Possum met up with Sugar Glider and a small band of travellers. He learnt about the danger to the world and the value of compound interest.

4. Spoilt for choice, what to do first?

Possum's head buzzed with all the things he could do to reduce his carbon emissions. He thought of little things like turning out lights through to big things like buying a new car or growing his own vegetables.

He got out an old notebook and started making a list.
  • Turn out lights, change to low-energy lights
  • Change to an energy efficient car
  • Walk to the local shops instead of driving
  • Look getting better heating

He filled pages and pages, then he went online and checked for advice offered by his local government, Becoming a ClimateClever Home is as Easy as 1-2-3.

He filled more pages then he began to slow down. Finally he stopped.

"There!" he thought, "That's a good morning of work. Time for tea."

While he waited for the kettle to boil, he flicked through the pages and "Easy as 1-2-3" repeated in his mind. "Not exactly as easy as 1-2-3," he thought, "It's going to take me months to do all this. What should I do first?"

Just as the kettle was boiling, he had a bright idea. He decided to ring Sugar Glider and invite her over.

He smiled as her phone started ringing.

To be continued....


The Transformation page on this blog showcases examples of progress on addressing climate change. Here's the latest. 

US company SolarCity rolls out a $1billion five year program to put solar PV on 120,000 houses owned by the US Department of Defence. Google Inc. created a $280-million fund to help SolarCity pay for installations and maintenance costs in exchange for a cut of customer payments.  Source: LATimes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's raining metaphors

Now that the US is suffering unprecedented extreme weather events, including heatwaves, drought, wildfires, storms and floods, their mainstream media is paying attention to climate change.

It helps that NOAA just released an important new report that shows the connection between specific extreme weather events and climate change.

ClimateProgress reports that all mainstream media have reported the connection between extreme weather and climate change. 

Bill Blakemore on the American ABC News website gives journalists a lesson in how to talk about the link between climate change and extreme weather. He uses three metaphors that have the stamp of approval from real scientists.

Here's a quick overview.

The Parable of the Pot. He uses a pot of boiling water to illustrate that turning up the heat results in more bubbles in the water. Scientists won't say that any particular new bubble is caused by turning the heat up, but they will say that the probability of more bubbles is increased when you turn up the heat.

Baseball Player on Steroids. This short animation shows that when a baseball player takes steroids his run rate is higher (featured earlier on this blog here). You can't say that any individual run is due to the steroids, but the player gets higher run totals due to the steroids. They ban steroids to prevent this. In the same way, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent extreme weather events.

Loaded Dice. This analogy shows that climate change increases the odds of extreme weather events. It has been used consistently since 1988 when James Hansen took two painted dice to his presentation to Congress. We featured it earlier on Thisness of a That, here.

Blakemore offers a phrase that everyone can use to describe the link between climate change and extreme weather events without using the 'cause' word,
This exactly fits the pattern long predicted of increasingly frequent severe weather events.

In contrast, Dan Lashey from the National Resource Defence Council argues that we can come right out and say: Carbon pollution causes extreme weather. He notes that cigarette packs no longer say tobacco 'may cause harm', they say: Smoking causes lung cancer.

If newspapers can report that 40 people died because of a heatwave, I don't see why they can't report that an extreme weather event was caused by global warming (or climate change or carbon emissions). 

We can expect to see more variations on these statements as mainstream media tackles the task of connecting the dots between climate change and weather.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman uses the Loaded Dice analogy in this piece in the New York Times where he concludes: 
... large-scale damage from climate change is no longer a disaster waiting to happen. It’s happening now.