Saturday, June 30, 2012

You've got to dance with the one who brung ya...

"Dance with the one who brung ya" is a social rule that underpins respect and civil society. It's about keeping your word, doing unto others as you would be done by, and playing the hand you are dealt.

It's a bulwark against the temptation to use others in cynical and selfish ways. And it's a warning against denial or pretence. It's a reality check. 

This came to mind as we were talking about the world our grandchildren will live in. All the serious messages tell us that without immediate efforts on a war-footing scale, the world will be a mess in 30-40 years time.

Michael Pollan asks in a recent essay,
Have you looked in the eyes of a climate scientist lately? They look really scared.
But even after reading these warnings on a daily basis, I find it hard to grasp, really hold as a concrete fact, that temperatures 6C hotter by 2100 will mean the end of civilisation as we know it. Mr. Six Degrees is the boy who will ask our grandaughters to dance.

Without action to reduce carbon emissions, we are guaranteeing that our grandaughters will have to say "Yes" to Mr Six Degrees. They will HAVE to dance with him, though they'd much rather dance with the cute guy from the Chemistry class, or giggle with their girlfriends. 

If we want our grandaughters to go to the dance with the cute guy from the Chemistry class, we have to do everything to get governments onto a war footing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 80% reduction by 2050 isn't going to happen by itself.

Of course, our grandaughters, those who survive the floods, droughts, wildfires, and collapsing food systems, will find the inner fortitude to dance with Mr Six Degrees. They will probably do it without the benefit of civil society because who can see that surviving the Climate Wars?

Check the Take Action tab for things you can do to prompt your government to take stronger action.

FOOTNOTE: George Monbiot uses the same metaphor (Dance with the one who brung you) in August 2012 to castigate US political funding that makes politicians shape policies for the fossil fuel companies that funded their campaigns.


Latest from the Transformation tab.

United Kingdom’s wind industry switched on the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the Walney wind farm. It comprises 102 turbines and has an electricity generation capacity of 367 MW, enough to provide power for about 320,000 homes. It will be soon be surpassed by larger ones, such as the 388-MW West of Duddon Sands project and the whopping 630-MW London Array. Source: BusinessGreen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The carrot, the stick and the map

The Can Do! attitude that harnessed the efforts of whole nations in an all-out war effort during WWII survives in the iconic figure of Rosie the Riveter. When men joined the armed forces, women filled their places in factories, transport, businesses and on farms. My Grandma Blanche saw out WWII as a transport driver for local military bases in the North of England, where her two daughters met and married improbably good looking airmen.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has given Can Do types a shot in the arm with the release of its report, Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) which outlines how the US can convert its electricity system to 80% renewables by 2050.

The detailed report proves the nay-sayers wrong by demonstrating that current technology is sufficient and that intermittent sources like solar and wind are no obstacle.

The report is a massive work in four volumes and covers the subject comprehensively. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and is a collaboration with more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

I am very heartened to see responsible government agencies get on with the job of planning a pathway to the new low-carbon future. I'm afraid that Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism lacks the capacity, vision and leadership to produce useful work like this. They seem to be too much in the thrall of the coal and mining sectors.

A Can Do map is one of the three things needed for a fundamental shift in beliefs and practices. The other two requirements are: Awareness that the current system is unsustainable (the stick), and recognition of the benefits of change (the carrot).

The carrot, the stick and the pathway map are necessary preconditions for the transition from an ecosystem of denial to a culture of responsibility.

With a reason to act, confidence in the destination and an outline of what needs doing, millions of Rosies will roll up their sleeves and see that the job gets done.

H/T KC Golden.


New on the Transformation tab.

Ireland has signed a MOU with UK to provide renewable power. Irish businessman Eddie O’Connor, the CEO of Mainstream Renewables, has unveiled a plan to invest €12.5 billion to expand the country’s wind energy farms, and build links to supply the UK. Source: ReNewEconomy

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mother knows best

Anita Renfroe runs through some motherly advice in her Mom Song ...
make new friends
clean up after you
pay attention
be respectful
be careful
play fair
wait your turn
never take a dare
say thank you, please, excuse me
if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you jump too?
What happens when we grow up? Do we leave this advice behind along with our lego and paper dolls as kid stuff? Or do we take it as the basis for civil society?

The sheer weight of insults and lies thrown around in public discourse about policy response to climate change shows that many never heard their mother's call for attentive, respectful, fair dealings.

But worse than the insults and denigration, climate change deniers are embracing risky behaviour. They are ready to jump off a cliff and drag us with them.

Taking our mothers' advice, we clean up after ourselves, pay attention, act respectfully and refrain from jumping off cliffs. 
Mother Love, the ultimate renewable.
Dominique Browning of Moms Clean Air Force


News on the Transformation tab.

South Korea is channelling 2% of its GDP into its Green Growth Plan. The Plan aims to reduce total GHG emissions by 30% of BAU by 2020 and outlines a transition path to a low-carbon economy. Australia is one of 15 partner countries in the Global Green Growth Institute, initiated by South Korea. Source: GGGI

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yin and yang of clean energy

Ma Xuelu, chief strategy officer for solar panel manufacturers Yingli, sketches a vision of the future of solar power.
We want solar to be the green energy that the common man can use. It’s not like oil, solar is a harmonious resource, a peaceful resource.

In these words, I hear echoes of the ancient teachings of Taoism which promotes harmony or union with nature, virtue and self-development.

China has a long cultural history where patience is a core value, so I am interested to see that their forward planning gives prominence to clean energy. China plans to spend $27 bn in 2012 to promote energy conservation, emission reductions and renewable energy.  Their goal is to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2003 levels, and boost use of renewable energy to 15% of overall energy consumption.

Its deep history gives China a long term perspective. In contrast, many Western democracies have relatively new national identities and seem driven to make their mark quickly. Western cultures are impatient for results. When we encounter obstacles we sometimes want to crash through, or change course.

Li Junfeng, a senior policy official, brings a different perspective in this comment about difficulties encountered by fledgling solar and wind industries.
Our industries are still very young. A child will stumble as he walks, because he’s still young. But eventually he will grow up.

This reminds me that solar power has been described as the teddy bear of renewables because it is small and lovable. What will it be when it grows up? A 360kg grizzly?

This graphic from the Financial Times shows how China's fledgling wind industry compares with that of the USA (click to enlarge).


News from the Transformation tab.

World solar energy usage almost doubled in one year. In 2010 the world used 30 terawat-hours and in 2011 this had risen to 55.7 terawatt-hours.  Source: e360.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Waste not, want not

Waste not, want not.

Did you grow up with this homily? I seemed to hear it quite often when I grew up — mostly when I pushed vegetables around on my dinner plate. But then, I grew up in a time and place that is now foreign, even to me.

When I was five, I lived on a dairy farm and attended a rural one-teacher school. Electricity came from the diesel generator, water came from rainwater tanks, and the school even had a horse paddock for the couple of kids who rode horses to school.

That was post-WWII Australia — a foreign land compared with my current life in Sydney, one of the world's most liveable cities.

So, why am I thinking about "waste not, want not" when I could be thinking about Luke Nguyen's new restaurant?

It was triggered by this Eurostat data that ranks European countries on their use of renewable energy. One column of data shows the proportion of their energy that comes from 'Biomass and renewable wastes'. Here's a graph of the top countries.

Share of biomass/wastes in gross inland energy consumption, 2009

Latvia already gets 29% of its energy from biomass and renewable wastes!

These countries are so much better-prepared for the future than countries like Australia where we rely so heavily on fossil fuels for our energy. Less than 1% of our energy comes from biomass/renewable wastes.

It seems to be taking enormous effort for Australia to move to more sustainable energy, however our new carbon tax, starting 1 July, will make a difference. For example, it will give an incentive for major rubbish dumps to harvest their methane emissions and generate power, instead of letting the methane leak into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming.

Another helpful measure is our State target to increase the proportion of ethanol in petrol. Ethanol in NSW is made as a byproduct from processing wheat into protein and starch. After these food elements are produced, ethanol is made, and finally the waste from ethanol production is turned into feed supplements for cattle. Waste not, want not. 

Nevertheless, it will take us decades to catch up with countries that already get more than 10% of their energy from biomass and renewable waste. Our efforts now will build a bridge to the new Clean Energy Economy that will appear when the Dinosaur Economy based on fossil fuels collapses.

Human societies are fast approaching the limits of some critical resources. The earth has only limited quantities of oil and gas. It is foolish to waste things that are in short supply.  Indeed, it is foolish to waste anything at all.

In a world of constrained resources, coming generations will re-learn what our grandparents knew. They will live again in a world where "waste not, want not" is the rule to live by.


News from the Transformation tab. 

Vale, the world’s second-largest mining company, and leading Australian renewable energy company Pacific Hydro will jointly build and operate two wind farms in Brazil’s northeast. The power produced will be used by Vale in its mining operations. Source: Pacific Hydro.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Low hanging fruit

Non-carbon dioxide pollutants are the low hanging fruit of the climate fix. Carbon dioxide is the big baddy because it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, but other greenhouse gases contribute 40% of the warming effect, and some of them are easy targets.

They include factory-made hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used as refrigerants and to make insulating foams; methane that leaks from landfills and oil and gas production, including fracking; and black carbon soot from dirty diesels, brick kilns, coke ovens, and wood and dung cooking fires still used by nearly half of the world.

See the blue band showing 10.2% bioenergy in this graph? Most (60%) of it is wood and dung used for cooking by the poorest of the poor.

IPCC: Total Primary Energy Supply by Fuel Type, 2008 (click to enlarge)

Because these non-CO2 climate pollutants wash out of the atmosphere in a matter of days to a decade and a half when you stop emitting them, almost all of the heat they are trapping disappears quickly, along with their impacts. Reducing or eliminating them would show quick results, and wouldn't that be inspiring!

Like many pollutants, these greenhouse gases cause other problems. Reducing black carbon, including from cooking fires, would save many millions of lives a year, mostly women and children. Reducing methane improves crop yields and protects forests.

HCFs can be elimintated using the Montreal Protocol which has already eliminated nearly 100 chemicals just like HFCs, and never fails to do its job. It could ensure that only HFCs with very low climate impact are manufactured. Phasing out HFCs is the single biggest climate prize available in the next few years.

On the international stage, governments are forming alliances to legislate for the removal of these harmful greenhouse gases. At the individual level, NGOs are running programs like The Himalayan Stove Project that help the world's poorest people replace smokey and polluting cooking methods with healthier alternatives. It's only with the help of the richer half of the world that the poorest 1 billion people can improve their own lives and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Non-carbon greenhouse gases are the low hanging fruit of climate fixes. Let's support these initiatives at the policy level and at the individual level.

Source: Durwood Zaelke and Andrew Light at The Hill.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A lump sum or a magic pudding?

I had a friend, Miranda, who spent her income as she earnt it. Her view was that she would get another packet of money next week to replace what she spent this week. Just like Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding that simply re-grew when part of it was eaten, her money was continually replaced with a fresh supply.

I was concerned that she would go into retirement with no savings and I figured that paying rent on the age pension is no fun. So I suggested that instead of thinking about her income as a magic pudding that got replenished each week, she should think of it as a lifetime allowance that is doled out week by week. Across her lifetime, she would earn a limited amount of money, and as each week passed there was one less portion awaiting her.

After that, she started saving. When she retired, she didn't have enough to live on, but she was able to buy a small apartment in a regional town and lived a modest and contented life on the age pension.

It seems to me that Western consumer societies have been living like Miranda, as though natural resources would be magically renewed year after year. But that is not the case. Like Miranda's lifetime income, many of Earth's resources are large, but limited.

Towards the end of her working life Miranda had only a small portion of her earnings still to come. Similarly, some of Earth's resources have only a small portion left. For example, we have used most of the earth's oil resources, most of the arable land is already farmed and most fresh water resources are fully used.

With population due to expand by another 2 billion in coming decades, many of earth's resource budgets can only get tighter.

Fortunately, not all earth's resources are as limited as Miranda's lifetime earnings. Some resources renew endlesslessly in human timeframes. It's good to see countries beginning the transition to these magic pudding energy resources — sun, wind and geothermal.

By conserving our limited resources, we wisely give our children and grandchildren the opportunity to live fulfilling lives, instead of blindly devouring the lump sum of their inheritance.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eureka! It's a bathtub budget!

When Archimedes noticed the water level in his bathtub go up, he had an "ah-ha" moment. The bathtub holds a limited amount of stuff whether it is water or humans. When you go over the limit, the bathtub overflows. His insight was to recognise that it doesn't matter whether it is water or a grubby human body, when you put too much in, the water spills over the edge.

Similarly, the atmosphere can hold a limited amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) before climate systems go crazy. It doesn't matter who puts them there, when there's too much we get climate catastrophe — droughts, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, storms and floods.

To stop the water spilling onto the bathroom floor, you have to turn the tap off. Even a small drip will cause the bathtub to overflow eventually. It's the same with the atmosphere, we will have to stop GHG emissions altogether or the climate system will go crazy. Carbon sinks don't work like a bath drain because they developed over millennia to balance the amount of natural CO2 emissions and they can't cope with the extra emissions humans have been putting out from fossil fuels. They can't drain it out as fast as we're putting it in, so the water level has been inching higher every year.

How soon do we need to turn off the tap and reduce our GHG emissions to zero? That depends on how close the bathtub is to overflowing. Is it half-full, or lapping the rim?

The best scientific advice is that the size of the GHG tub is about 350 ppm of CO2-e gases. This is a lot higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm when the GHG bathtub was nicely balanced.  For thousands of years GHGs dripped into the tub and the leaky plug (carbon sinks that absorbed carbon dioxide) let them out  at the same rate. 350 ppm is higher and it will have some climate impacts, but they are likely to be manageable.

Right now, measurements of 400 ppm CO2 are starting to come in. This means that the tub is already overflowing. We have no time to waste to move to zero emissions as quickly as possible.  If we don't, we are driving headlong into catastrophe which guarantees that we'll have a big clean up job to do.

All our policies should be directed towards this bathtub budget. But how do we calculate our share of the bathtub budget? For social justice to prevail the only fair measure is to allocate a carbon budget for each per person on the planet. Based on 7 billion people, this works out to be about 5 tonnes of CO2-e per year (c.f. Serbia or Argentina). When world population has grown to the projected 9 billion, then our per-person budget will be 3.9 tonnes of CO2-e per year (think of Jordan or Turkey).

This means that Australia has to move quick-smart from something like 28 tonnes per person (the highest among OECD countries) down to 5 tonnes per person, and then be prepared to shave off a bit more.

Targets like "5% lower in 10 years time" aren't going to stop the bathtub from overflowing any time soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Twitterstorm will challenge fossil fuel subsidies

Growing public pressure is pushing governments to reduce fossil fuel subsidies. Activists are mobilising public opinion using social media.

From a mass of social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook have emerged as dominant players. Using them, climate communicators are finding fresh ways  to spread messages and organise action. Watch Twitter on 18 June for the Twitterstorm campaign that calls for the Rio Earth Summit to address the problem of fossil fuel subsidies.

The total global amount of fossil fuel subsidies provided in 2012 is likely to be at least $775 billion, according to OilChange International. These subsidies have the effect of encouraging fossil fuel consumption and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Their impact is so big that the IEA's Fatih Birol says ending fossil fuel subsidies could provide half the answer to solving climate change.

Wealthy OECD countries are not the worst offenders, instead Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia have the highest subsidies, as this Guardian graph illustrates.

Countries with fossil fuel reserves, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, use subsidies as a way to spread the wealth by making fuel and fertiliser cheaper. However analysis has shown that little of the subsidy reaches the poorest people, and that there are more efficient ways to spread the wealth.

Poor countries like India have programs that make kerosine, the common cooking fuel, affordable for their poorest citizens. To remove the kerosine subsidy, these countries will need assistance from wealthy countries so their poorest citizens can continue to buy enough kerosine to cook every day.

The worst effect of fossil fuel subsidies is to discourage the uptake of renewables because it is hard for clean energy to compete against artificially cheap fossil fuel.

Organisations like 350.0rg are using Rio's Earth Summit to advocate for wealthy countries to remove their own subsidies and to give assistance to poor countries so they can reduce theirs.

You can add your voice to campaign petitions at, or Earthday Network. And you can join the Twitterstorm planned for 18 June 2012 by following #endfossilfuelsubsidies.

It's a storm caused by fossil fuel emissions, but it's a good one.

UPDATE 20 June 2012: The Twitter campaign took the hash tag #endfossilfuelsubsidies to No. 2 in the ranking of globally trending topics and No. 1 in the US, and succeeded in mobilising action from tens of thousands of people worldwide.

The Twitterstorm was one element in a suite of related activities – petitions signed by more than 1 million people, banners, screen projections in major cities, and a panel discussion in Rio before the conference.

Among the cacophony of messages at the Rio+20 Earth Conference, the Twitterstorm may have helped to draw attention to fossil fuel subsidies. Early drafts of the Rio text didn't mention oil, coal or gas subsidies at all, and the final draft made only a passing reference. In the end, the impact of this Twitterstorm and the wider campaign will be measured by how quickly fossil fuel subsidies are unravelled over coming years.

Image: Campaign agains climate change

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Small island nations: Throw them a lifeline

Everyone loses with climate change. Many countries will lose productive farmland to desertification while others will lose lives and infrastructure to extreme storms or flooding. Small Island States will lose the most, because their homelands will be engulfed by rising sea levels.

Low-lying Pacific island nations, such as Kirabati and Tuvalu, and the Maldives in the Indian ocean, are set to disappear altogether when sea levels rise a meter. 

We know that someone will have to throw them a lifeline.

New Zealand is the first country to throw a lifeline to its neighbours. Since 2001, a limited quota of citizens of Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu have been able to enter New Zealand under the Pacific Access Category, effectively as environmental refugees displaced by climate change.

OK, it's a miserable quota which make it more of a gossamer thread than a lifeline, but Australia has been even less forthcoming. When Tuvalu requested immigration assistance for its population of 12,000 to move to Australia, the Australian government said its humanitarian obligations were to people who require ''assistance urgently''.

That's not exactly creative thinking, is it? And far from humanitarian.

These small countries are doing what they can to help themselves. The Maldives has established a sovereign wealth fund, drawn from its tourist revenue, to be used to buy land overseas and finance the relocation of the country's population of 350,000. They also aim to be the first country in the world to be carbon neutral.

But direct action is not all they are doing to help themselves, Small Island States have become a force to be reckoned with in international climate negotiations. At Durban, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) joined with the EU and Least Developed Countries to play a lead role in forging agreement to  keep the Kyoto process alive.

Going into the Rio Earth Summit, AOSIS argues that the Blue Economy (ocean-based economic life) needs as much attention as the Green Economy.

If these Small Island States are regarded as expendable collatoral damage it will be a loss for all of us. Their plight can be a catalyst for preventative action that would benefit everyone. Afterall, degraded ocean life and rising sea levels will affect most countries, not just the Small Island States.

The lifeline we need is preventative action, not migration quotas that try to deal with the mess.


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab.

The Maldives plans to be the world's first carbon neutral nation by 2020. It has set a mandatory target to generate at least 60% of its electricity from solar power by 2020. The latest initiative, funded by Japan, will install 675kW of solar power at schools and other public facilities. Source: PowerEngineering.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kitchen combat – culinary climate change

The thought of a dangerously warming planet with a population growing to 10 billion by 2100 has many people worried. How will we cope?

In his book, Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer says,
The first and most important impact of climate change on human civilisation will be an acute and permanent crisis of food supply.
Eating regularly is a non-negotiable activity and countries that cannot feed their people are unlikely to be 'reasonable' about it.
People point to the 2011 Arab Spring as evidence that this is already happening.

This adds urgency and purpose to an examination of my own activities. What are my food habits? How do they contribute to climate change and global food prices?

As a food exporter, Australia will be one of the lucky countries, nevertheless food prices at home will be affected by global prices. 

A University of Chicago study found that carnivores generate an additional 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per year compared with vegetarians. I know that the world average carbon emissions are 6 tonnes per person per year and that this is too high. Saving of 1.5 tonnes will make a big impact on my personal goal of 5 tonnes.

Monica Merkes from La Trobe University observes that Australians eat more meat now than ten years ago (108.7 kg vs 111.8 kg pa) whereas American meat consumption is falling. 

Our household doesn't eat a lot of meat, but in January we decided to go vegetarian for a month. It was fun and interesting to make vegetables the centrepiece of every meal. In February, meat and fish returned to our dining table, but at a reduced level.

Then in April we learned that a friend has advanced cancer and he adopted an organic vegan diet as part of a plan to boost his immune system. We are providing him with an organic vegan meal every week.

Without the carbon footprint of dairy products, vegan diets have even lower carbon emissions than vegetarian diets. Organic foods avoid chemicals and pesticides, and they are usually grown locally so they have fewer carbon miles.

Where are we now in our household food consumption? I see that we're moving along a trajectory towards a diet with lower carbon emissions. We haven't arrived at a final place, but we're a long way from where we began.

For many people, Meatless Monday, is an easy first step towards healthy eating that also has a lower carbon footprint. Give it a try.

You could try this main meal dish that we ate last night.

Cauliflower Pasta

Cauliflower Pasta (serves 4)

1 onion
1/2 eggplant (or other vegetable, this is just what I had on hand)
Garlic (as much as you like, we like a lot)
1/2 cauliflower (or more or less, depends on size)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Basil (or any combination of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage)
400-500g short pasta
Olive oil (a good drizzle)
Grated cheese (parmesan or pizza mix, or anything you like)

1. Slice onion and garlic. Chop eggplant. Cook in frypan with a good drizzle of olive oil.
2. Add chopped cauliflower stalks.
3. After a few minutes add the tin of tomatoes and herbs. Cover and cook 10 minutes.
4. Chop the cauliflower in flowerets. Add to pan, cover and cook 10-15 minutes.
5. Cook pasta till al dente. That should take about 10 minutes, so it is ready about the same time as the cauliflower.
6. Serve and sprinkle with cheese. Garnish with olives, if you like.

This dish is nice if there is more cauliflower than pasta. It's not like pasta with a tomato-cauliflower sauce. Cauliflower is the hero of this dish!


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab. 

Marine reserves. Australia announced the world's largest network of marine reserves that will ring the country and cover more than 3 million square kilometres of waters to protect reefs and marine life. The marine reserves will include key waters such as the Coral Sea and pygmy blue whale habitats off the southern coast of Western Australia. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Basketball feels the impact of climate change

I can't resist sharing Joe Romm's delight in the teams playing in the American NBA final where Heat comes up against Thunder. He calls it the First All-Weather NBA Final: Heat Vs. Thunder.

Given the poor track record of Florida, home of the Miami Heat, on addressing climate change it's hard to back Heat in this NBA final.

However, Romm notes that Oklahoma, home to Oklahoma City Thunder, has its own climatic ironies.

Insured losses due to thunderstorms and tornadoes in the U.S. in 2011 dollars. Data and image from Property Claims Service, Munich Re.

With climate change, no one's a winner.

UPDATE: Heat beat Thunder 4:1 in best of 7.


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab.

A better lithium ion battery, Nanophosphate EXT, delivers 20 percent more power, works at temperatures as low as -30°C and as high as 60°C, and should be just as easy as current batteries to manufacture. It can be air-cooled, saving cost and weight. Source: Scientific American.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wuthering Heights – love is not a rational activity

Our enduring love affair with oil means that pain and punishment don't diminish our affection for the beloved. Even catastrophes like the Gulf oil spill haven't dented our passionate dependency on oil.

It's hard to comprehend this kind of irrational behaviour. Science has its logical explanations, but no one has shone a better light on irrational love than Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights where destructive forces are unleashed when Cathy and Heathcliffe can't be together. This kind of love is a force of nature not to be argued with. It makes absolute sense on an emotional level, and, after all, love is not a rational activity. 

It seems that we'll put up with a lot of abuse from oil and still keep loving it, but that is not the case with nuclear. When nuclear treats us badly, we're outa there! Japan closed 50 nuclear power stations after the Fukushima disaster. And half way around the world, Germany pulled the plug on its nuclear plants, closing eight immediately and phasing the remainder out by 2022.

Given the destructive force of carbon emissions, we better hope that our love affair with oil tapers off into a cooler and more pragmatic business relationship, similar to our feelings for nuclear.

If we think back, perhaps we can see some signs that this is happening. Cars have lost their place as fetish objects in popular culture. Increasingly, young people are choosing not to drive at all. In the US, the percentage of people younger than 35 without a driver’s license has risen to 26% in the past decade.

Our new fetish objects are mobile phones, ipods, ipads and e-books. They are all powered by electricity.

Perhaps we see emerging signs of love for renewables in growing affection for solar power, the teddy bear of renewables, and appreciation of wind generators for their majestic beauty.

Let's hope this early affection flowers into full blown obsessive passion—a Cathy and Heathcliffe kind of love that let's nothing get in the way.

Kate Bush captured the wild irrationality of Cathy-and-Heathcliffe love in her song, Wuthering Heights. Check out this fabulous version by Hayley Westenra who can really sing!


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab.

India takes up solar power. Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. (KREDL) has embarked upon a Public-Private-Partnersip project for a 1000 hectare solar park at Mannur village in Bijapur. KREDL has already commenced projects to generate 80 MW of solar power in Bijapur and Gulbarga districts, and is working on increasing solar power generation by 40 MW every year. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Energy Slaves

You thought slavery was long gone? Well, not quite. When the energy used to sustain our lifestyles is converted to human power we find that the average American has 204 slaves, and even those egalitarian Australians have 130 each.

We don't notice our slaves and we sleep with easy consciences because our slaves are not human, they are 'energy slaves'—a term coined by American energy philosopher, Buckminster Fuller, in 1944.

The purpose behind the ‘energy slave’ concept is to understand how much human labour would be required to sustain a certain action, lifestyle, or culture in the absence of the highly concentrated fossil-­fuel energies available today.

For example, it would take 11 energy slaves peddling madly simply to power an ordinary toaster. In the absence of fossil fuels, the global economy in its entirety would need approximately 66 billion ‘energy slaves’ to sustain itself in its current form.

This makes us take a second look at our energy consumption and ask how sustainable it is. When coal, oil and gas are stranded assets, will human power replace some of the energy they produced for us? How well are we prepared for this? Will we cut back our overall energy consumption so we need less energy/fewer energy slaves, and will we have enough renewable energy in place so we don't have to default to human power for everything?

To illustrate energy slavery at work, the BBC program The Human Power Station powered a family home for a day entirely on bicycle power, using a rotating band of 100 cyclists to provide the energy.

Here is a wonderful 3-minute clip showing the mighty effort made by 80 cyclists to provide enough power while Dad took a shower.

The producers found that one of the biggest problems was feeding the cyclists. It appeared that you would use more energy feeding them than the energy they produced. Also, many of the cyclists were so exhausted that they were unable to walk for days.

If this was your household, you'd have a major incentive to use less power! Maybe you'd look at communities that live without electricity to find how they do it. Although the Amish use oil for tractors, they don't use electricity in their homes. Does our future hold a return to more human-powered work?

If you'd like to watch the whole The Human Power Station program (1 hour) it is here.


Here's the latest news on the Transformation tab.

In Europe, coal's share of electricity generation has declined from 39% to 26% over the past 20 years. Of the 120 coal fired power plants proposed in Europe in 2007, none have been brought to the construction stage. In 2011, clean energy accounted for 71% of the new electricity capacity in the European Union, while another 22% was natural gas-fired generation.  Source: Compass.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Climatology 101

In the strongly contested ground of climate science, don't fall for fake Climatology 101 written by lobbyists with connections to the mining industry. 

When the Australian scientist Ian Plimer, a geology professor and mineralogist with no background in climate science, wrote a general interest book, How to get expelled from school: a guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters (2011), he framed it around 101 questions as a reference to university courses like Climatology 101, in a effort to pretend that his work was university-standard .

Not so. Plimer's book is of dubious quality and full of inaccurate and misleading information based on false premises.

Teachers and scientists were outraged when a right wing lobby group (Institute for Public Affairs) arranged for free copies of the book to be sent to schools. In response, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has prepared a set of correct responses to the 101 questions in Plimer's book by drawing on climate scientists and science communicators from CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne, who helped review the document and provide feedback.

They say,
Many of the questions and answers in Professor Plimer’s book are misleading and are based on inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science. The answers and comments provided in this document are intended to provide clear and accurate answers to Professor Plimer’s questions. The answers are based on up-to-date peer reviewed science, and have been reviewed by a number of Australian climate scientists.

You can download the excellent booklet, Accurate Answers to Professor Plimer's 101 Climate Questions, here and read a Crikey article about it, here.

With large and powerful vested interests eager to spread misinformation about climate change, readers will do well to follow the advice of teachers and use trusted sources of information— scientists whose work passes peer review.


Here's the latest news on the Transformation tab.

Hydrovolt power generators work in canals to generate 20MW power. Tens of thousands of miles of irrigation, flood management or transport canals can be tapped for hydrokinetic power using  Hydrovolt  generators.  Countries with extensive canals include the U.S., India, Pakistan, China, Australia and Brazil. Source: Grist.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

After Pearl Harbour

Following my comments yesterday about the disparity between the catastrophic potential of climate change and the mild words and actions even of those who accept the science, I was interested to see David Spratt address the same topic,
After Pearl Harbor, the US government told Detroit to stop manufacturing automobiles for private use, and start building tanks and other war materiel. Automobile production was 162,000 in 1941 and zero in 1942. Tank production was <300 in 1940 and 25,000 by 1942.

When the US does act decisively on climate, the government will tell the private sector to stop burning coal and start getting power from renewables within one year, and they will do it because it feasible. The US can't solve the climate crisis unilaterally, so we will pay for China to go solar in exchange for shutting down its coal mines (the two nations control 40% of the worlds coal reserves), just as we couldn't win the war alone, and paid the Soviet Union to keep the second front open.

Our agenda must aim for that level of action, nothing short of it is sufficient, and the details will not be worked out beforehand. Our present agenda, focused on US domestic emissions and anything-is-better-than-nothing, has more in common with the pre-war policies of isolationism and appeasement.
Hear! Hear!

I read that the last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today was 15 million years ago. Global temperatures were 5-10°F higher than they are today, the sea level was about 75-120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland.

The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in the last 300 million years of Earth history. Researchers say this is worse than during any of four of the major mass extinctions in history.

What is a proportional response to this situation? I don't think more bicycling and worm farms will do the job. As David McKay says,
If everyone does a little, only a little gets done.

Just as the attack on Pearl Harbour brought a massive response, so it is inevitable that climate change will foster an all-out response at some point.

As individuals we can advocate for change and prepare ourselves by making adaptations ahead of the curve. See the Take Action tab above for things you can do.


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab.

8 June 2012. Emirates Airlines' 2012 environmental report shows that in the year to March 31,  the Emirates fleet burned 22.5 percent less fuel (litres/passenger km) than the IATA global average as well as emitting 18 percent less fossil sourced carbon by the same metrics. Most of the advantage is due to having a younger, more fuel-efficient fleet. Source: Climate Spectator.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On our watch

A disaster is unfolding on our watch.

What is happening? Are the guards asleep on duty? Do they not believe their eyes? Are they afraid to call out? Are they shouting in the wrong language? Are we ignoring those that do call out? Are we confused because the leaders say it's bad, really bad, while doing nothing about it?

All of the above.

Many of us understand the calls, but we can't quite grasp the magnitude and urgency of the situation. We nod our heads and wait for our governments to show leadership. We're waiting to see what our fearless leaders do.

KC Golden urges us to stop waiting,
We need to stand tall – with both feet, whole hearts, and strong, explicit words – on the side of the truth.

In a similar vein, Kate Lovelady, Leader of the Ethical Society of St Louis, ruminates on the need to bring our carbon actions in line with our values when she asks what message she conveys when she flies to a conference instead of taking a train.  

Action is by far the most powerful communication.  Michelle Obama's White House vegetable garden replaces a thousand speeches about healthy food and active lifestyles.

So, how do we bring our words and actions in line with the real urgency of the situation?

Climate Solutions draws on this study to suggest that the tactical risks of talking explicitly about climate are overblown. Yes, it can be a “loser” as a “message,” but generally only when we talk like losers – when we internalize and reiterate our opponents’ bad frames. They find that focusing on climate is generally a “winner” when we:
  • Invoke a strong sense of human agency and responsibility. We’re causing it. We should fix it.
  • Foster engagement and efficacy. Futility is the enemy of responsibility, and it’s rampant in our political culture. But people remain hungry for solutions, and eager to participate. Pollyannish optimism? No. Can-do determination to build a better future? Definitely.
  • Embed (don’t bury) climate in the challenge of freeing ourselves from fossil fuel dependence. Almost everyone at least suspects that fossil fuel dependence is a dead end, and feels victimized by the forces that perpetuate it. Climate solutions can free us!
KC Golden again,
  • My primary point here is not:  “Talk more about climate because it’s not as bad of a message as you think.” My point is: Talk about climate because we must – because tackling it is a moral imperative, and we’ll never convince anyone of that if we keep dodging and weaving around it.

It's happening on OUR watch. We need to meet it head-on, hug the monster, and get on with the job of mobilising all our forces to head off catastrophe.


New today on the Transformation page (see the tab up there?).

8 June 2012. Amazon deforestation is at a record low. Data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research shows that 6,418 sq km of Amazon forest was stripped in the 12 months before 31 July 2011 – the smallest area since annual measurements started in 1988. Since the peak deforestation year of 2004, the rates of clearance have fallen by almost 75%. Most (81%) of Brazil's original forest remains – one of the highest levels of any country. Source: The Guardian.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Great Game – superpower rivalries

The Great Game is the setting for Rudyard Kipling's Kim, where Kim enters the world of superpower espionage along the North West Frontier of India/Pakistan/Afghanistan. It tells the story of a clever boy who gets caught up in the machinations of British and Russian imperial power.

In today's world, the Great Game has played out between countries fighting for control over energy supplies. Oil reserves have made the Middle East a hotbed of conflict, and wars have been fought in Kuwait and Iraq. 

Like Kim, I am playing a role in the Great Game. Kim acted for one of the protagonists, but I have rolled up my sleeves to diffuse the situation.

With my solar PV, I am making fossil fuel reserves less important and not worth fighting over.

In Australia in August 2011, solar PV contributed 2.3% of total electricity production, and capacity continues to increase dramatically. Commenters call this the democratisation of electricity. This occurs when millions of homes and businesses have more control over their power production and consumption.

Democracy is about power, but it also has the moral dimension of fairness and justice. This is true whether it applies to political democracy, information democracy or electricity democracy.
The consumption of energy is no longer just an economic act—this is becoming a conscious act and an act of conscience. This will likely intensify in the coming years.

All our acts are moral acts. When we choose renewable energy over fossil fuels, we make powerful economic and moral statements.

When millions of us bring our actions in line with our moral compass, the world changes without benefit of politicians.

This has me thinking deeply and I'll write more about it tomorrow.

 Via Elisa Wood at RealEnergyWriters.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Angry Birds is a game. Climate change isn't.

Like half the planet, I love Angry Birds. Apart from the intricate challenges of figuring out trajectories and new strategies, the game taps into a brutal and primal delight in the fierce battle for survival. Playing it on the train without the sound effects almost misses the point.

The battle between the birds and pigs fits one of the great archetypes of human experience. The birds face a life-or-death challenge to save future generations by reclaiming the eggs stolen by the pigs. It tells the same survival story as Homer's Odyssey,  the Mahabharata, and the legends of King Arthur.

In the past year, climate change advocates have become less like ivory tower academics and more like Angry Birds. More than anyone else, they know that the battle for minds over climate change is a battle for the future of human society. 

After decades of political shilly-shallying, climate change advocates are getting impatient and angry. They're dropping the political niceties and calling it like they see it.

James Hansen wrote recently in the New York Times,
Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

KC Golden takes him to task for the sporting metaphor "game over" and  comments on the seriousness of climate disruption as the great survival story of the generation, and possibly of the species.
It’s no game, and it is never over.  Whatever you do now to improve the situation is crap I don’t have to shovel later.  So quit crying in your beer and DO STUFF.

Get in the game Dadddyyy, ’cause when it’s “over” for you, it’s on for me.
Hansen and Golden are not disagreeing with each other. They're both getting angry and calling it like it is.

Nothing but relentless, dogged and unforgiving persistence will get us through this one. The kind of persistence the Angry Birds show. The kind of persistence parodied in this Israeli comic skit.

Are you up for it? Check out my 'Take Action' page and practice some dogged persistence!

Image source: Cakes by Becky.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not my grandmother's weather

Grandma Blanche

When my Grandma Blanche was 70 years old, she came to visit me in North Queensland. She lived all her life in the coal mining villages and towns of Country Durham in the north of England. She was entirely used to the grey skies and bleak streetscapes of mining villages pictured in films like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.


You can probably tell from her piled-up blonde hair and magenta lace dress that Grandma Blanche was not your usual storybook grandma. She had an appetite for life.

As you'd expect for somone who was a teenager in England in WWI, Grandma found North Queensland wonderfully strange and exotic. 

Ingham is in the tropics at latitude 18 S which is about the same distance from the equator as Jamaica. It sits in the fertile Herbert River valley where sugar cane is the main crop. We showed her around the local sights – the cane fields, the river and the cemetery, famous for its elaborate Italian family graves.

Ingham cemetery

My friend Ann and I took her along with us when the young men from the Sugar Mill invited us to a Champagne and Chicken Breakfast.  (It *was* the 1970s!).  After making merry on champagne and chicken and being very rude about one young man's brand new Holden Monaro, we drove home through the strange green light thrown by towering tropical storm clouds.

Just as we got home, large splats of rain started to pelt down, as big as eggs. We ran for the house – laughing, wet and a bit tipsy.

Then the heavens opened in a mighty downpour. Thunder crashed overhead and lightning zagged everywhere. We were glad to be indoors, safe from the deafening sound-and-light show. Grandma was a bit quiet.

Like most tropical thunderstorms, this one soon passed and sunlight sparkled on a wet world.

Then Grandma asked questions, and we realised that in all her seventy years she had never seen anything like it. We tried to get our heads around the different world she lived in. A world without thunder storms. She knew the quiet mystery of English snowstorms but she only knew of thunder storms from books and movies.

I think of my grandmother when I read scientists' predictions for future climate.
If we were to ... continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

Just as I had to work to get my head around the idea that someone could live their whole life without experiencing thunderstorms, so I also have to work to envision the inevitable climate change future. It's not a theory, it is a direct consequence of burning fossil fuels.

The coal mines of Country Durham fueled the Industrial Revolution. My Grandma lived opposite the first-ever passenger railway station. My ancestors dug that coal and worked on the world's first railroads.

Durham's coal mines are closed now because the coal has been used up. We are staring at a situation where working coalmines all over the world will need to close in order to reduce carbon emissions.

It is 25 years since Grandma Blanche died, and already world weather is not the weather she grew up with. If we don't reduce carbon emissions, Grandma Blanche's descendents in County Durham won't have to travel half-way around the world to experience tropical thunderstorms. They'll get them at home, and the tropics will be uninhabitable.

As James Hansen says,
The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! That's the rallying call for the Dillon Panthers.

Last night we watched the much awarded Friday Night Lights on DVD. We're up to Season 3.

Landry dumped his cute little blonde girlfriend to take up with Tyra again. On again, off again, what will happen next?

And Smash got dumped from TMU, just a couple of episodes after all the drama about whether he would get attractive offers and whether he'd make wise choices. On again, off again, where will he end up now?

We don't know, we just follow along from episode to episode. But somebody does know. Somebody has a pretty fair idea about the overall story arc.

The writer, producer and actors have a general idea about the long narrative arc for the series and for its characters. Actor Jon Hamm knows that Mad Men is intended to run for another three seasons and knows how it will end. Of course, he's not saying.

In life, we go along day by day, episode by episode, writing the script as we go along.

Weather happens day by day too, and we get the impression that we can't know what lies ahead, other than assuming more of the same.

But that's not quite true. Climate scientists who study the long term patterns (the larger story arc) have a pretty fair idea of what is coming in the longer term. They can read the signs.

They are saying things like,
Oceans are now 30% more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution. The last time the oceans were as acidic as this was 65 million years ago. The acidity caused mass extinctions at the bottom of the food chain and the dinosaurs died out.  
The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland.

Given their insider knowledge, and the future they are staring at, it is little wonder that climate scientists are taking a more active role in communicating the facts to policy makers and the general public.

We need our policy makers to have clear eyes – they need to look unflinchingly at the best scientific evidence. 

They need to have full hearts – passion and commitment.

Then, indeed, we can't lose

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! Go Panthers!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Who to believe? Grandma or NASA?

I grew up in Queensland, the tropical State in Australia's north east. Apart from sugar cane, macadamia nuts, mangos and pawpaw, Queensland is famous for its distinctive houses, called Queenslanders. These timber houses emerged in the 1800s, influenced by the bungalows that were common in India (one of the world's oldest civilisations).

Quite a number of British Raj types chose to retire to Australia rather than go back to damp and dreary Britain, and they brought this tropical housing style with them. Here, it was interpreted in a uniquely Queensland way so that the more elaborate examples have fancy painted lattice or iron lacework.

The houses I grew up in had the four distinctive features of the typical Queenslander:
  • Wide verandahs for shade and sheltered outdoor living spaces
  • Lifted off the ground to allow cool breezes to circulate
  • Timber construction which allows the building to cool at night
  • High pitched metal roofs – the metal was reflective and cooled quickly at night

I remember lying in bed at night listening to the house creak and crack as it adjusted to cooler nightime temperatures. It was a friendly sound. And, oh! the secret adventures we had in the cool dark spaces under the house. Here's a poem about my sister's house.

Queenslanders were built from the 1800s through to the 1920s when Californian bungalows influenced the classic Queenslander. The climate-friendly features still prevailed.

After WWII, houses got wonderfully modern and all four climate-friendly features were ditched. Brick replaced timber, verandahs and window awnings were old-fashioned, houses were built on concrete slabs, and roofs became fashionably coloured. Increasingly, air-conditioning replaced ceiling fans.

All this came flooding back to me when I saw this Climate Progress article about an initiative in New York to paint roofs white.
A NASA survey of New York City’s rooftops last July showed that dark, heat-absorbing rooftops were up to 42 degrees F hotter than white rooftops. And that difference in heat can make a big difference in on-site energy use; painting a roof white can reduce air conditioning demand as much as 20 percent.
I slapped my head and stomped around the house for a few minutes, muttering,
We're going to hell in a handbasket! What have we come to that we need the Big-Bertha-gun-scientists at NASA to tell us to paint our roofs white?
It's not rocket science. It's common sense.

In Grandma's day, we listened to the traditional wisdom of our elders and made some sensible decisions. Now we get rocket scientists to tell us what to do (and then a whole bunch of people diss it anyway).

After I calmed down a bit, I took heart from a recent resurgence of the vernacular Queenslander house style. Lots of builders now offer Queenslander designs. You can even buy kit homes (exported world wide).

Here in New South Wales we don't build Queenslanders, but 12 years ago the State government implemented BASIX (Building Sustainability Index) to require all new dwellings and renovations to have climate-friendly features like insulation, window shades, and, yes, pale roofs. Roofing manufacturers now specify how their products comply with BASIX colour classifications.

NASA was not involved. All it took was dedication and commitment from a bunch of bureaucrats in the Department of Planning. Go bureaucrats! Grandma is proud of you!