Thursday, September 13, 2012
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.
Friday, August 24, 2012
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.
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;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.
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!
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.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
History is littered with examples of animal populations that expanded when new resources were found. Farmers know about the good seasons that result in mouse plagues.
It is typical for populations to boom during good years and then collapse suddenly in bad years, or when they overrun the resource base. It's the natural boom and bust cycle.
Human populations have boomed and busted throughout history, and resource depletion has been an important factor. Jared Diamond's book Collapse examines the boom and bust effect in eight historic and four contemporary societies.
It is clear that human population has been booming over the past 200 years, as illustrated in this graph based on UN 2010 projections.
The resource that has underpinned this population boom is the energy from coal, oil and gas which has allowed billions of people to be fed, and to live lives of unimaginable wealth. This wealth has brought immense riches to the top 1% and also health, education, comfort and civil society for general populations.
Right now, we are at the point of overrunning the resource base. The biggest whammy is that fossil fuel supplies cannot keep up with demand as shown by rising prices. Can't argue with that. There's a limited supply of the stuff.
This graph shows that oil prices have risen when spare capacity has fallen.
The next chart shows that natural gas prices are rising in Europe and Japan, though US prices are held down by a current production boom and a warm winter.
|Natural gas prices in the United States, Europe, and Japan, based on World Bank Commodity Price Data|
Even coal, the most abundant fossil fuel, is rising in price.
Not only are coal, oil and gas supplies unable to keep up with increasing demand, but we know that we can't keep using even the reserves that we have, due to the damage they cause through the greenhouse gases they emit. As the damage from climate change becomes ever more apparent, countries will act to cut carbon emissions. Fossil fuel reserves are looking more and more like stranded assets.
The Dinosaur Economy, based on fossil fuels, will end. It will be followed by a new Clean Energy economy. If we manage to build a bridge between the old and the new, we have a chance to avoid the ghastly impacts of the Bust part of the cycle.
If we don't build that bridge, we'll fall into a chasm where we have very limited energy resources for a period of time. In that chasm, all the horrors of the Bust cycle will be unleashed – starvation, displacement and war as people fight for limited food, water and shelter. Walls will go up between the haves and the have-nots. Populations will collapse and those that are left will adjust to the new, lower resource base.
That's the natural Boom and Bust cycle.
If we do manage to build a bridge, or ramp or something, across to the other side, we can minimise the inevitable disruption. We can adjust to the new resource base as we go along. It's already happening as countries move to replace fossil fuel with renewables.
If we avoid the Boom and Bust cycle, we won't be a plague upon the earth, instead we'll be more like responsible custodians. They're much more lovable than a plague.