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. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Journey of Possum and Sugar Glider (1)

A Fable for Our Times

The traveller asked the guru how to find Nirvana. The master replied, "You need to reduce your carbon emissions below 4 tonnes per year. Then you need to persuade all your countrymen to do the same. After that, you need to persuade the whole world. If you fail, your comfortable life will be taken away and your children and grandhildren will live in chaos and darkness unto the seventh generation."

Our hero shook his head and replied, "As soon ask a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. You ask too much." 

The master said, "You have only to start the journey. You will find help along the way. Even Hercules, with all his strength did not achieve his 12 Labours without help from the gods, his companions and those who had journeyed before him. Even his enemies helped."

So the hero put on his shoes and set out. Afterall, he wouldn't be a hero if he didn't, would he? This is an account of the obstacles he met along the way, and how he overcame them.


Our hero – who we will call Possum because he was small and weak, not at all like Lion or Rhinocerus  or Eagle — sat by the side of the dusty road and wondered how to start. His eyes got a bit damp and he felt very sorry for himself.

"Why me?" he asked, "I'm just a small creature and all alone. What can I do?"

The swallows swooped in the afternoon sun slanting through the tall trees of the eucalypt forest. His eye followed them as they circled and swooped. Then he saw a movement high in the leaf canopy and Sugar Glider came gliding down to land beside him.

"Hello Possum," she said, "What's up?"

Possum told her his story and added that he regretted asking the question about Nirvana because now the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Sugar Glider paused thoughtfully then she explained that the world was being destroyed and the guru had waited for years for the One who would come and ask the right question. Only the one with the question would be able to undertake the journey. "You knew the question, Possum, so the journey is yours," she said softly.

"Just me?" asked Possum. "All on my own."

"Not quite," said Sugar Glider, "There are a few of us. Shall we travel together?"

"Yes!" said Possum, jumping up. "Where are they?"

So Possum and Sugar Glider went off to meet the others. Possum had a spring in his step and his tail curled brightly. He snuck sideways glances at Sugar Glider, admiring her grace as they chatted about Great Nature, Nirvana and the relative merits of nectar from grevillea and melaleuca.


With his new group of friends, Possum sometimes felt his head would burst as he learnt more and more about the danger the world was in.

He already knew that there were gases called greenhouse gases that stopped the earth from reflecting a lot of heat back into space. He knew that these gases gave the earth a nice warm blanket that made all of life possible. He knew that one was called carbon dioxide, but now he learned about others called methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

He learnt that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was very small, only 280 parts per million (ppm). "That's like me," he thought, "Small, but powerful!" and he danced a little jig.

He learned that carbon dioxide had stayed at 280 ppm for millions of years, and that some things put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while other things soaked it up. This created the carbon cycle that kept a nice tidy balance between the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere from plants and animals, decay, fires and occasional volcanoes, and the amount absorbed by the big carbon sinks – the forests and the oceans.

He learnt that the amount of carbon dioxide had shot up to nearly 400ppm in the past 150 years. With more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the planet was getting warmer.

He listened wide-eyed as Old Man Kangaroo described how forests had been removed from whole continents so there was less forest to soak up carbon dioxide. He heard how coal, oil and gas were mined and burnt to provide energy for electricity, heating, cooking, transport and plastics. These fossil fuels meant there was more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

"Makes sense," thought Possum, "More going in, less coming out, the amount of greenhouse gases is rising."

Dingo curled her lip and showed her teeth as she said that it wasn't just a matter of getting hotter, there would also be more droughts and more bushfires. "And the storms will be much fiercer, so there will be more floods," she growled.

Possum looked alarmed.

Sugar Glider said, "Don't forget the oceans. They have absorbed some of the extra cardon dioxide and now they are more acidic than anytime in the last 800,000 years. The little creatures can't form proper shells in more acidic oceans, and if they fail the bigger fish will have nothing to eat. Everything will die if this continues."

That made Possum's head REALLY hurt!


Sitting around the campfire one night, the group of friends were telling stories. Snake told a story about Mr Einstein.
Mr Einsstein was one ssmart man. He thought big important thoughtss that no one had ever thought before. Mosst people couldn't undersstand his Theory of Relativity and many of thosse who did undersstand weren't ssure it was true. But hiss new idea turned the world of physsics upside down when new data showed it really wass true. 
Mr Einsstein became the mosst famouss sscientisst in the world. One day Mr Einsstein was at a dinner party where he ssat next to a writer who was blowing hiss own trumpet about all the good ideass he had. He ssaid that he had ideass all through the day, and even at night. He kept a notebook with him sso he could write down his ideass. If he woke in the night, he wrote hiss new ideass in hiss notebook. After talking about his own cleverness, he ssaid to Mr Einsstein, "I ssuposse you write down your ideass too?"
Mr Einsstein thought a bit, then he said, "Actually, I think I've only had one idea in my life."
Everyone laughed when Snake finished the story.

Magpie said, "That reminds me about something else Mr Einstein said."

Everyone wanted to hear, so Magpie went on.
When Mr Einstein was an old man, someone asked him, "What is the most powerful idea in the world?" Mr Einstein thought a bit and said, "Compound interest."
No one laughed this time. Echidna looked puzzled, "Why is that? Why did he say that?"

Magpie explained, "Compound interest is where the interest you owe is added onto the debt. If you don't pay the interest your debt gets bigger every year. Because the debt gets bigger every year, the interest gets bigger too. As the years go by, the debt grows enormous and too big to pay. So it's important to pay your interest every year, and to pay back some of the debt too, so it grows smaller every year."

Echidna asked, "Is that like reducing carbon emissions? If we start reducing them now, the debt we leave to the next generation will be smaller? But if we keep adding more carbon to the atmosphere, and more every year, the amount will be too big for our children and grandchildren to pay?"

"Yes,"  said Magpie, "I think that is right."

Possum was listening carefully, "It sounds like we should start straight away, so we don't get caught by compound interest. Does it matter how much we pay?"

"Well, as a first step, even small payments make a difference when they are made regularly," said Magpie.

"Oooh," said Sugar Glider, "I know a song about compound interest."

She started the familiar song, and soon the small band of travellers were singing along. Possum smiled as he listened for Sugar Glider's sweet voice mingling with the others.

To be continued....

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Calling a spade a spade

Italians will romance you, Americans will sell you, but Australians are more blunt, they are inclined to tell it like it is. They'll call a spade a spade, not a a digging tool or cultivation implement or even a blunt instrument.

In Australia this week, scientists at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Queensland, are telling it like it is. And it isn't pretty.

It's not the decaying coral reefs that aren't pretty, though they aren't, it is the blindness and inertia of political leaders that isn't pretty.

Professor Stephen Palumbi, from Stanford University, pushes back against the view that scientists have failed to communicate the reality of climate change and its likely consequences.
Scientists have done all they can to describe the severity of the problem and the solutions now rest with political leaders.

To add oomph to the message, the Symposium presented a Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs that outlines the core facts and is signed by more than 2500 scientists. The statement was drafted by a group of eminent scientists under the auspices of the Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) at Stanford University in California.
The international Coral Reef Science Community calls on all governments to ensure the future of coral reefs, through global action to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and via improved local protection of coral reefs. Coral reefs are important ecosystems of ecological, economic and cultural value yet they are in decline worldwide due to human activities. Land-based sources of pollution, sedimentation, overfishing and climate change are the major threats, and all of them are expected to increase in severity.

What more can climate scientists do and say? They conduct the research and publish the facts. Their institutions have prominent websites about climate change (CSIRO, BOM, PIK, Met Office, NASA, NOAA, and more) and individual scientists have published books, websites and blogs aimed at general audiences. You'll find some of these resources listed on this blog on the Take Action tab and the Book/Film/Creative tab.

Let's stop pretending that political failure to act is the fault of scientists. It's not. It's the fault of politicians who choose not to know, choose not to lead, choose not to educate their constituencies. 

By the way, Australians are not the only people who speak bluntly. The hardy folk from Yorkshire and Durham, people like my Grandma Blanche, have it in spades! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Topsy Turvey Taxland

In Topsy Turvy Taxland, the government runs a tax system that encourages bad behaviour and then complains that people and corporations are behaving badly. This is a tax system run by Jabba the Hutt – dysfunctional, dictatorial and counter-productive.

It's a tax system that punishes work, encourages wasteful spending, and is too lazy to bother discouraging bad behaviour like smoking, gambling and polluting.

In contrast, my ideal tax man is Cary Grant – energetic, practical, flexible and intelligent.

Tax reform gives Jabba the Hutt a makeover so he is more like Cary Grant. As you can see from the picture, it's a monumental task that is best achieved in small steps.

Australia's latest tax reform, the Clean Energy Legislation, continues a trend to move taxes away from those that penalise work towards taxes on expenditure. This is Cary Grant's way of encouraging citizens to work hard, save their money and spend wisely.

The previous tax reform in 2000 gave us the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is a value-added tax of 10% on expenditure. In July this year the Clean Energy Legislation includes a tax of $23 tonne on major greenhouse gases. In 2015, this tax will change into a price that is integrated with world carbon markets.

This structural shift away from taxing income towards taxing expenditure is highly praised.

The Economist says,
Other governments would do well to emulate and improve upon Australia’s efforts to shift the tax burden from hard-earned wages and profits to unearned rents and uncompensated harms.
This New York Times article praises British Columbia's carbon tax.
On Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia’s carbon tax — a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province — increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.
Yoram Bauman and Shi-Ling Hsu

The authors ask, "Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions?" and they note that this principle is supported by  economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left.

Economic theory suggests that putting a price on pollution reduces emissions more affordably and more effectively than any other measure. It is good policy.

In Topsy Turvey Taxland,Tony Abbott, our Leader of the Opposition, is promising to undo Australia's Clean Energy Legislation and remove the price on greenhouse gases when he gets into power. He'll have to increase income taxes so the government doesn't lose revenue, though of course he's staying mum about that part of his plan.

This will take us back to square one, to Jabba the Hutt as tax man supervising a system that lazes around, doing none of the heavy lifting required to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Mainstream climate scientists say that global warming is an urgent problem that should be tackled head on with gusto. "With gusto" means that our tax system can't be lazy. It has to pull its weight.

We need Cary Grant on the job, not Jabba the Hutt lazing around.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Oxygen tanks help to make sense of the world

Last week my two daughters visited their 'Little Nana' in hospital. She is 92 years old and was recovering from a broken ankle. She doesn't always remember who they are, but they wanted to see her. They have lots of happy memories of childhood meals at her old kitchen table.

After some hellos and questions, they fell to chatting with each other. They got to talking about the weather and climate and Australian politics. After a few minutes, they realised that the woman in the next bed had joined their conversation and was listening with interest.

There was a pause in the conversation and the woman commented that she wasn't sure that the climate was really changing. My older daughter, Claire, smiled and said that there was a lot of evidence that temperatures were getting hotter and America was having record heatwaves right now.

They talked a bit more, and then the woman said,

"But how do they know how much carbon dioxide is in the air? I'm not sure they can measure that."

Claire is not a scientist and she didn't know how CO2 is measured, just that a lot of smart people have figured it out.

"I'm not sure how they measure it either, but the scientists are pretty smart," said Claire.

Then her younger sister, Lizzy, spoke up, "See that oxygen cylinder? That's pure oxygen that they put in the cylinders, so they must have a way to measure and separate the oxygen from other gases. So I guess if they can do that with oxygen, they must do that, or something similar, to measure carbon dioxide.''

The woman looked thoughtful and sounded a bit forlorn, "Maybe it really is getting hotter."

Back home, my daughters talked about their visit to their 'Little Nana' and they were pleased to recount their conversation with the woman in the next bed. They were particularly pleased by the serendiptity of the oxygen tank that allowed them to explain that scientists must know how to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Truth be told, most of us don't have a clue about the amazing things scientists have worked out. We don't understand the fine detail of most medical treatment, but we're happy to benefit from it.


Kudos to Nathan Clark for the oxygen tank idea.

Those of you with a more technical interest can check out how the Earth System Research Laboratory measures CO2 in the atmosphere using infrared radiation. 

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

Australia will fund a $20 million Pacific Climate Change Science Program in Pacific countries and East Timor to better understand how the climate and oceans have changed and how they may change in the future. The 15 partner countries are the Cook Islands, East Timor, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Source: Australian Government.