Climate, money and politics

I don’t often write about climate change, but here are a few thoughts as we go into the Federal election on Saturday.

But first I need to get these points out of the way:

  • Climate change is real.
  • If you think climate change is a hoax because you think you know more than the 97% of climate scientists who say it’s real, that’s up to you – but I’m not interested in your theories. Don’t bother leaving a comment.
  • Australia’s share of emissions isn’t that big, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence, that we shouldn’t set a good example, or that we shouldn’t make an effort with everybody else.

Okay then.

So often it seems the politics of climate change in Australia comes down to cold hard cash: the cost, the impact on jobs.

The Coalition’s rhetoric going into the election, and for literally 20 years now, has been to demand to know how the cost of reducing emissions.

They never seem to consider the cost of not acting.

No matter how much I might dislike the rhetoric, for some people it resonates, and it seems in Australia, real action on emissions reductions may continue to be resisted for this reason.

But what I think might (hopefully) get things happening is if it can be shown that actually, cutting emissions can save money.

Technology is getting cheaper over time, and this is changing the equation.

Some examples:

Power

Everyone knows the importance of affordable reliable power.

Coal subsidies are huge, particularly the costs of keeping the existing coal power stations going.

It’s even getting cheaper to build new renewables than to maintain existing coal power stations – let alone build new coal power.

Recent power reliability problems such as on January 25th were caused by coal failures. Coal is becoming expensive and unreliable.

No wonder coal is on the way out, with 13 coal power stations shut down in Australia since 2012.

Meanwhile effective large-scale battery systems have emerged that are
overcoming store and dispatch issues with renewables, contributing to stabilisation of the grid, which in turn demonstrably cuts power costs.

This means I’m not convinced anymore that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.

(People like to talk about baseload power, but what’s really important is dispatchable power – in other words, available when and where it’s needed.)

Britain recently went a week without coal power. Okay, so it included 46% gas and 21% nuclear, but they still think they can regularly get by without coal and gas by 2025.

The cost of PV panels is dropping, making both large-scale solar farms and household solar a good investment.

Given labour is becoming the biggest cost in many industries, it makes sense that over time, the once-off installation and maintenance of renewable energy generation will end up being cheaper that paying people to continually dig stuff out of the ground and burn it.

In fact the economics of it means that even people who don’t believe in climate change are jumping on this bandwagon.

Tony Pecora, the now disendorsed Clive Palmer/UAP candidate for Melbourne, who believes that the IMF and the World Bank “are pushing the idea of climate change so strongly … because having a global-based carbon taxation system is one of the most effective ways of centralising financial power” (his actual words) and yet his day job is installing solar panels!

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Cars

Meanwhile the cost of electric vehicles is dropping, with some models set to drop to the same price as their petrol counterparts by next year. That’s high-end vehicles initially, but even for models such as Toyota Camry it’s likely to be between 2022 and 2024.

The Coalition’s bleating against electric vehicles is utterly ridiculous. They’ve gone in hard against them just because Labor has decided to support them – a reminder that politicians will say almost anything to get themselves elected.

The key claim that electric vehicles are under-powered is just simply wrong. Here’s a video of a Tesla pulling a Boeing 787.

With other countries moving on this, vehicle manufacturers are also moving off petrol. Mercedes just announced half of their new vehicles will be electric by 2030, with all switched by 2039.

Electric vehicles won’t fix traffic problems, but do reduce pollution in cities, and if combined with renewable energy, will help cut overall pollution and emissions.

Transport choice

Transport investment has outcomes in emissions.

Because transport is supply-led, funding more road infrastructure results in higher emissions (especially while the bulk of the car fleet is petrol) whereas providing better public transport (particularly when powered by renewables) gives people options to leave the car at home more often, helping to cut emissions.

Victorians who consider transport infrastructure important have a stark choice in Saturday’s election. The Coalition says they’ll fund the East West Link. Labor says it’ll fund the Suburban Rail Loop.

SRL isn’t perfect. Most would agree it isn’t as important as Metro 2. And the whole concept still needs fleshing out. But I’d rather have it than EWL any day.

Follow the money

Lots of people want action on climate change, but the way the economics are going, even those who don’t particularly care will soon be choosing to buy electric vehicles and rooftop solar – because it’ll be cheaper.

And power industry investors will be building renewables, not coal, because it’ll be cheaper. The dinosaurs will be left behind.

Climate Summit cartoon
by Joel Pett, December 2009

So I suspect climate change action will come, with of course plenty of other benefits from cutting pollution.

But this is not an excuse for our political leaders to do nothing. On the contrary – they should be pushing harder for change, to help us ride the wave, not swim against it.

It’s not just good for humanity, it can also ensure that Australia doesn’t miss out on opportunities to be at the forefront of a huge technological shift as the world decarbonises.

More action needed

So the good news is that money will force progress.

The bad news it it won’t be enough.

The science says CO2 needs to get down to a level of 350 parts per million to stabilise the climate. It’s just gone above 415, the highest in human history.

Something has to happen, and quickly.

It’s all very well for us to just follow the money to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but stopping dangerous climate change should be a higher priority for our political leaders and policymakers.

Vote well, Australia.

Wall insulation

Improving my house’s heating and cooling and energy efficiency is an ongoing project.

This week it was wall insulation.

Obviously this is best fitted when the house is built, but in a house built circa 1930, the only way is to retrofit it.

They do this by drilling small holes in the walls all the way around the house, then spraying in filler stuff into the wall cavity.

Insulation installation

They’ve filled the holes, but they’ll need sanding and painting, which leaves me somewhat regretting I didn’t do this before I got the house painted in 2015. Not to worry, but for now the house looks like it has measles.

Last year’s winter gas bill (covering 15th June to 15th August) was a whopper, at $489 ($7.87 / 354 MJ of gas per day) – similar to 2016. (In 2017 we were away on holiday for some of winter.)

I’m hoping that by getting the new insulation in time for winter, the gas bill for winter this year can be reduced quite a bit – hopefully daytime warmth can be better retained into the evening and overnight.

It might be a while before the investment (not insubstantial) pays off, but already there’s a noticeable difference, which is good.

Future options around the house include:

  • double-glazing on the windows
  • under-floor insulation
  • PV panels for the roof
  • replacing gas cooking with electric
  • replacing gas central heating with more reverse cycle units
  • and one I learnt about recently which seems like an easy no-brainer: a balloon in the fireplace.

Weekend traffic

A short rant.

It’s Saturday, and I’m driving in heavy traffic.

I’m making a trip that’s impractical using any other mode, alongside thousands of others, many also making trips impractical using any other mode.

It’s not about options along that particular stretch of road. It’s about the whole transport network, supporting people’s trips end to end.

On an overpass I see a train go by. It’s so crowded people are standing. Weekend frequency on that line: 20 to 30 minutes.

If a road suffered 20 minute delays, it would be shown on real-time maps as a major delay. On Melbourne’s rail network, that’s the standard wait between trains on Saturday on most lines, and has been for decades. And they’re crowded.

And 20 minutes is a good frequency on the weekend PT network. Most suburban bus routes are hourly. An hour in the car is a long trip, but it’s the wait just between buses for so many areas.

Weekend traffic

Decades of road building made suburbs car dependent. Decades of neglect and cutbacks in public transport left no other options. Weekend traffic congestion in our city is a totally expected outcome.

As I drive, I look at all the cars, my own included, stuck in the traffic, all burning energy. It just makes me angry.

Giving people viable options is not about billion-dollar infrastructure. Better infrastructure helps (especially in the areas of walking, cycling and tram accessibility), but the biggest change needed (whether money is spent on infrastructure or not) to just get PT running more frequently right through the day, every day.

All possible with the current assets.

As it stands, if they ran the road system like they do public transport, two-thirds of freeway and arterial traffic lanes would be shut outside peak hours.

Waits of 20, 30, 60 minutes are simply not good enough for a city of our size.

Fixing it in every suburb, not just some, will provide options, and more people off the roads.

But when will the decision makers do it?

Update Monday 11am: the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office has published a cost estimate of a Greens policy: trains and trams boosted to every 10 minutes until 9pm, 7 days-a-week. For trains this came out at around $200m per year (less $50m additional fare revenue). For trams about $50m per year (less $10m additional fare revenue).

Nobody wants to doubt the PBO, but the train figure in particular is higher than some other estimates – for instance Infrastructure Victoria came up with $150-185m “on the basis of service kilometres alone”, but transport insiders believe it would be far lower.

Did the PBO simply try to extrapolate out existing per kilometre costs as IV did, ignoring that existing assets would be used, and some staff (for instance on stations) don’t need to be boosted to run more trains? Unfortunately it’s not really clear from the document.

Update Tuesday 7:30am: The Age: Trains, trams every 10-minutes on every line to cost just $200m a year

More information = good

Wednesday morning’s commute for me was one of those made easier via good quality real-time information.

My usual train was cancelled. I knew this before I left the house thanks to checking the PTV app.

The app also told me that other trains were delayed. It was going to be a messy commute. Bleugh.

Sometimes in morning peak when there is a cancellation, you can backtrack from Bentleigh to Moorabbin and pick up an express train that gets you into the City sooner than if you just waited at Bentleigh. (It’s a trick that probably applies at a few other places on the network, and incurs no fare penalty now that Zone 1+2 costs the same as Zone 1.)

The app lets you check departures at any station. Checking Moorabbin told me that no, this trickery wasn’t going to help today.

At Bentleigh station the screens and announcements confirmed the delays.

Bentleigh station train delays

The next train arrived – heavily delayed, and crowded as expected. Completely packed? No. But with another six stops before the City (not served by other trains) it’s not hard to predict that there were sardine times ahead.

Crucially – the screens on the platform confirmed what the announcements were saying: another train was 4 minutes behind it.

Some of us on the platform used this information to decide to wait and catch the following train, which was near-empty as it had just started its trip. Scored a seat! Much better than being in a crush-loaded train a few minutes earlier.

This kind of real-time information can make a big difference to your trip. So why isn’t it provided more widely?

New Passenger Information Displays at Moorabbin

The good news is: there’s progress. The design seen last year at some stations is now appearing at more locations – recently at Parkdale, Moorabbin, Balaclava, Malvern, some of the platforms at Caulfield, and no doubt others.

The app is helpful too of course – for trams and buses as well. And apart from the official PTV app, a few others have real-time departure information fed from the same API.

But even if you’re not inclined to check an app, hopefully the improved screens are coming to your station soon!

Good information can’t fix delays or undo cancellations, but it can help passengers make the most of a bad situation.

Old photos from April 2009

Another in my series of old ten year old photos.

This turned out to be a bit of a bumper crop – a few months before I’d got the Nokia N95 phone, my first with a decent camera, so perhaps no surprise the number of photos was increasing.

Melbourne’s first wind-powered tram had launched in 2008. Note the “Gone With The Wind” reference, and the pre-platform “safety zone” Elizabeth Street (at Bourke Street) tram stop.

Elizabeth Street tram, April 2009

Bentleigh – directional signage for bus drivers. This one for rail replacement buses inbound into the City.

Connex bus sign, April 2009

A trip down to Geelong one Saturday…

Geelong station, April 2009

…to visit the special Myki Shop in Ryrie Street, so I could try it for the first time.

Myki shop in Geelong, April 2009

I got to try out a Myki card, which you can read about here. I also came home with these amusing Myki wristbands, I guess to get The Kids on-side with the concept. Note the “scan on, scan off” messaging which later became “touch on, touch off” when they realised just how slow the first generation readers are.

Myki wrist bands, April 2009

Spotted in Footscray: a special bus stop for Regional Fast Rail project rail replacement coaches. RFR had finished about five years earlier.

V/Line bus stop sign at Footscray, April 2009

An excursion to the in-laws farm. Like many farm practices, burning off a field was a bit of an eye-opener for this city boy.

Burning off at the farm, April 2009

Federation Square. Note the pre-renovation mustard colour of Flinders Street Station.

Federation Square, April 2009

Flinders Street from another angle, showing the red Tourist Shuttle (not a shuttle) bus that was funded by the inner-city parking levy. When the bus was free, it could be quite crowded, but was virtually unused once they introduced a $5 fare.

Tourist shuttle bus, Flinders Street, April 2009

The Parkiteer cage at Brighton Beach Station was getting plenty of use, as was the fence outside. Prior to 2015, a lot of people from further out would use zone boundary stations like Brighton Beach to avoid paying a Zone 1+2 fare which was about 55% higher than just Zone 1.

Parkiteer bike cage, Brighton Beach, April 2009

The old Bentleigh station in the autumn fog.

Bentleigh station, April 2009

Also at Bentleigh station, where walkway crowding was becoming an issue, authorities made an effort to discourage bike parking.

Bentleigh station - don't park your bike here

Connex introduced its trial layout Comeng train, with a mini-launch for stakeholders one lunchtime. It had fewer seats; similar to later changes made across the fleet by Metro in 2015-16.

2009 Connex demonstration train layout
2009 Connex demonstration train layout

I got Connex’s Lanie Harris to introduce the new layout.

The students are revolting! I don’t recall how big this protest was.

2009 fare protest poster

One of the contenders for the prize of most confusing bus route was the 627. It has since been split into two separate routes, and is much easier to understand. This was one of few recommendations of the 2010 bus reviews that actually got implemented.

The old route 627 - confusing

Finally, this moron in Bourke Street.

Moron in Bourke Street