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News and events Politics and activism

Enough delay. Time for climate action

Fires have ravaged south eastern Australia this summer.

As I write this, cooler weather and even a little rain provided a few days of relief, but warmer weather is on the way. There’s much of the fire season still to come.

26 people are dead.

8.4 million hectares are believed to have burnt – figures in Wikipedia indicate this is the biggest recorded for Australia’s east coast. So far.

Eleven years ago we had the disastrous Black Saturday fires in Victoria, which burnt out about a 20th of the hectares, and left 173 dead.

It seems there were some lessons learnt after Black Saturday. Particularly noticeable was the change from the Stay Or Leave policy, to much stronger language. The emergency warnings are now very forthright, and even quite confronting, including phrases such as:

  • Emergency Services will not be able to help you
  • Heat will kill you before the fire reaches you

One can only hope that the dire warnings for people to get out of danger areas before the fires approach has saved lives.

But it’s not over yet.

Climate change

We all know that climate change alone does not cause fires. But it does cause hotter temperatures.

Temperatures are rising. A few days ago they announced that 2019 in Australia was the hottest year on record.

On the 18th of December, they announced that the day before had been the hottest single day on record. The very next day the record was broken again.

Hotter temperatures contribute to the frequency and ferocity of fires, as well as the length of the fire season.

The fact that serious fires this season started in September, that so much of the country is now ablaze, and intense fires are now commonly creating their own localised weather systems should be ringing alarm bells.

And there were clear warnings:

Deniers

Climate deniers and conspiracy theorists manage to blame the Greens for a lack of burn offs. As if the Greens have control over anything – they are a minor political player everywhere around the country.

Actual burn figures show that in many areas, extensive hazard reduction burning has occurred – though increasingly, good safe conditions aren’t available – a point repeatedly being made by fire chiefs.

Other conspiracy theorists reckon some fires are deliberately lit to clear land for high speed rail. Seriously.

Much more common is the claim that fires are mostly caused by arsonists, something not backed up by statistics.

Response

And so we come to the Federal Government’s response to all this.

I don’t mean their direct response to the immediate threat – that was slow to get going, with numerous missteps, but seems to be in gear now. I mean their actions on the longer term threats from climate change.

Since the most serious fires started, our local (Federal Coalition) MP has been tweeting about emissions reductions measures. He sent this one out twice, on 30th and 31st December.

They can claim they’re acting, but they’ve been in power for six years, and emissions have been rising under their watch:

The problem is, ultimately, the Federal Coalition is led by climate sceptics.

It’s really hard to look past this moment from 2017:

Scott Morrison holding a lump of coal in Parliament, February 2017

As the fires took hold, while Morrison was away, his deputy Michael McCormack finally managed to admit they needed to look at more action on emissions. Morrison then got back from Hawaii and hosed it down.

In some ways, Morrison seems to be the stereotypical conservative. How good is Australia? Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here. Do nothing – which ties into the common conservative theme of small government.

And yet finally, I think people are seeing through this. It’s a shame it took a crisis, but that might be the only silver lining here.

Perhaps it’s easy to be doubtful about climate change when you can’t see it. It’s the (mythical) boiling frog.

Now it’s very, very visible. The skies in many areas have been red from fires. Even in the big cities away from the danger areas, there is smoke in the air.

ABC News 24 - Eden, NSW, 9:36am, Sunday 5/1/2020

Thousands of people have been displaced. Events and institutions are disrupted. Millions upon millions of animals are dead. Thousands of homes have been lost.

It can’t be ignored when you can see it happening in front of you. And although the sceptics will look for any excuse, remember, this is just as the climate scientists warned.

If it continues like this, it’s going to get worse. Much worse.

Climate change is here, and it’s got to be stopped. (And there are lots of other tangible benefits to reduced emissions, of course.)

Climate Summit cartoon

There’s a cost to cutting emissions of course, but there’s also a huge cost not acting.

Australia’s contribution to emissions is small by world standards, but it’s very high per capita, and we can’t expect others to cut theirs if we do nothing.

Worst of all – our government of sceptics has been sabotaging world efforts to cut emissions. (Who says Australia can’t make a difference?)

With Australian public opinion finally changing, will the Federal Coalition pivot, and act, if only to save their political skins?

Will Federal Labor step up, stop defending coal and its billions of dollars of annual subsidies, and be bolder in its ambitions to move Australia forward on this? Ultimately, we need to transition off coal – including helping workers transition to new jobs and industries.

And, assuming the next two fire seasons are not as serious, will the populace remember all this when the next Federal election comes along, two years from now?


One last thing. There is a transport angle on all of this.

Categories
Politics and activism

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.

Categories
Going green Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

Decarbonising my home

While my most pressing home renovation need is the bathroom (planning to do this the next time my sons are away on a trip), I was also thinking:

Governments should be doing a lot more on climate change, but what are the major emissions in my home, and how could I decarbonise?

The car. I recently bought a petrol car, because given how little I drive, I couldn’t justify the cost of hybrid or electric, and with brown coal power generation, electric cars arguably just move emissions from the tailpipe to elsewhere. Hopefully by the time this car is replaced, most electricity (certainly in my house) will be green and electric vehicles will be more affordable. So let’s leave the car aside just for the moment.

In the house itself, several of the appliances involved are quite old and inefficient, and may need replacing anyway in coming years. So there’s an opportunity to move away from gas (unavoidably fossil fuel) to electricity (which can be renewable).

Gas central heating — this system is more than 20 years old, and not very efficient by modern standards. Maintenance also seems to be increasing.

Current thinking seems to be that split system air-conditioners are more efficient than has central heating, particularly from electricity from renewable sources.

There’s a cost there of course — each area of the house would need a new unit fitted. I got one for the main living area a year ago for cooling, which is the other obvious benefit of installing them.

Good insulation also helps. I’ve done the roof, and we have external blinds for summer, as well as ceiling fans, but wall insulation is worth doing too.

My ancient stove

Gas cooking — my ancient gas cooker still works around 90 years after it was installed. It’s got minor problems though with gas leakage, and both the oven and cooktop are small and lack precision. We’ve learnt to live with this, but modern facilities would be nice – for instance an oven that’s big enough to cook multiple pizzas.

Replacing these with electric could be the way to go. Electric cooktops can be induction or ceramic — I like the sound of induction, though that may require replacing some of my cookware.

Gas water heaterten years ago I got solar hot water with a gas booster. It’s worked well, though a bloke who came recently to clean the panel mentioned that parts are likely to need replacing before too long — perhaps in the next five years.

Options might include a conventional electric hot water heater (expensive to run) or a heat pump, which can be expensive to install (up to about $3000), but are apparently quite cheap to run. Though come to think about it, I think I paid about $4000 for the solar hot water system.

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Electricity — currently I pay for green power, but an obvious upgrade would be to invest in PV panels, which have dropped in price markedly, and the new subsidies make it more affordable, even if the feedback tariff isn’t very high anymore.

One benefit of removing the solar hot water would be making more space on my relatively small roof for more PV panels. Some owners of houses with a small roof have been quite creative about maximising the number of panels – see photo above.

There are also different options for PV panels, which some expensive ones generate more power — and of course one can install batteries to make use of the power generated rather than feeding it back into the grid (typically during the day) and having to buy it back at peak times (typically in the evenings). Batteries are really expensive though, well over $10,000 it seems.

Can rooftop solar generate enough power at the hottest part of the day to run air-conditioning?

I also need to keep in mind future development around me. My neighbours on the western side have rebuilt their house as two storeys, reducing sun onto the roof in the afternoon. If the same happened on the eastern side I wouldn’t be surprised — there’s been a lot of similar development in my street.

Put all these things together, and (for a cost) I could move off gas completely, and move most of my power generation to solar, cutting my household emissions to hopefully near zero.

I’m sure I’m not the only one pondering these issues. What are other people doing?

Categories
Going green

A record 9 days above 30 degrees

Thank goodness that scientists aren’t warning of any kind of permanent warming of the climate that might prove, y’know, dangerous — otherwise a record-breaking run of hot days might be a tad alarming.

Thank goodness scientists aren't warning the climate might get so hot it'd be dangerous.... oh, wait.

One shouldn’t jump to conclusions of course. As Jon Stewart quipped:

“Global warming is a total hoax. And I’ll tell you how I know. Because it’s cold, today, where I live. That’s jus’ science.”

…and the opposite applies.

I don’t know if this record run of hot days is some freak weather event caused by something else, or a demonstration of how climate change manifests itself. But at the very least this record being broken should be a warning of what’s likely to keep happening into the future as temperatures rise.

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News and events Politics and activism

Healthy debate needs truth

My view, as I’ve expressed before, is that healthy debate is important, but it relies on the participants sticking to the facts, and not just making things up.

Otherwise you get stuff like this, which concerns a Bacchus Marsh resident who apparently misinterpreted what he read and contacted Leader (newspapers) with concerns about seniors ticket pricing doubling from $3.30 one way to $7.

I suspect Myki spokesdroid Jean Ker Walsh was probably correct when she said some seniors may be confusing a one-off cost with ongoing senior fare prices.

That is, to buy a re-usable Myki card will, once all the free offers are gone, cost $7 for a concession.

Many people also seem to be assuming (incorrectly) that tourists and others will be forced to shell out for a card. They won’t — short term (non-reusable) tickets will be available: Short term tickets (for occasional users such as tourists) will replace the single-use 2-hour and Daily tickets available now.

I know it’s easy for people to assume the worst, but these sorts of false “the whole thing is totally crap” arguments don’t really help the debate, and help obscure the truth: that Myki is incredibly expensive, late, and badly implemented.

So it goes too for climate change.

Lord Christopher Monckton has been doing a speaking tour of Australia in the past few weeks, and doing a fair bit of media along the way. He’s an extremely eloquent, apparently very knowledgeable and intelligent climate change sceptic.

But, as MediaWatch found, he makes stuff up. He comes out with unsubstantiated claims which (as MediaWatch showed) many in the media let him get away with unchallenged.

I think the United Nations Climate Panel is now a busted flush. For instance, Rajendra Pachauri, its chairman, Sir John Houghton, its former chairman, and a number of other people associated with it, are now under formal criminal investigation in the United Kingdom for filing false accounts of a charity known as TERI Europe of which they are all trustees.

MediaWatch asked Sir John Houghton, who said “I am not and have never been a Trustee of Teri Europe.

They also spoke to the UK Charity Commission which said it’s evaluating Monckton’s claims, but is not running a criminal investigation. And they asked TERI Europe, who said that “Neither TERI Europe nor its trustees have received any complaint from the Charity Commission about its activities, let alone any allegation of criminal conduct.

Another of Monckton’s claims: The Barrier Reef Authority has established that sea temperatures in the region of the reef have not changed at all over the last 30 years.

MediaWatch checked this too. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it doesn’t measure sea temperatures itself, and doesn’t know where his figures come from.

It really does appear that he’s just making stuff up — and not for the first time, either.

I suspect to anybody with an open mind, it all just casts doubt on the rest of his arguments, and it doesn’t help us have a serious, healthy debate at all.

Categories
Consumerism Going green

Is domestic Green Power doing anything?

We buy 100% GreenPowerABC AM on Wednesday on Green power:

JEFF ANGEL: Polluters are using our money which we’re paying as a premium for GreenPower, in order to report lower emissions, when in fact they’re not doing anything.

DAVID MARK: Jeff Angel is the director of Total Environment Centre in Sydney. He says the schemes don’t work, because they don’t reduce Australia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

JEFF ANGEL: The fact is that the big polluters, like the big coal-fired power stations are supposed to be reducing their pollution by a certain amount, however if an individual buys GreenPower, that effort should be additional to the efforts of those polluters.

Your individual effort is simply taken over by the polluters and it’s not additional to the polluters’ efforts.

The story itself is about the promotion of Green Power, with the ACCC ruling that slogans like “a simple switch for you, significant results for our environment” and “you have the power to make a real difference” are misleading.

It highlights an uncomfortable fact — that switching to Green Power might reduce your personal emissions, but doesn’t actually reduce overall emissions.

I pay the extra for Green Power. Is it worth it?

As it happens Greenpeace got in touch this week to clarify something on a couple of my old posts on kangaroo meat. (In short: they do not have an actual position on whether or not eating kangaroo is good for the environment.) I took the opportunity to ask them what they thought about Green Power.

John Hepburn of Greenpeace’s Climate and Energy campaign agreed that people needed to be clear that buying GreenPower doesn’t cut emissions, due to flaws in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but noted that “buying certified green power is still a useful thing to do in that it drives demand for renewable energy”.

He also said that “probably the most important thing for people to do is to get active in the climate campaign – calling for more political action on climate change. Because ultimately it is a political issue and we aren’t going to solve it through voluntary action”, and noted that buying offsets are a waste of money. “Instead of offsetting, we’d encourage people to donate money to a climate activist organisation – or better still, join one or start their own.”

Amen to that, I can see a lot of parallels to my own campaigning. Using public transport yourself all the time isn’t enough to make it better — you have to get active.

And in that spirit I’d like to insert a blatant plug of my own: Help the fight for better public transport by joining the Public Transport Users Association.

Categories
Going green

It can’t be real

The deniers like Steve Fielding would say climate change can’t be real. (An ultra-conservative “becoming” a climate-change skeptic — who saw THAT coming?!)

After all, to take a simplistic view, if the planet were starting to heat up, we’d be seeing record low rainfall…

Melbourne has recorded its driest first six months of the year ever. — ABC, Jun 2009

…and there’d be record summer temperatures, both around the world…

Austin hit another record temperature Friday for the fourth day in a row. The weather sensors … registered 105 degrees. — CBS 42, Austin, Texas, USA, Jun 2009

June 2009 was the sunniest June in Victoria weather history. After bursting in with a trio of all-time temperature records on the second, third and fourth (the temperatures those days were 30.4, 31.3 and 30.9 degrees Celsius), the month kept on logging hours of sunshine. — Victoria Times Colonist, Victoria, BC, Canada, Jul 2009

…and here…

Melbourne has recorded its hottest day since records were first kept in the 1850s, when the temperature reached 46.4 just after 3pm. — TVNZ/AAP, Feb 2009

…with devastating consequences…

The Black Saturday bushfires, which erupted Feb. 7, killed up to 173 people and destroyed 2,000 homes in Australia’s worst bushfire disaster. — Bloomberg, Jul 2009

Maybe, Steve, if you close your eyes and block your ears, you can keep pretending nothing’s happening.