Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

New (for me) denialist meme in the Tiser

What a rubbish newspaper. I mean, really. Seems not to have covered the massive increase in global carbon dioxide emissions that the International Energy Agency announced (see Guardian story).
Doesn’t tell its readers that Ross Garnaut is in town tonight and that they could go hear for themselves.

And. Keeps. Publishing. Demented. Letters. From. Denialists.

Here’s my latest reply. It won’t get published, of course.

Colin Brooks (1/6/11) claims there is no scientific consensus on climate change. Actually, over 97% of scientists working in climatology and related fields agree with the proposition that the carbon dioxide released when we burn oil, coal and gas is warming the planet. (See Naomi Oreskes’ work for details.)
Mr Brooks then cites William Happer, a professor of optics and spectorscopy. Relying on him would be a bit like going to an gynecologist when you have a brain tumour that needs removing. That NASA and the US Navy apparently allow their men and women to breath air with higher levels of carbon dioxide than room air says something about human physiology. It says precisely nothing about what will happen to the habitability of this planet if we do not pull our heads in on human emissions of carbon dioxide. Droughts, heat waves and the collapse of agriculture don’t sound like much fun to me.

May 31, 2011

Water and Climate Change and Adelaide…

On Monday 30th May four excellent speakers yesterday gave Adelaideans a free chance to learn more about water and climate change and even the nature of science itself. The event, part of the “4 in 40” series, took place at the Flinders Street Baptist Church, and was organised by the Water Research Centre at the University of Adelaide and the Department for Water. Under the banner “Four in Forty,” each of the ten minute presentations outlined current research and its implications.

Dr Graham Green of the Department of Water chose to focus on work done around changes in supply (run-off, ground water recharge).
He explained that small changes in climate could lead to large changes in the amount of water available for human use (there were lots of numbers, and charts and you’d best wait for the audio download rather than rely on my scrambled recollection). He explained how his team’s modelling was carefully constructed, looking at past variations in the amount of run-off and the ground-water replenishment during winter variations, showing there is indeed sensitivity to climate.
He then outlined work that had been done looking at rainfall and water availability in the Clare Valley using low and high emissions scenarios (based on humans either doing a lot or virtually nothing to control their carbon emissions). Potentially very scary times ahead, methinks…

Next up, Mark Thyer outlined the challenges in calibrating models of ecological systems, and why getting it right matters (simply put – if models give poor details, poor management decisions will result, and understanding and quantifying uncertainty will also allow scientists to figure out what is wrong with the model and fix it).
He showed how at any stage along the “inputs – processes – outputs” line error could creep in. He ran out of time before he could really explain his very Doctor Who-ish “BATEA” (Bayesian Total Error Analysis”) [7 page pdf here] , and although there was probably too much material for 10 minutes (my cerebro-spinal fluid was leaking out my ears by the end of it), I’m very grateful that he covered the ground he did. It’s important to realise that the caricature of climate models that denialists spread – that they’re simply computer models dreamed up and then left untouched – is totally false.

Next up was Brad Udall, of the University of Colorado and NOAA. He engaged the audience by asking how many knew of the concept of the Anthropocene (the word invented by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to describe the new geological age of human impact on the Earth). He also recommended the latest edition of the Economist, with the cover story “Welcome to the Anthropocene” (it’s the one with the 16 page slaggng off of Australian political discourse!)
He wanted us to realise that climate change is mostly about (changes to) the water cycle, and he wanted to get across the almost Buddhist notion of needing “the Right priorities, the right science and the right management.”
He got the first big laugh of the day by showing a cartoon of a scientist pointing at a pie chart and saying “the trouble is 56% can’t do the math and 54% won’t do the math.”
He pointed out that climate change will affect water cycles in “scary ways” and contrasted the 20th century water management (“demand has increased, we’d better go and get more supply”) with 21st century management, which would need to be much cleverer and iterative.
He threw in a very useable quote by one T Morris Longstreth quote “Of course we weren’t lost. We were merely where we shouldn’t have been without knowing where that was.” [see pdf of Udall’s here]
He also recommended a Policy Forum 2008 article “Stationarity is Dead.”
He (controversially) gave Australia an “A” for its water management, contrasting it with America (an F). The correct priorities, he said were a) the Environment, b) Critical Human Needs and c) Agriculture. The American system, he expounded during the questions, was based on a “first in line first in rights” system dating back to the 1850s, and not fit for purpose.

On the question of science he was at pains to pint out that models are not crystal balls, and that they don’t give policy makers the sorts of answers they are looking for (models don’t get variability right, or scales etc), and that there is a lure of false certainty to be resisted.
He cited the aphorism “model for insights, not outcomes” and President Eisenhower’s line “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.”
In the future, Prof Udall said “Group learning is mandatory.”
The right management, he felt, would have to be aimed at discovering robust, resilient and adaptive solutions. More important than “averages”, which hide more than they reveal, he felt that Probability Distribution Functions – giving ranges of likely outcomes – were crucial.
He warned also that “robust will not be cheap” and dismissed 2050 targets were any use, since reality will be “a moving target.”

Udall’s was a hard presentation to follow, but John Tibby acquitted himself very well. He was presenting Dr Jennie Fluin’s work on “A paleo perspective on the history of the Lower Murray and its relationship to past climate.”
He presented his conclusion first (since he was sure he’d run out of time) and it was that “Under climate ‘boundary conditions’ similar to present there have been periods of low flow longer than experienced [in the last 170 years].”
He then launched into a fascinating account of how scientists can be confident of that scientist, involving different diatoms that thrive in conditions of different salinity and pH and flow. There’s evidence for sustained periods of both higher and lower flow in the past….

There was time for some questions. I asked Graham Green about which emissions scenarios they’d used (B1 and A2, as per the wider work they were fitting into; he kindly explained afterwards why that was the case, pointing out that as far as the short-term [2030] goes, there’s not much difference between the A1F family and A2), and asked all the panellists if, since there is growing uncertainty in the modelling, should scientists be flagging to policy-makers that there’s a more-than-negligible chance of rapid/severe change.
Graham Green felt that it was up to the end users to decide what level of uncertainty they were tolerating, but mentioned that if the risk profile is such that you can’t change rapidly [desalination plants don’t get built overnight, as Mark Thyer pointed out in his answer to the same question] then policy makers may need to bet high. Mark Thyer broadly concurred, and pointed out that it was important to make sure systems were resilient, but that this wasn’t easy to do.

Brad Udall was then questioned on his rosy assessment of Australia’s response. He admitted that after being here for 2 months he was able to see warts, but asserted that relative to water reform worldwide, Australia was ahead of the game. He used the lovely aphorism “I’d rather be upstream with a ditch and a shovel than downstream with a decree.” Adelaide is downstream…

There was a further question on the modelling and the amount of sensitivity to variability.
Mark Thyer confessed that a lot of the end-users are still – understandably – very keen simply to be told what number to put into their models but that he nonetheless does not advocate a single number approach, but rather putting a range of scenarios (or inputs) into the models of the system to be tested to see how it will react to future changes…. Brad Udall pitched in, reiterating that the Anthropocene changes some of the base expectations, and advocating “get a lot of very smart people in a room and don’t assume anyone has the answers”.

The final question was on the ethical implications of this research, and the likelihood of massive die-off of humans, especially in poorer countries. You could see the panelists play “pass the parcel” until Brad Udall offered some observations that scientists are wary of entering such terrain, though some have (he gave the example of James Hansen), since it come with the risk of tarnishing a reputation for ‘objectivity’.

The session then concluded with tea and coffee and biscuits and the traditional flurry of exchanged business cards.

Kudos to the hosts, and the panelists – most informative…

Other links
Water Connect – The WaterConnect website is your link to the latest information about South Australia’s water resources and water activities. WaterConnect offers you direct access to water-related data, applications and publications.
Goyder Institute – The Goyder Institute supports water resource policy and management in South Australia through scientific research.

May 31, 2011

Taxing Times: Graph of for and against Carbon Tax

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Hmm… Lemme know what you think…

May 31, 2011

Slagging and bagging Blanchett

Excellent piece by Malcolm Farnsworth ( about the Cate Blanchett advert, on the ABC’s The Drum.

Yesterday provided a classic example of the media as a caricature of itself.

“Cate Blanchett has sparked outrage in the community,” shouted the Sunday assortment of News Limited newspapers.

A perusal of the article turned up two people who were “outraged” by the actor’s decision to appear in a television advertisement urging Australians to “say yes” to a price on carbon pollution.

One of them, Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, accused Blanchett of looking “self-indulgent”. The other, Terri Kelleher, a representative of conservative lobby group The Australian Family Association, an organisation mainly concerned with traditional marriage, said Blanchett was “one of the people who can afford to pay it”.

And so began a day of manufactured debate and pretend outrage…


(hat-tip Larvatus Prodeo)

May 30, 2011

Ideas for interaction

Ideas for how to make even a panel-discussion in a tiered lecture theatre interactive and energising…


* There is a debate happening at present about a carbon tax that has the potential to either demoralise or re-energise parts of the climate movement.
* There has been a history of tense relations between climate groups in Adelaide, which is slightly on the mend. The carbon tax issue reveals some of these.
* Many people in the audience are potential or activists and organisers, who have information, perspectives, contacts and energy that could and should be captured.
* Other activists have burnt out or stepped back from climate activism. We must find out why, and seeing how we can bring them and their energy back into the fold.
* People in the audience who have useful skills and knowledge for each other should hooked up with each other on the basis of where they live, what they do (job etc) and what they campaign on.


Explain concisely the different groups perceived “opportunities and threats” around the carbon tax.
Display the points of overlap/unity, and explore how the tensions within the movement can be constructively managed.
Create spaces for non-hierarchical discussion of important movement issues.

May 30, 2011

Global emissions skyrocketing – we are fubarred?

This lead story on the UK Guardian website is pretty damn alarming…

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

Exclusive: Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach
by Fiona Harvey (formerly of the Financial Times)
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”


May 29, 2011

The Volcano Lovers – Climate Denialism in the ‘Tiser

The Advertiser (30/5/11) predictably runs another letter denying climate change.

“Scientists say volcanoes of the magnitude of the Eyjafjallojokull eruption in Iceland release about 40 times more C02 than all of the industrial nations put together. Against this background it makes charging a carbon tax more debilitating to our economy.”
PH Remmington, Magill.

Mr (and I will bet 50 bucks it is Mister, not Mrs or Ms) Remmington doesn’t have the good manners to say which scientists, published in which peer-reviewed journal. For all we know the scientists might be a couple of anatomy lecturers he met in a pub.

But, let’s see if we can get, you know, the facts.

To put things in perspective: 145-255 million tons (metric) of CO2 are emitted by volcanoes annually. None of these direct emissions are counted. Compare with ~348 million metric tons of global CO2 emissions in 2006 from the cement industry alone.

So the paragraph is from Larvatus Prodeo and the number is from those noted communist climate alarmists the, um, US Geological Survey.

So, that’s all volcanoes. Half the size of just one industry (admittedly a carbon-intensive one) globally. Mr Remmington is, of course, talking nonsense. On stilts. And the Advertiser is publishing it. Very responsible.

It’s unclear whether Mr/s is denying the existence of climate change per se, as opposed to it being “a natural process.” If the latter, perhaps he or she would care to explain, if it’s a natural process why the rise in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been so sharp in precisely the two hundred year period that we have been burning lots of oil, coal and gas? Just a coincidence, I suppose.

But rather than come out with “it’s not happening” Mr Remmington just um, makes up a number (very comforting, numbers) and talks about “harm to the economy.”

But again, it’s the Advertiser wot chose to print such rubbish.

May 29, 2011

Sun setting on solar rebate?

There’s a v. good piece by Mike Smithson in the Sunday Mail (29/5/2011) on the issue of the soon-to-be-ended South Australian solar rebate.

DON’T rush out to purchase solar panels for your roof in the hope of saving big bucks courtesy of government kickbacks because you’ll be joining the end of a very long queue.

The Greens say new government measures to stop the stampede of householders cashing in on juicy rebates could have been better managed, and I agree.

The Rann Government has announced new legislation that will axe feed-in tariffs for new installations after September. That leaves the solar panel industry rushed off its feet for the next four months but then facing dark times.


May 29, 2011

“Better informed about the complexities” = “still hate each others’ guts”

So this story, Slow going on carbon pricing talks, from the Australian Associated Press is highly entertaining and informative. It’s about the ‘progress’ in discussions among the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, and begins thus

THE federal government appears to have made little progress in reaching a carbon pricing compromise with the Australian Greens and crossbenchers during two days of “robust” talks in Canberra.

Greens Senator Christine Milne today said the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) remained split on key issues surrounding the government’s plan to introduce a carbon tax and emissions trading scheme.

Asked if any progress had been made during the talks, Senator Milne said: “I think we’re a lot better informed about the complexities.

“There’s a long way to go till we get all on the same page.”

You can – and should – read the rest of it via the link above. It sounds like there was a “free and frank exchange of views”, eh?

I went and googled the outfits mentioned in the story, and it helped me a lot.

Business Council of Australia (and their emissions page)
The Business Council of Australia is an association of the CEOs of 100 of Australia’s leading corporations with a combined workforce of one million people. It was established in 1983 as a forum for Australia’s business leaders to contribute to public policy debates to build Australia as the best place in which to live, to learn, to work and do business.
(i.e not the complete knuckle-draggers. Capitalists, obviously, but not stupid ones.)

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Is Australia’s peak council of business organisations& an authoritative national voice for Australian businesses of all sizes, in each industry, globally,nationally & regionally. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) is Australia’s largest and most representative business association and the peak council of Australia’s State and Territory Chambers of Commerce and our major National Industry Associations.
(comparable to split in UK between the CBI and the BCC – outward-facing big picture sorts, versus (usually smaller) domestically orientated , yes?)

So I wonder if they have a little “good cop/bad cop” thang going on? A couple of days ago the BCA called for at the carbontax to start at ten bucks a tonne. So a day latter the ACCI say “No Great New Big Tax on Everything.” Playing Malcom to the BCA’s Martin?

Clean Energy Council
“The Clean Energy Council is the peak body representing Australia’s clean energy sector. It is an industry association made up of more than 440 member companies operating in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Yeah, makes sense… Sort of all the wind and solar thermal and so on people…
Not sure how this fits with what I read in the Australian Financial Review on the 26th…

Push for clean energy fund
Marcus Priest and John Kehoe
Pressure for a new clean energy technology fund attached to a new carbon price scheme is growing from a broad coalition of unions and environment, investor and renewable energy groups ahead of negotiations this weekend between Labor, the Greens and independent MPs.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) yesterday called for more than $6 billion over the next six years to be set aside for a new clean energy fund and energy efficiency programs.
AMWU secretary Dave Oliver said the government needed to establish a fund to partner private investors and provide grants, loan guarantees and tax breaks to support the low emissions industry and technoolgy development….

May 29, 2011

Blanchett, Turnbull and the whole damn soap opera

On a day when the Climate Institute begins a gamble on the power of celebrity (Cate Blanchett) to help create the support needed for a carbon tax, (cue Pavlovian attack by Murdoch press, as David Horton says) we have more on the Abbott (sceptic/direct actioner) versus Turnbull (patrician/trading scheme supporting) spat.

This, about the leaked chastisement of Turnbull et al for missing votes in the Housefrom the Age, is extraordinary. (Or perhaps not extraordinary at all, which is the problem.)

A parliamentary steward ferried the draft version of the email to Mr Abbott before the end of question time. The rest of the leadership group – Mr Pyne, Mr Hockey and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop – quickly became aware of its contents.
Mr Pyne and Mr Abbott examined the document before Mr Abbott walked the piece of paper to his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, who was seated in the Opposition Leader’s adviser’s box.
The growing tension between the Liberal Party’s most senior members reignites earlier leadership rivalry. Mr Hockey had been the favourite in a three-cornered leadership contest in November 2009, but he lost out when Mr Abbott deposed the then leader, Mr Turnbull, by a margin of only one vote. A source said the once-fractured relationship between Mr Turnbull and Mr Hockey had improved significantly in recent months.

Holy Cow. And this clown (Abbott) sees himself as Prime Minister material? This, this is his statesmanship?

Meanwhile, the Imperial masters have sighed knowingly at the behavior of the colonials. The Economist writes

The reformers who laid the basis of Australia’s present success had the intelligence and courage to take action when it was needed. Will the same be said of the current generation of politicians? It is by no means certain.

Asked for a response, former Green Senator Natasha Stott Despoya said that it was unfair to call the interactions between Labor and Liberals Punch and Judy. Unfair to Punch and Judy that is, since “At least Punch and Judy had a narrative. There were lessons for children in it. It’s a morality tale. That’s more than you can say about Australian politics right now. Certainly, in terms of a lack of vision, a lack of long-term visionary approaches to seemingly intractable social, political, economic, environmental problems – yes, The Economist has probably got it right.”

I’ll leave the last word to Laura Tingle, the Australian Financial Review’s excellent (e.g here) political editor. She concludes her May 26 piece “Long and the short of PM’s game” with the following observation.

“The two sides of politics are a bit like punch drunk boxers flailing wildly at each other and most often landing punches on themselves. on drunk people landing most punches on themselves…”