Saturday, February 25, 2006

Good news for global warming

Back again. My in-box brought me the good news that 85% of Indians believe global warming is an extremely important threat or important threat.

Dear author/editor of Global Warming Watch,

As a pre-eminent source of information and discussion forum on issues related to climate change, we thought you and your readers would be interested in a new poll of the Indian public released today on

The poll explores Indian public opinion on climate change with analysis by the experienced public opinion researchers at the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

Global warming attitudes in India

Only 26 percent endorse the view that "Less developed countries like India should not be expected to limit their emissions." Rather, a large majority, 69 percent, endorses the view that "All countries have a responsibility to make some efforts to limit their emissions."

That's good news because it exposes the arguement of the anti-Kyoto Protocol lobby who say that Australia and the US should ignore Kyoto as it will not work because large developing nations will not sacrifice growth to moderate the extemes of climate change. India is a democracy, is it not? There is further cause for optimism over India and America where both populations' attitudes to global warming responsibility show a striking degree of convergence.

My guess is that Mobil-Exxon will hate this research.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Greenhouse Mafia runs Aussie government policy

Fossil fuel industry lobbyists writing government greenhouse policy. The nation's leading climate scientists censored at the behest of political masters. Only in America.

Wrong mate. It is happening here. ABC's Four Corners has aired amazing revelations by whistleblower Dr Guy Pearse, Speechwriter to the Environment Minister 1997-2000, that paint a picture of how industry lobbyists, calling themselves greenhouse "mafia", have burrowed deep into the government policy machine to successfully hijack greenhouse policy. In the same program Janine Cohen interviews Dr Graeme Pearman, Former CSIRO Climate Director, who claims that he has been prevented from speaking out on scientific matters adverse to the government's greenhouse policies, and that he is not the only one.

If all this is true, the implications are unsettling in the least. What is big coal and the government hiding?

Dr Guy Pearse joined the Liberal Party at a young age, has worked for Senator Hill and Senator McDonald and a range of state and federal MPs and has been encouraged to pursue his ambitions in politics himself. He also does consultancy work and lobbying for the energy sector. It is these blue ribbon credentials that makes his allegations more explosive:

Q. Now why have you decided to speak out and break Liberal Party solidarity?

A. I'm speaking out because ah I've spent seven years finding out about an issue and I don't think that with a clear conscience I could continue without saying something. One of the things I decided quite early when I joined the Liberal Party or I observed quite early was that the Labor Party tended to have ownership of the environment as a policy area and I felt very strongly that it was an area that they need not have ownership of and that the Liberal Party could do better. I think the Liberal Party has done a lot better since I joined in the late 80s and I'm very proud of a lot of the things that that we've done, um both under my former boss Senator Hill's stewardship and subsequent to that.

Q. So why are you talking now then?

A. I'm talking now because while I'm very proud of a lot of the things that the party has done on environment policy, ah I think climate change is an exception, um and having spent seven years ah writing a PhD and researching the issue and ah it's a very complex one and most people don't have the time to get across it, having found out what I've now found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out.

Q. In a nutshell, what have you found out?

A. Well really I've discovered why ah Australian policy, greenhouse policy is being driven by the mining and energy sectors, ah which I thought was curious along the way, given that they have such a small contribution to the economy. Um in 1900 the commodities generated 30 per cent of our GDP and our employment. Ah today that's more like eight per cent. The mining and energy sectors only generate about two per cent of our jobs.

Q. So are you saying they have a disproportionate amount of influence?

A. That's right and I've found this very curious ah from the beginning of my PhD work and initially I set out to look at another question, which was why other sectors of the economy were playing such a small role and this had become apparent to me in my work for Senator Hill. But in discovering the answer to why some sections of business were so quiet, I couldn't help but discover the story behind the influence of the mining and energy industry - the fossil fuel lobby effectively.

Senator Robert Hill was the environment minister who played hard at the Kyoto conference and came back with some great targets for Australia to achieve (from an economic development perspective) and a good position from which to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He argued that Australia's large rainforests and vegetative biomass function as large carbon sink and this should be taken into account in setting the targets. But we didn't ratify and Dr Guy Pearse says he has since researched why, and how this came to be.

Q. Describe what you did for Senator Robert Hill.

A. I was Senator Hill's speech writer ah from about beginning of 1997 until the end of 99, ah which covered the Kyoto conference periods, so in that time there was a lot of emphasis on climate change as an issue as the Government was formulating its position in the lead up to Kyoto and then afterwards so Kyoto protocol and climate change more broadly made up a pretty large proportion of my work at the time.

Q. And did you enjoy working in that area?

A. I certainly did. As I said I long ago decided that environment policy was an area of great opportunity for the Liberal Party, ah and climate change is obviously the most important of the environmental issues facing Australia and the world and that's well acknowledged so it was a great time to be involved in one of the top priority issues and also for me Senator Hill had been a mentor for many years um and it was a wonderful opportunity to work for him and I regard very highly the achievements he had in this area. Getting through the Kyoto target that he negotiated was a magnificent achievement.

Q. Do you think however in some respects he was undermined by the fossil fuel industry?

A. Well the proof's in the pudding I suppose and history would show that he was heavily undermined and ultimately the government ah changed its mind on its ratification of the Kyoto protocol, which he'd worked so hard to negotiate. The work that I've done, it shows conclusively not just that he was undermined but how he was undermined.

Q. And how was he undermined?

A. Well the members of what we now refer to as the greenhouse mafia, and that's their own label for themselves, they bragged in my research about how they undermined Senator Hill ah through the government processes, the relevant cabinet committees and so on.

Q. Now during your time with Senator Hill, you became aware of a small but very powerful group of industry players. Who were they and how influential were they?

A. During my time with Senator Hill my interest in this issue, the question that I was most interested in was why some sections of the economy that seemed to me to have a glaring interest in climate change were silent on the issue and why the ah diary appointments were tended to be dominated by ah a very small section of the economy, particularly the fossil fuel lobby. That was the question that I wanted to investigate and what started out as a fairly innocent academic enquiry, you couldn't help but answer that question without discovering that in fact this small group of fossil fuel industry lobbyists had a highly disproportionate impact on government policy and so whilst I was looking at this other aspect of climate change, it became very apparent that that wasn't the main game.

We all know how this Liberal Government is tight, and how they have locked down the bureaucracy we pay for to the point that if anyone says something inconsistent about or contrary to government policy, it makes a headline. Fossil industry lobbyists feel no such restrictions.

Q. And of course you received amazing access to some industry insiders too.

A. That's right, that's right. That was, I was quite surprised in a way how openly people spoke. One of the things that if you're involved in greenhouse policy here in Canberra you'd know is that there's a high degree of self censorship in the bureaucracy because people have their jobs at risk if they say something that's inconsistent with government policy so they tend not to speak out. What amazed me when I interviewed industry association bosses was that not only were they willing to speak out but they were quite happy to brag about their role in running government greenhouse policy.

Q. What sort of things did they brag about?

A. They tended to ah say that they, because of their previous involvement in government departments, mainly the industry department but other departments as well, before coming out and running industry associations and often playing musical chairs between those associations. They had an incredible corporate knowledge of government policy going back for a generation or so they tended to brag about how much more they knew about government policy than the government. Ah they talked about knowing where all the skeletons were buried.

Q. What did that mean?

A. Well you'd have to ask them but I suspect it meant that ah if they didn't get their way, they knew what buttons to push to embarrass the government.

Q. Blackmail.

A. I wouldn't call it that, you might.

It seems that the fossil fuel industry has organised itself a nice little pincer movement in impacting government policy.

Q. Now if we could just talk about those industry players, did they keep close associations with their former colleagues in the department?

A. The industry association bosses that I'm talking about came from branches within government departments here in Canberra, and often in lobbying the Government on greenhouse policy from their industry association, they were dealing with former colleagues. Often those colleagues had worked under them ah when they had worked in the department, so that was the type of relationship that existed, and there was clear evidence in - the interviews that I conducted that they continued to play a strong role in preparing/advising their former colleagues on the briefs and cabinet submissions that they would send up to their ministers on greenhouse policy.

Q. So they were afforded special privileges because of their past employment.

A. It would appear that they were give incredible access ah to the government process. A number of them mentioned to me that they felt that perhaps since their departure there had been a decline in the skill level in those relevant branches of the departments and that because of their lack of knowledge about previous history, and about a current policy that there was an opening for them then to go in and help them prepare policy for government. So you ended up with this unique situation, a circular situation where the advice that the government was receiving from its bureaucrats was almost identical to the advice they were receiving from industry associations because effectively the same people were writing it.

So that is how it is done. My tax dollars at work, undermining my child's future. Lovely. You can find the links to the transcript of Dr Guy Pearse's interview and the interview with Dr Graeme Pearman here.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hotter now than in 12000 years

... and it can only get hotter.

Yes, flat-earth theorists, there have been climate shifts before, and we have records going back to the days of the vikings; tree-rings, shell fossils, ice cores as well as diary records and temperature measurements from 14 locations on three continents. But the late 20th century has experienced the sharpest climate shift or all, hot or cold, for the period studied. The increase has been especially sharp in recent years, with all 10 of the warmest years on record occurring since the mid-1990s.

Reporting their findings in the journal Science, Timothy Osborn and Keith Briffa, climatologists at the University of East Anglia, home to the leading British climate research centre, stop short of blaming the 20th-century warming on industrial emissions or other human factors.

But they say the geographic extent of the warming is more widespread and more pronounced than the one that turned Greenland green 1000 years ago.

Their analyses of tree ring and other climate "proxies" from Europe, Asia and North America show two other pronounced climate shifts during the same period: the Medieval Warm Period from 890 to 1170, and the Little Ice Age, which gripped the northern hemisphere from 1580 to 1850.

Put that in your flat earth theory and smoke it. What are the climatic effects of this warming?

The warming has been linked to accelerated melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets throughout the world, warmer sea
surface temperatures, the earlier arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere and other changes.

Many scientists predict the warming will increase if man-made releases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are not curbed.

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Going off the grid for 6 months on $0 a day

Wow. They did it! An Australian family of three lived off their quarter acre suburban block for 6 months without spending 1 cent. Young son Caleb did sell some household produce, eggs and fetta cheese, to buy leggo blocks and lollies, but otherwise the household currency for parents Linda Cockburne and Trevor Wittmer became energy, not money.

They farmed their own food, kept a goat for milk protein, and even managed to live without toilet-paper.

This is the new sport of extreme downshifting. No car, no supermarket, no credit cards and, as mentioned, no toilet-paper. What intrigues me is that they did it in the suburbs. Trevor cycled the 17kms to work through the week and Linda tended the garden, managed the goat, chickens, household and Caleb.

Prior to the experiment they were the typical dual income couple emitting up to 8 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide juggling daycare, commuting and shopping. In fact this is why they went off the grid, according to the booklaunch PR for Linda's book about the adventure, called Living the Good Life and published by Hardie Grant Publishing.
Disillusioned with their lives, Linda Cockburn and Trevor Wittmer decide this is how to break the cycle of too much work and too little time for doing the things that are important, like spending time with their son, Caleb.
They had had a run-up. They had been eating out of their garden for a few years and spent about $21,000 to set up solar power, self-composting toilets and rain water harvesting solutions to get the home off the grid and to the point where they could live without spending a cent.

They had tough times; a drought to deal with, fruit-fly infestations, and they discovered their son had a congenital heart disorder. Medical expenses and health issues over-rode their sustainability rules.

Their quarter acre mainly yielded enough goat's food to provide 4 litres of milk a day - a lot of protein, 147 grams. For every gram of milk protein yielded, they had to produce seven grams of protein for Possum, the goat who was hand-fed with intensively produced food stock.

In a radio program with ABC National they tell how they baked their own bread with flour and other ingredients (rice, sugar and oil) traded for goats milk fetta, made lemon custard tarts, goat's cheese pizza (with roasted pumpkin pieces?) passionfruit gelatos and eggplant burgers. They attest that they really didn't lack for taste or nutrition, although they did get leaner. Feeding their young son pumpkin proved harder though, but you don't have to go off-grid to come up against that problem. Caleb did lose some weight towards the end and his regime was eased up upon.

Trevor missed his beer and meatpies, but only really when exposed to fast food through his working day or listening to his mates talking about the pub. He found the self-imposed restrictions chaffed a little but they got through it. They solved the no toilet-paper problem by adapting a Roman sponge-on-a-stick model where instead of resting the sponge in a jar of salt water they used a mild solution of tea tree oil and water. They grew their own loofas for the sponge which, once used, was dropped into the composting toilet, decomposing much better than does toilet-paper.

Other problems also led them to devise ingenious solutions. Snails, pests in the garden, became tasty protein food in the kitchen when cooked in garlic, just like the French do.

So what else did they get out of the adventure? Blood tests prior to embarking showed they were both low on iron, Trevor had cholesterol and triglyceride levels four times higher than what is considered healthy and Linda's blood pressure was high. At the end of six months of unprocessed, healthy food and exercise they had another blood test and discovered that despite not eating meat for the period their iron levels were 75% higher, Trevor's triglycerides and cholesterol was back down where it should be and Linda's blood pressure was the lowest it had been for 10 years.

I am curious to know how much money they saved. I've ordered the book. Check out their website.

[h/t] Sustainablog

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Friday, February 10, 2006

A budget for everything but the carbon sink?

You can see the priorites set by the government of the country generating 25% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Graphically. The economy that generates the taxes that support the budget also generates the greenhouse emissions. Spending (more than) half the money on sustaining the war machine must seem crazy to the proverbial visitor from outer space. "Listen, here's a tip oil addicts, if you can't stop sucking hydrocarbons from the ground to drive your economy - then at least put your money into building space ships."

Death and Taxes: A visual look at where your dollars go

By Deviant Art. Thanks Undercover Treehugger

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Flex-fuel fuels free market for 16 million brazilian

Fortune Magazine provide a round-up of the state and extent of the ethanol industry in the US and looks to Brazil for answers. Fourty per cent of the fuel Brazilians use in their cars is ethanol and yet the annual GDP growth rate of 2.6% disproves the assertion that moving from the hydrocarbon to carbohydrate energy will adversely affect an economy.
But ethanol will never really take off unless consumers demand it, and while the U.S. industry still relies on taxpayer largesse, Brazil has leaped to the next step: a profitable free-market system in which the government has gotten out of the way.
There are now 1.3 million flex-fuel cars on the road and this figure is fast growing; as of last December, 73% of cars sold in Brazil came with flex-fuel engines. It seems this is the key: offering drivers a bowser choice of gasoline or E85 ethanol, which ever is cheaper at the time; fuel-flex fuels the free market and ethanol demand is growing.

The climatic benefits from this are profound. E85 fuel is carbon neutral, meaning that it recycles the atmospheric carbon dioxide fixed as growing sugar cane when it is burnt as car fuel. The fuel only has to travel 25 kms to be refined.
While oil frequently has to be shipped halfway around the world before it's refined into gasoline, here the sugar cane grows right up to the gates of Sert Ãozinho's Santa Elisa mill, where it will be made into ethanol. There's very little waste--leftovers are burned to produce electricity for Santa Elisa and the local electrical grid. "The maximum distance from farm to mill is about 25 miles," says Fernando Ribeiro, secretary general of Unica, the trade association that represents Brazilian sugar-cane growers. "It's very, very efficient in terms of energy use."
Brazil is ideal for growing sugar cane, the most energy-rich ethanol feedstock, and a boom is underway where 250 mills have sprouted in southeastern Brazil, and another 50 are under construction to service the 34,000 gas stations and 16.5 million drivers.

Economic benefits of ethanol uptake are transforming the economy. Brazil does not have to import cars as it makes it's own fuel-flex vehicles in a fast growing market, and energy independence is having a multiplier effect:
Not only does Brazil no longer have to import oil but an estimated $69 billion that would have gone to the Middle East or elsewhere has stayed in the country and is revitalizing once-depressed rural areas. More than 250 mills have sprouted in southeastern Brazil, and another 50 are under construction, at a cost of about $100 million each. Driving to lunch at his local churrasco barbecue spot in Sert Ãozinho, the head of the local sugar-cane growers' association points to one new business after another, from farm-equipment sellers to builders of boilers and other gear for the nearby mills. "My family has been in this business for 30 years, and this is the best it's been," says Manoel Carlos Ortolan. "There's even nouveaux riches."
So bravo Brazil for showing fossil-fuel based economies, like Australia and the United States, that you can enjoy the prospect of long term environmental sustainability for your children and grand-children, as well as healthy economic growth.
Even though the U.S. will never be a sugar-cane powerhouse like Brazil, investors now view Rio as the future of fuel. "I hate to see the U.S. ten years behind Brazil, but that's probably about where we are," says one shrewd American freethinker, Ted Turner.
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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Exxpose Exxon

I discovered this funny expose of Exxon Mobil's attempt to control the public debate on global warming called Toast the Earth with Exxon Mobil. Spead the word in flash.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

How Bush switched to grass.

MPR NewsRadio follows up President Bush's STFU switchgrass lead to discover more about it, and how switchgrass made it to the final draft of the President's speech. They contacted David Bransby, Professor of Energy Crops at Auburn University, Alabama:
MPR News: Do you have any idea of how switchgrass came to make it into the State of the Union ... what lobbyist or special interest group was putting it in there?

David Bransby: Well, our Senator Sessions from Alabama ...

MPR News: Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama?

David Bransby: Correct, yes, and I had a call from his office then had a few emails go backwards and forwards, and I just got one right before you called ... to say that it was a last minute inclusion in the speech, it was Senator Sessions who helped to get it in there.
Charlie Quimby examines President Bush's credentials as a warrior on oil addiction:

The Old Bait and Switchgrass

Clever headline!
Energy independence - 'breaking our dependence on imported oil ' is as heroic and challenging a goal as any we have fought for in the past.
- Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colorado)

I've already questioned the president's sincerity for making us fight for this heroic goal with the right hand of energy conservation tied behind our back. Now, it's time to ask how deep his commitment to investment in renewable energy technology really goes ... more ...
Across The Great Divide

NewsBlog5000 reckons Bush is Just Kidding about the Oil - that it is just a high-spirited yet harmless joke.
President Bush is known for his odd sense of humor. One of the oddest things the president does is insert jokes into the State of the Union address. This year the big joke was alternative energy. More:
Student Chinahand blogged it in real-time.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bush getting amongst the switchgrass.

He said it in his state of the union speech, "ethanol ... from switch grass". So what is Switchgrass? America's addiction cure is home-grown native American grass (low fertiliser costs) that is readily harvestable and yields four units of energy in ethanol for every one unit of energy input into producing it. Ethanol production technologies from biomass such as switchgrass are close to breakthough stage, it has great credentials as an energy crop, and with the Bush-push on the future of switchgrass ethanol looks healthy and our long-term future, healthier.
Looking down the road, McLaughlin believes switchgrass offers important advantages as an energy crop. "Producing ethanol from corn requires almost as much energy to produce as it yields," he explains, "while ethanol from switchgrass can produce about five times more energy than you put in. When you factor in the energy required to make tractors, transport farm equipment, plant and harvest, and so on, the net energy output of switchgrass is about 20 times better than corn's." Switchgrass also does a far better job of protecting soil, virtually eliminating erosion. And it removes considerably more CO2 from the air, packing it away in soils and roots.


Test plots of switchgrass at Auburn University have produced up to 15 tons of dry biomass per acre, and five- year yields average 11.5 tons - enough to make 1,150 gallons of ethanol per acre each year.
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Might as well face it, you're Addicted to Oil

I have one response to George Bushs' claim in his State of the Union speech that America is 'addicted to oil':

See how the Peak Oil Graph looks from 4000 years after Christ?

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