Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cycling to work, I emit hydrocarbons

Not me - my car that is sitting back at home. While I'm saving those co2 emissions, it is releasing hydrocarbons and contributing to smog:

Vehicles sitting in the sun for days at a time can spew out damaging hydrocarbons – one of the main ingredients in smog, a federal government study has found.

Hydrocarbons are in the vapour that escapes from petrol tanks on a warm day. Most newer cars have canisters that trap them before they are released but if cars are left sitting for longer than 24 hours the canisters can fill up and stop working until the vehicle is driven, the Second National In-Service Emissions Study found.

As many as 3 million Australian cars may not conform to Australian standards for evaporative emissions.

"The results indicate that when vehicles are parked in warm conditions for an extended period (more than a day), the evaporative emission control systems may not be able to effectively control the build-up of evaporative hydrocarbons, as even the latest systems are only designed to provide effective control for a continuous 24-hour period," the report said.

Ya know ya do ya best... At least this lets me off the cycling 5 days a week. Maybe I drive to the train station twice a week, and cycle the rest. And drive on rainy days.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Australia's carbon intensity begins to fall

While electricity use increased, emissions from electricity generation fell due to a shift to gas-fired and renewable generators from black coal plants, as Ben Cubby, environmental reporter for the SMH, writes:

AUSTRALIA'S greenhouse gas emissions may be reaching a plateau, even though demand for electricity is rising inexorably, new data suggests.

A slight trend towards burning gas instead of coal in power stations means that carbon emissions are beginning to be ''decoupled'' from power generation and economic growth, a report by energy consultants pitt&sherry found.

It is a crucial first step if national emissions are going to be reduced by between 5 and 25 per cent by the year 2020.

The news came as the federal government released its first report measuring the individual emissions of the nation's biggest companies.

While this would appear to be positive news, Hugh Saddler, the economics and sustainability adviser who helped prepare the report says it's too early to see whether this trend will take. The Department of Climate Change expects it to:

"From 2013 to 2020 emissions from the stationary energy sector are projected to grow at an average annual rate 0.5 per cent per annum, compared to the historical growth rate of 2.3 per cent per annum,'' a spokeswoman said. ''This is predominantly due to the projected slowdown in growth in electricity emissions mainly due to the increase in renewable generation associated with the expanded Renewable Energy Target."

Fine aspirations, yet the Government only narrowly avoided another climate scheme disaster that was on track to happen from their lumping solar water in with renewable energy generation for government incentives. Luckily, Penny Wong called in Mr Fix-it.

The Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, asked Mr Combet to fix the problem a few weeks ago and after intensive talks with the industry he finalised the changes in the nick of time.

The energy provider AGL yesterday said more than $1 billion in investments was on hold because of problems with the renewable energy market. It then quickly issued a statement to say the government's changes meant the investment was likely to go ahead.

Steve Garner, the managing director of the wind turbine maker Keppel Prince Engineering, had been preparing to sack 150 workers within days. His factory had been idle for a month because energy companies had stopped ordering turbines. "Greg Combet called me this week," Mr Garner said yesterday. "He suggested I hang on, that he was working on something."

Roaring 40s this week said construction of its $400 million Musselroe Bay wind farm in Tasmania had stopped. But yesterday it said the changes meant the project might be viable again.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, promised he would help the project if he won the election.

And Pacific Hydro said it would restart $1 billion worth of investments.

Energy retailers will buy certificates from a large-scale market and a separate fixed-price market covering small-scale domestic technologies.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's the quick and the dead in the climate wars with this killer iPhone app

Ever reached an impasse in an argument about climate change, for want of accurate knowledge?

Science's answers to the common climate deniers' talking-points, painstakingly assembled by John Cook over many years, are now available at the tips of your fingers and right before your opponent's lying eyes, right when you need them next:

The app, published by Skeptical Science and Shine Technologies, has been praised and promoted around the climate change blogosphere.

Deltoid's readers are amused at the responses of the seemingly less tech-savvy deniers, and iTunes perceived 'lack of balance', that set off a round of complaints. Crikey's Pure Poison is the same.

Eli of Rabbett Run has promoted it above footage of rabbits. That's got to say something.

And the Guardiancovers the reportedly panicked responses from skeptics blogs.

If you come across a new deniers' talking-point, you can upload it to to keep feeding John Cook's labour of love, and help him continue to set the record straight.

"How cool would it be to track the spread of the memes in real-time? And what's the hint from Shine Technologies about 'heatmaps'?", are my only two questions.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Garnaut's post-Copenhagen waiting game - Plan B

Professor Ross Garnaut, Australia's answer to Sir Nicholas Stern, tells Tony Jones where the emerging global emissions trading market finds itself post-Copenhagen - we have entered the "waiting game":

And my proposal is a proposal that was in the original report. I call the situation we're in after Copenhagen, the waiting game.

We're waiting for international agreement to provide a basis for international trade in permits. I suggested then, and I think it's the right case now, in the waiting game, to legislate the ETS and to fix the price over a period.

Given the "Government has great difficulty in the legislation of the ETS", Garnaut has a Plan B. He laid it out in his 2008 report, The Garnaut Climate Change Review.

TONY JONES: Tony Abbott says the Government doesn't have a Plan B, if the Emissions Trading Scheme fails at every hurdle to be passed as legislation.

The Greens say that you actually have a Plan B and that Plan B is for a carbon tax - $20 a tonne - on the thousand top polluters in the country and that they, the Greens, are prepared to support it.

Is that in fact your Plan B?

PROF ROSS GARNAUT: That's the waiting game to which I referred. And which was...

TONY JONES: It wasn't- it wasn't quite clear because you referred to it as Emissions Trading Scheme legislation, but in fact, it seems to be that what the Greens are saying is this wouldn't be an Emissions Trading Scheme but a transition towards one. It would begin with two years of, effectively, a carbon tax.

PROF ROSS GARNAUT: I think they were referring to my waiting game proposal, which puts in place the ETS but has the regulator making permits available at a fixed price.

So you don't have trade in permits, you don't have fluctuations in price, until you've got an international agreement that allows us to set our targets with confidence and allows a confident basis for international trade in permits.

TONY JONES: Are you encouraged that the Greens appear to be prepared to vote in the Senate for that kind of Plan B approach and should the Government take that on board and start negotiating with the cross bench senators on that basis?

PROF ROSS GARNAUT: I'm not going to get in the middle of these complex Senate negotiations, Tony.

I think that the proposals I described as the waiting game are the best way forward in the circumstances after Copenhagen and anyone who supports them, I think, is on the right tram.

I'm glad Garnaut has a Plan B, one that sounds like the Australian economy can start now to absorb the cost, and begin seriously thinking of ways to turn it into profit when we reach the end of the waiting game. The two year deadline for the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation to become an Emissions Trading Scheme gives certainty to business to invest and encouragement to those people, families, and communities who have personally invested in minimising their footprint.

It's worth watching the interview. Is it just me or does Garnaut have a passing resemblance to Ian Plimer?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where do we go from here?

The last three months or so has been somewhat depressing for those hoping for concerted global action on climate change (which is on reason why my blogging has been light). Yet, they have been heady months for what is becoming a powerful climate-skeptic movement.

The relentless amplification of allegations from 'climategate', the damp-squib Copenhagen conference, and the constant attacks on the professionalism of the IPCC have taken a toll on the public support for global warming mitigation measures.

In Australia, Newspoll is documenting that decline:

Good luck if you can read the fine-print. Clicking on the image should give you a bigger one, but not much clearer than The Australian version, from whence it came. But, the point is, while the community is still mostly aware that climate change is happening, a whopping 84% believed so in July 2008 but this figure is down by 11% a little over eighteen months later. The change in the percentage of those ascribing climate change to human influences has not been as great, nevertheless it is moving in the same direction - down.

All while certainty in the scientific community has moved in the opposite direction.

But, the biggest erosion has been in support for the CPRS, and it has been in a greater proportion to the change in belief that climate change is real. Fifteen percent fewer are in favour of a CPRS/ETS than were sixteen months ago, and 13% more are against it. To my mind, that is a consequence of the Rudd government not bothering with selling it to the public, preferring to let the Coalition's previous internal woes dominate the discourse.

Now the Coalition opposition have coalesced under the plain speaking Tony Abbott, and convoluted Kevin has to actually start selling.

While all of this is interesting to watch, the idea that the planet's climate salvation is going to come from the political arena, one that I held for years, grows weaker by the month for me.

I am starting to think that our necessary salvation is going to come from people themselves - from individuals doing what they have to do to reduce their impact. If the 73% of Australians who are concerned each reduced their annual co2 footprint by 1 tonne, the saving would roughly be 16 millions tonnes. Not shabby, when you consider that a coal-fired power station emits roughly about 1.2 million tones of co2 per annum.

Monday, February 08, 2010

AGW debate: Lord Christopher Mockington vs Timothy Lambert

Have you heard the one about the amateur scientific genius who has been a member of the House of Lords? Apparently, it's not true:

For some time - Google “Monckton” and “Nobel Prize” and see for yourself - the great sceptic-in-chief has been passing himself off as a Nobel Laureate.

Cornered last month by the Sydney Morning Herald, he reportedly said it was “a joke, a joke.”

Anyhoo, said comedic Lord has had his invitation to debate accepted. He and his tribe have been banging the war drums like mad:

Good morning Mike,

I haven’t had a chance to read it but I understand that you had an article in today’s paper in which you claim to better informed on climate matters than Christopher Monckton.

Would you be prepared to exchange views on the matter face-to-face when Lord Moncton appears at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney on February 12th. It would be educational for the audience to have an expert on hand to point out where Monckton is misleading the public.

If you do not have the courage to do so, can you nominate someone else who might stand in for you?


Case Smit

Joint organiser of Lord Monckton’s Tour of Australia

So, the nomination is made. The debate is so on at Tim Lambert's Deltoid. Let's hope he builds on George Monboit's win over Ian "Submarine Volcano" Plimer, last December.

The last time co2 levels were this high, we dragged our knuckles around

If you were to believe global warming deniers, climate change is all right because the climate changes all the time.

True enough; but the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were sustained at 387 parts per million (ppm) was 15 million years ago, during the Burdigalian stage of the Mioscene Epoc, according to XXXX of UCLA in his paper XXXX.

Unlike now, 15 million years ago CO2 levels were on their way down, allowing global temperatures to slowly cool and ice sheet to be formed on the poles. Grasslands underwent a major expansion; forests yielded to a generally cooler and drier climate overall.

There were evolutionary losers; the closest relatives to elephants and sea-cows, the Desmostylians, became extinct. But we early chimp-hominids did rather well out of having to stand on two feet at the edge of the forest to scan the savannah for the saber-toothed predators or the ruminant prey co-evolving with the greatly diversifying grasses. By the time our primate ancestors had evolved into early man, co2 levels were stabilising, the carbon cycle settled, the world’s temperate regions started to become established, and the climate started to follow the wobble in the axis of the earth as it travels around the sun.

Both human (Ardipithecus, Australopithecus and Homo) and chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus) lineages diverged from a common ancestor about 5 to 6 million years ago and the climate became more benign, steadying into a pattern of ice-ages of low atmospheric CO2 punctuated with long interglacial periods.

Greenland started becoming covered in ice three million years ago when high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels dropped to levels closer to that of the pre-industrial era, and methane became trapped in the permafrost in the tundra of the high latitudes.

This suited Australopithecus, who lived, and could now follow the seasons that were forming as Africa’s climate started getting drier, making hunting and gathering predictable enough to develop stone tools. Their brain was 35% of the size of the modern man, big enough to help them exploit the forest and grassland habitats that got them their varied and seasonal diet.

Peak CO2 levels over the last 2.1 million years averaged only 280 ppm; today, CO2 is 38% higher.

Then a between 2.5 million years ago and 1.5 million, after Australopithecus evolved into Homo erectus, our brain grew from 600ccm to what it is now, about 1350ccm. The drying climate forced us to develop language to learn to get food in more adverse circumstances. We became serious tool makers and started wearing clothes as we headed out of Africa to Europe. Handily, we had tamed fire, so we were in good shape to tackle the next series of ice-ages. Pleased with ourselves, we developed jewelry, and then social hierarchy. In short, our current interglacial periods, called the Holocene, has been stable climatically and this has witnessed Homo sapiens explode into the Bronze Age, into agriculture, into civilisation, and into history. It’s been one wild ride, one that’s included a trip or two to the moon.

Not bad for that early chimp-hominids standing on two feet at the edge of the forest peering over the savannah grasses those fifteen million years ago, wondering what its chances of a good meal were.

But we really do owe our success to a stable climate.

Over the last 20,000 years our population has boomed from 6,000 to 6,000,000,000, most of that during the last 8,000 years of the 12,000 year Holocene, during which the average pre-industrial CO2 levels are 280 ppm. Now, instead of throwing rocks we got the bomb. We’ve played with remote control buggies on Mars, and we get pics from our probes pressing ever on into the reaches of our galaxy.

However, not without a cost; having poured enough CO2 into the atmosphere to change the climate since 1850, long-term temperature trends have been going up at a rate unprecedented in all geologic time. Today, we find CO2 concentrations at 387ccm again, only this time the trend is on the way up, not down, and we don’t have the same benign prognosis as faced us last time, over that savannah clearing. Biodiversity, on which a healthy and bountiful environment depends, is predicted to fall, not grow like it did last time. Variety of food available to us will shrink as food chains fall apart and ecosystems fail, and economies falter. We know from past experience that the great carbon sinks of the planet, the oceans, will become more acidic eating away at the calcified micro biology of the bottom of the ocean, wiping it out. Already we can see that the permafrost is not so permanent, belching methane as it warms up. You might have seen the famous farting ice on You Tube.

This time, despite the prognosis we face under a business-as-usual scenario, we do have one major advantage: We don’t drag our knuckles on the ground any more, and as we survey our future for risk and reward, we have an understanding of the world we face, and how we impact it, and what we have to do to reduce that impact to a sustainable one.

The moral of the story of man is that we are happiest when living in the predictable climate of our pre-industrial years.