Monday, March 10, 2014

Australia's 2014 summer breaks more records

Reading the climate Council latest report on the Angry Summer 2013/2014 (PDF) I was struck by the extent and rapidity of the changes in temperature we are seeing now.

The angry summer we have just experienced comes on top of 2013 being the hottest year on record for Australia, with temperatures off the charts setting new temperature records. A risk attribution study found that 2013 record temperatures could be clearly attributed to climate change with 2013 temperatures not found in 13,000 model years of simulations under a natural only scenario.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Climate change gives a clear signal in 2014 State of the climate Australia report

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO have published their latest State of the Climate report for Australia for 2014 which shows a clear signal of anthropogenic climate change for the Australian region.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says that climate change is occurring but refuses to acknowledge that this is overwhelmingly caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. He says he believes in the science and then continues dismantling the small amount of climate mitigation policies we have in place in the carbon price, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Climate Change Authority, and appointing Dick Warbuton an advowed climate sceptic and anti-wind advocate to chair the Renewable Energy Target review panel.

Professor Neville Nicholls from Monash University, writing in a post at the Conversation, clearly articulated the dangers in not taking appropriate climate action:

"...we are already seeing the impact of more severe heat events and more weather conducive to fire activity.

Heat events and bushfires already cause increased death and illness, as well as destroying property and damaging infrastructure. The recent increases in the climate drivers of severe heat events and bushfires have exacerbated the risks.

These heatwaves and bushfires are bringing home the reality of climate change. They affect Australian families and their homes – they are not something that happens to other people a long way away, or will happen to us a long time in the future. They are a clear and present danger to us, right now.

The Climate Change Authority last week, after extensive analysis of scientific conclusions, economic modelling and examining climate action happening on an international scale recommended that our greenhouse gas emissions target be lifted to 19 per cent by 2020 from 5 per cent on 2000 levels.

USA: 398 arrested in civil disobedience at the White House saying no KXL

Washington, March 2, 2014: over one thousand young people marched on the White House demanding President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline and uphold his commitment to protecting the environment. Hundreds of these students then handcuffed themselves to the White House fence in the largest youth act of civil disobedience in a generation! There were 398 arrests.

According to DC Indymedia, "an estimated 2,000 opponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline marched from Georgetown University to the White House for the largest one-day civil disobediance against the pipeline DC has seen."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent says Australia's Climate Change Authority

The Australian Climate change Authority has released its final assessment on what Australia's climate emissions reduction target should be. They say that the global conditions have clearly been met for Australia increasing emissions reduction from 5 per cent on 2000 levels to 19 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020.

In 2009 the Australian Government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an unconditional guarantee of a 5 per cent target to the Copenhagen UN Climate Change conference. This was part of a range of 5 to 25 per cent with specific conditions attached for increasing the target past 5 per cent. Australia's formal target needs to be advised by 30 April 2014, although governments can strengthen their targets at any time. This target and the conditional range had bipartisan support: Both Labor and the Liberal and National Parties supported this international undertaking.

Bernie Fraser, the chair of the Climate Change Authority, said during the press conference:

"The five percent minimum isn't credible in terms of the task that has to be done and the time frame to stick to the 2020 target of a minimum of 5 per cent would, within the framework of the present global budget, Australia's share of that global budget, would impose a virtually impossible task of catching up, making up that lost ground and getting to the end result in the time available.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Harnessing the wind to fight the storms of climate change

How Offshore wind turbines can win a david and goliath battle with hurricanes. Here is a lateral idea: build large offshore wind farms that provide electricity from day to day, but also substantially decrease damaging hurricane or tropical cyclone wind speed and storm surge.

With tropical cyclones forecast to grow stronger and more intense with climate change, if not in greater frequency, such an idea has definite merit to explore. Climate change is predicted to escalate Tropical Cyclone / hurricane damage costs particularly for US and China.

We wouldn't need to put offshore wind farms right along the coast, perhaps just where they can be most effective at lessening storm damage to human lives and infrastructure. And allow us to plant mangroves and cultivate coastal wetlands to store carbon, and provide fish nursery habitat, and absorb storm surges, rather than hugely expensive rock and concrete sea walls.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tackling food security with a growing population, climate change and peak oil

With a growing population and improving diets there is a need to double our food supply by 2050. Identify three measures you would take to meet this demand. Identify one of your measures from your list and post your solution into the discussion - be prepared to defend your choice!

That is a big question to throw in a climate change course. I am presently doing an online course - Climate Change: Challenges and solutions - offered by the University of Exeter (UK). So please indulge me as I also use this blog for some climate course work. This article is for week 6, section 6.5 of the course on 'Tackling food security'.

Food security is one helluva big area to try and come to terms with. Earth's population is just over 7 billion people. It is projected by the United Nations in a June 2013 report on global population to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, although some commentators like David Merkel think it may peak at 8.5 billion around 2030 due to officials underestimating the fall in the fertility rate.

Currently, at least one billion people are constantly hungry or living under the threat of hunger.

Agricultural productivity of the last century has been brought about by the energy input from fossil fuels. There is a strong recent correlation between soaring food costs and soaring oil costs. With Peak oil, energy costs can expect to increase much further, placing further costs on food production. A FAO 2011 report says: "Commodity prices tend to be linked with global energy prices. As energy prices fluctuate and trend upwards, so do food prices".

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Whitehaven coal mine offsets not compatible with threatened ecosystems being destroyed

The Whitehaven coal mine at Maule's Creek near Boggabri in north Western NSW involves the destruction of a substantial part of the Leard Forest. One of the requirements for approval was the provision of environmental offsets to balance 'like for like' against the destruction of high biodiversity habitat. But the latest environmental report by Dr John Hunter advises the offsets for critically endangered ecological communities are "vastly overstated".

This shows that the approval under the EPBC Act by former Environment Minister Tony Burke and the continued support given by current Environment minister Greg Hunt are a travesty and likely a dereliction of duty of care for the environment, threatened species and biodiversity.

Related: Front Line Action on Coal | Leard State Forest | Maule's Creek Community | No Fibs Leard Blockade reports

Alcoa smelter closure opportunity to close coal power at Anglesea and in La Trobe Valley

This week Alcoa announced the closure of it's Port Henry smelter and aluminium rolling mills after a review conducted in the last year. This is a definite employment blow to the Geelong region, coming on the heals of the Ford factory announced closure. But it can provide impetus to reduce carbon emissions for climate change mitigation action by shutting down polluting coal fired capacity now excess to demand.

The Alcoa closure will result in a reduction of about 360MW of electricity currently supplied to the Port Henry aluminium smelter. The Anglesea coal fired power station provides 150MW of this power, which would mean a need to reduce La Trobe Valley generating capacity by about 210MW.

"It is highly likely that existing coal-fired generation at Anglesea, or at Yallourn or Hazelwood, will be mothballed or retired as a result of Alcoa's decision, despite Alcoa's stated intent to try and find a buyer for the Anglesea mine and power station," said Mark Wakeham, Environment Victoria acting chief executive.

I wrote at this time last year that this was an opportunity to close down the highly polluting 150MW Anglesea power station and coal mine, all of the power of which was consumed by Alcoa's industrial processes. See the current Petition to close Anglesea Power Station

It is also an opportunity to expand wind power on the surf coast to increase local employment and power generation. Moving from a polluting brown coal mine and power station to wind turbines should be a no-brainer, but the current state government is beholden to coal intersts and a small cult of anti-wind activists holding back substantial investment in wind farm development in regional areas.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Marine heatwaves continue decimating corals in the Pilbara

Marine heatwaves are having a marked impact on coral reef systems off the Pilbara coast. A CSIRO and University of Western Australia study in progress found bleaching and decimation of ancient porite corals - many up to 400 years old - in a recent visit to Barrow Island. The oceans around Australia were unusually warm in 2013. Globally the deep oceans are also continuing to warm.

“We suspect this bleaching event was due to marine heatwaves that occurred in the region over the past few summers, and to see it up close was sobering,” said Dr Russ Babcock, CSIRO lead scientist, “But to offset this loss, some reefs only a short distance north showed much less damage and will continue to contribute to a healthy ecosystem."

A marine heatwave extreme bleaching event ocurred in 2011 that was widely spread along the Western Australian coast. Preliminary results from the study show that further damage was done in the 2012-2013 summer with elevated water temperatures.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guest Post: wet warning from Australia's Top End on rising sea levels

Rising sea level should concern us all. Sea levels will not rise evenly: it will vary from region to region. In Eastern and southern Australia sea levels are rising at about the global average, but in Northern Australia the rate is three times or more above the average. It poses difficult decisions of climate adaptation now about whether to defend coastal infrastructure or a managed retreat.

It comes at a time when many scientists are worried the IPCC is underestimating sea level rise. In Queensland we have seen Reversal of sea level rise co-ordinated planning increasing risk to Australian coastal development. The natural coastal defences need bolstering but Planners also need to allow for Coastal wetlands migration due to sea level rise, climate change. See also my 2011 article on Sea Level Rise and Australia.

This article by Andrew Campbell, Charles Darwin University and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University, highlights the planning dilemmas involved with rapidly rising sea levels.