Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coal Mines can be stopped - Bickham Coal mine defeated by Thoroughbred Industry and community action



Greenpeace and the Greens have cautiously welcomed the decision by Kristina Keneally and the NSW Government to stop the Bickham coal mine, north of Scone in the upper Hunter Valley, from going ahead, saying it is a win for local community action. It was a strong well funded campaign by the thoroughbred horse industry and its economic contribution to the state economy along with community action which halted the proposed open-cut coal mine.

Greenpeace Australia said on its blog that communities fighting coal mine proposals could take heart that it was possible to stop coal mines, "This victory sends a signal to local communities all over the country that it is possible to stand up to the coal industry and win. It will be a much needed morale boost for other communities in the Hunter valley, the Gunnedah Basin, the Illawarra and in Queensland and Western Australia who are fighting new coal mines. It is yet another signpost on the journey beyond coal."

Lee Rhiannon, Greens MLC in the NSW parliament also welcomed the decision, "This is a great win for one community, but it only has wider significance if it is the start of a genuine shift by the NSW government from its addiction to damaging coal mining to investing in clean, sustainable energy production," Ms Rhiannon said.

The coal mine threatened to disrupt the drainage and pollute the local water supply from the Pages River and Kingdon Ponds Aquifer to thouroughbred horse studs, vineyards and thousands of aces of arable land. The five towns of Murrurundi, Blandford, Gundy, Parkville and Scone are dependent on this catchment for clean water.

The decision to stop the mine was influenced by the power of money - in this instance the thoroughbred horse industry which is worth $2.4 billion into the State economy each year. Premier Keneally said "We will not jeopardise the growth of this important Australian export industry. Furthermore, this mine is simply not compatible with the unique rural characteristics of this locality, including the horse-breeding industry. It is also clear from the PAC report that potential impacts on local water resources would far outweigh any benefits of proceeding with the project."

The campaign against the coal mine had some very influential backers including broadcasters Alan Jones and Phillip Adams, former Governor General Mike Jeffrey, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, businessmen Gerry Harvey, John Messara, advertising executive John Singleton, actor Jack Thompson, and Helen Georgopoulos, a former advisor to former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. The campaign allegedly cost at least one million dollars to stop the mine.

Arrowfield Stud proprietor John Messara told the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2009 that the horse studs were not opposed to all coal mining in the region but raised fears over the impact of this open cut mine which posed a threat to their livelihoods. "What we're saying is we understand the importance of coal mining to the state, to the country, etcetera, but surely two industries can co-exist so that coal mining can proceed where it's not going to destroy the horse business," Messara said.

After Kristina Keneally announced the mine would not go ahead, John Messara said "The Premier's decision has put an end to ten long years of uncertainty for our industry and our community. The Thoroughbred Breeding Industry of the Hunter Valley and the many industries that support us can now proceed to build and invest in the future with certainty."

Bickham Coal said in a media release they were "extremely disappointed that its proposed open cut coal mine would not proceed to full merit-based assessment." The company claimed it had spent $10 million over the last 8 years planning the project and participating in planning processes.

In its decision the Government has said it is about to amend planning rules to prohibit open-cut mining on the Bickham site permanently, but underground mining may still be a possible option for the company.

Lee Rhiannon was cautious about the direction of the NSW Government and coalmining, "A true beginning will occur when the government gives appropriate weight to the impact of all coal mine proposals on local communities and the environment. This is the first and only time, which we are aware of, that the NSW Labor government has rejected a coal mining project in the face of community objections."

The NSW Government has encouraged an expansion of coal mining investing in the upgrade of coal terminal port facilities at Newcastle. There are now 14 massive open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley, producing 99 million tonnes of coal a year with more new mines on the way. Current mining proposals in NSW include the massive BHP Billiton's $60 billion Bulli Seam longwall coal project which risks damaging Sydney's water catchment, and the Shenhua Caroona long wall mine proposal on the agriculturally productive Liverpool plains. Further west are Xstrata's Baal Bone near Lithgow and the Coborra coal mine near Dunedoo. (see NSW Dept of Primary Industries - new coal mines and projects in NSW)

A recent Fours corners report in April 2010 - A Dirty Business - revealed some of the health concerns of residents of the town of Singleton. The Hunter region has the highest rates of asthma in children in the state.

In March the NSW Government approved plans for two new gas or coal-fired power stations. The Nature Conservation Council of NSW condemned the move "The approval of two coal-fired power stations is an absolute disaster for the climate, with the potential to increase NSW's carbon emissions by 15 per cent," said Max Phillips, Climate Campaigner for the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

"This government has initiated the biggest expansion of coal mining in the state's history, at a time when climate change tightens its grasp on the planet. Premier Keneally should not stop at Bickham but now turn her eye to the other coal communities around the state hoping that today's decision signals the end of their fight to preserve their health and quality of life," Ms Rhiannon said.

Sources



Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"

"why don't the people get rid of the lizards?" said Arthur Dent. Well it seems the people are doing very well at getting rid of the lizards and koalas and many other species, due to climate change. Yep, it is our carbon emissions which is driving up global mean temperatures, altering the climate and driving lizards to extinction. The quote from Arthur Dent comes from Douglas Adams explaining the concept of democracy in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Unfortunately, it seems we are getting rid of the wrong lizards - the ones with four feet that eat insects and are important prey for other small carnivores. That just leaves the cold-blooded political Lizards we have elected to office, still in charge and warming themselves in the glow from the fossil fuel vested interests.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rising atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels threaten crop yields and food security

Crop yields are under threat from rising carbon dioxide emissions with climate change, according to new scientific research. In a new study published in Science on wheat and the mustard plant Arabidopsis at the University of California at Davis, scientists found that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide interferes with plants' ability to convert nitrate into protein resulting in lower nutritional yield.

Related: Koalas face starvation, extinction due to climate change


This has implications for global food production, food nutritional quality and food security. It effects not only humans but the animal ecosystems dependant on current plant physiologies.

"Our findings suggest that scientists cannot examine the response of crops to global climate change simply in terms of rising carbon dioxide levels or higher temperatures," said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in UC Davis' Department of Plant Sciences.

"Instead, we must consider shifts in plant nitrogen use that will alter food quality and even pest control, as lower protein levels in plants will force both people and pests to consume more plant material to meet their nutritional requirements," Bloom said.

As climate change intensifies, careful management of nitrogen fertilization by farmers will become critical to reduce losses in crop productivity and quality, according to the research.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has increased by 39 percent since 1800, and on current projections will increase by an additional 40 to 140 percent by the end of the century.

Plants require nitrogen, mostly in the form of nitrates in the soil, to survive and grow. Research has shown that when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase by 50 percent, the nitrogen status of plants declines significantly.

"This indicates that as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise and nitrate assimilation in plant tissues diminishes, crops will become depleted in organic nitrogen compounds, including protein, and food quality will suffer," Bloom said. "Increasing nitrogen fertilization might compensate for slower nitrate assimilation rates, but this might not be economically or environmentally feasible."

"One fear is insect outbreaks will become more extensive, because the insects will have to eat more to meet nutritional needs." Arnold Bloom told the ABC. (Listen to a popdcast interview with Arnold Bloom)

A study at the University of Illinois found that in a soybean field subjected to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, the plant leaves were more prone to attack from beetles.




As plants absorb more carbon dioxide, levels of plant nutrition will go down and for some toxin levels will go up. So crops will have less nutritional yield which will mean humans or other animals will need to eat more to get the same level of nutrition. Plants will put more energy into defensive systems such as phenols or cyanide compounds.

Dr Ros Gleadow told a recent ABC Catalyst program "Leaves of plants grown at elevated carbon dioxide have a lot less protein. Wheat, barley, rice, all of those in probably only 50 to 60 years time will have 15 to 20% less protein in them than they do now." she said, "In about 50 years time or even 100 years time eucalyptus leaves will have trouble supporting arboreal herbivores like koalas because the phenolic concentration will be too high and the protein level too low."

Bad news for the Koala, one of Australia's iconic creatures, facing extinction from climate change.

Cassava is one of the world's staple food crops because of the plant's drought tolerance. However increased CO2 will stimulate more cyanogen compounds in the plant. Dr Ros Gleadow told Catalyst "We grew cassava at three different concentrations of carbon dioxide. Today's air, one and a half times the amount of carbon dioxide and twice the carbon dioxide of today. And we found that cyanogen concentration in the leaves increased."

Cyanide poisoning from Cassava produces a serious paralytic disease known as Konza, which was first diagnosed in 1981 in Mozambique. Simple methods have been devised to treat the cassava root to allow enzymes to eliminate some of the cyanide as hydrogen cyanide gas, making the tuber relatively safe to eat after processing.

Dr Ros Gleadow outlined that in high carbon dioxide environment the yield from the tuber is also reduced, "The plants actually made less tubers when we grew them at elevated carbon dioxide." she said, "It is all very highly balanced in plants, the ratio of the proteins and the toxins. When you grow plants at elevated carbon dioxide the plants are more efficient so they can grow really well. And at the same time allocate more of their resources to defence."

You can watch the whole segment from Catalyst - Toxic Crops - on the ABC website or download for later viewing.

While carbon dioxide is increasing, there will also be effects from changes in rainfall and water, changes in temperature, which will effect crops. Corn, soybeans and cotton are the largest three crops by production value in the US which will be affected by extreme heat. Above a certain threhold - 29 degrees - crop yields decline rapidly with the effects being described as 'damaging large' by a report by Agricultural Economists published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We appear to be in for a period of declining crop yield as well as nutritional yield due to climate change which will challenge feeding the world's still growing population.


Background


Sources




Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.

Koalas face starvation, extinction due to climate change



Rising carbon dioxide will stimulate eucalypt growth, but this will entail reduced nutritional yield and higher levels of phenols which will doom Koala populations to slow death by starvation and extinction according to scientists. Other arboreal creatures like the greater glider, common ringtail possum, and common brushtail possum may also suffer the same fate.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scientists outline health limits of heat stress with Climate Change




New scientific research on the livable limits with regard to temperature mean over half the earth may be too hot for habitation in 300 years, if there is no appreciable reduction in greenhouse emissions from business as usual. The scientific research paper published published by the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the US says that while central estimates of business-as-usual warming by 2100 are 3-4 °C, eventual warmings of 10 °C are quite feasible and even 20 °C is theoretically possible. Temperatures will continue to increase past 2100 unless strong mitigation action is taken now. Human health will suffer due to heat stress once the wet-bulb temperature reaches 35 °C for extended periods.

The research focuses on the limits of human health in coping with temperature extremes. It is often assumed that humans would be able to adapt to any possible warming so the researchers focused on what the limits of livable conditions and heat stress are. They calculated the highest tolerable "wet-bulb" temperature and found that this temperature could be exceeded for the first time in human history in future climate scenarios if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

The research was conducted by Professor Steven Sherwood from the University of NSW and Professor Matthew Huber from Purdue University and published as 'An Adaptability Limit to Climate Change Due to Heat Stress' in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Wet-bulb temperature is used as it includes temperature and atmospheric humidity and is equivalent to what is felt when wet skin is exposed to moving air. Humans and most mammals maintain a core body temperature around 37 °C that may vary slightly among individuals but does not adapt to the local climate. To allow transfer and regulation of metabolic heat human skin is strongly regulated at 35 °C or below, a couple of degrees colder than core body temperature. This allows the body to dissipate heat through the skin at wet-bulb temperatures below 35 °C.

According to the research paper abstract:

"Any exceedence of 35 °C for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible. While this never happens now, it would begin to occur with global-mean warming of about 7 °C, calling the habitability of some regions into question. With 11-12 °C warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed. Eventual warmings of 12 °C are possible from fossil fuel burning."


At wet-bulb temperatures above 35 °C heat stress and hyperthermia starts - the inability of the body to dissipate excess heat. Heat stroke may occurr which is an acute condition of hyperthermia that is caused by prolonged exposure to excessive heat and/or humidity. The heat-regulating mechanisms of the body eventually become overwhelmed and unable to effectively deal with the heat, causing the body temperature to climb uncontrollably. At wet bulb temperatures of 37-38 °C lethal conditions are reached, even for acclimated and fit individuals.

At the moment the highest instantaneous wet-bulb temperature anywhere on Earth is about 30 °C, with the most common range at 26-27 °C. While maximum temperature may reach 50 °C in tropical desert areas, these areas mostly have very low humidity, thus allowing perspiration to work in cooling the skin and thus core body temperature. Thus, peak potential heat stress is surprisingly similar across many regions on Earth.

"Although areas of the world regularly see temperatures above 100 degrees (F), really high wet-bulb temperatures are rare," Huber said. "This is because the hottest areas normally have low humidity, like the 'dry heat' referred to in Arizona. When it is dry, we are able to cool our bodies through perspiration and can remain fairly comfortable. The highest wet-bulb temperatures ever recorded were in places like Saudi Arabia near the coast where winds occasionally bring extremely hot, humid ocean air over hot land leading to unbearably stifling conditions, which fortunately are short-lived today."

Matthew Huber did the necessary climate modelling on supercomputers operated at Purdue University while Steven Sherwood completed the wet-bulb calculations. In comparing the peak wet-bulb temperatures to the global temperatures for various climate simulations they found that the peak wet-bulb temperature rises approximately 1 degree Centigrade for every degree Centigrade increase in tropical mean temperature.

The research paper says:

"The simplest prediction of global warming's effect on TwMax is to assume a uniform upward shift of the Tw distribution. A 4 °C increase in Tw would then subject over half the world's population annually to unprecedented values and cut the "safety buffer" that now exists between the highest maximum Tw and 35 °C to roughly a quarter. A shift of 5 °C would allow maximum Tw to exceed 35 °C in some locations, and a shift of 8.5 °C would bring the most-common value to 35 °C. It has been similarly pointed out that a few degrees of warming will produce unprecedented temperature and agricultural stresses in the tropics"


"These temperatures haven't been seen during the existence of hominids, but they did occur about 50 million years ago, and it is a legitimate possibility that the Earth could see such temperatures again," Huber said. "If we consider these worst-case scenarios early enough, perhaps we can do something to address the risk through mitigation or new technological advancements that will allow us to adapt."

In an accompanying comentary article in PNAS Professor Tony McMichael and Dr Keith Dear from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU provided additional comments on the health risks and the research.

"Much of the climate change debate has been about whether the world will succeed in keeping global warming to the relatively safe level of only two degrees Celcius by 2100", Professor McMichael said. "But climate change will not stop in 2100, and under realistic scenarios out to 2300, we may be faced with temperature increases of 12 degrees or even more. If this happens, our current worries about sea level rise, occasional heatwaves and bushfires, biodiversity loss and agricultural difficulties will pale into insignificance beside a major threat - as much as half the currently inhabited globe may simply become too hot for people to live there."

Dr Dear warned the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have tended to strike a cautious tone in forecasting future temperature rise and associated impacts. "In presenting its warnings about the future, the IPCC is very careful to be conservative, using mild language and low estimates of impacts," Associate Professor Dear said. "This is appropriate for a scientific body, but world governments - including our own - should be honest with us about the full range of potential dangers posed by uncontrolled emissions and the extremes of climate change that would inevitably result."

Both Professor McMichael and Dr Dear warned that projected environmental impacts of climate change will ultimately impact on human health and wellbeing, posing a considerable threat to the survival of our species.

Can someone please tell our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, that tackling climate change and setting a carbon price are important health reforms for our species (let alone other species we share the earth with) that needs his urgent attention?

Sources:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Environmental and anti-globalisation activist Vandana Shiva awarded Sydney Peace Prize

Physicist, environmentalist and anti-globalisation activist Dr Vandana Shiva has been awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for 2010 for her commitment to social justice, her advocacy of human rights, empowerment of women, and her scientific contribution to environmental sustainability.

The City of Sydney Peace Prize lecture will be delivered by Vandana Shiva at the Sydney Opera House on November 3 followed by an award ceremony on November 4.

Professor Stuart Rees, a Sydney Peace Foundation director, told AAP that Ms Shiva was an inspiring recipient, "Many communities are threatened by the consequences of global warming, yet in Australia the movement to address this issue has gone to sleep," he said. "Vandana's presence in Sydney in November should wake them up."

In December 2009 at the peoples Klimaforum in Copenhagen Vandana Shiva spoke with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, "We know we need climate action now. I come from the Himalaya. I just had an office in Delhi; I don’t live in Delhi. It’s a polluted city. The automobile has taken over. I come from the Himalaya. Our glaciers are melting. Our villages are getting flooded out or drying up. Agriculture is collapsing. Ninety percent of the food production in my area has collapsed in this year. Seventy percent of the streams have dried up. And that is not happening because of what the local people did. My journey in the environment movement began with Chipko, where women came out to hug the trees. We are now hugging our mountains and telling the polluters, “You’ve got to stop polluting, because you are stealing our water, you are stealing our food, you are stealing our snows."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Stark Choice between climate justice and climate war

Canadian journalist Naomi Klein on militarism and climate change at the Peoples Conference on Climate Change, Bolivia, April 2010.



Klein outlines the effect of neoliberal policies in undermining disaster response through the privatisation and reduction of public infrastructure in developing countries. Policy decisions by industrial countries point to the creation of a new apartheid where the rich countries build defensive fortresses - border control - to exclude the movements of people displaced by the effects of climate change.

Kevin Rudd deciding to drop any plans for an introduction of a carbon price until 2013 is an explicit policy decision. So where do you think it fits in the choice between climate justice and climate war?


Want to read more? try Fight Climate Change, Not Wars at Naomi Klein's website or Pentagon's Role in Global Catastrophe: Add Climate Havoc to War Crimes at the Centre for Research on Globalization.

The Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general consuming as much as a mid sized country. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements. So while militarism and climate change was discussed at the Bolivian climate conference, it was completely absent from the Copenhagen negotiations.



Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Replace Hazelwood - people demand climate action from Victorian Premier



I was one of over 250 people who gathered on the steps of the Victorian Parliament in Melbourne, calling for Victorian Premier John Brumby to take strong climate change action and negotiate the closure of the Hazelwood brown coal fired Power Station in the La Trobe valley by 2012.


Related: Environment Victoria | Climate Action Centre | Switch off Hazelwood | Photos on Flickr: Takver, Climate Action Centre


Hazelwood is Australia's dirtiest power station, using brown coal, which produces almost 15 percent of Victoria's greenhouse pollution - 3 per cent of Australia's total carbon emissions. It pumps out more than 16 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution each year and is also a massive user of water (27 billion litres a year) and emitter of dangerous pollutants. It is the single largest source of dioxin pollution in Australia, as well as emitting 7800 tonnes of hydrochloric acid each year.

Speakers said it is possible to replace Hazelwood with a combination of renewable energy, energy efficiency and peaking gas plants. The jobs in construction and operation of these power stations would far exceed the 500 jobs that currently exist at Hazelwood, though effort would need to be taken to ensure that new jobs were created in the Latrobe Valley.

International Power owns the Hazelwood Power Station and have recently flagged to the Federal Government that they would be prepared to close the power station with the right financial incentives.

The lunch time crowd chanted: "Switch off coal, wind and solar now" and "John Brumby Replace Hazelwood".

A Melbourne University Climate Action group was taking the message of climate action up to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at Crown Casino the same afternoon.