The bushfire debate: What we need to be talking about is our own fleet of Elvis helicopters.

To begin with there are a lot of things that we don’t need to be talking about. Mostly, everything that is being said in Canberra and most particularly what Barnaby Joyce is saying: that the bushfires are caused by a change in the magnetic field of the sun, that the people who died in the bushfires probably voted for the Greens et cetera.

What we do need to be talking about is when the $40 million that was stripped from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service will be replaced.

We also need to discuss when we start purchasing a large fleet of Elvis firefighting helicopters (Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane) as recommended by Former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins and former Tasmanian Fire Service chief Mike Brown – who together have 90 years’ firefighting experience. Two people who don’t seem to be able to get an appointment to speak with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Elvis is capable of refilling 10,000 liters of water in 45 seconds

Currently Australia leases these helicopters from America during the fire season. But overlapping fire seasons with California, where there are currently severe bushfires, makes the supply of these helicopters problematic.

So Australia needs a large fleet of its own to ensure it has the resources available as quickly as bushfire strike.

It will also need its own fleet of large air tankers and other craft – some possibly operated by the military.

The fire season has started early and catastrophically. The indications are that the situation will get worse in New South Wales and Victoria with unprecedented threats to urban areas.

What is needed is urgent action at the state and federal level to increase the capacity of the firefighting services to mount unprecedentedly effective early intervention against bushfires.

It is increasingly obvious once this new generation of bushfires take hold, they are impossible to control without significant rainfall.

And in the midst of long-term droughts that is something where even thoughts and prayers have proved inadequate.

Despite Trump’s promises, US coal consumption continues to decline.

The New York Times reports: While President Trump has offered some regulatory relief to the industry, market forces still dictate a gloomy future — one largely shaped by the glut of cheap natural gas yielded by the drilling boom in shale fields near here and across much of the nation.

Last year, coal consumption in the United States fell by 2.4 percent, falling to its lowest level in nearly four decades. In the early weeks of 2018, national coal production has continued to decline from a year ago despite the frigid winter. A weather-related increase in exports last year yielded a modest gain in jobs, but it is not considered sustainable.

In addition there is a shift towards different sources of energy.

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Has this message been lost in the Australian politicians?

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The recent antics of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer would suggest that Australian policy makers have a long way to go.

It is also a warning that government policy makers, however active and determined, and no one would argue that Donald Trump was either of these, can do little in the face of the relentless march of market forces.

 

The US stumbles towards the new Dark Age

It is likely that the presidency of Donald PG Trump will be characterised not by what he does or is unable to do (building a wall, expelling Mexicans) but by what he will destroy.

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Scientific progress is, by its nature, necessarily slow. The gathering, testing and re-testing of evidence is as slow as it is painstaking. So it takes time to demonstrate that climate change is being caused by human beings. It takes time to demonstrate that vaccines do not cause autism.

 It takes only a tweet, particularly from someone who is one of the most powerful people in the world, to arm and encourage the opponents of science.

 If the president says that the jury is still out on the theory of evolution, the creationists gain strength. If he appoints a creationist as Secretary of Education, he weakens the teaching of evolutionary theory which in turn weakens the teaching of science more generally. But it also encourages the teaching of creationism, made all the more dangerous because it is taught as an alternative form of “science”.

We must be very clear that this represents a step back towards the Dark Ages.

 The same applies to the appointment of climate sceptics to agencies responsible for environmental protection.

 It also applies to the appointment of anti-vaxxers to scientific panels and health regulatory bodies responsible for ensuring the health of a nation’s children.

Trump taps vaccine sceptic to head panel

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Robert F Kennedy jnr son Bobby Kennedy, a former United States Attorney General

Prominent vaccine sceptic Robert F Kennedy jnr, who will lead a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, has linked some vaccinations to autism, a belief the President-elect appears to share.

Kennedy has been a notable proponent of nonmedical exemptions for parents who seek to prevent their children from being vaccinated, which is mandatory in most states.

He has argued that mercury-based additives in vaccines explain the link to autism. And he has alleged that government scientists, journalists and pharmaceutical companies have colluded to hide the truth from the public.

“They get the shot. That night they have a fever of 103. They go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said at the premiere of an anti-vaccination film screening in California in 2015. “This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

Appointments such as Kennedy’s are extremely dangerous because the damage that can be done to existing scientific thought and science-based policy can be well-nigh irreparable.

“The lights will be going out all over America, we may not see them lit again in our life-time.” ( apologies to Sir Edward Grey)

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So who is running the Government?

The Turnbull government appears to stumble from one self inflicted crisis to another. Having turned the Backpacker tax into a matter of national economic emergency, it now fails to stick with a mere announcement of a pending review.

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 Malcolm Turnbull, not drowning, not even waving

After two days of vocal opposition from the Coalition backbench, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has been forced into a humiliating U-turn on climate change policy less than 48 hours after releasing details for a pending review.

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Further stoking Coalition pressure, Tony “No sniping” Abbott declared on Tuesday night that “we’re against anything that’s a carbon tax or an ETS by stealth”.

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And here are his supporters.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, freshly returned from three months at the United Nations in New York, said transitioning to an emissions intensity scheme was “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. It is not in the Australian national interest for the government to chase policies that ingratiate it with the Greens. To get back on the right economic track, we need the cheapest electricity in the world.”

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He’s back. Cory Bernardi garners political support

West Australian MP Andrew Hastie said his overriding concern was the cost of living for families and asked: “Why would we unilaterally, economically disarm [by adopting a price on carbon]?

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Andrew Hastie and his political supporters

South Australian MP Tony Pasin said that given the current economic climate, “the government should be doing all it can to put downward  pressure on the cost of electricity generation to reduce the power bills of hard-working Australians”.

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Standup star Tony Pasin breaks them up in Parliament

NSW MP Craig Kelly said it was fair enough for Mr Frydenberg to leave “everything on the table” as the review was undertaken but then added: “I do not see how any form of carbon trading scheme would put us at a national competitive advantage”

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Craig “I’m with Tony” Kelly

Another MP, who asked not be named, said “There is very real concern among colleagues that this goes down a track we were promised we would not go down.”

0617_WVinvisibility.jpgFaceless Man has colleagues who are not only faceless but silent.

And this volte-face was achieved before the real heavyweights came out from underneath their rocks.

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Is Josh Frydenberg simply a maverick? Did he take this particular announcement to Cabinet before he made it?

If he has any support within the coalition it has been strangely silent. The normal expectation would be that the Prime Minister would support his ministers in situations like this.

But he hasn’t and he appears to be leaving the running to Tony Abbott.

As I said yesterday, the decision to cut the Green Army was equivalent of giving Dan Carter a free kick in front of goal.

This one is like giving 110kg Dane Coles the ball 15m from the line

Comment from Katharine Murphy in The Guardian

What an extraordinary capitulation.

Just 24 hours of controversy from entirely predictable quarters and a carefully calibrated process to try to engineer a truce in Australia’s utterly wretched climate politics has been all but abandoned by its architects.

Josh Frydenberg has gone in the space of 24 hours from saying quite clearly the government would consider an emissions intensity trading scheme for the electricity sector to trying to pretend he said no such thing.

Will Trump usher in a new Dark Age?

Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’ 

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”.

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Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”

Trump has previously said that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese,

Walker, however, claimed that doubt over the role of human activity in climate change “is a view shared by half the climatologists in the world. We need good science to tell us what the reality is and science could do that if politicians didn’t interfere with it.”

The Guardian

Walker’s statement is alarmingly anti-science and anti-intellectual.

He regards environmental monitoring as “politically correct.”

Presumably, he means by this that there is some politically-based orthodoxy that dictates the results of environmental monitoring.

No, Bob, environmental monitoring is about measuring stuff: changes in temperature, changes in sea levels and amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientist use machines to do it.

It’s a dangerous fallacy because it equates the formation and development of scientific theories with political correctness. This scientific orthodoxy is a view that everybody agrees with because of a desire to conform with some politically, but not scientifically, correct view.

What is more dangerous is that this particular approach allows politicians to criticise any scientific findings that they’re not happy with because they don’t conform with their particular ideology.

So, the argument goes the theory of revolution is just “politically correct science”  as distinct from politically incorrect science whatever that might be. That no serious scientist now disagrees with Darwin’s theory is, according to people like Walker, simply an act of conformity.

The Dark Ages will begin when people like Trump and Walker are free to decide what is “solid science” and what is  “politicised science.”

Solid science will be what Donald Trump and Bob Walker agree with and politicised science will be what the scientific community has established through painstaking and exacting research.

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Nothing that Donald Trump has done or said indicates he has any understanding about the nature of scientific enquiry.

A simple idea for the emission targets

Bill Shorten has restarted the debate on emissions targets immediately before the United Nations conference in Paris.

The debate about emissions targets is always couched in percentage terms which makes it easy for the opponents of any form of reduction to argue that Australia’s emissions are amongst the lowest in the world in absolute terms so were not really  a large part of the problem. However, our emission rates are amongst the highest on a per capita basis.

So here’s an idea.

Each nation needs to provide carbon sinks at least equal to their emission rates. In addition, each nation will be allowed credit for an area of ocean (which absorbs carbon dioxide) equal to its landmass.

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This will set equitable goals for carbon reduction rather than simply insisting that people produce by 45% by 2030 etc.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to do the sums.

Getting agreement may be more difficult. China and America are going have to accept a large amount of the responsibility for controlling climate change.

But this system allows a measurement that will circumvent many of the arguments of the climate deniers, particularly in Australia.

It’s probably not going to cut much ice with Trump administration in the US, but have come get into the White House, logic and reason will go out the door.

 

 

 

 

A touch of realism enters the climate debate

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Friday confirmed Labor is seeking a 45 per cent reduction in dangerous emissions by 2030, contingent on consultation with industry and the community, saying proof of global warming is irrefutable and the government’s policies are “pathetic” and an “expensive joke”.

It’s good that Shorten is at last looking at reductions in emissions that are and increase on the woefully inadequate target set by the Turnbull government .

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 Bill Shorten is thinking about climate change but not hard enough

 The definition of the problem is quite simple.

 If we wish to stop global warming at its current level, then we need to make the rate at which carbon dioxide  and methane are emitted equal to the rate at which they are absorbed by the oceans and forests.

 If we want to improve matters, then the rate of emission needs to be less than the rate of absorption.

 It can be explained very simply in this stock/flow diagram.

To maintain the status quo:

 Carbon into the atmosphere = Carbon out of the atmosphere

 To improve things:

Carbon into the atmosphere < Carbon out of the atmosphere

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My modelling of the need for reductions in emissions is on my blog: Dummies’ guide to climate change and Dummies’ Guide to Climate Change (ii): Deforestation and the Carbon Sink

The modelling demonstrates that:

Clearly, we are not getting the required 80% reduction in emissions starting in 2014 but this does illustrate the magnitude and seriousness of the problem and certainly that the 5% target by 2020 will be woefully inadequate.

The other approach to the problem is to increase the capability of the land sinks to absorb CO2  namely, a 20% increase in total global forestation. 

This does not have as great an impact as cutting emissions but under the combined scenarios of carbon reduction and absorption capability increase, total CO2 in the atmosphere is finally declining. To achieve this we must have an 80% reduction in emissions starting in 2014 and at 20% increase in forestation, also starting in 2014.

So far the response to the labour proposal has been predictable.

The Australian reports Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin as saying:“At the moment, Australia is contributing a greater economic loss than other countries with the 26-28 per cent target. To be going further out in front is not good policy.”

We should stop being so concerned about the cost of dealing with problem of rising sea levels and drastically altered climate patterns and start talking about the cost of not doing anything or doing too little.

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The vast proportion of Australia’s population live in the coastal areas. Rising sea levels will be a problem for everyone, not just the Gold Coast.

Repeal of the Carbon Tax: a step backwards into the darkness.

Well, it’s finally happened and we should not forget the names of those responsible, in particular: the Palmer United senators (Lazarus, Lambie, Wang), Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir, Family First Senator Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Democratic Labour Party senator John Madigan as well as the L/NCP.

We need a mechanism for minimising the influence of this group

We need a mechanism for minimising the influence of this group

The sad thing is that this cancels out years of hard work and when this unpopular and discredited government is voted out of power in 2016, we can only hope that an enlightened government will begin getting us back to where we should be. The problem is that unless there is reform of the Senate voting system will be stuck with this gang of ratbags that currently dominates the democratic processes of our government.

We will also have two endure Tony Abbott and the Minister for (Destroying) the Environment parading on television telling us all a great idea it was.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott released a statement just minutes after the vote, hailing the repeal of as great news for families and businesses.

”Scrapping the carbon tax is a foundation of the government’s economic action strategy,” the statement said.

The economic future of Australia will be based on brown coal.

The economic future of Australia will be based on brown coal.

It’s not. The savings to families will be written off by the predations of the large power companies and Australia will stand condemned, as it does for its asylum seeker policies, as being an international pariah where bigoted and ignorant self-interest is the major political dynamic.

For an analysis of the full impact of this act of political and environmental barbarism, read the excellent article by Tom Arup, Environment editor, The Age

The Emissions Reduction Fund: a budgetary disaster

If things go very badly in the Senate, the government will abolish the Carbon tax and replace it with Direct Action. The fundamental difference between the two schemes is that the first taxes polluters and the second pays them not pollute.

In the last financial year the Carbon Tax raised $4.2 billion.

The Emissions Reduction Fund will cost $2.5 billion.

The simple arithmetic is that this switch to what may possibly be less effective system is going to cost the government $6.7 billion per year. This is in a budget that will cut a range of social service spending: pensions healthcare and education.

The projected 5% reduction of in emissions by 2020 is so hopelessly inadequate, we might just as well do nothing. If the Abbot government wishes to abolish the Carbon Tax, it can claim a mandate to do so. But it should say this the pain of an expensive and even less effective approach through Direct Action.

On the 10-point scale of stupid political and economic decisions this one is a 9.5

Dummies’ Guide to Climate Change (ii): Deforestation and the Carbon Sink

The first Dummies Guide to Climate Change laid out the basic structure for the storing of CO2 in the atmosphere. The article then described the dynamics of the relationship between the inflows of CO2 into the atmosphere, the outflows through the carbon sinks and the levels of CO2 that accumulate in the atmosphere.

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This simple model is sometimes called a bathtub model. The inflow is the tap, the outflow is the plughole and the amount of water in the bathtub represents the level or accumulation.

The purpose of these articles is to provide simple models of complex structures and dynamics. To do this,The models built at a high level of aggregation. In this model, the forests that are cut down are replanted as regenerating forests. This is a simplification of the land use that follows deforestation. However, it serves to illustrate the more general principle of the long-term effect of deforestation

The second Dummies Guide to Climate Change drills down into the functioning of the outflow by examining dynamics of carbon storage capacity and deforestation. This sub-model shows the process where forests are cut down (deforestation) and replanted as regenerating forests. Over time, the regenerating forests are restored to their original state. However, there is a decades-long delay before this happens.

Deforestation model and its effect on the carbon sink

Deforestation model and its effect on the carbon sink

The important dynamic here is the impact on the capacity of the land-based carbon sink to absorb CO2. The regenerating forests have some capacity but nowhere near the capacity of the mature forests that have been cut down. The consequence of deforestation is a decline in overall carbon sink capacity.

Change in forests and decline of the carbon sink

Change in forests and decline of the carbon sink

It is generally acknowledged that the world has lost close to 50% of its forests in the last 50 years and that if deforestation continues at its present rate, there may be very few forests left within 50 years. In the last few years, the rate of increase in deforestation has become greater than the rate of increase in population. This is because of the rising affluence of global middle-class and its demand for plant-based products, particularly palm oil.

Deforestation has a double effect on the carbon sink. The first effect is that the burning rain forests increases the CO2 in the atmosphere. The second is that the decreased area of forests reduces the capacity of the carbon sink.

Impact of deforestation on atmospheric carbon and the carbon sink capacity

Impact of deforestation on atmospheric carbon and the carbon sink capacity

This double effect is amplified because it represents an increase in the inflow and a decrease in the outflow leading to a much higher level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Impact of deforestation on atmospheric CO2 levels

Impact of deforestation on atmospheric CO2 levels

It is clear from the model that the impact of deforestation is significant because of its impact on both the inflows and outflows of the system. It is also clear that action on deforestation will be necessary to avoid catastrophic increases in global CO2 levels. It is also clear from the model that even if the forests are replaced, the delay while they grow means that carbon continues to build up in the atmosphere. It is also clear from the previous model that increasing the landmass and deforestation by a massive 20% only has a minor effect on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.