Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire

ACCORDING to Tony Abbott, only the coalition has a credible climate change policy to achieve a five per cent cut in Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Allow me, if you will, to equate this climate change challenge to a gigantic raging bonfire of all Tony Abbott’s currently and previously-owned pairs of budgie-smugglers which would surely be a blaze three-storeys high visible from Christmas Island.

Presented with the challenge of controlling this three-story high bonfire of budgie-smugglers, what Tony Abbott is saying is that only he has a credible policy to enable him to pee on it, such is the gap between what is being offered and what is needed.

A couple of days ago, I was on a journalist’s panel listening to the three candidates for the seat of Brisbane talk climate and conservation to a group of gathered greenies. Both Labor’s Arch Bevis and Liberal Theresa Gambaro re-iterated their leaders “commitment” to that 5 per cent cut (the Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett pointed out they would be looking for a 40 per cent cut).

At one point  Mr Bevis stated that Labor was following the “science” on climate change, at which point I surmised that you’d be hard-pressed to find a credible climate scientist advocating a five per cent cut.

So what does the “science” think of a five per cent cut?

Well the minimum recommended by Professor Ross Garnaut’s comprehensive government review two years ago, was a 10 per cent cut. This 10 per cent cut, Garnaut said, would represent a fair shake of the sauce bottle from Australia as part of a global effort to stabilise emissions at 550 parts per million in the atmosphere.

Continue reading “Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire”


Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.

YEH I know, you’ve heard it all before.

Electric cars are coming to take over the world, robbing petrol-heads everywhere of their fossil fuel-loving internal combustion engines with all that grrrrrr and CO2.

Well it seems that while many finally dismissed the claims of EV enthusiasts as little more than science fiction, the car companies, local governments and savvy entrepreneurs have been getting on with the job.

Keep reading for a feature I’ve just had published in Brisbane’s bmag looking at what seems to me to be the inevitable rise of the electric car. Not even a jobsworth wheel clamper can stop the revolution now.

The Buzz about electric cars

Mark down 2010 on your driveway or scratch it on your garage wall as a reminder of the year when the wheel clamps and handbrake were finally released on the electric car.

For more than a century, the cleaner and greener electric vehicle (EV) has been held back thanks to a plentiful supply of liquid fossil fuel. But as cheap oil runs out and evidence mounts of the damage to the planet of extracting and burning fossil fuels, the long-time “concept vehicle” is stepping out of the sci-fi movie and on to a road near you.

Dozens of models of electric cars are going into mass production around the world, with some already being sold. And, if 2010 is the year the electric car industry finally got going, then July could be credited as the month when Queensland started to take them seriously.

“You now have electric vehicles popping up everywhere,” says Brisbane-based clean technology consultant Philippe Reboul. “It is getting serious.”

Continue reading “Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.”


Cloudy with a chance of warming

LOOKING out of my office window, passed the juvenile citrus trees, the chickens and the lemon gum, there’s a vivid aqua blue sky without a single wispy cloud.

No matter how long I stare at it, this morning it’s pretty impossible to spot any human influence or interference on what’s going on up there in the troposphere.

There’s not even a contrail from a plane.

You can’t really see the water vapour – the most abundant greenhouse gas – and you can’t see carbon dioxide either, yet they’re both key players in the climate system, as are the clouds which today I can’t…. ooh, there’s one.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the white stuff a lot lately after researching and writing this piece for the ABC’s environment portal on clouds and water vapour and their influence on the climate.

Prof Steve Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Research Centre told me that knowing just how clouds will behave in a warming world is one of those “known unknowns” in climate research.

As I think my feature shows, there’s a lot of work going on now to make it a “known known”. Go here to read the feature.

Image: Francesco Marino /


And now for the inquiry into sceptics?

WE’VE now had four major reviews into climate change science, all of them prompted and demanded by deniers, sceptics, [insert appellation of choice here] or whatever other descriptor you choose.

Most of the grist for this mill came from the illegal hacking of emails and data from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, but other bits of raw material came via accusations of the methods of the IPCC.

According to the cacophony from some media commentators, climate scientists had tricked the global public, manipulated data, conspired to ban sceptics from peer-reviewed journals, killed Bambie, drowned one of the Care Bears and plotted to take over the world.

All four of the reviews have found the main thrust of the accusations to be without substance or, in other words, plain wrong.

Before a single review had made its conclusion, some commentators screamed it was the greatest science scandal of the modern age and proved that human-caused climate change was a conspiracy  made-up to scare people witless.

At the time, I claimed the scandal was the greatest since Darren from Year Seven torched the Year Nine science project with a bunsen burner.

After two independent reviews, a UK parliamentary inquiry and a Dutch government agency review, I think it’s fair to say my analysis was the closest. I’d like to call Darren, but we’re no longer in touch.

Continue reading “And now for the inquiry into sceptics?”


Review finds IPCC science is sound. The Australian thinks different.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has just published its review into the main findings of the IPCC’s “latest” assessment report, which came out three years ago.

Here’s the report’s main conclusion on the science.

The foundations for thirty-two IPCC Fourth Assessment summary conclusions on the regional impacts of climate change have been investigated. These conclusions show examples of projections of climate-change impacts on food, water, ecosystems, coastal regions and health, for all the earth’s continents. These conclusions have not been undermined by errors, although one of the conclusions contains a minor inaccuracy: in hindsight, not 75 to 250 million people, but 90 to 220 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change in Africa, by 2020. Given the large uncertainties surrounding such projections, this difference is not significant.

Seems pretty straightforward. There are concerns expressed that the summary conclusions made by the IPCC put too much emphasis on “the main negative impacts of climate change” rather than, presumably, pointing out that it might be great for cane toads.

The thrust of the Netherlands review is obvious. It’s repeated in the press release, just in case anyone misses the point.

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found no errors that would undermine the main conclusions in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on possible future regional impacts of climate change.

The Australian newspaper has written a story about the findings, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they must have read a different report. Continue reading “Review finds IPCC science is sound. The Australian thinks different.”


Presenting the non-experts

IT’S fun when a scientific study confirms what lots of people already know. Scientists who deny that we should do anything about climate change don’t actually know very much about climate change.

New research in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS… no sniggering), has concluded that

… the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of Anthropogenic Climate Change vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians.

The method of the researchers was to first take the names of scientists who had been co-signatories of statements supporting or questioning the science of climate change and the need to act (or not act), based on evidence.

The researchers list the source of those statements here, which include letters to prime ministers, public declarations and newspaper adverts such as this one from the Cato Institute, which was reported to have cost US$150,000 . Sourcewatch lists Cato’s alliances with fossil fuel money and tobacco denial here. Continue reading “Presenting the non-experts”


Curse of the popularity contest

LIKE it, lump it or form it into a distasteful dough-like structure and swallow it, we’re all taking part in a popularity competition.

Politicians want our vote and to get it they need to say and do things that they think the majority of people will like.

Now of course politics is far more complex, devious and engaging than this and, occasionally yes, it’s sometimes a right-on righteous exercise too.

But what democracy boils down to for most politicians is the need to retain power with enough of the public on your side to keep your seat.

For want of a less clumsy alliteration, it’s a never-ending fascination that this fundamental fact gets forgotten, yet it colours every aspect of public life. We’re all part of it.

Take the resources tax and the current debate this has generated (please let it stop).

The Australian government proposes a new tax regime which, when times are good, will see mining companies making a little bit less profit than they would have otherwise.

In simple terms, the mining companies don’t like it too much because they stand to make less money.

This would effect the profits of companies such as Rio Tinto, which made more than $9 billion in pre-tax profits last year, and BHP Billiton, which made more than $7 billion in the last six months of 2009.

So faced with taking home a bit less money they decide to hit the Government where it hurts – by running some adverts on that other popularity medium, the telly. Others, such as the Australian Workers Union, have their own TV ad.

These adverts are unregulated in practical terms and run alongside miracle age-defying skin creams and deodorant brands that make men irresistible to women (or some men). They also make it nigh-on impossible to understand who’s right or wrong and, depending on which emotional triggers they pull, both will have a certain appeal.

Then the adverts are placed between other popularity competitions like, say, Australia’s Got Latent, So You Think You Can Dunce or My Kitchen Roos (a show, staged on genuine marbled bench tops, where kangaroos fight to the death armed only with… oh I don’t know… silicone oven mitts and a set of steak knives).

As any TV ratings expert will tell you, there are far more Australian people voting for talent shows than there are voting for more current affairs or arts coverage.

But what’s popular doesn’t always, or even most of the time, equal what’s actually best for the community or the individual.

This curse of the popularity contest is one reason why our democracy here in Australia, like other democracies across the globe, have been unable to take any meaningful action on climate change.

According to the United States Government’s National Climatic Data Center (yes, they persist with the ‘e’ in the wrong place), the world has just experienced its warmest March to May quarter of any time since 1880, when their records started.

At the same time, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (or, centre) reports that during May the Arctic was losing ice at a rate of 68,000 square kilometres per day.

This rate of melting ice was the highest for the month of May during the satellite record, which now runs to about 30 years.

And all this as climate change and emissions trading drops almost completely off the political agenda.

But try and win a popularity competition, such as the impending general election, by taxing emissions from burning fossil fuels (which, under the current regime, are linked to practically everything) or unsustainable resource extraction and you’ve got as much chance as an ice-block in Moreton Bay or, it seems, in the Arctic.


Climate broken records

LATEST findings from the US government’s National Climatic Data Center show the average global temperature on sea and land in May was the warmest of any May since 1880, when the US records started.

Also showing the current state of affairs is the UK Met Office, which has recently been cleaning-up some of the data for its HadCRUT3 data record, which goes back even further to 1850.

Same story, different bunch of data.  The other biggie in the climate yardstick is the extent of Arctic sea-ice . How’s that going?

During May, the satellite data shows the Arctic was losing ice at a rate of 68,000 square kilometres a day, causing the US National Snow and Ice Data Center to conclude that “this rate of loss is the highest for the month of May during the satellite record”.

All these broken records are starting to sound like a broken record.


Top Aussie carbonators and old men

ABC Carbon has just published a list of the 50 people in Australia contributing the most to awareness and action on climate change, conservation and green issues.

The list, which excludes journalists and politicians (there’s going to be another list of those types soon), has everything from world famous actresses to local campaigners, business people, scientists and activists, and a few who blur the lines.

Ken Hickson, author of the book ABC of Carbon and the excellent ABC Carbon newsletter, asked me to help review and shorten the long list of nominees – a process which made me realise just how many people really are trying to make a positive difference.

Boiling this list down a bit further, I’d be picking out the likes of the massive-brained author Clive Hamilton, the courageous climate activist Anna Keenan and Professor Will Steffen, the science advisor to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

I’ve just finished reading Clive’s book Requiem For A Species which examines why civilisation has failed to act on climate change and how, not to put too fine a point on it, we should all forget the notion of being able to “beat” climate change. You can buy a copy of Clive’s book all over the place, but in a plug for a local company you can also order it from Sustainable Insight.

Anna Keenan is a young women for whom I have the utmost admiration. No commitment issues for Anna, who managed a 40-day hunger strike in the run up to, and during, the ill-fated Copenhagen climate change conference. Here’s a blog she wrote for me in the middle of that ordeal.

A few weeks ago, Professor Will Steffen was brave enough to say publicly what most other climate scientists must surely be saying privately all the time when he described the manufactured debate over climate change to be “infantile”. Here’s a great profile of the Professor here, on The Age.

And now to the second bit of the headline for this blog (look up there), the bit about old men, because they came up in a seminar I attended last night hosted by Professor Steffen.

His main 45-minute speech covered the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to research on climate change adaptation, but it was an off-the-cuff remark made during questions which prompted the biggest round of applause of the evening.

He was talking about the general need for everyone in Australia to be innovative in finding ways to adapt to climate change. And why isn’t this happening now?

There’s a blockage caused by old men who largely block innovation.

So there you go. We can now add “old men” to the list of climate change foes which includes fossil fuels, money, consumerism and political cowardice.


Climate blogging

ECOS magazineCHEERS go to bloggers Tim Lambert at Deltoid and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at Climate Shifts for giving a nod to a feature of mine just published in ECOS magazine.

The feature looked at climate blogging and had input from Ove, Tim and also John Cook at the excellent and world famous Skeptical Science website (well OK, maybe not world famous, but if you’ve been featured on the websites of The Guardian and the New York Times, then I reckon that’s as close as you’re going to get in this line of work).

All three of the blogs featured have done as much, if not more, to communicate the science of climate change than any politician has been able to manage, perhaps because it does actually take more than a 30-second news grab to explain the complexities.

Anyway, the feature is available free here.