Time to stop wasting food waste, says Ben O’Donoghue

LET’S have a little guessing game.

How much food waste do you think seven food outlets (including a handful of restaurants, cafes and juice bars) would generate in three months?

The answer, if you go by a recent food waste trial in Brisbane, is 15 tonnes.

Personally, that figure makes me shudder a bit, considering there are many people in our region of the world, and even in our own country, who face daily struggles just to put any food at all on the table. Shoving food in the bin just seems a bit immoral (at our house, the recipients of virtually all of our food waste are either the chickens, the worms or the compost bin).

Then there’s the fact that pretty much all of those 15 tonnes of waste would have ended up rotting in landfill, generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to Do Something!’s Food Wise campaign, rotting food waste is responsible for at least 11 million tonnes of emissions annually.

TV chef Ben O’Donoghue isn’t happy about this either. He told me,

Even here in central Australia we have indigenous Australians who are under-nourished, yet here we don’t bat an eyelid.

O’Donoghue’s new The Surf Club restaurant on Brisbane’s South Bank took part in that food waste trial. He told me that now he’s trying to convince the city council to extend and expand the trial to include every restaurant in the city.

You can read about this in a story I’ve written for bmag. To read the full story, go here.

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Cheap oil and climate ambition both down the pan, says International Energy Agency, kinda

NORMALLY first thing in the morning, a mug of coffee is never more than an arm’s reach away and there’s never a chance of that first serving of caffeine going undrunk.

Nasty habit I know, but I’m sticking to it. In fact, so entrenched is my morning coffee habit, that it would take an earthquake, a major explosion in the kitchen or the sudden realisation that I’m missing a limb, to distract me enough from its drinking.

Today though, you can add to that list, the publication of the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2010 which has left my double espresso unloved and un-consumed. This morning, the IEA has declared that “the age of cheap oil is over” and that current commitments by world leaders won’t be anywhere near enough to limit global warming to 2C.

The IEA, for anyone that doesn’t know, is the organisation which provides advice to the world’s major economies on the future of energy sources including oil, gas, coal and renewables. They tell the world how much there is, how much it’s going to cost and what might happen in the future to prices and availability. In recent years, they’ve also started to consider the impact that different scenarios will have on attempts to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. However, there have been some suggestions that they’ve been cooking the books a bit, to make the outlook for oil sound better than it really is.

This year the agency has looked at the future through the carbon-tinted spectacles of its “New Policies Scenario” which “takes account of the broad policy commitments and plans that have been announced by countries around the world”.

So these are the things which governments have said they’ll do, or that they would like to do, but not necessarily things they’ve managed to get onto the statute books. So how’s that looking then? Continue reading “Cheap oil and climate ambition both down the pan, says International Energy Agency, kinda”

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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”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Gravel path for solar

ACCORDING to the International Energy Agency’s new roadmap for solar power the world could be getting as much as 25 per cent of its electricity from the sun by the year 2050.

But there are some big ifs and buts. Releasing the roadmaps for the PV and solar thermal industries, the IEA’s executive director Nobuo Tanaka says:

This decade is crucial for effective policies to enable the development of solar electricity. Long-term oriented, predictable solar-specific incentives are needed to sustain early deployment and bring both technologies to competitiveness in the most suitable locations and times.

What Mr Tanaka is suggesting is that the road ahead for solar should be relaid with nice smooth bitumen with as few traffic lights, stop signals and roadworks as possible. The Rudd Government may point to its $1.4 billion funding of solar projects, announced last year, as evidence of these incentives. You might even look at the hotch-potch of domestic feed-in-tariffs currently being played with in different states.

Earlier this week a shortlist of eight projects under Mr Rudd’s Solar Flagships scheme was announced – four are solar PV (electric generated via panels) and four are solar thermal (electric generated by concentrating the sun’s rays to create heat to eventually drive a turbine).

While the Government has been doing much chest beating about the virtues of its flagship programme, the unfortunate reality is that the resultant 1000 MW of power generation is dwarfed, nay trampled on, by plans already in the pipeline for new coal power generation.

To put that 1000MW into perspective, it’s about the same as one single medium sized coal-fired power station. This list of electricity generation capacity in Australia from 2008, leaves a 1000 MW solar thermal plant sticking out like a tiny chink of light among a swathe of black coal.

When Mr Tanaka asks for a shiny new road surface for the solar industry, Australia appears to be building something which looks a bit more like a gravel path.

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Not looking forward to getting to the End of the Line

I’M not really looking forward to seeing the “new” documentary movie End of the Line (first premiered in January 2009) when it opens in Australia on Friday, but see it I will.

Based on a book of the same name by British journalist Charles Clover, the film looks at… ahh, just watch the trailer and see for yourself. For screenings, go here.

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