Posts Tagged climate

Catching up on old-ish news

Double yolker actionIT’S been a frantic few weeks, so just time to share some recent links of mine.

First up, I had a look at the phenomenon of the “conservative white male” effect which is a bit like the greenhouse gas effect, in that seemingly the more of it you release, the worse things get.

I also took a look at the new climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement, and their various links to conservative white males like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and pretty much every climate denier that’s ever stalked the corridors of a free market think-tank. Oh, and they share a PR firm with the Church of Scientology and The Exclusive Brethren.

On the Brisbane Times and across the rest of the Fairfax network, I previewed a court case about to close in Queensland which is hearing a challenge against a huge coal mine development by Xstrata. Over the mine’s lifetime, the coal burned will see about 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases added to the planet’s atmosphere. If you’re following Australia’s carbon tax debate, then this cancels out the Government’s five per cent cut about seven times over.

Also on the Brisbane Times, a look at a report from The Climate Institute into the mental health issues related to extreme weather events like floods, droughts, bushfires and cyclones. If you take your climate science from climate scientists, then you’ll know that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increase the chances of events such as these happening more often (or in the case of cyclones, there could be less of them, but the ones we do get will probably be bigger and meaner).

Oh, and one of my chickens laid that egg. Disappointingly, there was no dinosaur inside.

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The environmental Nazi hunter

This post originally appeared on The Drum.

As a sort of “grand finale” to a presentation at a conference earlier this month in Los Angeles, climate “sceptic” Lord Christopher Monckton displayed on the giant conference screen a large Nazi swastika next to a quote from Adolf Hitler.

A few seconds later came another quote, next to another large swastika – an emblem still offensive to most people seven decades after the end of WWII.

The quote this time was from Australia’s climate change advisor Professor Ross Garnaut, which suggested that “on a balance of probabilities, the mainstream science is right” on human-caused climate change.

Professor Garnaut’s opinion was, according to the presiding hereditary peer, a “fascist point of view”. This paranoia sits beside Lord Monckton’s regularly expressed view that environmentalists are communists in disguise.

The conference was organised by the American Freedom Alliance, a think-tank which is currently involved in a long-running legal battle with a California science education centre. The AFA wanted to screen a documentary which featured scientists attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution in favour of intelligent design, but the education centre cancelled the screening. Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptically threatening

You will be chased down the street with burning stakes and hung from your f****** neck until you are dead, dead, dead.

ANY academic these days who chooses to speak publicly about the impacts or the implications of human-caused climate change can expect to come under attack.

The above note was contained in an email sent to one of these academics, but it is just one example. There are many scientists who over recent years have been receiving notes and communications like this.

Last Saturday, The Canberra Times revealed it had discovered abuse, threats and intimidation of at least 30 scientists working on climate change across NSW, ACT, Queensland, WA, South Australia, Victoria and NSW.

In most instances, the abuse had been in the form of emails. There were other incidents which were not reported.

One researcher, The Canberra Times reported, had received “threats of sexual assault and violence against her children” after she was pictured in a newspaper at a tree-planting event. Read the rest of this entry »

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Climate scientist rappers reveal why they did it

WHEN asked about the key climate change issues, IPCC lead author Professor Roger Jones echoed the concerns of colleagues by saying: “Feedback is like climate change on crack. Denialists deny this in your dreams, Coz climate change means greater extremes.”

“Shit won’t be the norm,” added others.

If only all interviews on climate change could be this colourful, this frank and this… well… lyrical?

Earlier this week, Australian ABC show Hungry Beast screened an original rap video staring nine actual climate scientists, complete with “mutha f******”, a slammin’ gangsta baseline and scores of peer-reviewed science papers and decades of research to back it up.

Since the original rap was posted on YouTube and other blogs (including this one) three days ago , the video has been viewed more than 56,000 times and reposted on sites in the UK, Australia and the US, including the Huffington Post, one of the world’s most popular blog sites.

For a viral online clip which features neither Justin Beiber, Charlie Sheen, Osama Bin Laden or the unlikely and hilarious antics of domesticated cats, this is a remarkable return.

Hungry Beast presenter, comedian Dan Ilic, co-creator of the clip, told me he had “basically blackmailed” the climate scientists several weeks ago into taking part by threatening to “burn a pile of 100 spare tyres” if they didn’t do it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cardinal Pell’s mine of climate misinformation

THE director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers must surely possess the patience of a saint or, if you don’t believe in saints, then the patience of my wife who has been waiting for me to fix the hole in the bathroom ceiling for well over three years.

Dr Ayers has finally gained some closure on an issue concerning Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic church in Australia who while believing in saints, doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change.

Dr Ayer’s unloaded his frustrations on a senate estimates committee this week, saying he believed Cardinal Pell had been “misled” by a book called Heaven + Earth, written by Australian climate sceptic and mining director Professor Ian Plimer.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven + Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

After an early battle with Senator Ian McDonald, who didn’t want to give Dr Ayers time to respond, the bureau’s director finally managed to get his frustrations off his chest and onto the Hansard record. Dr Ayers’ explained how Cardinal Pell’s views on climate change were not only unsupported by the science but in some cases directly contradicted some of its core understandings. For example, he pointed out that Cardinal Pell had miraculously given nitrogen a new physical property.

At one stage [Cardinal Pell] lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, because it is not.

You can read Dr Ayers’ very full response to Cardinal Pell on Hansard here. The fact that Dr Ayers’ response is now there and that I can now point to it, illustrates why he argued so forcefully to be allowed to have his views put on record in the first place.

But as well as being a correction to the cardinal, Dr Ayers’ also critiqued the book which Cardinal Pell had drawn from (Professor Plimer, look away now).

The cardinal I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents.

Why would I say this book is not science? It is not me who says it so much, although I have read it myself; it has been widely reviewed by people in the scientific arena and it has been very heavily criticised for not presenting science but presenting a polemic from one individual. It has not been scientifically peer reviewed.

Dr Ayers’ goes on to describe in detail the great many scientific errors in Professor Plimer’s book. As I’ve personally pointed out many times – including during a face-to-face debate in Brisbane in 2009 – Professor Plimer has never written a peer-reviewed paper on climate change in his life.

Ian Plimer

But what neither Cardinal Pell nor Dr Ayers nor the media coverage has pointed out, is Professor Plimer’s role as a director and chairman with several mining companies, an occupation which he has recently expanded. These same energy-intensive operations are those which would be hardest hit under any plans to price carbon.

Professor Plimer has long-standing roles as a non-executive director with Australia-based mining companies Ivanhoe Australia and CBH Resources, which mainly dig up silver, gold, lead.copper, zinc and other minerals. Professor Plimer is shown in company reports to have earned about $270,000 from Ivanhoe in the last two years. He earned more than $300,000 from CBH Resources over the same period. He is also a director of UK-listed Kefi Minerals, where he recently disposed of 2,400,000 shares worth about $350,000. He has recently taken on the role as chairman of an unlisted tin mining company, called TNT Limited.

Professor Plimer is also a director of Ormil Energy, which is currently engaged in a $3.2 million commitment to investigate coal seam gas and coal mine gas in the Sydney basin, pending government approvals.

But back to Dr Ayers and the senate estimates hearing, where Nationals Senator Ron Boswell pleaded unsuccessfully that Professor Plimer should also be allowed to appear to answer the criticism.

Senator Boswell should already have been well aware of the scathing criticisms of Heaven + Earth, because he launched that very same book in May 2009, a good two weeks after a swathe of scientists had attacked its integrity.

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, who is also sceptical of human-caused climate change, was pressing for Professor Plimer’s views to be placed on the record and encouraged Ayers to “go and listen to Professor Carter some day” referring to Professor Bob Carter, another of Australia’s confirmed sceptics of human caused climate change.

Senator Macdonald also suggested he would be tabling an article which recorded how the US house of representatives had recently voted to pull all funding to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Given that the oil and gas industries have been found to have donated more than US$21 million to the current US Congress, should we be surprised that it has now decided to pull the US$2.3 million funding for the IPCC?

The calls for an appearance by Professor Plimer didn’t impress Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who claimed that all Professor Plimer needed to do to get himself heard was to “publish another work of science fiction”.

While the retort was obviously meant as a joke, there’s no fun in knowing that Australian Senators and the head of the Catholic church seem happy to take their views on climate from that piece of “science fiction”.

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Is The Australian addicted to Monckton’s denial?

HIS choice of the Gershwin song “It Ain’t Necessarily So” was unfortunate, if not a little ironic.

In an opinion article published in The Australian, professional climate change denier Christopher Monckton tried his hardest to convince readers that “thoughtful” politicians were beginning to ask “privately, quietly” if a supposed climate crisis was not “necessarily so”.

They were beginning to ask the “Gershwin question” mused Monckton, referring to the song in the 1935 musical Porgy and Bess – a song delivered, ironically, by the musical’s drug dealing character Sportin’ Life.

An addiction to a drug can be a terrible and debilitating experience and just as it is in the case of The Australian‘s apparent addiction to climate denial, it can be degrading, embarrassing and professionally damaging.

Christopher Monckton is one of the world’s most charismatic climate deniers, yet he has no qualifications at all in climate science. Among his beliefs are that the UN is attempting to create a world government and  young climate campaigners are like Hitler youth. Others have also examined Monckton’s creative CV.

This lack of genuine expertise and tendency towards conspiracy theories don’t in themselves deny Monckton the right to an opinion, but the thrust of his views have been roundly rejected by practically every climate scientist currently researching and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

Over and over, scientists working in the field and opening their own research to the rigours of peer review (which Monckton has never done) have gone to great lengths to debunk Monckton’s “analysis” of climate change (small selection of examples here, many here and here). They have explained his persistent misrepresentations and errors in calculations, but still Monckton repeats them and still – after alarm bells have been ringing for half a decade - The Australian provides him a forum. Read the rest of this entry »

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Climate change and the Queensland floods

A version of this feature appeared first as part of Crikey‘s daily email.

IN QUEENSLAND, many – but not all – are well into the dirty job of sifting through the acrid mud and rubble for belongings, insurance certificates and hope.

If they’re not doing it already, in the coming months many will also be hoping to find some answers to that short but ever-so-complex question, why?

Premier Anna Bligh has started the process already, calling a Royal Commission with a wide-ranging terms of reference.

Among those terms, is a request the commission make recommendations to improve the “preparation and planning for future flood threats and risks” particularly when it comes to saving lives.

Unarguably the source for the flooding experienced in Queensland and now in parts of Victoria was persistent, record-breaking, heavy rain.

In 2010 Queensland had its wettest year on record, but the spring period leading up to the flooding in the Rockhampton and Bundaberg areas and then in Brisbane, was exceptional. The state got 248 mm of rainfall – almost triple the state-wide long term average.

But Premier Bligh’s Royal Commission and media coverage appears to have given little, if any, explicit consideration of the role of climate change.

This is a strange omission, given that only three months ago the State published its latest assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is also likely to affect extreme rainfall in south-east Queensland,” the report said, adding that “a projected decrease in rainfall across most of Queensland, the projected increase in rainfall intensity could result in more flooding events”.

A separate Queensland Government report into rainfall intensity, commissioned to provide advice to policy makers on inland flooding risks, also agreed that “the available scientific literature indicates this increased rainfall intensity to be in the range of 3–10 per cent per degree of global warming.”

But if these are the risks for Queensland in the future it doesn’t necessarily implicate climate change in the line-up of suspects likely to be paraded before the public in coming months.

Yet a number of climate scientists are already discussing the role of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and how it impacts extreme weather events.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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? Read the rest of this entry »

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Spinning a yarn on climate action

ORGANISATIONS across the globe spend squizzilions to carefully construct a corporate image which they think customers and clients will warm to.

Political parties and major  international corporations gather focus groups, engage top communications and image consultants to finely craft the corporate ideal and brand association.

Then, when they think they’ve got the image just right, they spend big on advertising and marketing “collateral” to drum the message home. Catchlines and phrases considered particularly catchy are copyrighted, as occasionally are colours.

So I wonder how the people at ANZ bank are feeling this week after their logo and “In Your World” catchphrase was hijacked by Greenpeace and replaced with”Polluting Your World”.

Greenpeace commissioned economic analysts to look at the investments of Australia’s major banks and found that while many were making sound investments in clean energy and winning sustainability and climate leadership awards, they were doing something else too – investing in coal mining and coal-fired power generation in volumes which massively eclipse their clean energy portfolios.

Bearing in mind that this year, for the second year running, there was more renewable energy installed globally than fossil-driven generation, you would think that the investment profile of institutions which make a play on their sustainability credentials would mirror this trend, or even exceed it.

Unfortunately, according to the Greenpeace-commissioned analysis, this just isn’t the case. ANZ, the study says, has invested $276 million in renewable energy in the last five years but $1.686 billion for coal.

I’ve written more on this sleight of hand over at the The Drum on the ABC. For another take on the Queensland state government’s billboard claims of being a solar state, I’ve been writing in Brisbane’s bmag on that.

Image: Greenpeace

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Take that solar sign down, Queensland

“Welcome to the solar state: We’re doubling Queensland’s use of solar energy in five years”

I’VE driven passed this Queensland Government advertising hoarding a handful of times in recent weeks. It’s on the road out of Brisbane airport and, personally, I think they (they, being the state government) should take it down.

Why? Because it’s misleading. Allow me to explain.

Firstly, Queensland might be the sunshine state, but it certainly ain’t the solar state.

According to the Queensland Renewable Energy Plan, last year only about 150 MW of the state’s 12,500 MW of installed electricity generation was coming from solar. That’s 1.2 per cent of clean, renewable energy emitting no greenhouse gases once installed.

Now the Queensland Government counts solar hot water heaters in that 150 MW. Obviously solar hot water heaters don’t generate any power at all, but they do reduce the amount of power which would have been drawn from the grid.

If you take solar hot water heaters out of the equation, the renewable energy plan says you’re left with 6MW, or 0.048 per cent of all the available power.

Now since that report was compiled, things have got a bit better or, rather, slightly less worse. Thousands of people have installed solar panels at home to take advantage of the Queensland Government’s net feed-in-tariff . Thousands more have stuck solar hot water heaters on their roof (including me), encouraged by Federal and State Government rebates.

As I’ve written a story about this issue which hasn’t yet been published, I’ll have to hold back on some of the detail for now, but I think most people would agree that Queensland is an awful long way from being in a position to declare itself a “solar state”. Perhaps if you were to get to the point where most of your energy was coming from solar, then you’d be on more solid ground.

To get an idea of how all of this looks in the bigger scheme of things, we can compare that entire state-wide 150 MW of solar energy to one single coal-fired power station. I’m going to take Tarong, which serves the southeast corner of Queensland. This single coal-fired power station has a generating capacity alone of 1400 MW and is one of the largest of more than a dozen coal-fired power stations in Queensland.

In data submitted to the Federal Government, in the year 2008/09 Tarong power station emitted 6,714,430 tonnes of greenhouse gases (bundled together and reported as CO2-equivalent). Tarong, which is owned by the Queensland Government, also has a second smaller power station known as Tarong North, which emitted a further 2,649,130 tonnes.

Now, let’s fantasise for a while that Australia introduced a tax on emissions. If you take the cheap-and-cheerful $23 per tonne suggested by The Greens as an interim price, that potentially exposes Tarong shareholders (as a state-owned corporation, that’s the State Government) to about $215 million of costs.

In one of those ironic twists that you couldn’t make up, the very next billboard on the road out of the airport is another Queensland Government effort, this time to encourage people to buy shares in QR National.

This rail hauler says proudly in its advertising that it carries “500,000 tonnes of coal a day”. If ever there was a reason not to invest in something then, for me, that would be it.

“Welcome to the coal state”

UPDATE: A pic of the QR National billboard.


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