Category Archives: climate change

Economy irrelevant

Call it simplistic, but there simply is no economy without the environment. Blaming others for our own inaction is not the work of a mature mind. Setting business, lifestyle or jobs first ahead of the climate is not an option. Short term economic gains cannot be rationalised against long term viability of agriculture, water and known ocean borders.

Any person with a view to the survival of the world as we know it must embrace change. I for one choose to have no car, travel in a car very rarely and instead walk, cycle or take public transport everywhere and have become vegetarian to reduce my carbon footprint.

If I get cold I put on a jumper, I jump on the spot to warm up (try it!). If I get hot I take myself to a cool spot or wear less clothing. I don’t turn on heating or cooling unless it is sub zero or above 40 degrees- and you know what people can survive a few hours in sub-optimal temperatures. If I can survive on a low-meat, low-diary lifestyle, why can’t all adults?

I would make only one exception- pensioners and the disabled should be able to have greater carbon credit and other transport allowances. The rest of us need a wake up call. If we are fat, it is because we are lazy, we simply live a sedative life.

If the climate is under threat then join the dots and take out the bad things, plan trees to allow the planet to repair itself. Deep down people know when what they are doing is to excess and they feel bad for it, the thing is to never dismiss it and become apathetic.

Look to other countries for blame only if you wish to make the lives of your grandchildren akin to nomadic refugees. This is not a joke. Our excuses for inaction however most certainly are a joke.


Oil games

People love crises. Crises give us purpose and grounds us to ensure that we know what to doubt and worry about and serve to remind us to appreciate the norm or what we have become comfortable with. Anything that threatens the norm must first be questioned and if it is not immediately to our self-interest, then we resist.

Oil is a wonderful example of how we love to, if we know it or not, panic about something for very little reason. Let us be realistic, there is simply no way that the oil producers will price something outside of the reach of the bulk of its customers unless there was a lack of supply. Peak oil may or may not be here or around the corner but I doubt this recent rising is a direct result of production pressure.

So, to artificially price your product to the detriment of or out of reach of the customers makes no business sense. Or does it…?

To look at the world through the eyes of the fossil fuel industry right now you would have to think very differently to the bulk of people, their own customers, governments and those with highly publicised commentary. One would have to separate individuals needs, the customers, the policy decisions that effect your product from governments and your own overriding business objectives. In the case of an oil company this would have to mean that you are willing to play with the prices of the product in a game that strikes a balance between these facets but still keeping supply lines flowing and demand ever-growing.

Faced with some huge challenges from the rapid movement of public opinion away from a fossil-fuel world towards “something more sustainable” it would appear that Oil companies would have a lot to loose. Everywhere people are talking green, business is jumping on board and we all want to make ourselves warm and fuzzy by largely tokenistic changes and lip-service. All a positive start but the really tough decisions that we need to take are being deliberately stalled out of a mixture of self-interest and external influence. These tough decisions include reducing fossil fuel dependance to a supplementary part of society rather than the absolute and complete dependance on it for almost everything consumed and moved for most people.

Such is the threat from global warming that carbon taxes (or similar) schemes are being concocted in many countries, some already in place, with varying inclusions and exclusions and some will be very unpopular once enforced. We want them enforced for the sake of our future, but we don’t want to pay for them it seems. As debate rages on in the world about the agony of high petrol prices we are falling victim I fear to a very deliberate and carefully implemented game.

What better way to remind us of our dependance on Oil in particular then to raise the price rapidly right at the critical turning point in public opinions and key government changes around the largest economies of the world. Politicians are forced right now to cower to demands to reduce existing taxes on petrol for the sake of the consumers and exclude petrol from carbon taxes in any current of future schemes.

What a contradictory position we have backed ourselves into. Or perhaps one that has been carefully orchestrated as an interim panic-inspiring measure to effectively kill off the implementation of necessary carbon taxes.

Within six months petrol prices will have dropped off again to levels below what they are now. At this time the panic caused will have dropped taxes on the fuel, warned off policy changes to tax fuel as an emissions source and we will not make the necessary changes in our infrastructure plans or in our minds to wean ourselves off the stuff.

Game set and match to the oil companies. Our children are the losers.

Don’t let it happen.

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Dignified life

Surely the measure of civilised society is one in which we can live out lives safely, happily and be looked after when we are elderly or vulnerable.

The way things are going now, when I am 75 (roughly 50 yeas away) the world is going to be much warmer, the oil availability much lower and more expensive, the population 9 billion plus, water less plentiful and hopefully a carbon tax preventing or reducing our emissions growth.

I won’t have the dignity of a pleasant retirement to appreciate and reflect on life with good health care or the natural beauty of the world as it is now. We are making it impossible to foresee a life where I can live in the way our current grandparents live.

On this basic measure being one of self-preservation in our more vulnerable years- I think we need to make some hard choices in reducing our emissions and still allowing for a dignified future.

One approach I might suggest would be in basic terms to:

  1. Globally agree on a “safe” level of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to avoid the 2 Degree plus global average temperature increase (with a policy to alter the target only when stability is reached or make it even tighter if we’re progressing too slowly).
  2. Take stock of the number of people on the planet now or in the projected pipeline and divide the number of people by the amount of CO2 “globally allowed” so that a sum can be applied to how much CO2 each person is allocated.
  3. Use this figure of CO2 to work out if there is enough “give” in the system to allow an individual under the cap to have a “dignified” quality life- an ambiguous calculus but something we make a judgment call on.
  4. We then pull it all together to determine how many people the planet can have which keep us below the worst case CO2 concentration that can have that dignified life.
  5. Result: Once we calculate this we have all the evidence we need to make a decision. If we come out with a poor and unacceptable quality of life then we can quickly work out in the maths how many people we can sustain in order to have the best chance of avoiding the warming to preserve the dignified life. We then define the population “goals” to keep us honest and under the planets tolerances whilst still allowing each person with at least some CO2 emissions.

Logically it is pretty simple, keep us below the threshold where formula mouths to feed/water/transport becomes untenable. We might not like what we hear when we do this process… we will certainly have passed the threshold but our decisions and actions will be applauded if we get it right.

Lets face it, if we get it wrong- the planet will find a way of bumping us off.

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Where are the heros?

With each and every passing week of news the picture of the evidence of global warming are irrefutable, the consequences of our current trajectory are dire and gosh, it is easily to get depressed or and cynical about the future and say “eh, why bother, we’re stuffed!”.

The best way to ensure the massive consequences of the worst projections is to bury the head in the sand, point the finger at others and just carry on blissfully ignorant of the result of current lifestyles. Whilst we cannot ignore the onset of climate change/global warming, we still act as if it is something for others for fix for us and for some magical technology to solve for us. Something that can be simply bolted on to every appliance, every vehicle, every engineered piece of equipment and counter-balance everything we do in our lives. Fat chance people. The only way to do this would be to extract CO2 from the atmosphere- and I don’t see this happening through some scientific wizardry.

With all the false prophets propping up about so-called solutions, reduced impact power generation, lower-emission vehicles, carbon-offset this and that, it is as if corporations can benevolently and conveniently play with the fringes of our activities to fix it all. I even saw an advertisement for a credit card that donates money to offset programs and is squirted with green ink which obviously makes the owner feel better about their purchase when they buy that air-conditioner unit on the card then plug it into the fossil fuel grid so that they can pretend they temporarily live in a 20 degree climate at all times. Hilarious- but also sad at the simple way in which we allow ourselves to be conned into false prophets.

I despair not so much for the future and the consequences on our diverse peoples, wildlife, ecosystems and coastal communities that are going to dissapear. I despair for nothing more than the lack of the champion for the cause. I meant the real champion, not the Al Gore and a neat power point preso, not the Bono and Gedof with egos bigger than the continent of Africa. I mean we need a real hero. Someone that not only has charisma, money and power/influence, but someone that leads by example and is not afraid of ridicule and has no hidden agenda.

For me, Mr George Monbiot is the closest thing I have to a hero, he is capable of absorbing huge amounts of information and assessing them from a global perspective and writing some incredibly considered pieces. He lobbies for causes he believes are important for the future of communities, animals and the environment. He is prepared to reach out over the airwaves and the internet and through his own books to try and show people a more idealistic alternative to some of our problems. Many of the solutions run in such a way that caters for human-kinds rather selfish perspectives and also leverages our unique creativity.

It is hard to find someone that you agree with 100% and I disagree with his views on globalisation being a positive, as I feel that localisation is the only way forwards once you factor in the tyranny of distance and the carbon cost of goods and services over distance. Likewise his views on genetically modified food- if we can make crops more durable and less susceptible to disease whilst still preserving the original seeds for the future around the world, then lets move on and do it.

Heros, it is an old-fashioned concept in a world where the anti-hero runs supreme and captures the media interest and sells magazines. I firmly believe that what the world needs now is a hero to step up and take the mantle and show us that we can and will overcome our short-sighted state of excess consumption and growth. Someone analyical, charismatic, compassionate but tempered by a long-term view that no matter who we are, we NEED the planet that supports us.

Any species that destroys its own habitat… soon destroys itself. We can do better than that! 🙂

Letter to the Minister – Interstate transportation & climate change

Dear Minister

There is a brief window of opportunity to utilise the resources we have access to now in order to build a future in which we can sustain ourselves.

We should build the low-emission infrastructure that will allow us to go on living in a way that we want to once the cheap access to materials we have now starts to dwindle. Fuel is only going to get much more expensive and far less socially acceptable to use beyond the next few years.

If we are to achieve real cuts in emissions than the first thing we should do is stop adding to the things that create emissions. We must stop building more highways that will only create more traffic and add more CO2 into the atmosphere. Electricity generation from fossil fuels is only one aspect of the emissions problem. The other large emitters are transportation, methane release from farm animals and a reduction in carbon sinks from deforestation (cumulative over the past 200 years in this country).

It is not an acceptable argument that Australia is a small overall contributor on a world scale, as Howard government used as another excuse for inaction. On a per-capita basis we are the worlds worst emitters and blaming other countries is no way to show leadership on the issue.

To be serious about reducing our emissions footprint means that we must ensure that people and goods can still be transported using very low or zero emissions methods. The only methods available to us that meets these targets currently are electric trains, electric road vehicles or don’t laugh- the horse and cart.  We can confidently assume that electric power will come from renewable or low-carbon release technology in the next 50 years- either through renewable, carbon-capture coal or nuclear.

So the logical step is to build the infrastructure that enables you to do the things that people need to do to get by in any foreseeable future, without oil or bio-fuel. People will need to be able to get around cities, between major cities and the country. In the cities there is no better way of moving large numbers of people than public transport using trains, trams and buses.

Belief that we can keep driving our own cars to anywhere we feel like it whenever we feel like it is just simply not feasible in a world of many billions. Moving to electric cars for arguments sake is possible, however the electricity and batteries required and all of the materials needed to be manufactured to create all of these vehicles is simply too huge to be feasible- we would not have the base load power available for electric cars for each individual as we have oil or gas powered cars of today.

As soon as you start building roads you have congestion, safety and pollution issues that only spiral and grow- even with electric cars the safety and congestion issues persist. No highway has ever been build then abandoned- they only ever get more full and therefore requiring more roads and creating more pollution. Building more highways for motor vehicles condemns us to the carbon footprint of vehicles on those roads for the foreseeable future- don’t invest in them if you want a climate that future generations can live in. Building highways for road cars and trucks cannot be seen as a positive for society anymore, it can only be seen as locking people into one unsustainable mode of transport.

The airline industry and been working hard to try and convince journalists and passengers that flying is only a small percentage of global emissions and can therefore be ignored. This is a great mis truth and in fact flying moves only a minuscule amount of people at the highest possible carbon cost ever invented. Indeed when a plane goes through the sky the warming effect is amplified when compared to other emission sources- a cumulative effect can even alter weather patterns in cities.

Flying has no future for domestic travel in a world where we are serious about avoiding global warming and we must put in place an alternative system that can move larger amounts of people at high speed without producing emissions. No airpot expansion plans can be considered if we really want to create a future beyond the next 50 years where people can live in a habitable world.

Viable solutions based on proven technology are needed. The last estimate that was produced for the cost of building a fast train route from Canberra to Sydney in the late 90s was in the vicinity of 5 billion (AUD). As previously noted, the power grid will at some point in the future be low-emissions technology and we can therefore build electric trains to utilise this capacity for mass transportation- not just in the major cities but to major regional centers and between major cities.

It will cost tens of billions of dollars to build a national network linking all major capitals from, for arguments sake Adelaide to Melbourne, Melbourne to Albury, Albury to Canberra, Canberra to Sydney, Sydney to Newcastle, Newcastle to Gold Coast, Gold Coast to Brisbane.

Building this network would be massively expensive but it will have the following benefits:

  • Reduce the carbon footprint of interstate travel of most of the 20+ billion population to virtually zero
  • Remove the need for irresponsible, uncomfortable and high-stress interstate air travel
  • Give people a viable option over air travel and avoid the excuses of travel times being too great for anything bar flying
  • Create tens of thousands of jobs all across the country
  • Utilise the expertise of large project construction, project management, resources,
  • Revitalise rural communities through which it is built
  • Put money in the hands of drought-effected farmers through land buy-back along the routes the trains pass through
  • Connect major rural areas to the cities and appreciate their natural and cultural significance (rather than flying over them)
  • Open up the existing rail networks to freight and inter-town only passenger travel- therefore taking more trucks and cars off the road and reducing road maintenance costs, accidents and driver fatigue
  • Early movement will allow us to secure rolling stock and expertise to build it first while the rest of the world competes to catch-up
  • Create a national campaign that unites the country, physically and psychologically
  • Produce a public works that instills pride in the country as a sustainable piece of history that future generations can be proud of

On a state level electrified trains and trams need to be expanded across all major cities to take cars off the road and move people between home and workplaces and to tourist locations and major hubs. Buses and hire car facilities can take commuters further in the field where needed- but no one should have to be dependent on personal motor vehicles for day-to-day use past the year 2050.

Workers that are not dependent on specialised office equipment should be encouraged to work from home more often to save the wasted time and energy in long commutes back and forwards to offices. Web cams and high-speed broadband, VOIP and mobiles all reduce the need for many people to be in another air-conditioned office building- such reduced travel should be rewarded through incentive to businesses.

I appeal to you to revise all plans to build new roads and airports that will lock us into putting more emissions into the atmosphere and immediately invest in the rail infrastructure to take the cars off the road. Competition from around the world for technology that can facilitate a more sustainable living is already fierce and will be even more so the longer we wait.

Don’t wait any longer, invest the billions necessary to build the infrastructure and leave a legacy of magnificent foresight and bask in the gratitude of future generations.

Adam Gilbert

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