All Things Sustainable

ecology, economy, community

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A government of Vandals

In Sustainability, Society and You we have looked at business and the trust deficit. I can say for sure that this week has left me with a distinct trust deficit and not only in relationship to business. In response to their actions and announcements I now see my government as one that is determined to degrade any environmental or climate change action or legislation and is prepared to drive coal production as far and fast as it can. A government of vandals, they are trying to drag us all into a bleak future of 6deg temperatures.
I saw the approval of the proposal to allow Abbotts Point dredging spoil to be dumped on the Great Barrier Reef in order to facilitate coal exports to China and India, the Tasmanian forest classification about to be downgraded to facilitate the logging industry and seismic surveys about to be approved in waters south of Kangaroo Island that are home to many whales including the very rare Shepherds Beaked whale, in the interests of the oil industry.
Western Australia has started shooting sharks because they are the top ocean predator and sometimes they attack people who trespass on their territory. This is occurring in an ocean that is being continually disturbed by the actions of huge companies mining for oil and gas, so disruption to migration paths are likely and it is hardly surprising that normal behavior is changed.
Meanwhile the CSG industry tries to reassure us that the risk of contaminating ground water by pumping carcinogens underground is all in the best interest of the farmers and the whole population. And whatever you do don’t talk about climate change, even though Queensland farmers are still in drought and many may go under if the promised rain fails to materialise.
Government is elected to act in the best interest of the people. There is a certain cognitive dissonance here I think.



Climate : The ancient and not so ancient past

The mini-moocs continue and this week we looked at past climate change, ancient and not so ancient. Looking far back into the formation of the solar system 4.5 Billion years ago we learn that the sun was much cooler than it is today and yet the earth was much warmer. There is evidence that the atmosphere had a high CO2 content and that blanket effect was responsible for the warmer climate. The question then became how did it change because if the earth had the same atmosphere today then as the sun grew brighter the world would become much hotter but in fact it is cooler.
Feedback loops
The answer lies in the “feedback loops” and the carbon cycle. As the world warmed evaporation, cloud formation and then rain reacting with the atmospheric CO2 created a weak acid. This acid rain, in turn, reacted with the rocks changing silicates to carbonates, removing carbon from the air into the earth via the rainfall, cooling the planet somewhat and balancing the climate. The carbon cycle also has a neat little trick that allows us to gauge the state of the ancient climate. It works like this, the carbonate that formed as part of the carbon cycle is used, together with calcium, to make shells for tiny sea creatures. When they die the shells fall to the ocean floor and build up into a deep layer of sediment where they can be preserved for millions of years. Now comes the clever bit that belongs to science – the ratio of the oxygen isotopes can reveal the temperature of the ocean when the shell was formed. Its all on web of course and too complex for a blog.
The Pelican
But feedback loops can destabilise the climate as well as balancing it. In fact it is postulated that about 2.2billion years ago and again at 700mllion years ago the earth became covered in ice and snow creating “snowball earth”. This time the feedback loops, rather than balancing the system, created runaway cooling. The trigger that set off the extreme cooling may not be clear but once the cooling got underway the mechanism is easy to grasp. Quite simply dark surfaces absorb heat and white ones reflect it. As the snow and ice spread more of the suns heat was reflected so the earth was cooling and more snow and ice were formed so more heat was reflected so…..
So how did we escape from the freezer? It seems probable that although the earth was frozen volcanic action was still putting CO2 into the air. Without rainfall there could be no weathering of the rocks (which were deep under the ice anyway) so the CO2 built up to a point where it was warm enough to start the melt. Once started the exposure of the sea and land absorbed the heat and raised the temperature by the same mechanism that caused the freeze but put in reverse.

The not so ancient bit of the story looked at how climate records can be inferred from data like isotopes (, ice cores ( and tree rings (, how the current warming differs from ancient warming events (it is happening much much faster) the effects of volcanic activity and aerosols in the modern era and archeological evidence of climate change.
The impact of volcanic action is interesting because it involves aerosols which vary greatly in their effect. They can block sunlight and cause cooling and light coloured particles can reflect the heat but black carbon can increase warming as can increased CO2 that may be pumped into the atmosphere. All a bit of a lottery I think.

Week 2 of the mini MOOCs

So this week as well as the Sustainability MOOC (Nottingham Uni) the Climate Change MOOC (Exeter Uni) kicks in, I am wondering how I will keep the two streams separate although it probably wont matter as they seem to me to be inextricably linked anyway, and as this is just a general interest exercise who cares if they get mixed? In some ways the Climate Change course looks a bit more challenging, it started out with a simple presentation that demonstrated how the earth warms using simple analogies. No problem there, shortly after that it gave us some links to IPCC (historical overview) and NASA (causes) then there was a piece on the atmosphere and the way the earth maintains its climate. Wonderful stuff about evaporation and rainfall has left me with an image of water molecules shimmying in space as they shake off the heat and condense into water droplets that form clouds and rainfall. I remember (from another source) a report describing how water is recycled multiple times through the Amazon rainforest as the winds carry it across the landscape, and a suggestion that something (I forget what and don’t still have the reference to check it out) something that is part of the forest transpiration enhances the ability of the clouds to form and produce rain.
At this point I took a break ad headed to the ocean to enjoy a little of the rather warm weather and maybe have a swim.
The Sustainability MOOC also progressed, asking a little more from us this week looking at landscape and heritage. We were asked to offer comments on legislation covering these, there was no requirement that it apply to the UK. I focused on items like Abbott Point and expansion of the coal ports in Queensland, the necessary dredging and proposals to dump the spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. These have been approved by the Queensland State Government and have a tacit approval of the Feral (sorry that should read Federal) Government. The Marine Park Authority has yet to approve them but it will be under intense pressure to do so. Another similar failure that comes to mind is the NSW government’s failure to protect prime agricultural land from Coal Seam Gas exploitation and the damage that it may well cause to the underlying aquifers including the Great Artesian Basin. I could have talked about the way the Unions turned the tide and changed the face of Sydney with black-bans on the destruction of certain buildings but the research was not at my fingertips so I stuck with the stuff I knew.
On the question of heritage I became very aware of how little I know about the local Yuin people even though I attended the Yuin Back to Country event recently. I know a little more about the history of the forests here having seen photos of the massive trees logged in the early days and a bit more still about Bermagui and its transformation from a fishing village to a tourist destination. The photo that follows was taken at the Yuin Back to Country Celebration held at the Tilba showground in the shadow of Gulaga, the mother mountain.
The final thing I want to cover in this post is the description of a place that is special for me and what makes it special. That place is a small patch of remnant littoral rainforest on the edge of a lake close to my home. I have no claim on it, I was born half a world away but it speaks to me as no other place does. When you venture into it somehow it seem to wrap around you, the quality of sound changes and it is in some way timeless. I don’t have a photo of that place but here is one of the lake.
Bridge and Ducks

Climate change report

There are no photos for this item, just a sad realisation that there is so much more we – the concerned public – must do to make sure that the worst predictions outlined in the current IPCC report are not realised. Corporations, politicians and news media are not acting in our best interests by failing to accept the facts and predictions presented in the IPCC report. So here, in part of the summary for policy makers, are some of the things we need to know.

Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report

Future Global and Regional Climate Change

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.

It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.

Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.

Sea level rise will not be uniform. By the end of the 21st century, it is very likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of the ocean area. About 70% of the coastlines worldwide are projected to experience sea level change within 20% of the global mean sea level change.

Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.

Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.

A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.

Surface temperatures will remain approximately constant at elevated levels for many centuries after a complete cessation of net anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Due to the long time scales of heat transfer from the ocean surface to depth, ocean warming will continue for centuries. Depending on the scenario, about 15 to 40% of emitted CO2 will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1,000 years.

Sustained mass loss by ice sheets would cause larger sea level rise, and some part of the mass loss might be irreversible. There is high confidence that sustained warming greater than some threshold would lead to the near-complete loss of the Greenland ice sheet over a millennium or more, causing a global mean sea level rise of up to 7 m.

Current estimates indicate that the threshold is greater than about 1°C (low confidence) but less than about 4°C (medium confidence) global mean warming with respect to pre-industrial. Abrupt and irreversible ice loss from a potential instability of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in response to climate forcing is possible, but current evidence and understanding is insufficient to make a quantitative assessment.

Methods that aim to deliberately alter the climate system to counter climate change, termed geoengineering, have been proposed. Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system.

CDR methods have biogeochemical and technological limitations to their potential on a global scale. There is insufficient knowledge to quantify how much CO2 emissions could be partially offset by CDR on a century timescale.

Modelling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification.

If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing. CDR and SRM methods carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.

Canberra – a well kept secret?

GEI am sure that Canberra must be Australia’s best kept secret, there are often groaning sounds of boredom when the name is mentioned but I really enjoy it and always find interesting things to do and places to visit.
My most recent visit was a weekend in August, I had arranged it with family members and travelled up the Clyde Mountain road on a Friday afternoon, we met for drinks and dinner that night at The Pot Belly in Belconnen. The Pot Belly is something like a local pub with overtones of an old fashioned jazz cellar and a bistro with live music. It has good food and a great atmosphere, I had fried peppers stuffed with feta cheese coated in a tempura type batter. Really good, mild at first and then a warm chilli taste as you reach the last bite, No photos of this dish (which is a shame because it was served on a bread board) nor of the venue I’m afraid but they do have a Facebook page you can check out.
The next notable event was a visit to Geoscience Australia, the national agency for geoscience and geospatial information. Does this sound boring? Well it isn’t. This establishment opens its doors to the public for one day each year and offers an insight into their work.

Geoscience Australia opened its doors to the public and it was a great success

Geoscience Australia opened its doors to the public and it was a great success

The open day is really successful, engaging children and awakening their curiosity and their interest in science. However there is also plenty of information and activity interesting and complex enough to engage the enquiring adult as well and the day included several 30 minute talks on diverse subjects covering some of the ways that geoscience is being applied to important challenges such as managing ground water and refining GPS to centimeter accurate positioning. There was a tour of the Tsunami Warning Centre, a tour of the laboratory and something called “Fossil Fun” (bookings essential for this one) and around 35 or 40 displays.
This was a demonstrate of how a volcano erupts, it was very popular but the timing was a bit unpredictable

This was a demonstration of how a volcano erupts, it was very popular but the timing was a bit unpredictable

One of the displays included seismic surveys – it had sensors set up outside along the fence line and a pad near an instrument centre housed in a tented enclosure. Children were invited to hit the pad with a mallet and look at the effects on the instruments. I didn’t get to see the instruments or hear exactly what was being revealed below the ground because the display was popular, the queue was long and there were so many other things to see.
The activities aimed at children and families were just brilliant, everything from a “GPS geocache adventure” to an appearance by a TRex dinosaur on the balcony.
T Rex appeared on the balcony with great snapping teeth and a loud roar.

T Rex appeared on the balcony with great snapping teeth and a loud roar.

And then it got out
T Rex escaped into the grounds.....

T Rex escaped into the grounds…..

And attacked a visitor. Who said science was boring?
After all this excitement my next Canberra experience was a complete contrast, I went to the Art Gallery with a pre-booked ticket to the Turner From the Tate exhibition, peaceful, calm and colourful this magnificent exhibition was a wonderful counterbalance to the immediacy of the Geoscience experience. I wandered through gallery complete with the hired audio tour which I felt was of limited use although it did draw my attention to one or two things I might otherwise have missed. I have long admired and enjoyed Turner’s work and this exhibition was a joy. Amazingly we were allowed to take photos as long as a flash was not used. Never the less I somehow felt constrained not to photograph the works until I saw the very last watercolour at which point I overcame my reticence and photographed just this one.
An exquisite Turner watercolour.

An exquisite Turner watercolour.

But my wonderful weekend had not yet ended. Without my being aware of it high tea at the Wedgewood tearoom had been booked so the afternoon ended with Champagne, Earl Grey tea and a selection of delicate sandwiches, savories and sweets served on fine china.
I love Canberra.

South East Harvest Regional Food Festival

South East Harvest Festival in Moruya 2013

South East Harvest Festival in Moruya 2013

I spent the last Saturday in July at the South East Harvest Regional Food Festival in Moruya, it was a great day which concentrated on gathering local producers and creating a family friendly event. As usual I managed to leave the camera at home and had to rely on the mobile phone for photos which made life a bit difficult as it was a really bright sunny day and as a result I was shooting blind. It was a perfect day for the solar panels that grace so many of Moruya’s rooftops, the winter sun was warm but not hot and there was no wind, a great day for pumpkin rolling and sack races, for drummers drumming, choirs singing and dancers dancing all of which happened through the day.
Pumpkin rolling competition at the SE Harvest Festival

Pumpkin rolling competition at the SE Harvest Festival

ABC TV Gardening Austraia host, Costa interviewed stallholders, directed the childrens’ games and put in a word on behalf of small producers, many of whom are struggling with regulation changes that seem almost designed to put them out of business.

I was there to help with the SCPA South East Producers stall which showcased information about Bega Seed Savers, sold seedlings from NoDig Gardens and bushfood flavours and preserves from Karibara Bushfoods. The day was an interesting mixture, on one hand the rediscovery of the value of food grown locally for local consumption, a sense that maybe producers need to stand together, to use cooperatives or maybe community owned formats to claw back the autonomy that has been ceded to multinationals. A desire to end the “get big or get out” mindset which has turned food into a commodity, flooded the world with chemicals and given us an obesity epidemic that is undermining our health. On the other hand there was also a gentle nostalgia with seating near the food stalls and randomly located straw bales that made for a very relaxed atmosphere. The requirement for the bulk of the food sold at the event to be locally sourced helped this because suddenly everyone was eating real food well cooked and well flavoured.
A week later the election was called and now there is frenetic action by politicians with the two major parties trying to persuade us all that the other side are dangerous lunatics. Tony Abbott about to destroy renewable energy and Kevin Rudd trying to win the gold medal for being horrid to refugees and asylum seekers. Oh the joys of democracy. I just hope the Greens manage to keep the balance of power and bring some honour back into politics.

Our World under threat

There are so many places now being raped by the short sighted greed of various fossil fuel industries and every project that is approved will contribute to the collapse of the world’s ecosystems. The International Energy Agency, an advisor to these very same industries, has said that if we are to keep the rising global temperature below a 2 deg celsius increase then between 60% and 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, highlighting risks of stranded assets and falling values.
It is likely that we have already exceeded our carbon budget and all the credible science tells us that we are on the road to collapse. What form this collapse will take is not yet clear but what is clear is that if we burn the existing reserves of oil gas and coal global warming will spiral out of control. Meanwhile we have engineering idiots who think they can control everything fighting about how to further pollute and damage our life support system in a bid to make money from geoengineering the atmosphere.
Enough is enough already.
Lets stop oil, coal and gas exploration and development.

Now we are hearing that the sea ice in the arctic is so reduced that the methane held captive in the permafrost is in danger of release into the atmosphere and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas although it does not persist in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide. The melting of the arctic sea ice is undoubtedly due to carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels.
At least here in Australia our emissions are no longer growing, thanks perhaps to the falling consumption of electricity which is causing considerable angst among power generators who blame roof top solar and talk about increasing the service delivery charges to offset consumer savings on power use. Now we are hearing that Queensland is preparing to open some of the most fragile country to open cut mining, oil and shale gas exploration. Farmers have no say in what will happen on their land. The rest of us have no say either as these vandals claw the oil and gas from the earth damaging ground water and destroying the atmosphere as the fuels are burned.