All Things Sustainable

ecology, economy, community

Four Winds at Easter

Four Winds is a biennial Festival held at Easter on alternate years in the little town Bermagui and at an amazing outdoor location in Barragga Bay. It is a festival of music and artistic endeavour and it takes place over four days.
There is always a free concert held in Bermagui and this year it was held at the Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf. The proceedings opened with a Welcome to Country, a sandy space had been created for the Djaadjawan indigenous female dancers who were part of the welcome.
The Pelican, an ocean going research catamaran formed the stage and performers were ferried to their destination on a punt.

Taking a punt, a great way to travel to the gig.

Taking a punt, a great way to travel to the gig.

As the evening progressed the Pelican revealed she was really well dressed for the occasion, the sun went down and the lights came on..The Pelican at 4 Winds
It was great evening although some of us on the balcony found that from time to time the chatter drowned out the music. But this was Friday and just the start of a weekend full of magical music in a location widely referred to as Nature’s Concert Hall. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful or more appropriate setting for such musical talent. The Sound Shell that provides brilliant acoustics, the natural amphitheater, the lake and the water lilies that could have been taken from a Monet painting…GE
And of course the music. Whether it was the string quintet performing against a backdrop of waterlilies, music so beautiful it catches at your throat and almost brings tears to your eyes..4 Winds string quintet or Dejan Lazic demonstrating the depth of his talents on the new Overs piano took us on trip through time with the work of three composers that stretched across three centuries. Domenico Scarlatti who was writing in the early1700s, Franz Liszt from the nineteenth century and finishing with twentieth century composer Bela Bartok… or Giovanni Sollima who can do such wonderful things with a cello that you think he must have somebody else with another instrument hidden somewhere close by…GE
Four Winds was all this and so much more.

Things that go bump in the night

Living so close to the natural Australian bush means that I have visitors in my garden at night. Sometimes the possums seem to be having a dance party on the roof, they jump onto the deck and sample almost anything that is growing in containers. Then there are bandicoots that explore the vegetable garden, digging up who knows what, but certainly including seedlings. There have also been some diggings that look as if they may have been the work of the locally endangered potoroo so with help from the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) I tried to explore the creatures that come out at night.
First cab off the rank was the little antechinus, a carnivorous marsupial that looks a bit like a mouse. These little creatures live fast, die young and mate once only. They sometimes move inside where they have been known to build their spherical nest inside old handbags or rarely used drawers but in the wild they apparently use tree hollows. They mostly live on things like spiders and insects and they should not be regarded as vermin.

Antechinus exploring the peanut butter lure

Antechinus exploring the peanut butter lure

Then the possum arrived, and spent some time discovering and then destroying the lure to get to the peanut butter.
A possum discovering the peanut butter lure

A possum discovering the peanut butter lure

Showing curiosity
Curious possum examining the peanut butter lure

Curious possum examining the peanut butter lure

and agility
Agile and smart, the possum attacks the lure

Agile and smart, the possum attacks the lure

and determination
Dexterity is a  possum seeking a feed

Dexterity is a possum seeking a feed

and then success…
OMG I've done it!

OMG I’ve done it!

The lure vanished that night and I hope the possum enjoyed its picnic as much as I enjoyed looking at the photos.
I didn’t manage to get a photo of a potoroo but the bandicoot put in an appearance one night, not nearly as entertaining as the possum but interesting just the same.
A bandicoot in the garden

A bandicoot in the garden

He thought the lure was a bit boring, but then this one didn’t have any peanut butter in it…
but there may something over here….

but there may something over here….

I placed the camera in my newly fenced vegetable garden just to see what was eating my tomatoes and low and behold it was a bower bird, later in the week the sweet potato, which was just recovering from a wallaby attack, was again half stripped of its foliage this time I think it was bored juvenile king parrots. It now has a net as well as a fence and I am waiting for the next development.


The last week of the Climate Change MOOC

The eighth week of the “Climate Change, Challenges and Solutions” MOOC has come to a close and for me it has been a really worthwhile experience. In the final week we approached the question “Is the future of the climate still in our hands?” Very clearly it is within our reach to either maintain the current path of high, and growing, CO2 emissions or to change our direction.
If we choose not to change the way that we create power by burning fossil fuels, if we persist with a culture based on a dig it up, use it and throw it out philosophy then our outlook is very poor indeed. Travelling that path, by the year 2100, atmospheric CO2 will have reached levels that exceed 1000ppm and will possibly be as high as 1500ppm. This will mean that the average world temperatures will perhaps be 6degC warmer than today. It would take one million years for the earth’s natural weathering systems to remove this amount of CO2 from the atmosphere.

CO2 reached 400ppm late last year. It hasn't been that high for 650,000 years

CO2 reached 400ppm late last year. It hasn’t been that high for 650,000 years

Travelling this path will mean more violent weather events, more floods, heat waves, wildfires and droughts. I doubt that our current flawed economic and social system will survive these shocks but if it did survive we would then be facing a slow but inevitable rise in sea level as the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets melt, an unstoppable increase that will raise sea levels by up to 70 meters. CO2 persists in the atmosphere for a long long time and this is one reason why we know that the timelines for reducing our emissions are critical.
An info graphic put out by the Climate Council

An info graphic put out by the Climate Council

There is an alternative.
The current trajectory will see us locked into rising emissions, higher temperatures and long term devastation but we can change this outcome and still make a measured transition to a new way of living. If we base our future on fairness, sustainability and equity we could actually use this crisis to embrace change. Science has given us the tools and the all the information that we need to move to a sustainable and resilient world, only vested interests and politicians stand in the way. We can change the politicians and now even some of the vested interests are beginning to recognise that they too need a sustainable world order.
Clearly we must price pollution at a rate that is proportional to the damage caused to the ecosystem, the economy, the society and the individual. We probably need to support sunrise industries that will help to cut pollution, industries like wind and solar power and of course we must stop burning fossil fuels. These critical first steps need to be taken in the near future so that we can start to reduce our emissions during this decade, meet or preferably exceed the undertaking we made to reduce our emissions.
Once we have started along this path we can turn our minds to finding effective ways to draw down atmospheric CO2. Maybe carbon capture and storage will finally become a viable option, although I doubt if it will ever be a cheap one. Leaving forests standing is a very good way of locking up carbon for hundreds of years and the amount of carbon stored continues to increase throughout the life of the trees. Tackling our throw away society and demanding that industries find a use for all their waste products so that instead of a linear system of constant through-put we have a circular system that minimises new resource input and virtually eliminates waste.
Bearing in mind that true sustainability also requires equity to be successful, wealthy nations like ours should be prepared to help disadvantaged nations to move directly to a clean renewable energy supply skipping the dirty coal fired power that destroys the climate. They may be more successful than we are, because the large vested interests that are keeping fossil fuels alive and preventing the development of distributed power are not in such a powerful position as they are here.

Climate change, mitigation and adaptation

We are now into week seven of “Climate Change – Challenges and Solutions” and this week we examined the possibilities and options for mitigation and adaptation. On the mitigation front, having seen the pitfalls of geoengineering solutions looming large on the horizon we turned our attention to the built environment, which is responsible for a high percentage of our emissions and also to renewable energy which can give us a good start in reducing them.
I have some background in this area so I was aware of the huge strides that have been made in the design of energy efficient buildings, but of course most of the housing stock and many commercial buildings pre-date sustainable design. Much of our housing is built close to the ocean and only a few metres above sea level, will it survive repeated major flooding as sea level rise and storm surges impact on the coast? Will it be able to deal with the rising temperatures that are anticipated?
We looked at the impact of heat islands in built up environments and the increased number of deaths that are related to heat waves. This course is being run out of the UK so the question of wild fire was not even considered but flooding was certainly discussed.
We were asked to review the built environment in our own locality. This small house, still under construction, will be adequately insulated, it faces due North (correct orientation for the southern hemisphere) and has deep eaves. This will allow winter sunlight into the house and being small in size it will be easy to heat in winter. It has one large west facing window which could be a problem in summer but an external blind will take care of that. The eaves will shade the glass in summer and there is cross ventilation to assist in cooling. I think there will be a degree of climate resilience built into the house.

A 1980s house

A 1980s house

This architect designed house is an example of a house built before climate change became an issue. It faces almost due west to take advantage of the views over the lake but because it has a very wide covered deck it wouldn’t have too much of a problem until fairly late in the day and it would be easy to drop canvas blinds along the deck. Being built on a slope it has some rooms under the living area which will remain cooler and give some resilience as the climate warms.
I think that where site conditions have been properly considered during the design stage the old housing stock will have a level of resilience but probably much of the developer led housing that has been built in the last twenty or so years will be pretty much a write off eventually.
And to give an idea of the location a map because I simply couldn’t cope with the suggested geo tags. The star is the existing house and the teardrop is the site of the new build that is underway.
House location
The second half of the week was devoted to renewable energy. It is clear that this is the “get out of gaol (almost) free” card. The UK has about 11% renewable energy at the moment and are looking to reach 30% by 2020. There are some active anti wind organisations and they are also going to build a new nuclear power station. They seem to think that nuclear is cheap (ha ha!) and renewables are expensive which is crazy.
Denmark on the other hand has 30% renewable energy now and is expecting to have 50% by 2020 and 100% renewables by 2035. Go Denmark! I think it has been made quite clear that one of the biggest obstacles to dealing with climate change is the entrenched opposition from fossil fuel protagonists. We can’t afford to let them win. It is also interesting to note that the gulf states are putting in solar power in order that they can get the most out of the last of their oil reserves by selling them to people like us who refuse to recognise the reality we are facing.
Next week we are looking ahead to the medium and longer term effects of climate change. I approach it with some trepidation.

Of Ice and Oceans (climate again!)

This week at the Exeter MOOC that looks at ‘Climate Change’ and its complexity we first looked at the impact of global warming on ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice. Understanding how the warming earth disturbs, amplifies or changes the natural processes of glacier calving and ice sheet melting is really critical. We are depending on this when we estimate how fast and how high sea levels will rise in the coming years. If all the ice sheets melt the sea rise would be 65m but of course that will take quite a long time. Even so with many people living at elevations little more the a meter or two above sea level things will get a bit uncomfortable. Understanding how the glaciers behave will also be critical for understanding the fresh water cycles I think, countries in Asia with high populations and huge rivers may well be put under threat because many of the Asian rivers are fed by Himalayan glacial meltwater. We were given web addresses that showed photographic evidence of a massive decrease in the size of the Himalayan glaciers. There were panoramic photographs taken by the British in the 1920s and again in recent years the glaciers have been photographed from the same positions. Side by side (or actually one above the other) they make a sobering comment on the future.
Glacierworks:Everest is definitely worth exploring.

Well that was the first half of the week and the second half was just as challenging because we now started to look at the effects of CO2 being absorbed into the ocean. This is quite a complex thing to get your head around as well.
It involves a bit of chemistry but not too much because I could follow most of it (I think) and chemistry was never my strong point. It works like this … the CO2 dissolves in the sea water and forms a weak acid which then dissociates into free H (hydrogen) ions and carbonates. The carbonates would normally be available to be combined with calcium and used to form the shells of the tiny sea creatures at the bottom of the food chain, but if the environment is made more acidic by an excessive amount of free hydrogen ions the process starts to fail. The acidity in the ocean starts to damage the shells of the tiny phytoplankton and pteropods that form the basis of the ocean food chain and it also makes it much harder for their shells to form. I think of this as being similar to plant sensitivity to soil ph, for example many vegetables can only access nutrients within a certain ph range and we can test our soils and adjust them if necessary. Pity we can’t do that with the ocean.
This ocean acidification is one big long term threat to the ocean food chain and all the people that depend on reefs, estuaries, lakes and inlets, fishing and aquaculture for much of their protein, sport and relaxation. We all need to worry.

Fishing in a lake near Bermagui

Fishing in a lake near Bermagui

I also followed up on some work I had come across by a paleo-climate scientist Andrew Glikson, Visiting Fellow at ANU School of Archeology and Anthropology. One thing I found was information on the relationship between the high levels of CO2, increased sea levels and the four large mass extinction events that have occurred in the history of the earth. It seems to me if rising CO2 on a geological timescale (taking aeons to build up) can cause mass extinctions then there is very little hope that the same will not happen with the current rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere. We urgently need to stop producing the stuff as we power our homes. Old King Coal has got to go.
Andrew Glikson mentions something called “serpentine sequestration” but all I could find on that was a rather heavy paper from Bath Uni which talks of capturing CO2 and reusing some of it in high tech manufacturing of polymers etc. but the paper recognises that the big problems are cost and finding enough space to sequester the CO2 once it has been captured. It seems to be another attempt at using the mind set that created the problem to attempt to solve it.
On the other hand he also speaks of using soil carbon and a world wide effort to sequester carbon in forests and agricultural projects. And of course we must cut our emissions to Zero ASAP.

Climate change: models and fingerprints

This week the University of Exeter Future-Learn getting-bigger-all-the-time MOOC took a long hard look at models (no NOT Naomi Campbell) I am talking about massive super computer analysis of weather and climate and all that stuff. When the models are first constructed they are run using known historical data going back about 150 years and the climate outcomes they produce can then be verified against the historical records. This gives a level of confidence in projections plotted for future outcomes. This is also how the fingerprint of anthropogenic warming was identified because the models run from 1970 onwards will not match the climate records for that period if the CO2 that results from burning fossil fuels is excluded from the data set.

Modelling a future outcome
Of course we don’t know the future levels of CO2 or population or uptake of renewable energy so things like this become the variables and the model then indicates the likely result for any one particular set of circumstances. What can (or should) be articulated clearly is that the outcome for the future is firmly our hands and that increasing CO2 emissions must be curbed. It seems that we have already pumped enough CO2 into the atmosphere to make sure that sooner or later the temperature rise will equal or exceed 2degC and dangerous climate change will catch up with us.

The next thing under discussion was the vexed subject of geoengineering and rather than try to précis such a complex issue I am including a youtube link – it lasts about 25mins and does cover a few other things as well. Things like clouds, did you know that those light whispy cirrus clouds that once were seen as heralding a fine day are villains in the climate scenario and likely to increase warming while threatening low clouds have a cooling influence? In someways it seems a bit back to front.
Carbon Capture and Storage, that old furphy is still being rolled out but high cost and the doubtful prospect of finding enough suitable storage seems likely to keep it as a pipe dream. Most of the “reflect the sunlight” schemes proposed would seem to have serious problems and while vegetation and trees are briefly mentioned there was no discussion about the storage potential of forests in general or old growth forests in particular. There was mention of increasing ocean storage potential but there are difficulties in making it effective. Check out the video below for more details.

Next week we will be looking at climate change impacts on the ice and the oceans. As previously there will be visiting specialists on hand to make everything clear. We certainly are getting the info straight from the horses mouth (for want of a better analogy)

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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.