All posts by Brian

Brian Bahnisch, a survivor from Larvatus Prodeo, founded Climate Plus as a congenial space to continue coverage of climate change and sundry other topics. As a grandfather of more than three score years and ten, Brian is concerned about the future of the planet, and still looking for the meaning of everything.

NSW coal generation under pressure

Well it is if the country stays on its present policy trajectory.

Sophie Vorrath at RenewEconomy comments on the latest pitt&sherry electricity emissions update (April data). Back in 1998 coal used to supply 90% of NSW’s National Electricity Market (NEM) electricity. Now this has fallen to less than 75%. One factor is that demand is falling more in NSW than in other states, as shown in these graphs:

Figure 1: Channges in electricity demand by state
Changes_electricity by state_cropped_580 Continue reading NSW coal generation under pressure

Climate clippings 72

Climate clippings_275

The last Climate clippings was back in March 2012. I’ve decided to start it up again, so we’ll see how we go. What I try to do is to include up to eight entries with an average of no more than 125 words. Readers who want to keep up in a general way should be able to gain a basic understanding by reading the entries without following the links.

This time the entries blew out to an average of about 150 words.

Climate clippings also serves as an open thread to share interesting links.

1. Climate Consensus – the 97%

Announced at Skeptical Science as a new Guardian blog, John Abrahams and Dana Nuccitelli will be writing at Climate Consensus – the 97%. It does have comments, but to me is not formatted like a blog. Maybe a newspaper blog.

It really started on 24 April. So far it’s not high volume, but looks interesting. Nuccitelli blogs at Skeptical Science as dana1981. The new blog is targeted at a more general audience. It appears their output is going to include correcting the errors and myths of the climate change contrarians, which is welcome. Continue reading Climate clippings 72

Global heating update

Little ice age_130421152401-270

Last month we had a look at the Bigger, better, new hockey stick from a study by Marcott et al. Since then Skeptical Science has a post on the phoney skeptical/denialist critique of the study. We now have a new study, Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia, by 78 scientists from 24 nations analyzing climate data from tree rings, pollen, cave formations, ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, and historical records from around the world published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The study found:

There were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age, but all reconstructions show generally cold conditions between ad 1580 and 1880, punctuated in some regions by warm decades during the eighteenth century.

The real interest was in the regional variations on a continental scale. Temperatures were identified for the Arctic, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Antarctic. There was insufficient data for Africa. Continue reading Global heating update

European ETS


Last week when the European Parliament voted down a proposal to prop up the EU Emissions Trading System’s languishing carbon price by postponing the sale of 900 million emission allowances until the back-end of this decade the price fell to below AU$4. There are obvious concerns about the legislated linking of the Australian carbon price to the EU scheme in mid-2015. Treasury had forecast an EU price of at least $29 in 2015.

Radio National’s PM program had a roundup of political commentary. Julia Gillard on the 7.30 Report was very clear. The legislation was there, it was hard enough to get through the parliament in the first place and we’d have to work with it.

Big business, quick off the mark, was suggesting that link with the EU should occur earlier, so they could buy permits while they were cheap.

Ross Garnaut said, don’t panic, the ETS is only one measure and targets may tighten by impacting on the price: Continue reading European ETS

Tipping point for climate action?

Recently the Climate Commission issued a report in its The Critical Decade series on Extreme Weather looking at the issues of

  • Heat
  • Bushfires
  • Rainfall
  • Drought, and
  • Sea level rise.

At Radio National’s The World Today Professor Lesley Hughes, a Macquarie University ecologist, talked to Eleanor Hall.

The report looks at extreme weather experience in recent times, such as that documented in the Commission’s report The Angry Summer, puts it in a broader context using the latest science and then uses that as a window to project into the future. The message is plain. The climate has shifted, expect more and more extreme weather and we need to act now.

we really need to view all these events not in isolation but as part of a trend for the future. We need to prepare for them and we need to do our absolute best to cut greenhouse gases to stabilise the climate to prevent them getting to the point at which we cannot adapt.(Emphasis added)

Continue reading Tipping point for climate action?

Hansen retires to embrace activism


We are going to see more images like the one on the left, it seems. I picked up the news from a Google feed to this article at mother nature network. Climate scientist James Hansen has retired at the age of 72 from NASA GISS in order to concentrate on activism. The scoop was claimed by the New York Times. Climate Progress quickly picked up on the story.

Hansen first made a splash with an article with six other scientists in 1981. After his testimony to Congress in 1988 he retired from public advocacy and communication for about 15 years, concentrating on the science and his administrative role at NASA GISS, to become publicly active again from about 2003.

NASA’s press release on his retirement emphasises that his research was closely aligned with:

the development of increasingly sophisticated satellite platform measurements, such as the terrestrial radiation budget, ozone and weather-related data, and the need for increasingly sophisticated atmospheric models to assess and evaluate the information content and utility of these measurements.

Also the use of models to make climate change predictions for the future. Continue reading Hansen retires to embrace activism

New bigger, better hockey stick

Holocene_Temperature_Variations_Rev_300 One of the most contested graphs in climate science has been the hockey stick. Inconveniently for gain-sayers later science has confirmed the shape of the thing as sites such as Skeptical Science and New Scientist confirm.

The hockey stick was confined to temperatures for the last 1000 years. Graphs of the whole Holocene era were rare, although they did exist, as the featured image above. Now a study by Marcott et al has used 73 proxies to study average global temperature for the whole Holocene period of the last 11,300 years. You can read about it at New Scientist, Mother Jones, Climate Progress here and here. Continue reading New bigger, better hockey stick


Lists are difficult to format with the Word Press software. This post sets out some of the options available. Authors can click on “edit” to see how the HTML tags produce the examples below.

Here is an ordered list:

  1. News
  2. Entertainment
  3. Sports
  4. Music
  5. Graphic Design
  6. Comedy

Here’s an ordered list indented:

    1. News
    2. Entertainment
    3. Sports
    4. Music
    5. Graphic Design
    6. Comedy

Here is an unordered list:

  • News
  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Music
  • Graphic Design
  • Comedy

Again, double-spaced:

  • News
  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Music
  • Graphic Design
  • Comedy

Double-spaced, ordered, indented:

    1. News

    2. Entertainment

    3. Sports

    4. Music

    5. Graphic Design

    6. Comedy

Another variation:

    1. News

    • Television
    • Radio

    2. Entertainment

    • Movies
    • Games

    3. Sports

    4. Music

    5. Graphic Design

    6. Comedy

National greenhouse emissions accounts

Tristan Edis at Climate Spectator makes a valid point that insufficient attention has been given to the increase in mining emissions in our national inventory.

The two graphs displayed represent change in emissions. To provide context we really need to know the total quantum of emissions for each category. So I looked for the source of his graphs.

Turns out there is no one source. You have to go to this page. There is also a search facility here.

Edis has chosen his graphs well to make the points he makes, but some of the impressions may be misleading. Mining is the fastest growing sector but agriculture, residential and manufacturing are all still larger sectors. And residential in his graphs is only about half electricity consumption. The other half is mostly transport, but also includes emissions generated at residences, presumably mainly from gas. There are many messages you can dig out of the mine of information provided online. I’ll try to give a brief overview here.

This table, from the National Inventory by Economic Sector 2009/10 gives a snapshot of Australia’s direct emissions, that is from the point they are generated:

Direct emissions

Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities are included.

The figure for electricity needs to be largely distributed across the other sectors. For example, the residential figure cited here would comprise only transport plus other emissions generated at homes.

Edis’s first graph is Figure 6 in the Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: December 2011. I’ll skip it and go to his second graph, which is Figure 7 of National Inventory by Economic Sector 2009/10:

Percentage change in direct and indirect emissions

The MtCO2e on the y-axis should have been omitted. Use of grid electricity is included in each sector. Agriculture is left out. It really should have been accompanied by Figure 6:

The graph that best captures everything happening now (at least in 2002-2010) is Figure 8 from the same document (p20). The graph is too big to reproduce here, so I’ve made this table:

Some thoughts.

Given the size of the electricity sector as a source and its potential in reducing emissions in the transport sector, clearly decarbonising electricity generation would go almost half way towards achieving zero emissions. Tackling electricity generation and transport represent the low-hanging fruit.

We have to ask whether an emissions trading system (ETS) by itself will achieve this in a time frame compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. Recently I heard on Radio National that the fall in the demand for electricity is effectively locking in coal as a source of baseload power. If this article is correct we are spending $100 billion on a grid which will not be capable of handling diversified power generation.

This article is one of many detailing the falling electricity demand and some of the implications.

From the National Inventory by Economic Sector document, Figure 3 gives the direct emissions for each state:

Queensland would be the champion in per capita terms.

The Queensland LNP Government has decided to axe the policy and programs section of the Office of Climate Change. ‘Can-do’ can do whatever he wants!

Rio + 20

Civil society groups were scathing.

George Monbiot describes it as 283 paragraphs of fluff. The outcome document was given the title “The future we want”. You can read it in the first 59 pages of the official report. Go to the official site and look for a link in the top right hand corner or direct to the pdf document.

If you try reading the document you’ll soon get the idea. The verbs are affirm, recognise, acknowledge, stress, underscore, note, commit, strengthen etc, etc. They do this to everyone and everything, importantly the poor and the hungry, but also corporations large and small, small farmers, fisher folk, women, small island states, landlocked states, Africa, the oceans and seas and “Mother Earth”. In fact everything under the sun is included. You may think climate change is important. So it is, it gets three paragraphs (190-192), that’s one more than sustainable tourism (130-131) and mining (227-228). It looks as though every UN meeting, agreement and convention in the last 20 years gets a mention. For example we have the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions of the Strategic Approach to Intensive Chemical Management together with their regional and coordinating centres.

It’s a matter of ticking off and general urging, not actually doing anything. I tell a lie. The conference made three ‘decisions’. The third was to recommend that the UN Secretary General establish a registry of voluntary commitments (283) to record the financial contributions to doing everything mentioned but done by other parties. To explain the first two I’ll have to fill in some background.

Rio+20 got it’s head of power from a resolution of the UN General Assembly but it was an initiative of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) which is one of 10 functional commissions of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC is the UN interface point with 19 specialised agencies including the IMF, the World bank, the ILO the WMO and a number of UN agencies. The CSD was spawned by the UN general Assembly in 1992 to implement Agenda 21 arising out of the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit (more correctly, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) which also spawned the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which spawned the Kyoto Protocol and holds a Conference of Parties every year, memorably the Copenhagen conference of 2009 and the last in Durban.

For reasons not identified it does appear that the Commission on Sustainable Development has been considered insufficiently effective to the point where it needs to be replaced. So at paragraph 84 we have:

We decide to establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum, building on the strengths, experiences, resources and inclusive participation modalities of the Commission on Sustainable development, and subsequently replacing the Commission. The high-level political forum shall follow up on the implementation of sustainable development and should avoid overlap with existing structures, bodies and entities in a cost-effective manner.

But “we” being the official representatives at the conference don’t do anything,

we decide to launch an intergovernmental and open, transparent and inclusive negotiation process under the general Assembly to define the format and organisational aspects of the high-level forum.

The actual work, I gather, is done by the UN bureaucrats answering to the Secretary General, reporting to the General Assembly, with the aim of convening the first forum before the 68th meeting (September 2013).

That was the first decision taken. The second (245-251) was to establish a new set of sustainable development goals building on and carrying forward the Millenium Development Goals due to be achieved (if that’s the word) by 2015. A working group of 30 representatives of member states, drawn from the five UN regional groups will prepare a set of goals for the General Assembly meeting in September next year.

Stephen Lacey’s report at Climate Progress suggests that the high-level forum will also comprise 30 members. This may well be the the new formula to inject a bit of vigour into the process.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) who advise Chancellor Merkel directly issued an interesting press release after the conference, beginning:

The international community is currently incapable of promoting the urgently needed transformation towards a sustainable society with the requisite speed and commitment, says the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). „We might well be moving towards the end of such mammoth meetings as these. Although they make a lot of noise, the very fact that so many problems are covered means that no single problem is tackled resolutely,“ says WBGU chairman Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. „The future of humanity is too precious to be left to this ongoing game of nation-state Mikado. What we now need are pioneers from all spheres of the world community.“

It’s up to a myriad of actors within the global community. They said:

At the G8, the EU and the USA were negotiating in different directions, and the tensions between newly industrialising and developing countries led to further blockades. The result is an international crisis of leadership and confidence, a “G-Zero World” in which no leading power effectively is taking the initiative and no coalitions capable of taking action are emerging. The EU’s attempt to form a sustainability coalition for a more meaningful final statement also failed.


The global transformation towards a low-carbon, sustainable society is already taking place, yet international policy-makers are currently showing no visible will to participate. (Emphasis added)

(BTW WBGU stands for Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen. It was set up in 1992 to advise the German Government prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and remains the official advisory body on climate change.)

They said much the same in a policy paper after Copenhagen.

Closer to home at The Conversation Nick Rowley, having worked on the 2005 G8 and Copenhagen, says internationalism in this area is stuffed:

Our global response to climate change and sustainability must now be a process of progressive incrementalism through decisions made by national, state and local governments, investors, businesses and individuals.

In his second piece Rowley says pretty much the same again, pointing out that most of the heavy hitters amongst the PMs didn’t bother to stop off in Rio on their way home from the Mexico G20 meeting.

Ruben Zondervan and Steinar Andresen are more specific about what needs to be done other than peak talk-fests. Upgrading the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to a specialised UN agency like the FAO was actually proposed, and favoured also by WBGU, but it didn’t get up although the final document does call on the UN General Assembly to strengthen its membership, funding and role.

The WBGU press release commented favourably on the supporting program, which “showed that the transformation towards sustainability is already in full swing”. The conference site registered over 500 on-site side events over 10 days. In Rio+20 in numbers they suggest there were thousands if you count those off-site as well. In a sense the official summit was a side-show.

Problem is, in the official summit you can go backwards. In an earlier piece George Monbiot tells us what Barack Obama’s mob were up to:

The word “equitable”, the US insists, must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns”, and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.

Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that Earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities. This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.

I haven’t checked every one, but my impression is that most of those suggestions failed. Definitely “common but differentiated responsibilities” survived.

After the weekend Monbiot really ripped in calling the conference the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. Governments concentrate their efforts on defending the machine – consumer capitalism – that is destroying the living Earth.

Was it too much to have asked of the world’s governments, which performed such miracles in developing stealth bombers and drone warfare, global markets and trillion-dollar bailouts, that they might spend a tenth of the energy and resources they devoted to these projects on defending our living planet? It seems, sadly, that it was.

Our PM attended, but she can’t save the world on her own. Our Environment Minister stayed home. He wasn’t granted a pair by HM Opposition. Domestic political games trumps saving the planet every time!


Climate clippings 71b

This post was written in October 2012 trialling the site. I’ve decided to leave it in time sequence and fiddle the numbering.

1. Did climate change shape human evolution?

There’s no evidence yet that it did according to Richard Leakey.

I’m not sure about his four key questions, though. Yes, bipedalism seems to be important as does using tools to make tools. But I can’t see the importance of migration out of Africa as important to our evolution. Apart from picking up some Neanderthal genes presumably in a palm grove somewhere in the Middle East, which did boost our immune system, those of us who left Africa are much the same genetically as those who stayed behind.

I’d say the development of language was important. If you want a fourth I’d suggest our patterns of social organisation – how we interact and how we co-operate within groups. But I don’t know how much of that is in our genes.

2. Aid for climate refugees

Speaking of climate and migration, displacement by extreme weather events does not qualify you as a refugee under present UN arrangements. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) hopes this will change at the annual United Nations climate change summit to be held in Qatar later this year, gaining access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources. It seems that 42 million people were displaced by storms, floods and droughts in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011.

3. Ocean heat content update

Skeptical Science recently posted on an update by Levitus et al on ocean heat content, which increases apace. Around 93% of additional warming goes into the ocean which is truly vast with, for example, an average depth of around 3,790 metres. This graph indicates the changing heat content within bands of the upper 2000m:

4. Southern Ocean research shows decrease in dense Antarctic bottom water

Antarctic Bottom Water is a massive current of super dense salty water which used to be which used to occupy the bottom mile of the Great Southern Ocean. Used to. Researchers are now able to report that the current is diminished by 60% compared to what it was in 1970.

Antarctic Bottom Water is colder than the normal freezing point and is a vast store of CO2. Understanding changes in this deep ocean current are crucial to understanding the likely future of global climate patterns as the planet warms. The researchers have not only been able to make direct observations, they have distributed buoys which should be able to provide data at times of the year when field work is impossible.

5. Plants flower faster than climate change models predict

For years scientists have been doing experiments to find out how much earlier plants will flower and leaf with global warming. A new study using field observations has found that plants are responding much faster than they had thought. Their research suggests that that spring flowering and leafing will continue to advance at the rate of 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming.

What surprises me is that they thought they could model natural conditions in the lab.

It seems they will have to rethink the impacts of global warming on ecosystems and food production.

See also Science Daily.

6. Climate change experimentation goes bush

Another approach is to manipulate the environment on a large scale and monitor what happens. Researchers are using to control the amount of CO2 available to plants.

The idea is explore the role of “Australia’s large tracts of undeveloped land, known as bush” in storing carbon. They will be able to add carbon or take it away.

I’m not sure it doesn’t suffer from the same problems as experiments with plants, where only one variable was controlled, neglecting changes in precipitation patterns and cloudiness, for example.

7. Wind farms do not cause global warming

There has been a raft of articles in the MSM suggesting that wind farms cause global warming, mainly in the headlines, it seems.

In fact a study of some large wind farms in remote areas of Texas found local warming. The authors don’t know what’s going on but the suggestion is that thermal energy is being redistributed, perhaps by pulling down warmer air from higher altitudes during the nights.

For the spinning blades of wind turbines to increase the overall temperature of the planet some basic laws of physics would need to be rewritten.

Climate clippings 71

1. State of the climate 2012

BOM amd the CSIRO have produced the State of the Climate – 2012 report. BOM has a handy summary summary and link to the brochure. The CSIRO site has some added interviews. I’ve extracted two images. First is the relentless increase in ocean heat content:

Ocean heat content

Second is the rainfall pattern for April to September from 1997 to 2011:

Rainfall April to September, 1997-2011

According to the report we can expect the same only more so in the future.

See also The Conversation. Continue reading Climate clippings 71