Category Archives: Climate Change & Sustainability

Posts on aspects of climate science, climate action and climate policy & planning.

Weekly salon 20/1

1. Trump’s trade deal will make us collateral damage

Kevin Rudd’s AFR article Trade deal will not stop US and China drifting apart gives us the lowdown. From the URL his heading was probably Trade war truce a symbol of the US unhinged. Seems Trump banged on for an hour about incoherent nonsense at the announcement while the head Chinese trade negotiator stood patiently by.

Rudd says intellectual property theft will be criminalised in China for the first time. Good in principle, but you will need to make your case in Chinese courts. Continue reading Weekly salon 20/1

Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow

The 25th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December last year in Madrid was generally judged a failure. After fractious negotiations exctended through two nights after the conference was due to end, delegates decided to defer some of the thorniest issues to the next UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2020. The situation is serious:

    “The global emissions’ curve needs to bend in 2020, emissions need to be cut in half by 2030, and net zero emissions need to be a reality by 2050,” said Johan Rockstrom, head of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

    “Achieving this is possible – with existing technologies and within our current economy,” said the revered climate scientist. “The window of opportunity is open, but barely.”

Continue reading Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow

Weekly salon 12/1

1. Tingle drops the ‘f’ bomb

Yes she did. She commented on Twitter that ABC journo’s had been doing a good job in their coverage of the fires. Someone called YeaNah @YeaNah10 suggested that such a comment lacked balance.

Laura Tingle responded by telling the commenter to “go f**k yourself”, except she spelt it out.

Corrine Barraclough in Luvvie Laura and the(ir) ABC’s problem with abusive behaviour says you can’t do that. Abuse is abuse.

However, swearing is also shorthand way of expressing disgust and disapproval. Moreover, YeaNah is suggesting that ‘balance’ be privileged over the truth. Is Tingle unable to express the truth because she is working for the ABC, so she must demonstrate ‘balance’ at the expense of truth?

Continue reading Weekly salon 12/1

State of the climate 2019

Michael Mann, famous climate scientist, happens to have come to Sydney to study the links between extreme weather and climate change. He tells us Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now. He took his family to see the Great Barrier Reef while it is still there, and then up into the Blue Mountains, where all they could see was smoke.

He says:

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

2019 will always be known for the fires. So how different was the climate?

We now have BOM’s Annual climate statement 2019.

2019 was Australia’s driest year on record with nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm.

2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, well above the old record: +1.33 °C in 2013. Mean maximum temperatures were the warmest on record at 2.09 °C above average, also well above the previous record, which was +1.59 °C in 2013.

Please note the temperature is referenced against the 1960-1990 average, not pre-industrial.

At 277.6 mm, 2019 rainfall was well below the previous record from 1902 which was 314.5 mm.

The main influence was a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), one of the strongest on record. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation remained neutral throughout 2019, so I guess things could have been worse.

All this gave us severe fire weather throughout the year; the national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index was the highest since 1950, when national records began.

For images to illustrate, I’ll begin with a temperature trend for the summer months worked out by Tamino:

Looking at the graph, add about 0.5°C to get the anomaly to pre-industrial. This year looks so much an outlier that one would think it unlikely to be repeated for a few years. However, it has shown us what the future may hold.

Here are the maximum temperature deciles:

More than half the continent was the hottest on record, with average and below average bits hard to find.

Here are the rainfall deciles:

The map shows the imprint of the heavy tropical rain and flooding around Townsville, followed by Cyclone Trevor further inland. Nevertheless, every month was below the national average:

The annual bar chart going back to 1900 shows how exceptional 2019 was:

One would expect a better year for 2020, but who knows what the future pattern will be?

However, we have been warned. The BOM report gives the global temperatures for 2019 as the second highest ever:

We’ve had an El Niño contributing to warmth in four out of the last 10 years, including the record 2016. Ominously, El Niño was absent in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Climate scientist Frank Jotzo has suggested that the bushfire crisis has given the Government a political opportunity to change its policy ambition on climate:

Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent — along with the conditions for drought, flooding and storms.

So a nation-building effort to minimise risk would seem prudent.

Morrison is hiding behind the notion that solving climate change requires effort from all nations. His rhetoric is that Labor’s policy would be “economy wrecking”. Yet leading climate scientists, such as Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute say:

“Earth observations show that big systems with known tipping points are already now, at 1°C warming, on the move toward potentially irreversible change, such as accelerated melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, drying of rainforests, and thawing of Arctic permafrost”

If we don’t act now, then when?

And in terms of the economy John Quiggin estimates the cost of the fires to be north of $100 billion.

Countries are being asked to come to the 2020 meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties with increased ambition. As preparation the Climate Change Authority published a consultation paper in July, and having heard what came out of the Madrid Conference in December will shortly finalise their advice.

PM Scott Morrison could take that opportunity to show some leadership. Also he has spoken of the possibility of a royal commission on the bushfires. That could be an opportunity to pivot. However, George Megalogenis in Morrison, the political animal who missed the political opportunity to lead thinks Morrison has fluffed it, and simply does not know how to behave faced with an international pile-on.

Ben Jenkins in The people in power will let your country burn says it’s about money, politics and ideology:

this isn’t about people, it’s about ideology, and to accept the unprecedented scale of the fires and act accordingly is to accept that the climate is changing and something needs to be done. That’s it. To me, this is the most striking aspect of the crisis — the debate about how best to douse a burning country has been seamlessly press-ganged into service in the ongoing culture war, all of which is amplified and buttressed by an increasingly demented right-wing media and an absurdly powerful fossil fuels lobby.

Finally:

No one is being told to calm down anymore. The smug reassurances have given way to blind panic as it comes apparent that not even the friendly media can shield the government from the rising ire of the public. But even as the army is called in to assist in the relief effort, even as Morrison agrees to pay volunteer firefighters, even as a two billion dollar recovery fund is pledged, the government refuses to alter its climate change policy.

Rivers in the sky

Transpiration is a process whereby trees take water from the soil and release it into the air. The effect is immense and under-appreciated according to an article in the New Scientist by Fred Pearce.

Transpiration is responsible for around half of all precipitation, up to 60,000 cubic kilometres of water per year, more water than all the world’s rivers combined.

In the Amazon, for example, 400 billion trees or so circulate water into the air five or six times. Isotopic analysis has revealed that the water supply for Sao Paulo’s 20 million people mostly comes from rainforest.

If the Amazon turned into desert the effects would be felt as far away as Argentina and right up into central USA.

A recent study has found that deforestation has reduced regional rainfall by as much as 40% per annum.

Key source regions include western North America, eastern Africa, Europe, western Asia, India and, above all, the Brazilian Amazon. Flying rivers often take this water long distances. Around 70 per cent of the water in the River Plate basin, which stretches from southern Brazil through Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay to Buenos Aires in Argentina, comes from transpiration in the Amazon. China gets the moisture for over 80 per cent of its rain from far to the west in the forests of Siberia and Scandinavia, a journey involving several stages of water recycling by trees and taking six months or more.

“The China finding was among my first, and it was a real eye-opener,” says van der Ent. “We learn in high school that rainfall comes from the oceans. China is next to an ocean, yet most of its rainfall is moisture recycled from the land far to the west.”

This map shows some of the main rivers in the sky.

Australia does not show up there, perhaps because the river has run dry. The text actually targets the impact of early human intervention:

It was much wetter until around 45,000 years ago. Today’s desert depressions were huge permanent lakes, kept full by strong and wet monsoon winds. Lake Eyre, also known as Kati Thanda, back then extended to around 10,000 square kilometres, but is now usually a dry salt-encrusted plain.

Also it says:

In the past half century, some 130,000 square kilometres of forest along the western coast south of Perth has been replaced by wheat fields. While rainfall along the coast has remained stable, there has been a 20 per cent decline inland, leaving reservoirs that supply Perth parched, says Jorg Imberger, former director of the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia.

Water management needs to take a broader view. One study looked at planting 70,000 square kilometres of extra forest in the Bolivian Amazon to deliver 600 million cubic metres of extra rain annually to a river supplying the country’s largest city, Santa Cruz.

Some species transpire more than others. An inconvenient finding is that palm oil and rubber trees can transpire more than the trees they replace.

For the Amazon a reduction of 20 to 25 per cent forest cover may be the tipping point which converts the region into open savannah. Africa may be in even more peril with the source of the Nile and jungles of Central Africa.







Political panic or dynamic leadership? Morrison’s bushfire response

That’s a screenshot of an advertisement put out on Twitter, which you can see here authorised by S. Morrison for the Liberal Party to spruik what the Australian Government is doing to in ” response to these terrible #bushfires“.

If you scroll down a bit you will see this:

Katherine Murphy lets fly in Scott Morrison’s political ad is a bizarre act of self-love as firefighters battle to save Australia:

The prime minister’s promotional video was staggeringly objectionable and highlights his failure to lead

It really is hard to keep up with a prime minister who declares one minute disaster management is predominantly a state responsibility, and he won’t be running over the top of state premiers, and then, seemingly, five minutes later, calls out the ADF reserve, deploys military assets and procures more water bombers than anyone asked for.

This kind of plot twist is dizzying stuff in normal conditions, let alone in the middle of a disaster, when the prime ministerial norm is generally one of steadiness and consistency.

Perhaps it was Scott Morrison’s own demonstrable lack of clarity about what his government was, or was not, doing, in response to Australia’s catastrophic summer of bushfires that prompted his communications team to pump out a promotional video – on one of the most perilous days of the disaster – outlining today’s initiatives.”

That was Murphy just warming up.

Perhaps surprisingly news.com.au gives a quite dispassionate account in Scott Morrison slammed after tweeting 50-second ad spruiking new bushfire measures.

That piece ends with Morrison’s own account of the woman at Cobargo refusing to shake his hand and other people yelling at him. Essentially he says there is a lot of emotion around, and the fact that he was the ‘first senior leader’ to enter the town made him a target for people’s anger and fear.

The ABC’s account rounds up criticism from all directions, labelling the ad ‘absolutely obscene’ and ‘It’s like being ‘sold to’ at a funeral’.

More importantly:

‘The Australian Defence Association (ADA) — a public-interest watchdog of Australian defence matters — said on Twitter the video “milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires” was a “clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs”.

The ADA website notes that “politically expedient Government announcements” featuring the ADF “is always wrong”.

On the radio Morrison is arguing that earlier he took the position that fire-fighting was a state matter, and that he had been responding to their requests. Now, he says, they were not asking enough and the situation demands actrion, so he is acting.

However, his style appears to be totally non-consultative, ignoring the appropriate protocols. As John Davidson said on another thread:

” He also said somewhere that he was doing what he was doing without listening to the premiers. The big man has taken over AND IT WILL BE DONE HIS WAY!!!

Sounds like out of control political panicking from someone who doesn’t know how to lead. “

This David Rowe cartoon from mid-November seems apposite:

When people with expertise wanted to meet with him he refused. Now he just goes ahead regardless, although on radio he said that calling in the reserves was planned in November. The Guardian has a useful chronology from May 2018 of how the issue developed over time, although they could have started with scientists’ warnings which Penny Wong says she was given when in government prior to Abbott’s ascension to power in 2013.

Moreover, Australia is already majorly on the nose overseas on matters relating to climate change. An article in the New York Post written after the Cobargo incident – Australia fires: Scott Morrison chased out of scorched town by angry locals – is worth a read, with the PM being called a “scumbag” and told to “piss off”. It gives a full report of the video seen here that went viral.

Paul Bongiorno had already written Morrison’s leadership off in The summer Scott Morrison’s leadership broke. Bongiorno details how Morrison continually gets the decisions, the optics and the words wrong. Whatever political capital he had from the election has been squandered.

On New Year’s Eve we had the PM telling us what a great place Australia is to live when a debate raged as to whether the fireworks should be cancelled and the cricket authorities are spelling out the protocols about who decides whether the players can still see the ball for the smoke. Well before that time the PM had become a bit of a joke. The first comment on this Mumbrella piece says “Morrison is no leader, he couldn’t even lead a choko vine over a dunny wall.! “

Laura Tingle asks a reasonable question in Are the bushfires Scott Morrison’s Hurricane Katrina moment that he can’t live down?

Reflecting on a photo of himself surveying some of the damage from Air Force One, George W Bush said:

That photo of me hovering over the damage suggested I was detached from the suffering on the ground,” Bush wrote later in his book Decision Points.

“That was not how I felt. But once that impression was formed, I couldn’t change it.”

Tingle dismembers the Government’s shallow, perfidious and contradictory climate ‘policies’.

A price we have paid is a general lack of trust in politicians and the institutions of government, which the right side of politics have trashed in Australia over the last 10 years. Joe Hildebrandt comes up with an unusual analysis which nevertheless is built around the central point that we’ve had Liberal and Labor powerbrokers treating the office of the prime minister as a personal plaything and the electorate with contempt in the process. The notable exception, he says, has been Anthony Albanese, but than he says Albo has been attacked by the lunar left for not attacking Morrison.

Must say, I don’t know where or when that happened, or who the ‘lunar left’ are.

I was surprised at Tingle’s report on the scale of the fires:

“To give some scale to what has happened here so far, international media outlets have been reporting the 2018 California fires burnt 2 million acres; the 2019 Amazon fires 2.2 million; and the 2019 Siberian fires 6.7 million.

So far Australia’s 2019/20 fires have burnt 12 million acres.”

As commenter zoot pointed out the New York Times has an excellent piece Why the Fires in Australia Are So Bad. Just in is an excellent graphic explainer from the BBC.

Our problem is that at the UN climate talks in Madrid in December our stance not just a sad, irrelevant joke, we were actively obstructionist.

The world is watching. See also the BBC’s What is Australia doing to tackle climate change?

I think 2019 is the year climate change smacked us in the face. It’s time to act now, urgently and at scale, on immediate and longer term adaptation and mitigation.

On the latter, that should mean net zero CO2 by 2030 at latest, and 350 ppm ASAP thereafter.

SOME STATEMENTS ON 2019 AUSTRALIAN FIRES

Australia has had a history of bushfires stretching back long before the English invasion. There seems to be little doubt that the fire related activities of Aborigines have had a substantial effect on local ecologies and the species that have survived and gone extinct.

This post consists of a number of fire related statements written as a prod to discussion. Continue reading SOME STATEMENTS ON 2019 AUSTRALIAN FIRES

Australia succeeds in reaching a new low in climate action

Australia succeeded in coming bottom of the class of 57 countries on climate policy, achieving a score of 0.0, ahead of the USA on 2.8 and Turkey on 4.8 in a race to the bottom. That is out of 100, where Portugal got 98.7 and Finland 98.

Internationally we are seen as ‘an increasingly regressive force’, so a negative score would have been appropriate. Continue reading Australia succeeds in reaching a new low in climate action

Weekly salon 9/12

1. Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia ‘literally burns’

    Leading scientists have expressed concern about the lack of focus on the climate crisis as bushfires rage across New South Wales and Queensland, saying it should be a “wake-up call” for the government.

    Climate experts who spoke to Guardian Australia said they were “bewildered” the emergency had grabbed little attention during the final parliamentary sitting week for the year, which was instead taken up by the repeal of medevac laws, a restructure of the public service, and energy minister Angus Taylor’s run-in with the American author Naomi Wolf.

Continue reading Weekly salon 9/12

Has the climate tipped?

‘Tipping point’ is a metaphor, first used by science and the media about climate change from about 2005 as this article explains. The metaphor has become topical now because some of the most senior climate scientists on the planet have used it to warn everyone, just before the nations of the world meet in the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC meet in the first two weeks of December, as they do every year, this time in Madrid, to plan an international response to what was identified in the Rio Earth Summit as dangerous anthropogenic interference [DAI] with the climate system”.

The article, commentary rather than research – Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against – is freely available at Nature. The authors are Timothy M. Lenton, Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Stefan Rahmstorf, Katherine Richardson, Will Steffen and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber with the message;

    The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions.

Continue reading Has the climate tipped?

How do we prepare for the bushfires of the future?

Some are still suggesting that there is no direct link between climate change and Australia’s 2019 early bushfire season.

Adam Morton, Nick Evershed and Graham Readfearn did a factcheck at The Guardian. This graph shows that with summer about to begin 2019 was already streets ahead of anything we’ve seen in NSW since 1984:

Continue reading How do we prepare for the bushfires of the future?

Climate implications of the fire season

Anger has flared leading to has been more than a little trashy talk about bushfires and climate change. I would tend to agree with Phillip Coorey when he says (in the print edition) We can do without these dumb, nasty arguments.

    Apart from the United States, it is hard to think of any other educated country where this argument would be raging, let alone one as dumb and nasty as this one.

    The rest of the world long ago accepted climate change was a reality and grapples with how to combat it.

    Here, powerful people in media and politics with no qualifications or expertise whatsoever, continue to ridicule those women and men who have devoted their professional lives to science and fact with no ideological axe to grind.

David Rowe’s cartoon was priceless:

Continue reading Climate implications of the fire season