Category Archives: Environment

Weekly salon 14/9

1. Barilaro blows himself up

That was the AFR’s irrepressible cartoonist David Rowe opposite Laura Tingle’s weekly column Crisis spins from COVID-19 to koalas in the premier state also published at ABC Online as The Nationals’ dummy spit over koalas is another sign of their ongoing struggle for relevance.

Continue reading Weekly salon 14/9

Weekly salon 28/1

1. Australia Day 2020

Australians seem to like doing crazy things on Australia Day, like pie-eating competitions and wrestling crocodiles. This time an innocent lamington-eating competition went horribly wrong when a Hervey Bay woman choked and died.

Laura Tingle asks seriously As we approach Australia Day, do we even know who we are as a nation? Continue reading Weekly salon 28/1

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

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.

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

Don Watson On Inspiring Support for Radical Change

 

Don Watson’s article in The Monthly poses a powerful message to all of us seeking the radical changes needed to give the world a future. The target was Labor supporters but the message is equally important to the Greens and other progressive parties.  In a sense the article supplements Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN with its memorable bottom line of: “We are in the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” (Given that the human plague has grown by over 22% (1.5 billion) since she was born and 3 times since 1950 perhaps she should have added eternal population growth to the fairy tales that require urgent action.)
The future desperately needs leadership that can inspire us to support the action required to minimize the damage being done by the human plague in a way that doesn’t make the people at the bottom of the pile even worse off than they are now.
Don Watson’s article was about the importance of speech writers like Labor’s Graham Freudenberg who have a clear vision on policy and ideas combined with the skills to turn these things into memorable, stirring speeches like Gough’s “It’s Time” speech.

Read and discuss.

Health warning on PFAS

Unless you were living under a rock you would know that Erin Brockovich was here in Oz earlier this week announcing a Landmark class action over PFAS contamination in Australia.

PFAS has notoriously been used by the defence institutions in firefighting foam across the country. The chemicals have leaked into the surrounding environment. Now Shine lawyers are about to file a class action on behalf of up to 40,000 people who live and work on land contaminated by PFAS, suing the Australian Government, arguing their property values have plummeted.

The focus is on eight defence bases in particular, but there are plenty of hotspots around, as this map shows:

As it happens, on the weekend I read an article in the New Scientist Takeaway food packaging may be source of synthetic chemicals in blood which in the dead tree version carried the more accurate title Eating out can bring a side serving of suspect chemicals, also fingering PFAS. Continue reading Health warning on PFAS

The price of protest in fashion waste

When I was young, we wore clothes until the wore out. I had an elder brother, and got to wear hand-me-downs.

This all changed, possibly in the 1970s and 1980s. Now we have the phenomenon of single-use clothing, ironically often T-shirts worn by people crusading to save the planet. Richard di Natale is, I think, the Australian politician most often seen in T-shirts. During the last election he often looked like this:

Continue reading The price of protest in fashion waste

Final chapter on Adani?

Probably not. There is more than one issue to be finalised before Adani can press ‘go’, and all the time the social licence to mine coal is fading.

Adani’s Carmichael coal mine site in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin, pictured in December last year.

Just before the Federal election was called, on 8 April 2019, environment minister Melissa Price signed off on groundwater approvals under clear and public political pressure from her Queensland colleagues. But the report from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia gave the Adani plans anything but a clean sheet:

The original Brexit

The first Brexit happened a very long time ago. According to Richard Webb in Brexit, 10,000 BC: The untold story of how Britain first left Europe (New Scientist), the white cliffs of Dover did not exist 450,000 years ago, just rolling hills. However, as usual, there was an ice age, and a glacial lake was formed in what is now the North Sea:

Continue reading The original Brexit

Climate clippings 230

1. NSW Labor pledges state-owned renewable energy company to power three million homes

    A New South Wales Labor government would establish a state-owned renewable energy company to support the rollout of enough renewable energy to power more than three million homes across the state in the next decade.

    On Monday the NSW opposition leader, Michael Daley, announced that if elected on 23 March, Labor would deliver seven gigawatts of extra renewable energy by 2030.

Continue reading Climate clippings 230