What Business Spectator thinks of our refugee policy

On Maundy Thursday, the Business Spectator lead story was this telling article on the Rudd/Abbott refugee policy by Rob Burgess.  The article starts with:

As many Australians prepare for a holiday marking the most important Christian festival of year, it’s worth remembering that Jesus of Nazareth began life as a refugee, taken to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of male infants.  

The refugee family eventually went home, so there was no need to transfer the infant to an offshore detention facility – I mean, who’d even think of doing that?”

 And ends with:

While the nation spends a long weekend celebrating the life of the world’s most famous refugee, political leaders might take time to sniff the wind again and realise we’re standing out in our region for all the wrong reasons.

As Fraser sums it up: “Whatever else our refugee policy is, it isn’t Christian.”

In the middle there was a well argued article with useful supporting data that included:

“In years to come, people will look back at the Abbott Government’s practice of locking innocent children up on remote Pacific islands and shake their heads with disbelief,” said Hanson-Young on Wednesday.

It may not take years. Other nations, including key trading partners, are already shaking their heads at Australia’s offshore processing regime…….

” At this year’s human rights dialogue between China and Australia, vice-minister of foreign affairs Li Baodong said China had concerns “especially on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the right of the children of refugees in education and other rights … We have also asked about whether these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries….”

While the Greens have long used moral arguments to condemn Labor’s and the Coalition’s policy, economic and strategic concerns give added weight to opprobrium from our trading partners.

Recent history shows how quickly a latent dislike of Australia can become manifest – the fury on the streets of Indonesia during the recent phone-tapping scandal was fed by negative stereotypes of Australians that stretch back through the 20th century.

Not only are we remembered as the lucky country that ran the white Australia policy, but our political leaders of the past have (often unfairly) been seen as colonialists seeking to impose a Western order on peoples who, from their own domestic perspective, were throwing off the shackles of a colonial past.

Whatever the roots of our negative image within the region, Australia’s national interest lies in the paring away of stereotypes, not augmenting them with stories of babies flown to Pacific Island prisons.”

Think about how those who used to be excluded by the White Australia policy must see us now:  Here is a country getting all agitated about 18,111 protection visa applications from boat people in 2012/13 despite having a strong economy and an estimated 2013 net immigration of 234,000.  A country that claims to be all about a fair go but thinks its OK to send refugee children to concentration camps in breach of a refugee convention that Australia signed.  A country where both Abbott and Rudd are very public, white Christians being nasty to refugees who mostly aren’t Christian and who would have been blocked from entry under the white Australia policy.

Having an Attorney general who has stated that it is “OK to be a bigot” doesn’t help either.

Progress is being made whenever an important, Murdoch owned business blog is saying, in effect, that our refugee policy is not only non-Christian but also bad for business and our relationship with our neighbours.

Enjoy your Easter.

Appendix:  Refugee Council of Australia’s data on Australia’s refugee performance compared with the 10 best countries:

Graph for Australian self-interest through Asian eyes

Friday Salon: Easter edition

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Follow that and you should be fine.

Climate clippings 93

Climate clippings_175

1.Three reports

First, the Climate Change Authority released a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

I have a draft post in the bin, which I’ll publish after Easter. Labor are likely to adopt the enhanced targets it recommends, whereas the LNP have confirmed they won’t go beyond 5% by 2020.

Second, I’m working on a post on the IPCC’s second report in the current series, released on 31 March Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. To get a head start you can follow the links from the report website.

I should be able to finalise the post for the week after Easter.

Third, the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s third report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change was released on Monday. I hope to tackle it over Easter, aiming for publication the second week after Easter. The ABC has comment: politicians and Frank Jotzo and John Connor. The Carbon Brief has a lot of useful material.

2. The cost of mitigation

The IPCC mitigation report puts the cost of action at 0.06% of GDP, but calculating the cost is complex, especially when looking at the damage caused by doing nothing.

Researchers Rosen and Guenther find that the economic modelling is not possible, there are too many variables and too many unknowns.

Yet crisis trumps uncertainty, we have no real choice but to act.

3. Trouble in the vineyards

Early ripening is becoming a huge problem for growers and wineries.

growers say they’re having trouble processing their crop because it’s ripening too quickly.

Researchers are blaming climate change, with warmer conditions and drier soils accelerating the ripening process.

4. Microbes cause Permian–Triassic extinction?

The Permian–Triassic extinction event, commonly known as the Great Dying, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90% of all life on Earth.

According to new research at MIT the event may have been caused by microbes.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

5. Land clearing returns to Qld

According to The Wilderness Society the Queensland Government has approved the clearing of 30,000 hectares at Strathmore Station in the Gilbert River catchment in the Gulf country, which will add the equivalent of 4.2-6.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same as running up to another 2.6 million cars on our roads.

Strathmore wants to clear another 70,000 hectares. Together with another proposed Gilbert River project, IFED’s so-called Etheridge mega farm, the two schemes would clear and flood 200,000 hectares of land.

That would be like bulldozing a 10km wide strip for 200km.

6. Instruments of persuasion

Dr Rod Lamberts of the Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science at the ANU says it’s time to dump science and facts as instruments of persuasion in favour of advertising and marketing. He says we need to appeal to people’s emotions, which will

have a stronger effect than trying to appeal to their brains via some kind of, you know, fact channel.

But please note, the facts are needed to support the campaign:

If the goal is to affect change, then I believe we need to step more into the realms of advertising and marketing and so on, in terms of delivering messages that are supported by what the science is telling us, but don’t have the science in those messages. (Emphasis added)

Jane Caro agrees on the need for a different approach:

Facts have never changed anyone’s mind about anything, sadly. It’s very hard for scientists to understand this, because they’re highly rational people, but in actual fact, no-one has ever been rationalised out of a belief.

There are only two things that change people’s attitudes and behaviour, particularly their behaviour, and they’re two emotions, and they’re hope and fear.

Again, facts and the science are surely needed to rationalise a changed belief. Beliefs need reason to support them.

Who mounts and pays for an advertising and marketing campaign? We look to governments, but in Australia they are the actual problem.

7. Direct Action less popular than the price on carbon

Meanwhile Essential Media Communications have done a survey of opinion that shows Direct Action distinctly less popular than the price on carbon. In terms of age, there is a tipping point beyond which the doubters predominate and it’s age 55. Abbott’s climate policy may come back to bite.

as the flat-earthers take control of the Federal Government, more Australians than ever have come to the conclusion that the Earth is in fact round.

Changing our policymakers seems the best way home but then Labor needs to offer more than tokenism. In my opinion Labor politicians should be the prime target group. The current mob won’t change without a spell in opposition and transformational ideological renewal.

Reminder

Use this as an open thread for climate topics.

Ending the age of entitlement


“there are no cuts to health, no cuts to education, pensions don’t change…”

That was Tony Abbott at the National Press Club just days before the last election, as reported by Peter Martin.

JOE TO SLASH AGED CASH

was the headline of Samantha Maiden’s Murdoch paper report in the Courier Mail on Sunday.

Budget pain to hit all: Hockey

That was the headline of Laura Tingle’s front page article in the AFR on Monday.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says no group will be safe from cuts in the May budget, as he braces voters for potential changes to the age pension and tighter asset tests.

Large numbers are cascading everywhere. Maiden’s article tells us that 94% of Australians over 70 qualify for either a pensioner concession card or a seniors health care card. Some 78% of the cost of scripts claimed under the PBS is going to concession card holders. Half of the $40 billion age pension bill goes to households with assets of more than $500,000. The $40 billion bill could rise to $70 billion over the next decade.

Labor increased the aged pension from 65 to 67 but that is to be phased in by 2023. The LNP are considering lifting the eligibility age to 70.

Another option is to include the family home in the assets test if it is worth more than $1 million.

Moreover, Hockey reckons the age pension indexation needs to be sustainable. Labor increased the rate and indexed it to average male earnings, which escalate faster than the CPI. Hockey appears to favour a return to the CPI.

Cutting the ‘seniors supplement’ (I get $500 taken off my tax because I’m old) has also been mentioned.

Justin Greber quotes the savings (paywalled) calculated by Stephen Anthony of Macroeconomics. Anthony reckons we need to cut the budget by about 1% of GDP or $16 billion. Overall he says:

the primary focus for the government should be in stemming middle- and upper-class welfare, with the most obvious savings in the aged and family benefits, drugs, industry assistance and removing overlaps between different levels of government.

As to the oldies, he says changing the indexation back to the CPI will save $900 million. Including the family home in the assets test will save $1.1 billion, while cutting the seniors supplement would garner a further $500 million. Peter Martin identifies a further $1.5 billion in carbon price compensation, so in all about $4 billion could be screwed out of the oldies.

Peter Martin also points out that the aged pension has increased by 25% since the indexation changed four and a half years ago, compared to the CPI of 13%.

There’s little doubt that rich old men could contribute a little more.

For context we need to note that the Australian budget is approaching $400 billion.

As a disclosure I’m modestly self-funded with no superannuation. I’d appreciate help with pharmaceuticals but get none other than the normal PBS. In this post I’m not arguing the merits or otherwise of any of the proposed changes. I do think, however, that we could consider paying a bit more tax.

Yet Peter Martin argues that tax increases are already included in the forward estimates because they don’t compensate for bracket creep. The CPI and bracket creep could make our incomes virtually flatline in real terms. He favours increasing the GST.

New Zealand increased the GST in two phases from 10 to 15% without stalling the economy or undue public concern. John Hewson says we are the champions in the OECD in tax concessions, including notoriously concessions to rich retirees and the fossil fuel industry. There are plenty of options available and Anthony stresses the problems are in the out years, not the next budget or two. There should be time for debate.

The Commission of Audit report is said to be available shortly as is a review of the welfare system.

My main worry in all this is that the poor and the vulnerable are going to be hit as well when there really is no need. Also there are sectors where we need to increase spending, such as skills, education including universities, research, innovation and smart industry development. Did everyone see the 4 Corners program on the hollowing out of sophisticated manufacture with the demise of the car industry? That at a time when the CSIRO prepares to cut another 300 jobs.

Meanwhile the Fairfax poll is now 48/52 in favour of Labor. There are some problems for Abbott in the regions, perhaps over foreign investment and trade policies. However, the Labor TPP surge is largely courtesy of a stunning increase in the Greens vote. 26% of 18-24 year-olds now favour the Greens. From 16-39 the LNP vote is lower than Labor, while within the margin for error. It’s the oldies that are keeping Abbott afloat. They don’t always vote in their own interest.

You can use this post as an open thread on politics.

Modelling the cost of mitigating climate change

Forget it, it’s too hard!

That’s what two researchers, Dr Rich Rosen and Edeltraud Guenther of Boston and Dresden respectively, have concluded. They say it’s impossible to calculate the cost of mitigating climate change, there are too many variables and too many unknowns. Modelling which purports to do so cannot and should not be used by policymakers.

Nevertheless mitigate we must! Crisis trumps uncertainty:

“Mitigating climate change must proceed regardless of long-run economic analyses”, they conclude, “or risk making the world uninhabitable.”

Economic modelling of climate mitigation costs against business as usual (BAU) has commonly been used in developing policy after the Stern Review of 2006 and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report of 2007. For example the Australian Treasury modelled the costs of the Gillard Government’s Clean Energy Future package through to 2050.

A complete waste of time, according to Rosen and Guenther.

Nevertheless treasuries in the future will no doubt continue with their best efforts. In the end a cost has to be entered in the budget, including the forward estimates. And no doubt the long-term story will continue to be told in order to convince us that the authorities know what they are doing.

We’ll know, however, that we are being fed a work of fiction.

COMMENTS ON QCA REPORT ON FEED IN TARIFFS

This post was published previously in PragmatusJ (my reference blog). It explains how the QCA came up with a “fair and reasonable” Qld FIT of 8 cents/kWh and the inherent problems of letting politicians or bureaucrats set the FIT.
The following are some brief comments on the Qld Competition Authority (QCA) report “Estimating a Fair and Reasonable Solar Feed-in Tariff for Queensland (March 2013) Table numbers are QCA report table numbers.  Key findings were:
The report admits that it was only concerned with being fair to the retailers, not rooftop solar PV (RTS) owners, power generation companies or consumers.  By implication, the QCA was also committed to defending the payments made to power distributors.
  1. When calculating the “fair” FIT the QCA managed to find excuses for not including most of the savings associated with the use of RTS.  This made an enormous difference.  If these savings are included, the FIT would have to be above 100 cents/kWh before RTS stopped reducing the power bills of Qld householders who don’t have RTS.  The QCA exclusions reduced this figure to a measly 8 cents/kWh.
  2. The difference in estimates highlights the problems associated with having bureaucrats or politicians set the feed in tariff.  It also highlights the problem of determining the FIT on the basis of the effect on household power bills.
  3. This post is not advocating that the FIT be raised to $1.00 kWh.  It is suggested that auctions or some other market based system be used to set the FIT.

Continue reading COMMENTS ON QCA REPORT ON FEED IN TARIFFS

US NAVY PRODUCING FUEL FROM SEAWATER

The US navy has been investigating the production of fuel from seawater using electricity from ship’s nuclear power systems for a number of years.  This process would allow aircraft carrier task forces to stay at sea longer without depending on vulnerable fuel tankers to keep the planes flying.  The navy has now announced that they have successfully used the fuel from their pilot plant to fly a plane with an internal combustion engine.  (Well, OK a model mustang.)

The process used involves electrolysis of sea water to produce CO2 and hydrogen followed by a catalytic reaction to produce hydrocarbons.   There is nothing radically new here.  Hydrogen has been produced commercially using electrolysis for a long time.  There are also well established commercially available processes for converting mixtures of hydrogen and nitrogen or hydrogen and CO2 into a range of useful chemicals and fuels.  My guess is that most of the effort taken by the US navy has been focused on developing a process that could fit into a small part of an aircraft carrier.

The potential of these types of development go well beyond the needs of the US navy.  Think about it: Unless there is an amazing breakthrough, renewable power plus batteries are not going to be able to deliver 100% renewable transport.  Renewable power + batteries is not going be suitable for long distant flights, travel in the Australian outback or long distance sea travel.  There is a need for energy intensive transportable fuels to cover these needs.

Bio-fuels are not the answer.  Diversion of land to the production of bio-fuels is already causing starvation of people in some countries as well as damage to the environment.  (Think jungle clearing for palm oil production.)  In addition, the production of bio-fuels is vulnerable to climate change and pests as well as posing potential problems if the organisms used escape into the wild.  What is needed are low impact renewable fuels produced by inorganic processes such as the US Navy process mentioned above.

Continue reading US NAVY PRODUCING FUEL FROM SEAWATER

Saturday salon: your say

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your weekend leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the comments policy.

Also, for climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French, as he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

Update: I’ve decided that I won’t put up a separate Lazy Sunday/The week that was post at this stage.

Please use this thread to share information about what you’ve been up to on the weekend or notable experiences during the week, shows you’ve seen, books you’ve read etc.

This implies that the thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Follow that and you should be fine.

Work categories and voting patterns

Roy Morgan have done some interesting research on voting patterns according to how we earn our living. This table shows the work categories most likely to vote for the three major parties:

Roy Morgan_4971_600

To me there is a vague shape of a class analysis, with workers voting Labor and bosses voting Liberal, but one has to be careful about the actual numbers. If Labor gets a first preference vote in the low 30s there is plenty of scope for workers to vote Liberal.

There is interesting detail in the accompanying text. Primary school teachers are split down the middle. With the Greens we have to remember that the vote is low. While social workers are the profession most likely to vote Green only 33% of them do so. I would be interested in how many vote Liberal.

It’s now well known that Green voters earn more on average than other voters. Clearly they have spent more years in education.

I’m wondering what you make of it all.

The end of coal?

This post started out as four related items in Climate clippings. When a fifth showed up I decided to extract them and put them in a separate post. Hence it is a collection of opinions and perspectives rather than an analysis of the future of coal as such. Still, a message seems to emerge.

BHP calls for carbon pricing

Believe it or not Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of BHP Billiton, has called for a price to be put on greenhouse gas emissions to address the threat of global warming.

Talking in Houston Texas on the future of fossil fuels and carbon emissions Andrew Mackenzie said BHP needs to think carefully about controlling its carbon emissions. He wants BHP to lead the way. BHP is the world’s largest mining company and the third biggest company in the world.

Beyond coal the company is also a major player in shale gas in the USA, investing a cool $US20 billion in 2012.

Mackenzie was on message about ‘clean coal’, spruiking the virtues of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Rio weighs in

Rio Tinto’s head of energy, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, also weighed in saying “Idealistic discussions” about climate change should be abandoned and Australians should recognise that coal will remain an important energy source for decades.

Coal will continue to “do the lion’s share of heavy lifting” to meet energy demand, he says.

Rio has invested $100 million in carbon capture and storage.

Martin Ferguson, now an adviser to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association:

stepped up criticism of the Coalition government’s emissions-reductions policies and called for the watering down of the renewable energy target, which he said was undermining the national electricity market.

Tristan Edis comments

Tristan Edis comments on Rio Tinto’s clean coal idealism.

He reckons CCS would be great if you could also retrofit it to existing coal-fired power stations, implement it at large scale and a reasonable cost and start doing it by, say, 2025.

The Australian Coal Association instituted an industry-funded initiative to progress zero-emission coal with a levy and created ACA Low Emissions Technology Ltd (ACALET) to undertake initiatives. Unfortunately from 2012-13 the requirement to pay the levy was suspended and ACALET is now concentrating on promoting the use of coal in Australia and overseas.

Edis reports that Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane seems to be willing to acknowledge that carbon capture and storage is a pipedream.

One senior Liberal referred to it as ‘vaporware’ (new computer software promised by companies to be delivered in the future that never eventuates but scares off competing software development).

The end of coal?

Paul Gilding has called the end of coal and the dawn of renewables, especially solar.

He believes the fossil fuel industry live in a delusionary analytical bubble, convinced of their own immortality. They are about to be swept away. Markets can be brutal.

The top 20 European utilities have lost $600 billion in value over the past 5 years.

Tesla, presumably because it makes electric vehicles (see also below), is now worth more than half GM although GM makes 300 times as many cars.

HSBC’s Global Solar index rose 65% last year and is already up 23% in 2014.

Underground coal gasification

Trials are underway or planned in diverse parts of the world in burning in situ coal that can’t be mined, according to an article by Fred Pearce in the New Scientist (paywalled). The process is underground coal gasification (UCG).

The potential is enormous, with enough coal available to supply the world with energy for 1000 years. For example, 70% of the coal in the UK has never been mined. One company has a licence to prospect for UCG sites beneath more than 400 square kilometres of the North Sea.

The attraction of UCG is not just power production. The process produces methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen as well as CO2. The Brits see potential to use these chemicals as feedstock to revitalize their industrial chemicals industry. The article lists the following uses:

  • Gas to electricity Power stations can burn methane to produce electricity for the grid
  • Gas to chemicals Hydrogen, methane and CO all have value as feedstock for the chemicals industry
  • Gas to liquid Methane can be liquefied (LNG) for storage or transport, or the CO and hydrogen converted through the Fischer-Tropsch process to synthetic diesel fuel for vehicles
  • Gas to tech Hydrogen can provide an alternative transport fuel

CO2 can be reinjected into the void created by the burnt coal.

The article refers to a 2007 MIT study which found that commercial CCS was unlikely before 2030. Undaunted Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist, reckons that CCS is the “only practical way forward”.

Christiana Figueres is hopeful

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), points to 60 countries with 500 pieces of climate legislation, and is confident that an international climate change agreement will be delivered on time in 2015. She looks forward within 20 years to the time where everything new we do will be carbon neutral.

She does see a need for research into energy storage – batteries – and into CCS.

It is only with marketable CCS that we will be able to use the fossil fuels that we need. Storage and CCS would be my top two choices for technology investment.

If so someone, for example BHP and Rio, get cracking.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile

Investment bank Morgan Stanley says it has been overwhelmed by the response to its recent analysis which suggested that the falling costs of both solar modules and battery storage presented a potential tipping point that would encourage huge numbers of homeowners and businesses in the US to go off grid.

And Tesla is building a $5 billion ‘gigafactory’ for battery production, then providing an

emergency power service by monitoring the power levels in home batteries and delivering replacement batteries in the event home batteries run out of power.

Someone should tell Andrew Mackenzie and Harry Kenyon-Slaney they’ll need to shake a leg with CCS. Schumpeter’s creative destruction seems to be at work in the energy industry.

Update: Murray Energy, the largest independent coal producer in the US, is suing the EPA for not taking into account job losses when formulating emissions regulations.

Extreme weather

Ita_5378150-3x2-300As Cyclone Ita bears down on the coast of Far North Queensland I was reminded of the post I drafted in late February on extreme weather. Ita is rated as category 4, hence severe. On the upside few people live in the expected path. On the downside the people who do are not likely to get much help from the outside world.

The incidence of cyclones is not expected to increase with climate change, although I understand the story could be different in the Caribbean and the NW West Pacific. However, we are likely to get more severe cyclones and they may be more intense.

Here’s the post as I wrote it.

This summer, Australians again endured record-breaking, extreme heatwaves and hot weather. My daughter in Adelaide, for example, experienced a record 13 days of 40°C-plus maximums. The Climate Council’s latest report Heatwaves: Hotter, Longer, More Often came up with four key findings:

First, climate change is already increasing the likelihood and severity of heatwaves across Australia. Second, heatwaves have widespread impacts including increased deaths, reduced workplace productivity, damage to infrastructure such as transport and electricity systems, mortality of heat-sensitive plants and animals, and stress on agricultural systems. Third, record hot days and heatwaves are expected to increase further in the future. And finally, limiting future increase in heatwave activity requires urgent and deep cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions.(Emphasis added)

While the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires killed more than 170 people, the preceding heatwave killed double this figure. In fact heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster, a fact largely unremarked. The following graph plots 2009 deaths against temperature and the 2004-08 average.

Black Saturday deaths_cropped_550

According to the report it has been estimated that heatwaves could cause an additional 6214 deaths in Victoria alone by 2050.

Adelaide’s heatwaves are an average 2.5°C hotter than they were half a century ago, and peak heat days are 4.5°C hotter.

Hot days, previously considered to be “once-in-20-years” occurrences, will start to happen every two to five years in Australia by mid-century.

At the end of the report they return to their constant theme – this is the critical decade in which to take action.

Meanwhile in Toronto where my sister lives they had an ice storm around Christmas and have been living in below zero temperatures ever since (time of writing, 19 February). The snow shovelled from their driveway doesn’t melt, so the pile goes up and up and up. Of the cities listed on the weather page of our local rag only Montreal has been consistently colder.

(Update: I think the cold spell lasted at least another month.)

At the same time weather historian Christopher C Burt blogged about record warmth in Alaska.

He shows an amazing map of the forecast for February 1st at the end of the post. It’s stunning, showing the Northern Hemisphere weather split by a stream of warm air directly across the North Pole:

polarsplit_450

There is a related post at Dr Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog he says:

The cold air flowing out of the Arctic into the eastern half of the U.S. is being replaced by warm air surging northwards over Alaska and the North Atlantic east of Greenland. The warmth in Alaska the past three days has been particularly astonishing, with Alaska observing its all-time warmest January temperature of 62°[F] on Monday 1/27 at the Port Alsworth Climate Reference Network station, according to Rick Thoman of NWS Fairbanks. This ties the January state record set at Petersburg on January 16, 1981. Port Alsworth is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Nome, Alaska recorded a high of 51°F [10.5°C] on Monday. This was 38°[F] above average, and the warmest temperature ever observed in any November through March in Nome since record keeping began in 1907. (Emphasis added)

I think 38°F is about 21°C.

Elsewhere I’ve read that the US and Canada were 5°C colder than the 1951-1980 base in December, while north-eastern Europe and Siberia were 9°C warmer. Berlin and Moscow seem rather balmier than usual.

We are normally told that the jet stream has slowed down but for a time in February it speeded up, while being stuck in one place. The effect of this was to fling low pressure systems at the UK, where they experienced record floods.

Back in Oz again, much of the country is in severe drought, although, ironically, the grand tour by Abbott and Barnaby Joyce into the drought areas was interrupted by rain. Of course, one dump of rain doesn’t necessarily break a drought and the prospect for the coming 2014-15 summer is 75% stacked in favour of an El Niño. More records could be broken, including global average surface temperatures.

During this critical period of necessary climate action the Abbott government has appointed a climate denier Dick Warburton to head up the review of the Renewable Energy Target.

We live in interesting times.

PS One of my favourites from the archives is Remembering the floods.

The folly of Abbot point and Galilee Basin

This post was written back when the issues of Abbot Point expansion and the dumping of waste in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area were current. Now the Queensland Land Court has recommended the State Government reject the multi-billion dollar GVK-Hancock Alpha Coal project in the Galilee Basin. The decision is a non-binding recommendation to the State Government. If they go ahead, conditions have been suggested.

Impact on groundwater was the main concern of local landowners.

It looks to me as though this decision will not in the end impede the construction of the mine. Nevertheless there are concerns also about the economic viability of both the coal mines and the port expansion, as I discuss in the post.

Abbot Point and the Marine Park

Recently the Abbot Point port expansion proposal has caused a great deal of controversy because of the proposed dumping of 3 million tonnes of sludge within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. The contention is that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) initially found against the dumping. In January this year GBRMPA approved the dumping.

Professor Russell Reichelt, chair and chief executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, makes clear at The Conversation that the material to be dumped is not toxic and while the Authority would prefer placing dredge material on land, “providing it does not mean transferring environmental impact to sensitive wetlands connected to the reef ecosystem”, they are comfortable with the proposed plans.

The material to be dumped is about 60% sand and 40% silt and clay, similar to what you would see if you dug up the site where the material is to be relocated. The target area is a defined 4 square kilometre site free of hard corals, seagrass beds and other sensitive habitats, about 40 kilometres from the nearest offshore reef.

The Marine Park itself is about the size of Italy:

Marine Park_ jdpx6f2d-1393566267_600

In a comprehensive discussion of the Abbot Point expansion and the Galilee Basin Radio National’s Background Briefing implies that the Abbot Point expansion will not be supervised. The story is told of how in the previous expansion contractor John Holland effectively ignored environmental regulations and was fined a token $195,000 as a result. Professor Reichelt specifies what is to happen this time:

we will have a full-time staff member from GBRMPA located at the port to oversee and enforce compliance during dredge disposal operations. This supervisor has the power to stop, suspend or modify works to ensure conditions are met.

In addition, an independent technical advice panel and an independent management response group will be formed. Membership of both these bodies will need the approval of GBRMPA.

Importantly, the management response group will include expert scientists as well as representatives from the tourism and fishing industries, and conservation groups. Together, GBRMPA and those other independent scrutineers will be overseeing the disposal, and will have the final say — not North Queensland Bulk Ports, which operates Abbot Point, or the coal companies that use the port.

This overview is worth quoting:

Our recent assessments show the dominant risks to the health of the reef are the effects of climate change, excess sediment and nutrient run-off (such as from widespread floods), outbreaks of coral-eating starfish, extreme weather, and some types of fishing.

Coastal development such as ports are assessed as significant but local in their effects.

The effects of climate change.

Watching Greens Senator Larissa Waters debate the Abbot Point expansion with the relevant Qld government minister was like being in an alternate reality. There was no mention of the climate effects of the coal to be exported, no mention of the warming and ocean acidification impact on the reef.

No mention of the impact of the monster mines on the local environment, the use of local aquifers, of the possibility of toxic runoff into the river systems and flood plains the the southwest, the Channel Country and Lake Eyre. As I said last year in Galilee Basin coal: a vision splendid or a kind of madness?:

Water is in fact a considerable issue, as the area has only 400 to 500mm rainfall pa, seasonal and highly variable. Artesian aquifers and water from coal seam gas are being considered. Pastoralists are naturally worried as are environmentalists. The area can be subject to heavy rains which ends up with a toxic brew from open-cut mines being pumped into water courses. The basin drains towards Lake Eyre, (now officially known as Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre).

This image is from an organic beef producer and their enthusiasm has expanded the area to include the whole Simpson’s Desert, but it gives an idea of the part of the country we are talking about:

Channel-Country

Moreover the railway line or lines will cut across grazing lands on expansive flood plains, making water movement highly problematic with heavy rain.

Economics of the mining projects

Mercifully both projects look wildly uneconomic. The Background Briefing story quotes a UBS commodities analyst who says that for the Galilee Basin to be profitable the coal price would have to be around AU$110 per tonne. Their long term estimate is $80 per tonne. The program saw India rather than China as being the most prospective customer. India is running out of coal that can be mined, but the current price there is about $23 per tonne (I presume US$). They need electricity for hundreds of millions who rely on wood or cow dung for cooking and heating, but not at any price.

John Quiggin has two posts about companies pulling out and the shaky economics of both projects:

Following a similar announcement last week by Lend Lease, and earlier announcements by BHP Billiton annd Rio Tinto, mining company Anglo American has withdrawn its proposal to take part in the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal. That leaves only two proposals, both from Indian companies owned by billionaire entrepreneurs reminiscent of Bond, Skase and other Australian heroes of the 1980s. Both Adani and GVK are heavily indebted conglomerates of the type that invariably emerge when money is cheap, and mostly collapse when the tap is turned off.

It’s not surprising that these companies have not yet abandoned their bids. Doing so would involve booking huge losses on their mining prospects in the Galilee Basin. But, it’s hard to believe anyone is going to lend them the billions required, not just for the port expansion, but for a 500km rail line and the mine itself. The price of coal is well below the level required to cover the costs of extraction and transport, let alone to provide a return on capital. And if Adani and GKV don’t build the rail lines, the development of the entire Basin will grind to a halt.

Here’s hoping!

Update: Mark Colvin discusses the economics of the mine with the ABC’s business editor Ian Verrender, confirming concerns.

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff