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.

State of the Climate, 2014

Front page_cropped

CSIRO and the BOM have released their State of the Climate 2014 report. Pretty much the same story you’ve heard before, only a bit worse.

There’s a good summary at the special BOM site, where you can download the report. Other than that Climate Citizen has perhaps the best summary.

Graham Readfearn at Planet Oz riffs off the Dorothea Mackellar theme of a “sunburnt country” of “droughts and flooding rains”.

At Radio National’s PM Mark Colvin interviewed CSIRO’s Dr Penny Whetton.

At The Conversation Professor Neville Nicholls emphasises rising heatwaves and fires. Sophie Vorrath has more at RenewEconomy.

I’ll comment on a few sundry aspects.

Level of greenhouse gases

We are told that the global mean for CO2 in 2013 was 395 ppm, or “likely the highest level in at least 2 million years”. Back in the 2012 report the figure of 390 ppm for 2011 was described as “a level unprecedented in the past 800,000 years”. David Spratt at Climate Code Red added a corrective addendum “that should be 15 million years.”

Spratt referenced the work of Aradhna Tripati:

The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit [DS: 3 to 6 degrees Celsius] higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet [BB: 23 to 36 metres] higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland.

I’m amazed at how often these reports understate the gravity of the situation, presumably for fear of being written off as alarmist.

The report usefully adds the other main greenhouse gases to give a CO2 equivalence figure:

fig13_600

Please note the nitrous oxide and synthetic greenhouse gases are given in parts per billion.

In terms of CO2 equivalence we are now the 480 ppm. We should be red alerts everywhere and an emergency meeting of the G20, or something. The sad fact is that no policy agenda adopted by a political party has aspired to a safe climate. In fact the Garnaut Report and the Clean Energy Future Package legislated by Labor, the Greens and the indies, only ever aspired to 450 or 550 ppm CO2e. James Hansen in nominating 350 ppm as an initial target was very clear that this needed to assume net zero for the other greenhouse gases. What we are committed to now is a very unsafe climate as the effects play out in the short, mid and longer term.

Abbott was going to leave climate change off the forthcoming G20 agenda for Brisbane until the Americans complained.

Prospective temperature increases

Temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5°C by 2030 compared to the climate of 1980 to 1999. Warming by 2070 is projected to be 1.0 to 2.5°C for low greenhouse gas emissions and 2.2 to 5.0°C for high emissions.

We’ll achieve the upper bound if we continue as we are; the lower bound lacks credibility. To the ranges given we need to add 0.6°C in order to obtain the values for change since pre-industrial.

Again, we are clearly heading for dangerous climate change.

At time of writing there was a short piece in New Scientist citing three recent studies which indicate that climate sensitivity may have been under-estimated. Drew Shindell of NASA GISS:

“Sensitivity is not down at the low end,” Shindell says. “We can’t take any solace from warming being slower of late.”

That means we must cut our emissions fast, he says, or the planet could warm by 6°C by 2100.

Warming of 4°C is usually given as the level where civilisation as we know it comes into play. For Australia in a 4°C world, see Gabrielle Kuiper at Climate Code Red.

Hot days and heat waves

This graph shows the incidence of days in a year when the temperature is in the hottest 1% relative to 1910-2013:

fig7_600

Graham Readfearn points out:

Starting from 1910 when Australia’s records start, it took 31 years for the country to rack up 28 days hot enough to fall into that top one per cent.

2013, however, managed to deliver this same number of extremely hot days in a single year.

Precipitation changes

The following map shows the rainfall variation in deciles since 1995-1996 for the northern wet season of October to April:

fig5_600

The next map shows the rainfall variation in deciles since 1995-1996 for the southern wet season of April to November:

fig6_600

I believe that Sydney, which has dominant autumn/early winter rainfall, sits on the border between the summer and winter rainfall zones.

Clear patterns of change are becoming obvious. Apart from southern areas there is distinct drying in large tracts of Queensland, especially in winter.

This is disturbing:

The reduction in rainfall is amplified in streamflow in our rivers and streams. In the far southwest, streamflow has declined by more than 50 per cent since the mid-1970s. In the far southeast, streamflow during the 1997–2009 Millennium Drought was around half the long-term average.

Could be that we’ll increasingly have to rely on damaging floods to fill our dams.

Conclusion

There’s more, of course, including the prospect of losing our reef ecosystems.

Climate change is upon us.

From hero to zero politically: Campbell Newman shows how

Doctors_1800187_670334396358324_809804344_n-250All during the 2013 election campaign Kevin Rudd warned voters that Abbott would “Cut, cut and cut to the bone” just as Campbell Newman had done in Queensland. Commentators have remarked on Abbott’s lack of a honeymoon period. Campbell Newman certainly had one, but has now spectacularly squandered his political capital in various ways.

Dominating headlines for weeks on end the doctors’ dispute seems to have become something of a tipping point. Mark at his new blog The New Social Democrat has published an excellent link-filled post Newman v the doctors: a political fight that is poisoning the LNP, originally published at Crikey.

Mark sees the changes proposed in doctors’ conditions as carrying a broader warning for Australian health policy:

The contracts, read in conjunction with changes to the Industrial Relations Act, deny salaried doctors unfair dismissal protections, control over work location and timing of shifts, and require doctors to take direction on appropriate medical care from hospital and health service administrators.

The suggestion is that, having failed to find private operators for public hospitals that could actually provide cheaper services, the government’s agenda is to substitute bureaucratic cost controls for clinical judgement. That’s something the federal policy shifts towards paying hospitals for the “efficient price” of a procedure encourages. (Emphasis added)

The ground is shifting politically:

None of this is a good look for a government that recently lost the Redcliffe byelection to Labor with a massive swing. Polling conducted by ReachTEL for the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation in Ashgrove (the Premier’s seat), Cairns, Ipswich West and Mundingburra shows massive public opposition and significant impacts on the LNP’s vote. Newman would easily lose his seat to the ALP on these numbers, and it could be reasonably inferred that the LNP’s majority would be in danger.

Readers may recall that in 2012 Anna Bligh spectacularly crashed and burned, losing 44 of 51 seats to be left with seven in an 89-member parliament. With a walloping majority “Can do” Campbell may do the impossible and become a one-term government. A tweet from Possum Commitatus quotes a ReachTEL poll which says that if an election were held now the LNP would lose 36 seats and government.

Newman has looked gone in his own seat for some time. If people think he’s not OK as leader let them ponder the alternatives!

Elsewhere Kiwi doctors stand in solidarity with their Qld colleagues and are being advised to stay well away.

The electorate is volatile. Abbott be warned!

Climate clippings 92

Climate clippings_175 This is a continuation of the Climate clippings series familiar to readers of Larvatus Prodeo

While this edition was finished about a week ago I actually started writing stuff from about mid-February and have several others queued in the draft bin. They’ll be fed in periodically at the rate of perhaps more than one a week until I catch up with myself.

1. Strong El Niño rated an 80% chance

That’s according to Paul E. Roundy of the University at Albany, New York.

The sub surface temperature of the eastern Pacific Ocean is measuring an ‘astounding’ six degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.

The only time anything similar has happened was in March 1997, before the whopping 1998 El Niño.

An El Niño normally means dry conditions and reduced monsoons in Australia and Indonesia, but wetter weather in Central America.

Climate Progress shows this interesting graph:

gistemp_nino_s-600

Since 1998 there have been six La Niña years warmer than any El Niño years prior to 1998.

At Mashable Andrew Freedman quotes the same people but found at least one scientist who thinks there’s perhaps a 40% chance there will be no El Niño at all.

Worth watching. Could be spectacular.

2. Wave and tidal energy

Climate Progress reports on wave energy projects at Morro Bay in California and elsewhere.

A 2012 report prepared by RE Vision Consulting for the Department of Energy found that the theoretical ocean wave energy resource potential in the U.S. is more than 50 percent of the annual domestic demand of the entire country. The World Energy Council has estimated that approximately 2 terawatts — 2 million megawatts or double current world electricity production — could be produced from the oceans via wave power.

3. The Pacific Ocean is turning sour

Much faster than expected, according to a new study.

Apparently CO2 concentrations are not uniform around the world and the tropical Pacific is getting more than its fair share. Hence the ocean in that area is acidifying faster than elsewhere.

4. Oxfam on food futures

From Huff Post, Oxfam has just completed a report (downloadable here) which suggests that climate change could delay the fight against world hunger for decades. Global food prices could double by 2030, with half the increase attributable to climate change. In the next 35 years there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five than there would otherwise be.

Oxfam analyzed ten gaps that measured how prepared – or unprepared – 40 food-insecure countries are to tackle climate change impacts.

We assess ten key factors that influence a country’s ability to feed its people in a warming world – these include the quality of weather monitoring systems, social safety nets, agricultural research and adaptation finance.

As expected, the poorer countries will be most affected.

5. Will we still be able to have a decent cup of tea?

At the foot of the Huff Post Oxfam link above is a graphic showing the top “endangered” crops listing in order chocolate, coffee, beer (at least in Germany), peanuts, durum wheat to make pasta in Italy, maple syrup, honey, wine (at least in France). It must be said that I couldn’t find that list in the Oxford report which is mainly about staples such as rice and vegetables.

Now it seems that Assam tea is being affected by hotter, drier weather with more erratic rainfall. Indeed tea growing all over the world is becoming more difficult.

There’s more at the BBC.

6. More on global food security

A separate study found that from 2030 onwards, the world’s crop yields will be more and more impacted by climate change.

The study found that Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia showed significant yield reductions for the second half of the century, while regions of the world with temperate climates, such as Europe and most of North America, could withstand a couple of degrees of warming without a noticeable effect on harvests, or possibly even benefit from a bumper crop.

One of the most important findings of this study is that adaptation may not be as effective for rice and maize as it is for wheat.

7. On the other hand

If you need a more cheerful story, here’s one about peasant farmer Vu Thi Ngoc who has adapted to crazy weather in the uplands of northern Vietnam by growing a different range of crops and changing farming practices.

It shows adaptability at work, this time with the help of CARE and Vietnam’s Agriculture and Forestry Research and Development Centre for the Northern Mountainous Region.

Reminder:

These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as an open thread.

But as ever, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

Posting strategy

blogging-230Tomorrow there will be climate post, no risk.

In the welcome post I said I’d post as time and inclination permits, so there won’t always be a post every day. I still work outdoors on most days, so with the time available I’ll surprise myself if I average more than three a week.

In fact, however, I’ve been writing posts for the last six weeks, so at last count I think there were 17 in the bin. Back in 2012 when we were close to launch I actually published three which are still there, and I think worth a look. I might do link posts to them at some stage.

I don’t want to flood the place, so I’ll publish posts the binned posts between the new material for some weeks until the backlog is cleared. So for a while there should be daily offerings. However, I’d recommend taking a subscription, available at the foot of the page.

The posts in the bin include a bunch of Climate clippings posts, which I’ll also feed in. I used to aim for one a week. They’ll be a bit more frequent for a while and then as time and suitable material permits.

John Davidson, when he gets cracking, will do a parallel series under the rubric Climate action. There should be more from him about renewables, electric vehicles, new technologies, electricity prices and such and less from me. It will be a case of parallel play, however, and there may be some overlap. I don’t think either of us is madly territorial.

Open threads

Climate clippings and Climate action will also act as open threads on climate matters.

For tragics who would like to talk about other things I’m thinking we could have two weekend open threads, somewhat in the manner of LP. Can anyone suggest a name and an image for a Saturday Salon type post? I can only come up with boring stuff like Your say and Conversation corner. I did find, however, in my youth working as a reference librarian that boring names like Handbook of… had greater utility and were more readily remembered than snappy titles unless you can come up with something like Catch 22.

On Sunday I had in mind something like Lazy Sunday but extending it to the whole week and including information of interesting life experiences like movies or shows you’ve seen, books you’ve read, street protests and other activism, as well as what you’ve been doing in the back yard. Provisionally the title is The week that was. Again ideas of titles and images appreciated.

If we remember, each open thread will be categorised as such. So when you want to make a sundry comment go to the Open Threads link above the header and find the latest open thread.

Finally…

… this post will be filed under Blog Matters accessible under the link above the header. When I have days off, like today, I hope to spend a bit of time doing posts about features of the blog, seeking your comments and suggestions.

T

WA Senate election result

Now to work!

You can follow the WA senate election results at the AEC tally room or I think preferably at the ABC. There is seat by seat counting at Antony Green’s Election Blog.

Poll Bludger is here.

At time of writing (just after midnight EST) it seems that about 25% of the vote has been counted. It’s looking like two seats for the Liberals, one for Labor, one for the Greens, one for the Palmer United Party and the final seat a tussle between Liberal and Labor, with Liberals the more likely.

I’m not sure exactly what this means for the final balance of power in the Senate, but I think it means that Abbott will have a choice of coming to terms with Labor and the Greens, or assembling a combination of “others” which must include PUP. If anyone knows, please share.

It looks as though Scott Ludlam will be elected comfortably, which is good to see.

Update: This morning Antony Green has Labor slightly ahead for the last seat with just over half the vote counted.

For Senate composition go here.

So for the LNP it’s a choice between needing 6/8 extras or 7/8. See also my comment here.

Welcome to Climate Plus

Planet-Earth-001_200
When Larvatus Prodeo folded originally in 2012 the one option I ruled out was starting my own blog. The plain fact is that my computer skills are such that I’d never be able to create a place I’d like to live in. Then tigtog offered to help and help she did, putting up with my numbskullery and faltering comprehension.

So here we are. Welcome to Climate Plus. I’ve grown fond of the place and I hope you do too.

In Climate Plus we have a blog designed and customised by tigtog at VIVidWeb, powered by WordPress and hosted by DreamHost. It’s been in an advanced state of development since October 2012, when I put it aside to do some writing about family history. Then it was overtaken by the revival of LP.

It’s meant to be a friendly place, with simple but functional features.

As to what we might achieve here I’ll quote from Curt Stager’s book Deep Future: the next 100,000 years of life on earth:

In this new Age of Humans, our thoughts and desires have become powerful environmental forces in their own rights, and how we think and act can be as important to millions of other human (and other species) as to ourselves. The better we know and respect each other as people, the more we’re likely to learn from one another, the more likely we are to understand each other’s needs and goals, and the more likely we are to cooperate effectively for our mutual benefit. Greenhouse pollution problems will not be solved piecemeal, and there is also no way to avoid making a collective choice one way or the other. We’ll either decide to solve them as a self-aware global community or we’ll decide to suffer through them together as a disjointed mob of individuals. (Emphasis added)

We may be just talking about climate change here, but in our own sphere we are creating meaning. You never know when a sleeper may be planted that makes a real difference in the larger scene.

John Davidson joins as a foundation author who brings the practical perspective of a process engineer, not just any engineer, a process engineer experienced in setting up systems that work. You can read about him here.There may be others later.

I plan not to become victim to ‘feeding the beast’, so I’ll post as time and inclination permits. Soon my sister and her husband come from Canada to visit, when I’ll take a bit of time out. Later in July I’m joining my brother and my wife as part of a convoy driving out to Central Australia and back via Simpson’s Desert. We’ll have a satellite phone for emergencies, but that’s all.

You’ll notice that tigtog has brought across many of the posts I did at LP in recent years. In addition there’s Gillard on the world stage which I posted in February, in part as a trial. We have more in the bin which will be fed in over the coming days, so there will be plenty to chew on initially.

So welcome aboard, tell your friends and we’ll see how we go!

The image at the head of this post comes from Neal Elbaum’s collection.

As a concluding perspective I’ll post this shot of the earth from Voyager 1. In the Age of Anthropocene we have collectively become responsible for the future of our little space ship. But does the universe care? There are over 200 billion suns in the Milky Way and over 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe, some of which have over 100 trillion stars:

Earth from Voyager 1_500

What matters is that we care and we have to learn to care collectively.

For anyone who arrives early

sunrise_450

One day soon, in the middle of the night, a bright new day is going to dawn with the official birth of a new blog about climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff.

Climate Plus is due to put up a welcoming post, shall we say at 12.01 am (Eastern Standard Time of course) on Sunday 6 April. Anyway with a bit of luck I’ll be there.

This is an open thread for anyone who arrives early to chat if the spirit moves them.

Gillard on the world stage

Gillard_the-prime-minister4

Wikipedia tells us that post politics Julia Gillard signed a book deal with Penguin, purchased a house in Adelaide and was appointed honorary professor at the University of Adelaide. In that job it appears that she is actually going to do real work.

Now she has been appointed as the new Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

With some billions of dollars to spend and 60 participating nations the prime focus is on 57 million children who don’t go to school. Beyond that GPE advocates for the improvement of the quality of education generally.

Here’s the AAP story, Café Whispers, and Gillard’s own thoughts at the GPE blog.

Given the primacy of education in Gillard’s political philosophy the appointment seems particularly apt. I’m sure she’ll do a fine job and wish her well.

Australia currently provides $30 million pa in funding. They wouldn’t trim their contribution, would they? ‘They’ being Abbott, Bishop, Hockey, Mathias Cormann et al. After all they dishonoured our promise to help build a new parliament for Granada to save a measly $4 million. And to make a point.

Deep origins: language

Warning: longer essay-style post.

David B Anthony in his extraordinary book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How the Bronze-age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World tells us that language normally changes so that speakers 1000 years apart cannot understand each other. As an example here is the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer in a conservative, old-fashioned version of Modern Standard English:

Our Father who is in heaven, blessed be your name

Here it is in Chaucer’s English of 1400:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thy name

Now try Old English of 1000:

Fæader ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod

When British jurist Sir William Jones arrived in Calcutta to become a member of the Bengal Supreme Court in 1783 he was already famous as a linguist for his translations of medieval Persian poetry amongst other works. At that time he already knew French, German, Latin, Greek, Welsh, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and Gothic, the earliest written form of German. In order to do his job he decided to tool up on Sanskrit. In 1786 he announced an amazing discovery. Latin, Greek and Sanskrit stemmed from the same original language. Just had to be. He also found that Celtic, Gothic and Persian probably came from the same source. Indeed he was right.

Very common words tend not to change much. The word for mother, for example is strikingly similar across a range of languages. Hence we have Middle English moder, Dutch moeder, German Mutter, Irish máthair, Tocharian mācar, Lithuanian mótė, Latin māter, Greek meter, Russian mat’, Persian madar and Sanskrit mātṛ.

The original Proto-Indo-European word has been reconstructed as *méh₂tēr.

You can find more related words here.

In fact all European languages belong to what is now recognised as the Indo-European language group (list here) except Basque, Estonian, Finnish and Magyar (Hungarian).

To the east the Indo-Iranian sub-group includes the majority of modern languages of India including Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

I’ve included here a chart of the Indo-European language taxonomy from David Anthony’s book:

Figure 1: Twelve branches of Indo-Eoropean language family
Figure 1: Twelve branches of Indo-Eoropean language family

Some of the individual languages are barely legible, but the overall picture is clear.

This Dan Short page provides a useful broad family tree divided into the so-called Centum and Satem groups, divided according to the word for hundred. Neither of these taxonomies helps with the timeline. Anthony gives the following as the best branching diagram, based on the Ringe_Warnow_Taylor (2002) cladistic method: Continue reading Deep origins: language

Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Back in 2002 an Earth Summit (World Summit on Sustainable Development) nick-named “Rio + 10” was held in Johannesburg. As I recall there was a big push on to transfer the main carriage for environmental matters from the UN to the WTO. There was dancing in the aisles by environment ministers when the move failed. The mind boggles for those who recall our environment minister at the time, one rather stiff and formal Dr David Kemp.

One wonders, though, whether climate change negotiations would now be in better shape. Probably not. Since Cancún in 2003 the WTO has had its own problems. Not surprising then that there has been a report suggesting a radical rethink of the UNFCCC process. Problem is the UNFCCC would have to agree and that would take at least 20 years.

There is always much talk of ‘pathways’ and ‘stepping stones’ at UNFCCC meetings. Graham Readfearn on the way to this year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw asked Will Australia cause a slip on the climate change stepping stones in Warsaw? He suggested that Australia may be there using its elbows to push the process off balance. According to his final report How rich countries dodged the climate change blame game in Warsaw he was on the money: Continue reading Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff