A bolt from the blue

As you know I’m always up for a thread of doom, so when I heard talk of asteroid strikes happening more frequently than previously thought I decided to investigate.

The story starts with an asteroid that exploded in the air in the Chelyabinsk region in February 2013. There was a collection of videos at Slate. Car alarms were set off by the shock wave, but I gather most of the damage came from broken glass. Over 1000 people were injured. There are some stills of damage here.

The rock was about 19 metres across (equivalent to a six-story building), with a mass of about 12,000 tons. When it hit the atmosphere at a speed of 20 kilometers per second (many times faster than a rifle bullet) the energy released was equivalent to about 500,000 tonnes of TNT, and the brightness around 30 times that of the sun.

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This Slate article has a description of what happened physically. Broadly:

It came in over Russia at a low angle, slamming into our atmosphere, violently compressing the air in front of it. That created a vast amount of heat and pressure, which simultaneously melted and broke up the asteroid into smaller fragments. Within seconds, the huge energy of motion of the rock was suddenly and violently dissipated, creating an explosion equal to about 500,000 tons of TNT detonating.

I think 500,000 tonnes of TNT is about the equivalent of 40 Hiroshima bombs.

As that article says (see also the BBC and the ABC) asteroid strikes are now thought to happen more frequently than previously thought (paywalled research here and here), perhaps as much as ten times more. Chelyabinsk-type events were thought to happen every 150 years on the average. Now the estimate has moved to every 25 to 30 years. And then there’s all the others in the range from say 1 to 50 metres. Previously we relied on visual records, but some, over the sea, for example, have escaped notice.

Apparently there are literally millions of objects in the tens-of-metres-of-size range that could come near Earth and we only know about 1000. Continue reading A bolt from the blue

Climate clippings 86

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is mainly about politics and policy rather than the science.

1. Anti renewables tirade

As the forces of darkness are unleashed upon us under the rule of Tony Abbott, people attending the Eastern Australian Energy Outlook Conference were subjected to a “venomous rant” against the renewable energy target from Burchell Wilson, a senior economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The tragedy of this is that Wilson’s presentation may have been plain wrong, nasty, manipulative and ideological, but he’s not alone in Canberra….

As Wilson (rightly) pointed out, there is a vast reserve of anti-renewables passion in the rump of the National Party and the Liberal party backbench open to such rhetoric– which insiders say is being whipped up by new Liberal MP Angus Taylor.

Wilson expressed his hope that these views would overwhelm those of moderates such as Environment Minister Greg Hunt, and Energy Minister Ian Macfarlane. He hoped that the economic rationalists at the Productivity Commission would have carriage of the next RET review.

2. Mining lobby targets RET

In the current political climate the RET is under serious threat, being targeted directly by the mining industry.

This is how John D sees it:

Australia’s RET is one of the few emission trading schemes in the world that is actually working. For years it has been steadily driving investment in utility scale renewables. Better still, because it is an offset credit trading scheme that does not generate government revenue it is achieving this with negligible changes in power costs. (The fossil power companies are actually complaining that it is pushing wholesale prices down!)

For this reason it is of some concern to see that the Minerals industry is pushing for the repeal of the RET.

We should all be campaigning for an increase in the RET target and against any attempt to eliminate or scale back the RET.

Continue reading Climate clippings 86

Bolt rools!

Australia is a competitive nation on the sporting field. In the field of climate change we excel in two ways. Firstly, we head the OECD in terms of per capita CO2 emissions. Secondly, our press is the most critical of climate change science, according to a Reuters survey. Our leadership is in no small way due to the efforts of one Andrew Bolt. That’s what Wendy Bacon told Richard Aedy on the Media Report recently.

Wendy Bacon was talking about her report Sceptical Climate Part 2: Climate Science in Australian Newspapers. There is a summary of key findings here. From this page (scroll down) you can download the report, or parts of it, or go to Key Findings with links to sections of the report.

Oliver Milman in The Guardian has a useful summary.

The report analysed 602 articles published between February and April in 2011 and again in the same period in 2012. The article covered ten papers including The Australian, the capital city Newscorp papers, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The West Australian. Missing were The Canberra Times and the AFR.

There were fewer articles in 2012 (270 as against 332) but actually more sceptical articles.

Fully 97% of comment pieces in the Herald Sun either questioned or rejected climate science.

When measured by words, 31% of the writing in the surveyed papers did not accept established climate science in 2011, with this number rising to 44% in 2012. This in spite of the fact that The Age and the SMH have become less sceptical. Continue reading Bolt rools!

The Heart of the Matter

Over the past two weeks the ABC’s Catalyst program has run a special series under the rubric The Heart of the Matter calling into question the importance of cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease with Dr. Maryanne Demasi leading the charge. This is how she described the programs:

In the first episode of this two part edition of Catalyst, I investigate the science behind the long established view that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol.

In the second episode, I cut through the hype surrounding cholesterol lowering drugs and reveal the tactics used by Big Pharma to make the drugs to lower cholesterol appear more effective than they seem to be.

In Heart of the Matter, I investigate whether the role of saturated fat and cholesterol in heart disease is one of the biggest myths in medical history.

Go here for transcripts and videos:

Dietary Villains

Cholesterol Drug War

First up it must be said that Dr Demasi is not just a journalist. She has a PhD in medical research from the University of Adelaide and worked for a decade as a research scientist specialising in rheumatoid arthritis research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I had a triple bypass back in 2000 and have taken statins ever since as well as 100mg aspirin daily and medicine to lower my blood pressure. Except on rare occasions saturated fats do not pass my lips.

Dr Norman Swan told Fran Kelly that his wife had sat next to someone on a plane who had been taking statins for familial high cholesterol levels. After seeing the program he said he had dropped the drugs and was going to tuck into the cream cheese.

To this viewer, such a response would be warranted on the basis of the evidence put forward in the programs. I’m a cautious person, however, so my intention was to stay on course, but was going to consult my GP who I see every four to six weeks. I expected her to advise me to change nothing until I next see my cardiologist in March next year.

Norman Swan was angry. He said people will die as a result of the program. Continue reading The Heart of the Matter

Toyota’s fuel cell car

Around 16 years ago Toyota unveiled its hybrid electric-gasoline car. Since then it has sold almost six million of them. Now the company is taking a different direction and will start selling cars powered with a hydrogen fuel cell as soon as 2015. The battery car, they say, could only exist as “a niche toy for [rich] eco-snobs”, but is not suitable for the masses.

The fuel cell car will have a range of over 500 km or perhaps as much as 650 km in range driving, and will be refillable in seconds if you can find a filling station. Germany currently has 15.

The price is given as between five and 10 million yen, or about €37,000 to €74,000. Not cheap, but perhaps cheaper than expected as an initial offering.

On the downside, the car is only 30% efficient compared to 70% for battery electric. Hence masses of renewable energy will be required if the cars are to be environmentally friendly. There is a question as to whether sufficient renewable energy will be available for a mass rollout, but the car is more efficient than a conventional petrol model.

Toyota have devoted 500 engineers to the project, so they are certainly serious. Daimler has been working on the concept for some time and expects to have vehicles on the road in 2017, as does a Ford-Nissan alliance. General Motors, Honda and Hyundai are working together on a fuel cell project, Volkswagen has formed an alliance with Canadian fuel cell producer Ballard so as not to be caught out if the technology takes off. Continue reading Toyota’s fuel cell car

A hegemon in decline

Immanuel Wallerstein has argued since 1980 that the United States peaked as a hegemonic power around 1970. He says the decline was slow at first but became precipitate during the presidency of George W. Bush. At first

the reaction to this argument, from all political camps, was to reject it as absurd. In the 1990s, quite to the contrary, it was widely believed, again on all sides of the political spectrum, that the United States had reached the height of unipolar dominance.

However, after the burst bubble of 2008, opinion of politicians, pundits, and the general public began to change. Today, a large percentage of people (albeit not everyone) accepts the reality of at least some relative decline of U.S. power, prestige, and influence. In the United States this is accepted quite reluctantly. Politicians and pundits rival each other in recommending how this decline can still be reversed. I believe it is irreversible.

Wallerstein points out that the recent kerfuffle over spying on friendly leaders would have been hushed up during the 1950s. Now it is to the advantage of leaders in their local politics to tweak the nose of the US. Not one of the strong actors in the Middle East takes their cue from the United States any longer.

Finally, there are two real consequences of which we can be fairly sure in the decade to come. The first is the end of the U.S. dollar as the currency of last resort. When this happens, the United States will have lost a major protection for its national budget and for the cost of its economic operations. The second is the decline, probably a serious decline, in the relative standard of living of U.S. citizens and residents. The political consequences of this latter development are hard to predict in detail but will not be insubstantial.

Continue reading A hegemon in decline

Labor’s commitment to carbon pricing

There had been some speculation in the press as to whether Labor would maintain its commitment to carbon pricing in the face of LNP plans to remove it.

Albanese has declared that they will.

But please note, Albanese made this declaration before a shadow cabinet meeting at which Opposition strategy was to be discussed. After the Meeting Shorten confirmed the position. It seems they will seek to implement the position they took to the election through amendments to Abbott’s legislation. They propose moving directly from the initial fixed price, moving directly to an ETS with international trading facility.

Plibersek and Shorten_300I’m not sure when Barrie Cassidy wrote his piece: it appears to predate the decision. Cassidy manages to put a leadership spin on the issue in terms of what would happen after losing the next election where he saw Shorten as vulnerable to a challenge from Plibersek if he wimped out on carbon pricing. My first reaction was to groan inwardly. Couldn’t we discuss any policy without framing it in a ‘leadershit’ context? Nevertheless Cassidy does make the interesting point that the left now essentially controls the leadership. I think the idea is that party membership is to the left, and Shorten only won because of a once off defection of some of the left in caucus to Shorten, which he thinks unlikely to happen again. Continue reading Labor’s commitment to carbon pricing

His Honour v Herr Kommandant

Last week Qld premier Campbell Newman told the state’s legal fraternity to “come out of your ivory towers” and realise the only reason the government introduced a raft of tough new laws because the “system was failing”.

He said members of the legal industry who had publicly questioned the legislation and queried whether the government was blurring the lines between the judiciary and the executive were out of touch.

Last year 400 people committed offences while out on bail in Queensland, Mr Newman said, adding that Phillip Graeme Abell was out on bail when he killed Gold Coast policeman Damian Leeding.

“They [the legal fraternity] are living literally in an ivory tower,” Mr Newman said.

“They go home at night to their comfortable, well-appointed homes, they talk amongst themselves, they socialise together, they don’t understand what my team and I understand, and that is Queenslanders have had enough.”

On the separation of powers

Mr Newman said he believed it to be “more of an American thing, I should say”, but said he understood parliament to be “supreme” because it was “the manifestation of the will of the people”.

But

“It would be absolutely inappropriate for us to interfere in the workings of a specific court or case. That is where the separation of powers comes in. I don’t tell judges what to do, neither does the Attorney-General, nor do we now.

“What we are saying is, the community says enough is enough, they are not being protected, we are saying, here is a new set of laws to try and protect Queenslanders.

“If Queenslanders don’t like it, they’ll vote us out.”

Now Queensland Supreme Court judge Justice George Fryberg questioned whether he should hear a submission from the Director of Public Prosecutions asking the Supreme Court to review the decision to grant bail to 25-year-old alleged Bandidos member Jarrod Kevin Anthony Brown who police allege was one of the Bandidos involved in a public bikie brawl on the Gold Coast last month. Continue reading His Honour v Herr Kommandant

Distractions…

Andrew Wilson queries why nobody writing or commenting on this blog has raised the issue of the really medieval legislation recently passed in Queensland. One reason is that Mark and I have both had certain distractions which will continue for a little while.

de-clutter_mind_map-copy1_300One is the great decluttering project, wherein Mark is consolidating 20 years worth of collected stuff. In simple terms he’s vacating his digs at New Farm at the end of the month and moving back to join us on a temporary basis, which will probably last months rather than weeks. So there has been massive decluttering at his place and ours together with some recluttering of our place.

This is coinciding with the end of university semester in which Mark has a fairly heavy teaching load. The other day, surveying his study, his computer was open revealing that he was in the process of marking 189 assignments. That’s over 60 hours work for one subject!

Earlier tonight after we staggered down the stairs with some book shelves he agreed he didn’t have the head space for blogging right now. Perhaps next week.

I’m fairly busy right now, but my den is being cleaned up for the first time in decades plus the shed has had to be reorganised to accommodate in the first instance about 20 boxes of books. Furniture is being relocated all over the house.

Next Monday my wife and I are flying to Sydney for the wedding of her nephew. A quick trip but it wipes out two days.

So I too have a few distractions. I may be able to squeeze out a bit of writing, but not as much as I’d like.

For those who came in late, I have the privilege of being Mark’s father. And for those who are curious, he’s been calling me “Brian” since he was four years old. One day he just decided that he was too old for this “dad” stuff. I have a policy of avoiding unnecessary arguments, so that’s the way it’s been!

Quicklink: Roger Jones on Bolt on Bandt

NSW fires_250Adam Bandt recently wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian suggesting a link between the NSW fires and climate change, then suggesting that the Abbott Government’s action, or lack of it, on climate change has real implications for loss of life. This incurred the displeasure of one Andrew Bolt who, inter alia, quotes or rather misquotes Roger Jones.

Roger takes a look at these doings at his blog Understanding Climate Risk.

It turns out Bolt is the one who is wrong, wrong, wrong. Oh, and a disgrace, but we already knew that.

Update: Roger Jones has two more posts up:

Fire and climate change: don’t expect a smooth ride

Backburning

Abbott government watch

Parliament house_280A few days ago Jenny Macklin put out a press release headlined “Abbott Government Dumps Disability Care Roll Out”, implying that the new Coalition Government has no intention to fully roll out the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) across the country. Google took me to a page where presumably the press release once existed, but has now been taken down.

Dr George Taleporos worries that both sides of politics may be using the NDIS for political point scoring.

Senator Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social Services has branded Jenny Macklin’s statement as “a lie”. They say they will honour existing agreements negotiated by the previous Government with the states and territories but not necessarily announcements made by Labor during the election period.

Nevertheless there is concern that in the context of budget tightening the LNP may delay or cut the scheme. Taleporos says the economic argument for an NDIS is strong and the evidence that it is an investment in our nation’s future undeniable. I think he is referring here to a Productivity Commission report that found the NDIS will save money in the long run. This sort argument is sometimes lost in short-term budgeting.

Please use this post as a roundtable to identify and discuss any other Abbott government implementation issues.

Image Credit: Michael Dawes (Flickr.com; CC BY-NC 2.0)

Armageddon avoided – this time

We are like a blindfolded man walking towards a cliff, and if we keep walking in that direction, very soon we will fall off.

That’s how Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer described the looming crunch over the debt crisis in the USA on the 7.30 Report last night. The man leading the charge for the Tea Party right of the Republican Party is Ted Cruz:

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This article suggests that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Beyond getting rid of Obamacare, he’s destroying the Republican Party as we know it, to be remade in the image of the Tea Party. He also has an eye on running for president in 2016.

On the remake of the Party, most conservative Republicans fear they’ll be done over by the Tea Party come preselection time because it is so well organised, and, I believe, supported by Koch Bros funding.

On the presidency, there is a suggestion that he believes Obama will eventually be blamed for the chaos if the US defaults. There is another suggestion that he really is ignorant of what will happen if to the world if the US defaults.

Overnight our time a deal was concluded, I think essentially to kick the can down the road, as they say, until next February. Meanwhile Citigroup had already liquidated US Treasury bills falling due around the end of this month and reduced its exposure to government bonds expiring through to mid-December. That is, a major American financial institution was getting effectively downgrading what martin Wolf of the Financial Review described as “the world’s most important safe assets.” Defaulting is likely to be “a huge disruption to market liquidity and credit across the world.” Continue reading Armageddon avoided – this time

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff