Tag Archives: Europe

Saturday salon 26/11

1. Australia trails only Switzerland in wealth table (pay-walled)

    AUSTRALIA’S lofty status as the world’s second richest nation remains intact, new figures reveal, despite household wealth stalling this year.

    In the seventh annual Global Wealth Report from Swiss bank Credit Suisse, the “lucky country” posted an average wealth of $US375,600 ($508,900) for every Australian, second only to banking hotbed Switzerland, with an average net worth of $US562,000.

Continue reading Saturday salon 26/11

Deep origins: early Europe

Whatever wave of migration we look at, someone was already there. Colin Barras in the New Scientist (paywalled) takes a look at the three ancestral waves of migration that founded Western civilisation.

First were the hunter-gatherers. Then came the farmers. These were followed by the Yamnaya, originating from herders on the steppes north of the Black Sea, who brought the horse and the wagon, and the Indo-European language that predominates in Europe, except for Basque, Estonian, Finnish and Magyar (Hungarian). Continue reading Deep origins: early Europe

Saturday salon 11/4 (late 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.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Richie Benaud passes on

The ABC puts it well:

Cricket icon Richie Benaud, who distinguished himself first as a leg-spinning all-rounder, then as a daring Australian Test captain and later as the ‘voice of cricket’ in the commentary box, has died at the age of 84.

Benaud’s skills, drive and determination took him to the top on and off the cricket field, and made him one of Australia’s most recognised people, instantly identifiable simply as Richie.

He played 63 Tests for Australia, was the first player to score 2,000 Test runs and take 200 Test wickets, and never lost a series as Australian captain.

After hanging up his Baggy Green cap, he spent more than four decades as the king of cricket commentators, a man viewed around the world as one of the best callers, watchers and analysts of the game – and perhaps its best ambassador as well.

While acknowledging his record I’d rate him as a top-flight bowler who was a handy batsman rather than a genuine all-rounder, who would be selected for his batting and his bowling absent the other. Genuine all-rounders are rare. I can think of Garfield Sobers, Keith Miller and Ian Botham, also Adam Gilchrist in a sense.

Benaud, I think, gave some respectability to the Packer circus and was apparently quite influential in giving advice.

2. Opinion polls

In Great Britain Ed Miliband overtakes David Cameron in approval ratings, as Labour pulls ahead in the polls.

Here in Oz Newspoll studied quarterly trends with a larger than usual sample. The headlines and much of the reporting was about Abbott’s poor performance in WA. You had to dig to find the national TPP poll which had Labor ahead 55-45. Also:

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten leads Mr Abbott 44-34 as preferred prime minister.

He is now ranked as better prime minister in all states for the first time.

Roy Morgan now has Labor ahead 53-47 and as does the Essential Report.

If this keeps up Labor could lose the election, because they’ll give Abbott the flick and put in Julie or Malcolm.

3. We lock people up too much

Australia’s imprisonment rate at 186 per 100,000 is historically high and getting higher. Moreover:

In contrast to most other developed countries, this rate is palpably high. The rate in Canada is 118 per 100,000. The incarceration rate in Australia is nearly three times higher than in Scandinavian countries.

Standing apart from these trends is the world’s greatest incarcerator, the United States, which imprisons more than 700 people per 100,000 – an increase of more than 400% in three decades.

It’s costing us a pile of money – we spend $A80,000 per prisoner per year compared to $A30,000 in the US. This wouldn’t be so bad if it worked, but it doesn’t:

Sentencing is the area of law where there remains the biggest gap between what science tells us can be achieved through a social institution (criminal punishment) and what we actually do.

In fact

our prisons [are] where the greatest number of human rights infractions occur.

The solution?

The start and endpoint to the solution is to confine jails (almost exclusively) to those we have reason to be scared of: sexual and violent offenders.

Thanks to John D for bringing this article to my attention.

4. Keep an eye on Greece – something unusual is happening

James Galbraith has been to Greece to consult on their problems and reported in an amazing speech to the European Trade Union Institute.

So as these manoeuvres, as I call them, mature, there emerges an interesting possibility. And that is the possibility of a politically stable, anti-austerity government in Europe, led, as I think you probably have observed, by forceful personalities, and presiding over an economy which is so far down that it has no place to go but up. And that may well be, within a short period of time, on a track of some recovery, some improvement in jobs performance and stabilisation of its external debt situation.

This would be in the wake of a crisis that was brought on by the neoliberal financial policies of the early part of the 2000s. Which was then aggravated and prolonged by the austerity ideology that succeeded the crisis, by the profoundly counterproductive policies with which Europe has reacted to the crisis. And so the possibility that an anti-austerity government might lead the beginning of a recovery from the austerity regime is, I think, a present reality and it is, of course, a nightmare in certain quarters.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have faced a wall of grief and pain from a hostile media and European finance authorities. If they prevail it will be because in the end Angela Merkel is pragmatic rather than doctrinaire. The stakes are high:

It goes beyond that to the future of Europe and beyond that, to the meaning of the word democracy in our time.

If you have a spare hour, Yanis Varoufakis talks with Joe Stiglitz. I haven’t yet had time for more than the first half hour.

Climate clippings 130

1. Manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up

Grass_cropped_550

Researchers found:

that a hectare of lawn in Nashville, Tennessee, produced greenhouse gases equivalent to 697 to 2,443kg of carbon dioxide a year. The higher figure is equivalent to a flight more than halfway around the world.

If you use a mulching mower, don’t fertilise, limit cutting and watering, you might tip the balance in favour of the planet. But then your lawn might not be as lush.

2. Risk of extreme climate outcomes

Across the ditch Hot Topic takes a look at a new book by economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman called Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet. They start with the notion that climate stabilisation forecasts regularly show that there is a 10% chance of warming reaching 6°C or more. Although not talked about much, this is standard fare and can be read off this graph I have posted multiple times:

Stabilisation probabilities_cropped_600

The 10% chance of reaching 6°C comes with greenhouse gases (CO2e) at around 580 ppm. We are currently at 480 ppm.

The whole insurance industry is predicated on probabilities of considerably less than 10%. The authors are suggesting that low probability extreme events should be taken seriously by governments. A 10% chance of climate Armageddon is not particularly low.

Weitzman was on the case back in 2008, when I did a post on him at LP, unfortunately in a gap in the archive. Peter Wood did a submission to the Garnaut Report on the subject. Garnaut, it must be said, looked the other way.

3. Arctic sea ice excitement

There has been some excitement over Arctic sea ice extent. As of now, unless there is a peak in late March, which is possible, the winter maximum is looking like a record low. This picture simplifies the story:

Sea ice Mr 15_cropped_600

It shows 2012 and 2015 ice extent against the 1981-2010 average. In the short term ice can be compacted by storms, or flushed out through Fram Strait. A cold snap can extend the ice with a thin cover. Also, as we see in 2012, winter maximums tell you nothing about summer minimums.

That’s the short story. You can read more here, here, here and here.

4. Greenland melting speeds up

As scientists upgrade their models of ice sheet decay, Greenland has a habit of exceeding their expectations.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenland ice loss has increased a phenomenal 632 percent since 2001. (14) This increase is coming from melt, sublimation (ice evaporating directly without melting first), melt penetrating to the bottom of the ice sheet through crevasses and moulins, and from rapidly warming Arctic Ocean waters penetrating beneath floating outlet glaciers, destabilizing these glaciers and increasing their flow.

Massive gorges have been found beneath the ice where rapidly warming seawater has the chance to circulate deep beneath the ice sheet.

A large aquifer has been found under the ice above sea level.

Soot forms on the ice from as far away as Siberia. As the ice sublimates, that is evaporates directly into the air, the soot remains to further decrease reflectivity.

2015_0305greenland1_550

The knowns and the known unknowns add up to a pretty grim picture.

5. EU progress on renewables

Commendable progress is being made on renewable energy in Europe.

Renewables contribute 26% of EU electricity, 17% of heating and cooling and 5% of transport, … It’s generally thought to be easier to decarbonise the electricity sector than heating or transport, where oil and gas continue to dominate.

This chart refers to electricity:

EU_renewables-electricity-production-2013_599x393

Apart from hydro, wind (light blue) easily eclipses solar (yellow).

When heating and transport are included, renewables comprise 20% of all energy, and the composition changes dramatically:

EU_renewables-primary-production-2013_599x393

An old technology, renewable wood, easily dominates through selective forestry.

In recent times energy usage has fallen, with the EU now using as much energy as it did in 1990.

The UK is the biggest laggard in meeting individual country targets. Four countries, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, are ahead of target.

Wind has the momentum in the US with forecasts that it could supply 35% of electricity by 2050, or even as much as 41%. Within 10 years wind could be cheaper than existing coal.

6. 90% of Australian coal plants ‘at risk’ of being stranded assets

Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment has compiled a Stranded Assets Programme report.

It is food for thought for Australia, then, that the Oxford report has declared it owner of “by far” the most carbon-intensive sub-critical fleet in the world (followed by India and Indonesia), with a whopping 90 per cent of its total 29GW of coal-fired generation capacity coming from 23 subcritical plants.

From The Guardian:

Coal currently provides 40% of the world’s electricity and three-quarters of this is produced by the most-polluting, least-efficient and oldest “sub-critical” coal-fired power stations. The International Energy Agency calculates that one in four of these sub-critical plants must close within five years, if the world’s governments are to keep their pledge to limit global warming to 2C.

Help is at hand, according to a group of Queensland engineers.

The Callide Oxyfuel Project is one of just a few low-emission coal projects in the world, and demonstrates how carbon capture technology can be retrofitted to existing power stations.

The technique has been on trial at CS Energy’s Callide A coal-fired power station at Biloela, in a project worth $245 million.

They reckon they’ve done it on a 30-megawatt plant and now need to scale it up. Predictably, not everyone agrees it’s worthwhile.

7. CO2 emissions flat in 2014

Global energy-related CO2 emissions flatlined last year, according to the IEA.

Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

The story is about energy efficiency as well as growth of renewables. Cheaper fossil fuels could lead to a resumption of fossil fuel growth in 2015, however.

Climate clippings 84

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 mostly about the doings of our new government, prospective EU targets, a statement by religious leaders and a couple of items on health implications.

1. Greg Hunt’s role diminished

Whether or not Greg Hunt gets to go to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw from 11 to 22 November. Julie Bishop will henceforth be the lead negotiator in international climate talks.

The story in the AFR says Hunt has been “stripped of responsibility for global climate change negotiations”. He still gets to go and hang out at the talks. One might say that Australia’s representation has been upgraded. Suspicious minds might also think that Hunt couldn’t be trusted. He actually believes human activity causes global warming and might join the warmist urgers if not kept on a tight leash. Continue reading Climate clippings 84

Climate clippings 77

Climate clippings_175

1. Antarctic ice melt studies

A recent study by Abram et al showed that the ice on the Antarctic peninsula was melting about 10 times faster than it was 600 years ago, concluding that further melting was particularly sensitive to temperature increases. The headline and the text of this story perhaps gave the impression that the whole continent was ready to go.

A more sober assessment was found at The Carbon Brief where the study was linked with another study by Steig et al that finds recent changes in the West Antarctica ice sheet “cannot be distinguished from decadal variability that originates in the tropics.”

Nevertheless Antarctica overall is losing mass (see also here). Antarctica contributed strongly to sea level rise during the Eemian and the Andrill study showed that “the West Antarctic ice sheet has collapsed and regrown over 60 times in the past few million years”. Any complacency would be misplaced.

2. New review of ice sheet studies

The Carbon Brief has also posted on a new major review of the latest research on ice sheets. The last IPCC report (AR4) relied on about 10 years worth of reliable sea level data, from 1993 and 2003. Greenland and Antarctica together were found to be raising sea levels by about 0.42 mm per year. That has now doubled to about 0.82mm per year.

So while we are still dealing with short time periods, a clear acceleration is in evidence.

3. Skeptical bloopers

The Carbon Brief reckons that once about every six months David Rose runs an article saying global warming has stopped. Here’s their post of October 2012. Then they lined up six top rebuttals of the week, and a reader contributed a seventh by Tamino.

It’s a tired canard and I didn’t bother reading them all. It did introduce me to the Met Office News Blog which has, for example, a very clear post on tornadoes.

Elsewhere in case you missed it Andrew Glikson debunks the notion that CFCs are responsible for global warming.

4. Garnaut recommends 17% target

Dr Jenny Riesz of the University of NSW reports on Garnaut’s recommendation to the Climate Change Authority which is currently deliberating on the Caps and Targets Review. He favours a 17% target by 2020 to put us in line with the US, Canada and other major economies.

At the Cancun United Nations negotiations in 2010, President Obama committed the USA to an emissions reduction target of -17% by 2020 (below 2005 levels). This has been somewhat ignored in Australia’s carbon targets debate, because policy to implement a national carbon pricing scheme to achieve this target was filibustered by the US Senate.

However, the USA remains committed to this target, both in spirit, and in writing with the UNFCCC.

Canada has promised to match the USA.

He suggests that the EU has found it much easier to meet their targets than originally anticipated, which is a typical experience. This, he says, is in part why their carbon price has collapsed.

Garnaut points out that:

the biggest change of all is coming from China, in terms of quantity of emissions reduction from business as usual. They have set truly ambitious targets, and are meeting them through a wide range of activities, including substantial structural change in the Chinese economy. These actions are driven by a wide range of objectives, including environmental drivers, desire for expansion of the role of services in the economy, and desire for more equitable income distribution.

5. Carbon trading schemes

In the last CC thread Jumpy linked to a Parliamentary Library paper Countries trading greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last three years, the global carbon market has more than doubled in volume but almost halved in value. In that time a further eight countries, states or cities have adopted a carbon market as their primary means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the price for one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent has dropped by as much as 100 per cent in some markets.

That last sentence looks like an oops! A 100% drop gives you nothing!

The paper is the most recent of 25 on climate change in the past few years. In fact their blog Flagpost looks a valuable resource.

6. Floods in Central Europe

Dramatic floods have spread over central Europe.

The New Scientist reports caution about a link with climate change:

While it is premature to pin the heavy rainfall on climate change, it could be partly to blame, says Stéphane Isoard of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. But he says bad land management is just as important.

Nevertheless wetter weather is predicted by climate change, making more floods inevitable.

Deutsche Welle goes into more detail, saying that while individual events can’t necessarily be linked to climate change, they’ve had once in a century floods now in the 1990s, in 2002 and now in 2013. We’ll have to expect more and prepare accordingly.

They make reference to Stefan Rahmstorf’s blog (which is auf Deutsch), but this paper is in English. On a quick look I think he’s saying they have found a mechanism linking floods, droughts and heat waves to climate change and if they are right expect more. And, yes they need money for research of the kind expended on the Higgs boson.

7. Interest grows in the Arctic

Now that the Arctic is increasingly becoming trafficable during the summer many countries are becoming interested. The politics of who sits where at the Arctic Council is complex, but China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India and Italy have now been admitted as permanent observers.

According to the New Scientist China is the one to watch. They’re interested in the Arctic as a shipping route, but also in fish and oil.

“It’s fair to say China will drive development of Arctic resources,” says Malte Humpert of the Arctic Institute in Washington DC.

The Arctic is fragile so we hope they take care.

8. US and China agree to cooperate on phasing out HFCs

From the White House brief:

For the first time, the United States and China will work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), among other forms of multilateral cooperation. A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions.

William S. Becker explains that China had always wanted to consider the issue in the context of the current round of climate talks, which would delay action, whereas the Montreal Protocol already exists. HFCs were introduced as an alternative to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were destroying the ozone layer. Unfortunately HFCs have a greenhouse effect like CO2.

Climate Progress has more detail and the AFP places this topic in context of the whole meeting agenda.

To provide further context HFCs amount to about 2% of GHG emissions, as shown on this wondrous flowchart.

European ETS

EU_0,,16746928_403,00_300

Last week when the European Parliament voted down a proposal to prop up the EU Emissions Trading System’s languishing carbon price by postponing the sale of 900 million emission allowances until the back-end of this decade the price fell to below AU$4. There are obvious concerns about the legislated linking of the Australian carbon price to the EU scheme in mid-2015. Treasury had forecast an EU price of at least $29 in 2015.

Radio National’s PM program had a roundup of political commentary. Julia Gillard on the 7.30 Report was very clear. The legislation was there, it was hard enough to get through the parliament in the first place and we’d have to work with it.

Big business, quick off the mark, was suggesting that link with the EU should occur earlier, so they could buy permits while they were cheap.

Ross Garnaut said, don’t panic, the ETS is only one measure and targets may tighten by impacting on the price: Continue reading European ETS

Climate clippings 67

I’ve used a random image for the featured image of this post. I was going to use the one that once was my gravatar (to the left) but the original is quite small and it came up fuzzy. Continue reading Climate clippings 67

Climate clippings 29

Planet earth

Take a look at where we are heading

This was linked on a previous thread, but I want to emphasise that 2010 saw the worst ever carbon emissions.

There’s a link in that article to five scenarios of temperature change by Mark Lynas. The scenarios are derived from his book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet which was favourably reviewed at RealClimate.

A rise of 1°C is unacceptable. For example, at that level the coral reefs of the world are under threat. At 4-5°C, which is where we’re heading if the do nothing brigade had their way, we have nightmare territory. Continue reading Climate clippings 29

Climate clippings 17

These posts include a brief mention of a number of news items relating to climate change. They don’t preclude treating any of these topics at more length in a separate post.

They can also serve as an open thread so that we can keep each other informed on important climate news.

The permafrost giant is stirring

We predict that the PCF [permafrost carbon flux] will change the Arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42–88% of the total global land sink. The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible…

Continue reading Climate clippings 17

Will the severe winters in Europe continue?

Quite possibly, not every year but with increased frequency according to an article in The Independent.

A study completed in 2009 by the Potsdam Institute predicted this pattern:

Their models found that, as the ice cap over the ocean disappeared, this allowed the heat of the relatively warm seawater to escape into the much colder atmosphere above, creating an area of high pressure surrounded by clockwise-moving winds that sweep down from the polar region over Europe and the British Isles.

Clever them, because it happened in the following two years. They reckon that cold, snowy winters will be about three times more frequent in the coming years. Two cold winters doesn’t prove it, but the pattern’s looking good. Continue reading Will the severe winters in Europe continue?