Sydney Opera House

15 12 2009

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Oceans of Acid

21 11 2009

Here’s  a nice article from Australia’s Cosmos magazine.  It’s nominated for an Earth journalism award.  You can vote for it here.

Oceans of acid

Pickrell, John
Cosmos Magazine (2009-02-06)
Read the original report (online, press)


As global warming wreaks havoc on coral reefs, evidence is mounting that another problem caused by carbon dioxide is an even bigger threat. But is it too late to fix?

It’s six o’clock on a Sunday morning and I’m sitting on Queensland’s Four Mile Beach. There’s still a night chill to the air. Though the light is dim, a red glow is building on the horizon as the Sun is about to emerge from beyond the Pacific Ocean.

I’m playing with the sand between my toes and fiddling with a small piece of coral rubbed smooth by the tide.

I’ve spent the preceding few days out on an Australian government marine survey vessel snaking its way along the Great Barrier Reef. The trip has given me a lot to think about, both good and bad, and this morning I’m mulling over everything I’ve experienced.

In late July, the CSIRO invited me to join a team of 14 scientists, led by oceanographer Bronte Tilbrook and climate modeller Richard Matear, as they collected data to predict the future health of the reef.

The issue on their agenda is ocean acidification, commonly referred to by those in the know as “the other CO2 problem” – separate, but linked to climate change. Though acidification has had a lot less press, there is mounting evidence to suggest that it will be a bigger problem for marine life than the warming of the oceans themselves.

Our waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is mostly maligned for causing climate change as it builds up in the atmosphere, trapping heat, but for the past 200 years it’s also been quietly dissolving into the oceans, slowly making them more acidic.

Continued here.

Sleek freaks and links to critiques

19 11 2009

flickr user: Rusty Sheriff

I’ve been watching the Superfreakonomics saga unfold with interest.

I confess that I have not read either this book or the earlier Freakonomics, that kicked off the franchise. I have however, observed the exuberant confidence with which the field of micro-economics has taken on new subjects and new challenges in modern times, to some extent spurred on by this bestselling first book. For me this is of great concern. I have always been worried about the way economics has divorced itself from its fellow social sciences and how it dominates decision making and consulting in the halls of power. Perhaps this is best represented by the tip-of-the-tongue familiarity of names like Stern (and Garnaut to Australians). How odd that politicians have sought sagely advice from economists about the unfolding crisis of climate change (as opposed to other thinkers – political scientists, geophysicists, biologists, ecologists and so on).

Also concerning is the claim to this new form of micro-economics to being “value-free” or agnostic on morality. This is not true. Any decision to emphasise or frame matters is coloured by values. All the more dangerous that the authors cannot see this. There is no doubt that the power of statistics in highlighting causal relationships is something that can be put to good use. But the idea that this is new ior revolutionary is insulting to the statisticians, epidemiologists, sociologists and so on, who have used powerful statistical methods to draw such conclusions in the past.

With a major financial collapse just starting to ease, now is the time for the discipline of economics to take up its most important challenge – shaping economic systems that serve the people and nourish the living world. Systems which do not require further growth in energy consumption or resources. Some have started down this path. But until the mainstream of the profession grasps the new realities of material and energy constraints, it will indeed remain the dismal science.

Here is a great collection of links to blogs and media discussing Superfreakonomics. (Most are critical, some defending the book).

Ecology lessons from traditional cultures

15 10 2009

While the term “racist” is a little too loosely thrown about, Ariel Salleh, a sociologist from the University of Sydney, makes the case for a far more radical sustainability discussion to the one that dominates the mass media right now.  Click the link to stream the audio from Radio National.

Is our sustainability science racist?

Heroes @ Westminster

12 10 2009

more about “Heroes @ Westminster“, posted with vodpod

Coalition cosies up to big business

10 10 2009

The opposition seems to think that we need an emissions trading scheme that keeps big business happy. Funny, I thought the idea of an emissions trading scheme was to SAVE THE PLANET.

MALCOLM Turnbull is likely to get business backing for his emissions trading amendments, which the Coalition is drafting in close consultation with industry groups and major companies.

The Coalition’s strategy to gain business endorsement is likely to shatter the green-industry alliance that had supported the Rudd government scheme, with key conservation organisations vowing to abandon their support for the ETS if the government accepts the business-backed amendments.


Climate Change & the Torres Strait

8 10 2009

Eddie Mabo

Economist  Ross Garnaut discusses the “unmeasurables” of climate change; like the cultural heritage and homes of thousands of Torres Strait Islanders.  If Tuvalu is beyond our horizon, surely we can help our fellow Australians in the Torres Strait.

Eddie Mabo occupies a large place in the history of relations between indigenous and other Australians. He played that role because he was a man of exceptional capacity and tenacity and also because he was part of the minority of indigenous Australians whose original home was in the islands of the Torres Strait.

The Torres Strait and the adjacent lands of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and the people who live there, share many things, including exceptional vulnerability to climate change.

continued here.

Ups and downs

21 07 2009

The good:

  • World leaders agree that we should attempt to keep global warming limited to 2 degrees
    Celsius or less (even if their actions don’t fit their stated goals).  It’s a little odd though that the Australian govt. enthuses about a goal of 80% carbon reduction (for developed nations) by 2050 yet only plans to reduce by 60% itself.
  • The Powershift youth conference is a huge success and harnesses the vitality and energy of young Australians.

The bad:

Earth to Senator Fielding – Are you for freaking real !?

23 06 2009

Senator Steve Fielding

There has been a dreadful sense of deja vu this last fortnight as Australia’s lone Family First senator (and local village idiot) jets back and forth the planet on a one man mission to uncover the truth about global warming.

It would be gut-achingly funny if it wasn’t so heart-breakingly serious.

Here are some recent quotes from our man Steve:

It is absolutely crazy for Australia to go it alone.

Sheesh! There is absolutely no risk that Australia, the world’s largest per capita polluter, will step forward alone!  Much of the developed world is already streets ahead and are tracking downwards with respect to emissions.

We need to see what the rest of the world are going to do, and then Australia can respond.

You selfish, petty, miserable man.  He is suggesting here that Australia, with one of the highest standards of living in the world, should wait for poorer countries to act first.  Progress is never made in this way.  The only way to convince others to join the party is to act quickly and boldly.

I’m not a climate change sceptic, I’m not a climate change extremist, what I am is very open-minded.

A bit too open-minded Steve.  Becoming fixated on the minority views of partisan bit-players rather the great weight of scientists internationally.  Your open-mindedness causes policy paralysis and endangers us all.  Like the open-minded parent of a child with suspected meningitis.  Sure, let’s not act until we’re 100% certain.

As an engineer, I have been trained to listen to both sides of the debate in order to make an informed decision about any issue. Any scientist worth their salt will tell you that in order to form a conclusive view about any topic, you need to properly explore all available possibilities.

C’mon mate. You’re sounding as if you’re the first one to tackle these questions.  Scientists have been looking at these things for decades Steve.  The problem is not that we haven’t debated all the issues, the problem is that THIS IS ALL WE HAVE DONE!

Has the Minister seen modelling which shows that solar radiation is highly correlated to global temperature changes?

Steve, there is no upward trend in solar radiation in the last few decades.  Moreover nights are getting warmer faster than days, and winters faster than summers.  This is not consistent with solar radiation causing global warming.  IT’S NOT THE SUN, DUDE ! IT’S US !

None of this means that I support the current Emissions Trading Scheme legislation before the Australian Parliament.  I tend to sympathise with the Greens on this issue.  I feel that it is more important that we take a target of 40% below 1990 by 2020 to Copenhagen, and we need to state that up front.

Oh Steve, what shall we do with you?

Is Melbourne our greenest city?

18 05 2009

Images from the recent climate change protest on St Kilda beach in Melbourne made me ponder this question.   A city that capitalises on trams and a walkable CBD and one that holds an annual sustainability expo.  Just a few signs that Melbourne may be Australia’s greenest city.

Click image to enlarge.  More coverage here.

St Kilda beach protest

St Kilda beach protest


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