Category Archives: CO2

This too shall pass: Rio Tinto admits climate change real and accepts the need for action

File under “well its about time”.

Where once denial was expected – if not the norm – from the fossil fuel industry, increasingly we are seeing that industry acknowledge the fact that climate change poses a fundamental risk to their operations (and thus profit).

Climate change “skepticism” is fast becoming the preserve of the ideological zealot and fringe conspiracy theorist.

I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in the private sector, and appreciate climate change from a) an ethical perspective and b) as a risk management issue.

Thus my many years of observation taught me industry acceptance was inevitable. Slower than it should be, but without doubt always coming.

The management of most corporations are conservative and risk averse – far more than the cheer leaders of the “free market” would have you believe.

Indeed, I’m incredibly amused by the shallow musings of the likes of the “Institute of Public Affairs” and “free-market think tanks”.

Quite frankly this gaggle of ideologues, apologists for the super-rich and intellectual fringe dwellers seem to know precious little about how the “market’ actually works”.

It’s not perfect, it does not  operate “rationally” and it is not an enabler of human happiness.

It is a mechanism to distribute material and non-material goods. That’s it.

Nothing more. 

Free markets don’t equal free people: just ask the Chinese how easy it is to decouple “free markets” from the ideals and practice of democracy or “free speech”.

And the market can – and does – fail with surprising regularity: form the South Sea Bubble, to “The Great Depression” and “The Global Financial Crisis” (GFC).

Climate change is a product of market failure, a selective blindness to the risk and additional cost burdens of greenhouse emissions. In the same way regulators overlooked the risky of lending practices of banks in the United States (how CDCs fueled the property bubble) lead to the GFC, so it is with carbon emissions.

Carbon emissions have been “off book” – but that does not mean the risk is not real: one merely needs to see the emergent risks in the shrinking Arctic Sea Ice and record high temperatures.

Pretty much most informed commentators and observers saw the demise of fossil fuel industry opposition to mitigation efforts such as the “carbon tax” as inevitable.

[Note to the LNP and Tony Abbott: you are looking increasingly silly aren’t you? You’ve spent a far too much time at IPA events I think, when business generally sees these people as fringe nutters.]

So when the coal miners start stating the case for “urgent action” we are passing a threshold: perhaps too late, perhaps not urgently enough, but it is happening.

One can appreciate coal miners have to steady the nerves of investors (and themselves) by stating “there will always be a place for coal”, but the truth is coal as an energy source is in its sunset years.

And yes, this was also seen as inevitable: even by those companies themselves.

Give it a few decades and it is possible to anticipate the large scale decommissioning of mines and coal powered generators across the globe.

But the “merchants of doubt” achieved what they set out to do: delay the inevitable regulatory reform and their technological obsolescence.

Their demise was both predictable and certain: “our” failure was to (once again) anticipate the ferocity of the fossil fuel lobby’s opposition in what they appreciated was a fight to the death.

And now, in their final years even the coal miners have come to accept their “death” – they are moving from denial and anger to bargaining and acceptance.

“This too shall pass”. 

This from Rio Tinto’s head of coal (via SMH) – note the tacit acceptance of the “carbon tax”;

Climate change is occurring and is largely caused by human activities, miner Rio Tinto’s head of coal in Australia, Bill Champion told a Brisbane conference this morning.

In a speech on sustainable development and mining, Mr Champion said the “scale of the necessary emissions reductions and the need for adaptation, coupled with the world’s increasing requirements for secure, affordable energy, create large challenges which require worldwide attention”. 

Rio Tinto has factored a carbon price into its investment decision-making for the past 10 years, Mr Champion said.

“We support a coordinated global approach to reduce emissions. Until that is in place, as well as after, we recognise that it will be necessary for individual jurisdictions to take actions. [Mike @ WtD: Yes they accept the “carbon tax” that was supposed to end civilization]

“We recognise the value of action on climate change.”We factor into our planning and decision-making, including our choice of investments, the costs and associated risks of emissions and business disruption, as well as the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation, and the opportunities created for our business by the move to a low-carbon economy.” 

Mr Champion said coal-use represented about 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but there would continue to be demand for coal even under the International Energy Agency’s most aggressive scenarios for action on climate change.

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Worst drought in 800 years? Yes, the North American 2000-2004 drought was that bad…

From the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

A new scientific study indicates the turn-of-the-century drought in the North American West was the worst of the last millennium—with major impacts to the carbon cycle and hints of even drier times ahead. 

The study, titled “Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America,” indicates that the major drought that struck western North America from 2000 to 2004 severely reduced carbon uptake and stressed the region’s water resources, with significant declines in river flows and crop yields. It was published on July 29 in Nature-Geoscience. NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer is a co-author on the study, along with Christopher Williams of Clark University. The study was led by Christopher Schwalm of Northern Arizona University (NAU). 

Researchers found that the turn-of-the-century drought was the most severe region-wide event of its kind since the last mega drought 800 years ago. “The turn-of-the-century drought may be the wetter end of a new climatology that would make the 21st century climate like mega-droughts of the last millennium,” said Schwalm. 

Under normal climate conditions North America absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere due to plant growth, offsetting to anthropogenic carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. “Our study shows the turn-of-the-century drought reduced plant uptake by half in western North America,” said Schaefer. 

The current drought that has currently engulfed country is as intense in the western United States as the turn of the century drought, but also includes large portions of the Midwest and Eastern United States. 

Climate models indicate drought conditions in the American West may be the new normal as the planet warms, expanding the region that is already chronically dry. “This will not only reduce carbon uptake,” says Schaefer, “but will also would trigger a whole host of significant water resource challenges in a region already subject to frequent water shortages.”

Note how the research (indirectly) blows the whole “more CO2 is good for plants!” argument out of the water (see emphasis)?

More CO2: more warming.

More warming: more drought.

More drought: less uptake by carbon sinks.

Positive feedback loops: fascinating.

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New Queensland mines could make Australian region 7th largest CO2 emitter on the planet

For those who think Australia’s contribution to the global warming problem is minimal – and therefore there is little need to do anything – plans to open new coal mines in Queensland are troubling:

Plans to open up a new Australian “coal export rush” would turn a single Queensland region into the seventh largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, undermining international efforts to keep global warming below 2C, a new report has warned. 

Nine proposed “mega mines” in the Galilee Basin would, at full capacity, result in 705m tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere, according to a Greenpeace Australia analysis. This level of emissions would surpass those of all but six nations in the world. By comparison, the UK emitted 549.3 million tonnes of CO2 from all sources in 2011. 

Greenpeace said that the nine mines’ production capacity of 330m tonnes of coal a year for export would represent an “unprecedented” increase in the scale of coal mining in Australia. The mines’ maximum output, primarily aimed at servicing the burgeoning Chinese and Indian markets, would nearly double Australia’s total 2010/11 coal production of 352m tonnes and eclipse its export total of 283m tonnes. 

The Greenpeace report states that the mines will only be able to launch and operate at capacity if global appetite for coal continues to grow strongly. This scenario would in effect nullify an internationally agreed goal to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2C from pre-industrial levels. 

Greenpeace warns that a growth in coal-fired emissions represented by the nine Queensland mines would be in line with the International Energy Agency’s model of a “catastrophic” 6C rise in temperatures.

I’d be curious to see the calculations behind the claims: but even so this is reflective of the complete disregard the ruling Liberal-National Party under Campbell Newman has for the environment.

After all, this is the same bunch who want to remove the teaching of climate change from schools.

The Greenpeace report is here.

Direct action: stop approval of the Newcastle T4 coal terminal

Time to get boots on the ground and make ourselves heard – sign this petition to stop T4:

The NSW Government will soon decide whether to approve a fourth coal terminal for Newcastle. This terminal (T4) would increase the volume of coal exported from Newcastle from 210 to 330 million tonnes each year. It would also double the dust pollution from coal trains, piles and loaders that people breath in suburbs from the Hunter Valley coal mines to the port.

NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard will assess the T4 proposal in coming weeks. Without strong, vocal and sustained opposition from the community, he is likely to recommend they approve it. We need to get onto the three key decision makers right now – Mr Hazard, Member for Newcastle Tim Owen, and Premier Barry O’Farrell. This is our key window of time to persuade them not to approve T4.

Arctic Code Red: we are losing ice the area of Tasmania every day

No cause for alarm?

To appreciate the true scale – if not horror – of what is happening in the Arctic  read this:

Right now the Arctic ice is melting so fast we’re losing ice the size of Tasmania every day. This year’s melt has already smashed all records, and is still going.

The frightening part? Melting ice exposes seawater that absorbs more heat from the sun, making the cycle worse. Yet this story is not all over the front pages.

Arctic ice always melts in the Arctic summer, then freezes from mid-September. But when it melts this much, the world should take heed.

What can we do when the media ignore colossal news? Well, 13 million Australians are now on Facebook, and people reading this article could reach half a million of them. We can’t fix the lack of ice, but we can fix the lack of information.

Let’s step up where the media failed and spread this message everywhere. The Arctic melt is staggering new evidence of climate change.

As I said before, if stock markets crashed like this the response of government’s would be very different.

Share this link on Facebook and where ever you can.

Please.

Queensland beautiful one day, coal free the next: QLD conservatives against CTAX hike coal mining royalties putting “billions” of projects at risk

From today’s Australian Financial Review: beautiful, just beautiful. :

Coalminers threaten Queensland shutdowns

BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and other miners are reconsidering their plans in Australia’s biggest coal-producing state after the new conservative Queensland government hiked the coal royalty rate to help drive a record $6.3 billion budget deficit back to surplus.

Premier Campbell Newman’s first budget on Tuesday predicted a bullish rebound in global coal prices and a surge in the state’s biggest export as it sought to raise $1.6 billion over four years by increasing the coal royalty from 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent for coal prices above $100 a tonne and to 15 per cent for coal prices above $150a tonne.

But angry mining companies said the move, predicted in The Australian Financial Review, would lead to more job losses, mine closures and project cancellations.

Mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, who is one of the LNP’s biggest donors, said the royalty decision would cost thousands of jobs and “kill” the state’s economy.

“Increased mining royalties on top of widespread sackings is hardly a recipe for growth in this state,” he said. “It is a recipe for disaster putting us on an uneven footing with the rest of the world.”

Recall the Campbell Newman, the Liberal-National Party Premier investigated the possibility of joining a High Court Challenge (The Australian, May 8 2012) to the Gillard Governments “carbon tax” but then decided it would most likely fail:

A HIGH Court challenge against the carbon tax will fail and Queensland won’t be part of it, Premier Campbell Newman says.

Mr Newman says he’s received legal advice not to join any challenge to the federal government’s tax on big polluters.

“We’re not going to waste taxpayers’ money given it indicates that, sadly, the federal drafters of this have done a good job of making it very bullet-proof,” Mr Newman told 2GB radio.

“I’ve also talked to at least one other state leader about this, and they’ve had similar advice so we’re not going to waste the taxpayers’ money.

“But I wish I could.”

He described the carbon tax as “economic madness”, saying he would have joined the legal action “if it had been 50/50”.

He said the tax would compromise Queensland’s ability to process resources locally.

“That’ll all happen overseas.”

Ahhhhh Queensland, beautiful one day: coal free the next… how’s the economic madness going Campbell?

Now if I may…

Recall, some time ago I said climate sceptics and conservatives were due for a lesson in realpolitk:

The “tax” may be tweaked or rebranded by successive governments, but its here to stay.

The coming disappointments

The denial movement is about to receive some harsh lessons in realpolitk as they grapple with two major disappointments.

The first disappointment: business opposition to the carbon tax will melt away within six months as it did in New Zealand and Europe (see above). They will lose allies and supporters (except for some very loud and eccentric billionaires).

The second disappointment: the tax is here to stay, regardless of who is in power.

Now this is where Australian politics is set to get messy.

As I said: a tax on fossil fuel industires is here to stay.

Inadvertantly, the Queensland LNP is helping the environment.

I wonder what Jo Nova, Alan Jones and the Galileo Movement will make of the Newman’s actions?

Can we expect rallies across the country?

Thundering opinion pieces from Andrew Bolt?

No?

I can hear Tony Abbott in Canberra right now….

“Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewman!”

I am all kinds of amused

The dead seas: will global warming usher in another mass extinction of sea life?

Under a green sky, details below

From Science Daily a report on the increasingly worrying state of the world’s oceans and the impact on sea life:

Three of the five largest extinctions of the past 500 million years were associated with global warming and acidification of the oceans — trends which also apply today, the scientists say in a new article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 

Other extinctions were driven by loss of oxygen from seawaters, pollution, habitat loss and pressure from human hunting and fishing — or a combination of these factors.

“Currently, the Earth is again in a period of increased extinctions and extinction risks, this time mainly caused by human factors,” the scientists stated. 

While the data is harder to collect at sea than on land, the evidence points strongly to similar pressures now being felt by sea life as for land animals and plants…

The paper in question is behind the pay wall, I’m reading it:

Extinctions in ancient and modern seas. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2012; Paul G. Harnik, Heike K. Lotze, Sean C. Anderson, Zoe V. Finkel, Seth Finnegan, David R. Lindberg, Lee Hsiang Liow, Rowan Lockwood, Craig R. McClain, Jenny L. McGuire, Aaron O’Dea, John M. Pandolfi, Carl Simpson, Derek P. Tittensor.

The abstract:

In the coming century, life in the ocean will be confronted with a suite of environmental conditions that have no analog in human history. Thus, there is an urgent need to determine which marine species will adapt and which will go extinct. Here, we review the growing literature on marine extinctions and extinction risk in the fossil, historical, and modern records to compare the patterns, drivers, and biological correlates of marine extinctions at different times in the past. Characterized by markedly different environmental states, some past periods share common features with predicted future scenarios. We highlight how the different records can be integrated to better understand and predict the impact of current and projected future environmental changes on extinction risk in the ocean.

For those more curious, I’d suggest the “Under a green sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future” by Peter Ward. It’s a good popular introduction to the topic.

It recounts how scientists came to understand major extinction events, and discusses the role of increased levels of Co2 and ocean acidification in past extinction events. In particular Ward discusses the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event (PET) that occurred around 250 million years ago, when over 90% of all life vanished.

The PET is also referred to as the “Great dying”.

After such knowledge: response to Manne – the diagnosis is outstanding, it is the corrective that is needed

“In June 2011, a reporter for the New York Times attended the annual conference in Washington at what was then the most important denialist organisation in the United States, he Heartland Institute. It had about it, she said, “the air of a victory lap”. The jubilation was warranted….” – Robert Manne

Firstly, Robert Manne should be congratulated on his outstanding contribution to our understanding of the history of climate denial, its effectiveness and its achievements.

Manne writes with all the erudition, mastery of facts and passion one has come to expect of him as a writer and intellectual.

Titled “A dark victory: how vested interests defeated climate science“, the essay provides a condensed history of the denial movement, its key achievements and the shape of its “victory” – the defeat of global agreements on carbon dioxide reduction and the turning of public opinion against science and scientists.

For those of us familiar with the details of the debate, the players and their tactics there is nothing we don’t know: Manne cites the work of Oreskes & Conway (Merchants of Doubt), Gelbspan (The Heat is on), Hoggan (Climate cover up), Schneider (Science as a contact sport) and Mann (The hockey stick and the climate wars).

This is by no means a criticism, as the majority of Australians are either indifferent to the debate or ignorant to the players and their way in which they have sought to manipulate public opinion. Manne’s essay provides an extremely useful summary of the literature on climate change denial. It serves as a useful primer for anyone hoping to understand how we arrived at such a lamentable state.

As Manne notes:

“So far nations and the international community have failed conspicuously to rise to the challenge posed by the dangers. Since the Rio Earth Conference of 1992, which initiated the search for an international agreement, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 40% of more…”

As many have stated – and I also emphatically state – this is a failure not just of the political process but of a civilisation.

Manne has repurposed the title of David Marr’s book Dark Victory, which describes that other shameful episodes in Australian politics the Tampa incident, to alert us to the “victory condition” the deniers have achieved.

Of course it is a victory only King Pyrrhus would appreciate, a similar appreciation that we are only now beginning to grasp.

Indeed, the Tampa affair and the prevalence of climate change denial book-end each other as they are the product of not just the same forces, but the same individuals.

While Manne does not explicitly state this, I think we can accept the fact that the coarsening of public debate and confusion on climate change can be attributed to News Limited and its cadre of conservative columnists, “shock jocks” such as Allen Jones and the Liberal-National Party.

It is not a co-incidence that the same actors that helped create the Tampa “crisis” – cynically exploiting the public’s fears in the post 9/11 environment – are the same ones who have distorted the “climate debate”.

We should not forget the obstructionist role the Government of John Howard played in refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol. To our great national shame we followed the path of the second Bush presidency in not merely stalling global agreements, but actively undermining negotiations and aligning with think tanks, fossil fuel interests and the tiny, but highly motivated, “community” of climate change deniers.

Two individuals in particular should be remembered for their roles in contributing to this public policy disaster at a global level: News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt and former Prime Minister John Howard.

Without Howard (and by extension the LNP) and News Ltd’s unqualified willingness to inject the conspiracy claims and dubious scientific “arguments” of the self-proclaimed climate sceptics into the public debate we would not be in the mess we find ourselves.

On any other scientific issue, the likes of David Evans, Ian Plimer, Jo Nova, Bob Carter and the sad “Galileo Movement” would be laughed from the court of public opinion. However, because climate change denial is attuned to the world view and values of conservative elites, it has received political patronage.

The swarm of think tanks, “citizen scientists” and sceptic bloggers are merely the courtiers of a decaying and moribund ancien regime. They are like the mesmerists, alchemists and psychics that gravitate towards the powerful hoping to suck at the teat of wealth and privilege in exchange for flattering their eccentric and self-absorbed patrons.

Normally the farce of eccentric billionaires funding an army of panderers would be of no consequence: but when the powerful employ think tanks, PR consultants, tame scientists and segments of the media to help them deny reality – and then project that falsity back into the public domain – it is a recipe for disaster on a civilisational scale.

It not only gives me cause to weep in rage, but wonder if Homo sapiens posses an innate self-destructive urge that defies not merely reason, but explanation.

To paraphrase Tacitus: the victory of the deniers will make a desert which they declare a kind of peace.

We can see just what this “peace” looks like as corn crops shrivel across the continental United States under record drought conditions. 

After such knowledge

Manne does what nearly every member of the progressive “side’ of politics does so very well: diagnose the problem.

The detail is there, the cause and effect is masterly described. There is a vast literature on the politics of climate change, the psychology of denial and if you really want it lists that name the “guilty parties”.

But we still lack an appreciation of the “corrective”. What is to be done? What can we do?

Still, however much we wish to heap blame on the deniers and their powerful patrons we have not fully explored our failure to appreciate the ferocity, tenacity and willingness to win-at-all-costs of the forces arrayed against the science.

Foolishly it was thought presenting the evidence of environmental collapse and the possibility of suffering on a global scale would sufficiently motivate the political, business and scientific elites to work cooperatively to “solve the problem”. We placed our trust in civilisations “best and brightest”.

After Copenhagen we should disabuse ourselves of such romantic assumptions.

The failure of the global community to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to safe levels (1) rivals the failure to reduce the diplomatic tensions between the Great Powers in the first decade of the 20th century.

Those failures lead to a global conflagration, two world wars, revolution and the Holocaust:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.”

To this I ask you; every person reading this post, every activist, scientist , every politician and citizen.

After such knowledge what is to be done?

(1) Insert your idea of safe concentrations of CO2 here; 600ppm 400ppm, 350ppm?

Image of the day: open cut lignite coal mine, Anglesea Victoria

One of Victoria’s open cut coal mines, located in Anglesea along the states majestic Great Ocean Road. The coal feeds the Anglesea Power Station, which in turn powers the Port Henry aluminum smelter.

The power station generates around 1.21 million tones of GHGs:

 Source: Google Maps

 

The maths: the must read article by McKibben, the implications we must consider

Bill McKibben’s powerful Rolling Stone article is currently being pinged around Twitter.

It is essential reading: powerful, insightful, reasoned and passionate.

I implore you to read it and pass it around:

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.

McKibben highlights what he calls the “three most important” numbers you did to know.

Firstly, the so called “2 degree safe limit”:

The accord did contain one important number, however. In Paragraph 1, it formally recognized “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.” And in the very next paragraph, it declared that “we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius.” By insisting on two degrees – about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – the accord ratified positions taken earlier in 2009 by the G8, and the so-called Major Economies Forum. It was as conventional as conventional wisdom gets.

To maintain global temperatures under the “safe level” we need to restrict the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere – no more than 575 gigatons:

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

However, there are close to 3000 gigatons worth carbon locked up in the available reserves of fossil fuels:

This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.

And that the economic imperatives and self interest of fossil fuel companies will drive us beyond the 575 gt:

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

As I tried to say, with far less eloquence than McKibben we are locking in the March of folly. There is much to say and debate about how to respond to the issues outlined in the article.

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