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Greenhouse/Climate Change and Australia

Contents of this page

Introduction
Adverse effects of climate change
What do the experts say?
Scientific consensus
What do the papers say?
Economists and greenhouse
Australia and greenhouse
Australia is not doing enough
Is it really happening?
Local evidence of climate change
Are temperatures related to gas levels?
Human activities
Some say it is not happening
Quotes
Climate change denial
Extinction from the oceans
Fossil sand dunes
Evidence of past climate change
The Earth a second Venus?
Public liability
Coral reef bleaching
Bushfires
Hope?
Greenhouse emissions
Links
Fossil fuel electricity in perspective
Sequestration
Sequestration in trees
Oil mallee
Sequestration in peat
Sequestration in the ocean
Geosequestration
Geosequestration: cost
Subsidies to fossil fuels
Carbon offsets
In town without my car
Few support greenhouse action, why?
Who is to blame?
Australia and climate change responsibility
Equitable sharing of the atmosphere
True cost of coal
In one hundred years
Index

On other pages...

What should Australia be doing?
This region is leading Australia
A carbon tax
Wind power, a viable
sustainable energy option
Neither of the big political parties will
do much about greenhouse/climate
change, vote smart.
 
The Earth will still be here in a hundred years and two hundred years time, but it will not be the Earth that we know; it will be a much degraded place. In the early twenty-first century we all have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to do what we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and so minimise the severity of climate change.

Australia is one of the worst climate change polluters of all nations in per-capita terms. So Australia has an ethical responsibility to do more than most other nations toward lowering our emissions. Australia is a democracy, so the sins of our government are the sins of the people of Australia.

In 2014, due to the policies of a government democratically elected by the people of my homeland, Australia's emissions increased following the repeal of an effective carbon tax. Weak and ineffective policies from a government that is compromised by its interests in short-term profits from a huge coal industry will see emissions continue to be much greater than they could be.

Plainly, those Australians who have high ethical standards have not done enough to counter the activities of those who have low ethical standards and are chasing short-term gain. For my own part in that, I apologise.

This page created 2003/02/22, modified 2017/02/25
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com     Google search Ramblings DC
See also Climate change in the international context


"In Australia, we know that water for irrigation is limited, and we are beginning to discuss how best to divide it up. Here's one way of doing it: let those with the biggest pumps take as much as they want, never mind what that leaves for others. Not fair? But then, why are we using exactly this method of dividing up a scarce resource right now – not with water, but with the atmosphere? Perhaps because we're not used to thinking of the atmosphere as a scarce resource, we don't see how unfairly we are behaving."

Philosopher Peter Singer writing in The Age, 3rd April 2008



Climate change is impacting Australia now
Dam fix
Kangaroo Creek dam, South Australia
The wall was raised by four metres and the spillway was being widened by 40 metres due to increasingly heavy flood flows in the Torrens River.
Photo 2017/02/25

Introduction

 

Climate scientists agree

Contrary to claims made by some, there is very little doubt about the reality of anthropogenic climate change among scientists. (Anthropogenic climate change is climate changed caused by Man.)

Peter Hannam wrote in The Age Not much climate change doubt, science says. More than 97% of climate scientists accept that humans are causing climate change and less than 2% reject that view. Hannam wrote "That is the finding of a University of Queensland-led study that surveyed the abstracts of almost 12,000 scientific papers from 1991-2011 and claims to be the largest peer-reviewed study of its kind. The survey was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. This is a well written article aimed at laymen and published in a Fairfax newspaper.

 

Australia 'going alone'

We sometimes hear from supporters of fossil fuels that Australia is 'leading the world' or 'going it alone' in taking steps to reduce its rate of production of greenhouse gasses. Of course it is all nonsense. Australia ranked second last of 61 nations in The Climate Change Performance Index in 2015, and came third last among 58 nations by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe at the Paris Climate Summit in 2016. Those who claim that Australia is in any way 'leading the world' are either ignorant or working on the theory that a lie often enough told might be believed.
 
 
Updated 2017/02/25

CSIRO climate report

The State of the Climate 2012 report noted that the world's 13 warmest years on record were all in the last 15 years. Since then 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 have each set new records.
Australia ranks 53rd in the world in population, but sixth in the world in the CO2 produced by its electricity industry; it has 0.3% of the world's population, but produces 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gasses; it is well up among the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet. This gives Australians an ethical responsibility to reduce the harm we are doing to the planet. If you are not doing what you can to reduce your greenhouse impact you are enjoying your life at the expense of your kids lives.

The USA and Australia, with a couple of small middle eastern oil states, are the worst per-capita greenhouse polluters in the world. The Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments have all failed to treat the problem with anything like the urgency it requires, and the Abbott Government shows signs of being the worst of the lot (2013, November).

Wendy Bacon reported in Sceptial Science that Australian media, especially the Murdoch controlled part, was the most climate-sceptical in the world. Is this due to the huge financial influence of the coal mining industry? (Australia is the fifth largest coal miner and the biggest coal exporter in the world.)

Closely associated with climate change is ocean warming and ocean acidification. For some years the bleaching of coral reefs has been known to be caused by the former, more recently the latter has been shown to be caused by the higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and to pose a great risk to all sea-life that produces skeletons of calcium carbonate. In addition to the corals, many of the tiny animals that make up plankton have calcium carbonate skeletons; they provide one of the greatest food sources for cephalopods (squid and octopus), fish, dolphins and whales.

Sea creatures with calcium carbonate skeletons eventually die and some of mineral matter in their skeletons is buried in the sea bed. This is one of the most important ways in which carbon is taken out of the atmosphere in the long term. Ocean acidification has the potential to substantially slow this process; effectively leading to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This page is intended to provide some useful information on the human induced greenhouse and its related effects, but is not, by any means, a full explanation. It provides evidence obtained from a number of sources, and links to reputable organizations that can provide evidence. For a discussion of what Australia and Australians could reasonably do to reduce Australia's huge levels of greenhouse gas production see What should be done?. I speculate on why humanity is so slow to react to such a serious problem in the Psychology of climate change, and compare climate change to other disasters on another page.

I suspect that future generations will condemn nations like Australia and the USA because of our part in the greenhouse warming of the world.

Why accept that humanity is causing climate change?
(Climate change caused by humanity: anthropogenic climate change, ACC)

First, the science:
  • About 99% of papers published in peer-reviewed climate journals accept the fact of ACC;
  • The vast majority of climate scientists accept the reality of ACC;
  • I doubt that there any scientific organisation that has any interest in climate, anywhere in the world, that does not accept ACC.
In addition: For more up-to-date information go to Why accept climate science.

The importance of peer-reviewed literature

The popular media gives the impression that there is still argument over the reality of Human induced climate change, but there is almost 100% unanimity in the peer-reviewed literature of the climate scientists.
 
From Loren D. Knopper and Christoper A. Ollson in 'Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review of the Literature'; published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health.
"Publication of scientific findings is the basis of scientific discourse, communication and debate. The peer review process is considered a fundamental tenet of quality control in scientific publishing. Once a research paper has been submitted to a journal for publication it is reviewed by external independent experts in the field. The experts review the validity, reliability and importance of the results and recommend that the manuscript be accepted, revised or rejected. This process, though not perfect, ensures that the methods employed and the findings of the research receive a high level of scrutiny, such that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation of results, prior to their publication. This process seeks to ensure that the published research is of a high standard of quality, accurate, can be reproduced and demonstrates academic / professional integrity."

Some adverse effects of greenhouse warming/climate change

Greenhouse warming has already caused bleaching of many coral reefs, an increased rate of melting of the Greenland icecap, the thinning of the arctic sea ice, the breakup of several Antarctic ice shelves, and the retreat of many mountain glaciers; it has been implicated in the long-term decline in rainfall in the African Sahel, the Australian Millennium Drought, and the increased frequency of hurricanes. If unchecked, man-made (anthropogenic) climate change will result in:
 

No escape for Great Barrier Reef

It has been suggested (was it by Malcolm Turnbull?) that the Great Barrier Reef is not threatened because as the Pacific Ocean warms the reef will simply move gradually south into cooler water. This will not happen because the seabed to the south of the present reef is not shallow enough far enough from the coastline. Some new reefs close to the coast might form, but the offshore water is too deep for the necessary light to penetrate to the bottom for reef growth. Also, coral reefs only grow in clean water; the water further south probably contains more industrial pollution.
  1. Higher temperatures and increased summer temperature stress on animals and plants. As of early 2016 the sixteen hottest years in the history of reliable global temperature data have all occurred since 1998 – as shown in the table on the right. This was reported by NOAA (USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Authority) in its 'Global Analysis – Annual 2015'.
  2. More frequent days of extreme fire danger in Australia – to the point where the authorities have introduced a new classification of 'catastrophic' fire danger;
  3. An increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, severe dust storms and hurricanes;
  4. Long-term rainfall decline in some areas, increase in others. In many cases this will cause the displacement of the residents (human, animal and plant) of those areas;
  5. Habitat change; some areas will become unsuited for their fauna and flora;
  6. Warming oceans causes bleaching of coral reefs. This will result in the loss of reefs – Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in serious danger (see note in box on right);
  7. The spread of some diseases into areas where they have not previously been a problem;
  8. Extinction of many species;
  9. Destabilisation of populations; Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police, has said that this will be the greatest threat to Australia's future security;
  10. Possible changing of some of the major oceanic currents (if the Gulf Stream was to fail, as seems possible, much of northern Europe would become uninhabitable);
  11. Sea level rise – which will lead to flooding of some very populous river deltas (eg. Nile, Mekong, Ganges) with resultant displacement and probable starvation of millions. Several low-lying Pacific island nations could virtually disappear;
  12. The melting of mountain glaciers, particularly in the Himalayas, with the consequent forming of high altitude lakes. The lakes are held back by moraines which then become unstable and can burst causing catastrophic flooding;
  13. Loss of productivity of farm land.
  14. Possible run-away greenhouse due to such things as release of the methane currently locked up in permafrost, melting of sea-ice, etc. There is even a very small possibility that such a run-away greenhouse event could cause the Earth to become a second Venus; a lifeless planet that 'has been cooked to death'.


The number of days on which Australian mean temperatures were in the hottest 1% since records began
Top percentile temperatures
Graph credit: Bureau of Meteorology, State of the Climate 2014


Is the record drought in eastern Australia caused by climate change (see map below)? Research carried out by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO indicate that the Walker circulation (an important wind system in the South Pacific) has been effected by climate change in such a way as to make drought in Australia much more likely.


Rainfall trends in Australia
Australian rainfall trends
Australian rainfall trends – Bureau of Meteorology

The areas coloured in browns are where the rainfall has decreased in the last 41 years, the areas in greens have had increases in rainfall.


Clare rainfalls
Annual rainfalls at Clare, Mid-north South Australia
An example of an area with a steeply declining rainfall in the more recent years. More information on the data in this figure is given elsewhere.


(This page uses several technical units. Energy units, definitions and conversions are available on an additional page.)
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This is a time of greatness

Climate change is the greatest danger and challenge facing mankind today. But dangers and challenges bring opportunities, great dangers and challenges bring great opportunities.

If we get it wrong we will have committed the greatest crime ever imposed by one generation on those to come; Humanity will cause the greatest destruction, indeed extinction, ever brought about by one species on thousands of others.

If the people of the world can successfully limit their greenhouse gas production rates to a sustainable level it will be humanity's greatest ever achievement.

Those few world leaders who stand in the way of cutting back greenhouse gas production are the greatest ever villains: their crime is far greater than Hitler's Holocaust or Stalin's purges. Those who lead the world in combating climate change should be counted among the world's greatest heroes.

Is there a scientific consensus for anthropogenic (man-made) global warming?

The short answer is yes.

A Study by Dr Naomi Oreskes, University of California, San Diego, published in the peer reviewed magazine, Science, December 3, 2004 Vol. 306, Issue 5702,1686 described a random sample of nearly 10% of articles on global warming published in peer reviewed journals in the previous 10 years. Of the 928 articles sampled, and analysed whether agreeing or disagreeing with the prevailing consensus view of anthropogenic global warming, none disagreed with this consensus.

What do the papers say?

Another study was of the newspaper stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and the Wall Street Journal, published in the previous 14 years, sampled about 18% of articles (636 articles) and applied the same question of agreeing or disagreeing and came up with 53% in doubt or disagreeing with this scientific consensus view.

I would like to thank Dr Colin Endean for the above information.



What is the science telling us?

According to NASA "Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities."

And for those who deny the science, there are many other reasons too.

There's about as much doubt about global warming as there is about whether the Earth is flat or round.

 
Is it caused by Man?
Graphic credit: The Berkeley Blog
The graph on the right shows that the vast majority of climate and earth scientists accept that global warming is largely caused by Mankind. Published in Environment Research Letters, Cook, Nuccitelli, Green, Richardson, Winkler, Painting, Way, Jacobs and Skuce examined 11 944 abstracts and found:

"that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming."

Other papers on the consensus between climate scientists have been written by Oreskes, 2004; Heima; and Anderegg, 2010.

Also see Wikipedia

Obviously the scientists in those specialities where they would be well placed to know about climate change are in no doubt. The fact that the popular media are suggesting that there is a lot of doubt on the matter explains much of the confusion in the general public. Respectable popular science journals, such as Scientific American and New Scientist, are not in any doubt that climate change is happening and is largely caused by human activity.

One must be cautious about quotes from 'scientists' about any subject outside of the field of the individual scientist. A scientist, like any other person, often has little expertise outside of his or her own speciality.

Geologists are not climatologists

For example, a geologist, while perhaps being well placed to know about climates millions of years ago, is not at all likely to know a lot about the complex factors that effect today's climate, or the likely climate in the next century. In fact, a geologist, unless he has specialised in the paleoclimate field, might know little about climates even in the distant past.

I pick on geologists because they seem, more than most other scientists, to be skeptical about the causes of recent climate change. It is quite true that there have been huge changes in climate in the very distant past; one need only think of the ice ages, and there have also been very warm periods. However, what the geologist-skeptics seem to neglect is that any of these changes, especially those that came on suddenly – and a change that happened over a century or two is a very sudden change in geological time – were disastrous to many species.

Geologists are trained to look at things in the very long term. It is true that the biosphere will adjust to climate change. In several million years, or tens of millions of years, things will have settled down again and a visitor to the earth might not easily see that anthropogenic climate change ever happened; although, if he studied the genetic diversity of the species present he might come to the conclusion that some great disaster happened in the geologically recent past.

Bias?

Geologists are often closely connected with the mining industry which, being very greenhouse intensive, has strong economic motives in playing down the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

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A well known geologist-climate-change-skeptic, Ian Plimer, was Professor of Mining Geology at Adelaide University and has substantial interests in the mining industry. It is human nature for people to sympathise with their associates; a professor of mining geology will associate with miners.

It should also be remembered how people running the tobacco industry managed to ignore the facts about the health problems associated with their product.






271 university economists' statement on greenhouse

The Howard Government's justification for not acting to reduce Australia's very high greenhouse gas production levels has always been based on economic arguments and on jobs. (In 2013, Tony Abbott's justification for taking very little action was similarly based on economic arguments.) What do the economists say?

The following is a quote from a media release by the Australia Institute:

"Seventy five professors of economics today called on the Federal Government to stop undermining international efforts to tackle climate change and to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay.

The 75 professors are among 271 Australian university economists who have signed a statement drawing attention to the economic damage to Australia of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The full statement can be downloaded from The Australia Institutes downloads.

It seems that the economists realise the damage that will be done by greenhouse far outweighs any damage to the economy caused by addressing the problem. I wonder if Howard's real reason for doing nothing is simple pig-headedness; he has always been against it and he's not about to change his mind – to change his mind would be to admit he was wrong, and he never admits he was wrong on anything.

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Australia and greenhouse

The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Climate action rating
Image source: German Watch: The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Note Australia's position; second last of 61 nations.

In the above report, the comment about Australia in the Climate Policy section is:
"Since joining the "very poor" group last year, Australia has lost even more ground and now comes in last together with Canada and Turkey."

Nice words

A quote from the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, Liberal, WA, (speaking about climate change, 2005/07/26):
"It is an incredibly important issue and there are incredibly strong reasons for taking comprehensive, effective global action to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions."

In 2016 we are not even hearing 'nice words' from the Coalition any more, let alone credible action.

The specious greenhouse argument

 
This argument is looked at in a different way in The great fallacy
One argument for doing very little that pops up periodically is the 'Australia is too small to make any difference' one. It goes something like this:
"Australia only produces about 1.5% of the world's greenhouse gasses. If we were to cut our emissions to nothing tomorrow it would make very little difference to the world. Therefore we would be foolish to risk crippling our economy by taking strong action."
The fallacy in this argument can best be demonstrated by taking it even further.
"South Australia produces well under one percent of the world's greenhouse gasses; South Australians can't be any part of the problem!" and further: "The people in my home town of Crystal Brook produce a tiny proportion of the world's greenhouse gasses, plainly we don't need to bother reducing our production." and further: "I produce maybe only a billionth of the world's greenhouse gasses, there's no point in me changing my ways."
Australia is a part of the world; we must do our bit. On a per-capita basis Australians are responsible about five times as much greenhouse gasses as the average world citizen. We have a larger moral responsibility to reduce our emissions than most other nations and most other people.

The facts prove Australia is not doing enough

The Howard and Rudd Governments pretend that they are behaving responsibly in regard to greenhouse. To know that this is false you need only consider the following facts:
  1. All fossil fuel fired power stations in Australia have what amounts to an unlimited license to dump their waste carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What other industry in the early twenty-first century has unlimited license to dump waste anywhere?
  2. Many, many things in Australia are taxed, coal is not; coal is the Australian government's sacred cow.
  3. The Australian Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (20% by 2020) has been set at the minimum level that will cover targets previously set by the Australian state governments, it is proposed that it build up slowly until 2016, with most of the growth after that (after the current – Rudd – government's period of office).
  4. The Australian government has far more money invested in the fossil fuel industries than in the renewable fuel industries.

While President G.W. Bush has been known to deny that climate change is happening, Australian governments talk big but do very little.

Tristan Edis, Business Council for Sustainable Energy said in 2007 that "Our electricity greenhouse emissions in Australia have grown 50 per cent since 1990 and ABARE forecasts that they'll grow by another 50 per cent by 2030. So we've got to go beyond what we're doing right now."

I have listed a number of the actions that the Australian government could take to reduce Australia's greenhouse impact on What should be done?.

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Is it really happening? Is the world getting warmer?

 
Northern hemisphere temperatures
Northern hemisphere temperatures – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology
This image is compressed for faster loading
Reconstruction of northern hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years based on instrumental and proxy data records.

The steep rise in temperatures starting in the early twentieth century is obvious.

 
Australian mean temperatures
Australian Maximum Temperature Anomaly – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology, 2010
The graph on the right shows the change in average annual temperatures from 1910 to about 2009. For each year it shows how the average temperature for that year compares to the average temperature for the base period, 1961-1990. Years below that average are represented by blue bars going downward and years above average temperature are represented by red bars going upward. The length of the bars show how far the temperature of that year deviated from the average.

 
Australian
Australian Climate Extremes; Trend in number of cold days – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology, 2010
The figure on the right shows the trend in the number of cold days in Australia. Note that the largest declines in the numbers of cold days are in the south of the continent. (The number of hot days are increasing in Australia too, but the increases are greater in the centre and north of the continent. See BoM.)
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Local evidence of climate change

Reduced stream flow

I worked in the field of hydrogeology (underground water) in the Mid North region of South Australia for about 30 years. Surface water in creeks, especially in the drier half of the year depends greatly on groundwater; groundwater can move into creeks (springs) and water in creeks can seep underground ane recharge local aquifers (underground formations that can store and transmit water).

As a part of my work I monitored some of the local creeks and rivers. Over the period that I did this monitoring, mainly around 1990 to 2003, I recorded a long-term decline in flows.

As there was little human extraction of groundwater from at least some of these catchments it is most likely that the decline in flows is related to climate change.

The Crystal Brook is close to my home. I have personally noticed a great reduction in flow in this stream over the period during which I have lived in the township of Crystal Brook; around 1976 to 2014. The redgums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along the Crystal Brook have suffered badly from the decreased flow.

A redgum on the Crystal Brook
Tree in 2008 Tree in 2014
April 2008
January 2014

The tree above has, together with all the other redgums along the lower Crystal Brook, suffered from climate change trends. Note that in the image on the right the tree has far less foliage than in the earlier image.

Evidence of climate change at Clare

 
Temperatures
The blue diamonds are long-term average temperatures for Clare. Pink squares are average temperatures measured in particular months.

Note that, in most cases, the temperatures measured in recent months have been higher than those for average months (pink plots are above blue plots) – evidence that the climate is warming in the Clare Valley. For the whole of this period temperatures were 0.79° warmer than the long-term average.

These data are from Bureau of Meteorology records available on the Net.

Much of my time is spent in the Clare Valley of 'Mid-North' South Australia (about 75km from Crystal Brook). Temperatures at Clare, like most other parts of Australia, have increased in recent years.

The graph at right shows long-term average monthly temperatures and the average temperatures of recent months. The important point in this context is that most of the recent months were warmer than average months.

Higher temperatures cause greater need of water by native vegetation; however, we are not getting any more rain; in fact recent years have generally been drier than average. Early 2008 was particularly dry and in March 2008 there was a heat wave of such length that it went well beyond the previous record. This placed the native trees in the Clare Valley under such stress that by May thousands of them were dead.

Many years ago a conservation park was established at Spring Gully near Clare to protect a pocket of red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees that had, thousands of years ago, become separated from the remainder of the species. These have proven particularly vulnerable to the drought and heat; in May 2008 it appears that many of these trees have died.

It is more a guess than an estimate, but it seems to me that a third to a half of the stringybarks in the Clare Valley are dead.

Clare rainfall record


 
Clare rainfalls
Note the decline in rainfall in recent years
The graph at the right is made up of Bureau of Meteorology data taken from Clare Post office (1863 to 1994) and Clare High School (from 1995 onward); a note on this combination of data is elsewhere.

The average annual rainfall from 1863 to 1990 was 632mm, from 1991 to 2008 it was 557mm, 75mm lower. In the period from 1994 to 2008 the average was 525mm, 107mm lower than the 1863 to 1990 average. The curved line was calculated as a line of best fit to the data.

The steepness and persistence of the decline in rainfalls since about 1970 seems to be unprecedented in the data. Plainly the declining rainfalls, combined with higher temperatures, will stress perennial plants.

Worryingly, the decline in rainfall seems to be becoming steeper, there is no reason to think that the bottom has been reached.

See also Climate Change hits the Clare Valley.

Dead red stringybark Red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees, Spring Gully Conservation Park, South Australia. All in this photo are dead or nearly dead.

The photo was taken on 11th May, 2008;






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Are temperatures related to greenhouse gasses?

CSIRO: Relation between temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels
over the last 400 000 years The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia has interesting data on this point.

The pair of graphs on the left shows that, over the past 400 000 years, atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels have been very closely linked to temperatures.




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Are our activities significant?

CSIRO: Atmospheric CO2 levels for the last 1000 years Is our civilization really having any significant impact on atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels?

This CSIRO graph shows that CO2 levels have increased steeply since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Technical Paper IV, 2007, on climate change and water stated that:

"The atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in 2005 exceed by far the natural range over the last 650 000 years. Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. It is very likely that the observed increase in CH4 concentration is predominantly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use."
The IPCC report can be downloaded can be downloaded here.

To claim that the atmospheric changes are coincidental is to hide one's head in the sand.

The importance of electricity consumption

A study called 'A Clean Energy Future for Australia' for the Clean Energy Futures Group wrote the following:
"In 2001 energy which users obtained by direct combustion of fuels and collection of solar heat provided 69% of the energy supplied to users (including use in the production and processing of fuels other than electricity), but accounted for only 31% of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary energy. Electricity generation accounted for the other 69% of emissions."
Put simply, while less than one third of Australia's energy comes from electricity, more than two thirds of Australia's greenhouse gasses, from the energy sector, are produced by our electricity generators. So if Australia is to reduce its greenhouse gas production rate, the electricity generation industry is a good place to start.

This study can be downloaded (in pdf format) from the Net. You could try the Australian Wind Energy Association's site for a link to a download.
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Comments on some objections

Some people still believe that the man-made greenhouse effect is imaginary. This section lists several of the objections that have come my way, and answers them.

Question/objection Answer
Temperature records are not sufficiently accurate and/or not sufficiently long for us to be sure that temperatures have really risen. Not only are there records of directly measured temperatures, but past ocean temperatures can be inferred by measuring oxygen isotope ratios in oceanic fossils of known ages.

Encyclopaedia Britannica...

"The record is relatively consistent from one core sample to the next and can be correlated throughout the oceans."
Also see BOM temperature graph (on this page).
Thickness of some polar ice sheets is increasing; does this make sense if the world is becoming warmer? Temperature is not the only variable involved (and in any case while average global temperatures are rising, not all local temperatures are necessarily doing the same). A quote from the USA EPA
"Precipitation has increased by about 1 percent over the world's continents in the last century. High latitude areas are tending to see more significant increases in rainfall, while precipitation has actually declined in many tropical areas."
An increase in winter snowfall would cause thickening of some ice sheets.

Also, it should be noted that the Greenland ice sheet is melting at record rates and the Arctic Ocean ice cover is thinning.
The amount of greenhouse gasses produced from natural processes is much greater than is being produced by Man, so doesn't than mean that our effect is negligible? The short answer is no. A quote from World Book Encyclopaedia on CD ROM, 2000.
"Without the natural greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the earth's surface would be about 33oC cooler than it is now."
We need this much greenhouse warming, but significantly more could be disastrous. Note that if we add only 10% to the natural effect, that's another 3 degrees C.
Isn't the warming of the past century just a natural rebound from the little ice age? The little ice age was mainly confined to Europe (it peaked from 1650-1750), and any rebound from that would have been largely completed by the 20th century. Indeed, the natural long-term climate trend today would be toward a cooler climate were it not for human activities. (Thanks, in part, to Scientific American)
The surface warming that is claimed to be evidence of global warming is mainly urban 'heat island' effects near weather stations. Not so. As predicted, the greatest warming is found in remote regions such as central Asia, the Antarctic Peninsula and Alaska. The largest areas of surface warming are over the ocean, far from urban locations. (Thanks, in part, to Scientific American)

Also see Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Surface temperature analysis.






Quotes from authoritative sources

Encyclopedia Britannica (1999 CD ROM)
"Should present trends in the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly of CO2, continue beyond another 100 years, climatic changes larger than any ever experienced during recent geologic periods can be expected. This could substantially alter natural and agricultural ecosystems, human and animal health, and the distribution of climatic resources."

United States Environmental Protection Agency Website
"Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. Deserts may expand into existing rangelands, and features of some of our National Parks may be permanently altered."

New Scientist Journal Website

"Burning fossil fuels and using the atmosphere as an open sewer has turned out to be a recipe for disaster. The Earth is warming and the pace is quickening."

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Climate change denial

 

Fossil fuel industry funds climate change denial

In 2006 the Royal Society, probably the most prestigious, certainly the most venerable, scientific society in the world, wrote to ExxonMobil asking them to stop funding a dis-information campaign on climate change.
Also see An insider's story of the global attack on climate science by Jim Salinger on The Conversation.
Also see on these pages Climate change denial in the Australian Liberal Party and Is there any point in arguing with climate change deniers?
I wonder about the psychology of climate change denial.

Unconvinced

There are, no doubt, a number of people who are unconvinced. Considering what is printed in the popular press this is understandable if not excusable. One need only glance occasionally at the scientific press, such journals as the Scientific American or the New Scientist, or listen to or watch science programs on ABC radio or TV, to see that the experts are convinced. But it seems there will always be a lot of ignorance in this world.

Too horrible

Is there a group who find the predictions of climatologists, demographers and others who are warning about the probable effects of climate change too horrible to accept? Is it like a suppressed memory of childhood abuse that is locked away because facing it is too painful?

Sticking to their guns

Then there is the group who has been saying for years that climate change is not happening, or that it is nothing to do with Man's activities. If you have been insisting on something for years it is very difficult to accept that you were wrong and change your stance. The evidence piles up bit by bit, but these people find reasons why they shouldn't believe it, bit by bit; they go on and on this way even after the evidence has gone well past the point of convincing any with an open mind. This is where prominent climate change denier Ian Plimer finds himself; with many others.

Apathetic

How many just don't care? Or do they think the problem is too big for them to do anything about? Or do they feel that climate change is going to happen some time in the distant future and they will worry about it when it happens? (There is, of course, ample evidence that it is already having some pretty terrible effects.) I read recently that people tend to deal with small problems that affect a few people, they are less likely to try to take on a larger problem that affects more people; the biggest problems that affect a great many people are the least likely to be tackled.

Convinced, but do nothing anyway

Australian governments, local, state and federal, all know that climate change is happening and most would be aware that humanity is the cause. Yet they choose to do very little or nothing because lobbyists of the finacially powerful mining and fossil fuel industries don't want anything done.

Our governments are playing with band-aids while what is needed is major surgery; they are fiddling while Rome burns.






Extinction from the oceans

Peter D. Ward wrote an article in the Scientific American of October 2006 describing a theory that several major extinctions in the geological past have been caused by the oceans becoming anoxic (without oxygen) with consequent proliferation of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) producing bacteria. H2S is itself toxic, but even worse for life on Earth, it can destroy the ozone layer. Ward's theory, supported by convincing evidence, was that the combination of the H2S in the air and the ultra-violet radiation due to the loss of the ozone layer killed most life on Earth.

Ward continued to propose that a similar disaster could be caused by the current rise in atmospheric CO2. As CO2 increases the oceans warm and as they warm oxygen becomes less soluble in them; that is, they move toward anoxia. If they become sufficiently anoxic the H2S producing bacteria could establish and trigger another global extinction. Ward suggests that the geological data indicates that this could happen at an atmospheric CO2 level of around 900 parts per million.

This is a very short interpretation of Ward's article. I suggest that readers consult the original in Scientific American.






Evidence of past climate change

 
Fossil sand dunes near Alford, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
This road has been cut through fossil sand dunes that have not been active in the recent past. However, farmers must take care to not allow them to become bare of vegetation.
In the geological record there is an enormous amount of evidence that the Earth's climate has changed markedly many times in the past.

This Internet site has been written in the Mid North of South Australia, and there is abundant evidence to be seen in this area for a much drier period in the not too distant past: only a matter of several thousand years. Fossil sand dunes are to be seen, not only in the Mid North, but on Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas, and the far north of the state.

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Perhaps those who are neither farmers nor geologists would not necessarily recognize them. They are typically low rounded hills, well covered with grass, shrubs, or trees; quite probably they are in agricultural land and may have crops growing on them. They are most often to be seen on otherwise flat land. In a past, drier period, these little hills were moving sand dunes such as can be seen in many of the world's deserts.

What happened in the past may well happen again, especially if we mess with the climate.




Could the Earth become a second Venus?

The planet Venus is physically very similar in size and mass to the Earth; it is much bigger than Mars and Mercury and just a little smaller than the Earth. It is closer to the Sun than is the Earth and for this reason alone one would expect it to be a bit hotter than the Earth; but it is not just a bit hotter, it is enormously hotter. This is because of what has been called a run-away greenhouse effect.

 

Fifth IPCC Assessment

This report, released on 2013/09/27, states that there is likely to be a shocking 9 degrees of warming by 2200. This would make large areas of the planet uninhabitable.
Warming of the Earth due to the gasses that people have caused to be added to the atmosphere is causing what are called positive feedbacks. That is, a relatively small warming can cause changes that then cause more warming. Some positive feedbacks that are happening are:

  • The release of the methane currently locked up in permafrost in the arctic;
  • Higher temperatures cause more evaporation from the oceans; water vapour is a strong greenhouse gas;
  • The summer ice sheet over the Arctic ocean is getting smaller. Open ocean absorbs more energy from sunlight than does ice or snow;
  • Similarly, sea-ice fields in the Antarctic are getting smaller or breaking up in response to global warming and areas covered by mountain snow-fields are getting smaller. These also cause increased absorption of solar energy in summer;
Another possible, and very large, positive feedback is the release of the methane clathrate (hydrate) from the ocean floors into the atmosphere. This will happen if the temperatures of the oceans rise sufficiently. It is thought to have been involved in some global warmings in the geologically distant past. There have been unusually warm periods in the Earths distant past, but they have not lead to catastrophic feed-back; why should this time be any different?

Astronomers have long studied the evolution of stars and the subject is now well understood. They can say with a high degree of confidence how the Sun formed, how it evolved to become what it is now, and how it will change in the future before 'burning out' in about five billion years. The Sun is at present in a long and stable 'middle-age' in which it changes only very slowly. The main change is a very gradual increase in the amount of heat it produces.

About 66 million years ago there was a series of massive volcanic eruptions in southern India known as the Deccan Traps. It is possible that the release of carbon dioxide associated with these eruptions caused a warming that might have been involved in the extinction of the Dinosaurs. Whether or not the Deccan Traps caused a warming, geologist are quite sure that there were warmings in the distant past.

So, while a burst of greater than usual warmth due to some event such as the Deccan Traps in the distant past might not have quite been enough to 'tip the Earth over the edge' and make it into another Venus, it is just possible now that the Sun is a little hotter that another warming might reach that point.

A similar run-away greenhouse effect to that on Venus, while unlikely, would quite probably destroy all life on Earth.

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Public liability

AMP, in its 'Working towards a sustainable future' newsletter, printed the following:

The fossil-fuel industry may be potentially liable for the impacts of global warming. The question here is – when will the link between greenhouse gases and climate change become a 'scientific certainty', so that down the track companies cannot dispute it?

Most scientists would argue that such evidence exists today. So where does this leave companies which are fundamentally involved in fossil fuels? At a strategic level, it may require them to rethink their business, as shown by BP's move to 'Beyond Petroleum' – renewing their commitment to the environment and solar power. However, such a strategic change takes time. In the meantime, companies can balance the potential liability of their fossil-fuel products, e.g. coal or gas, with climate change initiatives in other parts of their business which produce 'carbon credits'. Climate change product liability may affect related industries sooner rather than later, as shown by the recent case of a number of US States taking power generation companies to court over climate change.

So, will companies, and perhaps governments, involved in polluting the earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, be forced to mend their ways if they want a future for themselves? Will Australia, and Australians, have to financially compensate other nations for the damage that our present government's short-sighted policies are causing?






Coral reef bleaching

Rising ocean temperatures are causing the bleaching of coral reefs. Reef building corals are a symbiotic union of a coral organism and an algae. When water temperatures rise beyond around 30 degrees Celsius the algae is expelled, causing the coral to lose its colour. The remaining coral organism cannot, and does not, long survive without the algae.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef and reefs on the Western coast have both suffered from temporary bleaching events, significant part of some other reefs have been permanently killed.

Reef bleaching is expected to worsen as global warming progresses.
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Bushfires

From an article in Scientific American, June 2011.
"If climate change drives temperature up a degree or two," goes the common dismissal, "how bad could that be?"

Here's an example: Higher temperatures draw moisture out of live and dead trees and brush, making them more flammable. The heat also can alter precipitation ... lengthening the fire season. A one degree Celsius climb in average global temperature could cause the median area burned annually by wildfires in parts of the American West to increase up to sixfold.
A one degree rise in temperatures could occur well before 2050.

If global warming will make the US forests more flammable, it will do the same thing in Australia.

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Hope?

An Australian could be excused for thinking that the greenhouse situation is without hope. The Gillard federal government, while being much more pro-renewables than the old Howard government, is still supporting the fossil fuel industries with massive subsidies, climate change predictions are dire, ocean acidification is increasing, the Great Barrier Reef has been shown to be at risk, and the USA continues to take far more than it's share of the world's resources.

 
Canunda wind farm turbine
One of the turbines of the Canunda wind farm, Millicent
But there are signs of hope...

Here in South Australia there is more than 1200MW of wind farm generation capacity (as of October 2011). A number of companies are exploring for hot rocks to use for the generation of geothermal energy, which will help replace coal fired power station electricity.

The state government has set a target of 33% renewably generated electricity by 2020. In early 2003 SA had virtually no renewably generated electricity; by 2011 some 25% of SA's power was being generated by wind farms and coal-fired power generation had gone from 42% to 25%. This is truly a remarkable achievement.

Solar thermal power is showing signs of approaching viability as a large scale contributor to the power grid and there are hopes of replacing the coal-fired power stations at Port Augusta with solar thermal. Technology is in the pilot stage that will allow solar power stations to go on producing power for many hours after the sun has stopped shining.

Extraction of petroleum has peaked, or is about to peak. There are predictions that the price of liquid fuels will rise steeply in the next few years. This will make big heavy gas-guzzling cars unviable. People will be forced to buy small, fuel efficient cars. Those who buy new gas-guzzlers will probably find that they can only afford to run them for a very few years.

There is some reason to hope for a more rational future.

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Updated 2015/07/07

Greenhouse emissions

 
Emissions
Pit & Sherry
 
Generation
Pit & Sherry
The two graphs on the right are from Business Specator.

The first shows how emissions from electricity generation in Australia were decreasing, and decreasing especially steeply while the carbon tax was in place, and have increased since. The carbon tax was in place for the period between the two vertical lines.

The fact that emissions have steeply increased since the Abbott Government removed the carbon tax shows the damage that they have done to total world greenhouse emissions and suggest the damage that they have done to Australia's reputation as a responsible participant in the world.

The second graph shows, among other things, how brown coal emissions in particular have increased since the removal of the carbon tax. Brown coal is the most polluting form of generation in Australia. It is also one of the cheapest; cheap and dirty.

The fall in black coal generation is thought to be due to the general decline in power consumption in NSW combined with the rise in wind generation, especially in SA and Victoria. Black coal generation is more expensive than brown, although slightly less polluting.

 
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Relevant offsite links

Australian Bureau of Meteorology Climate and weather information – Climate change
Australia, CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) Atmospheric Research, Greenhouse research and information
Updated climate change information for Australia, January 2015
Perception survey, Australians agree that climate change is happening
Australasian Energy Performance Contracting Association AEPCA (see below)
Australia's Greenhouse Policy An informative article by Colin Hunt with many references and links
Australian Academy of Science booklet "The science of climate change", February 2015.
Australian media The most sceptical of climate science in the world.
Bioenergy Australia Bioenergy Australia (see below)
BuzzFeed 18 Scientists On What They Actually Think About Climate Change by Joe Duggan and Kelly Oakes
Climate Action Network Australia CANA
Climate Debate Daily A new way to understand disputes about global warming
Climate Science Watch Climate Science Watch (see below)
German Watch The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Global Environment Report UK; New Scientist
Global Warming Clearinghouse A single source for contemporary key reports, articles, papers, and Blogs referencing the latest information available on Global Warming
Global Warming Debate A Layman's Guide to the Science and Controversy
Global warming information USA; Environmental Protection Agency
Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface temperature analysis – a very informative site
Google Scholar There are a huge number of scientific papers dealing with climate change and greenhouse, far too many for me to cite here, see Google Scholar or Google Scholar, Australia.
European Commission A list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions is given at World Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels; data from the European Commission Joint Research Centre: Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research.
Lancet

University College London and The Lancet report: climate change the biggest global-health threat of the 21st century.

Manne, Robert How can climate denialism be explained? Manne is professor of politics at Melbourne's Latrobe University
McMichael, Professor Anthony The Conversation; the impact that climate change is likely to have in Australia
Ocean acidification Royal Society, Paper "Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide"
Oceans are going quiet The silencing of the seas, Uni. Adelaide research, Sept. 2016, Nagelkerken, Connell, Rossi; due to pollution and acidification
One Person Can This project is showing, not only that one person can have an impact, but that many people are doing a lot already.
Physical World: Climate USA; National Geographic
Real Climate: Climate science from climate scientists RealClimate – science rather than journalistic "debate"
Renewable Energy Generators of Australia (REGA) REGA (see below)
The Conversation 2016/07/21, Fiona Armstrong and Peter C. Doherty discussed the threat that climate change was posing to health.
Skeptical Science Examining the science of global warming skepticism and more specifically Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says.
Sunrise Project The Sunrise Project aims at helping people combat climate change. Provides funding.

More information on some links

AEPCA
The Australasian Energy Performance Contracting Association. Its members are formed from energy service companies, state government departments and private companies interested in the performance contracting process. Energy performance contracting is a smart, affordable and increasingly common way to make building improvements that save energy and money. Its mission is to act as the Peak Body to support the commercial growth of members and their market through education, industry promotion, self-regulation and industry standards.

Climate Science Watch
A nonprofit public interest education and advocacy project dedicated to holding public officials accountable for the integrity and effectiveness with which they use climate science and related research in government policymaking, toward the goal of enabling society to respond effectively to the challenges posed by global warming and climate change.

The Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)
Represents the interests of the broader sustainable energy industry including, renewables energy, cogeneration, gas-fired generation, waste-to-energy and energy efficiency industry. It has more than 250 organisations as members. It formed in September 2002 through the merger of the Australian EcoGeneration Association and the Sustainable Energy Industry Association.

Bioenergy Australia
Established in 1997 as a government-industry forum to foster and facilitate the development of biomass for energy, liquid fuels, and other value added bio-based products. Bioenergy Australia is concerned with all aspects of biomass and bioenergy, from production through to utilisation, and its work embraces technical, commercial, economic, societal, environmental, policy and market issues.

The Renewable Energy Generators of Australia (REGA)
Formed in 1999 as an industry association with a common purpose of supporting the development of generation of electricity from truly renewable resources. REGA represents all sectors of the renewable energy industry; members represent 95% of the existing renewable energy generation capacity, and include equipment suppliers, developers and industry specialists.
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Fossil fuel electricity in perspective

Fossil fuelled power stations dump their toxic wastes directly into the atmosphere at no cost to themselves but at huge cost to the environment (there can be no doubt that the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide are damaging the atmosphere and the oceans or that the emissions from coal burning kill millions of people each year). Most nations have long banned similarly polluting activities from other industries.

Some similarly polluting activities for comparison...

Sewage
In the past sewage has been dumped directly into rivers or the sea. Most people in the twenty-first century would consider this to be a very crude and quite unacceptable practice.
Hard rubbish
Once just dumped in heaps; most nations now try to recycle as much as possible, burry the remainder, and rehabilitate the land surface.
Petrochemical waste
Most nations would not even consider dumping this directly into the environment.
Paper pulping waste
Dumping into the environment would not now be tolerated.
Nuclear waste
Disposal of radioactive waste has to be done very carefully in most nations.
I could go on.

So why do the Australian and US governments think that dumping carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions from power stations directly into the atmosphere is acceptable? There are two reasons:

  1. While pollution of land, a river or a coast affects mainly the nation that owns that land, river or coast, the atmosphere is shared by the whole earth, and the pollution is spread over the whole earth. A nation with a government that is short-sighted can make all other nations share its pollution; especially when that nation is the most militaristic on the planet – the USA (or a puppet of such a nation – Australia).
  2. The Australian and US governments are largely run by big business rather than being true democracies. The fossil fuel industries do not want anything done to reduce their profitability.
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Sequestration: carbon capture and storage

Also see Geosequestration

Sequestration, as applied to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) (also called carbon capture and storage; CCS), is the storage of carbon dioxide, or the carbon content of the carbon dioxide, in a sink. The sink may be one or more of several alternatives including: an underground aquifer, an exhausted oil field, a deep ocean trench, and trees.

One of the flaws in the sequestration concept is in the question of how long does it last? Carbon sequestrated in trees may be back in the atmosphere 20 years later if the trees are converted to wood pulp, the pulp into paper, and the paper burned or allowed to rot. Sequestration of carbon dioxide in a geological formation is experimental, in theory it seems like it should work, but what if the CO2 doesn't stay where it is put? Sequestration takes carbon that has been locked away from the atmosphere safely for hundreds of millions of years and places it where we hope it will not get back into the atmosphere for decades or longer.

The other problem with CCS is that no-one has done it with the CO2 from a power station or similar large CO2-producing installation successfully on a commercial scale. (For example, see The Norwegian CCS nightmare)

It seems pretty plain that it would be better to leave the carbon in the rocks in the first place.






Sequestration in trees

Carbon is one of the main constituents of vegetation; live wood is about a quarter carbon, very dry wood is more nearly half carbon. Vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows. Trees are among the largest and longest lived forms of vegetation, so they are important in either removing or keeping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What seems to often be neglected by the proponents of growing trees (or bush or forest) as a way of counteracting the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that trees do not live forever. When a tree dies it typically rots and the carbon in it is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Of course this may be delayed if the timber in the tree is used for another construction purpose.

In some situations, generally in wetter situations than are at all common in Australia, dead trees do not return all of their carbon to the atmosphere. It can be held in the soil beneath the forest as peat. This is, of course, the beginning of the natural process that finishes in the formation of coal. But usually, when the trees in an Australian plantation reach maturity, that plantation no longer removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Oil mallee trees

Referring to mallee trees planted in Western Australia, a 276kb pdf document by Professor Syd Shea, University of Notre Dame, Aust. estimates the cost of carbon sequestration in mallees at significantly below US$15/tonne.

Compare this with the estimated cost of geosequestration of carbon dioxide from coal fired power stations of around US$50/tonne. The Australian Government under John Howard is giving the Australian coal industry big money to research the latter!

These mallee trees would have other potential values:

  • Combating rising saline groundwater;
  • Producing eucalyptus oil, which has a number of uses;
  • Producing activated carbon;
  • An energy source via biomass combustion;
  • A fuel source via fermentation to ethanol;
For more information visit the Oil Mallee Information Website.





Sequestration in peat

If natural carbonaceous materials are buried in damp soil, and oxygen is present, micro-organisms will slowly convert the materials to carbon dioxide, water, and plant nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate. In saturated soil where oxygen is absent, other micro-organisms will slowly remove the hydrogen, as methane, and increase the proportion of carbon in the remaining material. (Ironically, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide, but it eventually oxidises to carbon dioxide and water and does not remain in the environment anywhere near so long as CO2.) This has happened to wood, leaves, moss, etc. for millions of years. This process leads first to the development of peat; if the material is later buried by being covered with sediments, carbonisation can continue to produce lignite and eventually black coal.

This natural process could be put to use to slowly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees could be grown, then cut and buried in wet soil. The methane could be collected and used as an energy source.

Apart from the slowness of this reversal of the man-made greenhouse effect, one other problem would be that plant nutrients would also be lost to the biosphere with the carbonaceous material. They might be recoverable by pumping leachates from the peat.






Sequestration in the ocean

The pressure and temperature at the bottom of the oceans is such that carbon dioxide will be in a liquid state. Therefore it is possible to dump it in places such as deep ocean trenches. However, the question of its solubility in sea water must be considered. And heat, such as in a volcanic eruption, would return the carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
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Geosequestration

Also see sequestration and cost of geosequestration.

Geosequestration is the deep underground storage of carbon dioxide as an alternative to allowing it to enter the atmosphere and increase the greenhouse effect. Similar to disposal of rubbish by land-fill, it is not a sustainable technology, but it is a way of temporarily reducing the harmful side effects of burning fossil fuels. Sooner or later the carbon dioxide will again enter the atmosphere, however if the particular form of geosequestration works correctly, most of the CO2 will be isolated from the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In Australia carbon dioxide could theoretically be sequestered in depleted oil or gas fields (not expected to be sufficiently depleted until 2030), deep underground unmineable coal seams, or deep saline aquifers. See the Clean Energy Future Report by the Clean Energy Future Group for more information.

There are risks in geosequestration associated with the high vapour pressure of CO2 at the temperatures found in geological formations and with the high solubility of CO2 in groundwater. In 1986 a large leakage of naturally sequestered carbon dioxide occurred in Lake Nyos in Cameroon, killing around 1 700 people and many thousands of animals. When carbon dioxide is release in large quantities, it forms a suffocating blanket close to ground level.

Is geosequestration economically feasible? Is geosequestration desirable? How does geosequestration compare with other greenhouse abatement methods?

While these questions have certainly not been answered in favour of geosequestration, already the Australian Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on geosequestration research, while providing very little money for renewable energy research. One can only suppose that they are doing so because they have a commitment to support the fossil fuel industry. See Corporate political donations.

An informative discussion on geosequestration was aired on the ABC Catalyst program of 2004/09/09.




The material in this box was drawn from the ABC Radio National's Earthbeat program of 15/02/2003.

Experts on renewable energy dream of the research budgets that geosequestration now commands. Their eyes boggle when they think what renewable energy could do with a budget that size. In fact, the research funds invested by government into geosequestration during the last year alone are about as much as the entire renewable energy industry has received in the last decade. But even that level of support is not being maintained.

Mark Horstman, Earthbeat reporter


Keith Tarlo is a senior researcher with the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney. He's investigated a proposal to use geosequestration with brown coal in the La Trobe valley, and believes that the technology is risky.
You can only use geological sequestration in two places: one is at an oil and gas platform, and the second is a brand new coal-fired power station that uses a new, but really untested technology. Every other place you can't use it so existing power stations, your cars and trucks, and homes, offices and factories, you can't use it. So for the majority of the economy, geosequestration is not a solution and you have to turn to efficient use of clean, renewable sources of energy.

Secondly, it's an expensive way to deal with the problem. The current estimates are that it's twice as expensive as other ways of dealing with the carbon dioxide pollution problem.

Thirdly, there's some unmeasured risks really associated with the technology which other energy technologies simply don't have. These are risks of leakage out from underground, possible risks from seismic activity or earthquakes from pumping all this stuff under high pressure deep underground.

And last but not least is the technology you have to use for power stations to make geosequestration work, is a fancily titled coal- burning technology called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. The reason you have to use that, is you have to capture the carbon dioxide before you burn it. If you wait until after you've burnt it, it's very difficult for a whole host of reasons to capture the carbon dioxide. There have been trial plants running now for about a decade and none of them have achieved high levels of reliability or availability. And this has been going on in the US, not in some sort of Third World country.

Keith Tarlo
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Professor Andrew Blakers is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University. He is discussing research and development into clean energy.

It's a remarkable circumstance that for the first time in 30 years there is no strategic [renewable energy] R&D fund. There have been a number of long-term trends that have been against the R&D industry in Australia, the vacation of the field by CSIRO about 10 or 15 years ago was unfortunate, the exhaustion of the Australian Greenhouse Office funds, the privatisation and corporatisation of electricity companies has eliminated R&D from that sector, the Electricity Supply Association of Australia used to have an R&D fund, that's gone. The State R&D funds have almost all gone, and the Federal R&D funds have all gone. This has led to a situation where doors are closing one by one and no doors are opening. For a number of not conspiracy, but cock-up reasons really, it's reached the point where there's only 2 renewable energy R&D groups left in the whole country in all of renewables that have critical mass, say more than 5 or so staff members. Failure to move quickly will mean that the remaining energy R&D groups will collapse and this is simply not sufficient to support a vibrant viable industry in Australia.

[Renewable energy technologies] are characterised by quite astonishing growth rates over quite astonishingly long periods of time. The photovoltaic industry has had continuously positive growth for the last 30 years, the wind energy industry is currently growing at 30% per year for the last decade, the PV industry has been growing at 30% to 40% over the last five years, the solar water heater industry is growing at 30% a year in Australia. These are astounding growth rates, and if they're maintained for long periods they're going to lead to very large industries, within the next 10 or 15 years.

Andrew Blakers

The cost of geosequestration

The Clean Energy Future Report by the Clean Energy Future Group quotes figures from the International Energy Agency (Davidson, Freund & Smith 2001; Freund & Davison 2002) of between US$45 (Aust$68) and US$55 (Aust$83) for every tonne of carbon dioxide geosequested. The lower figure was for coal with integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and natural gas combined cycle, while the higher figure was for conventional pulverised coal power stations.

 

News

In about January 2008 President George W. Bush cancelled a proposed fully geosequestrating coal fired power station in the USA. He decided that, as planning proceeded, the costs of building and running the station were looking like they would be prohibitively high.
For brown coal about 0.8MWh of electricity is produced per tonne of CO2, while for black coal the corresponding figure is 1.2MWh/tonne CO2.

It can then be calculated that the additional cost of gas-fired and coal-fired electricity due to geosequestration is likely to be from US$36/MWh to US$66/MWh depending on the type of coal and the type of power station. Also see my page on heating efficiencies etc.

Scientific American (News Scan: Burying Climate Change, Nov. 2009) reported that the cost of electricity without geosequestration of the CO2 is about US$63/MWh. Geosequestration would add another $51/MWh, putting it up to $114/MWh; this is much more expensive than electricity from several sustainable generation methods; wind in particular.

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Subsidies to fossil fuels

Some years ago I received a wad of material from then Senator Stott-Despoja about subsidies going to the fossil fuel industries; see Fossil fuel subsidy. That totalled $6.5 billion and was under the Howard Government.

Ironically, as a part of the Gillard Government's Carbon Tax package huge additional subsidies (sometimes called 'compensation') is being paid to the big polluters. (See CleanEnergyFuture).

For example "emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries" are to get $8.6 billion as a "Jobs and Competitiveness Program". Another $1.3 billion is going to the coal industry as a "Coal Sector Jobs Package".

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Carbon 'offsets'

People, and in particular businesses, buy 'carbon offsets' in an effort to somehow excuse them from responsibility for releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. How valid are carbon offsets?

The most common offset is tree planting. It is true that as a tree (or any other plant) grows it takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But what happens when the tree stops growing, or when it is cut down? Eventually, and in many cases 'eventually' will be in less than a century, the wood, leaves and twigs of the tree will be either burnt or rot, and the carbon contained in them will go back into the atmosphere.

The only fully effective way of 'offsetting' the fossil fuel carbon that you release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is to bury an equal amount of carbon that would otherwise have been burned (with the resulting carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere). Plainly, this would be pointless.

Also, burying something like wood in an attempt to lock its carbon away from the atmosphere would not be a good idea because it would ferment and release methane into the atmosphere. Methane is an even more greenhouse-intensive gas than carbon dioxide.

It seems to me that carbon offsets, at least in the form of tree planting, are of questionable validity and are effective only in the short term. 'Offsetting' the carbon that you burn by conserving fossil fuel energy in some other area would, I think, have more validity; but the only real answer to greenhouse/climate change is to greatly reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we burn.

Also see carbon offsets in Wikipedia.






Leave your car at home

In town without my car

The European Union has an 'In town without my car' day during which the people try to leave their cars at home at least on that day every year. In 2003 there were 1031 participating cities.

Australia would do well to join in this.

A quote from that site:

In Town Without My Car "is centred on three types of measures, designed to:
Modes of transport The graph at right is from Aust. Bureau of Statistics and shows how many Australian use various modes of transport.

You can calculate how much difference would be made to your share of carbon dioxide emissions by changing your mode of transport at 'Calculate your personal Greenhouse impact'.



If you must use a car, use a small one

 

Update, May 2014

The Mazda has now done 203 000 km and still in very good condition. It uses around seven litres per hundred kilometres. If we base a calculation on it using 2 litres less per hundred kilometres than the larger car that we might have bought, that is a saving of 4000 litres at, say, $1.20/litre, $4800. Since about 2.5 kg of CO2 is released for every litre of petrol burned, that represents ten tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided.
Car and trailer The option of not having a car is not realistic for many people, especially Australians and in the USA. However, instead of having a car that is large enough to take everything you might need to carry, you could consider a small car with the occasional use of a trailer. The Mazda 121 in the photo has only a 1300ml engine, at the time the photo was taken it had done 140 000km and was still going strong. Most modern cars, including this one, have plenty of power for towing a trailer including a load of up to 500kg.

By driving a car that is no bigger than you need you save a heap of greenhouse emission.

You could also consider buying a highly efficient hybrid car. Both Toyota and Honda have one on the Australian market.
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Why do so few support action on greenhouse/climate change?

Read the bit below from top to bottom. The groups represented by the statements on the left are subtracted, one at a time, from the original group of all people represented by the green bar. Finally, on the last line, there's few people left who want to see humanity's rates of greenhouse gas production reduced.

 
All people
 
People who
believe CC is
an illusion
All other people
CC is real,
but not
due to Man
All remaining people
It's too far
in the future
to worry about
All remaining people
I don't want
wind turbines
in my back yard
All remaining people
I believe
the wind
farm opponents
All remaining people
We need action
but I don't
want to pay
All remaining people
We need action
but I can't
do anything
The few who think
the World is worth saving
and are willing to try

Of course this is only a representation – and very much a simplification – of the situation, but I think it helps show what the problem is.
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Who is to blame?

 
4WDs not needed
Six big and heavy 4-wheel-drives and one small fuel-efficient car in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The gas-guzzlers are not needed, our little car (the Jazz on the left) weighs about half as much and handles the dirt roads with ease. It is also capable of towing up to one tonne; plenty for many camper trailers.
It is easy to blame our leaders (especially if we are Australian or USians) for their inaction on reducing greenhouse gas production; and they are very much at fault, they should be doing much more.

Corporations are at fault. The fossil fuel industries, oil, gas, and especially the dirtiest fuel of all, coal, lobby governments very successfully for laws and regulations that favour their growth. But then the directors of these companies are (at least in Australia) bound by law to place the welfare of their shareholders before all other considerations. So we come back to the law and the law is made by governments.

Any farmer who clears scrub or forest is responsible for climate change. Any landowner who allows his land to be clear-felled is responsible. Irresponsible Chinese, Malaysian, and Japanese companies that log in Third World rainforests are responsible for climate change as well as the more direct and local damage due to deforestation.

However, most people in the First World are also responsible. Anyone who drives a fossil-fuelled car (and almost all of them are fossil-fuelled) must accept a share of the blame. Anyone who uses electricity, if that electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, is responsible for climate change.

Democratically elected governments do what the voters demand of them. The Australian government has rightly decided that Australians place a higher priority on a few more dollars in their pockets than on tackling the greenhouse problem.

It would be fair to say that most people in the Third World would consume more if they had the money to do so. Consumption and greenhouse gas production are closely linked.

So the great majority of us are either responsible for climate change, or would be if we could afford to be. How bad will climate change have to get before we place it at the top of our list of problems that must be addressed? And will it be too late by then?

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Australia and climate change responsibility
and the ethics of Australia's stance on greenhouse gas emissions

What would we think of a person who went to a birthday party with five other people and ate half the birthday cake? This is what the USA and Australia are doing in regard to greenhouse gasses. Our two nations are placing far more than our share of strain on the atmosphere for their own short-term selfish interests.

The Australian government has tried to excuse Australia's very high production of greenhouse gasses on a number of occasions by saying that the total greenhouse gas produced by Australia is a very small percentage of the world's total. (This invalid argument is discussed in greater depth in The great fallacy.) Australia produces about 1.5% of the world's total annual greenhouse gasses, but Australia has only about 0.3% of the world's population. It follows that the average Australian citizen is responsible for five times as much greenhouse gasses as is the average global citizen. Considering that humanity's current rate of greenhouse gas production is about three times what the planet's systems are capable of safely handling this means that the average Australian is producing something like fifteen times as much greenhouse gas as is conscionable.

A good read on this subject is "How Ethical is Australia" by Peter Singer.

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The answer? – Contraction and Convergence
Equitable sharing of the atmosphere

Contraction and convergence
How world greenhouse gas production might change under Contraction and Convergence – from an article in New Scientist. (If the USA is to control its emissions before much of the rest of the world a huge shift in the ethical standards of its government will be needed.)
The fairest and most ethical way of treating the greenhouse problem would be to calculate how much carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year can be sustainably handled by the atmosphere and then calculating a quota for every person on the planet. Those who were responsible for producing more CO2 than their share would have to buy quotas from those who produced less. It would be necessary to somehow include in the calculations, not only personal greenhouse production, but also personal shares of national greenhouse production.

It would be a seller's market; there would be many more buyers than sellers because the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere must be greatly reduced. Those who were unable to buy quotas would have to reduce their energy consumption or have to pay to have their CO2 sequested.

The atmosphere is not just the property of the First World. All life on the planet has a right to use the atmosphere and all people should have an equal right to it. At present the US produces 25 times the CO2 produced by India on a per-capita basis. What could be fairer than changing the rules to give every person an equal quota?

Adoption of Contraction and Convergence (C&C) would result in a relatively hard time for the wealthy of the world for a time, but ultimately it would bring a much more equitable sharing of responsibility and wealth. Of course it would be far from a simple matter, but then we are talking about averting a huge global disaster.

See Wikipedia for more information. John Broad explains the concept well on Third World Network.
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The true cost of coal

Climate Progress published an article that discussed the true cost of coal when the economic, health and environmental costs are all taken into account. The original research was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences by Dr. Paul Epstein. It was calculated that if the true costs of coal was considered the price of electricity from coal fired power stations would rise by about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour (or $180/MWh). This is far higher than the wholesale price of electricity currently paid to coal-fired power producers.

The article said:

"In terms of human health, the report estimates $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities, with a majority of the impact resulting from increased healthcare costs, injury and death. Emissions of air pollutants account for $187.5 billion, mercury impacts as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion between $61.7 and $205.8 billion. Heavy metal toxins and carcinogens released during processing pollute water and food sources and are linked to long-term health problems. Mining, transportation, and combustion of coal contribute to poor air quality and respiratory disease, while the risky nature of mining coal results in death and injury for workers."
Also see Skeptical Science 'True cost of coal power'.
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In one hundred years

 
Wind turbines, Clements Gap
I live in Mid-North South Australia where there are a lot of wind turbines.

I wonder if in years to come, after the full effects of climate change have hit and the world in very different to now, people will look at the wind turbines (or what is left of them) and say "they were built by people who wanted to stop the climate change disaster. It's a pity there were not many more people like those."

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Index

Home
On this page...
Adverse effects of climate change
Are temperatures related to gas levels
Australia and climate change responsibility
Australia and greenhouse
Australian electricity system
Australian temperature record
Bushfires
Carbon offsets
Climate change denial
Contraction and convergence
Coral reef bleaching
Economists and greenhouse
Equitable sharing of the atmosphere
Evidence of climate change at Clare
Evidence of past climate change
Extinction from the oceans
Fossil fuel electricity in perspective
Fossil sand dunes
Geologists are not climatologists
Geosequestration
Geosequestration: cost
Greenhouse emissions
Hope?
Human activities
In one hundred years
Importance of peer-reviewed literature
In town without my car
Introduction
Is it really happening?
Links
Local evidence of climate change
No escape for Great Barrier Reef
Oil mallee
Party score-cards
Public liability
Quotes
Reduced stream flow
Scientific consensus
Could the Earth become a second Venus?
Sequestration
Sequestration in peat
Sequestration in the ocean
Sequestration in trees
Some say it is not happening
Specious greenhouse argument
Subsidies to fossil fuels
The facts prove Australia is not doing enough
This is a time of greatness
Top
True cost of coal
What do the experts say?
What do the papers say?
What is the science telling us?
Who is to blame?
Why accept that humanity is causing climate change?
Why do so few support greenhouse action?
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