Saturday, 28 July 2018

Who is responsible for oceanic pollution

The end of this financial year has seen all the major chain supermarkets phase out single-use plastic bags, in an effort to deal with the problem their ingestion poses to extremely long-lived marine mammals and birds like whales and albatrosses.

Most species of whale and albatross are “Endangered” and many are “Critically Endangered” or even “Possibly Extinct”

In reality, I have taken the change with a grain of salt – in our home, plastic bags invariably have a life cycle of being used as shopping bags and ending either when they rupture. Rupture ultimately happens even to the less fragile cloth bags we use for major shopping trips to Barkly Square, but it can happen extremely easily to bags not designed for heavy items like milk, as I discovered a week ago when shopping for coffee in Balaclava. All that had changed it that we have to pay fifteen cents for a bag every time we shop, or take a used plastic bag for small shaping trips.

This morning, however, I have read a list compiled from the article ‘Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into Ocean’ that had been published in the journal Science three years ago. Although it is undeniable Australia is the planet’s worst offender regarding greenhouse gas emissions, at least when one factors in per capita and indirect emissions, it does not rank amongst the top twenty nations in ocean pollution despite its large coastal area:

As we can see, Australia does not rank amongst the top twenty nations in terms of plastic waste emissions into the ocean. Almost all the actual top twenty are Tropical World nations where waste is mismanaged. Only South Africa is a comparable Unenriched World nation, and even it does not mismanage so large a proportion of its waste. However, alongside its high total greenhouse gas emissions (higher than any single EU nation), South Africa’s figure for a nation which borders on large areas of cold nutrient-rich sea containing many endangered marine mammals and birds suggests it bears considerable responsibility for whale, albatross and penguin declines.

It is untenable that South Africa and the mineral-rich Middle Eastern states were missing from the Kyōtō Protocol in 1996 – their per capita emissions and even total emissions were and are much higher than many EU nations who were part of that botched treaty. Their absence is already affecting the Earth’s climate, by spreading the Hadley cell at such a rate that – according to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘“Time bomb”: Tropics expansion nudges cyclone formation into new areas’ – in 2090 Perth is likely to possess the climate Onslow did before the expansion began five decades ago. Matt Walsh and J.R. Jambeck show that the globe’s ignorance of and inability to rein in the pollution produced by these powerful states – which began not with Kyōtō but with apartheid in the 1950s and the energy crisis of the 1970s – is costing all of us.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Missing the reality of climate change

This January, Care2Causes published a list of the ‘8 Top Species Threatened by Climate Change’ which it reprinted a few days ago.

 The list comprised:
  1. Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)
  2. Bees (Apoidea)
  3. Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata)
  4. Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
  5. Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
  6. Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
  7. Acropora cervicornis (coral species)
  8. American Pika (Ochotona princeps)
Whilst this list does include many species threatened by Australian road building and land clearing, it has much too little focus on the Mediterranean-climate biomes of the Cape, Southwestern Australia and Central Chile that are the true locus of runaway climate change today. The three species of tingle (uniquely buttressed eucalypts), along with the Noisy Scrub-bird and Western Bristlebird (two species on whose protection large amounts of money have been spent) are at extreme risk from shifts of winter storm tracks in the Southern Hemisphere. So too are the unique fynbos and renosterveld of the Cape region, and many species of Mediterranean Chile that cannot easily move through relatively dense populations to escape to more nearly analogous climates to the south.

One problem that these regions – especially southern Australia and central Chile – face is that the lack the iconic large species found in Africa and most of the northern hemisphere. The giant karri and tingle forests – whilst a noted attraction – are simply much too localised to be of significant use in protecting what must rank as the globe’s most urgent conservation priority and the region with the worst environmental policies anywhere in the globe. The lack of megafauna means there exists no incentive to preserve the most ancient species on the planet, and thus land clearing and road building in southern Australia are free to devastate the atmosphere until some country abroad says “enough” – which seems only a faint possibility even today.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The problem of knowledge and culture, revisited

“Users, and the general public, generally have a low opinion of Melbourne’s trains and trams (note: buses are not even mentioned).”
Public Transport Users’ Association
“What will I do for public transport? I will improve the economy so you can find good enough work to be able to afford a car.”
(Quote from George Walker Bush during his presidential campaign)
“Public transport, that’s something they use in socialist countries”
As I noted in my previous post, knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is essentially zero among non-users. It has occurred to me that knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is equally negligible among the users themselves.

On old print bus timetables there were numerous times marked with “S” for “school days only” and whenever I rode a bus that was not substantially empty, it was invariably filled with school children. It took no intellectual foresight to recognise that the majority of users of Melbourne’s buses were school children, who weren’t yet old enough to have a driver’s licence. It’s obvious that with their workloads, these school kids had no time to comment upon the services they were using whether they were dissatisfied or not. Although school courses as I experienced them did demonstrate benefits of using public transport instead of cars, they were exceedingly superficial, ignoring that:
  1. Australian cities have a public transport use share about one-seventh to one-eighth those of cities in East Asia and one-fifth those of cities in Europe
  2. Less than ten percent of government and private sector transport investment in Australia since 1968 has been in public transport
  3. Metabolic ecology demonstrates that Australian residents are bound to a sustainable per capita energy consumption no more than one-third that of residents of Europe, East Asia or the Americas
  4. No attempt is made to compare bus timetables in Australia with those in Enriched and Tropical World cities
    • Bus timetables are of course much easier to explain that complex ecology based on understanding of large amounts of data on chemical differences between soils and oceans
Without those explanations, bus users in Melbourne grow up exactly according to the PTUA’s George Bush junior quote. They have no desire but to own a car, and almost all do when they become old enough. Outer suburbs and rural areas where most families form and live have no desire to live the atomised lives led by public transport users in Enriched and Tropical World cities. These suburban and rural residents have any desire to pay taxes for the inner cities – instead believing that environmental and social services should be provided by private communities.

Public transit is, no doubt, one of the services suburban and rural taxpayers most loathe to pay. As most work near home, these taxpayers require nothing bar a few school peak services, possess strong family ties to provide the services inner-city students need government to provide. and believe that their money is not to be spent on other people because that money is private property. In effect, Australian transport policy is dictated by an unofficial alliance between outer metropolitan and rural taxpayers and mining companies, who would lose severely if car sales were dramatically reduced. Discussing or proposing public transport services of comparable quality to European or East Asian cities is utterly taboo even within public schools, although Australian ecology dictates its public transport should be by far the best, fastest and most efficient in the world.

This is a taboo that has to end: school curricula must illustrate Australia’s unique low-energy ecology that dictate its people consume by far the least energy per capita the world, and that if road building were ended plentiful money would be available to pay for it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A severe indictment of Melburnians’ knowledge

Over the past two days, searching for a bookshelf for my brother’s new home and even for my mother’s birthday, I have undergone some quite substantial travels around Melbourne – to Ringwood, Watsonia, and Williamstown.

In comparison to the “galloping round the countryside” of twenty years ago, these trips have been rather less undisciplined and I have come home to actually eat dinner with my mother – something exceptionally rare even in the days before the Queen’s Birthday.

“Lack of public transport that can compete with the car leads to heavy car traffic” (Public Transport Users’ Association; ‘Driven around the bend Melbourne’s meandering bus routes’, May 2012)
Even if I have not been randomly “galloping round the countryside”, the desire in me to travel on as many bus routes as possible has never really been lost. With increasing runaway climate change observed everywhere, I have often joked that riding Melbourne’s awful bus services can show where global warming is coming from. Although it is true that all one-occupant car journeys being replaced by public transport would save a lot of energy, with age I have come to realise that almost exclusive focus on roads at the expense of rail is not the cause of Australia’s almost uniquely dreadful record when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, cars account for only about one-fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and both coal power and land clearing stand as equal culprits in giving the country the worst emissions record in the world, especially considering its uniquely low-energy ecology amongst extant continents.

What really struck me hard about these trips to inspect bookcases was that none of the sellers knew even the local bus routes whose stops they must have seen when driving! This ignorance is rendered easier by the extremely low frequencies (never more than every forty minutes) of many if not most buses in Melbourne, so that casual drivers may never see a bus when not looking. This gives the illusion that there is no public transport whatsoever away from rail lines and the old inner suburbs.

In fact, public transport more often than not does exist, but is of such abysmal quality that nobody with a car would dream of using it even if concerned about the effect of cars on out climate. Nonetheless, having to use such extremely bad public transport is something people from countries where road lobbies are less politically dominant needs to experience. It will show them how vested interests can ruin the environment and create traffic congestion, and how fortunate most of the Enriched World is regarding its public transport, and how I have had to sacrifice proposed library trips today to do shopping to pay for my brother’s new bookcase because of the slow and very infrequent public transport in Melbourne.

Sunday, 4 March 2018


Two years ago, at the end of a fortnight’s holiday in Asia, my mother, my brother and I had a rest day in the scorching heat of Ho Chi Minh City, where we had had a good walk around the previous sweltering day.

I had bought copies of the 1903 and 1904 Wisdens with me, and I began to re-read familiar sections of the former issue, when I said:
“of the Surrey bowling there is nothing to be said except that 锁木 (“swǎw–mòo”) had some wonderful days and that Richardson, though no longer great, worked most strenuously.”
锁木 means “Lock Wood”, and referred to William Henry Lockwood, a deadly fast bowler for Surrey between 1891 and 1894, and between 1898 and 1903 after a series of accidents completely nullified his effectiveness between 1894/1895 (Ashes tour) and 1897.

My brother, who studied Chinese vastly more seriously than I ever did, still did not recognise what I meant by “锁木”, and – as I tend to do myself, read “swǎw–mòo” (I have never mastered the tones in Chinese) as “swarm–oo”. Without understanding who this “swǎw–mòo” was, my brother joked that he “died because he was stung by a swarm of bees” based on the mispronunciation! Bill Lockwood was very accident-prone and during his Australian tour severely cut a hand when a soda syphon exploded, and narrowly escaped both drowning and losing an arm. However, there is actually no evidence Lockwood (锁木) was ever attacked by a swarm of bees as my brother joked during any point of his life!

In the two years since we returned from Vietnam, I have again mentioned “锁木” and my brother repeats the joke about him being stung by a swarm of bees – to the extent that my mother finds it offensive even though she does not understand the Chinese pronunciation. In recent months, as I have actually tried to look at real cases of people being stung by a swarm of bees, this has become embarrassing because – although the claim is my brother’s joke – I have found that people can indeed be killed if a swarm of bees stings, and Mummy had known that for a long time. However, the joke is just too funny despite it’s silliness and the fact that my brother has long been pointing out to me that foreign names (“Lockwood” etc.) are almost never translated into Chinese by meaning (“锁木”) but are almost always translated more prosaically by the nearest allowable sound (thus “洛克伍德”, “lwàw–kèr–wǒo–dèr”).