Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Murray must go to Adelaide

In the State Library yesterday, I read of
Adelaide's water from the Murray
running critically low, with supposedly on 47 days supply left. It is saying Adelaide will have to rely entirely on Hills storages if the Murray runs lower. As experience in Perth and Melbourne shows, global warming will likely make this unviable.

As I see it, rather than, according to Floods, Famines and Emperors page xvi "muddling its way from crisis to crisis", Australia has to take swift, decisive action to avert catatrophic shortanges of water. The first step, even given political limitations, has got to be eliminating irrigation on the River Murray and handing over its entire flow to Adelaide and the wetlands at its mouth.

Climate change forecasts predict at present rates of warming elimination by 2050 of snow cover on the Snowy Mountains and declines in rainfall over southern Australia of up to 70 percent by 2070. With that scenario, even short-lived flows on the Murray would become exceedingly rare and Adelaide would fight with irrigators in the upper Darling for that river's extremely erratic flow which in bad rainfall years is unlikely to quench Adelaide's thirst.

If we completely eliminate irrigation from the River Murray and tributaries, Adelaide would have a chance to maintain some water supply in a drying climate. Revegetation of farmland in the Murray Basin with mallee and heathland gives Australia an opportunity to cut its greenhouse gas emissions - is the only way it can avert the possibility of climate catatrophe. I hope to see efforts to protect much of southern's Australia's farmland as national parks before it is destroyed by global warming, and to see revegetation as a decisive step away from the muddling that has dominated policy since the Lonie Report.

The truth about Australian housing

Complaints about Australian housing affordability in recent years have tended to suggest that Australia is experiencing a major crisis in affordable housing and that there is a need to free up large quantities of land for development. It is frequenly argued that Australia has the least affordable housing in the world and that we should eliminate zoning regulations and other laws that are argued to cause Australian housing to become unaffordable.

Whilst the cause of unaffordable housing in Australia is a complicated question, involving a combination of economic and political factors, those fearful of its consequences should realise that surveys of housing affordability are done remarkably badly. Demographia's surveys that list Sydney as the third most unaffordable city in the world do not cover a single non-English-speaking market. Evidence I have from correspondence with relatives and social scientists like Phillip Longman and Joel Kotkin tell me that in fact very many (possibly most) non-English-speaking housing markets are less affordable that Los Angeles or San Francisco. For example, I have been told that in Tokyo even an entry-level flat costs $1,500,000 and that in Prague only about one-eighth of the population can afford to own a home.

Even if we exclude the tremendous ecological externalities of living in Australia compared to any other market discussed by Demographia, we must think twice before we claim Australia has unaffordable housing.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Are the PIGs having no more ideas?

The Politically Incorrect Guides have always interested me even though there is a great deal of truth about them being essentially propaganda. Even the essentially wrong - as my experience in Melbourne shows - Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (known to book critics as PIGGW) has made me refine my arguments that man-made global warming is a real phenomenon in the face of having to talk to a sceptic.

However, after the disappointing (my review) Guide to the Middle East, no further PIG will be published until May 8 when the Guide to Western Civilization is due out.

However, after that no PIG will be published until November, when, rather than tackling a genuinely fresh issue, Regnery will write the PIG to the Civil War. This book will be written by Harold William Crocker III, best known for his defence of the Catholic Church and in fact an executive at Regnery. Already I can tell from Thomas Woods in the very first PIG what this book is going to say and I actually do not feel there is much interest. It illustrates the narrow spatial focus of the Politically Incorrect Guides and probably of Regnery itself - as if they were utterly baffled by history or even culture of anything outside the United States.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Top 20 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Yesterday, I discovered my first new "best" or "worst" book list in a long while from the Australian Institute of Public Affairs. The list is titled "Top 20 Books You Must Read Before You Die".

The organisation describes itself as "Australia's leading free market think tank", which will sound unpromising for any except free-market advocates. However, compared with previous book lists by Human Events and The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, it seems even moderate at times.

Two of the books in its list have been condemned by these organisations. In fact, in an e-mail a few years ago, a colleague of my brother wondered why several Human Events judges saw On Liberty as one of the ten most harmfull books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

On the other hand, both Democracy in America and Reflections on the Revolution in France were included by Human Events in their Ten Books Every Student Should Read in College, and several other books on the IPA list are as libertarian as Mises or Rothbard or Hoppe. Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia makes me wonder just how "Austrian" they are. Another interesting feature is a book by Milton Friedman's lesser-known brother and two books that provide a look at Australian history. Of the books in the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's 50 best list, none are present, even though John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus and Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged are included. The very inclusion of Rand, viewed by devout Catholics as an "Architect of the Culture of Death", futher distances this list from Human Events or the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Whilst lists can never fail to interest me, I cannot say this one will make me buy anything - or even consider it. It is still no mean read because the writer know what they want and argue very well.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

"Mother's Spiritual" vinyl cover

Laura Nyro's long out-of-print 1984 album Mother's Spiritual had, in its vinyl incarnation, a number of beautiful cover pictures (sent to me by Rich Jones) that I have never found on the web.

They are far more fitting to the album's subject matter - which still holds my attention despite me moving away from the views of books like The First Sex (on which the album's best song "The Right To Vote" could almost have been based) - than the extremely mundane front cover which I saw on a Line CD edition over ten years ago.

The forgotten problem for transit in Melbourne: public opposition

Many people in inner suburbs assume that the deplorable quality of public transport in outer suburbs is due either to the power of car and oil companies or road engineers and urban planners serving to have freeways built instead of cheaper railways.

Both the unfortunately-forgotten 1980 Lonie Report (whose author, Robin Underwood, still works at Monash University today) and the 2006 Greenhouse Mafia do show beyond any doubt how car and energy corporations have highly significant influence over government policy, which has led towards the most pro-freeway policies in the world.

However, what many trendy people simply cannot accept is that pro-freeway policies of governments actually do reflect public opinion on these issues. Even before any transport projects get built, real estate industry executives state that expansion to public transport will increase house prices and the freeways near a house decrease them. Experience abroad confirms beyond doubt that first-rate public transit necessarily makes a city's housing unaffordable. The PTUA unfortunately fails to realise how much a negative expansion to public transport is for most people in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

It is often thought that people in the outer suburbs are, like those in the inner-city, interested in making their property more valuable and will support price increases. Outer suburban residents, however, are not only much more family-oriented but also much more future-oriented than people in the inner city. My experience clearly shows how most people in the inner-city have very little interest in developing productive long-term careers. I struggled with this myself for a decade before I realised even partially the futility of trying to do what I wanted all the time. People in Australia's outer suburbs, who are never highly educated or on welfare (which I have needed to receive the education I have), plan a career from a very young age and consequently grow quite rapidly in wealth under a regime of low living costs. These low living costs cultivate a culture of compassion and generosity quite unlike my experience with people on the radical left who are exceedingly unfriendly and insensitive, caring only about getting what they want for no work.

Outer-suburban parents care a great deal about handing down the same or a higher standard of living to their children, and therefore desire very strongly that their children will have equally or more affordable housing than they do. Support for freeways and hostility to public transport finds extremely solid rooting in desire that children grow up with affordable housing. For younger voters aspiring to buy a house, public trasnport expansion is even more negative as it could make them reliant upon rental housing not only for a few years, but forever.

More than that, even a potentially catastrophic drying of Melbourne's climate (like the "hockey stick graph" except with the blade going down not up) will not alter the dirt gap that encourages a highly conservative outer suburban populace and prevent expansion of public transit to cover the whole Port Phillip region that should, in purely ecological terms, have taken place in the 1960s or 1970s.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

A better understanding of greenhouse sceptics

Greenhouse sceptics (also called "climate sceptics", "climate change deniers", "greenhouse denialists" or "contrarians") have been a very important part of climate change policy in Australia. As a serious, almost self-taught, climate scientist, it is impossible for me to accept any cause except man-made global warming (and possibly stratospheric ozone depletion) for observed rainfall changes over Australia since 1968 because neither the instrumental record since 1885 nor the few Holocene paleoclimate records show parallels. While I actually agree with the problems greenhouse sceptics have with climate models, in a way rare among those who do believe in global warming, I am willing to suggest the possibility increased greenhouse gases will cause much greater changes (at least in rainfall) than any model suggests.

Most "believers" in global warming have a tendency to view greenhouse sceptics as a small group of industry-funded scientists whose motivation is preserving corporate profit. There is a general perception that those without a direct vested interest in the production of greenhouse gases cannot be greenhouse sceptics.

Greenhouse sceptics are much more numerous than a few businessmen. Moreover, the share of greenhouse sceptics in the Australian population is very likely to increase in the future because the small conservative sector of the population producing most future children consists very substantially of greenhouse sceptics. Most people who would consider themselves greenhouse sceptics are not scientists, but neither do they work for road transport, oil, coal, aluminium or titanium industries.

“Typical” greenhouse sceptics are ordinary working people concerned with making enough money to improve his or her standard of living. Most sceptics are fairly poor but have never relied on welfare, typically working what left-wingers in universities would consider long working hours to gain enough money for a large family house in the outer suburban "mortgage belt". Prices for the most basic necessities like food and housing are thus the essential issues for them.

A natural consequence is that greenhouse sceptics believe very firmly that any regulation by government of the economy is wrong. Private entrepreneurs, sceptics believe, will always be more efficient at using any resource as efficiently as possible: private property rights as the most essential right of all and public regulation - let alone public ownership - produces inherent inefficiencies that never solve the problems their advocates intend. Most sceptics believe that government should eliminate itself from wealth redistribution, education, health care, transport, housing, and even water supply, so that these services can be provided by what they call the "natural family", private charity or private enterprise. Greenhouse sceptics have much higher levels of charitable giving and voluntary contribution than advocates of global warming, and they are more likely even to return incorrect change or offer basic help with directions.

The philosophy underpinning this belief is known as the "Austrian School". Austrians believe that every exchange of commodities or services must be absolutely voluntary. Government taxation or regulation is called "coercion" by Austrians and equated with violence. Greenhouse scepticism is a natural result of the beliefs mentioned in the previous paragraph. When one believes all government interference to be unethical, laws to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases are seen as a particular egregious form of coercion, as is protest for radical change to achieve reductions. Consequently, Austrians (and many other conservative Christians) cannot believe anthropogenic global warming the disaster other scientists view it. A few Austrians hint in a quite far-fetched way at assigning private property rights to the atmosphere - which in Australia would mean requiring people to live without electricity or cars at all - but most believe global warming will have positive impacts and will mean longer growing seasons in cool regions, many fewer deaths from cold weather, and improved crop yields from higher levels of carbon dioxide.

In short, greenhouse sceptics, rather than being materialist businesspeople primarily motivated by money, are actually simple working people whose scepticism is caused by their firm belief in nonaggression that does not allow government regulation of private property. I myself have debated with a sceptic at RMIT - and feel I have benefitted greatly in my ability to argue in favour of man-made global warming!

Friday, 14 March 2008

What loss will Peter Cullen prove?

Although I had heard a couple of days ago that water expert Professor Peter Cullen was ill, it was a shock to me that he has actually died at the age of sixty-five.

His research, more practically oriented and less abstract than Thomas Aquinas McMahon, certainly impressed the public much more. Whereas what McMahon did has shown little more than how great the hydrological variability of Australia's water systems is and the extraordinary storage sizes needed for river regulation in Australia - viz. ten times as much as in similar climates in Europe or North America or New Zealand, most of Cullen's work was utterly practical advice about what to do.

The trouble is that, whilst even in a naturally varying climate Australia is subject to droughts and occasional big floods, Australia appears to be remarkably sensitive to anthropogenic global warming, which in a decade has reduced Melbourne's rainfall - with the same reputation for reliability as southwest WA - by 30 percent. Even in the generally dry era over the continent from 1922 to 1938 Melbourne still averaged the same as its 1885 to 1996 mean of 643 millimetres.

The present heatwave suggests - as I have been predicting privately with my family - that we are actually in for something far, far worse.

What we will see I think is in fact a complete elimination of southern winter rainfall from Australia and the southern coastal system within a few years - say by 2013. This will leave, owing to Australia's abnormally low runoff ratios, permanently dry streams where there was once relatively reliable water, as in rivers like the Yarra, Goulburn and Ovens. Efforts to conserve are naturally useless if anthropogenic climate change leaves no water to conserve and a land decimated by misuse when water did exist.

I am by no means sure that there will exist a replacement for him or the brilliant Tom McMahon, whose knowledge of the unusual behaviour of Australian streams is actually more significant. Because Australia's future youth are coming from a narrow range of socially conservative families, environmental issues are not likely to be significant for this generation, even if climate change becomes as bad as I think it will.

A lesson from Marble Bar

The so-called "heatwave" at the tiny Pilbara town of Marble Bar is well-known. I have always been suspicious it is a world record due to poor data in hot parts of the Sahara and Arabia.

The summer of 1923/1924 was one of extraordinary drought in the Pilbara. Some stations in the de Grey district which includes Marble Bar did not record measurable rain during 1924, and the average for the de Grey district was only around 33 millimetres. This drought caused the persistent heat since only a cyclone can lower temperatures below 100˚F.

In Melbourne, however, that very summer was the fifth coolest on record, and the year 1924 easily holds the record for the fewest 30˚C days with only twelve. Lower greenhouse gas levels and the absence of a monsoon in the northwest permitted highs to establish over Northern Territory longitudes and drive cool air persistently over southeastern Australia. As many as a third of the days during summer were below 20˚C in Melbourne, and on the west coast fewer than a third of the days in February 1924 reached 20˚C. Moreover, with all those moist southerly winds and cold fronts, Melbourne's dams actually filled during that summer - something they do not do in winter today.

What's worse is that as cold fronts and southern lows become a thing of the past in Australia's weather and climate, Melbourne will begin experiencing the sort of heatwaves Marble Bar did in that era of weaker monsoons. Without cold fronts or southern lows, the situation that used to apply only in the tropics that only influxes of moisture can keep temperatures down will apply everywhere over the continent except the eastern coast. With no rain to speak of not only in Melbourne, but as far north as Alice Springs, one is tempted to think that the inflows of moist air from the tropics that caused rainfall over pastoral districts of SA to increase from 1968 (and delay declines in Victoria and settled areas of SA by over a quarter of a century) may not be so much related to land surface heating as to stratospheric ozone depletion, which the phase-out of CFCs is just beginning to reverse. If I am right, then southeastern Australia could be in for much worse heatwaves than were moist air inflows and heavy (if variable) rain likely during persistent blocking in the Tasman.

No doubt we will get longer and longer heatwaves in southeastern Australia in the future. If my theory that rainfall increases over South Australia are related to stratospheric ozone loss pulling moist tropical air southward, then as global warming allows natural halogens to thin the ozone layer heatwaves will be broken by heavy rain more often inland and north of Mount Lofty.

In southern Victoria, however, with cold fronts and soon cool changes a thing of the past at present greenhouse gas emissions, summer heatwaves will by 2020 be unrelenting in a way Melbourne has never known. Sixty successive days over 35˚C or thirty successive over 40˚C will be normal in summer, and with the monsoonal winds that might relieve the north producing a rain shadow, Melbourne could by 2050 be the most arid place in Australia, with annual rainfall too low even for extensive grazing. In the absence of increased monsoonal weather, aridity beyond anything historically known (except perhaps during the dry era of 1922 to 1938) will be general over southern Australia right up to the Thomson and maybe anywhere west of the Snowy.

Record Adelaide heatwave and what it means for the future

As I swelter in 39-degree temperatures and Melbourne potentially breaking a 68-year-old record for the latest last 40˚C day, and Adelaide swelters in twelve days in a row over 35˚C with no cool change forecast, I feel as though I should present some of my thoughts about the issue.

The heatwave has been caused by a stationary high in the Tasman Sea preventing cold fronts touching Adelaide - and only very weakly affecting Melbourne. High-pressure systems are stationed in the oceans on either side of Australia and are unable to establish over the interior of the continent.

Failure of highs to establish over the interior of the continent has been an increasing tendency since the late 1960s. This is because high-pressure systems will establish where there is maximum reflection of heat to space. Because of increased greenhouse gas concentrations, this has increasingly occurred over the oceans, which warm less rapidly than land. The absence of highs over the interior of the continent and a strong tendency for high-latitude blocking in the Tasman has already reduced Melbourne's rainfall since 1997 to 450mm from 650mm. As enhanced greenhouse gases pull southern depressions further and further south - they have already fallen during the winter from 33˚S to 53˚S since 1966 - not only will there be further declines but the rate will increase -so that Melbourne will be by 2020 probably drier than Coober Pedy has historically been.

With global warming making highs over the centre of Australia a thing of the past, this heatwave shows how within a very few years, heatwaves in southern Australia will last without cool changes for months. Melbourne will probably experience whole months continuously over 35˚C in the near future.

Adaptation to such radical climate change will be one of the most difficult challenges possible. With runoff from even the biggest rivers like the Goulburn likely to vanish, Melbourne will have no water supply except desalination and Adelaide only the extraordinarily erratic Darling, which can dry for over a year, or perhaps runoff from the Monaro via the Murrumbidgee. Politicians or the private sector will probably fund a pipeline from the north to meet demand for water. Reduced reflection to space over central Australia has pushed the winter cold fronts too far south to produce rain over southern Australia but has strengthened the monsoon trough and produced major rainfall increases over the north - which already possessed the great bulk of Australia's renewable water. The consequences of a north-south pipeline, inevitable as it is with enhanced greenhouse gases, remain to be seen.