Friday, 30 May 2008

What do we as Australians really want?

In the Australian yesterday, there is a wonderfully sensible article about the long-term problems Australia will face if its governments succumb to the pressure of outer-suburban communties to reduce what is already a very low level of fuel excise.

Henry Thornton's is absolutely correct that poor public transport is what makes less cheap petrol such a hot issue for people in the outer suburbs of Australian cities, and that rational economics, even when (as for him) building roads is considered acceptable, would not have petrol so cheap as it is in Australia today because roads, as he sees it, could be better and more effective with less cheap petrol. Populist forces, however, argue for an end to fuel excise and public subsidies to rail and bus services.

Such removal of subsidies would mean no public transport services would exists outside school peaks because a purely free market could never make passenger rail profitable at present levels of road capacity, and with freer housing development the possibility will fall further as more land far from present infrastructure is developed.The problem is that a city with no public transport whatsoever will inevitably create extreme demand for road space that will only grow if supply is increased to deal with congestion. Moreover, there is the problem of huge debts from road maintenance costs, which fall greatly when usage falls.
Australians must ask themselves whether they want a society like 1960s America, where a Commodore or Falcon was a small car ("compact") and mileage averaged around 20 litres per 100 kilometres. I still have vivid recollections of my father's descrption of American cars of the 1960s with their soft suspension and extremely light steering that is perfect for the overtly sensitive and emotional culture of outer-suburban Australia but in terms of design has held up very badly even amongst cars of that era. If we had ecologically fair petrol prices, Australia would undoubtedly be a place much better adapted to an environment that for all its monopoly on major inorganic resources, is uniquely poor in the organic ones that sustain human life.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

A few thoughts on this semester's work

Being unable to do work because of lack of feedback from my group members is rather frustrating for me, especially as I have never been able to work outside study sessions.

Despite all that, I have done very well with my crucial librarianship course this semester, and my work every Wednesday with Alexander at the Australian Institute of Film has been very good. Alexander says my most essential need is to learn a wider range of skills than I have since March, but I do not see this as a serious problem. Most of my time has been spent downloading film images, but Alexander wants me to learn how to sort the huge number of file clippings in his cramped library into folders based on either actor or film or subject. The fileing cabinets for each type are listed in a very unusual manner because there is no single room in the library with enough space for a collection much smaller than your average suburban public library - thus I must move through public-accessible areas to go from one job to another. Anther skill I have been asked to learn involved the use of DB Text - which I have studied but never mastered in earlier courses.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Is this a trace of sense at last?

After the consistent cuts in petrol excise and the refusal to end all investment in roads, whilst I was cycling to work today I read an article by Tim Colebatch about the Federal Budget.

Colebatch told me - and the experience I have garnered over recent years about the true nature of the Australian electorate that is the opposite of what Sandra Bloodworth or Tess Lee Ack wish it was and told me it was in Socialist Alternative and Socialist Worker for many years - that I should not expect real improvements to environmental standards. That made me very sceptical and pessimistic, and the inability to find evidence of any cancellations of road projects or a hint of ending the ridiculous concessional tax on aviation fuel is proof I should remain that way.

However, after having seen the real prices of thirsty luxury cars fall by over fifty percent since 1988, the government is deciding to raise the tax on luxury cars from 25 to 33 percent. Given that expensive luxury cars are generally not needed by most people - even large families - this is the first common sense we have seen since the days of Hewson’s plan via abolition of excise and the now-implemented Green Services Tax to give a country that should have the world's least cheap petrol the cheapest anywhere.

I sincerely hope people will see the luxury car tax hike as a rational decision and be willing to demand much more even if it will hurt them financially. the threats to Australia's climate unless atmospheric carbon dioxide can by cut to pre-industrial levels are too dire to think of.

Is this the way of the future?

In a recent Age article, American Christians are described as praying at the pump for cheaper petrol. I know what they really wish is for governments to remove what they see as illegitimate excise taxes on petrol. I equally well know that this viewpoint that petrol should be tax-free is held by the majority of the coming generation of Australians - almost all raised in very traditional religious families.

So, what I suggest is that people are aware that prayers for completely tax-free fuel (which would now cost around $0.90 a litre) will come very soon to outer suburban Australia. Even more if predictions that the Budget being released now will make petrol a little less cheap through the removal of tax exemptions on condensates.

"Mosque of Global Warming"??

One thing that strikes me about the more extreme sceptics of global warming is how they seem to take so much of their utterly imaginary and ridiculous "liturgies" of their so-called "Church of Global Warming" from Islam.

For instance, saying "Praise be to Algore" is exactly like "Praise Be to Allah" of the Exordium or opening chapter of the Qur'an, and they even borrow from Christian Churches whom most sceptics are devout members of.

The use of "Algore" or "AlGore" might be interpreted as meaning "the gore" and fits with the way climate sceptics use the phrase "Goreacle" as if Al Gore is viewed by people who believe global warming is manmade (which evidence of past Victorian lake levels compared to present complete drying shows conclusively) as a god rather than as a hero for his research into a critically important topic.

Another aspect of the way greenhouse sceptics view global warming advocates in a way exactly akin to Muslims can be seen with the symbol for the so-called "Church of Global Warming" The crescent and star suggests in a silly way how global warming believers are supposed to want to run people's lives in the way Muslim clerics do. Even if in Australia alone restrictions of a punitive nature might be necessary to deal with real or potential ecological devastation, even scientists called "alarmist loons" by sceptics actually do not believe in abolishing freedom or democracy like Islamic activists do.

All in all, knowing these people I wonder why sceptics don't speak of a "Mosque of Global Warming". Calling it a "Mosque" would fit much better with the way these people:

- speak of Islam as a cult (à la Srđa Trifković) and do the same with global warming
- see believers in global warming as ignoring a huge amount of evidence (which is actually phoney evidence without exception) because of devotion to people like Al Gore and consequent indoctrination like in mosque schools with the Qur'an
- see both Islam and global warming as threats to core values of Western, Christian civilisation
- see both as religions competing with Christianity for human souls

The absurd "rituals" spoken of by greenhouse sceptics really should be further ammunition to support the reality of man-made global warming, and it's a pity nobody has though to use them as such.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Errors, errors, errors!

It is hard for me - no matter that it has done a lot of damage to a critical assignment at RMIT which I could never work on even when it was due in the same day - to get over fundamental mistakes about petrol prices and keep laughing hilariously.

Talk of filling a tank for a tiny silver coin is not confined to 1968:

A petrol price of 0.75 cents per gallon would be equivalent to, as I checked on Google Calculator, 0.21 Australian cents per litre! At that price my mother's 1990 Peugeot 405 could be filled for ten cents, and the weekly cost of running a Hummer H2 would amount to no more than 70 cents even if its fuel consumption was as high as 28 litres per 100 km.

Looking beyond the obvious ecological catastrophe that would result from prices down in the earth's core - and even the fact that in the kind of free market advocated by the Right petrol even in Australia would never be that cheap and oil companies make no profit from selling a litre of petrol for a fraction of a cent - it is time that everybody who writes and debates how cheap petrol should be is much more careful to never confuse cents with dollars and give prices so far from what they really are. I of course have no doubts that all the four cases of seemingly impossibly high or low prices are neither deliberate nor real, but it still gives me so much entertainment that I feel as though I should point out the absurdity of some of the figures given in the WA Sunday Times, from which the claim of petrol for almost 154 dollars per litre comes.

I hope my last three posts will make people think, not only about Australian petrol prices, but about being careful with the $ and ¢ symbols when they talk about them!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The other side to mistaken ecologically realistic petrol prices

In recent weeks, despite urgently needing to be working with an unfinished assignment due tomorrow, I have been fixated on the need for massively less cheap petrol and trying to justify in simple environmental terms the need for Australian petrol to be much less cheap than Europe or Asia.

Although veteran motorists say petrol was fifteen cents a gallon (3.3 cents per litre) in the early 1970s, one website talks about even lower petrol prices that are like being in the centre of the earth (a perfect metaphor given that such outrageously cheap petrol will warm Australia to a furnace like the centre of the earth):
0.32 cents per gallon, as someone had apparently reported from 1968, would adjusting for inflation be around one cent per litre in today's dollars. Given that at petrol prices twice as cheap as today's an enormous boom in ecologically destructive 4x4s occurred, it is easy to imagine that at a price like that described above Melbourne would today (rather than by 2020) have a climate like that of Coober Pedy and would sprawl out to Warragul across an unending desert clogged with enormous 4x4s from one end of the metropolis to the other.

I noticed, that like the errors making Australian petrol prices up to the level of ecological necessity I mentioned earlier, nobody seems to laugh for a moment at what seems like a serious error. I would be interesting to check whether petrol ever was three gallons a cent in the US. If it was, there's no wonder huge, wasteful (of space as well as petrol) cars were the only means of transport in the US of the 1960s!

The number 56.96124843226

For a long time I have had an interest infunctions like the factorial that yield very large numbers for fairly small inputs.

As a student in year 11 mathematics (where my most famous memory is learning that A times B ≠ B times A) is learnt that the function nn obtained by multiplying an integer by itself n times grew more prapidly than n factorial: indeed the series of n!/nn I knew to converge by experiment on my calculator.

However, whereas the largest factorial below a given power of 1010 is easily given by the following sequence, finding the largest number for which nn can be calculated with an ordinary hand calculator is quite hard.

Whilst a simple test will show it to be between 56 and 57, it becomes very hard when one wants a precise value of the integer n for which nn = 10100. Working with my Casio fx-82MS, it gave errors after about eight decimal places, and turning to a computer calculator which can go above 10100, I found that the best approximation is
n = 56.96124843226

This would be a great curio for someone interested in number theory like myself. I never see nn discussed serious despite its rapid growth, so I wonder what people think of the simple piece of work I did recently?!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

How Australia’s ecosystems wish it were true!

At the local service station on the corner of Nicholson Street and Princess Street, the signs showing the cost per litre of petrol do not have a decimal point. Although I have watched over varying petrol prices for around twenty years now, it is only very recently - through it becoming clear to me just how astronomical Australian petrol prices would need to be to fit the country's ecology – that I noticed the lack of a decimal point in the signs whilst riding my bike.

The sign says something like:

cents per litre

1427 cents, or fourteen dollars twenty-seven cents, per litre is far less cheap than any petrol in the world today. At that price, it would cost $784.85 a week to run my mother’s 1990 Peugeot 405, or around $2140.50 a week to run a Ford Territory into and out of the city. $2140.50 is more than the average Australian worker’s income – about equivalent to the wage of, say, an engineer. Petrol prices of that order of magnitude would, clearly, then, produce a demand for cars far more economical than exist for sale today and Australia’s car designers might have to be more innovative than they ever have been under the Mariana Trench-level petrol prices that have prevailed for many decades. Fuel consumption in Australian vehicles would fall to a fraction of the consistent eleven to twelve litres per 100 kilometres observed over the past half-century. This would provide some hope of limiting or halting the runaway declines in southern Australian rainfall and maintain some water in Melbourne’s dams.

Nevertheless, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Recent newspapers have contained the following two errors about petrol prices that actually would do wonders for our environment if they were true:
At one hundred and fifty-three dollars per litre, it would cost around one million two hundred thousand dollars to run a big 4x4 for a year. That is around the wage of the richest sports- or businesspeople!

Even if petrol use were much less (say, confined to remote-area trips on unsealed roads), such a price would provide abundant revenue for drastically needed projects like renewable energy, large-scale road demolition and completely free public transit. Assuming the entire extra price was tax, only 0.2 percent as much carbon dioxide would be emitted. That level would actually give about the same ecological impact as current emissions in Europe and East Asia. Thus, one can conclude that such prices, which people see as unbearable (how else could someone else not notice the obvious error) are actually about what Australians should be paying for petrol given current prices elsewhere in the OECD.

Unfortunately, Melbourne’s climate keeps drying out under prices of $1.53 a litre, which is clearly far too cheap. I have long wished for less cheap petrol in Australia, and it would be good to imagine the innumerable benefits of a fuel price reflecting our fragile ecology. Most young people cannot imagine the much greater southern rainfall, cooler temperatures or absence of water restrictions that would have resulted from ecological-level petrol prices in Australia being brought in a decade or two ago. (Nor do they imagine the destruction our present dirt-cheap petrol will bring in the future).

Friday, 2 May 2008

Why we shouldn't heat rooms or vehicles

For a long time I have always felt annoyed when I have to take off a jacket or jumper in cool weather when I go inside, because the room is heated so much that I feel much too hot if I keep my warm clothes on. One rather nasty incident from about a decade ago that I still remember is when someone on a route 251 bus in Exhibition Street rudely told me to close a window I had opened because I felt too hot inside the heated bus. Even though it was cool outside, I feel that the man could have been more polite or dressed more appropriately for a cold night.

Another thing about this is that I tend to feel quite feverish when I have to go into a heated room or vehicle after being outside in cool weather. At times, a heated room makes me feel claustrophobic and can give me headaches.

When I was in Berlin, I could easily dress thickly enough to not feel cold with no heating despite the 2˚C or so weather - probably a reflection of much better design standards than exist for houses in Australia. In the very cold weather in Vienna, I still recall only a small amount of heating being used.

All this really should teach Australians two lessons. First, that even if our houses are of terrible insulation quality, our weather is too warm to justify any heating except perhaps in the alpine regions: people should just dress more warmly if they feel they might be too cold. Second, that it is a myth that a hotter climate will reduce energy use. Experience in Australia shows that Tasmanians (living in the coolest climate) use the least household energy and West Australians (in the hottest) the most. Air conditioning is by its nature far more energy- and greenhouse-intensive than heating: we could save greenhouse gases by moving people away from hot climates, not by relocating them there.