Friday, 31 December 2010

What everybody must know about climate change in Western Australia

The recent record dry weather in southwestern Australia and record wet weather in the “Red” Centre, along with the announcing of the most undesirable coal power projects in the very state most affected by man-made global warming, makes me think that an online “pamphlet” is needed to help people in Western Australia come to grips with how increased CO2, CH4, N2O, and halocarbons have radically altered the state’s climate since the middle 1960s.

Most climate research since these alterations intensified in 1997 has unfortunately been focused on things like the Indian Ocean Dipole and “Asian Haze” that unfortunately do not, as I have emphasised in previous posts, look at the likely cause: that a poleward shift of pressure patterns from global warming has moved the rain belts in such a way that northern and central WA receive more rain and southwestern WA significantly less. Both these features fail to explain key changes:
  1. The Indian Ocean Dipole theory cannot explain why the decline in southern Australian rainfall is concentrated in the autumn when it is ineffective (here)
  2. As I note here, the “Asian Haze” theory fails to model observed increases in rainfall over the Eucla region.
  3. The most logical explanation for the changes is that the Hadley circulation has shifted rapidly poleward and that the monsoon has expanded into the continent
  4. The result of this is that historically humid regions in southwestern Australia are rapidly becoming arid, whilst historically arid regions to the east are becoming monsoonal and humid
  5. There is clear evidence that land clearing is not the cause of the rainfall decline.
  6. Circa 2000 climate models suggested a decline of 60 percent in rainfall over southwestern Australia could be expected by 2050: already, if 2010 rainfall figures are a guide, a decline of 44 percent on pre-global-warming averages has occurred
  7. The probability that the observed decline in rainfall over southwestern Australia is not one hundred percent anthropogenic is minute: Perth’s average wet season rainfall for 2001 to 2010 is four point four two standard deviations below the mean ten-year average pre-global warming. The probability of this occurring by chance is less than one in two hundred thousand!
  8. In the Northern Territory, the ten-year moving average wet season rainfall for the decade ending April 2006 was eight and a half standard deviations above the mean ten-year moving average for the pre-1967 era!
  9. Such a consistently wet spell would have a probability of around one in 1017 (100,000,000,000,000,000) assuming global warming is not the cause! Such a probability is far smaller than the number of years the Earth has existed!
  10. In Forrest in the southeast of Western Australia, the ten-year mean annual rainfall for the decade ending 2006 was five point nine three standard deviations above the mean ten-year moving average before 1967. Such a wet decade would be expected to occur naturally only once every 698,966,090 years!
  11. Paleoclimate data available as early as 1984 suggested very strongly that the mediterranean climate would disappear at carbon dioxide concentrations above 300ppmv. We are already at 400ppmv and under present political and demographic conditions in Australia are likely to be at 700ppmv by 2100.
  12. These same data (and a number of climate experiments done by computer) also suggest that at present carbon dioxide levels the midlatitude arid climates characteristic of areas on the lee side of the mountains present in all mediterranean-climate zones (the Darling Scarp and Stirling Range do this with Western Australia) would also disappear. This result is in complete agreement with observed rainfalls in Forrest.
  13. There is no likelihood primary productivity gains in the state’s east will offset the disappearance of farming in the southwest from desertification. This is because the already-impoverished soils will lose what nutrients they have from the more humid weather
  14. Biodiversity losses from the desertification of southwestern Australia could, even in the short-term future, exceed anything that has been seen in the world. The region contains 45 percent of Australia’s native plant species, most of which occur nowhere else and none of which can survive in an arid or monsoonal climate.
  15. These biodiversity losses could already occur in the humid karri forest country though fires this year. Not one station in southwestern WA received even 800 mm of rain during 2010, yet the generally accepted minimum for karri is 900 mm and that for yellow tingle and red tingle even higher.
  16. If we presume that 2010 rainfalls are the absolute maximum likely to occur in this area in the future, we can say that these magnificent tall trees have already lost all suitable habitat to global warming and that only a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide levels can save them.
  17. Australia would need therefor to eliminate by law all fossil fuel energy and restrict itself to what renewable energy can provide immediately.
  18. It would need to outlaw at least private cars and coal-fired energy and the revegetate all areas where these fuels occur as National Parks or Aboriginal Reserves.

Is it intelligent radicalism or compassionate conservatism - or both?

As I was checking my e-mail, I found an interesting finding: that conservatives have a much more emotional brain than liberals. Today’s Age says that recent neurological research gives strong evidence that people’s political views are related to the structure of their brain.

People with very conservative views are shown to have much thinner “anterior cingulates” than people with left-wing views. This suggests very clearly that people who are conservative really are much more emotional than people who are atheistic and big-government. Although my brother says that this means conservatives are much more self-centred and less objective than liberals, one really has to take into account the finding of Arthur Brooks in Who Really Cares if one wishes to show that it is not true that leftists’ calls for radical redistribution of wealth via income caps do not result from an empathy problem.

Many other scientists have argued that intelligence is correlated with atheism and left-wing politics - citing the many European Jews who were unusually intelligent according to all studies and became Marxists during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By this token, people who are right-wing are simply less intelligent than those who are more liberal.

The logical means of doing this - and the only one that I find remotely fair - is as I outline in “Why to Expect Compassionate Conservatism” - that thinking types (the political Left) and feeling types (in general constituting the political Right) work in very different ways that can be complementary (as with many early twentieth-century families) but in many cases are totally opposed. The reasonable thing to do is simply to realise that the political ideals of both thinking and feeling types are a natural result of their personal virtues and vices. For instance, thinking types who find inequality from statistics tend to believe that it is bad and that people should try to remedy it by changing the structure. Feeling types, on the other hand, who see inequality would tend to see it as a personal matter and think that much can be destroyed if radical change is attempted.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The lucky break for us with the holidays


Today, as my eldest cousin has his first child and indeed
the first child of any of my mother’s siblings, I can look back on the 2009/2010 and 2006/2007 holidays and think how fortunate I really was travelling when I did to the northern hemisphere (I joke about it being to escape the Australian summer but in fact even I admit I would rather travel in hotter weather).

In the news consistently over a Christmas period that has been rather uneventful with my brother away in Japan - and due to be away in Singapore for next year as he has taken a job in NUS from April - has been the violently stormy weather over Europe and the east of North America. Although on my 2009/2010 holiday I did experience some exceedingly snowy weather during my stay in Helsinki, it failed to cause any delays in either ground-based or air transport. This northern winter, however, snow even in normally mild England has been sufficient to ground flights and halt surface transport. It is painful to imagine what we would have done had we been forced to cancel or alter large portions of our trip last year because of snow blocking the possibility of travel across a region. Since our holiday was planned in November of 2009, we would never have been able to alter our accommodation schedule should the means of transport between cities have been completely eliminated as they have been this year.

Although people might expect these kinds of travel problems to arise with people who travel in the off-season for reasons of cost or schedule (as with us), such problems are not impossible even in peak tourist seasons in some places. This can be seen with occasional winter floods in the northwest of WA and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. I recall Daddy travelling on the Birdsville Track during the winter of 1986 and seemingly forgetting about him. Yet, in Birdsville, the rainfall for July 1986 was twice that of any other winter month in the twentieth century! In fact, the 107 millimetres rainfall is two thirds of the normal annual rainfall and ten times the average for July. Daddy must have been lucky to be able to get through: roads in the north of South Australia were quagmires after torrential rain early in the month originating from a series of systems that had flooded a number of Pilbara rivers in June moved slowly eastward and caused major flooding in the Flinders Ranges and even in Central Australia. If Daddy had planned the trip earlier or later, he might well have been totally bogged rather than seen an unusually lush outback landscape in what is normally the “drought” season. The same thing would have happened to many visitors in northwestern WA in 1992 when the coastal highway was cut by severe storms in June, and in 1998 during a winter very like the August to November of 2010.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The whitewash at its worst – from those who should know perfectly

Today, after a relatively minor glance at the weather sites and the website for Perth’s water supply, one wonders really just how much control – even if it is cryptic to the eye of the vast majority of Australians – the fossil fuel industries really do have over Australia’s political system?

In my previous post I did say Kevin Williamson whitewashed the point of how, as Guy Pearse showed five years ago, fossil fuel corporations have an immense amount of control over policy-making in Australia. What is really dreadful is that the people who price and regulate water usage in Perth, who should know from the comparative tables here that man-made global warming has shifted climate belts eight degrees or more poleward. They are under the dreadful illusion that the observed drying of Perth’s climate is part of a natural cycle, when in fact the possibility of ten May to August periods so dry as the past ten occurring in succession is maximally a microscopic one-in-two-hundred-and-five-thousand and quite probably even less. Although the mid-2000s craze over the “Asian Haze” has died down, it has not given way to demands from scientists for militant protest to reduce Australia’s deplorable and still-rising emissions. Rather, it has given way to what I would call a gentle resignation: that we are unlikely to do anything to reverse climate change and that the free market will allow for the least costly adaptation.

However, as the table shows (the predictions for 2050 being based on winter rainfalls in the north-west of Western Australia) what this will mean for Perth as a growing city is devastating. With the last runoff most likely already flowed into Mundaring Weir, no targets for water consumption can avoid:
  1. the drying up of once-renewable fossil groundwater
  2. this point is critical because the climate of Western Australia has changed so much that what under pre-1970s climates would be renewable groundwater use now uses up water from a period when May to August rainfall was twice what it is now
  3. the need for desalination plants that can only be fired with coal power that will make the problem worse
  4. further changes in the climate that, even if more frequent cyclone or thunderstorm rainfall does partly offset the practically certain 95 to 100 percent loss of winter rainfall, will increase demand beyond what these can provide as the summers become even hotter
What WA’s water authorities should be doing if they were serious about providing water for Perth is:
  1. making sure prices of water really fit present runoff rates and predicted future ones, and that pre-1974 – maybe even pre-2001 data are totally ignored
  2. such a price would need to be at least 100 times historical prices and probably a thousand times higher than European, north American or New Zealand water prices
  3. such a price would make Western Australia a much more innovative place with water use – perhaps rivalling or surpassing Israel in the 1950s and 1960s
  4. they should join up with Adrian Whitehead’s (for the curious not the former Carlton player) “Target 300” programme that aimed for the “negative emissions” that should have been unequivocally demanded of Australia in 1997 or even in 1990.
  5. Such a move may be politically very difficult given the influence of government and hence the fossil fuel industries on what WA’s water policymakers write, but it is 100 percent certain that a restoration of pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels would immediately restore runoff into Perth’s dams from the present level of 0.011 km3 to the historical mean of 0.34 km3.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Kevin Williamson’s whitewash of Australia

For a long time this year I assumed that the Politically Incorrect Guide series would end after The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, which was originally supposed to be published in June 2009 but was delayed by something like nine months in the effort to produce three Politically Incorrect Guides that were apparently intended as a response to the election of the conservatives’ archenemy Barack Obama as President. Once the reasonable Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal, the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, and the disappointing Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties were published, Regnery took a further half-year to finally publish The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War.

Even when it finally appeared, I guessed that The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War would be the last-ever Politically Incorrect Guide. No evidence appeared on any site or on Regnery itself that any more Politically Incorrect Guides were in the works for a very long nine months. The result was that I asked on amazon.com whether The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War would be the last Politically Incorrect Guide?

In October, however, I found that Regnery were in fact writing a new Politically Incorrect Guide titled “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism”. The amazing thing about it was how prototype copies had exactly the same “did you knows” as the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, so I did not know what to expect as I thought about the series beginning again (if you will). My basic thought was that Regnery had already made most of the arguments it had to about socialism (well, people like Murray Newton Rothbard had done so before PIGs existed).

However, once The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism became fully finalised, portions of it became available on amazon.com, and I decided I should have a look. Most of the chapters as I could see them were fairly familiar from such authors as Thomas Woods and Arthur Brooks, but there was some interesting arguments about the contrasting histories of India and Hong Kong. Given Hong Kong’s loss of traditions and its lowest-low fertility, I definitely feel conservatives should be far more wary of praising it as an example of how the free market works in small city, small island or high mountain states. India, in fact, has retained rather more of the traditions conservatives ought to be concerned about than Hong Kong.

In fact, Hong Kong really is quite similar to Sweden: both are resource-free nations (even pre-industrially neither was that resource-rich) where high technology and energy efficiency are economic necessities because ordinary sources are scarce and expensive.

The really interesting - and ultimately terrifying - thing about what I could read of Williamson’s book is how it looks at the way socialism effects the environment. It makes familiar arguments about:
  1. how socialism caused immense pollution and destroyed the Aral Sea through the Qaraqum canal.
  2. how the Left today is “watermelon” - green inside but socialist at its core
However, when he looks at the environmental record of socialism, author Kevin Williamson makes a big omission. In his effort to show how socialism effects the environment adversely, Williamson looks at nationalised oil companies and aims to show that they have been much worse than private ones because of the absence of property rights. Nonetheless, as Williamson points out in the texts coloured red, in energy-resource-rich nations, it is likely that the energy companies will “seize the government”. The problem is that the majority of readers will not realise there is a genuine whitewash in what Williamson is saying - analogous only to Christopher Horner in previous Politically Incorrect Guides. This whitewash is Williamson’s failure to note the observations made in the 2006 documentary “The Greenhouse Mafia” that constitutes by far the worst example of energy companies taking over a country’s political system.

Ecological science, as documented by Tim Flannery and Tom McMahon, shows that Australia’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems are much less productive and much more fragile than those of all other present-day continents. Flannery in The Future Eaters shows this leads Australian native fauna to have much lower metabolic rates than those of other continents except sub-Zambezian Africa.

If we apply this to human ecology, one would necessarily conclude that because of the known climatic sensitivity of Australia vis-à-vis other present-day continents that Australian per capita CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions should have to be no more than one twenty-fifth to one hundredth those of European, Asian or North American nations. In reality, as anyone who has read this blog or heard the news will know, Australia’s per capita greenhouse emissions are four times those of Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland, and the difference is growing. Given the evidence of permanent climate change globally this southern winter and a refutation of key argument of greenhouse sceptics concerning high snowfalls in hotter years, the culpability of Australia’s “greenhouse mafia” and the state of which they - as Guy Pearse has shown - are an integral part must not be denied.

If Williamson wanted to avoid this problem, he would at least show that big business taking over government is as bad - or given Australia’s dreadful greenhouse gas emissions - worse than government taking over big business. That big business can be destructive to liberty, family and the environment is a point noted well by “distributist” factions of the Right in books like Crunchy Cons, but one neglected by “Austrian” ones. Nonetheless, dealing with this fact is an absolute necessity for any conservative faction. Indeed, those who are critical of “bigness” could see much to criticise in the very character of Australia, a fact Jared Diamond ignores in Collapse. Australia’s geographic “connectedness” is in fact much greater than that of China which Diamond does quote. This connectedness means:
  1. political debates are very weak and the wealthy energy companies can control the whole continent without opposition
  2. with the resources available, Australia has
  3. little incentive to innovate
  4. much incentive to be extremely conservative with respect to such issues as energy consumption.
The results in Australia’s greenhouse emissions speak for themselves, and the world ignores this at its peril.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Is this the end for diets based on winter grain?

Today in West Australia Online, there is news that the predicted bumper wheat crop of New South Wales and Queensland is likely to be decimated by excessive rainfalls. the newspaper claims hope that a spell of dry weather will sooner or later allow the crops to be harvested exists, but I would not become too carried away with such hopes.

The combination of extraordinary heat in the northern hemisphere and quite extraordinary drought in southwestern Australia should alert people to what man-made global warming will do for the human diet in future. It is clear from such old studies as the 1984 “Origin and Evolution of the Mediterranean Vegetation and Climate in Europe” (which unfortunately I cannot get hold of) that mediterranean climates like those of southwestern Australia are absolutely unique to the Quaternary, and that before the Quaternary the transition in rainfall from arid to temperate:
  1. was seasonally uniform
  2. occurred at a latitude where rainfall today is absolutely seasonally uniform on continental west coasts
  3. such a latitude is typically around 45˚ to 50˚ from the equator, or around 15˚ poleward of the current equatorward limit of mediterranean climates
Owing to “super-monsoons” that were far more penetrative and intense than those observed in instrumental records before man-made global warming began to take effect, there was never a dry spell during summer in any humid region before the Quaternary. If man-made global warming is leading in this direction, harvesting of winter crops in the summer will become increasingly difficult. There will also be the risk that in hotter and more humid weather, crops will be more prone to the spread of hot-climate diseases which could lead to the disappearance of winter grain crops.

Then there is the danger that historically very cool or cold regions that could grow winter grain even in a much hotter world would be in demand for housing should those socially progressive nations become in trouble with the collapse of their welfare states from low fertility and their culture’s inhospitality and inability to attract migrants.

All these factors combined could very soon see the world have to change its whole staple food system. Wheat, barley and other mild-climate grains would disappear, to be replaced by less efficient yield-wise but more efficient land-wise hot-climate grain, root and tree crops. In the process, many of our present specialties would disappear, and Australia would be farming foods quite alien to us now!

The question is whether such a system can work given the history of attempts to farm tropical Australia outside of the alluvial and volcanic soils of the Burdekin Delta and most of the Wet Tropics, or whether the variability of climate and resultant high risk in eastern Australia can be better managed in the future is a less hospitable and probably even more variable climate?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Will Australia ever stop lagging behind when it should be decades ahead?

In a response to my brother’s dismissal of my emphasis in speech on cars as the primary cause of global warming and public transport as the solution, in an email today he showed me a piece whereby anaesthetics used in surgery are supposed to have as much impact on the climate as one million cars.

I certainly knew that anaesthetics, which use compounds called halons (or bromofluorocarbons) were environmentally very dangerous because of the very high global warming potential of covalently bonded fluorine. However, I had assumed that anaesthetics remain stored in the body and that a very small proportion of anaesthetics used actually reach the atmosphere as greenhouse or ozone-depleting gases. What the study my brother showed me said was that anaesthetic gases had major impacts and did not as I had thought remained in the body.

What is really, really embarassing is that yet again the EU is doing much more than Australia. The EU will be banning these games from 2011, whereas Australia will continue to use them for who knows how long. It is time everybody recognised the untenability of Australia having much lower environmental standards than European nations. In fact, even from a European perspective it is best that Australia have the toughest environmental standards in the world. Strict and high-standard greenhouse emissions regulations may attract the intellectual community, but for ordinary families and less skilled workers they are a deterrent, as Arthur Brooks and Clint Johnson in The Politically Incorrect Guide to the South show. Johnson says that the South has:
“…lower taxes, a family-friendly atmosphere… rather than a sense the State should take care of everything”
clearly attract potential migrants much more than an exceptionally clean environment and a high level of innovation.

If we follow Johnson and Arthur Brooks, we should see that tough environmental laws are a very good way to reduce population. There is very clear evidence from data on water storages that most of southern Australia is overpopulated – and the increasingly well-watered north simply cannot be farmed because of its weathered, stone-hard soils that increased rainfall will make even tougher to improve.

In contrast, the extremely young soils of Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand can, as Tim Flannery said in The Future Eaters “support population densities orders of magnitude higher than Australia”. In many ways, these soils are a renewable and limitless resources because repeated glaciation and mountain building is replacing any soil that is lost.

For this reason, everybody in the world should wish it that Australia’s environmental laws – rather than being in Flannery’s word ridiculously lenient regarding energy efficiency – are the toughest in the world by a considerable margin. Once it is accepted that weak environmental laws are for the ordinary working people an attraction because of the gentler, warmer culture that results, we see the untenability of present trends.

Why the workers have to do the job

On today’s news, it has been revealed that former politicians - including members who have been out of Federal parliament for over a decade - have been using the Gold Passes given to parliamentarians to spend something like half a million dollars on air travel this year alone.

These Gold Passes have been shown to cost Canberra an unknown sum of money that could, if we add all the sums and multiply by the years many politicians have been using them (ten years in the case of Ian Sinclair) run into the millions of dollars.

People such as Bob Brown and many journalists have been saying something needs to be done, but the current affairs programme on which I found these reports was one hundred percent clear that because of the vested interests of parliamentarians in maintaining benefits that they will eventually get, there is no way even after an extensive report that they will be significantly changed, no matter whom ordinary Australians vote in.

However, politicians’ pay is a very good way to unite people from disparate views to protests against the government. Most writers whom I have read over the past fifteen years have been very critical of government privilege. On the Right, it is argued that privilege should be abolished; on the Left it is argued it should be extended to all with the money of the super-rich. Whilst these views are genuinely opposite, it would as Thomas Woods implies be good if there could be united protest against the Gold Passes. Protest - genuine mass protest - and demonstration is the only means of stopping a waste of money that could if unchecked rival the obscenity of CityLink.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The New York Times are telling here


Over a week ago, the New York Times wrote an article about how electronic media effects the way people work, titled “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Destruction’. Although I forgot to look through my Google Reader blog or Front Porch Republic, even before I read it I felt a great deal of connection to what the Times appeared to be saying.
Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.
Recent times, in which I myself have read fewer print books and relied more on Internet websites and what few journal articles are available to me as a non-student, give a remarkable sense that article author Matt Richtel is most definitely correct. When I was reading more print books or (very old) articles from print journals, I was writing more and more able to concentrate on the vast number of long-term projects I once wrote.

Though I still had a tendency to read and read books in bookshops to the point that they were obsessions, I do very firmly believe that I wrote more and had a much better rhythm than I do now. Especially in Victoria's recent hot and humid weather, I have rarely had enough sleep to get up seriously before 12:00, and whenever Mummy is not around I often do not get into the shower before 13:00. Even in the two years after leaving RMIT for assaulting a security guard, I was much better on these issues whilst I was buying more print books on eBay. In these two years I did often get up around 10:00, and generally slept better even during ordinary sleeping hours. I also did not do irresponsible things like staying up naked and not getting into the shower after taking off my pyjamas at midday - which of course I do not do when Mummy's around!