Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A “famous” typo recalled – and Trump beating it

2019 Melbourne rainfall to today. With nothing forecast Melbourne seems very likely to not merely receive less than the city’s existing record low (332.3 millimetres), but receive less than the existing Victorian record low calendar-year total
Victoria’s record low annual rainfall up to 2018 – almost certain to be beaten by a substantial portion of the state in 2019 – from Kyndalyn Park (latitude 34.71° S, longitude 142.93° E)
In recent days with only 43 millimetres of rain in Melbourne for 2019 and a probable record dry year by a factor of four or more – likely Melbourne will beat even Kyndalyn Park’s 1967 state record low rainfall of 75.9 millimetres – I have gleefully recalled a personally famous typo from Perth’s Sunday Times on 27 April, 2008:

What you're paying

Unleaded petrol prices in Brisbane and on the southern Queensland coast today hit $1.46 a litre, according to petrol price monitoring website Motor Mouth.

But unleaded fuel was available at some northern Brisbane outlets for as little as $1.30. Prices on the Gold and Sunshine coasts have also reached $1.46, but some fuel could be found for up to 15 cents a litre less, according to petrol price monitoring website, MotorMouth. Queensland has an eight cents a litre petrol subsidy.

Unleaded prices in Adelaide are nearing $1.55 a litre. Sydney prices range from $1.47 to $1.55 a litre. Melbourne drivers are paying up to $153.90 a litre, while Perth motorists are faring better at $1.40 a litre.”
Seeing this text, nobody would miss the typo. The typist writing for the Sunday Times obviously meant to write
153.90¢ a litre,
which the news.com.au system apparently automatically would change to $1.54 a litre, whilst automatically changing 153.90$ a litre to $153.90 a litre.

Rather than ignoring the typo, I – who has long known Australian petrol as untenably cheap – saw it as one typo I wished were true. Such increased fuel prices would – even with much less fuel sold – give Australia’s governments funding for neglected environmental projects like:
  1. complete closure of coal-fired power stations
  2. a large-scale renewable energy plan and budget to decarbonise the whole continent
  3. a nationwide high-speed rail network to reduce pressure on Tullamarine and Kingsford-Smith Airports
  4. public transport networks in all major cities and their surrounding semi-rural districts surpassing the world’s best extant networks
  5. complete revegetation of southern Australian farmland certain to be aridified by the rapid poleward widening of the subtropical arid belt
When I told Mummy about the Sunday Times typo a day ago, I was told that Donald Trump has made a much worse blunder when discussing a major Sri Lanka attack on Easter Sunday, whereby eight bombs exploded in churches and hotels. I will quote Trump:
Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels that have killed at least 138 million people and badly injured 600 more. We stand ready to help!
My mother has always been extreemly critical of President Trump, seeing him as a racist, sexist populist appealing to the emotions of white rural Americans who feel left out with modern technological changes. Mummy, who knew the 2008 typo and my admittedly emotional response to it, said that Trump “surpassed” the Perth newspaper’s typo by a thousand if I recall correctly. Actually, Trump’s error surpassed the 2008 typo by ten thousand. Some of his critics believe Trump magnified the death toll intentionally, presumably to make Americans more scared of Muslims.

However, one difference exists that stands far more critical than the magnitude of the errors. There would exist major benefits to Earth’s ecology, frequently discussed on this blog, from less cheap Australian petrol. There would exist no benefits to anybody or anything from terrorists achieving a death toll corresponding to a nuclear mini-holocaust. If it were true that terrorists could murder on the scale President Trump claimed, there would be the danger of terrorism killing entire civilisations.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Plotting actual versus parity per capita greenhouse gas emissions

In recent posts about the failures of the Kyōtō Protocol, I have expressed extreme anger that:
  1. the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters – excluding a few remote small tropical islands – are desert states whose natural ecologies are based on extreme limitation of energy consumption
  2. excepting Least Developed Countries (LDCs) there appears to be an anticorrelation between actual per capita emissions and the relative per capita energy consumption allowed by ecology
  3. (1) and (2) are poorly noted by either ecologists or climatologists
    • even Tim Flannery, who would be expected to be the most aware person in the world of this, seldom makes the connection so explicit as it should be made
In order to have a reasonable look at the actual situation, I have plotted a graph of actual per capita emissions against those which I believe reflect relative ecological parity of each nation (for methodology see below):
2013 per capita emissions versus relative ecological parity emissions. The actual Pearson correlation coefficient is +0.06
Being aware that very poor Least Developed Countries would distort any observable anticorrelation, I did another experiment without the Least Developed Countries, but Least Developed Countries actually had less effect on the result than I expected. However, when I included only the upper-middle and upper-income countries, I did find a very clear negative correlation between actual and ecological parity per capita emissions:
2013 per capita emissions versus relative ecological parity emissions for upper-middle and upper-income countries. The Pearson correlation coefficient is -0.27
This observed anticorrelation does suggest that in the Enriched World there exist inherent political or resource limitations to the growth of per capita greenhouse emissions that are absent from the arid subtropics of the Eastern Hemisphere or from the humid tropics (e.g. Årts and Janssen, 2006, Cornwallis et. al, 2017). In resource-exporting nations, extremely high energy consumption by the ruling classes is actively supported by suburban citizens who gain a low-tax, high-energy lifestyle based around large, comfortable cars. This is one reason for the exceedingly high emissions of Australia and the Gulf States. In the Enriched World ruling classes lack such cheap energy, while demands by lower classes for redistribution are much stronger. This serves to limit per capita energy consumption to a level frequently exceeded in the resource-richest nations.

Such an anticorrelation is wholly untenable and ignorance thereof a significant problem. It also suggests development in historically poor tropical and desert nations as fraught with severe danger for the planet’s climate.

Methodology for Parity Emissions:

  1. Each point of land was aligned to one of the ecoregions outlined in the second Kyōtō Protocol post
    1. high mountain regions of the tropics – if wet enough to qualify as humid under the Köppen classification – had the same weighted emissions as the Enriched World
    2. in the cases of New Zealand (Milewski, personal communication) and the Iberian Peninsula and southern Mediterranean (McMahon and Finlayson, 1991), ecological peculiarities allowed me to lower the parity emissions from 3 to 2.75
  2. For each country, the weighted geometric mean of the parity regions for each point of land was assigned as its parity emissions
  3. To make the graph, these parity emissions were graphed on the x-axis against actual emissions from 2013 (World Resources Institute, 2014)


  • Cornwallis, Charlie K.; Botero, Carlos A.; Rubenstein, Dustin R.; Downing, Philip A.; West, Stuart A. and Griffin, Ashleigh S.; ‘Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments’; Nature, Ecology and Evolution, vol. 1 (2017) article 0057
  • Flannery, Tim F.; The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Lovegrove, Barry G.; ‘The Zoogeography of Mammalian Basal Metabolic Rate’; The American Naturalist, vol. 156, no. 2 (August 2000), pp. 201-218
  • McMahon, T.A. and Finlayson, B.L.; Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges. ISBN 3-923381-27-1
  • World Resources Institute; ‘Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) Version 2.0. (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2014)’
  • Årts, Paul and Janssen, Dennis; ‘Shades of Opinion: The Oil Exporting Countries and International Climate Politics’; The Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter 2003, pp. 332-351

Sunday, 7 April 2019

How Kyōtō needed to be done – elevated-emissions Enriched countries

In my previous post, I demonstrated the the Kyōtō Protocol of 1996 almost entirely targeted countries of limited significance, and whose ecology (Lovegrove, 2000) does not dictate low energy consumption. The Enriched World, where every “Annex 1” country bar Australia was located, constituted the ecological bloc least required to lower emissions for ecological parity (Koch, 2003, p. 147; Najam et. al, 2003). Thus, the countries set emissions targets were – with the paramount exception of Australia – the very countries with least requirement therefor.

Nonetheless, within the Enriched World a sub-bloc of nations with elevated per capita emissions did exist. This sub-bloc comprised three Anglophone Western Hemisphere nations in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, plus four countries in Northern Asia: Russia and the former Soviet republics or satellites of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia. The following facts confirm these nations as a distinct sub-bloc:
  1. excluding New Zealand, they occupy one continuous area centred upon the North Pacific
  2. all except New Zealand at least substantially occupy dry, highly continental steppe and/or taiga
  3. all except New Zealand are rich in mineral resources, although completely lacking greenhouse-intensive bauxite
  4. the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand occupy similarly mountainous maritime zones substantially too wet for agriculture
  5. none are high mountain states (as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan are) because:
    • all have substantial contiguous lowland areas
    • most of North America’s and Mongolia’s highland is plateau-like rather than steep mountains
  6. their relatively high per capita emissions are due to:
    1. low population densities and absence of energy-efficient transport, though this issue is not so pronounced as in Australia or the Gulf States
    2. high heating requirements due to freezing winters
    3. generally abundant fossil fuel reserves (except for New Zealand and Mongolia)
If we combine these countries with China, which borders this region on its southwest flank, we create a continuous bloc of seven countries accounting for over forty percent of total global emissions.  On this ground, targeting this bloc for punitive emissions reductions (demonstrably necessary for Australia and Gulf oil states) would have appeared desirable.

However, the economic disadvantages of their cool climates, plus their low ecological fragility (Huston and Wolverton, 2009) and their void in bauxite deposits, mitigate against severe relative targets for even the worst Enriched polluters. Moreover, historical climate politics demonstrates the likelihood or the United States and Canada siding with Australia rather than lower-emissions Enriched nations (Flannery, 2007). New Zealand, Russia, and the former Soviet satellites behaved similarly. Consequently, I have made a 20% allowance above parity targets for all nations in the sub-bloc. Essential emissions cuts by Australia and the Gulf States would mandate large efficiency improvements elsewhere, which would have reduced this elevated-emissions Enriched sub-bloc’s emissions beyond the targets listed below.

Country 1990s per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Requisite Kyōtō emissions target
(relative to 1985-1995)
Actual Kyōtō emissions target Notes
United States 0.83 -35% ±0% — “Red” states substantially resource-rich mineral exporters
— Over one-quarter of global coal reserves, primarily in Appalachia and the Ozarks
— “Blue” states typically resource-poor Enriched World
15% allowance for political effects
Canada 0.73 -35% -6% — Allowances for political divides much less than in United States
New Zealand 0.67 -35% ±0% — Does possess certain ecological peculiarities due to chalcophile-poor rhyolitic geology
— High per capita emissions due to low population density caused by remoteness and extreme natural resource poverty
Turkmenistan 0.48 -28% — Intermediate in character between other elevated-emissions Enriched States and wealthy Arab oil exporters
Russia 0.51 -25% ±0% — Second largest coal reserves in world.
Kazakhstan 0.51 -18%
Mongolia 0.41 -18% — Exceedingly high emissions relative to GDP
China 0.11 ±0% — By 2010s accounted for over ¼ of global greenhouse gas emissions
— 2010s per capita emissions already above world average
— Highly abundant coal reserves (13 percent of global total)
— Target was to develop without increasing emissions
— Inability to do so potentially  result of lenience towards resource-exporting nations’ emissions
Suspicions that after-effects of the Kyōtō Protocol have been a major factor in the United States’ growing partisan political divide has led me to propose a substantial allowance for that nation. This allowance has the virtue of simplifying matters for the sub-bloc as a group.

I have tabulated China although it differs from the other nations of this sub-bloc in its dense population because:
  1. China’s very high total emissions make it important to global warming mitigation regardless of its per capita emissions, and
  2. China shares with the US, Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan abundant coal reserves which would reduce the after-effect of severe emissions cuts in the wealthy subtropical desert resource exporters
  3. China was similarly reluctant to commit to large emissions reductions proposed by the EU and AOSIS
Overall, these proposed direct reductions in the elevated-emissions sub-bloc would triple those from the much severer reductions ecologically demanded from the oil exporters and Australia (see previous post), totalling 14 percent of global emissions. Unlike the radical infrastructure projects that were ecologically essential in Australia and oil states, reductions in these nations would have merely required improvements in efficiency from nations that for the most part were already wealthy, such as improved fuel efficiency technology in American and Russian road vehicles and homes, and altered product cycles for consumer goods to deal with the reduced supply of metals from Australia.


  • Flannery, Tim (2005); The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change; ISBN 1920885846
  • Huston, Michael A. and Wolverton, Steve; ‘The global distribution of net primary production: resolving the paradox’; Ecological Monographs, vol. 79, no. 3 (2009), pp. 343-377
  • Koch, Max (2003); Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses; ISBN 978-1-349-32328-9
  • Lovegrove, Barry G.; ‘The Zoogeography of Mammalian Basal Metabolic Rate’; The American Naturalist, vol. 156, no. 2 (August 2000), pp. 201-218
  • Najam, Adil, Saleem-ul-Huq and Sokona, Youba; ‘Climate negotiations beyond Kyōtō: Developing countries’ concerns and interests’; Climate Policy 3(3) (September 2003), pp. 221-231

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How Kyōtō needed to be done – an Australian perspective

In a recently-updated post from over three years ago, I pointed out that the Kyōtō Protocol failed because it was formed from alliances of nations with diametrically opposed interests regarding regulation of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

As Key (1949) has demonstrated, a disorganised politics favours the “haves” over the “have-nots”. During the the Kyōtō Protocol, disorganisation of international alliances permitted the fossil fuel “haves” – Australia and the Gulf States with already the world’s highest per capita emissions – carte blanche to increase their emissions. A properly organised system of alliances would have seen these wealthy resource-exporting nations outnumbered and under fierce pressure from LDCs, SISs, high mountain states and the high-technology industrial nations for deep and rapid emissions reductions.
Per capita greenhouse gas emissions including land use change in 2000, around the time of the actual Kyōtō Protocol
As things stood, two greenhouse sceptic organisations – The Climate Council and Global Climate Coalition (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 45) – were able to control OPEC’s delegations and “miss few opportunities to slow down progress towards taking common action in international negotiations” (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 26). The oil exporters also (Årts and Janssen, 2003) developed a tight partnership with US fossil fuel businesses that effected elimination of any quantified emissions targers for these exceedingly high per-capita polluters.

In contrast the LDCs, SISs and the EU – the resource-poor pro-reduction countries – placed themselves in disparate blocs and failed to develop a plan to counter the OPEC nations, nor the analogous Australian greenhouse sceptic organisations who dictated policy there. Luomi (2011) has demonstrated how the LDCs – at least Muslim LDCs – were led and had their interests represented by oil states with opposing interests rather than the by EU with aligned interests. In fact, the effort to exclude “developing” nations was not done by the poor LDCs, but by wealthy oil exporters to prevent them having to make deep cuts that would necessarily extirpate the wealth of the oil sheikhs like the Al Sacud, Al Sabah, Al Thani, Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum families.

The most basic target at the world’s first climate change protocol (Koch, 2003, p. 147; Najam et. al, 2003) was to set an ecologically-based allowance of emissions per capita. The most logical basis for ecologically-based emissions allowance is energy consumption of native fauna measured by basal metabolism (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) as this should reflect each ecoregion’s naturally sustainable pattern of energy use. Knowledge of geographical patterns of human metabolism is very scanty; however what evidence does exist (Tranah et. al, 2011; Roberts, 1978, pp. 44, 94; Leonard et. al., 2002; Coon, 1965, pp. 16-17, 244-245) suggests similar patterns of metabolic rates.
Nation or group of nations
(average value)
Approximate relative homiotherm BMR
(Australia = 1; Lovegrove, 2000)
Allowable per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Actual per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Required reduction to meet parity
(assuming no nation increases emissions)
Arid subtropical Asia and North Africa
Southern Africa
1.25 to 2
(depending on taxon; higher for larger species)
Tropical Americas
Tropical Africa and Asia
(possible cap)
Enriched World (northern)
Enriched World (Southern Cone)
4 (Milewski, personal communication)
The above table does demonstrates why achieving deep and rapid reductions in Australian and Gulf States emissions constituted Kyōtō’s urgent task. The Protocol failed completely, and at great cost judging by the certainty of 2019 annual rainfalls in southern Australia of less than one quarter previous record lows.

The above table shows that the highest per capita emitters outside the Enriched World needed to be the countries set severe reduction targets at the first Kyōtō Protocol. Apart from Australia, South Africa and Malaysia, these nations correspond to the oil exporters (OPEC), although low-emissions Nigeria can be exempted. If we follow from the table above, we can estimate requisite emissions reductions in the table below:

Country Requisite Kyōtō emissions target (relative to 1985-1995) Actual Kyōtō emissions target Notes
Wealthy Lithophile Metal Exporters
Australia -93% +8%
  • Lowest allowable per capita emissions due to unique ecology.
  • Considerable room for investment in solar and geothermal technology to phase out coal power
  • Climate change severe threat to agriculture
  • Opportunity to meet substantial part of 93 percent reduction target via large-scale farmland revegetation
High-Emissions Siderophile Metal Exporters
New Caledonia -93% -8%
(as part of EU)
  • Low-energy ecology closely related to that of Australia
  • Emissions target as part of EU (French overseas territory), but per capita emissions higher than any EU nation and three times that of France itself
South Africa -50%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Namibia -33%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Mineral exports variable in geochemistry
  • Per capita emissions relatively low, but parity emissions very low
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Middle Eastern and North African Oil Exporters
Kuwait -97%
  • In actual Protocol used the proxy of “developing countries” to be allowed carte blanche to increase emissions
  • Saudi Arabia may be third-largest global emitter with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication) counted
  • May require global efforts to reduce coal usage for any cooperation
  • Considerable solar energy potential due to abundant sunlight, but little other renewable potential
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia -95%
Libya -93%
Iran -33%
  • Ecologically diverse, ranging from pure Enriched on Caspian to pure arid subtropical on Gulf
  • Amongst top ten total emitters, and top five with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication)
Tropical World Oil Exporters
Brunei -93%
Indonesia -50%
  • Historically very poor, but large per capita emissions from forest clearance
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Equatorial Guinea
Gabon -33%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Other Tropical World Mineral States
Malaysia -50%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included
Papua New Guinea -50%
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included – although very low without them
  • All emissions cuts can only be achieved via eliminating land clearing
A plan to phase out coal – whilst anathema to Australia and South Africa – remained desirable as it would have been likely to mollify intransigent OPEC states, and coal is more carbon-intense than oil. Including land clearing – though opposed by AOSIS – I favour as it would have:
  1. allowed lower-income Tropical World mineral exporters to meet emissions targets at relatively low cost
  2. mandated large-scale revegetation of extremely ancient, climatically vulnerable agricultural soils of uniquely high conservation value in the West Australian Wheatbelt
  3. potentially lowered the severe education barriers to economic employment in the land- and resource-poor but uniquely eutrophic Enriched World
With this plan, the EU, LDCs, small-island and high mountain countries would have needed to make rigid demands on Australia, the Gulf States, and to a lesser extent South Africa. Undoubtedly, this would have involved greater sacrifices for all parties than the hopeless Protocol actually achieved, but vast emissions reductions by the wealthiest resource exporters. These nations have consistently been ranked the worst in the world for climate policy (Thwaites 2018; Marriott and Mortimore 2017), native ecology (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) dictates they be the world’s leaders in climate action, and large reductions by them would create large flow-on effects (Lafleur 2020, in publication).

Targets outlined above would have directly cut global emissions by no more than the targets of the actual Kyōtō Protocol. However, loss of fossil fuel and lithophile metal sources would have necessitated much more efficient use and reuse of these commodities by the big manufacturing nations. One would expect this improved efficiency to multiply reductions far beyond actual Kyōtō targets. Had a substantial proportion of the direct and indirect cuts proposed above been achieved by 2010, southern Australia and Central Chile would not be facing runaway drying with loss of over 90 percent of their virgin rainfall.

Methodology for “Ecological Parity” Emissions Targets:

In order to estimate relative per capita greenhouse gas emissions allowable for each nation, I:
  1. took the approximate average relative basal metabolic rate of that nation’s indigenous homiotherms
    • it being assumed that the sustainable energy consumption per capita of a nation’s human population should be related to that of homiothermic animals having evolved locally
    • BMR is the major contributor to faunal energy consumption, although field rates can be much higher in arid regions
  2. assumed that the allowable emissions would be proportional to each region’s average homiotherm BMR
  3. compared these with actual emissions to estimate the reduction required for parity with the ecoregion (Enriched) least above parity
  • Coon, Carleton S.; The Living Races of Man; published 1965 by Alfred A. Knopf
  • Flannery, Tim (1994); The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Gannon, B.; DiPietro, Loretta and Pöhlman, Eric T.; ‘Do African Americans have lower energy expenditure than Caucasians?’; International Journal of Obesity, vol. 24, issue 1 (February 2000), pp. 4-13
  • Key, Valdimer Orlando (1949); Southern Politics in State and Nation, published 1949 by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York
  • Koch, Max (2003); Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses; ISBN 978-1-349-32328-9
  • Lafleur, Dimitri (thesis); ‘Aspects of Australia’s fugitive and overseas emissions from fossil fuel exports’ (in print, online July 2020)
  • Leonard, William R.; Sorensen, Mark V.; Galloway, Victoria A.; Spencer, Gary J.; Mosher, M.J.; Osipova, Ludmilla and Spitsyn, Victor A.; ‘Climatic Influences on Basal Metabolic Rates Among Circumpolar Populations’; American Journal of Human Biology, vol. 14 (2002); pp. 609-620
  • Lovegrove, Barry G.; ‘The Zoogeography of Mammalian Basal Metabolic Rate’; The American Naturalist, vol. 156, no. 2 (August 2000), pp. 201-218
  • Luomi, Mari; ‘Gulf of Interest: Why Oil Still Dominates Middle Eastern Climate Politics’; Journal of Arabian Studies 1.2 (December 2011), pp. 249-266
  • Marriott, Lisa and Mortimore, Anna; ‘Emissions, Road Transport, Regulation and Tax Incentives in Australia and New Zealand’; Journal of the Australasian Tax Teachers Association, vol. 12, no. 1 (2017), pp. 23-52
  • Najam, Adil, Saleem-ul-Huq and Sokona, Youba; ‘Climate negotiations beyond Kyōtō: Developing countries’ concerns and interests’; Climate Policy 3(3) (September 2003), pp. 221-231
  • Oberthür, Sebastian and Ott, Hermann E. (1999); The Kyōtō Protocol: International Climate Policy for the 21st Century (International and European Environmental Policy Series), Springer Verlag
  • Orians, Gordon H. and Milewski, Antoni V. (2007). ‘Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires’ Biological Reviews, 82 (3): pp. 393-423
  • Roberts, Derek Frank; Climate and Human Variabillity, published January 1978 by Cummings Publishing Company
  • Thwaites, John; ‘Australia ranked worst in world on climate action’; Planning News; Volume 44, Issue 9 (October 2018), p. 13
  • Tranah, Gregory J.; Manini, Todd M.; Lohman, Kurt K.; Nalls, Michael A.; Kritchevsky, Stephen; Newman, Anne B.; Harris, Tamara B.; Miljkovic, Ivaf; Biffi, Alessandro; Cummings, Steven R. and Yongmei Liu; ‘Mitochondrial DNA variation in human metabolic rate and energy expenditure’; Mitochondrion, volume 11, issue 6 (November 2011), pp. 855-861
  • Årts, Paul and Janssen, Dennis; ‘Shades of Opinion: The Oil Exporting Countries and International Climate Politics’; The Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter 2003, pp. 332-351

Monday, 18 March 2019

The lag between tropical expansion and rainfall shifts – is it to disappear?

Synoptic chart for Sunday. Note the subtropical high pressure belt located around 48°S, around eight degrees south of its historic summer position
For over a decade now, I have noticed a major gap between the observed expansion of the tropics (Seidel et. al, 2008) and observed poleward shifts in rainfall in the southern hemisphere. A combination of observed measurements of the poleward edge of the Hadley Circulation suggests an expansion of eight degrees since the 1950s. Whilst as the following table for a representative set of stations in southern Australia and Central Chile shows, rain belts have shifted poleward – to disastrous effect for the water supplies of Perth – the shifts have not been nearly so marked as would be predicted from simply moving each locality seven to eight degrees equatorward:

Station Virgin mean rainfall (beginning of record to 1974) Mean rainfall predicted from simple 7.5˚ poleward tropical expansion Percentage decline vis-à-vis
virgin mean rainfall
Actual lowest observed rainfall
Santiago de Chile (MJJA)
272.0 mm
15 mm
22.1 mm*
37.2 mm
Concepción (annual)
1230.3 mm
121.6 mm
598.6 mm
599.3 mm
Valdivia (annual)
2393.5 mm
275 mm
1033.1 mm
Perth (annual)
882.0 mm
233.2 mm
466.6 mm
Perth (MJJA)
624.9 mm
158.0 mm
260.2 mm
Collie (MJJA)
667.0 mm
140.8 mm
275.9 mm
296.3 mm
Manjimup (annual)
1055.6 mm
248.5 mm
549.0 mm
Horsham Polkemmet Road (annual)
450.8 mm
185.0 mm
181.1 mm

An asterisk (*) indicates that the record low rainfall occurred before 1974. MJJA (May-June-July-August) refers to the May to August period that constitutes the rainy season in Southwest Western Australia and Central Chile.

As we can see, the annual rainfall one would expect from a 7.5˚ poleward shift in all climate belts remains less than the driest observed year for all selected stations except Horsham Polkemmet Road (BOM 079023). Even there the driest observed year – 1982 – is only a few millimetres drier than the estimated mean. In addition, the stations used to model Wimmera rainfall under a 7.5˚ poleward shift in climate belts suggest it likely that the median would be under 181 millimetres even with a mean of 185 millimetres.

One major problem is that Central Chile rainfall was historically limited much more by unfavourable land-ocean temperature gradients than by the descending limb of the Hadley Cell. The dryness of the El Niño years of 2014, 2015, and 2018 suggest, however, that such is emphatically not the case beyond the 2010 “magic gate”. The implication is that current ongoing expansion of the Hadley Cell sets a rigid ceiling upon Central Chile rainfall in a manner absent even during the 2000s, when Santiago exceeded its maximum 2010s MJJA rainfall of 209.9 millimetres in four non-El Niño years (2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008). Another problem is that the topography and coastal shape 7.5˚ closer to the equator differ from those surrounding the stations listed, although I was careful to choose those stations least likely to be controlled by differences of this type.

What is revealing about the last three months – in which Melbourne has seen only 33 millimetres with little hope for more in the foreseeable future – is that the subtropical anticyclone has been located as far south as 48˚S (see synoptic map at top). If we combine the subtropical anticyclone’s historic summer position and the known expansion of the Hadley Cell since the 1950s, 48 degrees South is almost precisely where we would expect the summer subtropical anticyclone to be today. This has suggested to me that we will be observing a “catch up” of rainfall belts with the observed shifts of the Hadley Cell since the 1950s (Seidel et. al, 2008, Liu et. al, 2012, plus personal communication). Should this be correct, rainfalls in Southwest Western Australia, southeastern Australia and Central Chile will, beginning this year, show dramatic declines below 2010s averages. These 2010s averages are already 30 percent below virgin averages before man-made greenhouse emissions expanded the Hadley Cell, and 50 percent less in the Santiago region.

Given widespread predictions of another record El Niño in 2019, annual rainfalls in southern Australia of one-half or even one-quarter existing record lows appear even at this early stage a probable outcome if we study the above tables. Even if positive Indian Ocean Dipole and negative Southern Oscillations are less persistent than some models (e.g. Chie et. al. 2008) suggest, there is still a likelihood that the frontal rain belt will be wholly shifted beyond any part of mainland Australia by the “catch up” noted in the previous paragraph.

The implications for public and private farming policy of a 7.5˚ or larger shift in annual rainfalls are stark. The winter rain belt would become wholly extinct, and with it rainfed winter grain crops – a complete 2019/2020 crop failure throughout southern Australia already appears plausible. Irrigated crops would also likely disappear. The rainfall declines modelled at the beginning of this article would certainly mean zero median annual runoff (Chiew et. al. 2006) for every river in Australia’s historic winter rainfall zone.

What governments would do confronted with this situation and powerful agribusinesses demanding bailouts from certain severe financial losses is not worth imagining. Expensive schemes to redirect runoff from other parts of Australia, or desalination and pipelines, would create still more disastrous after-effects in greenhouse gas emissions and disturbance to sensitive and unique river ecologies. Nonetheless, I still think it plausible that agribusiness possesses sufficient power to gain such bailouts, tragic as they would be not only for Australia’s ecology but for the remainder of the globe. It would even speak ill of Australia if it were to abandon farming because of catastrophic climate change rather than as a result of recognising it as inherently unsustainable on our uniquely ancient soils.

Rainfall methodology:

To estimate rainfall in Central Chile and Southern Australia under a 7.5˚ of latitude poleward shift of rain belts:
  1. rainfall stations with the most similar topography and coastal aspect to land 7.5˚ northward were selected
  2. rainfall for stations 7.5˚ northward and the most similar coastal aspect for the period before the first “magic gate” in 1975/1976 was entered for the stations in (1)
    1. for stations in southwestern WA, stations in BOM District 6 (West Gascoyne) were chosen, and for Collie (009628) and Manjimup (009573) stations comparably distant from the coast were used
    2. for Collie (009628) and Manjimup (009573) the estimated rainfall under a 7.5˚ poleward shift was increased by 10 percent to account for the Darling Scarp orographic effect.
    3. for Perth, data from Carnarvon (006062 and 006011) were used without alteration
    4. for Horsham Polkemmet Road, stations in BOM district 46 (Western—Far Northwest) were used
    5. for stations in Chile, stations on the coast or nearby 7.5˚ northward were used


  • Chandler, Mark A.; Rind, David and Rüdy, Reto; ‘Pangaean climate during the Early Jurassic: GCM simulations and the sedimentary record of paleoclimate’; Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104 (May 1992), p. 543-559
  • Chie Ihara; Yochana Kushnir and Mark A. Cane; ‘Warming Trend of the Indian Ocean SST and Indian Ocean Dipole from 1880 to 2004’; Journal of Climate, vol. 21 (2008), pp. 2035-2046
  • Chiew, Francis; Peel, Murray; McMahon, Thomas Aquinas and Siriwardena, Lionel (2006); ‘Precipitation elasticity of streamflow in catchments across the world’; [Harry Lins, Richard Vogel, Mike Bonell, Wolfgang Grabs et al.; WMO/UNESCO WCP-Water, FRIEND 2006, Havana Cuba, 26 November-1 December 2006]
  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169-1175
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

“Get Out” and don’t “Get Big”

As recent weeks clearly reveal a tipping point in Australia’s climate – with only 33 millimetres of rain in three months in Melbourne and none forecast for the next week – the revelation that the Murray-Darling Basin is drying out is not unexpected but shocking nonetheless.

The carcass of a kangaroo is seen by the side of the road in Wilcannia in March. Livestock and wildlife are dying as a result of the extended drought. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images Source: Getty Images
Jed Smith of vice.com and Maryanne Slattery of The Australia Institute have demonstrated in their recent article ‘“These weren’t mistakes”: “Dodgy” policies to blame for Murray Darling’s downfall’ that an Australian National University study demonstrating that vastly less water had been returned to the river system than claimed by the government. Maryanne also revealed large-scale water theft by the factory-scale irrigators in the basin’s upper reaches, who grow the water-intensive crops of rice, tobacco and cotton on a landmass whose rivers lack baseflow during below-average or even average rainfall. Water that in other continents creates baseflow is in Australia absorbed by dense proteoid root systems necessary to absorb scarce nutrients. In other extant continents these nutrients have been enriched by orders of magnitude via mountain building and aeolian glacial tills. There, lower rooting densities and much smaller threshold rainfalls to activate runoff are not only possible but essential.

What they show a a requisite is that irrigators – politically powerful due to their unrivalled profits on Australia’s abundant land in wet years – to be absolutely forbidden from extracting purchased water. What has actually happened is irrigators simply buying the water purchased by government, eliminating supposed additional flows. These flows are required to preserve ecosystems 13,000 times more ancient and comparably more specialised that the typical 10,000-year-old ecosystem of Europe, North America or New Zealand. Australian aquatic flora and fauna are adapted to flows three times more variable than those of Europe, North America, New Zealand, East Asia or South America, and lose out when flows are modified to fit farming practices tested in the fleetingly young Enriched World. In fact, as Mary E. White showed in Running Down: Water in a Changing Land, the entire Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins – and indeed most of the higher Western Plateau – constitutes one ephemeral floodplain adapted to extremely irregular floods. This is utterly different not only from the fast-flowing streams in U-shaped valleys of most of the Enriched World, but even from the permanent slow-flowing streams of the Amazon Basin or the bayou country of the Southern United States. In almost all of Australia, runoff occurs only ephemerally following abnormal rainfall, and when rivers do flow, they can cover the whole land area – as in the famous 1990 floods when Nyngan was completely evacuated.

Such environments are simply not designed for annual crops. In the natural state of the MDB, such crops would fail in the vast majority of years, and reservoirs six times those of Europe, North America or New Zealand are needed to maintain the same reliability of supply even ignoring higher evaporation.

Instead of “getting big”, Australia needs a plan for its farmers to get out – and get out as soon as possible. A “get out” plan would involve restoring the rivers of inland Australia to their naturally uniquely variable flows and specially adapted endemic species, and restoring farmland to native flora. This plan was proposed on a smaller scale for uneconomic less large farms two decades ago by Tyrone Thomas in his My Environmental Exposé, but contradicts a free market that locates agriculture where land is cheapest. However, where land is cheapest is precisely where farming does by far the greatest ecological harm. This is why a large-scale, long-term plan to take control of Australia’s rivers from Australian and foreign agribusinesses, and return our climatically vulnerable rainfed farmland to specially adapted native flora and fauna, is one of the most critical steps for reversing the ecological crisis. Benefits of mass revegetation will accrue not only to Australia but globally in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased economic profitability on other continents incomparably better suited to agriculture.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Most Australians are unaware of DFAT travel warnings

For a long time – ever since, being always obsessed with lists, I looked at which countries were viewed as extremely dangerous to travel by DFAT and various other national travel advisories.

Almost all the “developed” nations now issues travel advisories to their citizens, but my brother has said that the basic purpose of travel warnings is not to helm travellers know what places are safe to visit. Rather, my brother says that the purpose of travel warnings is to help travel insurance companies to decide whether to insure visitors to various countries or regions. Almost all Australian travel insurance companies will without exception refuse to insure travel to a DFAT “Do Not Travel” area, and many will refuse to insure travel to a DFAT “Reconsider Your Need To Travel” area.

With the information available today, I have possessed no doubt that potential travellers to “Do Not Travel” destinations – even those with significant interest therein – would stand able to recognise that the Saharan countries, Yemen, Syria and Iraq are extremely dangerous due to ongoing wars.

However, it is still interesting to know that most Australians have no actual knowledge of the travel warnings. According to recent research by ‘Insure and Go’ only two Australians in five know of DFAT’s travel warnings at all. I do not believe this means most Australians are unaware of the risks of travelling to most destinations in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Whilst a large number of destinations in sub-Saharan Africa are very rarely visited by Australians – to visit many sub-Saharan nations requires you to travel to a third country for a visa – I know very few people would randomly be interested in visiting a country that happens to be out-of-the-way. Those who would want to if they could would almost certainly research these places themselves so they would know what places are either:
  1. unsafe to visit due to war or other violent conflicts, or drug crime
  2. impossible to visit for reasons of internal policy
    • this second state of affairs is practically unknown today, but was widespread before Stalinism fell in Europe in:
      1. Stalinist nations of Asia and to some extent Eastern Europe
      2. the Arab Gulf States – of which only Baḥrain issued tourist visas before 1990
      3. many nations in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in its arid Saharan fringe (e.g. Chad and Siad Barre’s Somalia)
Government travel warnings, whilst widespread, are by no means necessary or essential to international travel, even if there might be more cases akin to Wyatt Roy’s trip to Iraq – largely motivated by his political interests – if governments did not offer this advice.