Wednesday, 10 October 2018

What Peter Mailler is doing must be encouraged generally

With Melbourne yesterday receiving no rainfall despite a predicted 90 percent chance of showers and a practical certainty of:
  1. a rainless October, with the previous record low 7 millimetres in 1914 easily smashed
  2. a record dry spring, with the previous record low of 68 millimetres from 1967 cut to a third of that figure or less
  3. a record dry three months, beating 23.9 millimetres from February to April 1923
  4. a record dry October to December, beating 52 millimetres from 2006 and 67.7 millimetres under natural climate cycles from 1896
  5. much more critically, a radical shift in the Hadley circulation producing a reduction of between 50 and 80 percent under the virgin mean annual rainfall of around 660 millimetres of 26 inches
In corresponding latitudes of South America, the entire region of Central Chile between Santiago and Concepción has seen a reduction of 40 percent in mean annual rainfall since 2009, on top of past reductions since 1967. This is almost certainly entirely a product of due to man-made greenhouse pollution shifting the descending limb of the Hadley Cell into the region during its former winter rainy season (e.g. Hochman et.al 2017, Liu et.al 2012, Seidel et.al 2008). Because extreme positive IOD events that have caused the droughts in 2002, 2006 to 2008, 2014 to 2015 and 2018 are likely to become vastly more frequent (Ng et.al., 2015; Chie et. al 2004), a 50 to 80 percent reduction in annual rainfall over Southern Australia vis-à-vis virgin means is an entirely reasonable prediction for 2019 and beyond. With continuing increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, one needs to err on the dry side, as it is known that during the Mesozoic with CO2 concentrations over 1,000ppmv the Hadley Cell extended to at least 45˚ from the equator (vis-à-vis 25˚ preindustrially).

In this context, the admission by former farmer Peter Mailler of Goondiwindi on the Darling downs on yesterday’s 7:30 Report that:
“You can’t keep arguing that this is just a cycle,”
“Yes, there are dry periods and, yes, there are wetter periods, yes, there are warm periods, yes, there are cool periods, but we have shifted the averages.”
 “The baselines have moved to the point now where we are unable to manage the impacts of those extreme events in that set.”
“We’re running out of tricks”

 “Agriculture is a gamble and every time temperatures rise and the impacts of climate change rolls down, the odds keep moving in favour of the house. My bet is that high temperatures are here to stay and that is a serious threat to how we farm and how we manage that lack of rainfall.”
What Mr. Mailler is doing is to build a solar farm on his property and sell the electricity. According to the 7:30 Report, Mailler is producing enough electricity for the entire town of Goondiwindi. The report said that, despite the government’s inaction and deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, Mailler is actually making money.

There is a deep lesson here. Mailler’s work possesses simple logic, yet I had never previously thought of solar power stations as an alternative use for the vast majority of Australian farmland that is unsustainable both in terms of biodiversity loss and runaway expansion of the Hadley circulation.

If, in an area which lies near the boundary of the humid western side of the subtropical anticyclone and is not nearly so vulnerable to runaway poleward spread of the Hadley Cell, farmers are nonetheless struggling, what could be done if we could cut Australia’s politicians’ subservience to the coal industry and pay farmers in the former winter rainfall zone to make a change to solar power and large-scale revegetation of their properties?? Large-scale power for communities much larger than Goondiwindi is certainly not implausible with the certainty of Melbourne’s rainfall and cloudiness from 2019 being consistently below historical averages in Tibooburra. Changing farming to native flora and solar power constitutes a double jackpot is reducing Australia’s uniquely bad greenhouse emissions via:
  1. reversing large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases from extensive and continuing clearing of native vegetation by agribusiness
  2. vastly reducing, even eliminating emissions from coal-fired power stations
What Mailler is doing needs to be demanded of all Australian farmers.

References:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Ng, Benjamin; Cai, Wenju; Walsh, Kevin and Santoso, Agus; ‘Nonlinear processes reinforce extreme Indian Ocean Dipole events’; Scientific Reports; volume 5, Article 11697 (2015)
  • 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

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Why Coles’ drought levy is a con job

On the radio during September one would frequently see advertisements for a “drought levy” established by Coles on milk since the beginning of September, and for Coles aiding drought-stricken farmers.

With a record-dry year likely now from Melbourne into northern Victoria and possibly parts of New South Wales, the drought levy is understandable but in terms of environmental ethics – regardless of its good intentions to help farmers – it must be judged wrong.

The reality is that we – as Tim Flannery noted during the 2006 drought – are not seeing a drought at all, but a new climate. Scientific studies (Seidel et. al. 2007, Kidder et. al. 2004, Liu et. al. 2012) suggest the southern Hadley cell – which marks the limits of the outer tropical and subtropical arid belt – has shifted poleward by seven degrees of latitude since the 1960s. This is equivalent to 780 kilometres, or to Melbourne experiencing the climate of Moree or Walgett from before anthropogenic global warming, and can be seen in the intense anticyclonic circulation during the winter half-year below:
Winter half-year 850 millibar streamfunction over Australia since 2010 vis-à-vis before 1974 (courtesy of Earth System Research Laboratory’s NCEP NCAR R1)
These climatic changes have been uniform over the southern hemisphere, although the mapping at ESRL did not allow me to show a decent graph. Also, the intensity of the Hadley Cell in the southern hemisphere has increased steadily since the 1920s – and the increase since 2010 has been very large vis-à-vis the graph below:
Strength of Southern Hemisphere Hadley circulation, taken from 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
In this context, the levies of Coles and Woolworths serve no other long-term purpose except to prop up dairy farmers who are already clearly unsustainable and likely to suffer even more as the Hadkey Cell spreads in the future. Models from the extremely hot Mesozoic (Chander et. al. 1992; Kidder et. al. 2004) suggest that the rapid poleward movement of winter storms away from the subtropics will continue with increasing global warming. This aridification must make the possibility of southern Australian farmers continuing to farm without causing mass extinctions of unique, ancient species remote. Indeed Hochman et.al. (2016) have suggested that poleward shifts of the Hadley Cell will inevitably stall and reverse technological grain crop yield increases in Australia during the 21st century.

There is, in my view, a much more sustainable alternative to propping up unsustainable land uses. Those concerned abut helping Australia’s farmers should aim not to prop them up, but to permit them make a radical transition via (at least partial and preferably complete) revegetation of their farms to ecotourism based land uses which mitigate rather than exacerbate man-made climate changes. A transition from unprofitable or erratically profitable farming to ecotourism would also reduce the risk of extinction for extremely ancient species that – unlike the rapidly speciating northern and western hemispheres – have roles that are irreplaceable if lost. For instance, lyrebirds play a critical role mitigating the intense fires caused by scarcity of catabolic chalcophile elements in southern Australia (Orians and Milewski, 2007)

Whilst a transition from farming to ecotourism stands costly and difficult over the vast areas where the threats noted by Hochman et. al. are severe, certainly on a small scale conversion of struggling farmers to sustainable ecotourism – especially with currently underutilised public and private promotion of the unique characteristics of Australian ecosystems (Orians and Milewski, 2007; Flannery 1994; McMahon and Finlayson 1991) – would be a much more sustainable use of “relief” levies from sales of food in chain stores, and would mitigate the risks of future climate change that see drying possibly as extreme as 80 percent of virgin mean rainfalls by 2100.

References:

  • Chandler, Mark A., Rind, David and Ruedy, Reto; ‘Pangaean climate during the Early Jurassic: GCM simulations and the sedimentary record of paleoclimate’; Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104, pp. 543-559, 9 figs., 3 tables (May 1992)
  • Flannery, Tim; The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Kidder, David L. and Worsley, Thomas R.; ‘Causes and consequences of extreme Permo-Triassic warming to globally equable climate and relation to the Permo-Triassic extinction and recovery’; Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, vol. 203 (2004); pp. 207-237
  • 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
  • McMahon, T.A. and Finlayson, B.L.; Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges. ISBN 3-923381-27-1
  • 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
  • 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

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Who is responsible for oceanic pollution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Missing the reality of climate change

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The problem of knowledge and culture, revisited

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

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

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

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