Tag Archives: Business as Usual

How Not to ‘Save the World’

Some months ago, a senior academic and I talked as we drove the many hours to the project site. He was informing me on his views regarding invasive species, some of which I thought were questionable.

To clarify, I bluntly asked, “What do you think we should do with weeds?”

He replied, with all the authority that he could muster, “Get rid of them.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation any further at that point. I knew from experience that the tone was one baiting me into a debate. I’m usually all for a debate, where I see value. In this case however, the individual is one who likes the fight more than a resolution and I’m not really one for that.

It’s a nice idea to remove weeds and certainly not impossible… as long as you throw enough money at the problem. This is where the environmental debate fails all the time.

It could be in discussions regarding invasive species management, limiting the impact of pollution or even climate change. Whatever the subject, for the most part, we can eventually achieve the currently unthinkable if only we wish to drain enough resources into it.

Those who fall prey to sci-fi resolution to problems, starting the discussion not unlike an Arthur C. Clark story, imagining the problem is soon to be resolve and the discussion should be about what this means for us, just like the environmental romantic, are victims to the results, without object rational on how to reach them.

An excellent example in Australia is the olive. How much money should we spend on managing olives in natural landscapes when the recruitment of these comes from dedicated plantation? I once refused to buy Australian olives for this reason, but is such a protest of any value?

Am I giving up?

This isn’t to be confused with environmental defeatism that Bjørn Lomborg tries to pass off as realism.

Let’s put it this way; it’s not impossible to rebuild your house to correct all the problems, but can you really afford to do so, or does it make more sense to allocate some of your money to repair what you have?

The olive is an assimilated immigrant to Australia. It has its place now in the local culture and environment (is that cringing I hear?).

To this realisation we have two general options that have their relative expenses; we could “get rid of it”, which would close down the industry and outlaw all trees in backyards and public parks as well; or, we give it a citizenship, acknowledging it as a productive food source well suited to Australia in a warming climate.

The former would require a major PR campaign and many years of eradication and monitoring. The latter would likely see us not managing it as a weed, but rather as new competition to endemic species with the aim of promoting biodiversity which would include this new “local”. This would require effort and research.

Paved in good intentions

Environmental discourse has been plagued with romanticism or an unrealistic impression of “indestructibility” ever since the notion that it was a topic worth discussing became established.

The worst part is not that those who discuss environmental management most passionately are the most likely to fall into such a trap while those least likely will typically reject concern altogether, but rather that there is this line drawn in the sand between both extremes.

Either your hopelessly infatuated with a resilient (or fragile) Earth or concede that such musings are little more than a “liberal conspiracy”.

Where is the possibility to even start to discuss the place of the “Australian olive” for instance, in such an absurd and naïve situation?

To Get rid of it?

Over the last century, the Australian government and landholders has spent countless hours and dollars in management of the rabbit. This has included a 1700km rabbit-proof fence (build between 1901-07), two different viruses, warren destruction, chemical control and even explosives (read more here). Even while the most recent virus was having its greatest impact (1998-2003) the management cost for feral rabbits was estimated to be around $1 million (more here).

Yet, I see bunnies throughout Melbourne and right up to central NSW on a daily basis.

Yes, something must be done and our efforts have had an impact, but how much really? We can’t rebuild the house, but equally, electrical tape over the tap isn’t going to stop the leak.

Out with the old

The olive and the rabbit are not good comparisons. Olives will forever spread while they are being farmed where ol’ bugs just has a thing for breeding prolifically.

The point is that the current attitudes and strategies do not reflect the realistic capacities of management options and beneficial outcomes. I’m tired of the blanket eradication message where the reality continually fails to meet the target. I’m just as tired of the dismissal scoffs of the other side of the discussion.

We need approach species management with fresh eyes and very likely, different goals. The promotion of biodiversity would be an excellent target. The promotion of productive ecosystems which thrive while providing services to urban landscapes would be another one.

In short, there is nothing ignoble in rethinking our relationship with other life and in designing ecosystems with which our landscapes actively interact. To be absolutely frank, there is no other multi-cellular organism as invasive as ourselves, but at least we have the capacity to promote ecosystems, rather than out compete all else until we are the last one standing should we choose to.

We need a new dialogue willing to step back, compromise or actively engage where it is needed, without unrealistic ideation or denial. This will start with an internal look on ourselves and our place within ecosystems.

About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

Coalition’s carbon policy based on failed Labor scheme

By Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University


The government and the Coalition both want to manage land to reduce greenhouse emissions. But it’s not working. Flickr/Indigo Skies Photography

Australia’s two major parties have promised to reduce the country’s emissions by 5% by 2020, with two different approaches. Labor has used carbon farming as part of its approach; the Coalition is making it a centrepiece. But analysis of Labor’s approach shows it is likely to fail, whoever pursues it.

The Coalition has promised to tackle carbon emissions through Direct Action, and without a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme. The plan hinges on reducing emissions at the lowest cost, which may include managing soils, forests and farming, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration or cleaning up power stations.

Direct Action will use and expand the current government’s Carbon Farming Initiative to achieve these emissions cuts, using the initiative as a platform to deliver an Emissions Reductions Fund.

But the initiative hasn’t come under scrutiny in its current role, let alone as a centrepiece for delivering Australia’s climate commitments. So, what is the Carbon Farming Initiative, and is it ready to take a starring role?

The Carbon Farming Initiative is the first national offset scheme in the world to include carbon credits derived broadly from natural resource management. It includes avoiding greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxides from managing livestock, crops and savanna burning, and sequestering carbon from reforestation and avoided deforestation.

It also includes planting trees to encourage carbon sequestration. At a landscape scale the scheme could transform regional Australia and provide major biodiversity and conservation benefits.

Farmers and foresters generate carbon credits for emissions reductions. Polluters can then buy these credits, known as Australian Carbon Credit Units. Presumably, the Coalition would purchase these credits under Direct Action.

That’s how it’s meant to work. Let’s have a look at whether it’s actually working.

The success of carbon farming depends on uptake. Treasury provides two scenarios for uptake of carbon farming based on two global action scenarios. The first is based on medium global action for stabilising greenhouse gases at 550 parts per million by 2100. The second is an ambitious global action scenario aiming to stabilise at 450 parts per million. The ambitious scenario is what Australia, and the world, agreed at Copenhagen in 2009 would avoid dangerous climate change.

Under the medium ambition scenario Treasury projected the carbon price to start at around A$23 per tonne in 2012-2013, with carbon farming delivering 6 Mt CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent, which allows us to account for other greenhouse gases).

The ambitious scenario fetches a carbon price starting at A$47 per tonne with 9 Mt CO2-e delivered by the land. Avoiding deforestation and reforestation makes up about two thirds of land sector abatement in both cases.

Carbon farming has now been running for nearly two years. What has it delivered? The answer is astonishing: virtually nothing.

Around 46,000 carbon units (each equivalent to a tonne of CO2-e) have been issued. This covers a little less than 1% of reductions needed for the year 2012-2013 under a medium ambition scenario, and about 0.5% of the ambitious scenario.

Why has carbon farming failed to achieve anything? One of the main reasons for this situation is that it’s not cheap to create offsets. In fact the idea that the land sector can provide low cost abatement is a bit of a furphy.

Under carbon farming, offsets are generated by developing a baseline level of emissions and crediting reductions from the baseline. The process is complex. Steps include:

  • becoming a recognised offset entity
  • opening a registry account
  • undertaking a project according to approved methodologies
  • submitting regular audit reports
  • applying for carbon credits and having them issued.

Rigorous “integrity standards” are required including permanence obligations, which guarantee sequestration of greenhouse gases for 100 years. Australia is one of the few in the world to have such a stringent rule and it is one of the major obstacles to investment. Others use tried and true risk-based approaches such as insurance, which allow for shorter contracts.

Also, carbon credits are considered financial instruments. This triggers policy frameworks established Australia’s Corporations Act and other legislation.

Even before you step on the carbon farming treadmill there are costs associated with registering legal rights to carbon. In Queensland, for instance, you need to contract a surveyor to map and register one stand of forest. This might cost in the order of A$500-$10,000 or more depending on the complexity of the forest stand and whether you are registering the whole property or not.

At year three after planting (based on the wet tropics forests which have high sequestration rates) you might have sequestered 10 tonnes of CO2-e per hectare. Your cumulative return might be in the order of A$230 (or about A$76 per year) per hectare. This return would not cover the costs of registering legal rights to the carbon, let alone the cost of survey and plan preparation or the costs of establishing the forest.

If it is high-environmental-value forest, surveying and planning might be in the order of A$25,000 to A$67,000 per hectare.

With the government bringing forward a floating carbon price that links the European Union’s carbon price, currently at around A$6, you can expect enough from carbon farming for lunch (one good lunch, or three sandwiches).

Ultimately to invest in carbon farming requires two things: an ambitious global action agenda, and certainty of the investment environment for decades. Both the government and Coalition have committed to a 5% reduction of greenhouse emissions below 2000 levels by 2020. This correlates more or less to the medium ambition scenario (and an acceptance of dangerous climate change).

Certainty might be guaranteed under an emissions trading scheme that has global links in a world of high ambition. Under the Direct Action policy, however, the first round of money to purchase lowest cost abatement would be July 2014. And this would be a year before the policy would up for review.

Given this, the chances of carbon farming delivering effective abatement from the land might be about zero.

Penny van Oosterzee is a director of a company that receives funding from the Biodiversity Fund for a rainforest restoration project.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Industry is shifting away from an Abbott styled “future”

The Australian Financial Review surprised me with a scathing article in reply to Tony Abbott. So much so that I was left wondering if Mr Abbott is even too out there for industry. It is great to see that Marcus Priest, in his post, Smoke and mirrors with carbon figures, just is not buying the claims.

In reply to the fear propagation about rising carbon pricing modelled over the coming decades, Priest wrote;

“Even if it ever reaches this level – which is debatable– companies are expected to reduce their carbon intensity offsetting the rising price.”

Which of course, is the aim of carbon pricing. It’s not expected that industries would be emitting as much greenhouse gases per unit of output in 2020 or 2050 as they are today, meaning that it is not a reasonable comparison.

And I could not help but chuckle when the director of the company that Tony Abbott was claiming to be hindered by the carbon tax was quoted;

“The industry and the communities it supports have a very bright future under carbon pricing,”

But it is not like Mr Abbott often lets reality get in the way of a good camp fire story about the carbon tax to scare the audience…

Climate discussions flat-line where they should be thriving

The climate science news, in reality, has waned in recent months, perhaps over the bulk of 2013.

Sure, the science is still trickling in but within the general media it’s really pretty much flat lined. Monckton’s last Aussie tour was a flop; a hopeful sign that his crackpot star is burning out. The “final nails” are rusted and forgotten…

Climate change is more or less left to the enthusiasts. The tone on the anti-science climate media is increasingly batty and fringe and arguably as drama soaked as any other conspiracy theory one may stumble upon for a chuckle. The lines in the sand have washed away and far fewer are selecting supposed “sides”.

Most people admit that anthropogenic climate change is real, but for the most part, the threat is trivialized by how intangible and far off it seems to the individual right here and now in a given city. The only real fight that seems to persist within the public eye is the rather extraordinary lengths we are going to, to find fossil fuels, be it fracking, offshore drilling or tar pits.

At the same time, the US president has finally joined the true dialogue of climate response policies, China is ever ramping up its activities in response to climate change and little Australia, with its massive per capita climate debt, seriously contemplates over two potential candidates for leadership; one of which goes from calling climate change “crap” to carbon trading “a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one”.

As an observer, I can’t help but sit back perplexed.

Does being the lucky country also mean the wilfully ignorant country as well? Are we so scared that changing our behaviour must mean degrading our quality of life? Of course, the longer we take to begin meaningful change the more dramatic and thus uncomfortable change will be. Being honest, this is what motivates me more than anything – I simply do not wish to impose avoidable hardship on those I care about.

Small steps earlier rather than big steps later to catch up.

Globally, financial concerns have only increased over the past five years, leaving many policy makers focused entirely on growth, with the long term impacts of climate change placed on the back-burner for future discussions. Hope and Hope (2013) have illustrated that this may be short sighted as this low growth is likely to lead to a poorer future population, thus less able to match the social costs due to additional CO2 emissions. Under the current global economic pressures, there is even more reason to attempt to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, not less, than if economies were healthier.

There  really is no justifiable reason for the lull. While anti-science groups may be giving communicators less material to respond to (I’ve argued before that this should be done sparingly in any case), we still need strong discussions on what we do now to curtail future emissions to ensure we provide our grandchildren and theirs a climate akin to that we have prospered within. There are many concerns that need to be addressed, to be sure, but climate change is still a high priority.

Furthermore, it presents opportunity for new markets and community-based behaviours that in turn could lead to financial benefits. If we simply get on with the task and demonstrate positives in changing behaviour, we will also erode the platform on which many anti-science communicators stand upon; it will be increasingly untenable to insist anthropogenic climate change is not real, uncertain or exaggerated when communities are progressing and thriving in low-carbon economies.

We never needed the momentum we drew from rebuking anti-science propaganda, but we have been doing it for so long that we have convinced ourselves otherwise. The dialogue belongs to science communicators now and we are not doing our part to assist with the necessary behavioural changes.

Cheap Labour and Poor Working Conditions: Who really is to blame?

The working conditions and wages paid for cheap goods from developing countries have again been in the news recently. People are quick to vilify businesses that supply such goods in their stores while turning a blind eye to this problem.

Yet, the critics themselves are without a doubt more often wrapped in clothing from suppliers undertaking inhumane practices. The problem itself is nothing new. The critics therefore are just as guilty for the demand of these product and wilful ignorance of the conditions behind their production.

All we want is reliable goods at rock bottom prices.

Well there’s your problem. Thoughts of this nature are no better than Gina Rinehart’s lament over the cheap labour costs of African workers when compared to Aussie workers.

To remain viable, business activities need to undertake cut-throat behaviours. Now forty years into the neo-liberal market, the “consumer” is detached from the realities of production across the board. For instance, seasonality of fresh produce is something long forgotten. Mending, indeed the expectation of a household item simply lasting, are long gone; it’s easier and apparently cheaper to upgrade and replace household items.

This is only true because some poor sap has no other option but to scrape out an existence on a daily wage less than we would spend on a coffee on our way to work.

These practices are so often reported on that no-one can be excused for buying goods ignorant to the fact. K-mart or Apple or whoever the critic wants to pick on today is guilty, true, but so are each of us for the purchase of these goods. Equally, the “designed obsolescence” and the throw away culture make all parties, from production to user, guilty of ridiculously mounting levels of waste.

Personally, I doubt anyone should be so quick to vilify producers and sellers, due to the risk of hypocrisy. Instead, what we need is a movement aimed at overcoming this paradigm. Of course, the alternative could not be as cheap, but it could be more durable and sustainable. It would definitely be more humane and otherwise ethical. Surrounded by growth economy which has evolved little beyond the lessons learnt by an invasive weed, the community of this movement would need persistence too.

If we do not like implicit involvement and thus guilt, we would do better to set a new example rather than trumpet hypocrisy to our personal activities. If business cannot fulfil the needs of the consumer, then it does not deserve the consumer dollar.

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”

I make it a personal rule to avoid anti-science blogs. Simply, it would be a pointless venture. C. H. Spurgeon had it right, long before the Internet was even dreamt up with, “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on”.

Any half-baked idea can be seriously entertained if one avoids scrutiny, hence why the web is a fertile landscape for the dreamer and mad theorist alike. It takes discipline to adhere to strict guidelines of quality control and even more on such a platform as the Internet, which is why I always back up any statements with citation and/or illustrated mathematics for review.

With that in mind, I have no doubt the anti-science dreamers commonly called climate change “sceptics” would no doubt be foaming over Obama’s recent disregarding statement of their movement. That, or the Monckton’s of the world would loftily stick their noses in the air and pompously write his statement off as the rant’s of an extreme lefty matching none other than Fidel Castro (seriously, Monckton has made this insane claim in the past on “Vattelevision”, about 6:25mins into this video; disregarding strong differences between the two’s idea of leadership – for instance, Obama will step down at the end of this term – economic structure, gay rights / marriage equality, etc etc etc).

It’s good to see not only the US finally getting on-board to tackle climate change, but also China – the “final nail” in the coffin* in the argument against action on the basis of the impotence of these two big countries so far. Further, it’s great that Obama understand the difference between equal and fair weighting of a debate – hopefully he can carry that on into the class rooms regarding biology and geology (in other words, another shameful Flat Earth Society: creationism / ID).

This is the type of action that is required from leadership, which helps to undermine frankly anti-science movements (identifiable in their lack of scientific support or criticism of the basic ideas being challenged by such groups). It’s better to be slow rather than late – it gives our children and those beyond the best chance of prosperity and comfort through the actions we take on their behalf.

* Sorry, I just had to use that cliché, so often used against anthropogenic climate change with every typo in an IPCC report or flimsy scientific paper.

There’s consensus and then there’s consensus: Climate “Sceptics” Just Don’t Get It

Every single time researchers go to the otherwise wasted effort of reviewing the standing position of climate research in relation to anthropogenic climate change (for, in what other field of science do scientists undertake such analyses?), we hear the same backlash from the committed sceptics.

In fact, looking at the dismissal charges of conservative columnists in relation to climate change, Elsasser and Dunlap (2013) found that attacking the scientific consensus was by far the favoured approach. This illustrates just how much such anti-scientific groups understand the scientific consensus hurts their position, if it is against them.

And it is against them.

Time and time again, I comment that these committed sceptics just don’t get what scientific consensus is. Without blinkers, when one reads such consensus research papers as the recent Cook et al (2013) they find that such an analysis is NOT the result of questionnaires sent to scientists. It is in fact asking, “what is the position drawn from the conclusions of the paper and are these conclusions pro-anthropogenic climate change or not?”

Scientific consensus here is weighed by the evidence presented within peer-reviewed literature and not merely the expert opinion of a few. This is why it hurts the committed sceptic so much and needs such venomous denigration. Donna Laframboise sounds silly when she says, “science isn’t done by consensus” when one looks at what real scientific consensus is.

Moreover, local gold hoarding conspiracy theorist, Jo Nova, presents just how little she gets science in her reply to Cook et al (2013) by referring to her beloved, Oregon Petition Project;

“You want authority? Skeptics can name 31,500 scientists who agree, including 9,000 PhDs, 45 NASA experts (including two astronauts who walked on the moon) and two Nobel Prize winners in physics.”

Righto – is that what’s supposed to challenge empirical evidence? A bunch of names of people – the vast majority of which, regardless of their other achievements, are without any relevant training or contributed any relevant analysis to the related fields of science – signing on the dotted line…?

The Oregon Petition Project is a one-sided vote. It is irrelevant.

Science isn’t done by consensus and the scientific consensus isn’t done by people. It is done through evidence. Hence the print in Cook’s infogram; 97% of climate papers stating a position on human-caused global warming AGREE global warming is happening – and we are the cause.

Nowhere do the positions of people come into it. It’s an argument made on evidence, not opinion.

Yet the climate sceptics attempt to denigrate it as opinion, whilst providing evidence that IS based purely on opinion!!

There’s consensus and then there’s consensus. The body of scientific evidence simply does not support  the committed climate scepticism and the sceptics know this fact and do whatever they can to present a sideshow and misrepresent the body of scientific evidence because of this.

There is no debate over consensus because the definition of it is different for those who accept scientific evidence and those determined to remain “sceptical”.