Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why Climate Change is a Bigger Threat to Australia Than Terrorism

by Cameron Jewell, The Fifth Estate: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/urbanism/climate-change-news/why-climate-change-is-a-bigger-threat-to-australia-than-terrorism/92922

Climate change is set to drive political instability and conflict in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a report co-authored by ex-coal industry heavyweight Ian Dunlop, but our government has its head in the sand.

The title of the report, Disaster Alley, refers to the Asia-Pacific region – including Australia – where some of the worst impacts of climate change are due to be felt, which could lead to food and water shortages, forced migration and military conflict.

It notes a number of conflicts, including the Syrian crisis and Arab Spring, have been accelerated by climate change and extreme weather events, culminating in mass migration into Europe and growing unrest. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 65.6 million people have already been forcibly displaced.
“Australia’s near region includes communities increasingly threatened by climate impacts and the resulting effects including dislocation and migration,” the report warns.
The authors take aim at “a failure of imagination” from political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders that has led to a failure to respond to the science on climate change, threatening citizens with “outright chaos”.
These leaders, they argue, are underplaying the high-end risks associated with climate change and also failing to recognise that the existential risk of climate change is completely different from other risk categories.
“Australian institutions are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing,” the report says.
“Australia is also failing as a world citizen, by downplaying the profound global impacts of climate change and shirking its responsibility to act.”
While Australia’s key partners are taking the security risks of climate change seriously, “government disinterest” has left Australia unprepared.
“The conflict and security aspects of climate change were flagged a decade ago, but have not been a significant component of public discourse in Australia in recent years,” the report says.
“Defence and security think tanks in general have not given the issue a high priority, and some have barely been in this field at all. The output from Australia’s intelligence analysts appears negligible.”
A major stumbling block has been successive defence ministers from both major political parties, with the report saying neither party “displays a deep understanding or accepts the real implications of climate change for Australians’ security”.
While government inaction is called out – and the approval of the Adani coal mine labelled “a crime against humanity” – the corporate sector is also criticised, with the ASX top 50 companies noted for having the highest embedded carbon profile of any group in the S&P Global 1200.
The report provides a number of recommendations for government:
  • Understand the risks: Establish a top-level climate and conflict taskforce in Australia to urgently examine the existential risks of climate change and develop risk-management techniques and policy-making methodologies appropriate to the challenge
  • Emergency program: Climate change now represents a global emergency, which threatens human civilisation. Build international processes that specifically recognise and formulate the practical steps necessary for a coordinated, global climate emergency response based on a sound, existential risk-management approach
  • Rapid decarbonisation: Launch an emergency-scale initiative to decarbonise the Australian economy no later than 2030 and build the capacity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while protecting food-growing capacity
  • Finance resilience: Build more resilient communities in the most vulnerable nations by high-level financial commitments and development assistance; build a flexible capacity to support communities in likely hotspots of instability and conflict
  • Be ready: Ensure all levels of government and civil society organisations are prepared for the impacts of projected climate change. Ensure Australian Defence Force preparedness, their mission and operational resilience, and their capacity for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, is adequate across the full range of projected climate change scenarios
  • Build leadership: Establish a national leadership group outside conventional politics, drawn from across society, charged with implementing the national climate emergency program

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wind Farms are Hardly the Bird Slayers They're Made Out to Be: Here's Why

File 20170616 512 12qly6u
The potential to harm local birdlife is often used to oppose wind farm development. But research into how birds die shows wind farms should be the least of our concerns. from www.shutterstock.com

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

People who oppose wind farms often claim wind turbine blades kill large numbers of birds, often referring to them as “bird choppers”. And claims of dangers to iconic or rare birds, especially raptors, have attracted a lot of attention.

Wind turbine blades do indeed kill birds and bats, but their contribution to total bird deaths is extremely low, as these three studies show.

A 2009 study using US and European data on bird deaths estimated the number of birds killed per unit of power generated by wind, fossil fuel and nuclear power systems. It concluded:
wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fuelled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh.
That’s nearly 15 times more. From this, the author estimated:
wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fuelled power plants 14.5 million.
In other words, for every one bird killed by a wind turbine, nuclear and fossil fuel powered plants killed 2,118 birds.

A Spanish study involved daily inspections of the ground around 20 wind farms with 252 turbines from 2005 to 2008. It found 596 dead birds.

The turbines in the sample had been working for different times during the study period (between 11 and 34 months), with the average annual number of fatalities per turbine being just 1.33. The authors noted this was one of the highest collision rates reported in the world research literature.

Raptor collisions accounted for 36% of total bird deaths (214 deaths), most of which were griffon vultures (138 birds, 23% of total mortality). The study area was in the southernmost area of Spain near Gibraltar, which is a migratory zone for birds from Morocco into Spain.

Perhaps the most comprehensive report was published in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology in 2013 by scientists from Canada’s Environment Canada, Wildlife Research Division.

Their report looked at causes of human-related bird deaths for all of Canada, drawing together data from many diverse sources.

The table below shows selected causes of bird death out of an annual total of 186,429,553 estimated deaths caused by human activity.

Mark Duchamp, the president of Save the Eagles International is probably the most prominent person to speak out about bird deaths at wind farms. He says:
The average per turbine comes down to 333 to 1,000 deaths annually which is a far cry from the 2-4 birds claimed by the American wind industry or the 400,000 birds a year estimated by the American Bird Conservancy for the whole of the United States, which has about twice as many turbines as Spain.
Such claims from wind farm critics generally allude to massive national conspiracies to cover up the true size of the deaths.

And in Australia?

In Australia in 2006 a proposal for a 52-turbine wind farm plan on Victoria’s south-east coast at Bald Hills (now completed) was overruled by the then federal environment minister Ian Campbell.

He cited concerns about the future of the endangered orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), a migratory bird said to be at risk of extinction within 50 years. The Tarwin Valley Coastal Guardians, an anti wind farm group that had been opposing the proposed development.

Interest groups have regularly cited this endangered bird when trying to halt a range of developments.
These include a chemical storage facility and a boating marina. The proposed Westernport marina in Victoria happened to also be near an important wetland. But a professor in biodiversity and sustainability wrote:
the parrot copped the blame, even though it had not been seen there for 25 years.
Victoria’s planning minister at the time, Rob Hulls, described the Bald Hills decision as blatantly political, arguing the federal conservative government had been lobbied by fossil fuel interests to curtail renewable energy developments. Hulls said there had been:
some historical sightings, and also some potential foraging sites between 10 and 35 kilometres from the Bald Hills wind farm site that may or may not have been used by the orange-bellied parrot.
Perhaps the final word on this topic should go to the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It built a wind turbine at its Bedfordshire headquarters to reduce its carbon emissions (and in doing so, aims to minimise species loss due to climate change). It recognised that wind power is far more beneficial to birds than it is harmful.

The ConversationSimon Chapman and Fiona Crichton’s book, Wind Turbine Syndrome: a communicated disease, will be published by Sydney University Press later this year.

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

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