Friday, November 29, 2013

The Phoney Boom in Oil From Shale

Fracking Water Contamination
Fracking Water Contamination (Photo credit: Public Herald)
by Paul Pollard, Online Opinion:

In the last year or two, leading US and Australian commentators have declared that, with the growth of shale fracking, the US, and even the world, has entered a new era of increased oil production.

It has been claimed, for instance, that we will see US 'energy independence', and more broadly a fundamental change in global oil supply.

But what are the facts?

The resource under question is now widely described as 'tight oil' because it is released by hydraulic fracturing of shale, or fracking. It is different from shale oil, which is produced by mining shale and heating it in retorts, at far higher cost.

A range of US interests are keen to exaggerate the significance of tight oil: the Obama administration wants a spirit of optimism to infuse the economy; US geopolitical commentators are keen to see America independent of foreign oil producers; the oil industry in general wants to emphasise that there's plenty of oil around for US consumers; large firms which have invested in fracking (like BHP Billiton) want to assure investors it's been a wise investment; and the drilling industry wants to talk Wall Street into continuing to finance their operations, a crucial ongoing requirement.

Also, fracking shale for oil has been conflated with fracking for gas, a more significant, though also exaggerated, development.

What are realistic, as opposed to boosters', figures on production, and likely trends?

The authoritative body on US oil production is the US Government Energy Information Administration (EIA), which puts out an Annual Energy Outlook (AEO). Current and estimated future production figures in the 2013 AEO simply do not support optimistic statements about US tight oil production.

Currently US liquid fuel consumption is about 19 million barrrels of oil a day (MBD), of which 40% is imported and 60% produced in the US. Tight oil contributes about 1.8 MBD, or about 10% of US consumption.

While this looks significant, it is only 2% of global production and according to the EIA, it will decrease from 2020 as the more productive tight oil 'sweet spots' are depleted.

Along with depletion of other US oil fields, overall import dependence will still be 37% after 2020. Basically, US tight oil will not offset either US or global depletion of oil supply.

A key aspect of tight oil is the rapid decline, often at 40% a year, in the volume of oil pumped per well, which is inherent due to the limited reach of fracking. This means that even highly profitable wells rapidly become unprofitable.

To maintain even a constant output, the level of drilling will have to constantly increase, meaning that a higher and higher oil price will be needed to support higher and higher costs of production.

Some tight oil extraction in the US may survive on a price of $80 a barrel, but more likely a price of $100 is needed. However, current tight oil production in the US is based on favourable, temporary conditions, which almost certainly it will not be replicated in other countries.

In other words, a long term oil price much higher than $100 a barrel would be necessary for tight oil to make any impact on global supplies.

Such an ever-increasing oil price would at some point choke off demand, so that a price ceiling will likely operate eventuallyto limit the extent of tight oil.

Unbiased observers of the US tight oil scene have therefore concluded that it is more a case of a brief boom followed by a dwindling away of a resource, than a large, long term contribution to oil supply.

What are the implications for Australia? One is that a tight oil bonanza is very unlikely here, because we don't have factors unique to the US.

These are: the rapid creation in recent years of excess drilling capacity for shale gas, which then became temporarily available at low cost for oil drilling; a highly developed and entrepreneurial drilling industry; finance available from Wall Street for high-risk US investment; extensive infrastructure in place to transport and refine oil; tolerant regulatory regimes; copious local water resources large enough to supply the heavy demands of fracking; and the ownership of underground minerals, under US law, residing with the landowner, thus removing dispute potential.

Another implication is that the US will not achieve 'energy independence'. It will still be a net oil importer (though even 100% self-sufficiency would not in fact mean independence from global market pressures). Given the importance of the US, this has geopolitical significance.

A third implication is that tight oil, at an oil price the world can afford to pay, is unlikely to greatly delay the shrinking of global oil supply. The lesson for Australia is that we need to plan for this shrinking supply, and the related rising price of oil.

Despite the essential role of oil throughout Australian society, there are no signs that our governments are planning for this in any way.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sowing Seeds of Hope With Revived Forests and Farms

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Cultivated terraces...
Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). Cultivated terraces on a hillside in southwestern Uganda (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Jenni Metcalfe

Otim Joseph first started planting trees to protect his mother and sisters from being raped.

Growing up amid a civil war, he watched as the Ugandan army cut down swathes of forest to make it easier to hunt rebel Lord’s Resistance Army soldiers - with devastating consequences for local women and girls.

“This meant that women had to walk to bushland, in some cases up to 10 kilometres away from their own communities, to collect firewood. This is when they would be raped.”

In his early 20s, Otim began collecting seeds from native trees to restore the forests on the post-war landscapes.

He then started a nursery that now has more than 400,000 seedlings, mostly African natives, such as Cassia, Luciana and Markhamia. He donates these to schools, community groups and even the army.

The seeds he plants are no longer just about providing trees for shelter, but also timber, logs for fuel, food and herbs.

Good news amid gloom

Otim, now a 29-year-old forest supervisor for Uganda’s National Forestry Authority, was one of 1200 delegates to share his story at the first Global Landscapes Forum, held alongside the latest UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.

One of the few positive outcomes of the Warsaw talks was the agreement on rules for financing forest projects in developing nations, along with US$280 million pledged by the US, Britain and Norway to a World Bank-led forest fund.

The Global Landscapes Forum heard countless stories like Otim’s, about how communities worldwide are trying to tackle complex problems like illegal logging and forest restoration, often in places with growing populations and multiple demands on the land.

Lindiwe Sibanda from the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, shared agriculture success stories from west Africa, where farmers are driving natural regeneration of vegetation while also improving their corn crop yields to 500 kg per hectare.

But despite such positive stories, there is still much to do, and Sibanda was among many to express concern about UN climate negotiations ignoring agriculture.

“We are all guilty because we are participating in a process that does not include agriculture,” she said. “Over 800 million people do not have access to food and a further 2 billion suffer from malnutrition.

“We can’t feed 9 billion without climate-smart agriculture or without our forests. They are part of the solution for climate change and if we don’t fight to have them included in a climate deal, then we are guilty. This is the greatest challenge of our time.”

Farms vs forests

Expansion of agricultural land drives 80% of the world’s deforestation and forest degradation. This is particularly true for the poorer tropical forest regions of Latin America, Asia and Africa, which are also striving to cope with rapidly increasing populations.

Deforestation is estimated to contribute between 10-15% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. And the current international approaches to reducing rising emissions from deforestation and agriculture are not working well enough.

As the World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte told the forum, if the world continues “to fund crop expansion on one hand but forest protection on the other, we are simply wasting taxpayers' money".

Local responses to global problems

One of the main international forestry schemes discussed at the forum was the the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, which pays poor countries like those in the three major tropical forest regions - the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin, South East Asia - to protect their forests.

Indonesia has a target to reduce its carbon emissions by 41% by 2020 and it sees REDD+ as a key tool for achieving this. The Indonesian President has created a decree that REDD+ be high priority and has appointed a special agency answering directly to him.

Agung Wicakson from that agency told the forum in Warsaw that Indonesia’s forests faced “huge land use conflicts between mining, agriculture and forestry”, especially in places like Kalimantan.

But looking beyond tropical forests, an equally big challenge is to make the most out of degraded farm land.

Sara Scherr, president of Ecoagriculture Partners, described how 450 small groups in Ethiopia have been using smarter farming practices in Ethiopia to restore grass cover and highly degraded landscapes, and enrich the soil.

“This has meant their reliance on food aid has declined, and they have access to better water,” she said. “The land is now also becoming a carbon sink.”

In Brazil’s far west, the remote state of Acre is trying to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, while improving people’s lives.

There are hundreds of other small projects like that happening in Latin America, Madagascar and Brazil, Scherr said. “These projects are seeking to control deforestation, restore lands, and reduce fire use while still being able to provide sufficient food.

“Our current agricultural production models are 150 years old,” she said. “We need to look at managing the whole set of resources. This requires a transformation.”

In each case, every big change requires someone to plant the first seed - as Otim Joseph is continuing to do in Uganda with help from a new generation: “If children see me planting the trees, then they are inspired to plant their own trees."

* Alison Binney contributed interview material and photos for this article.

Jenni Metcalfe is affiliated with Econnect Communication, which provided media support for the Global Landscape Forum.
The Conversation

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Russia's Silence on Climate Change Helps No-One

Contest winner
Contest winner (Photo credit: UNDP in Europe and Central Asia)
by Angelina Davydova, St Petersburg State University

Russia is the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gases, but has shown little initiative and remained quiet among the turmoil at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) climate summit in Warsaw.

The hottest issues under discussion - of compensation for loss and damage and historical responsibility - appear of little relevance to the country.

Her delegation openly admits it prefers to concentrate on negotiating the terms of a new, post-Kyoto agreement.

While experts claim climate negotiations have little economic and political importance for Russia’s transition economy, climate change is in fact set to deliver drastic damage to the country.

The current climate negotiations split between developed and developing countries in issues of loss and damage and climate finance.

According to Alexey Kokorin from WWF Russia, one of the country’s leading climate experts, Russia feels it falls in between, neither a major donor nor recipient country.

That doesn’t mean the country doesn’t like to emphasise its role as a global leader. At the last round of climate negotiations in Doha in December 2012, Russia felt its interests and reputation had been publicly violated, demanding due compensation.

Again, in the climate meeting in Bonn this summer the country’s delegation blocked progress in a key technical working group.

For the months before the Warsaw conference there has been fear of a repeat performance, but it seems to have resettled; the conference adopted its agenda on the first day without serious Russian protest.

However, simply not being obstructive is hardly a demonstration that Russia is playing a leading role, as she aspires to.

In terms of climate policy ambitions - domestic and international - Russia falls behind not only most developed countries but also its partners in the informal BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group.

Still, in the few months before Warsaw, the government approved a package of legal initiatives to support the development of renewable energy through the capacity market, and a target of 25% emissions reduction by 2020, based on 1990 levels.

Legislation that requires a 40% increase in energy efficiency per unit of GDP unit by 2020 was passed in 2009.

But what is passed in the Duma in theory does not always bear any relation to practice in Russia, which lacks many of the day-to-day political and business practices of a green or low-carbon economy.

Russian climate policy is best characterised as “window-dressing”, according to Kokorin. Here in Warsaw, the Russian delegation hardly takes part in debates. He says that Russia simply makes demonstrative plays of its own importance, without playing any practical part in the proceedings.

This extends to cutting off its nose to spite its face: Russia is unlikely to apply for climate finance, considering itself a rich and developed country - even though such funds would be very useful to help develop low carbon technologies, improve energy efficiency, and build sustainable forest management.

But this flippant attitude is not supported by the facts. According to the Moscow Higher School of Economics (HSE) estimation, the Russian economy’s losses from climate change could rise to between US$200-700 billion per year in only a few years.

Drought in 2010 and 2012 have slashed Russian grain harvests by up to a third, generating financial losses exceeding US$10 billion and inflating grain prices. Georgy Safonov from the HSE has calculated that climate change will shrink crop yields by 9% by 2030 and by 17% by 2050.

The growth of forest fires in Siberia’s vast boreal forests and expanse of tundra is also worrying. According to Safonov’s estimations, without a sustainable forest management policy Russian forests might turn from net absorbers of CO2 to net emitters by 2040.

In addition to fires, the forests' growing age, the spread of tree pests and diseases, and harmful logging practices are all concerning.

But none of these climate risks are officially recognised in Russia, where no one has thought to put in place any climate adaptation plans. Lacking any domestic climate policy, it would be irresponsible for Russia to be involved in setting up international climate initiatives.

Still, finding itself in a “neutral” position during the current climate discussions, Russia could take a more pro-active role, bringing in ambitious international initiatives which might help the negotiation process to resettle the issues between developed and developing countries.

It doesn’t show any signs of any such ideas yet, and domestic policy doesn’t really enable the country much room to do so. But it should be something for Russia to consider.

Angelina Davydova does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Will we Hunt Dingoes to the Brink Like the Tasmanian Tiger?

Dingoes at Phillip Island
Dingoes at Phillip Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Aaron Greenville, University of Sydney and Glenda Wardle, University of Sydney

The last Tasmanian tiger died a lonely death in the Hobart Zoo in 1936, just 59 days after new state laws aimed at protecting it from extinction were passed in parliament.

But the warning bells about its likely demise had been pealing for several decades before that protection came too late - and today we’re making many of the same deadly mistakes, only now it’s with dingoes.

Earlier this month the Queensland government announced it would make it easier for farmers to put out poison baits for “wild dogs”. In Victoria, similar measures have already been taken.

Lethal methods of control have lethal consequences. It is time to rethink our approach in how we manage our wild predators.

A deadly history lesson

Commonly known as Tasmanian tigers because of their striped backs, thylacines were hunted due to the species alleged damage they were doing to the sheep industry in the state. However, the thylacine’s actual impact on the industry was likely to have been small.

Instead, the species was made a scapegoat for poor management and the harshness of the Tasmanian environment, as early Europeans struggled implementing foreign farming practises to the new world.
The tiger [thylacine] … received a very bad character in the Assembly yesterday; in fact, there appeared not to be one redeeming point in this animal. It was described as cowardly, as stealing down on the sheep in the night and want only killing many more than it could eat … All sheep owners in the House agreed that “something should be done,” as it was asserted that the tigers have largely increased of late years - The Mercury, October 1886.

Grainy footage is all we have left of the thylacine.

More than a century later, and it’s now the dingo in the firing line.
Since 1990, the number of sheep shorn in Queensland has crashed 92 per cent, from over 21 million to less than 2 million. Although there have been rises and falls in the wool price and droughts have come and gone, it’s the dingoes that have been the last straw - ABC Radio National, May 2013.

An ancient predator vs modern farmers

Producing sheep is an incredibly tough business, with droughts, international competition and volatile markets for wool and meat - mostly factors that are well beyond the control of an individual farmer. 

Dingoes are seen as one of the few threats to livelihood that producers can fight back against. As a result, the dingo has experienced a severe range contraction since European settlement and there is mounting pressure to remove the dingo from the wild, despite dingoes calling Australia home for 4000 years.

Dingoes are now rare or absent across half of Australia due to intense control measures. While they are more common in other areas, we have seen how species populations can collapse quickly. For example, bounty records from Tasmania showed the thylacine population suddenly crashed in 1904-1910 due to hunting pressure from humans.

Will the dingo’s demise be like that of the thylacine? We simply do not know, but the social conditions and a rapidly changing environment mirror the story of the thylacine.

It’s true that dingoes have an impact on livestock. Estimates from industry-funded reports range from A$40 million to A$60 million, which include damage to livestock and cost of control measures.

And the emotional cost to farmers should not be underestimated. As authors, one of us has sheep farmers in the family, and knows the pride people gain from having a happy and healthy flock.

The choice is whether we want to follow the old colonial attitude of trying to conquer our environment, or find new and cheaper methods to live with our environment.

Dingoes and wild dogs

The issue of how to manage one of the few remaining mammalian top predators in Australia is further complicated by the suggestion that dingoes are not distinct from “wild dogs” due to interbreeding.

In eastern Australia dingo purity is low, but it is still high in many regions, such as central Australia. But whether you call them dingoes or wild dogs, these predators work as unpaid pest species manager that works around the clock, effectively controlling feral cat and red fox numbers.

Even in eastern Australia, there is evidence that dingoes are fulfilling this role by reducing fox numbers.

Dingoes can also control kangaroo numbers, reducing grazing pressure. Reducing pests and grazing pressure are a win for farmers and conservation alike.

Learning to live with dingoes

As CSIRO researchers suggested a decade ago, we need to get better at dealing with genetically ambiguous animals, such as those that could be classified as dingoes or wild dogs.

Instead, they argued that better approach to conservation decisions would involve protecting animals based on their role in the environment, as well as their cultural value.

Traditionally, barrier fences and lethal control (such as poisoning) have been used as methods to reduce livestock losses from dingoes.

However, the costs of removing the dingo as our free pest species manager, and the impact of fences as barriers to other wildlife, need to be taken into account when assessing the true cost of maintaining these approaches.

Alternatives to lethal control do exist. Guardian dogs can protect stock from dog attack and have a return on investment between one to three years. Such cost-effective strategies can allow both the dingo and grazing to co-exist.

Over thousands of years, dingoes have played a functional role in the Australian landscape and can provide benefits for farmers, traditional Indigenous owners and to the conservation of native wildlife.

It is time to learn how to live with the dingo. If not, we risk eventually driving dingoes out of the wild and into lonely zoo enclosures, just like the thylacine.

Aaron Greenville receives funding from Australian Postgraduate Award and Paddy Pallin Science Grant funded by Humane Society International, Royal Zoological Society of NSW.

Glenda Wardle receives funding from the Australian Research Council.The Conversation

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Australia and Canada are Leading the Wreckers at Warsaw

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...
Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Ian McGregor, University of Technology, Sydney

Ian McGregor is reporting from the Warsaw Conference of Parties for The Conversation.

Australia’s and Canada’s extremely unusual action at CHOGM to deny developing nations any further climate funding has had strong negative repercussions here in Warsaw.

The other two developed Commonwealth countries, UK and New Zealand, agreed to including a statement in the final CHOGM text about the importance of climate finance.

Australia and Canada decided to disassociate themselves from the statement.

But providing much-needed climate finance between now and 2020 is a huge issue at Warsaw, particularly for many of the poorer developing countries.

They want an agreement on some kind of compensation for “loss and damage” they will suffer as a result of climate change, which they see as being primarily a creation of developed countries.

Both India and South Africa made strong statements severely criticising Canada and Australia for their stance at CHOGM. They shouldn’t have been surprised: Australia and Canada have been repeatedly blocking moves at Warsaw to improve climate finance.

The UK and the EU have been the most progressive of the developed country groups on climate finance. But even with that support, the total commitment on climate finance within the process falls way short of what is needed by 2020.

Without more funding, poorer countries won’t be able to get on a path to low-carbon development. Nor will they be able to deal with the huge issues of adapting to the temperature increases, extreme weather, ecosystem collapse and sea level rise that will result from climate change.

The Philippines delegate - Naderev “Yeb” Saño - has made the strongest connection between climate change, the plight of the developing world and the need to address it with climate funding.

He said the suffering of people in the Philippines should motivate the delegates to make this year’s climate talks count.

Russia is competing with Australia, Canada and Japan (who have backed away from their emissions reduction target) in stopping climate progress. Russia is trying to get back emission credits that were eliminated by the agreement at the last Climate Summit at Doha.

Russia earned many carbon credits when its dirty industry collapsed following the end of the Soviet Union. These were taken away from them in Doha in order to enhance the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol. But Russia and Ukraine continue to fight this decision.

I hope, but I am not optimistic that the second week of the negotiations will be more fruitful and make significant progress towards an effective global agreement.

One major challenge is getting the Developed Countries to do much more to address climate change before 2020, when the new global agreement comes into force.

This is due to be finalised at the Global Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015, and they seem to be holding off on any new action until then.

Meanwhile, they are focusing on trying to create strong commitments for China and India in the post-2020 agreement.

What may yet shift the dynamic is the ongoing impact of Typhoon Haiyan. While Australia’s government may not be accepting scientists’ views that this storm was worsened by climate change, others are.

David Cameron, the UK prime minister, said “I’ll leave the scientists to speak for themselves about the link between severe weather events and climate change. The evidence seems to me to be growing.”

Will these last weeks result in a more constructive stance from Australia? Will Australia stand with the Philippines and return to using its power to influence the talks for the better? Only a crazy optimist would hope for such a thing.

It seems far more likely Australia will continue to be an action wrecker with Japan and more quietly behind the scenes with the US and Canada.

Ian McGregor is a Lecturer at University of Technology, Sydney and Official Adviser at the Climate Change Negotiations to the Government of Afghanistan. He is also a Steering Committee Member of Climate Action Network Australia.
The Conversation

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Broad Consensus on Climate Change Across American States

Global Warming 1/2
Global Warming 1/2 (Photo credit: lamazone)
by John Cook

A recent US “survey of surveys” by Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick has analysed public opinion on climate change in 46 of USA’s 50 states.

Krosnick found to his surprise that, regardless of geography, most Americans accept that global warming is happening and that humans are causing it.

In all 46 states, they found that at least 75% of participants thought global warming was happening.

Even in traditionally conservative red states such as Texas, 84% thought global warming was happening and 72% agreed humans were the cause.

Acceptance of global warming increased to at least 84% for states hit by drought or vulnerable to sea level rise.

In all states, at least 65% of Americans thought humans were causing global warming. Utah showed the lowest level at 65% while acceptance was highest in New Hampshire with 90%. Most Americans also supported government curbs of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

This is comparable to a CSIRO analysis that found 75% of Australians believe climate change is happening. While these results indicate high public acceptance of climate science, there is still a significant gap between public opinion and the views of climate scientists.

A 2009 survey of the scientific community found that among actively publishing climate scientists, 97.4% agreed that human activity was changing global temperature.

This result has since been replicated by an analysis of public statements by climate scientists, finding 97% consensus among 908 scientists who had published peer-reviewed climate research.

Earlier this year, I was part of a team that analysed 21 years of climate research. Among 4,014 papers that stated a position on human-caused global warming, we found 97.1% agreement that humans were causing global warming.

Of course, let me head off the flood of inevitable comments by pointing out that our understanding of climate change is based on empirical evidence.

There are many lines of independent observations indicating that humans are causing global warming. The consilience of evidence has resulted in an overwhelming and strengthening consensus in the climate science community.

Three quarters of Americans may not be as high as the 97% scientific consensus. However, politically speaking, it is still a strong majority. So why is there so little support for climate action among politicians?

While the general public on average accepts climate science, Republicans are more likely to reject the scientific consensus. This is particularly the case with conservative Republicans, who are more likely to vote in primaries.

During the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, even candidates who accepted the science were forced to reject the scientific consensus in order to gain the support of their party.

Many studies have found a significant link between political ideology and climate beliefs. In 2006, Heath and Gifford found that support for unfettered free markets was a significant predictor of climate change concern.

In other words, those who oppose government regulation of the fossil fuel industry are more likely to reject climate change science. The more politically conservative one is, the more likely they are to reject climate science.

However, there is a schism even within the Republican Party. A recent Pew survey found that among Tea Party members, only 25% accept global warming. In contrast, 61% of other Republicans accept that global warming is happening.

A minority group out of kilter with the rest of the populace and the scientific community are exerting a disproportionate influence on the public discourse about climate change.

This is also occurring in Australia. A survey of Australian views on climate change found that only 7% of Australians think climate change isn’t happening.

When the 7% of Australians who deny climate change are asked to estimate how many Australians share their views, they estimate 49%. This is known as the false consensus effect, a tendency to overestimate how popular one’s opinion is.

However, a more insidious and destructive effect is pluralistic ignorance. This is where people privately reject an opinion but incorrectly think others accept it.

For example, when Australians are asked to estimate the percentage of Australians that deny climate change, the average answer is at least 20% - around three times the actual amount.

Similarly, there is a significant gap between public perception of scientific consensus and the 97% reality. A 2012 survey found that 57% of Americans either disagreed with or were unaware of the fact that most scientists agree global warming is happening.

This matters because perceived consensus is a strong predictor of support for climate policy. When people think the scientists agree, they are more likely to support climate action.

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets are perpetuating the misconceptions. One way they achieve this is by granting outlier voices disproportionate visibility in the public arena, creating misleading and counterproductive debates.

For example, ABC’s Q&A regularly features public figures who reject climate science (but are rarely climate scientists). While the back-and-forth generates much heat that arguably makes for entertaining television, such displays reinforce the myth of disagreement among the climate science community.

The public need to recognise that contrarian voices that deny the scientific consensus are a minority among the general public.

More importantly, the public need to correctly perceive that scientists who reject the consensus are a vanishingly small minority in the climate science community, which shows an overwhelming and strengthening consensus.

John Cook does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Monsanto May Have Won the Battle for I-522, But the Future of Food Is Not Lost

Storm trooper holds cherry
Photo by Kristina Alexanderson / Flickr
by , Yes! magazine:

Erin Sagen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. 

Erin is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Follow her on Twitter at @erin_sagen.

As national media outlets announced the failure of Washington state’s Initiative 522 - a measure that would require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients - those advocating for the measure paused.

The race was still too early to call, they said, despite a nearly 10 percent difference in early results.

"It's an uphill battle, but the race is not over," said Elizabeth Larter, Yes on 522's media director.

"We still have more than 300,000 ballots to count." Larter went on to point out that later voters are typically younger and more liberal - people likely to support I-522.

Roughly 100,000 ballots were still left to count in King County, the state’s most liberal and populous, and that left enough room for cautious optimism among labeling advocates. As of press time, 45 percent had voted yes, while 55 percent voted no.

Last year's labeling campaign in California, Proposition 37, saw a wider margin on election night, but, according to the campaign's media director, Stacy Malkan, six points eventually shrunk to three as ballots were counted.

That narrow margin seemed to indicate strong support for labeling genetically engineered foods, despite more than $46 million being spent by the opposing side to defeat it.

On Initiative 522, Malkan said she's "watching the numbers with interest," but expressed frustration with the opposing side's "dirty tricks." "They pick on the details of the initiative and scare people about cost," she said. 

A need for deeper reform

But 522's likely failure might point more directly at institutional barriers than at public opinion. "We have a broken political system right now," said Mark Schlosberg of advocacy group Food and Water Watch. "To really change it, we need to change our democracy."

Both Malkan and Schlosberg addressed a deeper need for reform and transformation of the political process, referring to campaign finance reform and the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case.

Earlier this month, Washington's Attorney General filed suit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a major donor to No on 522, alleging the lobbying group violated state campaign finance laws.

The GMA registered and disclosed the required information thereafter, according to the Attorney General’s website.

Yes on 522 might not succeed at passing a labeling law (final results are expected to be released at 4:30 p.m. PST). Although labeling advocates are disappointed, progress can be found elsewhere, if not in state legislatures throughout the United States.

Malkan referred to a frequently cited New York Times poll this year that found that more than 90 percent of Americans support labeling.

She also mentioned that companies like Target, Trader Joe's, and other grocery chains recently signed a pledge stating that they will refuse to sell genetically engineered salmon in their stores once that product becomes commercially available.

And powerful food manufacturers like Kraft and Mars steered clear of participating in the race by refusing to donate money to either campaign, according to Malkan. They did not want to put their brands at risk.

Malkan believes that the coming years will ultimately bring labeling. "But in the meantime, we can reject those brands - like Nestlé, Coca Cola, and Pepsi - that worked to fight this bill. And we’ll keep organizing. I still believe it’s unstoppable."

Friday, November 8, 2013

Obama Prepares US for Climate Change Impacts: What is Australia Waiting For?

Reduction of flood and associated extreme weat...
Reduction of flood and associated extreme weather costs is the primary benefit of climate change mitigation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Rosemary Lyster, University of Sydney

The political controversy which erupted recently about the influence of climate change on the NSW bushfires was a distraction.

First, the Climate Council has confirmed climate change is influencing the frequency and intensity of extreme hot days, and prolonging periods of low rainfall.

This increases the risk of bushfires.

But just as importantly, political controversy about scientific phenomena takes the public’s and the government’s attention away from the real issue.

What are Australian governments doing to prepare a nationally coordinated response to extreme weather events and disasters?

We might do well to look to the United States on this. Exactly one year ago, Hurricane Sandy allowed President Obama to talk openly during his presidential campaign about climate change.

Why? Because damage estimates are near US$50 billion while at least 147 direct deaths were recorded and 650,000 houses either damaged or destroyed. Up to 8.5 million customers lost power for weeks or even months in some areas. Yet only about US$20 billion of the losses were insured.

That meant in January 2013, Congress had to approve a further US$50.5 billion under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act 2013 to fund the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

On November 1 this year, President Obama showed his determination to deal comprehensively with climate change threats. He published an Executive Order called Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.

The President itemises the climate change impacts already affecting human and non-human communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the US.

He acknowledges that managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government in cooperation with a wide range of government, private sector and NGO stakeholders.

He refers to the many existing Federal Government programs on climate change but points to the need for a new whole-of-government agenda, while confirming that the Federal Government will continue to support the scientific research, observational capabilities, and assessments needed to improve understanding of, and responses to, climate change.

Under this new Executive Order, government agencies must promote:
  • strong inter-agency partnerships and information-sharing;
  • risk-informed decision-making;
  • adaptive management; and
  • preparedness planning.
Far from abolishing climate change agencies, the President has established two new bodies - the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, and the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Up to 30 government agencies will sit on the Council to ensure an integrated Federal strategy to deal with climate change, in consultation with the Task Force.

Significantly, the Council is co-chaired by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.

All these Federal government agencies are ordered to:
  • remove barriers that discourage investments in building climate change resilience while ensuring continued protection of public health and the environment;
  • reform Federal policies and funding programs that may increase the vulnerability of natural or built systems, economic sectors, natural resources, or communities;
  • identify opportunities for climate-resilient investments by government, local communities, and tribes, including in the context of infrastructure development;
  • report their progress in achieving all of this;
  • continue to develop, implement, and update a comprehensive Adaptation Plan that integrates climate change into agency operations and overall mission objectives and submit these plans to CEQ and the Office of Management and Budget for review.
The Council must also build resilience in the US’s watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and their dependent communities and economies.

By August 2014, the heads of all Council agencies must complete an inventory and assessment of the necessary changes to their land and water policies, programs, and regulations to make that possible.

As part of the “open data” policy, Federal agencies are ordered to work together to develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.

They have to establish an online portal so agencies can share and coordinate their climate decision-making data and tools.

Here, agencies must describe how improving climate adaptation and resilience has become part of their work with agency suppliers, supply chains, real property investments, and capital equipment purchases.

President Obama accepts the scientific consensus on climate change and the risks of climate change to the US. He has shown political leadership to establish a whole-of-government Federal framework to build the nation’s resilience in cooperation with all other levels of government.

He understands that it is the duty of governments to do all that they can to protect citizens, natural resources, ecosystems and the economy against the threats of climate change, now and in the future.

In August 2013, the Australian Senate released a report on Australia’s preparedness for extreme weather events. It shows that, compared with Obama’s holistic response, there are still significant gaps in our efforts to establish effective national coordination around extreme weather events.

For example, the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework has not been properly implemented and existing coordination between relevant government agencies at all levels of government is inadequate.

Given our vulnerability to climate change, and the extreme weather event disasters we have already suffered, all Australian governments should learn from the comprehensive response demonstrated by the Obama administration.

Rosemary Lyster has received funding from the Australian Research Council (2009-2013) to investigate, with others, Indonesia's efforts to establish legal and policy frameworks for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+)
The Conversation

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Should we Move Tasmanian Devils Back to the Mainland?

by Euan Ritchie, Deakin University

In almost all parts of the world our environment is under siege and we are losing the battle to save many species from extinction.

The most common threats behind this unfolding catastrophe are habitat loss and modification, invasive species, and climate change.

What can we do?

Usually we focus on treating the symptoms - planting trees or shooting pest animals - but these treatments often fail. Perhaps we need radical new solutions for fixing broken ecosystems.

One such solution could be introducing (or reintroducing) species to ecosystems. There is now a serious and broad-based proposal to release Tasmanian Devils into the wild at Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, saving devils from extinction in Tasmania, and restoring damaged ecosystems on the mainland.

What is rewilding?

We can look at the Tasmanian Devil proposal in terms of an ecological concept known as rewilding. In essence, rewilding seeks to restore ecological function to habitats by introducing or reintroducing species that could perform vital roles.

Perhaps the best example comes from Yellowstone National Park in the US, where wolves were returned after a 70-year absence.

Wolves are crucial to Yellowstone’s ecosystems. Without them herbivores like deer and moose flourish, and prevent trees from producing saplings (see video below).

We must return predators and their functions back into landscapes

In Australia, the Tasmanian Devil is an ideal candidate for reintroduction to the mainland.

Saving devils

Tasmanian Devils used to inhabit mainland Australia. When exactly they went extinct on the mainland is uncertain, with dates ranging from 5,000 to as recent as 500 years ago.

But in 1881 Frederick McCoy, the first director of the National Museum, noted that Tasmanian Devils (or perhaps that should be “mainland” devils) are very common in the most recent cave deposits in Victoria. These fossils are identical to living devils in Tasmania.

Why they became extinct is more mysterious. Various theories have attributed blame to climate change, over-hunting by Aboriginal Australians, and dingoes.

But whatever the cause, current conditions at Wilson’s Promontory closely resemble those in Tasmania, and have likely remained unchanged for thousands of years, with no dingoes and plenty of prey. So we can be sure that the devils would fit in.

But why move them now?

One excellent reason is that there is a genuine risk that devils could become extinct in the wild by 2025, as a result of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). A mainland population would act as a large, wild insurance population, outside of Tasmania where DFTD is present.

How would the mainland benefit?

So we know Tasmanian Devils have been on the mainland before, and that moving them might help save the species from extinction. But what could devils offer the mainland?

One of the biggest benefits devils could offer is in the control of the red foxes, feral cats and overabundant herbivores (such as wombats, rabbits and wallabies). Evidence for this comes from Tasmania.

Following the decline of devils due to DFTD, species such as the feral cat have been increasing. This in turn is associated with a halving in population size of a smaller, native predator, the Eastern Quoll (once present, but now extinct in Victoria).

Some have also suggested that the reason foxes have only recently established themselves in Tasmania is not solely due to humans introducing them, but because devils declined around the same time. Prior to DFTD, devils may have been acting as a first line of defence against foxes by killing their cubs.

Currently we spend a lot of money managing foxes on mainland Australia through baiting programs. But are we going to do this forever? Devils may provide a 24-7 predator control service, free of charge.

Focusing on foxes also ignores the fact that there is no effective control of probably Australia’s most damaging feral animal, cats. As noted above, devils are capable of limiting cats too.

Another issue at Wilson’s promontory is an over-abundance of herbivores including wombats, swamp wallabies, rabbits, kangaroos and hog deer. All of these increased rapidly following the removal of dingoes in the 1940s.

In high numbers these herbivores can radically alter habitats, making them unsuitable for other species. We can shoot herbivores to keep them down, or we could introduce a natural predator such as Tasmanian Devils.

What’s next?

Parks Victoria and an ambitious multi-institutional research hub, the Wildlife Biodiversity Co-operative Research Centre are behind the new proposal to move devils to Wilson’s Promontory.

Planning is underway for a comprehensive proposal to the Victorian and Tasmanian governments, and thorough consultation with the public.

With this in mind I urge our leaders to be bold and act now. There are always risks with moving species, but not taking calculated risks to conserve our wildlife is perhaps even worse.

A devil reintroduction should be viewed as a positive and strategic national decision, and one for which future generations will thank us.

It is not often we can achieve win-wins in conservation, but helping prevent the extinction of the Tasmanian devil by re-establishing a mainland population, and restoring desperately needed ecosystem function to habitats, may just be the best conservation win-win waiting to happen. 

Euan Ritchie does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

50 Ways to Deny Climate Change

Climate Change is no joke.
Climate change is no joke (hmcotterill)
by Lyn Bender, Online Opinion.

It is seems that there are fifty ways to do almost anything, and as an exercise I compiled a list of the fifty ways I observed as having been used to promote climate science denial.

I could have continued on, but it was getting too depressing.

Contextually in Australia we live in a world that promotes the status quo of the resources-led economy, even though this economy is destroying the habitability of the planet and even as it approaches its own demise: like a virus slowly killing off its own host.

As in the dying days of any empire, those that have held dominion, race to claim the spoils before the wheel turns.

We are coming to the end of an age that will end, no matter how we respond. The fossil fuel age will literally burn itself out because it holds the seeds of its own destruction.

Carbon is destined to become a stranded asset, a currently highly-valued product, that we can no longer plan to use into the future. It represents investment that can't be realized.

The easier way would be a serious immediate response to emissions reduction.

But the currently easier path, will metamorphose into the long term horrendous more costly way, a way that that will be forced upon our children and grandchildren. A way that will mean the planet is locked into dangerous warming.

We could of course choose another way, the currently inconvenient way that will give us a chance of survival into the next century. We could embrace necessary change, but the latter way is often chronically opposed and avoided, or the last sought.

It involves a shift in deeply ensconced guiding paradigms. This can mean a radical change of the constructed meaning of our lives. The human psyche gravitates towards slotting events and insights into existing belief systems and accepted knowledge.

The strength of science is that it operates in so-called counter-intuitive ways testing new associations and bringing about revolutionary ways of seeing the universe, such as the earth not being the centre of the universe and instead that it orbited the sun. Or humans being part of eco-biological change, rather than being literally created in the garden of Eden by a God.

The understanding of the climate emergency has largely been obscured by the prevalence in our media of confusing assertions about the science.

A recent important report by Professor Wendy Bacon has revealed shocking and alarming media bias towards denial. The report states that Australia may have the highest concentration of media skepticism print in the world.

This has largely been promoted by vested interests; but has tapped into our fear of change, with its attendant losses and our sense of helplessness.

Nearly all of the skepticism was produced by News Corporation which owns two thirds of Australia's media. Fairfax still published six skeptical to nine science based articles.

Here is my depressing list of the fifty ways I have observed being used to promote the wrecking of a planet, that is, our planet not theirs. It is far from exhaustive.

Also, we should not blame our failures solely at the new coalition government. Kevin Rudd, who in 2007 heroically identified climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our generation, was ultimately quashed by the machine that installed our current government. So too was Julia Gillard for legislating for the carbon price.

They are not blameless for their fallibility but they at least attempted the assault on the Goliath of fossil fuel interests.

In a bizarre show of bipartisanship major parties are sticking with the puny inadequate tokenistic five percent reduction target. Whereas Bernie Fraser has recommended a 15 percent reduction by 2020 and 25 to 30 percent by 2030.

The highly respected former Reserve Bank head Bernie Fraser is Chairman of the board of the Independent Climate Change Authority, which the coalition has vowed to scrap.

It was set up in legislature by the previous government to advise the Government on Emissions targets and policy. The proposed scrapping involves another denial mechanism: that of shooting the messenger in an attempt to eradicate the message.

Here is my list of denier's strategies that I have spotted.
  1. Always refer to the climate "debate", as though the science is still undecided.
  2. Plan the economy factoring out climate science, by appointing business advisors who deny global warming.
  3. Plant big coal investors on environment boards while denying any conflict of interest.
  4. Use coal investors and lobbyists to advise Government on coal exploration and to assess risks of Coal Seam Gas (CSG).
  5. Sack competent globally respected climate advisors and other climate regulators.
  6. Have no science portfolio.
  7. Disparage or ignore world authoritative reports such as those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  8. Capture influence in the mainstream media.
  9. Politicize the Public Service by sackings and resulting intimidation.
  10. Deny that you deny. "As I've often said [in the recent past] climate change is real and serious but …".
  11. Promote ineffective solutions over effective ones.
  12. Discredit environmentalists and experts, rather than confront the evidence presented.
  13. Infiltrate the media with links to vested interests.
  14. Assert that the economy is separate from the environment and denigrate the science and ignore the future.
  15. Promote a climate change denial primer in schools.
  16. Climate change is real but there is no need to be alarmed, it's not all bad.
  17. Tell lies about the terrible economic consequences of a carbon price.
  18. Enter parliament to promote your own interests regarding mining.
  19. Promote fossil fuels as the basis of the economy.
  20. Call it a belief and religious leftist zealotry, not real science.
  21. Declare it's too complicated for most people to understand although it is not.
  22. Sack the experts that were appointed to explain it to the public.
  23. Deflect attention by focusing cynically or absurdly on other social justice concerns such as refugees.
  24. Identify and scapegoat groups as the "real" threats to our way of life ,such as refugees and "bikie gangs".
  25. Spread various myths that dispute climate change science.
  26. Develop and promote special terms of abuse such as warmists and alarmists .
  27. Flood the media with factually incorrect articles that discredit the climate science.
  28. Repeat easily stated and headline slogans, such as axe the tax, stop the boats.
  29. Saturate government with climate denier advisors.
  30. Create prisons (for asylum-seekers) on islands and Pacific nations impacted by climate change and threatened with inundation, through rising sea levels.
  31. Deny impact of climate change on extreme weather events.
  32. Expand Australian coal exports as fast as possible.
  33. Build infrastructure to aid coal exports.
  34. Cut loans to funding to clean energy.
  35. Continue investing in fossil fueled power stations and infrastructure.
  36. Promote notorious climate deniers such as Lord Monkton.
  37. Disparage articles and reports by climate scientists.
  38. Speed up approval process for mining projects .
  39. Cut safeguards for the environment, by cutting green tape.
  40. Blame the Greens for bushfires.
  41. Blame environmentalists for floods.
  42. Fund political candidates who declare climate change denial and foster the interests of developers.
  43. Assert that warming is 'natural' everything changes and there is no problem.
  44. Dine sup party and accept funding from coal moguls.
  45. Cosy up to shock jocks and media science deniers.
  46. Have an inadequate emissions reduction target of 5 percent.
  47. Abolish (or try to repeal) the legislated price on carbon.
  48. Give greater media concentration to deniers than to the science.
  49. But the stand alone Piece de resistance is: elect a climate denying fossil fuel promoting Government, that is backed by vested interests.
  50. All of the above and more.
Still to come: the fifty ways to combat climate change. Most will be obvious and implied by the denial list.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, November 4, 2013

What Do Young People Really Know About Climate Change?

Brief diagram showing the greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Vaille Dawson, Curtin University and Katherine Carson, Curtin University

The next generation will be the ones to feel the increasing effects of climate change. But how much do they really know about it?

After all, it’s one thing to say: yes, I believe in climate change. But another to say: yes, I understand it and how it works.

There is a lot of research which supports the idea that until a person understands the science behind climate change, they may not support political regulation or make personal decisions to help reduce greenhouse gas production.

Our new study, published in the latest edition of Teaching Science, has investigated the scientific understanding of 438 Western Australian Year 10 students in relation to the greenhouse effect and climate change. The results are startling.

What we know they know

When asked for a written response to the question “what is climate change?” only half of the students gave an answer which showed some understanding of the science behind climate change. Furthermore, one-third of the students included some type of alternative conception in their answer.

When answering the question “what is the greenhouse effect?” the results were even more disappointing with only one third of students able to provide an answer showing some understanding of the science behind the greenhouse effect. Over 40% of the answers included at least one alternative conception.

So what does this mean? Well, on the surface, the results obviously show that the majority of Year 10 students do not understand the science behind the greenhouse effect and climate change.

However if you look deeper, it is their alternative conceptions that reveal how misunderstanding climate change science can affect the decisions students make.

Mysteries and misconceptions

The most common misunderstanding we found was confusing the ozone layer with the greenhouse effect.

This is also common in the general population and is completely understandable, given that the purpose of both is to protect the Earth from ultraviolet rays in one case, and infrared rays in the other.

The problem is that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are associated with the degradation of the ozone layer, whereas greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are involved in the enhanced greenhouse effect which contributes to global warming.

This is an important distinction because the moderating behaviour is different for each. To protect the ozone layer we need to decrease the escape of CFCs, still found in air conditioners and refrigerators. The release of one chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules.

But to mitigate the consequences of the enhanced greenhouse effect, we need to reduce our energy usage in all its varied forms or invest in low emissions technology.

Our study also found up to 15% of students thought carbon dioxide was the only greenhouse gas. This really isn’t surprising given the focus carbon receives in our debate on climate change. After all, the media talks mostly about “carbon taxes” and “carbon footprints”.

It’s good there is some knowledge there, but this study shows it remains incomplete. And without the basic scientific understanding, students and the public in general do not fully understand the consequences of their decisions.

Water (the most abundant greenhouse gas), methane and nitrous oxide are all important contributors to the enhanced greenhouse gas and are affected by human activity. Methane in particular contributes to the enhanced greenhouse effect and is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

It is important then for meat and dairy eaters to recognise that livestock (mostly cattle) are responsible for up to 20% of the world’s methane production. Farmers and scientists are currently investigating steps which can be taken to try and reduce this percentage.

What can be done?

So where do these misunderstandings spring from? And what can we do to improve young people’s information on climate change?

There are several problems with the way science is taught in Australian schools that makes improving young people’s understanding difficult.

To start with, climate change is not explicitly mentioned in the Australian Curriculum in Science until year 10, despite young people’s exposure to the topic in the media much earlier.

In fact, the results of our survey showed that TV was the most frequent source of information about climate change, with school science coming second (although school science was seen as the most trustworthy).

Then there’s the fact that climate change science is multidisciplinary, drawing from chemistry, physics, biology and earth sciences.

Even the recent Australian curriculum divides science into four discrete sections, which means young people are not able to make the links between the scientific aspects of climate change.

The fact that climate science is sometimes seen as a socio-scientific issue is also problematic. It means that some don’t see it as a legitimate topic for school.

And finally, young people are failing to select science in the final two years of secondary school thus depriving them of the opportunity to examine these types of issues in depth.

If we want to improve this situation, it needs to begin in school with a curriculum which promotes understanding of climate science as well as pro-environmental behaviour. Teachers need to be aware of common alternative conceptions (often held by teachers themselves) and be given the resources and skills to overcome them.

But without addressing this, through better education, we may see the current apathy around climate change, continue into the next generation.

Vaille Dawson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Katherine Carson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

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