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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

China Turns On the World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm

Floating on a lake over a collapsed coal mine, the power station in Anhui province can produce 40 megawatts of energy

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/DyKp30C2u8W7M-ufeGMDl3HADeg=/800x600/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/d5/4c/d54ca68d-b6a0-4416-8ca1-8be6e994ae65/solar_farm_floating_china_power_plant_sungrow_10.jpg
Solar Farm
The floating solar power station in Anhui province (Sungrow)

Last week, workers switched on a solar energy plant capable of producing 40
megawatts of power, which floats on a manmade lake in China’s Anhui province
near the city of Huainan, reports Sarah Zheng at the South China Morning Post.
The array is the largest floating solar project in the world, though at the
brisk pace China is building new renewable projects it’s unlikely to hold that
title very long.

Built by the company Sungrow Power Supply, the power plant will produce enough energy to power
15,000 homes, Zheng reports. While the company has not revealed the exact size of the operation, it
produces twice as much energy as the previous holder of the largest-floating-solar-plant title, which is
located in the same area and was launched by the company Xinyi Solar in 2016.

Anhui province is a coal-rich region, and the Sungrow plant is located on a lake that was once the site of intensive mining. Heavy rains filled the area with water. As Zhen reports, the depth of the lake varies from 12 feet to 30 feet. 
So why build solar plants on top of lakes and reservoirs? Fiona Harvey at The Guardian explains that building on bodies of water, especially manmade lakes that are not ecologically sensitive, helps protect agricultural land and terrestrial ecosystems from being developed for energy use. The water also cools the electronics in the solar panels, helping them to work more efficiently, reports Alistair Boyle for The Telegraph. For similar reasons Britain built a 23,000-panel floating solar farm on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near Heathrow airport in 2016 to help power the Thames Water treatment plant.
The Sungrow solar farm is just one tiny piece in China’s push towards renewable energy. According to Irina Slav at Business Insider, the country recently announced it would invest $361 billion in renewable power by 2020, and by 2022 could produce 320 gigawatts of wind and solar power and 340 gigawatts of hydropower. Zheng reports that currently renewables are responsible for 11 percent of China’s energy and may reach 20 percent by 2030.
While the floating solar plant is the largest in the world, it pales in comparison to some of China's non-floating solar projects. The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park on the Tibetan plateau hosts 4 million solar panels that produce 850 megawatts of energy. Even that will soon be eclipsed by a project in the Ningxia Autonomous Region, which will have 6 million solar panels and produce 2 gigawatts of power.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/china-launches-largest-floating-solar-farm-180963587/#Dmmk5tcFL70VswX0.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Monday, June 5, 2017

Donald Trump’s Withdrawal From the Paris Accords Is a Crime Against Humanity

Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines - 2013 (Photo: AP)
by Mark Hertsgaard, Common Dreams: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/02/donald-trumps-withdrawal-paris-accords-crime-against-humanity

President Donald Trump confirmed his status as climate denier in chief today, guaranteeing his place in history as an enemy of both science and humanity. 

Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accord on climate change will not stop the rest of the world from continuing to advance toward a clean-energy future. Solar, wind, batteries, and other technologies are growing tremendously fast, rewarding investors and employing far more people than the heat-trapping fuels of the past. 

Three million Americans now work in the clean-energy sector, more than the oil, gas, and coal industries combined. California Governor Jerry Brown, who heads the world’s sixth-largest economy and a hot spot of green-energy innovation, insisted that Trump’s efforts are doomed to failure. “The momentum is all the other way,” Brown said, “and I think Trump, paradoxically, is giving climate denial such a bad name that he’s actually building the very [climate action] movement that he is [purporting] to undermine.”

But no one should pretend that it does not matter when the world’s biggest economy rejects an agreement that put unprecedented international support behind ambitious climate action. By removing rules and regulations that require polluters in the United States to change their ways, Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Accord will slow progress at the very time when humanity’s survival requires faster action than ever.

“Crimes against humanity” is a phrase to use with caution, but it fits Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Accord and indeed his entire climate policy. Timothy Wirth, who as the under secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration negotiated the Kyoto Protocol that sought to limit global warming, has said that those who deny the well-established science of climate change “ought to be tried for crimes against humanity.” 

Wirth told The Nation after Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord that he stood by his remark, adding that the president’s action was “a stunning moral abdication of responsibility to future generations.” To refuse to act against global warming is to condemn thousands of people to death and suffering today and millions more tomorrow. This is murder, even if Trump’s willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it. History will not be so blind.

Of course, the Paris Accord is far from perfect: Its emissions reductions are voluntary and do not go far enough, at least not yet. Nevertheless, the accord commits the world’s governments to leave behind oil, gas, and coal by mid-century—a historic shift. It commits them to limit global temperature rise to the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists say is the maximum compatible with civilization as we know it, and to aim for the 1.5 Celsius limit that poor and island nations rightfully regard as essential to their survival. Thus the accord provides citizens, activists, and the rest of civil society worldwide with a strong mandate they can use to hold governments and corporations to account.

Thanks largely to such pressure from civil society, reinforced by the growing recognition of global elites that the climate crisis is indeed dire, the Paris Accord has already accelerated real climate progress. Some of the greatest change is underway in China, which is rapidly shutting down coal plants and mines and adding solar and wind plants, notwithstanding Trump’s shameless lies at the White House about China’s supposedly doing nothing. 

Meanwhile, the leaders of China and the European Union announced that they remain committed to the Paris Accord and plan to intensify cooperation on clean energy, a huge and growing global market that US businesses will now find harder to navigate. So much for America First.

Remarkably, Trump did not deny climate science outright in his remarks in the Rose Garden. Reading from a prepared text, he refrained from repeating his favorite falsehood about climate change—that it is “a hoax” invented by the Chinese to undermine the US economy. 

Perhaps his aides have learned this much: Although fooled for decades by the disinformation campaigns funded by such polluters as ExxonMobil and voiced by Republicans in Congress, a majority of Americans now realize that climate change is real, caused by humans, and dangerous. Trump instead portrayed his withdrawal from the Paris Accord as a matter of economic fairness and patriotism, of standing up for American workers, businesses, and taxpayers who, he said, are being taken advantage of and, worst of all, laughed at by foreigners who foisted a “very unfair” deal on the hapless negotiators of the Obama administration.

This narrative could be consistent, however, only by ignoring what is now a truism within the business press and financial class: The jobs, profits and market opportunities of the future are in clean energy—not oil, gas, and coal. Indeed, two days before Trump’s announcement, the shareholders of ExxonMobil delivered a stunning rebuke to the oil giant’s management: BBy a 62 percent majority, they voted to require the company to produce annual reports on how it will remain profitable in a future when governments and science will limit oil and gas production.

But make no mistake: Trump’s speech was climate denial with a vengeance. At this point in the climate crisis, the science is terrifyingly clear. Global emissions of heat-trapping gases must peak by 2020 if the 1.5C target is to remain feasible, by 2030 for the 2C target. Physics does not compromise; it does not do the deals so beloved by Trump. And that means that pledging to unleash America’s “abundant domestic energy” sources—by which Trump explained he meant oil, gas, and coal—will make it immensely more difficult to honor those temperature targets, even if the rest of the world continues galloping forward.

In human terms, this increase in US energy production will mean more of the killer cyclones that killed hundreds and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this week. 

It will mean more of the massive storms such as Hurricane Sandy that leveled vast parts of New York and New Jersey days before the 2012 presidential election and inspired Businessweek’s cover headline, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid!” It will mean that the extinction crisis that has already claimed countless plant and animal species will intensify, furthering impoverishing the planet both ecologically and spiritually. All of this is a crime against humanity—and against Earth.


Mark Hertsgaard (markhertsgaard.com), a fellow of The Nation Institute and The Nation's environment correspondent, is the author of five books, which have been translated into sixteen languages. His next book, Living Through the Storm: How We Survive the Next 50 Years of Climate Change, is forthcoming from Houghton-Mifflin.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Trump’s Exit From Paris Climate Deal Signals End of American Century

 on 1 June 2017, Renew Economy: http://reneweconomy.com.au/trumps-exit-from-paris-climate-deal-signals-end-of-american-century-25509/

By exiting the Paris climate deal, President Donald Trump is handing over global leadership to Chinese President Xi Jinping, seen here with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in January. CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon, File
By exiting the Paris climate deal, President Donald Trump is handing over global leadership to Chinese President Xi Jinping, seen here with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in January. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon, File
President Donald Trump’s stunning words and actions to our European allies this week — culminating in reports that he will exit the historic Paris climate agreement — signal the end of the American Century.
Rather than strive to maintain the United States’ position as the leader of the free world, a role we have assigned to ourselves for decades, Trump is content with America the villain — the greedy and myopic country that killed humanity’s last, best hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Also, by abandoning clean energy, which is the one new sector capable of actually creating millions of high wage American jobs, Trump is officially handing the economic reins over to Europe and China.
Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, echoed that sentiment on Twitter Wednesday morning.
“America is responsible, to herself as well as to history, for the world environment in which she lives,” wrote publisher Henry Luce in a famous February 17, 1941 Life magazine editorial, “The American Century.”
Luce was writing about America’s obligation to end its isolationism and enter World War II. But he had a broader purpose, to discuss a “fundamental issue which faces America as it faces no other nation,” an issue “deeper even than the immediate issue of war.”
That issue was whether America would assume the mantle of global leader. Luce explained that throughout our history, “this continent teemed with manifold projects and magnificent purposes. Above them all… was the triumphal purpose of freedom. It is in this spirit that all of us are called, each to his own measure of capacity, and each in the widest horizon of his vision, to create the first great American Century.”
In words that still ring true today, Luce described what would happen if America met the challenge and took a global leadership role — and what would happen if we retreated into isolationism:
If America meets it correctly, then, despite hosts of dangers and difficulties, we can look forward and move forward to a future worthy of men, with peace in our hearts. If we dodge the issue, we shall flounder for ten or 20 or 30 bitter years in a chartless and meaningless series of disasters.
And so the U.S. finds itself at the same crossroads today. After a disastrous European trip in which Trump offended many world leaders, refused to endorse our commitment to defend our NATO allies, and persuaded Germany that we aren’t a reliable partner, a decision to exit the Paris climate deal would be the last straw, a blunder of historical import.
By torpedoing the unanimous agreement among more than 190 nations aimed at sparing humanity decades, if not centuries, of misery, Trump will destroy America’s “soft power,” our ability to achieve outcomes we desire in other global negotiations.
Trump will be destroying the global influence that was at the core of Luce’s definition of the American Century: “to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”
Ironically, by gutting domestic climate action and clean energy investment, Trump will also weaken the U.S. economically; other countries, particularly China, have indicated they intend to seize on the vast wealth and high paying jobs that come with leadership in clean energy and climate solutions, which will be a $50 trillion-plus market in the coming decades.
China has already announced its intention to be the economic leader and global hero on climate change. Indeed, one leading Australian financial columnist called Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January “the moment China’s president claimed global leadership on trade and climate in the vacuum of America’s advertised withdrawal.”
The official China Daily wrote in a commentary at the time, “ready or not, China has become the de facto world leader seeking to maintain an open global economy and battle climate change.” It called China “the one major power with a global outlook.”
Unless Trump is replaced in 2020 by a president committed to domestic and global climate action, he will have free reign to fully thwart the world’s last plausible realistic chance to avoid disaster. America, the richest country and biggest cumulative carbon polluter, will inevitably be blamed for the ever worsening weather extremes, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and climate conflicts here and abroad.
Luce truly described the future Trump is creating for us with remarkable prescience: “We shall flounder for 10 or 20 or 30 bitter years in a chartless and meaningless series of disasters.”