Arctic Changes

Nice article by Neil Shea, over at American Scholar, on traveling through the changing Arctic.

Since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost an average of 21,000 square miles of sea ice each year, according to scientists at NASA. Put another way, if you were to imagine sea ice as a territory the size of the United States, then Alaska and the Pacific Coast would have melted away, along with Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and most of Montana. The scale of loss is astonishing, and the negative trend continues. One researcher told me that to understand it, I had to think in unprecedented terms: “There’s a new ocean opening up before us in real time,” he said. “That hasn’t happened before.”

Offsets

Based on the calculations in yesterday’s post, we had 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions to offset. WWF’s Gold Standard lists certified projects which allow you to offset your emissions while supporting a range of social and environmental projects.

J’s worked in the International Aid sector before, so I asked her to choose which projects she liked and we ended up offsetting 5 tonnes through a program [replacing wood fires with solar cookers}(https://www.goldstandard.org/projects/solar-cooking-refugee-families-chad) in UN Refugee camps in Darfur, and the other 5 tonnes through a reforestation project in South Australia.

Total cost: AUD$276

Also, a friend recommended switching our electricity to PowerShop who are 100% carbon neutral, so I might look into that when we move back down South. We’re packing up here in two months, so not much point making the switch here.

Decarbonisation

This Summer in Australia got everyone thinking about climate change and that the effects might be visited upon us a lot sooner than most people had considered. Most of NSW and large parts of Queensland have been in a severe drought for a number of years now, and the months of spring were filled with pleas for help from farmers whose livelihoods were being slowly destroyed.

While this discussion continued, bush-fire season started early and then took off with a vengeance, burning the entire eastern seaboard over the course of a couple of months. There’s no need to describe what happened, as the fires were so bad they warranted global news coverage.

I’ve always accepted the reality of climate change and have tried to do a bit here and there to keep my emissions down, but I’ve never really sat down and workout out just how much emissions I am responsible for, so, inspired by Tim Bray’s decarbonization article, I resolved to sit down and figure out my 2019 emissions and see where I can make improvements.

I used the Carbon Neutral Calculator, in advanced mode where appropriate, and made a start.

The rough outline is that we are a professional couple, with no kids, currently renting in Brisbane.

Emissions

Vehicles

We have one car, a 2013 Hyundai i30 with a 1.8L Petrol engine, which doesn’t get that much use. Both of us work from home at the moment, so it’s mainly used for grocery trips and exploring local cafés, with the occasional longer drive to visit my mother-in-law at the coast. I don’t have an exact mileage driven for the last year, but we seem to be averaging approx. 8,000km/yr and the fuel efficiency gauge typically reads around 9L/100km, dropping to 6L/100km for motorway driving.

8,000km @ 9.2L/100km = 1.85T

Not much we can do about this at the moment. We own the car outright, it’s in v. good condition, so it doesn’t make financial sense to replace it with an EV yet. One option which could be worth looking into is buying an electric cargo bike. That would remove all the grocery trips, for me at least, though J isn’t comfortable cycling in traffic and there are no bike lanes between us and the supermarket, so not sure she’d be keen. Something to re-consider when we move to Thirroul.

Electricity

This one is fairly easy to work out as I just added up our bills for the year.

3,025kWh @ Queensland = 2.81T

We’re renting, so can’t put up solar panels or modify the house, so there’s no options to reduce energy usage on that front. However, we’re with AGL who have a Future Forests initiative, where you pay an extra $1 per week and they guarantee to buy enough carbon offsets to offset your electricity use. I’ve signed us up. In the meantime, we try to limit the use of air-conditioning to only when it’s really needed (30C+ outside), and only in the rooms we’re in.

Gas

Again, strightforward to work out from bills.

10,948MJ @ Queensland Metro = 0.95T

Again, not much we can do here as we’re renting. We use gas for cooking, hot water and a small gas heater in winter. If we had our own place we could look at investing in solar hot water and switching to an induction cooker powered with solar panels.

Waste

This one is tricky. We split our waste into recyclables (glass, paper, hard plastics, metals etc.), soft plastics (which can be dropped off for recycling at our local supermarket) and regular waste. Do you count stuff that’s going to be recycled? There doesn’t seem to be an option for that on the calculator. I’ve made the assumption that everything we put in the red ‘general waste’ bin is food, and have guessed that we throw out 1 cubic metre of general waste per week (almost certainly an overestimate.)

1m3 per week = 0.95T

Not much to do here. We’re pretty good at recycling the waste that’s eligible for recycling. Composting food waste also releases CO2 so not sure there’s anything to be gained there. We can definitely get better at making sure we use all the food we buy, particularly things like salad ingredients and fruit, so that’s something to work on this year.

Paper

Again, not really sure about this one. All our paper and cardboard goes into recycling, so, again, does that count? I’m saying no for the moment.

Flights

These are just my flights - J will have her own set.

  • Brisbane - Sydney: 0.23T * 5 = 1.15T
  • Brisbane - Cairns: 0.23T
  • Brisbane - Newcastle: 0.23T
  • Brisbane - Queenstown (NZ): 1.09T

Total: 2.7T

The easiest way to reduce our flights is just to move back to Sydney 😁 which we’re doing later this year. Living in Sydney would have removed all but two of those flights, though with my sister living in NZ and the rest of my family in Ireland, we’re always going to have some flight-related emissions. I checked and a return flight to Europe is about 5T! We have a Euro trip booked this year, but COVID might put paid to that! I might just have to look at carbon offsets for this one.

Public Transport

We both work from home, so don’t use a lot of public transport. We take occasional bus or train trips into the city, plus occasional ferry trips. There’s no ferry option on the calculator though, and these distances are total guesses. A round trip to the city is about 12km on the bus and 10km on the train.

  • 500km, commuting by bus: 0.2T
  • 500km, commuting by train: 0.2T

As it turns out, public transport doesn’t result in a large CO2 contribution anyway.

Events

I flew to Newcastle for a four-day MTB race.

Port-to-Port MTB: 0.41T

Grand Total

6.7 tonnes between the two of us, excl. flights. If we assume J had approx. the same flight profile as me, then we’re up to approx. 12.2 tonnes CO2 for the year. Taking advantage of AGL’s electricity offsetting reduces our total to 9.39T CO2 between us, or 4.7T each.

I’m not sure how accurate the calculator is, but I had a follow-up attempt at Global Footprint Network which estimated my emissions at 9.7T, excl. J’s flights, based on a different way of entering data, so I seem to be in the right ballpark, though, as they say, garbage in, garbage out.

I know Australians are among the worst emitters in the World, with approx. 26T per person, but I think that’s just our total emissions divided by the population, which isn’t an accurate estimate of what the average person is directly responsible for, so hard to gauge how we’re doing on that front.

In the meantime, we have 10 tonnes of emissions from last year which require offsetting. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the best offsets are those certified by the WWF Gold Standard Climate+ program, which aims to combine carbon offsets with global development benefits. Prices range from USD10/tonne to USD20. Time to pick a project.

State of the Environment

Bill McKibben, one of the earliest to write about climate change and the founder of [350.org][http://350.org], has a article on the state of play in the New York Review of Books. In it he looks back on what scientists got right with their early modelling…

These climate models got their first real chance to shine in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, injecting known amounts of various chemicals into the atmosphere, and the models passed with flying colors, accurately predicting the short-term cooling those chemicals produced.

…recalls that the oil companies were well aware of the problem even while they did their best to ensure no meaningful action was taken…

Exxon, for instance, got the problem right: one of the graphs their researchers produced predicted with uncanny accuracy what the temperature and carbon dioxide concentration would be in 2019. That this knowledge did not stop the industry from its all-out decades-long war to prevent change is a fact to which we will return.

…and goes on to point out that we need to do way more than we’ve been doing.

To meet the Paris goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world would need to cut its emissions by 7.6 percent annually for the next decade. Stop and read that number again—it’s almost incomprehensibly large. No individual country, not to mention the planet, has ever cut emissions at that rate for a single year, much less a continuous decade. And yet that’s the inexorable mathematics of climate change. Had we started cutting when scientists set off the alarm, in the mid-1990s, the necessary cuts would have been a percent or two each year. A modest tax on carbon might well have sufficed to achieve that kind of reduction. But—thanks in no small part to the obstruction of the fossil fuel industry, which, as we have seen above, knew exactly what havoc it was courting—we didn’t start correcting the course of the supertanker that is our global economy. Instead, we went dead ahead: humans have released more carbon dioxide since Hansen’s congressional testimony than in all of history before.

The whole article is worth a read to get an idea of where we are currently and the potential for change, from increasing use of renewables to divestments and campaigns to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

First Paper Linking CO2 to Temperature

Pretty cool.

Here’s a copy of the first paper linking CO2 to increased atmospheric temperature, published by Mrs. Eunice Foote, read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1856!

That was three years BEFORE Darwin published On the Origin of Species!!!

The receiver containing the gas [CO2] became itself much heated - very sensibly more so than the other - and on being removed, it was many times as long in cooling.

An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature; and if as some suppose, at one period of its history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action as well as increased weight must have necessarily resulted.

On comparing the sun’s heat in different gases, I found it to be in hyrdrogen gas, 104°; in common air, 106°; in oxygen gas, 108° and in carbonic acid gas [CO2], 125°

The Sixth Extinction

This article, The Sixth Extinction was written just over ten years ago and has since been expanded to a book, which is on my to-read list. In it, Elizabeth Kolbert uses the die-off of amphibians to illustrate how we’re causing a mass extinction by various means, from transporting animals/plants/insects and their associated viruses/bacteria to places not adapted to them, to reshaping the environment for our accommodation or food, to pollution and climate change.

Amphibians are among the planet’s great survivors. The ancestors of today’s frogs and toads crawled out of the water some four hundred million years ago, and by two hundred and fifty million years ago the earliest representatives of what became the modern amphibian clades—one includes frogs and toads, a second newts and salamanders—had evolved. This means that amphibians have been around not just longer than mammals, say, or birds; they have been around since before there were dinosaurs.

and…

Griffith said that he expected between a third and a half of all Panama’s amphibians to be gone within the next five years. Some species, he said, will probably vanish without anyone’s realizing it: “Unfortunately, we are losing all these amphibians before we even know that they exist.”

Which brings to mind Niemöller’s quote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I wonder how far things will have to go before we as a species decide to seriously address the issue?

Adapting to Climate Change

A good article from a few years back, looking at how some US farmers are adapting to climate change while still being deniers that it’s happening in the first place.

It’s an interesting read, but this passage towards the end stands out…

For the next two hours or so, Ethan and I talked. It wasn’t an interview anymore. It was a conversation between two old men who, while we may come from different ideological camps, have each managed in our lives to cheat catastrophe long enough to learn to listen to each other.

And at the end of the conversation, I rolled a final cigarette, and Ethan took a deep breath when I lit it. “You know what, Ethan?” I said. “We’ve just sat here for the better part of four and half hours, a good old-fashioned rock-ribbed conservative like you and a good old-fashioned dyed-in-the-wool liberal like me, and we’ve touched on most of the major hot-button issues in the culture wars — abortion, same-sex marriage, guns, even climate. On about 85 percent of those issues, you and I could find enough common ground to find a shared purpose. On another 10 percent or so, we could at least reach an understanding. There was maybe about 5 percent where the differences were just too great. But we could set those aside, at least for now.”

He agreed.

“So why is it,” I asked, “that when I hear people talking about you, and you hear people talking about me, the only thing they ever talk about is that 5 percent?”

Unfortunately we’re still only talking about the 5 percent.

Conspiracy Debunked
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A video which debunks the claims that the hacked CRU emails give evidence that claims of anthropogenic global warming are just a global conspiracy. Worth a watch.

NASA Animations

NASA’s Scientific Visualisation Studio has some cool information on their site, but two ones I found today were of particular interest.

The first is an animation based on the output of the best of our current climate models, showing what would have happened if we had not enacted the Montréal Protocol banning the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere. The period covered includes actual data collected since 1978 and modelled data from 2009 forward to 2065, showing a side-by-side view of what is happening on the left, and what would have happened without the treaty on the right. Have a look here.

The second animation show the changing extend of Arctic sea ice based on actual satellite observations since 1979. It’s frightening how much it has changed in the last 30 years. That animation can be viewed here.

Rudd Sells Out

On Monday, the Climate Change minister, Penny Wong, announced that Australia will aim to cut emissions by 5-15% over 2000 levels. This was widely greeted by derision and a complete cop-out on what many see as one of the central reasons for Labor’s election last year.

The Government’s cuts of between 5 and 15 per cent below 2000 emissions levels are an admission it has given up on an ambitious global climate change agreement coming out of the UN talks next year. Figures in the Garnaut review clearly show that Australia, along with other developed countries, would have to take on cuts of at least 25 per cent to get an agreement in Copenhagen that might have a chance of saving the Great Barrier Reef.

The UN’s scientific body believes the 2020 target for developed countries should be cuts in the range of 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 emissions to keep the global temperature rising above two degrees and avoid dangerous climate change. This, along with slowing the emissions from developing countries, is required to keep global greenhouse gas concentrations at about 450 parts per million and achieve an ambitious climate agreement.

As mentioned previously, the UN’s 25-40% targets are almost certainly too low to remain under 450ppm, so Australia’s 5-15% effort really is pathetic.

Rudd repeatedly said that he wanted Australia to be a leader in climate negotiations, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Howard, who wanted nothing to do with climate change at all. Rudd’s first act as prime minister was to ratify Kyoto, leading many to hope that finally we had someone in charge who was going to take the threat seriously. Unfortunately, it seems that this is no longer the case, and Australia will most definitely not be a leader on the global stage.

Our only hope now is that Obama comes forward with an aggressive US target and that Rudd then feels comfortable in raising Australia’s game. In a nice change from the orthodox, Obama has appointed a Nobel physics laureate as his energy secretary. No more oil/coal guys in charge!