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.

The Sinking Dutch

Interesting article on how extraction of water to drain peatland over many years is slowly sinking the Netherlands.

In 1953, the Netherlands experienced a flood that killed more than 1,800 people. That disaster led to the development of the Delta Works, a hugely successful series of national construction projects that created the world’s largest storm barrier.

“The problem is that we’ve been very good at adaptation to land subsidence,” says Erkens. “But all we’ve done is adaptation. We haven’t done any mitigation of land subsidence.”

Floods are catastrophic events that make the evening news and require government inquiries, but the slow drop of the ground level doesn’t draw the same attention. As a result, few people have been aware of the growing crisis, including Niezen, who didn’t give the subsidence problem much thought until she became an alderman.

But now more people are noticing. “Climate change was a game changer,” says van den Born.

Particularly pertinent now that Australia has experienced months of bushfires and our climate-change-denying Government is suddenly all talk about ‘adaptation’ and less enthusiastic about ‘mitigation.’

Australia's Emissions Targets

So with all the climate talk going on at the moment, and ScoMo assuring everyone that we’ll have no problem hitting our targets, I figured I’d go look at the actual data to see what we’re committed to and how we are doing.

Kyoto

Signed in 1997 and then not ratified by Howard. Eventually ratified by Rudd in 2007.

Kyoto Commitment 1: 108% of 1990 emissions, by 2012
Yes, that’s right. We didn’t commit to decreasing our emissions, only to limit their increase. However, in 1997, our emissions were already at 83% of 1990 levels, so we really committed to increase our emissions by at most 30% at time of signing. When Rudd came to power in 2008 we had already increased our emissions by 25% since signing, but by 2012 we’d reduced this back down to a 12% increase.

Result: 12% increase in emissions since signing Kyoto, 8% reduction in emissions since 1990. Target met.

So, how did we hit our target? Well emissions are broken into 5 categories: Energy, Industry, Agriculture, Land Use and Waste. Energy is BY FAR the biggest, accounting for 82% of emissions in 2017.

From 1997 to 2012…
- Energy up 25%
- Industry up 33%
- Agriculture down 4%
- Land Use down 66%
- Waste down 23%

Basically we made no effort to reduce overall emissions from our economy, we just reduced land clearing.

Kyoto Commitment 2: 95% of 2000 emissions, by 2020.
We need to get to 509Gt CO2e by 2020. We are currently at 538Gt (2018) which has been increasing since a low of 530Gt in 2016 and continues to increase in 2019. ScoMo says we’ll meet this in a canter, but it’s not supported by the data.

Paris Accord

Signed in 2016, ratified in 2016.

Paris Commitment: 26-28% reduction from 2005 emissions, by 2030.
Our target is 445Gt and we’re at 538Gt at the moment. We need to reduce our emissions by 17% in the next 12 years.

Again, our emissions are increasing and the only time we’ve ever reduced emissions from the Energy sector is while the carbon tax was in place (July 2012 - July 2014).

I’ve no idea how we’re going to meet our Paris target with our current policies.

Historical CO2 emissions for Australia

Note: all emission figures taken from our official reporting system AGEIS: http://ageis.climatechange.gov.au

Sand Scarcity?

Nature has an article pointing out that time is running out for sand - demand is increasing beyond available supply and there’s very little monitoring or oversight into what is the world’s most extracted resource. As you’d expect, extraction is vastly outpacing the natural processes which create sand.

Desert sand grains are too smooth to be useful, and most of the angular sand that is suitable for industry comes from rivers (less than 1% of the world’s land). This extraction of sand and gravel has far-reaching impacts on ecology, infrastructure and the livelihoods of the 3 billion people who live along rivers. For example, sand mining on the Pearl River (Zhujiang) in China has lowered water tables, made it harder to extract drinking water and hastened river-bed scour, damaging bridges and embankments.

This is the earliest warning of a potential problem and the article goes on to recommend a number of steps to deal with the situation, starting with improved monitoring to get an accurate assessment of the sand trade, both legal and illegal.

Climate Stripes

Pretty interesting website allowing you to enter a country and see its temperature record as blue to red colour stripes since 1901. #globalwarming

Here’s Australia. Australia Temperature Record

Incidentally, the data they are using is from Berkeley Earth, which is the group founded, with funding from the Koch brothers, by a bunch of people who thought the temperature record data was being fudged… until they got together to analyse the raw data themselves and concluded that they were wrong and it wasn’t being fudged at all :)

The Memory of Ice

The TLS has a nice article on the memory of ice and a journey to Greenland to see glaciers up close.

Ice is a recording medium and a storage medium. It collects and keeps data for millennia. Unlike our hard disks and terrabyte blocks, which are quickly updated or become outdated, ice has been consistent in its technology over millions of years. Once you know how to read its archive, it is legible almost as far back – as far down – as the ice goes. Trapped air bubbles preserve details of atmospheric composition. The isotopic content of water molecules in the snow records temperature. Impurities in the snow – sulphuric acid, hydrogen peroxide – indicate past volcanic eruptions, pollution levels, biomass burning, or the extent of sea ice and its proximity. Hydrogen peroxide levels show how much sunlight fell upon the snow. To imagine ice as a “medium” in this sense might also be to imagine it as a “medium” in the supernatural sense: a presence permitting communication with the dead and the buried, across gulfs of deep time, through which one might hear distant messages from the Pleistocene.

Bush Fires
![My Bike](/images/drinkingkoala.jpg)

Well, what can be said about the Victorian bush fires? They’re the worst natural disaster to befall Australia, and, if, as seems likely, they were started deliberately, the largest mass murder in Australia’s history. Police have declared certain areas as crime scenes, and radio news reports this morning hinted that they may be close to arresting someone they suspect of lighting some of the fires.

The weather throughout the south east has been ridiculously hot for the last two or three weeks, hitting 46C in both Adelaide and Melbourne. The inland suburbs of Sydney were regularly well over 40C this week, and at John’s wedding in Canberra at the weekend the temperature topped 40C on four consecutive days. With those sorts of temperatures fires are inevitable, even without arson. A 15yr-old boy was arrested in Sydney for starting a fire, though it appears he just let off a firework rather than deliberately trying to light vegetation with matches.

As of this morning, the death toll is 173 and it’s expected to top 200. 750+ homes have been destroyed. The Red Cross are running and appeal and you can donate on their website. They’re also looking for blood donors so I’ve signed up for that (yes Mum, I know I should have done it ages ago!)

The sad thing is that this sort of thing is likely to become more frequent due to climate change, yet there’s still some resistance to doing anything substantive about it. There were similar fires in 2003, but because they burnt through National Parks rather than towns no-one worried about them too much. SE Australia is acknowledged as being in the midst of a 12-year drought, but perhaps it’s not a drought so much as the new climate for that region?