Repower Port Augusta

This is a rough transcript of a speech I gave at an Earth Hour event this year after we watched 2 Degrees, a film wich I can highly reccomend. It talks about the collosal fail that was the Copenhagen CoP in 2009 and the wonderful story of the Repower Port Augusta campaign, which I was lightly involved in in 2012.

I want to start by acknowldging the traditional owners of this land, the Gumbaynggirr people, and their elders past and present. I want to apologise to the elders of the past, of all countries across Australia, because they were stewards for tens of thousands of years and looked after the country, and in the 200 years of whitefellas being here we now have all kinds of environmental problems.

We’re here tonight to work on fixing one of those problems; climate change.

A warning: this is a slightly interactive talk.

In 2012 I was part of a group that walked the 328km from Port Augusta to Adelaide. It was really fun; I met some lovely people, travelled through beautiful countryside, and became an expert in taping up blisters. For two weeks we walked through heat, dust, rain and cyclonic winds and when we finally marched into Adelaide and were met by a huge, supportive crowd it was one of the most exciting and powerful things I have ever done.

pt_augusta_rally
We walked into Adelaide and about 2000 people joined us to march through the streets to the SA Parliament. It was wonderful; we were all singing and dancing and chanting and the police cleared the streets for us and that night we were all over the news right around Australia. #kickinggoalsallovertheplace

(We were all over TV the day we arrived in Adelaide. Ellen Sandell was AYCC Director at the time, check out her talking to the ABC here.)

Repowering Port Augusta will start a new way of thinking in Australia. This project will prove that renewable are not only viable, but that they are better than fossil fuels. It will show that we can move away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change without compromising our standard of living or the environment. This campaign, and in particular the Walk, marks a turning point in Australia’s interaction with climate change – when a community stood up and took action instead of waiting for action from a government.

community vote
The Repower Port Augusta team lead by Daniel Spencer who was the AYCC SA co-coordinator at the time (pictured) and the late Joy Baluch, who was Mayor of Port Augusta for decades, put in hundreds of hours of work to put together a community vote which showed overwhelming support for solar energy over fossil fuels.

I went because I wanted to be a part of it, to be able to say, I was there; much like I am tonight. I loved the idea of showing how much I cared in the real world, not just through a petition or something, but through tangible action. And I can tell you, with the number of blisters I got it was very, very tangible.

Volunteers of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition were invited to go on the walk and we helped to escalate the campaign and create national awareness of it, which we did wonderfully. This was only possible because of hundreds of hours of work put in by the PA team and their volunteers.

See, as a Walker, I was just one cog in the Repower Port Augusta machine. Leading up to the Walk and in the years since, the Port Augusta team worked hard with the local community to grow support for concentrated solar thermal for their town. Port Augusta hasn’t been repowered yet, but the community is so behind it that it will be.

Here’s the first interactive bit: If I said Vincent Lingairi and Paul Kelly, you would say … ?

(If you don’t know the song, have a listen here. It is a classic from one of Australia’s best contemporary musicians about a very important episode in our history.)

We know that from little things, big things grow and because of their determination and commitment, this little group of South Australians as the potential to grow into Australia’s first big renewable energy project.

cst
A concentrated solar thermal plant in Spain. The mirrors shine light onto the top of the tower where molten salt is heated up and put in tanks. The salt is used to heat water to spin the turbines to create electricity and can provide baseload power.

The lessons from Port Augusta are important now, as the science gets grimmer, time slips away from us and governments around the world – and in Australia – refuse to take it seriously. It’s easy to lose motivation.

But in 2012 a hundred of us walked 328km for solar, this week UniSuper, Australia’s 7th largest super, announced it would start transitioning away from fossil fuels, and tonight we are all here to continue strong climate action in Coffs Harbour.

unisuper
There is still a long way to go on UniSuper, but this is a good start.

Even if you’re just six people with five laptops and one idea, with enough time and effort you can change climate change. We can save the Great Barrier Reef, we can transition Australia to renewable energy, we can divest from fossil fuels, change hearts and minds, and lead our governments.

Port Augsta teaches us that we have the skills, technology and will to beat climate change, we just have to get our local community organised and put in a lot of work.

Second interactive part: I want you to all hold out your hand and imagine that there’s a little puzzle piece on it. Now all we have to do it fit them together to grow something big.

earth hour
While I was giving my speech in NSW, Canberra was looking mighty fine for Earth Hour, fitting 3600 little candles together for one big message: we have to fight climate change to save the Great Barrier Reef.
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Here Be Dragons

Imagine living in a garden full of dragons. Imagine have breakfast while chatting to one, or walking down the main street and seeing one casually draping itself over a sign in front of the police station.

IMAG0026
This little one was draped over a sign outside the police station in the main street.

I’m speaking of course of the Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

Growing up to a metre in length they are the largest dragons in Australia but are sometimes mixed up with their cousins, the Gippsland Water Dragon. You can tell them apart if you look at their faces: the Gippsland ones don’t have a black stripe going from their nose to their ear.

Water dragons are, as their name suggests, very well adapted to water. Their tails constitute 2/3 of their body length and are used for swimming while their nostrils are on the top of their heads making it possible to breathe while their heads are submerged, a trait they share with crocodiles. Like other lizards such as lace monitors and goannas they can use their strong claws to climb quickly and easily.

IMAG0054
This little girl is taking a dip in one of the ponds out front.

They are good indicators of biodiversity as they mainly prey on insects and frogs as juveniles, meaning that if there is a healthy population of dragons there is also a healthy population of insects and frogs. When they’re older they become omnivores. It’s always nice to see predators like dragons and kookaburras in the garden as it means that the garden ecosystem is diverse and healthy enough to support them.

IMAG0050
Aw, yiss.

It is possible to identify males and females as males have crimson, vermilion or orange chests to attract mates. After mating a female will lay a clutch of eggs in soft soil or sand by the water and when the baby dragons hatch they are completely self sufficient. However, studies have shown that the temperature of the eggs during incubation can determine the sex of the dragons. This is worrying as males are only produced in middling temperatures, with females produced in cooler and warmer temperatures, so over time the species may becomes less viable as there are fewer males produced due to the temperature of the ground being affected by increasing temperatures.

Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
IMAG0049
The red on the chest identifies this one as male. He’s just chilling on the front deck.

Although it’s legal to keep water dragons as pets in NSW you need a license for it and it is ideal that you only purchase reptiles from other license holders to try and source reptiles that are healthy and well looked after. It is illegal in Australia to keep animals that have been collected from the wild. Keeping these beautiful lizards as pets seems strange to me, why not just make your garden suitable for them?

Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They're not like dogs; they don't like you, you don't have a relationship with them. You just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.
Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They’re not like dogs; they don’t like you, you don’t have a relationship with them. You’re just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.

Do that and they’ll come of their own accord. Build a pond or a small waterway, have lots of native shrubs to hid in. Make sure that your garden has plenty of flowers to attract insects and have a pile of old logs and tiles for reptiles to hide in and sunbake on. Also, keep your cat indoors. Or just don’t have a cat. (We were talking about this last night at dinner and I said “At least with dogs you can fence them in; there isn’t much you can do with cats.” Without missing a beat Dad said “You can do two things with cats: drown them or shoot them.”) Dragons aren’t meant to be kept in small glass boxes; they’re wild animals, not puppies to be played with.

Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
tiles
These tiles are onduline, a cladding and roofing material that is soaked in bitumen. Stack them with rocks between them and reptiles will love the heat and safety. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is the perfect hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is a good hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.

If you have lizards in your yard resist the urge to feed them – it’s not healthy for them and teaches them to rely on you. Instead, just sit quietly and watch them. We should encourage and appreciate urban biodiversity, not seek to control it or interfere with it.

If you're going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This raptor is a cheap as chips $2500 from some silly homewares place.
If you’re going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This fibreglass raptor is a cheap as chips at $2500 from some silly homewares place.

Here are some links for those interested in all things dragon:

A fact sheet from the Australian Museum on Water Dragons

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-Dragon

A guide to creating a reptile friendy backyard:

Lizards

Making your backyard wildlife friendly:

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard

IMAG0047
Hello! I’m a dragon!

 

Drought, Doubt and Climate Change

So today I’m going to review a news article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The SMH is one of Australia’s biggest newspapers, along with The Age, its Victorian counterpart, and The Australian. This article was writtten by Peter Hannam, who is the papers Environment editor. My comments will be interspersed throughout like this. It’ll be a bit of a long post, so jut hang in there. Climate change is the ultimate sign that we’ve failed to relate to our environment and to natural resources in a healthy and sustainable way and the Abbott Government’s response is just ridiculous …

Tony Abbott downplays role of climate change in current drought

PM vows help is on the way for farmers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has  played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.

For anyone who may not know, last September Australia voted in a right wing Coalition government. Not a conservative government in the British tradition but a US style ‘climate change is fake because Jesus’ government.

And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.

As recently as 2009 the PM is on record saying ‘Climate change is complete crap.’ Now that his Liberal party is in a Coalition government with the Nationals, who have long represented farmers and rural Australia, you’d think they’d do a bit more to tackle climate change. We all know that because of climate change droughts are only going to get longer, more frequnent and more severe so if they really cared about farmers they’d be doing everything they can to take it head on, looking at the long-term effects of climate change on the land.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott met grazier Kym Cramp of “Mount Gipps” station near Broken Hill, NSW, as part of a drought tour with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

‘‘If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘This is not a new thing in Australia.”

 The PM is not a climate scientist or a meterologist and here he is dismissing any link between climate change and this drought. While one cannot say ‘This drought is 4 times worse because of climate change’ or ‘This drought is so long because of climate change’ we can say ‘Every drought *may* be linked to climate change and as our GHG emissions go up it’s only going to get worse. This is not normal for Austrlia. This drought is very bad and we’re only going to see them get longer, more frequent and more intense.’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the "Mount Gipps" station near Broken Hill on Monday.
Mr Abbott at the “Mount Gipps” station. Photo: Andrew Meares

‘‘As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia,’’ he said.

Yes, it has been. But not to this extent. Never in the history of huamnity the world’s climate changed so rapidly. Our agricultural systems are set up for a very specific climactic envelope – a global average temperature of about 15’c – and with every day we fail to act the climate heats up and weather pattens go haywire. I don’t want to see a 6’c world and it’s doubtful that Australian agriculture as it exists today could survive in that.

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

So with one hand he gives farmers some money to deal with this drought while with the other he dismantles climate related policies and istitutions and blindly ignores that there’s a serious problem. That doesn’t create the resilliance and sustainablity that our agriculture sector needs. Australia needs to feed it’s own people and prop up a huge export market yet instead of looking at the long term and acting responsibly, this government wants farmers to be reliant on hand outs as the droughts get ever worse.

‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is … beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’

A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.

The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: ‘‘Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.

‘‘For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.’’

Records melt

Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.

Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Emphasis added.

The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.

That is going to push farmers and rural communities further into debt as they have to invest in seed, stock, chemicals and labour but don’t get the return on the product. There are already far too many mental health concerns and suicides in rural and regional farming communites, and decreasing yeilds and productivity will only lend to this.

The three regions  Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.

Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures.

Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was  ‘‘a world of difference’’ between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.

Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.

John Cramp, the owner of  Mount Gipps,  said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.

‘‘They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,’’ Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view ‘‘climates have always changed’’.

During a drought farmers often turn to bore water to hydrate stock and water crops. This drought that stretches across NSW and Qld is largely in coal seam gas territory, where the federal government supports putting in gas wells. These wells are known to be risky in that they can contaminate ground water which farmers rely on. Seems as if the farmers are being put to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities.

It is strange when farmers themselves dismiss the link between climate change and drought. I wonder if it’s because climate change has been branded as this massively left wing thing that only tofu eating, hairy legged lesbians care about? We know that there are many people in this world who profit from climate change and they fund groups such as the Heartland Institute to sow doubt about it. It’s so disenhartening to see that among the people who are most affected – farmers – there is the most denial or dismissiveness. Does that make it up to the rest of us? Do we try and convince them, or just go on doing our best without them?

Link to the orignial article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-downplays-role-of-climate-change-in-current-drought-20140217-32vub.html#ixzz2tcfNuIBN

Climate Change and Policy … It’s Crazy

So I just finished up doing a third year course called Climate Change Science and Policy and I want to reflect a bit on it all, so here goes.

I’ve done a little bit of climate science before, with the same lecturer, but that was more about the hard science; more physical geography in that it was just telling us how our interactions with the climate system are going (tldr: not well). This course, however, was several levels up the evolutionary ladder in that it was more about human geography, telling us about the health impacts of climate change; about how agriculture is having to adapt; about the future of water resources under climate change; and a brilliant guest lecture by someone from the university’s Law school about adaptation.

malaria
I live in the red bit on Australia’s east coast. Can’t say I’m too keen to get malaria.

This lecture was different to others as it presented me with a real challenge to the way I usually think of climate change.

It was all about adaptation and who bears responsibility for it, who pays the cost, who reaps the benefits. In my volunteering life as a climate activist I’m all about mitigation but this course, emphasised very strongly in this lecture, made me realise how important it is to have the tricky conversations about adaptation. In that lecture we spoke specifically about building codes in coastal areas but in the rest of the course we tackled much larger questions in our mock CoP.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have this thing called the Kyoto Protocol and ever year all the Parties to the Protocol go to a Conference; the Conference of the Parties (CoP).  You probably heard about the 2009 one in Copenhagen that was meant to be the silver bullet of climate change but actually went up in flames (as we’re talking climate change this can be taken literally). In it, Tuvalu didn’t sign on because an item they’d had tabled for six moths was ignored. A similar thing had happened two years earlier at the Bali CoP; basically America couldn’t agree on anything at all,  and the Secretariat was bullied by China and left crying. Dang.

obama
This was a year after Obama got the Peace Prize just for *not* being GW Bush. Then at Copenhagen America held the negotiations hostage while they got their Senate sorted out. Not sure how much of that is Obama’s fault but it sure is a chilling image.

CoPs are crazy. Ian Fry, a long time CoP attendee, gave us two lectures on CoPs that can basically be summed up thus: for two weeks everyone only sleeps about three hours a night; everyone is too busy protecting their own interests to think about anyone else; big countries like the US and blocs like the EU often dominate discussions; it doesn’t matter how high your ambition is at a CoP if you can’t pass anything in domestic law.

hoax
Classic.

So we did a mock CoP and this whole process really did my head in. I’ve always been very, The rich countries whose fault it is should take responsibility!, but that’s not fair. It won’t even work;  if only Annex I countries (Australia, England, Germany, the US etc.) mitigated it wouldn’t really get us anywhere as they’ve already done all their hard yards in the serious emitting stage of development.

That’s another thing that struck me. In the mock CoP I was Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific Island nation that has fewer than 12 000 people on 26 square kilometres on six islands.

Tuvalu
Clockwise from left: the country of Tuvalu extends from roughly 5 to 11 degrees South; the capital is on Funafuti, an island no more than 600m wide; the region of the South Pacific with Tuvalu highlighted.

When researching for the CoP I read this article (Connell, 2003) that said the people of Tuvalu are much less interested in climate change than one would assume; they’re far more concerned about developing their small and fragile economy. This is something one can call the climate/development nexus: even though developing countries (especially small island states like Tuvalu) are the most vulnerable they don’t have  the resources to deal with it. So do we get everyone out of poverty first? No, there’s not enough time for that. We just have to balance on that nexus and try to do what’s best. And it’s SO DIFFICULT.

Living in Australia and caring about climate change is really difficult. I did this course because I wanted to learn more about the effects of climate change and the international process but so many people in this country know so little about it, or worse: they think they know about it but are actually on a scale of being confused to being drastically misinformed. I want to be a high school science teacher and this course really highlighted for me how important it is to teach kids these things early and correctly. Then, hopefully, we’ll have a better informed public leading to better informed politicians and better international outcomes.

crazies
A picture from our dear friends at the Heartland Institute. Let’s keep the crazies away from the kids, eh?

And that’s my theory of change.

At the end of the course we had a 40% report. I did the assignment with sincerity and quite a bit of effort but I was one stupid climate change denier or irritating news article or picture of  our (climate change idiot) PM away from just handing this in, centred on a single sheet of paper:

 Absurd arbitrary arithmetic actually affecting all Aves, animals and agriculture. But bulging behemoth businesses bemoaning bumbling bystander bureaucracies: curse callous corporations, craven countries; casual collusion causing climate change! Development’s dogmas determinedly damning delicate  developing democracies – every extra economically enthralling emission eradicating ethical entreaties, eroding entire ecosystems. Fuck fossil fuels.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Connell, J 2003, ‘Losing ground? Tuvalu, the greenhouse effect and the garbage can’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol.44, no.4, pp. 89-107.

5 Things I have Learnt from studying Environmental Science

I’m currently doing a BSc at the Australian National University, double majoring in Environmental and Landscape System Science and Geography. Internet was asking me what I’ve learnt so far, so I made a list!

Although I still have a semester to go (and Honours!), here the five most important things to know about environmental science, brought to you by the Fenner School of Environment and Society and Internet’s questions.

5. Environmental Science is a Fashion Victim

There are fashion trends in everything and environmental science is no different. Back in the 90s the Big Thing in international environmental talks was sustainable development, with all all-star cast of the Brutland Report, Limits to Growth and the 1992 Earth Summit – the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. Agenda 21 was born, nations who were at war with each other sat down and talked about sustainable development, Severn Suzuki was the *coolest person ever* and the triple bottom line was the new creed;

sustainable

But today we all know that the Big Thing is climate change. Divest! Emissions trading schemes! Carbon dioxide! Fossil fuels! REDD+! Ice caps! More buzzwords!

One of my lecturers often laments this dramatic shift in focus; she argues that just looking at climate change is too simplistic as it doesn’t fully capture our degraded relationship with our home planet. How do we solve this problem? We study geography! Yay!

In a more physical geography sense, back in the 90s and early 2000s the Big Thing in land management in SE Australia was salinity. Salinity was set to become the Armageddon, the end of days, the Battle of Hogwarts. Salinity was It. However, the drought broke in the late 2000s and salinity never became the disaster it was meant to be. Lucky!

Now the big thing that everyone is researching and talking about and pulling their hair out about is overgrazing.

roos
In Australia roos contribute to the overgrazing problem, necessitating culls. Picture: the ABC

See Internet? Fashion victims.

4. Environmental Science will shift your World View

Especially if you study the more ‘society’side of it; human geography, human ecology,  stakeholder based qualitative things, sustainable development etc. You will see our society in a new and increasingly complex way that will force you to realise the incredible inter-connectedness of it and, ultimately, the fragility of our inter-dependant gloabalised Western hegemony. Nowhere is this more evident than when considering the global food market.

In short, this will happen to you:

382054_10151187851246821_264818659_n
Picture courtesy of the Fenner School Society.

3. Stakeholders

You can boost your marks by about 5 points by having a version of this paragraph in an assignment;

“There needs to be a strong emphasis on stakeholder collaboration and resilience building in light of a rapidly growing population and increasing threats from climate change.”
2. People don’t like anything that doesn’t fit their worldview
This makes point four harder to accept. The obvious example here is climate change; Australia being the intellectual backwater that we are, the media and politicians still talk like climate change is a debated idea, and still act as if it’s just a quite theory of little real world impact.
I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago when I was talking to a third year economics student whose father is a contractor. We were on an hour long bus trip and she was telling me how her father is contracted by farmers to put fertilisers on pasture and crops. I said something about paddock trees and how there aren’t enough of them to stop erosion and do all the great things they do and she launched into a tirade about those ‘bloody greenies’ who ‘don’t know anything about agriculture’ and are trying to ‘driver farmers into the ground’.
Yep, totally. Sorry if my three years of studying environmental science doesn’t quite fit in with your economics world view of ‘Cut down all trees, ???, profit!’.
‘Bloody greenies’? Seriously? Yes, I absolutely want to drive farmers into the ground. Because, you know, I find food overrated and I don’t actually want employment when I graduate after doing HONOURS IN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. (At this point Internet would like you to know that she hates those people. She said it, not me.)
treessalt

Turns out trees do help with salinity! Picture: The Australian Academy of Science (but what would those bloody greenies know? They don’t study economics; their dads aren’t contractors!)

1. Goats and Fire

The most important thing I have learnt in the last three years is that if you have a problem – any problem – it can’t be solved by grazing it with goats, setting fire to it then grazing it with goats again.

Any problem. Ever.

goat1fire

Poor Pitt the Younger

Poor Pitt the Younger.
He must have had a rough time with geography at school, having to learn useless things like capital cities instead of awesome things like about methane clathrates, which are solid chunks of methane (a bit like ice) that sit on the ocean floor and in the permafrost that can be found in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere.

How are they related to geography? Well as we know, humans are massively changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, which is causing the permafrost to melt, releasing all this methane. That’s pretty bad as methane has a global warming potential (GWP) of 72 over 20 years, making it exactly 72 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the same time period.

The tricky thing with the methane in the permafrost is that the more it melts the more methane will be released so it will get warmer so it will melt more so more methane will be released so it will get warmer so it will melt more … this could go on for a while. That’s what we call a positive feedback loop. They are bastards to model, so we don’t have a great understanding of them and climate change science is full of them.

methane
Methane release is wack. PHOTO: sandiegofreepress.org

So maybe Pitt the Younger was happy with his crappy geography classes, safe from the knowledge of methane and over grazing and erosion and land clearing and water pollution?

I think what I’m trying to say is that while a solid understanding of geography (or science in general) can be depressing (see discussion of methane, above), it is important have that knowledge and be excited about it (as PtY clearly wasn’t) so we can start solving those problems. The permafrost would still be melting even if we didn’t know about it, knowing about it helps as you need to identify a problem before you try to solve it.

Actually, really what I’m trying to say is that we should all watch Black Addder.

2, 565, 2795

If there are three numbers in climate change you should know, they are 2, 565, and 2 795.

Let’s talk about math, baby.

In July 2012 climate stalwart Bill McKibben wrote an extremly popular article in Rolling Stone called ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’.

Basically, the international community has set a (slightly arbitrary) target of a 2’C rise in temperature by the end of the century. This is the first numer.

2’C was the limit set as it is seen to be the uppermost limit of warming under which most socities can continue to operate as they currently do. Anything above 2’C is seen as ‘catastrophic climate change’ and there is no gaurantee at all that our current society can survive that.

2
2’C has been agreed upon as the ‘safe’ limit for climate change. Current understanding puts us at about 0.8’C.

 

Why do I sound so cynical about the 2’C?

Because it’s too high.

It was chosen because it’s (in theory) a politically fesiable target, not because it actually means anything. At 2’C you can say goodbye to countries like Tuvaulu and Kirabati. At 2’C you can say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef. At 2’c the Arctic will look less like a wild and beautifully desolate ice desert and more like a bit of coolish water with some ice cubes sadly floating in it.

The next number is 565 gigatonnes. Basically, to stay under that 2’C limit we can’t emit more than another 565 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s fine, right?

We emit nor more than that 565 and then the inertia of the oceans will catch up (basically we’re not feeling the true impacts of cllimate change at the moment as they store heaps of carbon dioxide, but when they reach saturation point all of that will go into the atmosphere) and it will get crazy for a while but we might be okay.

Well, not really because (and this is where the ‘terrifying’ comes in) there is currently 2 795 gigatonnes on the books.

That is roughly five times the amount we have in our carbon budget, but it’s being traded and included in market anaylsis and market forecasts already.

2795
This slide from Bill McKibben’s ‘Do the Math’ tour says it all really.

It’s written into multi billion dollar deals such as the mining of the Galliee Basin in Australia and the extraction of tar sands in the US.

Doesn’t sound great, does it? 

Lukily, there are thousands of dedicated, talented, optimistic and downright brilliant people working on this, notably through the global Fossil Free divestment campaign being run by 350.org. They are truly fantastic people.

Tomorrow, when the IPCC releases their fifth report on climate change we’ll see how it’s all going.

In the meantime, let’s play with the math. We need to diminish that 2 795 to 565 or, frankly, geography won’t be so awesome anymore and that would be terrible.