Friday, October 30, 2015

Photon finish!

The University of NSW Solar Racing Team Sunswift came fourth in the cruiser class in the World Solar Challenge.

The team is now looking to get the car registered as road-legal. Hear the interview.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Our brains are holding us back

One of the things that fascinates me about our reaction to climate change is just how many things outweigh facts and rational decision making. I've recently read a couple of articles about our psychology in this area.

One is about gender socialisation. What that means is from childhood boys are taught that masculinity means "detachment, control and mastery" while girls are taught "attachment, empathy, and care". Researchers think this is partially why more women accept the reality of climate change. Essentially they are trained to care more about the dire consequences.

The other article was about temporal discounting, which means our struggle to give up a small thing now for more later. In experiments people choose $100 now instead of $120 in a month's time. Financially it makes no sense. The extra $20 represents an interest rate of 240% and is definitely worth the wait. But our brains "discount" (or devalue) the future when we make decisions.

In experiments it might cost us 20 bucks, but in climate change it could cost us a whole lot more.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Dodgy facebook news

Have you noticed those little "trending" news stories on the side of your facebook feed? I got this one tonight.

It might be only for Australian readers, but it represents everything that's wrong about climate science reporting.

It seems to suggest that we should reconsider the findings of an international team of experts in the area of climatology - because some bloke in Perth (with no relevant qualifications) has a different opinion.

This is on par with saying that the whole cigarettes-cancer connection has been exaggerated .... according to an Architect in Adelaide.

Related video: Which is bigger? 15 or 5?

Monday, September 14, 2015

A private conversation

Generally, politicians can seem semi-decent and competent. Dressed in the expensive suits, and told what lines to say by the marketing division of their party, it's almost like the job of an actor playing a role.

But sometimes, like on Friday, you get a little look behind the scenes.

3 errors. Making a tasteless and cruel joke. Laughing at it. Not calling it out. The third politician points out the microphone. He doesn't seem shocked by the remark. It's almost like he's saying 'Guys, we're in public. Hide who we really are. Play the role of a decent human being.'

Later the politician said it was a "private conversation" and had nothing to add. Two days later he apologised - not for the remark, just for getting caught.

Obviously the joke didn't go down well with the Pacific Islands Forum, who have already warned Australia may be asked to leave the forum for refusing to make serious greenhouse emissions cuts.

The president of Kiribati has previously labelled Australia's obsession with coal mines as "selfish and unjust" and referred to the joke as vulgar. while the Fijian prime minister said Australia had been "put to the test on climate change and been found wanting".

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has asked if Mr Dutton would be laughing if it were his own family about to lose their home because of climate change.

PS. Believe or not, all three of these men are ministers in our nation's government. I still don't get how any of them could think that people being flooded out of their country is good material for cheap laugh.

PPS. The Hungry Tide is a great documentary about Kiribati and its vulnerability to rising seas from climate change.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The sceptics

I caught a rerun of the Insight episode "The sceptics". Professor Stephen Schneider took questions from an audience of so-called 'sceptics'.

The professor did some great explaining of science. I'm not sure how much success he had with assembled audience. Most were not really sceptics in the true sense (cautious people, but willing to accept evidence) but rather people determined to reject climate science.

Still, he did manage to convince one or two of the 50, and I suspect he was even more successful with the more reasonable viewers at home. That's what a good explanation of the science does.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Zealand beats Australia again

New Zealand will shut down it's last two coal power stations.

Prime Minister John Key, noted that coal plants "aren't the most sensible plants to have", saying renewables will go from 80 to 90 per cent and beyond.

Way to go, New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Australia aims to be the worst

The Australian government has belatedly announced its planned greenhouse emission targets for the United Nations negotiations in December. Australia will take a take of 26 per cent by 2030 to the conference.

For comparison, the Climate Change Authority suggested 45 to 65 per cent by 2030 would be Austalia's fair share.

Of 38 comparable countries only Japan and Norway's targets are weaker, but they've done a lot of work already. Of the 15 most polluting nations Australia is the highest per capita polluter. Based on these targets, that will still be the case 15 years from now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Does Queensland really need coal?

Some governments claim we need fossil fuels if we "want decent hospitals, schools and police", implying that we couldn't have these things without fossil fuels. But is that really the case?

New Matilda looked at Queensland's budget papers, released this week. Turns out that Queensland receives 1.68 billion dollars a year in coal royalties. That sounds big, but it's just 3% of Queensland total income of 51.19 billion.

So even if we stopped digging up coal tomorrow, 97% of our income would still be there. To me that doesn't sound like we're dependent on coal.

In my opinion, the only ones dependent on coal companies are the politicians who receive campaign donations from them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The End of Coal?

ABC's Four Corners did a great episode on Australia's obsession with coal, asking whether we are putting all our eggs in one basket, and if that basket is about to break?

"The reality is: the transition is happening irrespective of what Australia does."
"The world is committing to a low-carbon future. Australia's challenge is not to be left dependent on coal if the rest of the world leaves it behind."

The report included 1960s footage of one of Australia's coal power stations when it was new. Odd to think we're still relying on that technology.

It was also stunning to see the unwavering dogmatic belief of coal executives regardless of all the economic data. With comments like "I simply don't accept that..." it's understandable that cartoonists draw the industry as ostriches with heads in the sand.

The overall message is clear. It doesn't matter how much of a resource we have. If nobody wants to buy it, then it's a waste of money to invest in digging it up. Or as one of the economist puts it:

"What happens to Australia and our national prosperity if coal becomes a less and less valuable commodity? In many ways the current Government and Australia as a whole is doubling down on coal. And we're doubling down on a technology which is 100 years old, and which is rapidly being out-competed in many parts of the world by new technologies that are cleaner and superior in many ways, that have outlook of just lower and lower costs through time."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Poetry and science are different

Just when you think we're all finally all on board to tackle climate change, there'll be someone who doesn't quite get it.

Fortunately there are comedy shows to set the record straight. The relevant part of the video starts at 1min18s.

"There's probably a good reason why the CSIRO doesn't use poetry as data"

There's also a good reason not to listen to people who use bizarre logic to attempt to shy away from addressing climate change. It's like saying "People died before drugs were invented so drugs don't kill people". It starts off with a true statement but then goes into crazy 'logic'.

PS. Sorry, the video also contains a piece on the budget. I'd hoped it was a separate clip.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I'm an investor!

SunFunder combines small amounts of money from people like us - to do meaningful solar projects in developing countries. As the project completes, we get paid back.

The current project provides 3,800 solar lamps for rural homes in Zimbabwe.

Crowd funding for solar lamps in Zimbabwe

These homes currently rely on kerosene lamps for lighting (63% of Zimbabwe doesn't have access to electricity). Switching to solar lamps helps provide cleaner air in the home, better light, and reduced energy expenses. Of course, it also reduces fossil fuel use.

It's quite exciting to think that my little investment is helping make a difference - and when it's done I can invest the same money in another project. You can invest with as little as $10. Would you like to join me?

Monday, May 18, 2015

If it's melted, it's ruined

An ice cream company is not the usual place to expect climate information. But Save Our Swirled explains why climate change is a problem and what one company (Ben and Jerry's) is doing about it.

One of the highlights is this ice cream video.

It's makes a good point. A little bit of warming and it's far less enjoyable. It's true for ice cream, and true for the planet.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How is the world's oil like a rollercoaster?

My friend Stuart is a cartoonist, and has just completed a 120-page non-fiction comic. It's about the scientist M.King Hubbert and what he discovered about the way the world uses oil.

The comic takes about 20 minutes to read - which is much shorter than watching a documentary. As far as comics go, it may not be as action packed as you Batman or Spiderman comics, but at the end you'll feel a bit smarter and more knowledgeable about the world.

Now that we now what we've got, how will will best use it?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cancel the phone book

When was the last time you used the phone book? Do you really need another 100-page tome delivered each year? It's all available online.

Cancel the yellow pages phone book

Each year millions of phone books are printed and delivered around Australia. Most of them never get used. You can help stop this waste by cancelling your delivery.

PS. Sorry international readers, this one's for Australians only, but hopefully there's an equivalent in your country.

Friday, May 08, 2015

I Want Some Action

I saw these T-shirts at a support rally for climate action. They are both clever and true.

Tshirt: I want some action - on climate change

If you're interested, find out what else was AYCC, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition does - when they're not thinking up new t-shirt designs.