Global Cooling

It’s been a big couple of weeks for climate change scepticism in Australia. Professor Ian Plimer’s new book ‘Heaven And Earth’ has people talking about global cooling, and Senator Steven Fielding has decided that global warming isn’t real. Fielding will vote against an Emission Trading Scheme, and Plimer says Fielding (who is an engineer) is the only politician in this country who can make an informed decision on climate change.

It sounds like a good time to consider some unequivocal statements on climate change, or at least some points that the IPCC, The National Science Academy of Australia, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology all agree on.

The Hadley Met Office in Britain tells us that the globe is warming. It has been warming for the last 100 years, and has been warming at a rate of about 0.2 degrees per decade since the 1970’s. The 11 hottest years ever recorded have all been in the last 13 years. The Hadley Met Office figures show unequivocal ongoing global warming, despite what Professor Plimer says about their results. You cannot explain that warming as being caused by the sun. There has been no significant increase in solar radiation since the 1970’s, so something other than solar brightness must be warming the planet.

Atmospheric CO2 is rising at a rate of 2 parts per million per year, and there is no identifiable natural cause for that increase. Humans are responsible for 7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, and atmospheric CO2 is now 30% higher than it has been for at least the last 600 000 years. Atmospheric CO2 has not increased at that rate for at least the last 600 000 years, so it defies logic to suggest that natural processes are at work.

Sea level is rising at an accelerating rate, currently 3mm per year. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic as they absorb CO2. The total sea level rise for the twentieth century was 17 cm, but is likely to be much higher for the 21st century. Satellite data since 1978 show that annual average arctic sea ice extent has shrunk by 2.7% per decade. Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres. The last time polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125 000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to a 6 m sea level rise. Global warming on that occasion was driven by well documented changes to the Earths position during its orbit around the sun. You cannot explain current global warming on that basis.

I challenge Plimer, Fielding, or anyone else to refute any of these comments.
Matthew Nott

The panels will go on

cartoon by Michael Badman
cartoon by Michael Badman

1200 households have signed up to a solar panel bulk buy deal across SE NSW. Over 30 community buildings will be fitted with solar panels. Those panels will be installed within 9 months, despite recent and unexpected changes to the ‘Solar Homes and Communities Plan’ rebates for solar panels.

The Rudd government abruptly ended an $8,000 rebate on solar panels on Tuesday 9/6/09. The decision to dump the rebate was made without consultation with industry, which expected the rebate to continue until at least the end of the month. The old program, introduced in November 2007, has cost the government more than $690m. It had initially budgeted $150m to provide rebates to 15,000 homes over a five-year period. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts said that ” unprecedented growth” of the scheme had “resulted in early closure of this programme”, with 95,000 systems subsidized by the rebate. The unexpected success of the solar rebate scheme results in its early closure? What a disappointing response.

The old solar rebates will be replaced by a Renewable Energy Target and the Solar Credits Scheme, which was initially said to commence in July 2009. Last week, that start date was delayed until at least August, pending further discussion in a parliament that is more comfortable putting money into the coal industry than renewable energy. The new rebate will be available to all Australians, compared with the old program, which only applied to households with incomes of less than $100,000. However, the subsidy for solar rooftop systems will be lowered. As the Renewable Energy Target (RET) legislation and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) legislation is not in place and has yet to go through parliament, it is difficult to know what the rebate will be.

It is reasonable to say that the solar energy industry in Australia can’t be propped up with tax funded subsidies forever. At some point the solar industry needs to stand on its own two feet if it is going to be viable in the long run. So far the Rudd government has spent about $690 million on solar rebates, which is a lot of tax payer’s money. It is however a drop in the ocean compared to tax payer subsidies paid out to the coal industry. Each year the highly profitable, highly polluting and largely foreign owned Australian coal industry earns about $9 billion in tax payer subsidies. That works out to be roughly $450 for every man, woman and child each year being spent on an industry that is driving climate change. We should be spending that $9 billion each year on the solar industry.

I am not objecting to the solar rebates being changed, but I am objecting to the old rebate being scrapped without warning 3 weeks before it was due to be changed. Industry and communities should have been given notice of an early end to the scheme. For a moment it felt like the rug was being pulled from under the feet of communities across SE NSW. It was only thanks to some last minute scrambling by companies running the bulk buy deals that nearly all 1200 households who submitted applications for solar panels will get them installed within 9 months. There will be over 30 community buildings fitted with solar panels. SE NSW can still say it is hosting one of the biggest solar bulk buy deals this country has ever seen, and when details of the new rebate scheme emerge, we will again run a bulk buy deal.

Matthew Nott

Renewable Remote Power Generation Program 23/6/09

In addition to scrapping the ‘Solar Homes Communities Plan’ without notice 2 weeks ago, the Federal Government announced today they are axing the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, which is a rebate for stand-alone solar systems on battery power. This will put regional installers of solar panels out of work. At the same time, huge rebates and tax breaks continue to be poured into the coal industry. There is no talk of reducing tax funded benefits to the Big Polluters. Posted below is an extract from a Federal Government web site.

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) has closed the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program extension (RRPGP2) sub-programs to new pre­purchase applications (except from WA) effective from 8.30am (Australian Eastern Standard Time) Monday 22 June 2009 as the funding available has become fully committed.All pre-purchase applications postmarked before this time will be assessed according to the relevant sub-program guidelines. Pre-purchase applications postmarked after this time will be returned to the applicant with a note informing them the program has been closed.As the industry has been aware for some time, the Renewable Remote Power Program has seen increasing demand. The program has a finite budget which is now fully committed. The number of recent applications has increased to the extent where it has not been possible to give advance notice of the closure.RRPGP has considerable workload remaining with more than 1,100 approved applications waiting for installation. RRPGP remains open for applications in Western Australia as that state has funds from the original program allocation remaining.
A look at the sun

If the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) is to pass through the Senate, it may require the vote of Senator Steve Fielding. Fielding is back from a fact finding mission with the Heartland Institute in America. He is concerned that climate change may be controlled by the sun, and not by human greenhouse emissions. Senator Fielding says he is open-minded, but believes the science on solar activity is compelling. He wants more information about the role of the sun and its influence on climate change before he commits to an ETS. That’s a fair position. The planet has warmed over the last 100 years. Could that warming be due to changes in the brightness of the sun, rather than rising levels of atmospheric CO2? This is the question Fielding is asking.

No one denies that the single most important determinant of global temperature is the brightness of the sun and the Earth’s proximity to it. The Sun is a massive nuclear fusion reactor a million times larger than Earth. The sun is responsible for almost all the energy reaching our planet, and in the past few decades scientists have learned that solar activity varies over time. Surely it must have a large impact on our changing climate.

What does the science say? The brightness of the sun certainly varies with time. On timescales that vary from millions of years through to the more familiar 11-year sunspot cycles, variations in the amount of solar energy reaching Earth have a huge influence on our atmosphere and climate. Sun spots are important. In simple terms, sun spots correlate with solar brightness, and there is an 11-year sunspot cycle. Comparing solar brightness (total solar irradiance or TSI) to global temperatures reveals that although TSI and temperatures both followed similar trajectories prior to the early 1970s, they have diverged significantly since then, with trends in TSI remaining relatively flat while temperature increases have accelerated. Something other than the sun must be influencing a warming planet. Several review articles in Nature and New Scientist indicate that brightening of the Sun is unlikely to have had a significant influence on global warming since the 1970’s.

A recent study and review of existing literature (“Variations in solar luminosity and their effect on the Earth’s climate”. Nature 443 (7108): 161–166) suggests that the evidence is solidly on the side of solar brightness having relatively little effect on global climate over recent decades. The consensus amongst climate scientists is that solar variability could have been an important driver of climate warming until the mid 20th century, but since then the warming has been far too rapid to be significantly accounted for by this.

The bottom line is that any study on solar brightness that I can find shows that there has been no net increase in solar brightness since the mid 1970s. Why is Senator Fielding now suddenly concerned about the influence of the sun in generating current global warming? You simply cannot explain global warming on the basis of changes in the sun’s radiation. Perhaps Fielding has some new information about solar radiation that is not yet available on a google search. Perhaps he needs to talk to someone other the Heartland Institute before he casts his vote on an ETS, possibly the most important decision he will make whilst in office.
Matthew Nott
Solar Bulk Buy

Two months ago, the idea of a solar bulk buy for SE NSW was raised in Bermagui. Within weeks, 30 Bermi households had signed up for solar panels, and since then, 1200 households across SE NSW have put an order in. The frenetic interest has been because of the cost of the solar panels. A kilowatt of solar panels will be installed and grid connected for less than $2000. Those solar panels will be installed within 9 months, and will save each household about $300 per year. For every 30 house that sign up, we get a free 2kw solar system onto a community building. That gives us over 30 community installations, from Milton to Bairnsdale and to the Snowy Mountains.

This solar bulk buy deal has not been about Clean Energy For Eternity, nor about strong local government support, or Federal Government rebates. This has been about a region investing in renewable energy because it makes sound economic sense to do so. There is a clear and demonstrable economic benefit in investing in renewable energy. This project has succeeded thanks to the hard work of team leaders in each of the regional centres across SE NSW, who have worked tirelessly to explain to communities how the bulk buy deal works.

Our region should have over a megaWatt of solar panels installed across the region within 9 months. The CEFE message has always been about turning the threat of climate change into an opportunity. What better way to demonstrate that opportunity than with one of the biggest bulk buy solar schemes the nation has ever seen. It is only just starting to dawn on all those involved just how successful this project has been. Not only will households save money, but the community installations will start to change attitudes.

Health Care Centres in Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance will get solar panels. Solar panels will go to the Volunteer Coastal Patrol in Batemans Bay, Eden, and Narooma. In Bega, solar panels go onto the Bega Eco Neighbourhood Development, the showground, the VRA station and St Johns Church. Pre-schools in Bermagui, Tathra, Narooma and Bombala will get solar panels. Town Halls in Candelo, Towamba, Narooma and Wyndham will get solar panels. By the end of the year, 7 Rural Fire Stations in Eden-Monaro should have solar panels.

Solar panels on a roof top will reduce a household’s emissions by about 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and reduce that households electricity bill by about $300 per year. Some would say there are better ways to tackle climate change, Maybe we are better off investing in large scale solar thermal farms or wind farms. Some would say that household solar panels are tokenistic and inefficient. I would say that solar panels are saving people money and changing people’s attitudes. Houses with solar panels on their rooftop use 30% less electricity, simply because people start turning off switches. Many people will be employed to install the panels, and our region can enjoy the economic benefits of the jobs that are created.. There are no losers in a solar bulk buy deal of this magnitude, and Eden-Monaro once again leads the way.

Matthew Nott

Emergency Climate Change Rally

National Climate Emergency rallies were held across Australia on Saturday June 13, 2009.

Over 4,000 people attended the rally in Melbourne, Australia, which commenced at the State Library in Swanston Street.
Over 4,000 people attended the rally in Melbourne, Australia, which commenced at the State Library in Swanston Street.

The rally was called to acknowledge the climate emergency we are now experiencing and the need emergency action, with drought, bush fires, floods and rising seas are already hitting hard.

The recession and climate change can be tackled together through direct investment in renewable energy to create jobs, stimulate the economy and begin to create the carbon-free economy of the future
100% renewable energy by 2020. Australia must make the shift from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy from wind, solar and other available technologies.
Green collar jobs not job cuts. We can renew our economy by creating hundreds of thousands of ‘green jobs’ and supporting workers to make a fair and just transition to sustainable industries.
Don’t pass the Carbon Pollution law. We need climate policies that make the big polluters pay and not allow big companies to go on polluting. The CPRS won’t reduce Australia’s greenhouse pollution.
Logging and clearing vegetation are major contributors to climate change as forests and woodlands are important carbon stores.

Black Balloons

Do human emissions of CO2 matter?

Climate on earth has been influenced by natural forces for 5 billion years. Natural forces have also driven changes in atmospheric CO2 levels over the course of geological time. One of those natural processes is sequestration. This is the planets ability to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it into long term storage. One of the ways in which our planet stores carbon is to convert it to oil and coal. In the oceans, plankton absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, they die and fall to the ocean floor. Given the right geological conditions, that dead plankton can eventually form oil. That oil is effectively atmospheric CO2 that has been sequestered, and put into long term storage. The same thing happens on continents, with vegetation that, over millions of years in the right geological conditions, can form coal. Trees absorb CO2 out of the atmosphere, and can eventually form coal under the ground, where it is put into long term storage.

That long term storage of CO2 as oil and coal is being released back into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuel. The amount of CO2 that took hundreds of millions of years to sequester by natural process, is being released back into the atmosphere over a three hundred year period. All of it will be burnt over three centuries if we keep going at our present rate. It makes intuitive sense to think that the CO2 balance will be upset.
How do the numbers stack up? The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been steadily increasing by 2 parts per million per year for the last 100 years, and it is increasing at an accelerating rate. CO2 is now 30% higher than it has been for the last 400 000 years. None of those numbers are controversial. Could that change in atmospheric CO2 be due to humans, who are responsible for billions of tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. It strikes me as highly plausible.

CO2 is colourless and can’t be seen in the atmosphere. If you could, I think things would be different. Imagine if you could extract the CO2 from a car exhaust and fill a black balloon with it. A full balloon will hold about 50 grams of CO2, and you would fill 4 balloons for every kilometer that a car travelled. A car trip from Eden to Sydney would release about 1600 black balloons full of CO2 into the atmosphere. Those balloons would be slowly absorbed and sequestered by natural processes, but it would take 100 years to absorb half of them. Annually, the average Australian car travels about 20 000 kms, which is 80 000 black balloons released into the atmosphere each year, per car. Worldwide, there are 600 million cars, and that figure will double over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of balloons. It’s hard to imagine that cars make no difference to atmospheric CO2. What about coal fired power stations?

The Kingsnorth coal fired power station in the UK emits about 24 000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each day. That equates to 5556 black balloons of pure CO2 every second, released into the atmosphere. There is nothing unusual about Kingsnorth. There are 600 coal fired power stations in the USA, and China plans to build one or two coal fired power stations per week, for the next 10 years. That is an enormous number of black balloons released into the atmosphere every second, and next year the rate will be higher.
Black balloons don’t provide proof of anything, but 5556 balloons full of pure CO2 out of Kingsnorth power station every second did make me stop and think. It’s highly plausible that humans are at least partly to blame for increasing atmospheric CO2. That means that humans mitigation can limit the current increase in Greenhouse gases. No sceptic has been able to offer me a convincing explanation of what natural process is driving atmospheric CO2 upwards at a rate that is unprecedented for the last 400 000 years

Matthew Nott