Climate Change and Fiction

I recently read Robert Goddard’s current thriller Panic Room* (Bantam Press, 2018). The purpose was enjoyment and relaxation (rather than work) and I have read and enjoyed most of Goddard’s novels. As usual the Panic Room was full of twists and centred on what was in this room hidden in a mansion in Cornwall. It turns out that the room is central to a diabolical plot to kill a large section of the earth’s population and thus give time to handle the impending disaster of climate change.

The plot is foiled but Goddard’s heroine is left wondering: “A thought keeps bobbing up in my head though, I can’t seem to stop it. Twenty percent of all species on Earth extinct by 2050…And floods and storms and droughts and famines like we’ve never seen before. If we don’t get our act together. Which, as I stand here and seriously ask myself the question, I don’t see us doing. Who’s really insane” she asks, the villains “Or the rest of us?”

I have come across references and mentions to climate change and global warming many times in ‘light’ fiction, but much of it was frivolous, ill-informed or wrong. A brief search online informed me that there was a group of climate change fiction books labelled ‘Cli-Fi’ and included serious and well researched work by such well known authors as Margaret Attwood. An article in the Conversation on this noted “If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing.”

This reminded me of book I read more than 20 years ago by Australian science fiction writer George Turner.  The Sea and the Summer (Cassell, 1987) is about sea level rise in a future Melbourne. Wikipedia noted: “Turner’s science fiction narratives contain…earnest approach to moral and social issues. In such novels as The Sea and the Summer…he displayed a gloomy vision of global warming’s future ramifications…The Sea and the Summer is… [a] work of science fiction realism, it concerned a future historian, writing a historical novel about a near future Melbourne, beset by the problems of climate change, unemployment caused by excessive automation, the collapse of the monetary system and the division of society into elite communities segregated from impoverished masses. Turner concluded the novel with a personal reflection on the urgency of giving serious consideration to social and environmental issues highlighted by the narrative.”

My own recollections of this work are mixed although I may be wrong in this regard. Set in a future Melbourne flooded by sea level rise (which made residential towers into islands) Turner concentrates on social aspects and barely mentions other complicating aspects of climate change such as heatwaves and extreme storms.

The question of climate change is increasingly being dealt with by novelists.  The purpose of ‘Cli-Fi’ must be to raise awareness about climate change and not be propaganda. Robert Goddard does this subtly in Panic Room. I apologise to any reader for whom I have spoiled the plot of this novel.

*Panic Room is available in the East Gippsland Shire Library. The Sea and the Summer should be available via Inter Library Loan

 

Thermal Inertia and the Climate Emergency

In my recent blog on the ocean warming and the large black marlin caught off the coast at Mallacoota I quoted at length from the Skeptical Science website on how thermal inertia works. Skeptical Science used the analogy of a boiling a pot of water on the stove. Even though there is an enormous amount of heat under the pot and a relatively small amount of water in it there is still a delay of some minutes before the water boils.

In the real world we have the opposite occurring. We have a human enhanced greenhouse effect warming the planet – gradually in human time but almost instantaneous in geological time. And this increased temperature is acting on the vast oceans of the planet. Extra energy of the equivalent of four Hiroshima atom bombs per second is being added to our atmosphere and more than 90% of this heat is absorbed by the oceans. Even so the delay in the warming of the oceans is measured in decades and of which the 40 year delay is the mid-point of the scientific estimates of this extremely difficult calculation.

Factoring in the thermal inertia of the oceans has a number of consequences. One being that if we could somehow stop all greenhouse gas emissions instantly the warming would continue for 40 years and possibly a lot longer. But perhaps the big message is that mankind has already caused much more warming than we can possibly imagine. The warming of our oceans, the one degree temperature rise over the century, the ‘Black Saturdays’, the ‘Millennial Drought’, the heat waves, the record black marlin at Mallacoota and Bass Strait, are all just the start of bigger (and worse) things to come.

As I pointed out the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in 1980 was 340 parts per million (ppm) whereas now it is over 410. If we assume the pre-industrial level was 280ppm then the additional 60ppm to 1980 has caused at least the one degree of temperature rise we are now experiencing and probably more. We note that in the last 40 years we have added a further 70ppm indicating that possibly a further degree of warming is already in the pipeline. Finally we can add the one or two ppm we are continuing to add to the atmosphere each year. Even these very rough layman’s calculations indicate that keeping temperatures below the generally accepted safe level of two degrees is looking impossible.

Whether it is a dry that never seems to end, a bushfire that consumes everything in its path to the big break (Bass Strait) a heatwave that hits 45 degrees each day for a week causing a rush of fatalities overwhelming our hospitals and running blackouts across the power system or regular flooding of Lake Entrance and coastal villages this will be the sign that the climate emergency has started in earnest.

Unprecedented Crime: a brief review

I have just read Carter and Woodworth’s Unprecedented Crime* (Clarity Press, Atlanta, 2018) about the massive crime of climate change. The book has a foreword by James Hansen and is divided into two parts – ‘Crimes against Life and Humanity’ and ‘Game Changers for Survival’. It is my intention to concentrate entirely on the first part of the book where the authors outline their case of climate crimes and against the criminals that perpetuate them.

Very early the authors make the point that the science of climate change has been clearly established since 1990 and companies like Exxon Mobil (of Bass Strait oil and gas fame) have been aware of this huge and life threatening problem much earlier than 1980. The main effect of climate change so far has been to influence the numbers and intensity of extreme weather events including hurricanes, heatwaves and fires causing immense damage and fatalities. They quote one source indicating that about 400,000 human fatalities occur each year as a result of climate change.

As well as Exxon about 1990 a range of fossil fuel companies and related organisations including the Heartland Institute, the Koch bothers and Peabody Coal, decided to protect their business and profits by denying the science, by creating doubt and spreading disinformation. In this they have been successful with the process of concerted action being delayed by nearly 30 years, and with an ignorant denier sitting in the White House. These deniers, the directors and individuals that made these decisions are the first of the climate criminals.

The authors note that climate change denial is a crime against humanity which is “a deliberate act, typically as a part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering and death on a large scale. (p.46)” The systematic campaign of climate change denial which we have seen over the last 30 years has permeated our media and dominated the political process. Here the media is dominated and lead by News Corp whose influence extends across all media. Between them, and some misinformed and/or ignorant politicians, this influence has made it taboo for any journo to mention ‘climate change’ in connection with a heatwave, with warming oceans, with bleaching of parts of the Great Barrier Reef, or with the current drought in parts of NSW and Victoria. It is a sorry state that, with one or two exceptions, the main reliable source of information on climate change is the internet.

Who then are the climate criminals? Parker and Woodworth devote chapters to a number of categories beyond the original fossil fuel deniers including ‘Media Collusion’ with the spreading of doubt and disinformation (the hoary question of a debate about ‘the science’ comes to mind); politicians, especially in the conservative camp, who have swallowed and in some cases promote, the denialist propaganda; the banking and finance industries still heavily invested in fossil fuels and protecting their bottom line.

Even in Gippsland the climate criminals are obvious with the Murdoch media continuing their flat earth tactics in the Australian and to a lesser extent the Herald Sun. And at Longford Esso continues to release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

*a copy held by the East Gippsland Shire Library

 

Energy Efficiency as a Climate Solution (and Money saver)

One of the hardest things to write about with climate change solutions is energy efficiency. Yet in essence it is also the simplest. Like ‘demand response’ (being paid to turn off your power when the demand is high) energy efficiency is a demand tool. It can either reduce your power usage when performing the same task or it can substantially increase your productivity using the same amount of power. It can be applied on an industrial scale in large factories and warehouses down to your humble home. It has been described by some as one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ in the jargon of climate change solutions meaning that it is the easiest and frequently the cheapest of options.

One example rapidly becoming universal is the LED lighting which when installed gives massive savings in energy. As well, as the adoption proceeds, the price per unit continues to drop. At a government level an act to increase regulations on auto emissions should assist the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. Currently the Internal combustion engine is about 20% efficient when propelling a motor car – most of the energy is wasted, mainly in heat. An electric motor by comparison is 95% efficient and this is one of the many advantages the electric vehicle has over our fossil fuelled vehicles. Our future is looking increasingly ‘all electric’.

Recently Mike Hinchey of Bairnsdale has been running ‘energy efficiency’ classes at U3A. The lectures include basic electricity and how the home owner can get the ‘best bang for their buck’. They are about reducing our power bills as much as possible whilst still maintaining our comfort levels. Examples include increasing insulation of the house wherever possible to reduce the demands for heating and cooling in summer and winter. As with the motor vehicle in the home the future is also looking ‘all electric’ with the super-efficient air cons replacing bar heaters in the winter and providing comfort in the summer. One must be aware however of regular cleaning of filters and that the higher the air con is set in summer, or vice versa, the more energy it will use and the more it will cost.

Mike’s classes have looked at summer cooling of residences including insulation qualities of windows (virtually none), blinds, curtains, eaves, shaded windows, and uses the East Gippsland Shire Energy Smart Housing Manual as a guide. He emphasizes low cost options all reducing energy use, saving money and reducing each household’s carbon footprint. Mature-age members of our society will notice many changes in the architecture of the buildings around them – the loss of eaves in new constructions, for instance, increases the need for artificial cooling. This can be compared with the large verandas that inevitably surrounded our old country homesteads.

The proliferation of dark roofs is another example that compounds both the heat problem of individual houses and the heat island effect. Whereas in traditional warm climates the building and roofs are painted a reflective white some countries are now legislating that new roofs be either covered with solar panels or have a roof garden on them. All this means that by increasing your energy efficiency you are saving yourself money and in a small way helping to save humanity. It can start with you replacing each incandescent light with LEDs if you have not already done so.

Victorian Labor’s Climate Woes

The Victorian Labor government’s extension of life to Latrobe Valley brown coal generators, along with other recent counterproductive measures, shows they do not understand climate change, the threat of the climate emergency or the inevitable solar revolution. Their other recent retrograde steps include coal to hydrogen, Carbon Capture and Storage drilling, the purchase of the Heyfield Timber Mill and continuing logging as usual and the decision to release oil and gas exploration licences off the south west coast. I have written endlessly about the need for rapid change from our current high intensity carbon economy to a low intensity one. Unfortunately for Labor their latest plans are unnecessary and will come unstuck anyway.

This is because the solar revolution is already upon us. Professor Andrew Blakers of ANU in evidence to a NSW Parliamentary Select Committee on Electricity Supply Demand and Prices  stated the case clearly. He said “The key point that I would like to get across is that the game is up— wind and solar photovoltaics [PV] have won the race. It is a lay-down misere. The number one new generation technology being installed around the world is solar PV, number two is wind, and coal is a distant third. This year, roughly 200 gigawatts of PV and wind new generation capacity will go in around the world, while only 50 gigawatts of coal will go in. That is a difference factor of four between PV and wind and coal. In Australia, virtually all new generation capacity is PV and wind. The reason for this is that PV and wind are decisively cheaper than coal, even when one adds the additional costs to stabilise a variable renewable energy supply, such as storage, primarily in the forms of batteries and pumped hydro; stronger interconnection; and some spillage of wind and PV. That is the basic message I have. If you want cheap electricity you push renewables as hard as you can.”

Labor, at least in western Victoria, is doing very well on this aspect alone. But they do not seem to understand the conflict or the contradictions involved with their piecemeal climate policies. The development of renewables in the west of Victoria will eventually displace jobs in the east. Also because of economics alone coal will be replaced by renewable energy, storage and High Voltage Direct Current connections very rapidly. As Blakers points out coal has lost and the solar revolution, or whatever you want to call it, is a ‘lay down misere”.

What then is the point of these measures when they will not occur? Economics alone dictates that it is most unlikely that any brown coal generators will be operating beyond 2030. Even that may be too generous. When combined with the increasing number and intensity of weather disasters of the ‘climate emergency’, the political ‘penny’ will eventually drop and the pollies will begin implementing real options for the low carbon economy.  Unfortunately Labor has done insufficient to boost renewables and employment in the valley and Gippsland, which has always been the best option in a ‘just transition’. More unfortunately still, the LNP opposition policies, or lack of them, are far worse.

Two Items from the Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub Newsletter

Forum: How to Bring Renewable Energy Jobs to the Latrobe Valley

The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) and Environment Victoria (EV) hosted a public forum earlier this month to discuss how the Latrobe Valley can benefit from current clean energy investments. In focus were environment and energy policy priorities for the local community to support a fair policy transition within the Latrobe Valley.

The GCCN spoke to residents about the Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub* (LVCPH) and local efforts to bring the benefits of renewable energy to the Latrobe Valley. While EV launched a Latrobe Valley focused election document, outlining three key election asks – Victorian Regional Energy Target carve out, energy efficiency and extension of the Latrobe Valley Authority.

Simon Holmes à Court also spoke at the session.  A senior advisor to the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University, he is also an advisory board member of the Melbourne Energy Institute. Simon was also the founding chair of Hepburn Wind, the country’s first community owned wind farm, and founder of Embark Australia, a non-profit consultancy helping communities share in the benefits of local renewable energy.

Gippy Bulk Buys – the bright alternative is solar

The LVCPH, along with the Baw Baw Shire, Latrobe City Council, and Wellington Shire, are organising a solar energy bulk buy scheme. It will be open to residents for domestic and community purposes to install solar systems in homes, businesses and community spaces.

The program is about offering the best quality products to the community at the best prices, to ensure the most people benefit from this opportunity as possible. It is about reducing energy costs for individuals, promoting resilience within local communities, and working towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the Latrobe Valley for a clean energy future.

High quality solar panels and inverters will be sourced through Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF), while locally produced hot water systems will be purchased from the Earthworker factory in Morwell.  The LVCPH will also be working with local installers to ensure that installation and maintenance will be undertaken by local electricians. This will support local jobs and provide ongoing support for the solar systems.

Yarra Energy Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation which has experience managing successful bulk buy projects in both urban and rural areas. The LVCPH hopes to gain from their experience so that we may run future bulk buy projects ourselves. YEF will also make donations of solar systems to community groups as a percentage of kWh installed.

We encourage those interested in purchasing solar systems to make multiple enquires so as to choose who they feel comfortable with, and to secure the best deal for them. For any local installers who want to be a part of this program, please register your interest*. Stay tuned for Phase 2 when we will introduce options for local micro-grids and hopefully a community retailer. Local community information sessions about how to get involved in the Gippy Bulk Buy will run over June and July. See our events page list to find a session nearest to you!

*Facebook page here. Or email contact to register interest here. Subscribe to the Newsletter here.

Mallacoota Marlin and Ocean Warming

Black Marlin Caught off Mallacoota (EGN)

The local news this week (May 30) has been about the massive black marlin caught off Mallacoota. I have written about the marlin in Gippsland on a number of occasions (see here and here) on their southward migration as our oceans warm with climate change. Despite this neither the East Gippsland News (image above) or the ABC managed to connect this event with climate change. Whilst it may be taboo for newsrooms to mention climate change in connection with a catastrophic event such as bushfires surely an occasion like this handled correctly could persuade ‘Blind Freddy’ of the obvious. To drive the point home the Guardian ran an article on Queensland gropers being found in New Zealand waters –  across the ‘ditch’ and 3,000 Ks from home. Nor is the Black Marlin the only newcomer to our waters.

In an earlier blog (see link above) I wrote “Little over one month ago in a letter to the Addie (Bairnsdale Advertiser 11.2.16) on the tropical species of leatherjacket discovered and photographed by Don Love off Cape Conran I noted that this was just ‘another example of species moving into our waters as they warm – a direct result of global warming where our lakes and ocean are warming far more rapidly than the land…’ and speculated that to ‘the leatherjacket can be added a number of new, and as yet unidentified, jellyfish in the lakes and possibly the Black Marlin in our nearby oceans.’”

‘2017 sea surface temperature compered to historical records’ (BOM)

Obviously our oceans are warming. As more than 90% of the extra energy the planet receives with the enhanced greenhouse effect is absorbed by the oceans we would expect to eventually see evidence of this. The map of the Bureau of Meteorology for sea surface temperatures around Australia clearly illustrates this. Equally so do the bleaching events that are killing sections of coral on the Great Barrier Reef. These events are a direct result of the water being too warm and no amount of Federal funding can help this unless the problem is addressed.

Also the warming we, and our oceans, are experiencing now is a result of the greenhouse emissions of 40 years ago. An article in Skeptical Science explained: “The reason the planet takes several decades to respond to increased CO2 is the thermal inertia of the oceans. Consider a saucepan of water placed on a gas stove. Although the flame has a temperature measured in hundreds of degrees C, the water takes a few minutes to reach boiling point. This simple analogy explains climate lag. The mass of the oceans is around 500 times that of the atmosphere. The time that it takes to warm up is measured in decades. Because of the difficulty in quantifying the rate at which the warm upper layers of the ocean mix with the cooler deeper waters, there is significant variation in estimates of climate lag… which I have rounded to 40 years.”

Forty years ago there were 340 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. Now there are more than 410 ppm indicating that there is a lot more warming in our pipeline. Barring some miracles we are all in for tough times.

ClimArt Show in Wonthaggi

 

(Groundswell)

My wife and I recently visited the ClimArt show in Wonthaggi. The community show is the second that has been run and organised by Bron Dahlstrom of Studio 40 whose husband Ray is well known for his ‘social commentary’ art including series on ‘acid oceans’, ‘Black Saturday’ and ‘climate change’. Liane Arno writing in the Bass Coast Post described the terrifying experience of the Dahlstrom family during the 2009 Black Saturday fires and noted “Bron Dahlstrom has no doubt climate change was a factor in the 2009 bushfire that nearly killed her. ClimArt is part of her mission to spread understanding.”

Liane Arno continued: “What Bron finds extraordinary is that despite the fact that 97 per cent of scientists agree on climate change, the few doubters gain a disproportionately large share of attention, causing many lay people not to take the matter seriously. With a wide and varied group of friends and acquaintances, Bron also finds that Australians tend not to take the issue as seriously as those of European descent who are very much aware of the consequences. Could it be that it is part of the Australian psyche to distrust academics and politicians?” and “If you think you can help to get the message about climate change across to people through your art, Bron encourages you to enter the art show. “It can be poetry, painting, sculpture, jewellery, video, performing art, or writing. Anything that tells the story of climate change. We hold the world in our hands.”

The show has had a wide range of community support and the various prizes (with donors) offered in both visual art and the literary categories include: Wonthaggi Medical Group Award for Best Painting; Goat Island Gallery Award for Best 3D; Crossover Cycles Highly Commended Award for 3D; Sunscape Electrical/Gippsland Solar award for Best Mixed Media; JB Insurance Highly Commended Award for Mixed Media; Studio 40 Award for Best Work under $300; EcoLiv Winners’ Literary and Performance Award; Country Fresh Herbs Youth Art Winner’s  Award; Wheel Heat Youth Art Highly Commended Award and Serious Surf Stuff Youth Art Highly Commended Award.

The visual art winners were as follows: ‘Tree Deaths’ by Norma Stack Robinson won the 3D Award, ‘High Tide at Lake Reeves’ won the Mixed Media Award for Lisa Timms-Stevens and ‘Armageddon for all’ by Ken Griffiths won the Best Painting.

Of interest was the artist’s climate statement that accompanied each entry. Overall the impression was just how difficult it is to convey any message on climate change artistically and many works featured environmental aspects such as the plastic scourge – at best peripheral to the theme. Personally I preferred the more abstract works of the visual artists. Art is another tool to convey the threat and the solutions to the existential threat of climate change. The show at Artworks continues until June the 18. Hopefully there will be a bigger and better show next year.

Star of the South Offshore Wind Energy Project

The Gippsland region has languished in building wind farms with the relatively small projects at Toora and Wonthaggi. These compared to the farms in the Western District, both in size and number, are insignificant. The generator site rentals there are going a long way to make these farms ‘drought proof’ as well as injecting funds into local communities and helping revive them.

However there is a project on the drawing boards which may help offset this regional disadvantage with a proposal to build a very large offshore wind farm in south Gippsland. Called the ‘Star of the South’ its proponents have pushed the advantages of their plan on their website.

They note that the “Project aims to make a major contribution to lowering Australia’s carbon signature and to assist in the transition from fossil fuel sourced generators, reducing emissions by approximately 10.5 million tonnes of CO₂ per annum and powering over 1.2 million homes” and as such will help the nation meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Importantly they also note that the “Project will see the creation of approximately 12,000 jobs (direct and indirect) during construction and 300 ongoing jobs over its 25-year life. Of the estimated $8 billion to be invested during the development and construction of the Project, approximately half could comprise local content. The Project has the potential to play a major role in transitioning the economy in the Gippsland region (in particular, the Latrobe Valley) and to concurrently provide downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices and improve energy system security and reliability.”

Whilst these employment claims may be on the optimistic side when completed the wind farm will produce as much energy as the now defunct Hazelwood Power station. It will also take advantage of the current infrastructure of the valley and the employment provided will be a major part of the ‘just transition’.

Unfortunately the proposal appears dependant on the assistance and approvals of the Federal government – a government whose record on wind and other types of renewable energy that has been at best abysmal. The State Labor government has been much better in this regard but probably can offer only limited assistance at this time. Although both governments have been willing to push and invest together in such projects as ‘coal to hydrogen’ and ‘carbon capture and storage’ which, as I have pointed out a number of times in this column, are doomed to failure (see here and here).

I have no doubt that this project (or another very like it) will definitely go ahead as the costs of building the offshore wind generators continues to come down and the wind source at sea is more reliable than on land. It is a pity that the benefits of such projects – or the climate emergency – are not recognised. If so this wind farm would be being built right now.

Climate Attribution Again

My blog of a few weeks ago entitled “Climate Attribution and the East Gippsland Dry” is already out of date. Perhaps I did not do sufficient research for this piece. On the other hand it is quite impossible for a lay person to keep abreast of scientific advances let alone understand more than the basics of them.

Whilst admitting the science of extreme weather attribution was advancing rapidly I conceded that “Unfortunately it is a fairly slow process and unable to help us with events that have just occurred or still occurring. Some events are easier to attribute climate change influence than others. For example a 2004 study of a heatwave that occurred in 2003 in the northern hemisphere and which caused 35,000 fatalities “found that climate change had more than doubled the risk of such extreme heat” for this event. But the advent of the supercomputer has meant that the calculations required can be done so much quicker.

An article by Adam Rogers in Wired noted:  “At the end of 2017, three journal articles modelled Hurricane Harvey—the largest rainfall of any US hurricane on record, somewhere between 24 trillion and 34 trillion gallons of water—and concluded that human-caused climate change had made it about four times more likely than it would have been in the middle of the last century.”

And “Then, in January, an annual special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society dedicated to event attribution included three papers asserting that without human-caused climate change, three recent meteorological anomalies simply would not have happened: 2016’s global heat wave, the 2016 Asia heat event, and a “blob” of weirdly warm ocean off Alaska.”

So we can deduce that these three events were specifically caused by man-made climate change. We now have the capacity, or soon will have, to fully attribute our greenhouse gas enriched atmosphere as the cause, or part cause, of any of these devastating events. The implications of this are astounding.

We have multi-national companies like Esso and Shell that have been documented as being clearly aware of the dangers of man-made climate change as long as 40 years ago and deciding to do nothing about it. Some of these companies have campaigned actively against the science and invested large amounts in swaying public opinion. Since it is also clearly established that there are many fatalities resulting from these extreme weather events – especially heatwaves – it follows that many of these companies are liable, and some criminally so. And perhaps this will also eventually apply to their political acolytes?