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What’s the latest on climate change?

After dominating the 2007 Australian election, climate change seemed to fall off the latest election agenda. But the issue is still chugging along worldwide, with further news of the effects of climate change on world hunger and more discussion over what exactly governments will do to handle the growing problem.

Here’s a wrap of latest news and reading to check out on the climate change debate. Feel free to add any other interesting links or news you have in the comments section.

If you haven’t seen the fascinating SBS Insight special where the late Stephen Schneider, Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University (he passed away in July), faces 52 climate sceptics in a debate and answers their questions, you can watch it online here. If you can’t watch it, it’s worth reading the transcript here.

Climate change continues to be a massive factor in world hunger, according to a new report by aid organisation Oxfam. The number of people suffering hunger worldwide has dropped 98 million to 925 million in the last year. Alarmingly, the drop is apparently “incidental”, thanks to two strong years of harvests. “A new global food crisis could explode at any time unless governments tackle the underlying causes of hunger, which include decades of under investment in agriculture, climate change, and unfair trade rules that make it difficult for families to earn a living through farming,” says Gawain Kripke from Oxfam America.

A similar theme popped up over at Grist (who according to its website pop-ups ads is desperately seeking to raise $10,000 this week to keep funding its journalism), with a fascinating article by David Roberts discussing the “climate change causes wars” argument, comparing it to smoking:

In common vernacular, we say that smoking causes lung cancer. Scientifically speaking, we say people who smoke are statistically more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, all else being equal.

It’s impossible to say that a given case of lung cancer was caused by smoking — each individual case is an interplay of genetics, circumstances, and behavior complex beyond our ken. This fact complicates our understanding of responsibility and liability, but it does nothing to diminish the danger of smoking…

…No matter how much sh*t starts going down as the atmosphere warms, there will never come a time when we can point at one episode and say, “Aha, now that was caused by climate change!” It’s just a category mistake to think that way, like blaming your tripping on global heavying. But just as with smoking, that does nothing to diminish the danger of climate change.

Over in the UK the parliamentary committee on climate change will report today on how the UK needs to address climate change, with effects of climate change already visible in the UK. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman is calling the report a “wake-up call” for Britain, saying “There is no part of our society which is immune from the effects of climate change. Which means that every part of our society must think about its resilience”.

According to the report: “Ministers should look at measures such as bringing in mandatory water meters and changing building regulations to replace the use of purified tap water with “grey water” for flushing toilets and watering gardens to cope with a hotter, drier climate.”

There’s also news that as climate change continues on, Canada will become a “major world power”, since global warming may have many positives effects in the cold harsh climate of Canada. Should that be cause for concern or excitement?

Here in Australia we finally have a government, and Julia Gillard quickly replaced Penny Wong with Greg Combet for Climate Change minister. All eyes are now on government for climate change policy and to see how the carbon price policy will pan out. In Combet’s first press release as Climate Change and Energy Efficieny minister, he said:

My priorities in this new portfolio will be to continue the Government’s strong support for renewable energy, to promote greater energy efficiency in industry and households, and to work towards the introduction of a carbon price.

The Greens managed to get the weak Climate Change Assembly idea ditched in exchange for their support of Gillard. With the latest election being the strongest for the Greens yet, it seems that environmental issues will be put firmly back on the Australian government’s agenda.

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  • 1
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Amber – it’s hard not to include the latest news with BHP, TRUenergy and AGL and Rio earlier along with the ESAA.

    You could also add the Chinese coal traffic jam from Mongolia as an absurditity.

    But probably the biggest news is the USA Government funding huge global coal-fired power station construction. Utter ecocide.

  • 2
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Ah thank you Kuke! Yes, the coal-fired power stations are quite the interesting topic. We’re hoping to cover the Australian angle early next week.

  • 3
    Mark Duffett
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s drawing too long a bow to lay a portion of the blame for US-funded new mega-coal generation in India at the feet of Australia’s refusal to export uranium to India. Of course they’re going to resort to coal to cover their bets if the best route to getting electricity to their masses is obstructed.

    Another demonstration that those who want to stop Australian uranium exports completely (yes, I’m looking at you, Senator Scott Ludlam and the rest of the dinosaur Greens) are part of the problem, as dangerous as any denier.

    For mine, the most significant development of the week on climate change in Australia, for its indication of increasing momentum for a significant debate shift in the mainstream media, was this one.

  • 4
    Eponymous
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Can’t India get uranium from other sources Mark?

  • 5
    Eponymous
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Just read the Geelong Advertiser Mark. It’s a bit rich claiming Gen 4 technology is ‘at least 50 years old’. Something of a convenient conflation there. Correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m sure you will) but there are currently no Gen 4 reactors working in a commercial grid? And most likely deployment isn’t for another 10 years or so? I have read 2030 in some places.

  • 6
    Mark Duffett
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    @4 yes India can and has gotten U from elsewhere, notably Russia, as my first link indicates. But when a quarter to a third of your seller’s market (which is also reasonably nearby) shuts itself off from you, that’s got to make life harder/more expensive, and encourage you to seek reliable alternatives. Saying that it doesn’t is effectively the same as saying Australia’s U export ban has zero effect, in which case why bother with it anyway?

    Apparently I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. I’m going to take the risk of quoting very liberally from the regular Dryblower columnist in today’s Mining News (please don’t come the predictably boring response of discounting the opinion purely based on the source), which appeared an hour or so ago:

    …the Greens have talked themselves into a corner from which there is no escape, unless they admit that the ultimate objective of their game is a retreat into a strange world of high-cost electricity, and a reduction in essential services.

    Consider the plight of the Greens, and the way in which they are helping coal increase its share of the global power market, much to the delight of the coal miners.

    …their opposition to virtually every affordable fuel source has re-invigorated the coal industry, helping to generate fat profits for coal-stock investors…

    …last week…the Greens re-stated their anti-uranium position, without the slightest thought about what that really means – to the delight of everyone owning shares in a coalmining company.

    Consider the sequence of events. On Monday came (the) statement from…Scott Ludlam…that his party would use its freshly formed alliance with the Labor government to stop expansion of the uranium mining industry.

    On Tuesday, the price of coal stocks started to rise, almost matching the performance of goldmining stocks despite there being little evidence of a price-driver under coal last week as there was under gold.

    (Meanwhile) the oil price, which is more freely traded than coal and serves as a coal-price yardstick, fell over four consecutive days last week.

    So, if oil was falling and not acting as a coal-price driver, what triggered the revival of interest in coal? Senator Ludlam and his revival of the Greens’ totally discredited anti-uranium stance, obviously.

    Now, if Dryblower was a really cheeky chap, he might even suggest that tracking public anti-uranium statements by the Greens actually has money-making potential.

    If you know when a Greens leader is about to make an anti-uranium speech, that represents a signal to buy coal stocks.

    Obviously, this is not what the Greens want to happen but that’s simply another example of how they have not thought through the consequences of their utterly absurd energy policies which they are now trying to enforce via a position of power in the Australian government.

    @5, I’m not going to vouch for the Geelong Advertiser‘s grasp of the facts. Rather, the importance of the piece is, as I said, what it represents in terms of advancing the debate in the mainstream arena.

  • 7
    PeeBee
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I don’t think nuclear fussion reactors will do it. There is currently only 5 and half million tons of economically recoverable uranium in the world. Current usage is 68,000 tons. Therefore the world has 80 years supply at current rates. If you encourage more nuclear usage this supply will be depleted earlier. Perhaps the Indians know this and would prefer to use something that has a supply of many hundreds of years.

  • 8
    Eponymous
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I do wonder about that; the affect of a big roll out of nuclear reactors on the value of uranium. It might have the further consequence of placing pressure on the known deposits in Australia, in areas where a lot of people wouldn’t want a mine.

  • 9
    John Morgan
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    The latest on climate change? George Monbiot’s current piece, “The Process is Dead”,

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/09/20/the-process-is-dead/

    is a bit of a status report on where we are at politically and globally in terms of a concerted response to climate change. It is one of the most starkly depressing assessments I’ve read in a long time. A quote:

    “In 2012 the only global deal for limiting greenhouse gas emissions – the Kyoto Protocol – expires. There is no realistic prospect that it will be replaced before it elapses: the existing treaty took five years to negotiate and a further eight years to come into force. In terms of real hopes for global action on climate change, we are now far behind where we were in 1997, or even 1992. It’s not just that we have lost 18 precious years. Throughout the age of good intentions and grand announcements we spiralled backwards.”

    In our last chance years to arrest this disaster, we have nothing.

  • 10
    John Morgan
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Eponymous: “It’s a bit rich claiming Gen 4 technology is ‘at least 50 years old’. ”

    I think thats a fair statement (ie. I agree with the GA and disagree with you). The technology, perhaps as distinct from its commercial reduction, is about that old. It was available to be developed commercially a long time ago. The exemplar, as you might be aware, would be the Argonne Nat Labs Experimental Breeder Reactor II, and that was a successful design that could have been commercialised, and indeed GE holds a commercial design version, now mothballed since Clinton killed that reactor programme.

    In fact, it was so close to done that a startup company recently formed that appears (to me) to be taking almost exactly that EBR-II design to market, without scaling up its power output, reflecting current interest in small reactor designs. The Advanced Reactor Concept’s ARC-100 reactor looks to be exactly the same core as the EBR-II. There are a number of other small fast neutron reactors close to commercialization – there’s a good summary here:

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/06/startup-seeks-to-commercialize-ifr.html

    As to gen IV designs in operation, I’ll first pose the question “what is gen IV”? Nominally, gen IV is a list of six particular designs advocated by the Generation IV International Forum. But they are very different designs – thermal reactors, fast reactors, pebble beds, metal fueled – there is no design aspect common to these gen IV reactors. I’ve always found the designation “gen IV” arbitrary and confusing. What these reactors have in common is simpler design, a higher level of inherent reactivity control (“passive safety”), and better fuel utilization through either higher burnup or an easily closed fuel cycle.

    So far as feeding a grid with commercial power right now, I would point to Russia’s BN-600, a liquid sodium cooled fast reactor of a bit over half a gigawatt supplying the Middle Urals grid. Its not on the gen IV list. Feel free to accuse me of shifting the goal posts – my point is they were arbitrarily positioned in the first place. I think elsewhere in the Soviet Union there is/are power plants from the Alfa class submarine delivering grid power. A scaled up version of this lead-bismuth fast reactor is on the gen IV list.

    You also wrote: “And most likely deployment isn’t for another 10 years or so? I have read 2030 in some places.”

    There are certainly a number of plans for such reactors to be running before 2030. But, really, does this matter? Do we need them now? Practically, the answer is no. Gen IV reactors are not now required either as a climate response or as an energy source, though they will be, perhaps in some decades. The Gen III reactors, and even Gen II, are well and truly good enough. They are the technology we have today, you could sign a contract to buy one today, and they are just about the only bright spot on the climate change horizon that I know of. Gen IV will come, but, today, we should get on with rolling out Gen III designs just as fast as we can.

  • 11
    Eponymous
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks John, I don’t really disagree with any of that; have read up on the Gen IV designation since then. A bit like automotive engineering then; everything good was invented YEARS ago; superchargers were around in 1908 or so, and materials, control equipment and manufacturing techniques have been playing catch up ever since.

    I *personally* don’t like the reactor designs that produce high level waste, and understood that Gen IV meant ‘can burn old waste’. So, I’ll have to move my goalposts and re-define my criterion some how. There’s a long ethical argument behind it, but the summary position is that I think generating nuclear waste, disposable or otherwise, flies in the face of the intergenerational equity issue that we are working to fix. Feel free to disagree vehemently with me.

    I’ve said elsewhere, I am not opposed to nuclear per se, but think that waste disposal is a significant issue. However, for or against, even the nuclear industry in Australia doubts there will be a significant contribution by nuclear to lowering our emissions before 2030. My understanding of the information from the IPCC is that we need to lower emissions ASAP and so support all sorts of things to make that happen; replace Hazelwood with peaking gas, install a butt-load of wind and solar thermal, possibly even PV in some circumstances (detailed explanation of that point left out).

    All I’m saying is, fine, support nuclear power. But, anyone who does, but hinders the deployment of emissions-reducing technology between now and when nuclear actually makes a contribution might as well be on the other team, because you’re not helping.

    And no, that last para is not directed specifically at you JM. Thanks for the input.

  • 12
    kdkd
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Aah, I finally worked out what DIY_Lobotomy is on about with their 5x subsidy figure. He or she is specifically referring to the NSW feed in tarif which accounts for a tiny proportion of the energy subsidy in Australia.

    Ah well what a delusional time waster! I’m still impressed with the implication that fossil fuel susbsidy is good, and subsidy for the emerging market of renewable energy is bad. George Orwell would be proud.

  • 13
    John Morgan
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Eponymous, the automotive analogy seems a good one, in this case.

    “I think generating nuclear waste, disposable or otherwise, flies in the face of the intergenerational equity issue that we are working to fix.”

    The intergenerational burden we bequeath to our children associated with any nuclear waste we generate pales, absolutely pales, into insignificance compared to the intergenerational burden of coal waste dumped into our atmosphere.

    Of coal waste (CO2 emissions) and nuclear waste (spent fuel), which one is right now reshaping our planet? Which one is about to precipitate the greatest mass extinction event in our planet’s history? Which one is acidifying our oceans, resulting in the greatest marine extinction event in the history of this planet? Which one will prune back the tree of life to a stump?

    Even long lived nuclear waste will have decayed down to background levels before the biological diversity recovers from the consequences of the coal waste, if we don’t turn it around very soon.

    And if we fully utilize our nuclear fuel in the right reactors, we’re only talking some hundreds of years of radiological activity.

    There is an intergenerational equity issue, and it demands we address climate change. There is no comparable intergenerational equity issue involving nuclear waste.

  • 14
    DIY_Sunrise
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Nuclear waste is a totally manufactured problem. The solution is simple and the technology has been around for decades.
    All that needs to be done is for the waste to be mixed with sand and melted into blobs of glass. When it cools the glass blob will be utterly impervious to anything. These blobs can then be dropped into the ocean off the continental shelf. They will sink ito the subsea sediment and nothing will be seen or heard from them again.
    Of course the only reason this cheap and simple solution is not being considered is because of the irrational hysteria it would produce amongst people with no clue about physics, chemistry or proportion.

  • 15
    Mark Duffett
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    @7 PeeBee, there are two answers to your qualms re uranium scarcity. One is that your otherwise impeccable logic apparently ignores the capacity of the exploration industry to increase economically recoverable reserves far beyond what is currently known. Uranium exploration has only really revived in the last five years after a decades-long hiatus, so there’s a very long way to go there. See here for further explanation of this point.

    The second answer is that there’s every reason to expect technological developments to extend our fissionable supplies out to at least millennial timescales.

    @8 Eponymous, coincidentally I was just reading an abstract that gives an indication where (geographically) uranium exploration in Australia will be heading. There aren’t too many regions identified that I would see as problematic, but as you know not everyone is as level-headed and sensible as me ;-)

  • 16
    PeeBee
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Mark for the links. The first one was the one I was aware of and where I got my figures from. I hadn’t seen the the second one which was very good.

    I guess my point was that if you are investing in the here and now, you would probably play safe with known parameters. This may or may not have influenced India’s decision, because it is speculation and no more valid than your speculation that they went coal beacuse of Australia’s refusal to export uranium to India.

  • 17
    Mark Duffett
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    In a further coincidence, this week’s Nature that came out a few hours ago has a news piece (not paywalled, remarkably) on the nuclear fuel availability question. It’s largely based on an MIT report whose bottom line is “uranium will remain abundant and cheap”.

  • 18
    Eponymous
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Cheers Mark.

    Would love to see the assumptions in the report? I don’t doubt their findings, but can’t help but wonder about the certainty of the prediction if nuclear power is actually taken up quickly. Like the ’85 years’ number I’ve seen bounced around (on high quality Uranium) does that assume we build 20 plants, but no one else does? What if China and India go hard on nuclear power? That could tip the balance some what…

  • 19
    EnvironmentSupporter
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    “A new global food crisis could explode at any time unless governments tackle the underlying causes of hunger, which include decades of under investment in agriculture, climate change, and unfair trade rules that make it difficult for families to earn a living through farming,” says Gawain Kripke from Oxfam America.”

    Thanks Mark and Amber for all the worthy information you continually give to us readers. I was aware of the first link regarding India but don’t quite done yet with all of the assumptions regarding this report. I have read a lot blog and even essay depicting climate change and it does have a toll on humans. We are given the brains by God to utilize on how His given resources will be used. Just don’t want to end up asking myself what I have done for the world.

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