Thursday, December 31, 2009

The fun of blogging!

I had no intention of doing another post in such a quick time, but I have just been doing a follow up on my emails and could not resist it.

Gayle contacted me because of Managing the Professional Services Firm. She wanted some advice.

But Gayle is also the daughter of a former UNE economics staff member whom I know quite well. The initial email led to an interchange with Paul Barratt and John Myrtle.

I have mentioned Paul many times before. He is very sympathetic to the Arab position. In an email just sent to Paul I said that the current Iranian regime seemed fascist. Iranians are, of course, not Arabs, but the general comment re Paul still applies.

As it happened, I then checked Paul's blog. His post, Iran: A regime in trouble, strikes me as a remarkably informed comment. I have learned more from Paul's Iranian posts than any other single source.

John was at school with Paul and I. I have not seen him since, so finding out what he has been doing if in fragmentary form has been fun.

None of this including my post New England Story - Leslie Hubert Holden and the DH 61 Giant Moth Canberra would have been possible without blogging. It's just so much fun.

I think that the big advantage of Twitter and Facebook is that it's reduced the ephemeral in blogging. Increasingly, I think that blogging is becoming the domain of those who want to talk in a more detailed way. And that's fun.  

New England Story - Leslie Hubert Holden and the DH 61 Giant Moth Canberra

My main post today, New England Story - Leslie Hubert Holden and the DH 61 Giant Moth Canberra, is on the New England Australia blog. Do have a browse. It's quite an interesting story. 


I had to laugh. In researching the Holden Story I found the Narromine Aviation Museum site.

The caption against one photo reads:

Western and Southern Provincial (WASP) Airlines begins a Narromine – Sydney passenger service.

A WASP airline! Looking at the Narromine site is interesting for another reason. A remarkable number of Australian airlines and indeed Australian aviation interest in general began in the country. I must document this at some point.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm back - and a taste of New Zealand nostalgia

Arrived back from Mt Hotham yesterday evening. It was fun: eleven of us sat down for Christmas lunch, with thirteen on Boxing day. While my immediate family rarely reads this blog, they get enough of my ramblings anyway!, it appears that others in the family do. I must bear that in mind.

This was my first visit to North Eastern Victoria, the first Drummond family Christmas for quite a long time, and I came back with a mass of things to write about. Among other things, Brother David gave me CDs with a variety of family material. I guess you will learn a bit about all this as I go along.

As a taste, the following photo shows the road to Milford Sound in New Zealand. From left to right, Roger Puller, his wife cousin Elaine, myself and Aunt May's husband Vic Fisher.

Further comments follow the photo.Pullers2

For a number of years I went to New Zealand every year or second year, generally staying part of the time with Roger and Elaine on the farm at Pukerau near Gore in Southland. This was fun from a family viewpoint, but also provided a base for touring.

This was one trip David and I went together; he is taking the photo.

The car is a Ford Zephyr. In very New Zealand style, Elaine would pack picnic hampers with thermos and things to eat, and we would stop at various points for breaks. I always thought that this was a very civilised thing to do, although I have rarely done it in Australia. Somehow, I have always been in a bit of a rush.

You can see its quite cold. I loved the chill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Break in transmission

I leave today for Mt Hotham. I had hoped to complete several advance posts before departure, but that will not be possible.

Today's post was to be on things Australians believe. You can find the supporting material here and here.

It's been an interesting blogging year, with some 346 posts on this blog. It's also been a year in which I added the weekly Express column, something that I have enjoyed writing but which has reduced blogging somewhat.

My writing over the year has mixed current events with history and a fair bit of reflection. I feel that I have learned a fair bit. I hate feeling static.

I am looking forward to taking some time when we get back just to look over the things that I have written and to do some consolidation.

As in previous years, I have really valued reading the material from fellow bloggers as well as the comments and other interaction generated by my own posts. By Neil's standards I am a mere blogging novice, coming up on four years as compared to a decade!

On Neil, by the way, his template instability has been replaced by blog instability! As a creature of habit, I just get used to one Floating Life and then he archives it and I have to start again! The new blog marks the start of Neil's second decade as a blogger.

It's hard to believe that Neil and I first came in blogging contact in August 2006. Since then, his blogging activities have been a constant. I find it interesting as well as personally satisfying; you do get to know a little about a person, his ideas and life when you are in a sense in touch on a daily basis over an extended period!     

To all my blogging friends, have a happy Christmas. I will see you a little later.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen wash-up - the need for clarity and focus

For those who are interested in the text, Copenhagen Accord. Marian Wlkinson's report in the Sydney Morning Herald is a pretty good summary of the end to Copenhagen. Paul Sheehan's opinion piece in the same paper was, I thought, a not especially helpful if fairly typical response. I quote:

Last week I received shocking photos of the Wyangala Dam, which once held several times the volume of Sydney Harbour but is now reduced to a chain of brown pools. The Lachlan River, which once fed a majestic floodplain with regular healthy flooding, has been blocked off below Condobolin to ensure water supplies for the town. This has never happened before. A rich flood plain has become an arid zone.

For those who are interested, you can find details of the Wyangala dam here. The current drought in the Murray-Darling basin may or may not have anything to do with climate change. However, if my understanding is correct, the water flows in the Lachlan River have always been very variable and uncertain; the river has stopped flowing many times before, as indeed has the Darling itself. Wyangala was built for just that reason.

In a general sense, the difficulty that I have with Mr Sheehan's piece is that it mixes together so many different things all under the climate change rubric.

For example, I can understand the National Water Commission's Ken Mathews frustration with the sometimes glacial action on water reform. Again, the actions of mining companies (and the NSW State Government) in seeking leases for mining purposes is a very hot issue just at present on the Liverpool Plains. Here potential contamination of ground water is one of the issues raised.

The question of the effective management of the waters of the Murray-Darling basin exists independent of climate change. To the degree that climate change might affect water flows, then it needs to be taken into account. Further, to the degree that management of the lands may effect our responses to climate change, then that needs to be taken into account as well. But there are many other factors involved that have nothing to do with climate change.

In an earlier piece Australian responses to climate change - a background briefing I said:

The attachment of so many things to the label (climate change) carried across into "discussion" on possible responses.

 Climate change became a weapon to be used to support a variety of already existing positions and causes.

Those supporting forests now argued that maintenance and extension of forests were required to fight climate change. Those concerned about the Murray argue that recent droughts were linked to climate change and that, given future continuing lower rainfall, action must be taken now to free water flows. Those supporting Sydney's somewhat silly water restrictions justified their stance in part on climate change.

These types of responses became remarkably pervasive, generating growing resistance. Those opposed to or affected by the responses transferred their distaste from the response to the concept of climate change itself. Faced with an argument that went a (climate change) then b (stop irrigation or whatever), it is far easier to simply reject a than it is to establish that a and b are unrelated or, at least, not related in the way presented

This remains my concern when I look at pieces such as Mr Sheehan's.

Over the next few months, Australians will have to work their way through all this as this country and others look to their responses to the Copenhagen Accord. In this, we can expect both Government and Opposition to stick pretty closely to already established positions. The debate between them is likely to be formalised, stylised, a shadow play. 

I suspect that it is going to be remarkably difficult to stand outside this. I think that we will need to if we are going to have a sensible national discussion.  

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Essay - Oliver's Endless Adventure 2

Sunday Essay - Oliver's Endless Adventure 1 began my review of F S Oliver's The Endless Adventure, Volume One, The rise of Sir Robert Walpole to the Head of Affairs, 1710-1727 (MacMillan & Co, London, 1931). At the end of that post I said that I would continue this essay tomorrow, looking at Oliver in the context of his time, at the way in which the book shows how Oliver's own views were shifting in light of events.

It's been quite a long tomorrow - a week in fact! - because of the intervention of the environment and the Copenhagen. I am going to leave any comment on Copenhagen until I have had a chance to read and analyse the actual text.  

All major empires are both creatures of their time and affect their time. 

This sounds a bit like a truism and at one level it is. However, a fair bit of the train reading that I have done over the last year on the long daily journey to and from Parramatta has been concerned in one way or another with questions of empire. Here I have been really struck by the continuing long shadows cast by past empires, whether it be Chinese, Roman, Byzantium, Ottoman or British.

Frederick Scott Oliver was born in February 1864 to Scottish parents and was raised in Scotland’s border region with England. He attended Edinburgh University and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge. After practicing law for three years, but then abandoned this career to marry Katharine Augusta M’Laren. He subsequently joined the linen drapery firm of Debenham & Freebody, becoming a partner in 1904.

The first decades of Oliver's life marked the peak of the British Empire's economic and political power.

Between 1815 and 1914 around 10,000,000 square miles (25,899,881 km2) of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire. What was first and foremost a trading empire had developed, almost by accident, into a huge territorial Delhi Durbar 1903 - A Processionentity spreading across the globe.

The great Indian Durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911 and especially the spectacle of 1903 in many ways marked the symbolic high points of Empire.

This painting  by the Australian painter Mortimer Menpes of the 1903 Durbar gives a hint of the spectacle involved. The painting is taken from a remarkably interesting October 2008 post,  Curzon's Delhi Durbar 1903 & the Photorealism of Mortimer Menpes, by V.Narayan Swami.

Problems of control and governance were central to the maintenance of such a widespread entity. As historian Norman Davies pointed out, even the wealthy empire could not afford to maintain both the huge fleet required to protect the sea lanes and the large standing armies of the European powers. The fleet came first, with the army limited to the minimum size required for internal order and to protect the boundaries. The Empire's survival in fact depended upon avoidance of involvement in major European conflicts. 

Even with the spread of the telegraph, the Empire could not be controlled centrally. The result was a complicated mosaic of direct and indirect rule. The constant challenge lay in defining those elements that must be controlled or guided centrally, those where local autonomy was required.

The last decades of the nineteenth century were marked by the grant of increasing autonomy that saw the emergence of representative government in significant parts of the Empire. Increasingly, the Empire began to behave as a federation. This attracted Oliver's attention.

At Cambridge, F S Oliver had met and became a life long friend of Austen Chamberlain and became a long life friend of he and his imperial-minded father, Joseph. While never entering politics himself, Oliver joined the Unionist Party and began a career as a political writer and pamphleteer.

In one of his first pamphlets, The Statesman and the Bishop, Oliver argued the case for an imperial federation.  Then in 1906 he published the biography Alexander Hamilton, which used the example set by the federalists of the early United States to argue for a federal arrangement for the British Empire. This book, the Times argued in 1934, had probably "more influence than any other political book of the decade".

From May 1910, Oliver also wrote numerous political articles for The Times under the pseudonym “Pacificus ”. These outlined his federalist ideas, including the establishment of separate parliaments in the United Kingdom to deal with purely local issues, with a supreme parliament responsible for national and Imperial concerns.

The publication of Alexander Hamilton drew Oliver the attention of Lord Afred Milner and the members of his kindergarten, the young men who Milner had gathered around him.  Milner and his kindergarten were then engaged in the reconstruction of South Africa after the Boer war (1899-1902); Alexander Hamilton exercised a profound influence on their thinking.

In 1909, most of the members of the kindergarten returned to England where they formed the core of what became The Round Table Movement dedicated to the creation of an imperial federation. Oliver attended the meetings held at Plas Newydd that formed the new movement, became a member of its central committee or Moot and later edited its journal. From the initial meetings, the Movement spread across the self-governing dominions with links into the United States.

At a personal level, I first discovered The Round Table and its influence when researching the biography of my grandfather.

One of David Drummond's favourite authors was the Scottish novelist John Buchan. 160px-Btweedsmuir2 As a child, I loved these books as adventure stories and because of their Scottish connection and could understand why my grandfather liked them. It therefore seemed perfectly reasonable that my grandfather and mother should have visited Buchan in Canada where as 1st Baron Tweedsmuir he had become Governor General (photo) in 1935.

As Canadian Governor General, John Buchan was a considerable success because, among other things, of his concerns for Canadian literacy and the promotion of Canadian culture.

What I did not know at the time I first read his books was that David Drummond was a Round Table member, providing a common link between the two.

There were a number of tensions built into the ideas of Oliver and his Round Table colleagues, tensions that probably would have fore-doomed their more ambitious plans even had other events not intervened.

In constitutional terms, the British Empire was a remarkably ramshackle structure held together in some ways by bailing wire and sticky tape.

The crown remained central as a symbol. However, even here there were great complexities.

At the end of her long life, Queen Victoria's official title read Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India. So even at this simple level we have three identified entities, Great Britain, Ireland and India. Further, as Crown and thus formal head of state, Victoria was in a formal sense involved in literally thousands if not tens of thousands of individual governance arrangements across the sprawling Empire.

  Victoria may have been Queen, but the central Government was already a constitutional monarchy. But a constitutional monarchy of what?

The three traditional kingdoms - England including Wales, Scotland and Ireland - had direct representation in the House of Commons. The emerging dominions had their own Governments under the crown, operating with powers delegated by the United Kingdom Parliament as the supreme constitutional entity. Beyond this, and like the Queen, the UK Parliament governed over thousands of individual governance arrangements.

In these circumstances, the idea of moving to a Federal structure made a lot of apparent sense if the Empire was to survive.

The first difficulty that the Empire Federalists faced was their emphasis on British and Britishness. They saw Federation as a way of uniting the British peoples. But where, then, did India fit in?

India was the jewel in the imperial crown in a way that Australians, Canadians or New Zealanders with their individual national focuses simply do not understand.

The relationship between Great Britain and the Indian subcontinent is long and complex.

The links began with the East India Company in 1617. By the time that F S Oliver was born in 1864, British involvement with India was almost 250 years old. Generations of British people had lived in India. Many died there, others made their fortune and came home. The term nabob, an Indian term, came into use to describe those who had made their fortune and returned.

In many ways, the British ruled India indirectly and through a light touch.            

 In 1861, the Indian Census recorded that the English population in India was 125,945. Of these only about 41,862 were civilians as compared with about 84,083 European officers and men of the Army. Almost twenty years later, the standing Indian Army consisted of 66,000 British soldiers, 130,000 Natives, and 350,000 soldiers in the princely armies. The British ruled an entire empire with far fewer direct soldiers than the Allies have today in Afghanistan!

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 threatened but did not destroy British control. It did result in major constitutional change. The Indian sub-continent was divided into two, British India or the British Raj and the princely states. In 1877, the whole group was turned into the Indian Empire under Victoria.

The map shows the734px-British_Indian_Empire_1909_Imperial_Gazetteer_of_India Indian Empire in 1909. Huge, isn't it?

In considering the map, it is important to realise that while the Empire may have been finally ruled from London, this was the Indian Empire.

The emphasis that Oliver and his Federalist  colleagues colleagues placed upon Britishness created an obvious problem in integrating India into the scheme of things.

With time, this might have been worked out. Even though muted today, the mythology of India runs deep within the many in the old Empire. However, there was not to be time.

The First World War, a war supported by Oliver and many of his colleagues, marked the deathnell of Empire.

While this was not clear at the time, it was a breach of the fundamental strategic principle central to the Empire's survival: focus resources on sea power and limit continental war.

Discussions on Imperial Federation continued after the war. However, now others forces were working even more strongly against change.

Neither Oliver nor his colleagues were democrats in the modern sense of the word. Oliver himself had a deep distrust of popular democracy. Yet the very principles embedded in the Federalist and parliamentary model guaranteed the the spread of popular democracy and the break-up of Empire. 

Oddly, or perhaps ironically, John Buchan himself marked the change.

In 1937, and as Governor General of Canada, he ruffled many feathers when he said that a Canadian's first loyalty was not to the British Commonwealth of Nations, but to Canada and Canada's King. This was quite a profound statement, for it marked a fundamental shift in views. Canada may be a monarchy, but it is a Canadian monarchy.

By this time, Oliver had died. Yet in the first volume of Endless Adventure he makes a quite profound point that bears upon today. Talking about the maintenance of the balance of power in Europe, he says that the only way to avoid war is to take away national independence. I think that this remains true.

And the Indian Empire?

By the time Endless Adventure was published, forces for change were running strongly on the Indian sub-continent, Indian self government, the establishment of democracy within the Indian Empire, was a clear trend. The thing that worried observers, rightly, was whether India itself could survive the change.

Again, war intervened. There was no time for the processes to work themselves through. Willy-nilly with independence and partition, an estimated twelve million people were forced to shift, perhaps five million were killed.

The Indian Empire was dead.        

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - fires, fire fighters and a new driver's license

On all the forecasts, this is likely to be a long, hot, summer. And that means fires.

The latest outbreaks began in New England on the western edge of the Northern Tablelands, a drought area recently visited by the new NSW Premier.

Rainfall declines to the west from the coastal escarpment. Armidale in the centre of the Tablelands sits at the edge of the eastern flowing rivers. Just to the west, the country changes quite suddenly as we enter the headwaters of rivers flowing into the Darling. It becomes drier, hotter, dustier. The air smells different. 

Bundarra, just one hour's driving time to the west of Armidale, is in severe drought. To the east of Armidale, the coastal flowing northern rivers have recently experienced a series of major floods.

Just to mark the juxtaposition, soon after the Premier's visit to Bundarra, the centre of Armidale received 36mm of rain in 30mm, forcing shoppers to run for cover as the ceiling in the Kmart Centre came down.

While the northMichelagoern fires were still burning, fires broke out outside Sydney and in the south of NSW.   

This first photo comes from a remarkable photo collection put together by Sydney's Daily Telegraph. There are 65 photos in the gallery. Do have a browse.

The photo shows fire at Michelago between Canberra and Cooma.

This is open Tablelands country, very like the country on the Tablelands around Armidale. However, it's drier; rainfall declines north-south as well as east-west.

Fire sweeps through the grassland at a very fast rate. One house lost belonged to a firefighter defending other property. Grass fires are shorter lived, but create very intense heat. This is the type of country that as kids brother David and I used to help our uncle burn off to encourage new growth.

The next photo from the same collection shows fire trucks at Londonderry on Sydney's west. It looks chaotic, doesn't it? Londonderry

In this case, firefighters are trying to stop the blaze jumping a road.

This is getting up close and personal with a fire. You can see why wind shifts can lead to tragedy, engulfing fire vehicles. The fence on the left is on fire, with flames licking under the back of the fire truck.

The logistics involved in such constant fire fighting efforts are huge. Both volunteer and professional crews come form large areas to provide support. Driving along a country road, you suddenly find a dozen fire trucks waiting for deployment.

There are many human stories, some unexpected.

Andrew Phillips is just 15 years old, a student at Armidale's O'Connor Catholic High School. For the past year, he has worked as a volunteer at Armidale's Fleet Helicopters.

Alexander Phillips Following detailed training and supervision on the use and operations of the equipment used for dropping aerial incendiaries from the chopper, fifteen year old Alexander became a bombardier.

His job is to assist the Rural Fire Service and State Forest Strike Force Crews to build containment lines around a number of fires.

To do this, Alexander has the job of setting up the incendiary equipment and when instructed, carrying out extensive aerial ignition of the designated area.

In October, for example, he received a call requesting his assistance to fly to Grafton to help contain a major fire which had already burnt out thousands of hectares of forest and was threatening several properties.

What a volunteer job for a kid! Talk about excitement. In Alexander's words:

It’s such a cool job - the best ever. I’m so lucky I get to do all sorts of amazing things and I’m learning heaps all the time.

Just to side-track onto one of my hobby-horses, at a time when we are locking up our young people in ever more restrictions designed to reduce harm and avoid risks, Alexander is a reminder that our young are and always have been far more capable of doing things than their elders realise!

On a related matter, youngest did get her driving license on the last possible day before the fifty hour requirement was replaced by 120 hours.

Yesterday she drove all of us into the city. There was a bus strike, so she was dropping Dee and I at the train before taking her sister on to Bondi Junction for Christmas shopping.

I was as nervous as all heck. I did not want to be late for work, the traffic was fiendish, and it had begun to rain quite heavily. These are all conditions for more traffic accidents.

I spent the trip in the back seat clutching the seat with eldest daughter grinning at me and giving me a pat from time to time. I was quite relieved to catch the train.

Clare did well in the conditions. But it was a useful reminder to a sometimes, often?, pontificator of the challenge when things move from the abstract to the personal!       

Friday, December 18, 2009

More environmental jottings

It's a bit difficult to leave the environment alone, just at present.

As I write, the hunger strike by Southern NSW farmer Peter Spencer has, depending on reporting, now entered its thirty fifth (ABC news) or twenty fifth (working from dates in the local paper) day. Either way, its becoming serious.

Mr Spencer is on a platform 18 metres above the ground attached to a wind mast on his Shannons Flat property.

He wants a royal commission into state land clearing laws, saying they were used by the Federal Government to meet Kyoto protocol carbon reduction levels. He says they have made it impossible for him to clear his land, making it non-viable.

Over the Crikey Rooted blog Steve Truman has fairly long coverage. His view is certainly not shared by all his commenters.

I cannot comment on the detail without investigation. The rules Mr Spencer is complaining about are in fact state rules.

What I think that I can fairly say is the application of centrally imposed rigid rules on what farmers and graziers can and cannot do with their land has become a running sore in the bush because of its sometimes perverse local results.

We can see this in the problems Opposition leader Abbott is facing because of National Party opposition to the emphasis on tree planting.

At Copenhagen, Australia appears to continue to argue that CO2 emitted from bushfires should not be taken into account. I find this a bit odd as reported, especially with fires raging across NSW.

Australia is a fire prone country. Indeed, fire plays a role in the regeneration of the Australian bush, so carbon lost in fires is regained through subsequent growth. Still, the net effects do have to be measured.

Meantime, research carried out at the University of Newcastle to be published in Geophysical Research Letters questions widespread claims that the drought experienced in Australia's Murray Darling Basin is a result of CO2 emissions. The analysis concluded that the cause of elevated temperatures in the Murray Darling Basin was a combination of natural factors.

Finishing, I have been trying to monitor action at Copenhagen in part because the sheer difficulties involved in gaining agreement at such a mass forum interest me. As always, I have used blog search as one device to get up to date information and different perspectives.

 This has been useful, but the blog coverage has been much less than I would have expected. It appears that the blogosphere does not share my current interest!


Just back from a Christmas party in the midst of a bus strike so a bit wonky. Still, I did want to post a response to a comment because the comment raised an interesting technical issue related to blog searching.

Clarencegirl posted this comment:

Just ran the search term"copenhagen climate change" through Google Blog Search and it itemised over 300,000 posts, with at least 50,000 mentions coming from Australia.
Crikey also live blogged last night.
Using the term copenhagen "climate change" a second search returned over 15 million items.

What blog search engine are you using?
Bob Q agreed with CG.

Now what was interesting in a technical sense?

I was interested in real time reporting. Now twice when I have run google blog searches on Copenhagen including exactly the terms CG suggested, the total number of references was very high, but the number of references ranked by date order was very low. The search I did early this morning gave me just six references over a five hour period. Hence my comment.

Now when I read CG's comment, I did another search on copenhagen climate change this afternoon. There were more than twenty times the number of references again using a five hour period. Then a search just done using CG's term gave only five posts in a five hour period.

How do we explain this? I think that it has to be linked to the time of the search. People do go to bed at some point, so search topic intensity is linked to the time zones of the most prolific bloggers.

This may sound obvious, but it had not occurred to me!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Endings and beginnings



Just a shot taken by a colleague on his iphone to record the last days of Belshaw in his current mode.

My immediate target over the next few weeks is just to catch up on my writing.

Time pressures have limited my writing and especially the consolidation of some of the things I have been writing on.

It's a strange mixture, my current reading and writing list.

I am waiting for a package of books on the Aboriginal languages of New England to allow me to move forward here. I have a part completed analysis of the Armidale High Leaving Certificate class of 1953 - family background, where they came from, what they did, where they are now. Just one slice of the Australian past. In train reading I have been looking at an earlier anthology of Aboriginal writing, the first (I think) published.

I have also been jotting down notes to allow me to finish the post I began with Sunday Essay - Oliver's Endless Adventure 1.

At a purely professional level, I continue to monitor the economic data on a daily basis, although other time pressures have limited my formal writing. I don't know why people were surprised at the low Australian GDP growth figure. The size of the deterioration in the Australian trade position meant that it would drag the overall GDP number down.

A long time ago, I said that the sudden and remarkable improvement in Australia's trade position provided a buffer against the global financial crisis. I also said that the balance on the current account would be the most important constraint on Australia's emergence from the crisis. Well, the country's exports are down, we are (in relative terms) sucking in imports, so the international position has become an economic drag.

Well, time to move.      

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 8 - the series ends

The Copenhagen discussions really seem to be something of a dog's breakfast just at present if the media reports are to be believed.

In the meantime, in NSW the the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has approved electricity price increases of around sixty per cent over the next three years. Part this is due to need to build capacity, a result of previous under-investment, part is based on the projected impact of the Australian Government's emission trading scheme should this come into effect.

In Getting rid of carbon 6 - emissions trading I started trying to tease out the possible shape of an international arrangement. I was doing this independent of what was actually on the table since my objective in this series of posts is to try to advance my own understanding. At the end of that post I said that I would discuss how such an international arrangement might work in Australia.

In thinking about this, I decided to look again at the current proposed Australian scheme. In doing so, I realised that my original description of cap and trade was greatly over-simplified. Rereading the Garnuat report, I found that I did not actually understand just how the Australian scheme might work in practice.

Perhaps the simplest explanation I have found is on the Australian Parliament House site. This refers to an earlier version of the Bill, but still sets out structures and principles in a way that is, I think, understandable to the lay reader.

With the end of Copenhagen just a week away, I have decided to put this series of posts on hold for the present. It seems more sensible to wait until we know the results.

In the meantime, I have achieved my immediate objective of advancing my own understanding!

I remain of the view that the whole debate has suffered because people moved to solutions too early and too rigidly without reviewing all the alternatives.

I have also decided as a side-effect, to increase my reporting on this blog on Australian rural and regional issues. There is, I think, a real problem here because of the increasing disconnect between metro Australia and the rest of the country. I also think that some of my international readers might find this interesting simply because it is different.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 7 - musings

As I was writing Getting rid of carbon 6 - emissions trading I was conscious of just how fast things are moving. I was also conscious of my own limits in knowledge.

When writing posts of this type I often ask other people questions. My daughters, my access to one slice of a younger world, know this and roll their eyes when my voice gets that particular questioning tone.

Yesterday in one of those random tests I asked the three people presently sitting next to me had they heard of carbon sequestration in soil? They had not. Without testing further, I think that this is likely to be pretty representative.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, Mr Rudd said:  

Mr Rudd outlined four sticking points that threatened a successful outcome at Copenhagen and said his job as a ''friend of the chair'' was to try to build a consensus between the developed and developing nations.

The four points were: the targets each country adopts; the level of compensation to be paid to developing countries; the best way to measure and police each nation's emissions; and how the Copenhagen agreement takes over from the Kyoto Protocol.

Note, first, that there is no mention of carbon offsets. These are, I think, still treated as a secondary issue in the context of individual national targets. Note, too, the reference to Kyoto. At Copenhagen last night, a number of G77 members walked out in protest at the possible abandonment by wealthier nations of the Kyoto Protocol.

One of the standard reasons for failure in public policy remains the tendency to grab for solutions too early instead of working the issues through. In Australia, we have a tendency to want to do and then spend a lot of time reworking to try to make an inadequate solution actually work. To some degree at least I think that this has happened with Kyoto and in Australian national responses to climate change.

I am sure that this sounds an odd thing to say when discussion and the airwaves have been so dominated by climate change and for so long. Yet when you look at the discussion that has occurred, it has generally been dominated by the existence or otherwise of climate change. Further, the discussion on solutions that has occurred had tended to follow a very narrow furrow, targets and emission trading and/or a carbon tax and/or the need to stop doing particular things.

I don't know whether these posts add anything beyond an expansion of my own knowledge. I started writing without a defined end point beyond the need to understand. As so often happens, my views have evolved as I write.

I think that we can be reasonably sure that whatever comes out of Copenhagen will be messy and incomplete. We can also be reasonably sure, I think, that whatever comes will have unseen hooks.

The difficulty the Australian opposition faces is that its current position is really just too late as is, arguably, my own writing. This does not mean that it is without value - it is still useful to have an alternative view because this forces thinking in new directions. However, the train is leaving the station.

I think that the real issue with Copenhagen is going to be to find the way the make whatever is decided work. In the meantime, I still have to finish this series!      

Getting rid of carbon 6 - emissions trading

I finished my last post, Getting rid of carbon 5 - problems with measurement, with this comment:

The difficulty that I have had with discussions on emissions trading schemes lies not in the underlying economic concepts, but in the difficulty I have had in tracing through just how the schemes might work in practice on the ground.

In this post I want to trace through some of the issues involved in emissions trading working from first principles. I am approaching the question in this way because I am myself seeking to understand how such a scheme might work in practice.

Before going on, for the sake of simplicity I am using carbon as a short hand term to cover all green house gas emissions.

Both emission trading schemes and the alternative tax based schemes work by placing a price on carbon. The more carbon you produce or use, the more you will pay.

This increase in production costs is then passed on to customers in the form of higher prices. This reduces demand for the now higher priced goods and services. Production falls or increases more slowly than might otherwise be the case and especially for the higher carbon goods and services. This reduces or at least slows the growth in emissions. Producers have an incentive mean time to invest in more carbon efficient means of production and distribution.

Because adjustment takes time, most schemes provide for progressive, known, increases in carbon prices. This aids adjustment and provides a greater degree of planning certainty.

In what are known as cap and trade schemes, an initial cap is set on emissions that then falls with time. Firms producing below the cap gain credits that can then be sold to firms exceeding the cap, thus rewarding lower carbon activities, penalising higher carbon ones. Activities that directly reduce carbon may receive credits that can then be on-sold, thus providing a reward for those activities.

The economic modelling that has been done to measure the impact of such schemes necessarily has to make assumptions.

First and most critically, they have to assume that carbon can in fact be reduced. If carbon cannot in a general sense or in the context of particular critical activities, then there may be severe price effects for very little results.

On of the reasons I began this series by looking at some of the green house reduction possibilities in an Australian context, was simply to test whether or not carbon reduction was in fact possible and, if so, to start to sketch out some of the things that might be done in combination.

A second key assumption used in the models relates to economic growth. Faster economic growth increases emissions, but also compensates for the negative effects flowing from carbon reduction.

While I can understand in a general sense how how the economics is meant to work, there are a number of specific issues that I do not properly understand, nor do I think that they have been fully discussed.

The first is the effect of carbon pricing along the production chain.

To this point, most discussion on price effects has focused on energy and especially electricity pricing. However, the effects are far broader than this because every stage of the production process will be affected in terms of both the carbon embedded in inputs and its own emissions.

I am not sure how the price effects were measured in the various economic modelling exercises, but I have a feel that they are going to be greater than expected.

Consider building costs. Each input used in the building process will increase in price by the combination of the carbon costs for the various things required to make that input plus the costs of any carbon emitted during the production process itself for the input and then the final construction process itself. Higher building costs in turn mean higher rents.

The exact pattern of price increases will not be uniform across the economy. In the short term, some producers may be able to absorb higher prices. Others where the demand is less elastic may be able to pass them on in full. Where lower carbon products are substitutable for higher carbon products (wood for steel or cement for example), then price increases may be constrained by that substitution.

Price and consequent production effects will be affected by each sector's exposure to international trade. If each country introduced identical emission trading regimes, the impact of emissions trading should be (in theory at least) broadly equivalent between countries. More precisely, perhaps, between industries in different countries with similar production patterns.

This seems highly unlikely. Each country is likely to have its own targets, its own exemptions or exceptions, thus increasing uncertainty as to results.

The presence of carbon offsets such as soil sequestration or forestry creates a new set of uncertainties over and beyond measurement difficulties.

From a global viewpoint, it is in everybody's interests that carbon offsets be created to the maximum possible extent. This seems unlikely to happen under present proposed arrangements.

Further, just because an industry emits carbon, even large amounts of carbon, does not meant that that industry should be phased out. We are concerned with overall effects. Here it may in fact make sense from a global or national perspective to continue a particular activity even though it does involve substantial carbon emissions. Many of the very particular responses to particular industries are not of themselves especially rational.

Keeping things very simple and looking just from a global perspective, it seems to me that we need to break the nexus in national targets between emissions and offsets.

The starting point needs to be the calculation of the reductions in carbon that need to be made at a global level, taking growth into account. The next step is to estimate major known offsets on a global basis.These offsets will have an economic value that will flow to the creating country, but should not be taken into account in national targets. Rather, they should go into a global pool.

A formal structure would need to be created for measuring and recording these offsets to provide an effective market base. Further, part of the agreement should be agreed action by countries to try to ensure that the offsets are in fact achieved.  

The overall carbon reduction target would then form the base for the calculation of country targets. This means that the overall approach rests on two legs: carbon reduction targets set to address the problem combined with carbon offsets. The two in combination would actually exceed the required cuts. That surplus is central to making the whole thing work.

The core problem in setting the targets remains the best way to find an equitable solution acceptable to all. This may in fact not be possible.

One of the points that Professor Garnaut made in an Australian context is that schemes need to be universal; the more exemptions you have, the greater the risk of distortions. As a broad statement, I think that the Professor is right. However, at a global level, there are great variations in levels of income and in per capita emissions.

Poorer countries with low per capita emissions argue, with justice, that a universal scheme would penalise them. Not only would their development be constrained directly, but they also lack the cash to buy offsets.

There are different ways of handling this.

One would be to make a clear distinction between the emission targets and subsequent redistributive compensation. This would be sensible in theory, but is likely to strike practical problems including trust. Wealthier countries do not always have a good record in delivering on commitments!   

A second way would be to build a bias into any emissions trading scheme that recognises lower development. How might this be done?

One simple way would be to break countries into three groups based on current per capita emissions.

The lowest emitters could have targets set at current levels plus, say, 20%. The second group would have targets set at current levels. Then the third group would have the per capita emission target reductions set at the level required to bring about the required reduction. This is likely to involve quite sharp cuts.

This is where the carbon offsets pool comes in. We do not need to achieve the full global targets, simply the target minus offsets. Countries would be able to buy from the offsets pool to help manage their emission targets.

In my next post, I will look at how all this might work in practice at national level.  

Monday, December 14, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 5 - problems with measurement

I finished my last post on the possibilities for carbon farming with this comment:

Mind you, there is a teensy, weensy little problem.

We might halve our carbon emissions, but no one actually knows how to measure all his within conventional emissions frameworks. Therein lies one of the rubs in the emission trading discussion!

As it happened, it appears that the possibilities offered by soil sequestration are at the heart of current Australian Government proposals. These type of proposals are being met with deep suspicion at Copenhagen.    

Environment groups and NGOs at the climate talks say it is so difficult to accurately measure these emissions that it opens up the possibility of "accounting frauds" which could mask real increases in industrial emissions.

Again as it happens, the University of New England is playing a significant role in current Australian research in the soil carbon area. Here I quote from a report on the UNE Senior Management Blog from Professor Margaret Sedgley:

The soil carbon group, including the Primary Industries Innovation Centre and the School of Environmental and Rural Science won $1 million research funding from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for climate change research.  The project is part of a national program comprising CSIRO, State Departments and two other universities, Western Australia and Tasmania.  In addition to the $1 million from DAFF, the group has leveraged $400,000 from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and $150,000 from NSW Industries and Investment...

The Launch of the National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research and the announcement of the appointment of the Director, Professor Annette Cowie, took place on 25 May.  The NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald launched the event with Richard Torbay, Alan Pettigrew and Richard Sheldrake (NSW I&I) also contributing.

Whether this type of work can resolve the various problems involved with the management and measurement of soil sequestration within the time frames set by international negotiations is unclear, given the deep suspicions of some green groups and others.

From an Australian national perspective, there are two general linked public policy principles that have been worrying me. I have discussed both at some length in different contexts over the last few years.

The first is simply the impact of measurement. You get what you measure. Things that cannot be measured drop by the wayside. The tighter and more rigid the system of measurement, the greater the impact.

The second principle is that of unforeseen side-effects. We have seen this time and time again in public policy where apparently simple and sensible measures fail because of unforeseen costs.

The difficulty that I have had with discussions on emissions trading schemes lies not in the underlying economic concepts, but in the difficulty I have had in tracing through just how the schemes might work in practice on the ground.

I will look at this in my next post in this series.      

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Essay - Oliver's Endless Adventure 1

Earlier in the week and feeling the need for a break from the environment and other current concerns, I grabbed a new book off the shelf for my train reading. This was another of those almost random choices, a selection from books once owned by my father or grandfather that I had either not read or, at least, not read for a long time.

I have only one rule with these selections. Once chosen, I must finish the book.

This may sound an odd rule, but it is a necessary one. The whole point of the selections is to read books that I might not otherwise read, to allow a degree of chance to take me on whatever stream it chooses. If I stop, then I defeat the process.

This is particularly important because, by their very nature as inherited items, the books that I am selecting from were written some time ago. They are both writings on a subject and an example of style, attitudes and approach at a point in time.

They are generally all "modern" books in the sense that the writers saw the age that they lived in as "modern". At a personal level, I try to avoid the use of the word modern because modernity is simply a rolling point in time. The semi-random nature of the reading brings this out quite clearly.

We are all creatures of our own age and of the age in which we grew up. This creates a degree of discomfort with past attitudes and expressions, one that is arguably stronger today because current society has become in some ways quite rigid and censorious.

I do not want to argue this, and indeed people could easily point to a combination of certain current freedoms and past events and attitudes to mount a counter case. For present purposes, my point is that I am no more immune to the grip of current attitudes than anyone else.

In a number of the books selected I find myself conscious at an early point in the book of ideas that seem odd or even just plain wrong. J H Curle's The Face of the Earth is an extreme example (here, here). I wrote in my first post:       

The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.

While I kept going because I had to, this proved to be one of the most valuable books that I have read.

Mr Curle wrote well; his travel descriptions are quite fascinating once his attitudes are set aside. More importantly, the book provided an entry point into eugenics and Social Darwinism. Mr Curle's views about nationality, race and ethnicity may sound repulsive, although they are more nuanced than current simple frames allow, but they were representative of a whole stream of then "modern" and indeed "scientific" thought.

Eugenics and Social Darwinism may seem dead and certainly their expression in past forms is verboten. Yet many of the underlying ideas are in fact alive and well. We just talk about them in different ways. What else, for example, is the emphasis on national improvement and competition but a form of Social Darwinism?  

My latest train reading has been F S Oliver's The Endless Adventure, Volume One, The rise of Sir Robert Walpole to the Head of Affairs, 1710-1727 (MacMillan & Co, London, 1931).

Before going on and for those who have never heard of Walpole, he was leader of the government in Great Britain from 1721 to 1742. While he was never called Prime Minister, his long rule actually established the position. Number Ten Downing Street itself was a gift from the King to Walpole.

The first part of the book is a long, ninety page, introductory essay on politics and politicians. Here I might have put the book aside because early on I found his views grated.

Oliver himself is a Scot. He writes of a time when the concept of "British" is still evolving. Indeed, he argues at one point that "English" can properly be used as a term to cover those living in the two kingdoms, rousing some of the issues put strongly by Norman Davies The Isles. Fortunately from perspective, he really puts this aside.

I will deal with Oliver's own position and views a little later. For the moment, the important thing is that I kept reading and became absorbed. His descriptions of politics in an evolving constitutional structure at a critical period in British history is quite masterly.

In his introduction, Oliver himself denied that his book was either history or indeed biography. The book could not be classified as history, he suggested, because he was telling a story based on other people's writing. There was no primary research as such. The book could not be classified as biography either, because he wasn't telling the story of Walpole's life, just a story of a man in politics at a particular time.

Despite these denials, the book was classified as history by both reviewers and readers, becoming a major best seller. The clue to this lies in his writing. There is something a little old fashioned in the style even by the standards of the time; Oliver was near the end of his life when the book was published. Yet some of the writing is quite gripping, his judgements acerbic. To take just one example, he writes of Spanish Prime Minister Alberoni:

It was an age of adventurers. Alberoni's career, so far, reads like a fairy tale, and it had not yet reached its zenith. He was a mountebank priest, a shameless fellow, an eater of toads - what you like!  but he was no imposter, for his talents in the Government of men were nearly equal to his ambition. "Give me," he said, 'but four years of peace, and I will make of Spain the first power in Europe."

Alberoni did do wonders in a short time, but was not to get the time he needed:

Elisabeth Farnese (Queen of Spain) was not nicknamed 'the termagant' in irony. She was not one of those women, like Elizabeth of England or Catherine di Medici, who have the deadly art to bide their time. It was hard enough restraining her for a matter of six months: to have held her for three years might have broken the arms of Hercules. Moreover, the dull-witted Emperor (of Austria) chose this occasion for offering various provocations that drove her almost to a frenzy. .... Alberoni was the worst sufferer from the agitations of these two disordered royalties. His hand was forced, and his plans miscarried.

This is not balanced, objective, history, but it's fun to read!

I know exactly the point in the book that Oliver won me to the point that I forgot my objections and went along for the ride.

Oliver is something of a cynic; more precisely, he does not have idealised perceptions of human behaviour; people are people with all their faults.

I have become a little tired of the tendency to impose unreal expectations on our leaders. We have ended by judging politicians not on results, but on their conformity to certain patterns of behaviours that really have nothing to do with their performance,

Oliver has no such perceptions. Indeed, he does not think that ideals (sets of values as espoused) and idols (ideals as institutionalised in various ways) have much role in politics. To illustrate his point here, he simply takes a set of commonly held ideals and turns them on their head to show how ideals can conflict.

To Oliver, the role of a politician is to get and hold power. To do this, they will genuflect to ideals as appropriate, comply with idols as required. That is part of their craft.

This sounds deeply shocking and cynical to current ears. However, Oliver himself is not cynical about politics and politicians. It's just that he is coming from a different viewpoint.

Walpole was a success as a politician not just in holding power for a long time, but because of the results of that power. In particular, his practical approach, his avoidance of war, improved the condition of the people.

I will continue this essay tomorrow looking at Oliver in the context of his time, at the way in which the book shows how Oliver's own views were shifting in light of events. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For Maximos

Back in March 2008 I ran two posts:
  1. How to find and use Australian census data 1 - Languages spoken at home case study
  2. How to find and use Australian census data 2 - Creating maps and other nice things
I am running this post just in case Maximos has not seen them, He is trying a rather interesting study with his students.

Getting rid of carbon 4 - carbon farming

In his report, Professor Garnaut made the point that in passing that there was no point in setting targets if they were not achievable. Yesterday evening as I was driving home there was a story that illustrated this.

The story was on wind power. The British Government has set quite ambitious targets for renewable energy. Wind power is important to this. An interviewee commented, my words, that whichever way he cut the numbers he could not see how the target could be achieved.

I am not close enough to the British scene to make a judgement. However, this does fit with Professor Garnaut's comment and my own experience.

In this context, the Australian Rudd Government is clearly striking wide spread delivery problems.

In the latest announcements,  on Tuesday it was revealed that the partnership agreement on indigenous housing is in a degree of trouble and and has to be renegotiated. I  won't comment on this one except to note that responsibility for the central design flaws rests with the Commonwealth, not the states. Then yesterday it was revealed that the Federal Government's GP super clinics were running well behind schedule.

This post is not about specific delivery issues, although I cannot help noting that I forecast them and that they have arisen for the reasons I set out. For the moment, my point is that no target or forecast from any present Australian Government can be accepted as gospel. Each has to be subject to a degree of forensic analysis.
Having made this point, I want to return to my discussion of options.

New Farming Techniques and Carbon Farming

I finished Getting rid of carbon 1 with this comment:
So trees are good, but you have to take into account any carbon savings lost from previous use. You also have to take into account conflicts over land-use. There is a very strong view in the bush that current and prospective approaches are leading to inappropriate forestation.
Inland Australia has been in structural decline for many years. This has been reflected in a decline in seats and in political power. Yet despite this, in the recent split within the coalition the country basically bit the city in the bum.

Once the National Party came out in a unified fashion against the proposed emission trading arrangements, it was far easier for the Liberal Party climate sceptics to get the numbers. To get a majority in the coalition party room, Mr Turnbull needed to a significant majority among his Liberal Party members just to hold the line. He could not deliver this.

To many city people, National Party opposition to the emission trading scheme is just another example of irrational, parochial behaviour. Why can't they see the need?

The problem is that while the impact of policy responses to climate change are still somewhat remote in urban areas, they are already playing out across regional Australia in a whole variety of often unseen ways. Regional Australia is a microcosm of the difficulties to come.

If you read the country newspapers as I do, or at least those versions that are on-line, there is clearly support for action on climate change. Yet the day to day costs of action are already there.

Limit irrigation to provide water for Adelaide and the environment and irrigators and the communities dependent on them suffer. By their nature, wind farms are country; local opposition is significant and growing. When land goes to forests or are locked up in national parks, other uses are lost.

Forestation is a particular problem because one outcome of pricing mechanisms flowing from Kyoto was an increase in forestry for green house gas purposes. Farmers can see that price based approaches will lead to new forests regardless of real costs and alternative uses.
In all this, sequestration of carbon in soil through changed agricultural techniques has become something of a holy grail because it holds out the possibility of great gains in CO2 capture while retaining farming.

I dealt with this in Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part One and Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part Two. I am suspicious of all holy grails, yet the arguments that I have seen suggest that soil sequestration could be a major option so far as Australia is concerned. To quote one protagonist:
This year Australia will emit just over 600 million tonnes of carbon. We can sequester 685 million tonnes of carbon by increasing soil carbon by half a per cent on only 2% of the farms. If we increased it on all of the farms, we could sequester the whole world's emissions of carbon.
This strikes me as a pretty big claim. Still, if we look at Professor Garnaut, and if I understand him correctly, his estimate is that we can remove 354 million tonnes of carbon per annum for 25 to 50 years through these methods.

Pretty striking, isn't it?

Mind you, there is a teensy, weensy little problem.

We might halve our carbon emissions, but no one actually knows how to measure all his within conventional emissions frameworks. Therein lies one of the rubs in the emission trading discussion!  


Neil had an interesting post on the City of Sydney response to climate change.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 3 - the importance of numbers

I will not have time for a full post today, so instead I thought that I would make a brief comment on the importance of numbers and especially use of back of envelope calculations to check things.

Starting from the premise that we do in fact need to do something about climate change, my aim in these posts is simply to extend my own thinking and do some rough checks. I think that this is important.

If you look at a lot of arguments, not about climate change but about the responses to climate change, you will see very few numbers. Very precisely, you will see that we should do x at a cost of z to achieve y. The opposition puts up a different formulation in the same form. And the Greens just argue that we should do more and the future lies in renewables.

We then take all these positions of to international negotiations. There we end up with some form of compromise formulation.

But what happens if all these positions are wrong?

The Government argues, quite accurately, that it commissioned a report and then put up a green paper and a white paper.

The original terms of reference of the Garnaut Review were reasonably broad, although there was a degree of bias built in. The report itself did recognise mitigation strategies such as soil carbon and even included some numbers. However, it really focused on an emmissions trading scheme. It was an economist's outcome.

I am not saying that such a scheme is wrong. I suspect that we will need some form of carbon pricing.

I am just saying that as a reasonably intelligent observer with a fair bit of policy experience and an increasing degree of cynicism about the actual capacity of Australian Governments to deliver, I would like to know more. This includes testing alternatives. 

In a comment on yesterday's post, Neil referred to  Brian Dawson and Matt Spannagle The Complete Guide to Climate Change (2009). This does attach some global numbers. Unfortunately I don't have a full copy at the moment, just the excerpt from Google books.  

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 2 - a note on renewable energy

Kangaroo Valley David kindly emailed me a link that set out some interesting material that I had not known on electricty generation using renewable energy.

Two points before going on.

First, I am very reluctant to support nuclear power unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, Australia's current production of electricity is around 224,000 MW.

The article points to some issues in renewable energy. For example, it suggests that the stable generation of 1,000 MW of wind power requires 375 square miles at widely dispersed locations, This implies that Australia would need to allocate 84,000 square miles to such plants to meet current demand.

This is a huge area, 3% of the Australian land mass, at a time when wind plants are meeting fierce local opposition. Oddly, I found the number reassuring.

The core of my present argument is that the solution to green house gasses lies in multiple actions. If we had too, we have the land to use wind power to meet our needs.

A more significant problem lies in the combination of the cash costs of action with the embedded gasses in the solution. Willima Tucker's analysis here of the costs of solar is not encouraging, that of commentator Jeff Wilmer less so.

As an aside,  in Australian responses to climate change - a background briefing, I referred to Professor Ian Plimer's visit to Armidale. Now he is in Copenhagen as a hero of the climate change sceptics. All very interesting, given his former UNE connection.

I should note that I looked up of some of Professor Plimer's material actually expecting to be sympathetic. I fear the good professor has abandoned objectivity for campaign.

I should also note that the more I look at the climate change stuff.  the more I think how lucky Australia is. There are not many countries that could find 84,000 square miles for wind power if we had to, and that's just the start. I will come back to this later in the series.


Getting rid of carbon 1

This post is a follow up to Climate change and policies that work.

One thing that I had hoped that might come from the immediate defeat of the Government's emmission trading legislation was a more detailed discussion on options. There is now, I think, a real risk that this will not happen. The debate is too locked in to current ways of thinking.

This post and any follow-ups are an attempt to get people people thinking.

Statement of the Problem

Let's start by setting a context.

Say Australia's current emmissions of CO2 are 100, We want to reduce this to 70 over the next twenty years. During that time, economic growth means that, on current approaches, CO2 will increase to 140. So we actually need to reduce CO2 from 140 to 70, down 70 not 30.

The numbers have no meaning, of course. They are just there for illustration, to set a frame. Serious CO2 reduction is not a small thing.

I will deal with issues in current approaches later. In the meantime, I just want to outline a series of possible measures.

I have not attached numbers because I don't know them, nor can I guarantee that my suggested responses make sense. They are just based on things I have picked up in passing.

One of my personal drivers in writing this post is that I am not sure that CO2 reduction can be properly achieved just by current mechanistic approaches.My feeling is that we are going to have to do a whole lot of things.

The suggestions that follow are in no particular order.

Home Grown Electricity

As a case study, on Ochre Archives, Phillip Diprose has just installed a combination of solar and wind generation. You will find the story in order here, here, here, here and here.

In a way, Philip is a special case. The grid is some distance away. Yet we have already seen this type of approach in a domestic context.

Two sets of problems need to be addressed.

One is the front end cost. These systems can be expensive, and will become more so as any ETS drives up input costs. Further, green house gasses are themselved embedded in the equipment used.

The second is ensuring connection with the grid, so that surplus power goes into the grid. The technical issues appear to have been resolved. The remaining issue is ensuring that price paid for electricity gives a reasonable return for domestic and commercial building owners.

If every home, office or commercial building generated its own power, then we could use the newly created surplus power flowing from existing systems in industry, including higher polluting industries, thus giving us the industrial outputs we need including aluminium and steel without extra imposed cost, or at least at a reduced cost, because the emissions have been balanced.

Note, and as I commented in my last post, that the impact of current policies in this area appears to have disadvantaged green power generators.

Home Gardens

I accept that this one is a hobby horse of mine because of the way that NSW Government water restrictions stopped me gardening in a water effective way while allowing other people to top up swimming pools. As a result, we ended up using vegetables bought in from other places, importing water while adding to green house gasses through transport.

Not a big one, perhaps. However, encouragement of home gardens is likely to have not just a positive green house effect but other social benefits as well.

By the way, the emphasis on water saving on the Australian Department of Climate Change web site is very modern urban and really has very little to do with climate change as such.

Retrofitting Existing Buildings

This appears to be quite a big one if the discussion I have heard have any validity. However, there is an enormous range from the home to the commercial and industrial. Further, the imbedded greenhouse costs in materials and equipments used have to be factored in.

Still, I have heard estimates quoted, I cannot quote the source because of the elapse of time, that suggest very large gains.

Wood, Wood Fires and Forests

This is quite a complicated area from my perspective. Let's start by outlining my understanding so that it can be corrected if I am wrong.

Take an area of land and plant trees. The trees capture carbon. As they grow, they drop leaves and branches. As this decomposes, some goes to into the atmosphere as green house gases, some into the soil as soil carbon.

Upon full maturity the carbon gains are the carbon in the tree minus any carbon being saved under the previous land use system minus any carbon emitted from decomposed leaves and branches. When the trees die, they resend the carbon into the atmosphere.

Cut down say the Amazon rainforests and then burn the trees to clear the ground and the whole lot goes into the atmosphere.

Preserve an old growth forest and you come to something approaching a carbon neutral position in which carbon from tree decay is offset by carbon absorbed by tree growth.

You can leverage the gains from trees. Use dead trees in heating and you get the heat for the same green houses gases that come from natural decay. Cut down a tree and use it in heating but plant another one, you may bring green house gases foward a little, but the effect is longer term neutral. Turn the trees into wood for furniture or building materials, and you may extend the point at which carbon goes into the atmosphere.

So trees are good, but you have to take into account any carbon savings lost from previous use. You also have to take into account conflicts over land-use. There is a very strong view in the bush that current and prospective approaches are leading to inappropriate forestation.

I will look at these issues in my next post.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Climate change and policies that work

In case you haven't worked it out by now, I like public policies that actually work. Sounds dumb I know, but I do.

One of the key difficulties that policy makers always face is the need to avoid unforseen side effects. One of the reasons that I have been keen to see discussions on different options for reducing green house gas emissions is a feeling that there were likely to be a range of such side effects. I also felt that a major problem of this type needed to be addressed in a variety of ways.

This is not a comment on any emissions trading scheme, by the way. It is a broader comment.

Interesting story on ABC television last night that illustrates my point.

The core story is simple enough.

The Australian Government has created a market for renewable energy certificates, representing one megawatt hour of electricity. They're in demand because the Federal Government has said 20 per cent of all Australia's electricity has to be renewable by the year 2020.

To encourage certain activities, the Government has included a lot of extraneous systems under the accreditation in the renewable energy target: solar hot water; electric heat pump hot water; residential renewable electricity. So far so good.

So many certficates have been issued that the spot price for the certificates has fallen from $50 to $30. The problem is that the fall in price has adversely affected the viability of wind and biofuel projects actually creating green power. This includes two new major facilities in Northern NSW using waste from the growing of sugar cane to generate electricity sufficient to power 60,000 homes.

No doubt the whole thing seemed a good idea to policy makers at the time. We can further encourage solar hot water at no cost to the tax payer. However, nobody seems to have analysed the operations of the renewable energy certificates market as a market.

Neil has been running some material on mitigation options, but has given up on the project of reviewing the various measures, partly because this has already been done.

I plan to run some posts myself looking at options because I simply do not understand. I hate not understanding.

In saying that I do not understand, I am not talking about the ETS or the alternative carbon tax, although there are elements there that I do not understand. Bluntly, both are mechanistic relying on market forces and price signals. This doesn't make them wrong, but it does increase the chances of unexpected side-effects given industry and market structures. 

Rather, it seems to me that there are a large number of alternatives and that our present responses to those alternatives strike me as simplistic.

In talking about options I am conscious that I have no special expertise. I am bound to make errors, even gross errors. But if I at least set them out, others who are more expert may be able to correct me.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Another shift in personal direction, death of Madge Brown, ageism

I learned yesterday that the contract work I have been doing will finish Friday week. So another page begins. I have quite enjoyed the work despite sometimes frustrations with decision processes, and stayed longer than I had orginally intended, longer probably than I should have, for that reason.

I knew the assignment was coming to an end, but the exact timing was a bit unexpected.

In a post Paul Barratt recorded the death of Ida Madge Brown (1904-2009) at the remarkable age of 105.

From Milwarra where her father planted the first grapes in 1889 marking the start of the Brown Bros wine story, her life took her into the turmoil of the Second World War.

After serving in the Middle East with the 2/4th Australian General Hospital including service in Tobruk at the height of the conflict there, she was promoted to matron-in-charge on the hospital ship Wanganella. She was there when on July 14, 1944 in Bombay Harbour a British explosives ship blew up, killing 900 with 3,000 injured. Nurses and doctors on the Wanganella worked for 36 hours looking after the wounded and the dying. At the end of the war, Madge and her detachment of nurses were sent to Singapore to assist in the repatriation of Australian POWs from the camps of South East Asia.

In 1946 in a complete contrast Madge came to Armidale as household administrator at the New England University College and remained.

I did not know Madge well, although like Paul I knew her all my life. Paul puts its this way:
Madge was not one to talk about herself and I doubt that many of my fellow students had any idea of what this quiet, gentle, ramrod-straight lady had experienced in her past life.
My old blogging friend Neil Whitfield once commented that he and I seem to have grown up in different Australia's. In some ways that's true and people sometimes find it hard to understand my own continuing links and attachment to what I see in a deeply emotional sense as my country. It's just that things link and interlink.

It is now 102 years since my grandfather arrived in Armidale as a seventeen year old farm labourer starting on a path that would lead into senior political positions and result, among other, in the foundation of the New England University College as the first university institution outside the capitals.

It is coming up on 72 years since my father was the first of the foundation staff to arrive in Armidale, since Paul's dad became the first student to be enrolled at the new College, later to become a Professor there in company with my father. It is now 46 years, 47 in Paul's case, since I first became a student at UNE.

Links and interlinks.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I had applied for some form of honorary connection with UNE to provide a better structure for part of my writing and research. A week or so back my appointment as an adjunct associate lecturerer in the School of Humanities was confirmed. No money, but it does give me a formal staff position.

So 102 years since my grandfather arrived in Armidale, 72 years since my father arrived at the new College and Paul's dad enrolled, 46 years since I first became a student, there is once again a formal link.

Inevitably, some of the writing that Paul, I and others like us do simply records the passage of time. This is not always wise in a personal sense.

We live in an ageist world.

Ten years ago part of my professional work involved out-placement, helping people made redundant prepare resumees etc that might give them a better chance of finding work. I dealt with some very sad cases, people thrown up on the scrap-heap of time by the move away from permanent work.

With older executives, a key objective was to structure their material in such a way as to promote their experience without revealing their age to give them a chance of getting to interview. In the first cull of job applications, assessors look for reasons to exclude in order to get a short list.

This type of structuring has become much harder to do simply because employers have become more risk adverse. As part of this, they do things like demanding originals of qualifications and that candidates give them actual job dates so that any gaps can be spotted. Pretty obviously, actual ages peek out a lot earlier.

This is further complicated when people like me present material on their blogs in such a way that their age can be inferred if not explicitly stated. On-line checks are now standard. We cannot hide our electronic footprints!     

Well, to quote William Shakespeare, "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more".

Monday, December 07, 2009

The rise of visual wall paper?

Still mulling over the issues that I began to discuss in Sunday Essay - the importance of visual images. I said early in the post: 

To say that today we live in a very visual world is a bit of a truism. We are saturated with images. Yet what is far from clear is the extent to which individual images retain their power when the visual is so dominant in a general sense. We may well be imaged out!

While I think that this statement is probably correct, I also think that I am guilty of mixing different things together.

To begin with something that I am reasonably confident about, I do think that the sheer scale of visual imagery leads to a degree of blurring in which styles and patterns become lost.

However, this does not, of itself, mean that individual images themselves have necessarily lost power.

When I began this particular thought stream, I had in mind some of the changing images of Australia and Australian life. It seemed to me that as the visual world proliferated, so had the images of Australia become more standardised, less varied, less distinctive.

The visual world as we know it today is quite new. In the past people had access to far less visual material. I know that this seems self-evident, but I am not sure that we fully understand the implications.

When visual images were fewer, they were far more studied.

The world's first illustrated weekly, the Illustrated London News, began in 1842. The first crude colour printing dates to 1843, the first photograph appeared in a newspaper in 1880. This is all very recent.

The new visual images were perused and re-perused. They had impact because they were so new. Individual illustrations were remembered and discussed. Painters and photographers moved around the country recording to help meet a hungry marketplace.

The position today is obviously very different. I don't know about you, but I am actually hard pressed to remember a single image from the last week. Visual images have, I think, become visual wall paper.      

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Essay - the importance of visual images

This short essay is really a note to myself on the importance of visual images and of the way in which images gain and lose power as the meanings and emotional content attached to them vary.

To say that today we live in a very visual world is a bit of a truism. We are saturated with images. Yet what is far from clear is the extent to which individual images retain their power when the visual is so dominant in a general sense. We may well be imaged out!

When I first became interested in Australian art I did so in part because I was trying to understand Australia. Certain paintings spoke to me, and I wanted to know why. As I researched and indeed purchased paintings and prints, I formed views about the way in which changing art reflected the adaptation of an immigrant country to its surrounds.

The process was an interactive one, influenced by my own interests and the things that I was researching at the time. I ended with a series of images in my head that in some ways captured Australian art to that point as I saw it.

This remains my framework. However, I am conscious that the visual geography of my children is not the same as mine.Clare i love this picasso Indeed, and notwithstanding that youngest in particular did art at school for the HSC , I very much doubt that either could discuss Australian art in a historical context.

On the other hand, and this is the point of the photo which shows Clare in front of her favourite Picasso, they have probably got a far more cosmopolitan visual geography than I had at their age or indeed may have now.   

Images change their meanings with time.

Take three flags as an example.

The first is the Union Jack.

By the time I was born, this flag had already lost some of its emotional content within Australia. In fact, as a child and young adult I found it a little odd that it should be so often joined with the Australian flag at events and in photos. It was, after all, the flag of another country.

This does not mean that I was not pro Empire and Commonwealth. I was and, I guess, remain so. It was just that it did not have the same meaning to me as that attached to it by my grandparents' generation.

The second is the Aboriginal flag.Aboriginal flag

Working in Canberra, I used to walk past the Aboriginal tent embassy with its flag most work days. I had no idea that the flag would become one of Australia's national symbols, accepted by all including myself.

The Australian flag is the third and in some ways the most difficult.

Back in the eighties and going on an official mission for the first time, I was given all these little Australian flags that I was expected to wear and to give to people. I reacted with distaste and left them all behind.

In saying this, I have absolutely no problem with people wrapping themselves in flags to celebrate a national triumph. I do, however, have a problem with the increasing use of the flag as a nationalistic backdrop. I just don't like our modern habit of using the flag as an automatic backdrop at things like press conferences.

This is, I suppose, a matter of personal taste. However, as an historian and social analyst I am also interested in what the increasing use of the flag tells us about the changing nature of Australian society. I gorsake1_web am especially interested in the extent to which Australians have lost their sense of self deprecation and irony.

The cartoon on the left is Australia's most famous newspaper cartoon. It is not a good reproduction, but shows a couple of workers on a new building. The top bloke is hanging on to a girder, his mate has dragged his pants down as he tries to stay aloft. The caption says it all.

The enduring success of this particular visual image is central to the Australian character, as are some of the most successful television commercials.

In many ways, TV commercials have become the single most important thing in maintaining Australia's visual images of itself.

Commercials are there to sell product. To do this, they have to attract audience. For that reason, they attempt to play to what the creators believe are the most compelling images in the audiences' mind.

Many ads are simply a replication of common global trends. The best play to the essentially Australian spirit.

The Toyota bugger ads are a classic case because they play to still powerful images in Australia and New Zealand. I should put some YouTube links up to show you what I mean. For the moment, my point is that they, the ads were successful because they did play to the essential ANZAC. In so doing, they reinforced the image.Tom Roberts bailed up

One of the difficulties I face in writing a history of New England is that so many of the visual images have in some senses been lost.

This famous painting set in New England by the Australian artist Tom Roberts is simply called Bailed Up. It shows a bushranger holding up a stage coach.

Painted near Inverell, this is  New England image, but is also an Australian image.

The problem I have in writing the history of New England lies not just in the selection of images to use, but also in the way I attach meaning to the images.

Here I am going to pause and continue at another time!


This post is dedicated to Kangaroo Valley David who noticed that my Sunday Essay had not appeared and asked about it!