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Our recent trip to Central Australia involved a long walk around a rock and some even longer contemplative drives.

I found myself wondering if there is more or less 'life' out here than there is in the more obviously verdant countryside to the north south east or west. For example: might microbes be more abundant here?  The flies are certainly doing well. Yet probably not.

This led me to recall James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis that gave we readers of New Scientist something to think about back in 1975, long before climate change was a matter of general public concern.

 

 

 

 

We can sum this up in a word:

Hydrogen

According to 'Scotty from Marketing', and his mate 'Twiggy' Forrest, hydrogen is the, newly discovered panacea, to all our environmental woes:
 

The Hon Scott Morrison MP - Prime Minister of Australia

"Australia is on the pathway to net zero. Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create, especially in our regions.

For Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net zero, but importantly how.

That is why we are investing in priority new technology solutions, through our Technology Investment Roadmap initiative.

We are investing around $20 billion to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity. We expect this to leverage more than $80 billion in investment in the decade ahead.

In Australia our ambition is to produce the cheapest clean hydrogen in the world, at $2 per kilogram Australian.

Mr President, in the United States you have the Silicon Valley. Here in Australia we are creating our own ‘Hydrogen Valleys’. Where we will transform our transport industries, our mining and resource sectors, our manufacturing, our fuel and energy production.

In Australia our journey to net zero is being led by world class pioneering Australian companies like Fortescue, led by Dr Andrew Forrest..."

From: Transcript, Remarks, Leaders Summit on Climate, 22 Apr 2021
 

 

 

 

 

emergency
/uh'merrjuhnsee, ee-/.
noun, plural emergencies.
1. an unforeseen occurrence; a sudden and urgent occasion for action.

 

 

Recent calls for action on climate change have taken to declaring that we are facing a 'Climate Emergency'.

This concerns me on a couple of levels.

The first seems obvious. There's nothing unforseen or sudden about our present predicament. 

My second concern is that 'emergency' implies something short lived.  It gives the impression that by 'fire fighting against carbon dioxide' or revolutionary action against governments, or commuters, activists can resolve the climate crisis and go back to 'normal' - whatever that is. Would it not be better to press for considered, incremental changes that might avoid the catastrophic collapse of civilisation and our collective 'human project' or at least give it a few more years sometime in the future?

Back in 1990, concluding my paper: Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis I wrote:

We need to focus on the possible.

An appropriate response is to ensure that resource and transport efficiency is optimised and energy waste is reduced. Another is to explore less polluting energy sources. This needs to be explored more critically. Each so-called green power option should be carefully analysed for whole of life energy and greenhouse gas production, against the benchmark of present technology, before going beyond the demonstration or experimental stage.

Much more important are the cultural and technological changes needed to minimise World overpopulation. We desperately need to remove the socio-economic drivers to larger families, young motherhood and excessive personal consumption (from resource inefficiencies to long journeys to work).

Climate change may be inevitable. We should be working to climate “harden” the production of food, ensure that public infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, hospitals, utilities and so) on are designed to accommodate change and that the places people live are not excessively vulnerable to drought, flood or storm. [I didn't mention fire]

Only by solving these problems will we have any hope of finding solutions to the other pressures human expansion is imposing on the planet. It is time to start looking for creative answers for NSW and Australia  now.

 

 

Since my retirement Wendy and I have done quite a bit of travel, often these days to less 'touristy' places, although that's just a matter of degree. After all we're tourists and we were there.  On occasion we've revisited old haunts after a decade or so absence. 

Everywhere we go there is one thing in common with our home in Australia:  there are a lot more people than there were a decade or so back. Everywhere we go there is evidence of resource depletion, particularly water resources, and environmental degradation. Everywhere we go new dwellings have spread like a cancer across once green fields.and forests. Concrete forests now stand where humble dwellings or open fields once were.

It's no good blaming our parents, the underlying causes of the many environmental challenges we face go back the start of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution when no longer were the great masses of humanity the children of farm labourers, serfs, slaves or servants serving a small cultured elite.

With industry came systematic applied science, engineering, and improved medical understanding. Now workers needed new skills and had to be educated. With education came many benefits, including independent volition, and improved living conditions.  Death rates declined; fertility improved.  By the end of the 19th century world population had more than doubled its pre-industrial record, reaching 1.6 billion.  But then it really took off.

By the mid 20th century many informed commentators were getting alarmed and calling for population restraint.

In 1968 the world human population had topped 3.5 billion, over a billion since the end of World War 2.

That year Professor Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in the US, published The Population Bomb correctly warning that: 'hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.'   Critics claimed that he was alarmist, yet very soon 260 of every thousand babies born in Zambia were dying due to malnutrition before their first birthday. In Pakistan the number was 140 per thousand (source: The Limits to Growth). 

In the same year concerned scientists in Europe formed The Club of Rome.  Three years later the Club published 'The Limits to Growth', the results of a state-of-the-art, yet primitive, multi-factorial computer model that projected the impacts on food consumption/production; pollution and the cost of reduction; energy resources; and non-renewable industrial minerals, of unrestrained exponential population growth. The model forecast multiple disastrous consequences early in the 21st century. The authors feared no less than anarchy, driven by food and resource riots, and the total collapse of civilisation.  The final sentence reads: 'The crux of the matter is not only whether the human species will survive, but even more whether the human species can survive without falling into a state of worthless existence.'

 

 

Limits to Growh

My copy of The Limits to Growth
 

 

Only a few paid any heed. Several of these were later described as the 'Asian Tigers'.

 

girl or boy two is enough

Singapore's Stop at Two policy
From 1972 Singaporeans were encouraged to have two child families
- incentives included payment for sterilisation and public housing for married couples without children
- disincentives included precluding couples with more than two children from applying for public benefits
The result was a decline in fertility from 4.7 in 1960 to 1.7 in 1980
Although the campaign stressed the need for girls, as in China, cultural factors resulted in a preponderance of boys
- an ongoing social and economic problem
Nevertheless, Singapore has gone from a struggling third-world country to become the fourth richest country in the world (
1)
On the other hand, since independence in 1947 India's population has grown sixfold
- India will soon overtake China as the world's most populous country - visit and compare 

 

Critics of The Club of Rome, like Herman Kahn, of the Hudson Institute, cried: 'garbage in gospel out', a popular objection to computer modelling at the time, and lo, the Club's projections were soon proven to be overly pessimistic. In the 1970's science came to the aid of mankind. New crops were developed and there was a 'green revolution'; new processes and products improved efficiency and new mining technologies, like remote sensing from aircraft and satellites, together with new extractive methods, like deep-sea oilwells and 'fracking', redefined resource availability. In first world countries rivers and air was cleaned up and pollution ceased to be our number one concern.

 

 

Herman Khan

The Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn's riposte - one of many
The Hudson Institute was later employed by the NSW Government to help plan the State's future
- no mention of global warning

 

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief - we didn't have to do anything.  The religious among us were right: God, or the Gods, had it all in hand - it was all part of 'The Plan'. It was business as usual.

Yet today, the Club of Rome's foremost prediction: that unless we did something, by 2020 world population would reach eight billion has proven alarmingly prescient. And Paul Ehrlich's predictions are also vindicated.

In 2013 a Global Hunger Summit in London(2) was told that: 'Malnutrition is the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children [per year], accounting for 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five and stunting growth among a further 165 million [children].'

Although they factored in 'pollution' as a general concern, the research team behind The Limits to Growth said, or knew, nothing about the specific threat of carbon dioxide. Was this an oversight?

With our new skills scientists now have ice-cores, containing entrapped air bubbles, that go back half a million years.  These show a close correlation between global temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The highest level ever was around 300 thousand years ago, when it was much warmer and carbon dioxide reached 300 parts per million.

Because of man's multifarious activities, including agriculture, the atmosphere broke that half million year record in the 1950's and we have been in uncharted territory ever since. While correlation does not necessarily denote causation, and it's still not as warm as it was back then, I find it rather alarming. Read my paper: Climate Change - a Myth?

It seems highly probable that climate change is at least in part due to the current mouse-plague that we call humanity: clearing forests; digging up the ground; building things; making stuff soon to go to garbage tips; consuming resources without concern for the future and, of course, burning things.

How long can this go on?  I hope there will be a deus ex machina, that some, as yet unknown, aspect of quantum science, genetic engineering and/or nuclear energy will save us.  Failing that, I hope that current civilisation will outlast my grandchildren and perhaps theirs?  One glimmer of hope is the declining fertility in first-world countries as more women have careers beyond motherhood and living standards improve. Yet as I pointed out in 1990 this would consume far more energy than the third world has to hand. Is it now a case of too little too late?

I won't be around to know.

As the The Club of Rome pointed out, and should be obvious to 'Blind Freddy', the indefinite exponential growth, that our economies are addicted to, is unsustainable. 'Soon or later,' as Alice remarked about drinking from a bottle marked 'poison': 'it's bound to disagree with you'.

 

 

 

 

  

In 2005 I calculated that in Australia, due to our use of coal to generate electricity, electric cars had a higher carbon footprint than conventional cars. 

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then and now (April 2019) many are promoting electric cars as environmentally friendly, so I thought it was worth a revisit. 

 

 

 

Back in 2015 a number of friends and acquaintances told me that Climate Change is a myth.

Half a decade on and some still hold that view.  So here I've republished a slightly longer version of the same article.

Obviously the doubters are talking about 'Anthropogenic Global Warming', not disclaiming actual changes to the climate.  For those of us of a 'certain age' our own experience is sufficient to be quite sure of that the climate is continuously changing. During our lifetimes the climate has been anything but constant.  Else what is drought and flood relief about?  And the ski seasons have definitely been variable. 


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Travel

Bali

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of February 2016 Wendy and I took a package deal to visit Bali.  These days almost everyone knows that Bali is a smallish island off the east tip of Java in the Southern Indonesian archipelago, just south of the equator.  Longitudinally it's just to the west of Perth, not a huge distance from Darwin.  The whole Island chain is highly actively volcanic with regular eruptions that quite frequently disrupt air traffic. Bali is well watered, volcanic, fertile and very warm year round, with seasons defined by the amount of rain.

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

Recollections of 1963

 

 

 

A Pivotal Year

 

1963 was a pivotal year for me.  It was the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big in my life; and Beatlemania began; the year JFK was assassinated. 

The year had started with a mystery the Bogle-Chandler deaths in Lane Cove National Park in Sydney that confounded Australia. Then came Buddhist immolations and a CIA supported coup and regime change in South Vietnam that was both the beginning and the begining of the end for the US effort there. 

Suddenly the Great Train Robbery in Britain was headline news there and in Australia. One of the ringleaders, Ronnie Biggs was subsequently found in Australia but stayed one step of the authorities for many years.

The 'Space Race' was well underway with the USSR still holding their lead by putting Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit for almost three days and returning her safely. The US was riven with inter-racial hostility and rioting. But the first nuclear test ban treaties were signed and Vatican 2 made early progress, the reforming Pope John 23 unfortunately dying midyear.

Towards year's end, on the 22nd of November, came the Kennedy assassination, the same day the terminally ill Aldous Huxley elected to put an end to it.

But for sex and scandal that year the Profumo Affair was unrivalled.

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

Population and Climate Change – An update

 

 

Climate

 

I originally wrote the paper, Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis, in 1990 and do not see a need to revise it substantially.  Some of the science is better defined and there have been some minor changes in some of the projections; but otherwise little has changed.

In the Introduction to the 2006 update to that paper I wrote:

Climate change has wide ranging implications...  ranging from its impacts on agriculture (through drought, floods, water availability, land degradation and carbon credits) mining (by limiting markets for coal and minerals processing) manufacturing and transport (through energy costs) to property damage resulting from storms.

The issues are complex, ranging from disputes about the impact of human activities on global warming, to arguments about what should be done and the consequences of the various actions proposed.

Read more ...

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