€0.40 per tCO2e | the elephant in the bathroom

Elephant-01I wonder what it would be like if there was an elephant in the bathroom given a  mature female African elephant weighs 2,000+ kg, stands over 2m at the shoulder and will drop 100 kg of dung in a day.

She is here folks, right here in the bathroom, the smallest room in the house. And she is so big that she could not hide even in her Majesties powder room.

€0.40 per tCO2e

There she is, wafting her trunk gently from side to side, chewing quietly on some acacia bark.

€0.40 per tCO2e

Can you see her yet? Did you hear her stomach rumble?

€0.40 per tCO2e

Oh yes, there she is. The market mechanism designed to make alternative energy sources more attractive by making greenhouse gas emissions expensive.

Remember, emissions are permitted but only so many of them and you need to buy a permit for some or all of them. These permits cost you money. You can buy offsets against those permits from energy efficient projects, even from projects that reduce emissions from land management, and these would be cheaper than the permits and so create an opportunity for trade.

Only to achieve the outcome of overall emission reduction the offsets cannot be too cheap, otherwise what is the incentive to change your emission profile? That, after all, is an expensive thing to do.

€0.40 per tCO2e

If you would like to read about how not to see this elephant, for after all an elephant in the bathroom makes taking a shower a challenge, try here

Time to save the global carbon markets

Paying more for food

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As regular readers of alloporus will know, posts on food appear quite often on this blog.

Not new recipes for banoffee pie [can be too bananary] or salted caramel tart [delicious with just the right amount of salt] but more about how we are going to consistently grow enough of food to feed the growing and increasingly fussy global human population, not to mention their pets.

Food securityA food security challenge | What we eat

Recently I asked a question in my confused Confucius series on the article site Hubpages to see if food security was something people thought about.

Being confused Confucius the question was just a tad lateral: Would you be prepared to pay more for your food if it meant food supply was secure? [The link takes you to the answers and comments] and there is also a summary Hub

Turns out that there were three main objections

  1. Could not pay more because it was already a struggle to cover the food bill
  2. Paying more would not solve anything
  3. We already pay

Social media is a great tool to canvas opinion but, unlike answers to exam questions from my long-suffering undergraduates, answers to questions are often oblique.

Not being able to pay is fair enough and no doubt very real for many people all around the world.

Paying more not solving anything did not really answer the question by making the assumption that it was not possible to pay for security. Bit of a dodge I think and quite common I suspect in our thinking. We jump onto the polemic in order to avoid searching ourselves for what we truly think.

The ‘we already pay’ because our production system is riddled with externalities, also didn’t really answer the question.

I guess all I was asking is if we would pay to be secure, pay more for our current food to know that we would always have enough food in the future.

So far the answer seems to be either ‘no’ or ‘not something I want to answer thanks’. This I find both curious and just a little disturbing.

It’s not my fault

Every man and his dog has written an ebook and not even those by the dogs sell all that well. So rather than let one of mine languish in the vaults of Smashwords, here is a chapter from Environmental Issues for Real for your reading pleasure.

Chapter 11

Environmental Issues For Real

It’s not my fault

“I am a weapon of massive consumption. It’s not my fault it’s how I’m programmed to function.”

The wonderful Lilly Allen wrote this profound lyric in her song The Fear and it sums up our situation perfectly. This is our way and always has been. We have been successful because at our core we are driven to more making and we cannot help it. It should be no surprise that over time western society has shunned Dickensian poverty and the conservatism of the Victorians for a more generous way of life. We aspire to live like kings, always have and always will.

Innately we are fearful of lack and this explains our conservatism, but we also believe that there is plenty. We default to the notion that even if it is tough now, tomorrow will be much better and good for making hay.

An observation made by a friend of mine who recently retired from a distinguished career as a public servant in agricultural policy gave me pause. After observing the agricultural community in Australia for several decades his comment was that farmers take up practices that improve productivity and sustainability only when times are good. When it’s tough they just do what it takes to stay viable.

One implication of this logical and insightful observation is that future food production is dependent on how well farmers are doing now, in the immediate.

Another is that sustainability is a challenge. Frugality is a learned response for times of hardship and we don’t like it. Despite our best intentions we don’t show restraint naturally.

This collection of essays on environmental issues with their peculiar takes on what we understand by environmentalism came together because we are missing something.

Our debate has been about how the environment is hurting, that we are to blame and only we can do something about it. Only the environment does not hurt, it just responds. Evolution has come about in spite of all the disturbances, atmospheric upheavals and changing climate. And evolution will be ongoing with or without us and the environment will always be there doing its thing.

Real environmental issues are about us. They are about how we will cope with the notion that perhaps we are reaching the limit, that unlike the experience of our ancestors, today, here, there is not a new fertile valley to exploit just across the next ridge, because today that valley already has people in it.

Of course we have been told about all the environmental issues many times. The natural wonders of the world have come into our lounge rooms to inspire us. Vocal advocates for the environment have shouted at us for our excesses. We are even being forced to dip into our pockets to pay for the hidden cost of resource use (what the economists call externalities) through a carbon price. So we know all about the issues.

What we are missing is the awareness of this reality. We have chosen to ignore the consequences of our success.

Fortunately awareness is just a yoga class or two away. But that is another story.

Confused Confucius questions | #1 In the beginning

confused confucius questionsSocial media is a great tool to explore the wonders of human nature.

As billions of smartphones, pads and tablets beep or jingle to alert the world to a new message so each owner in a reflex action picks up and responds. It is now so natural to comment, post and message that nobody even thinks about it.

What has amazed me is how liberated our online talk is, far more so than if we were chatting in the pub or over the cooler in the office. We have no qualms at all about saying what we think online, and usually it is the first thing that comes into our heads.

This growing fondness for telling the ether our deepest thoughts and feelings creates a whole new opportunity for cheeky folk like myself to prod and provoke a reaction.

As an experiment in testing this ability of people to bare their souls via a digital device, I started asking some random questions on the online articles platform HubPages where there is an alloporus profile with a few articles.

Rather than the usual “How to” and “What is” type questions, I settled for the “Why do we” type under the tag

Confucius confusions | Do you have any answers to this modern question that would have baffled the wisest sages of old?

The first observation was that this particular online community seems to view questions and then write answers more than they read articles. I received more views of questions in a week that I have for my articles in 6 months. Not surprising though considering the audience is primarily would be writers who like to voice their opinion.

The next thing that struck me was the topics that get people excited. So far the most viewed questions are

Why is elegance so rare?

Why are business suits dark?

The more tax you pay the more money you earn, so why are we obsessed with paying less tax?

Why do we take so many photographs?

These ‘random’ questions with no real bearing on anything seem to fire people up. Many write short essays to get their message across. And maybe this is a good thing. Since it is now far too expensive to go and have a chat in the pub every night, maybe we can get into discussion online.

Not all questions get people going and alloporus will monitor the questions that drift away into the ether without a spark as closely as the ones that get noticed.

So far most questions were asked under the category ‘Religion and Philosophy’ so as to suggest they were thoughtful rather than deliberately controversial. The interesting thing though was how passionate people can be over these random questions. What seems to happen is that answering allows feelings to flow.

So far any overtly environmental questions seem to get only a fraction of the views of the esoteric conundrums and only an occasional answer. This is bad news for this wannabe best-selling author who writes about the travails of the dance between humans and the environment. Clearly the topic is not often on our minds.

More to come on this exploration of human awareness.

Once in a lifetime

Cyclone_Yasi_QueenslandIf you play sport then one day you will achieve your lifetime personal best.

You will catch a 3 kg bream, swim 400m in 5 minutes, make 122 not out on a green wicket or score 34 goals in the season. Every sporty person has their personal best, the one they talk about modestly to their grandkids and boast about after a few beers with mates.

It is also true that in your lifetime you will witness your hottest, wettest and coldest day, and your biggest storm.

Now that most of us go beyond the three score years and 10, there are upwards of 25,000 days for us to experience extremes.

Hurricane Sandy was devastating, as was Katrina, events that should only occur once in a lifetime and preferably not at all.

Sandy was a confluence of events, each one quite severe but devastating together, yet it happened. And we know that that equally perfect storm has happened before in previous lifetimes and will again in our children’s lifetime.

Even events that skip a generation or two and occur on average every 100 years are possible. The rank amateur can fluke a hole in one and have his day.

Given time Sandy will be followed by Samantha, Sybil and Susan. And she was preceded by literally thousands of equally severe storms in times past witnessed by settlers, indigenous peoples and before them, various species of now extinct megafauna.

The difference was there were no subways to flood, houses on wooden piers to collapse and substations to explode.

If we understood this fully then we would not blame Sandy or her sisters even if climate change means they happen more often that they did before.

We would realize what we have changed. We are present to witness and put flimsy things in the way of the storms.

We happen to be around for that meteorological PB.

After Katrina, and again after Sandy, there was much courageous talk of rebuilding clearing up and starting it over — inspiring stuff from leaders who know how to tap into the spirit humans have that makes them feel good even in hard times.

So the flooding will be drained and cleared up, the millions of dead rats ground up for fertilizer, the house rebuilt in readiness for Samantha and Shona. Although I suspect not built with too much more care than before.

This is what humans do. It is as innate as any cravings for salt and sugar. We will get to work, repeat what we did before and complain that it wasn’t our fault. So be it, it is our endless love affair with risk and opportunity

Some families will witness tragedy and have to mourn the loss of loved ones and of property, but society will shake off Sandy, even use her as a motivator and fiscal stimulus.

And later, remember her as that once in a lifetime storm.

Biodiversity | Google Trends #2

Ever since the heady days of the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when we came up with the Convention on Biological Diversity I have had this feeling that we had invented a fad.

For a while though I could push that niggle aside as the new term biodiversity entered our lexicon and the sound bites of politicians.

Books on biodiversity were written for the populace and texts for students. I even got hired to develop an undergraduate course in this new subject. That it was just a logical amalgam of ecology, evolution and conservation biology was no matter — this was a great new hook to catch the awareness and maybe persuade people to do something about what was happening to the natural world under the increasing weight of human numbers.

Not too many politicians talk about it anymore, at least not to the press. There are a few stalwarts, notably in the conservation NGOs, who still hold a candle for it and a residual trickle of public funding goes toward environmental interventions with a biodiversity theme. Mostly though we seem to be back where we started talking about conservation and preservation of endangered species.

So am I correct in this hunch? Have we really forgotten about biodiversity?

Here is what Google Trends has to say about the popularity of the word in searches from 2004 to present relative to the peak search volume that happened in October 2004.

GTBiodiversityJan2013

Well it would appear I was at least partially right.

Peak search volume was at the start of the data run in 2004 to be followed by a steady and consistent decline through the rest of the noughties.

In the current decade we are running at an average of 47% of that 2004 peak.

It is a pity that we don’t know how much search activity the 1992 Rio Earth Summit might have generated [1998 was Google’s first official year]. In fact the steady increase in overall search volume makes that 47% more measly given that todays daily total search volume is more than 7x that of 2004.

Biodiversity may not have disappeared as a search term but it has waned.

As usual Google trends tells us that we can easily put aside any challenging or technical issues in order to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations and we are also not too worried about them when school is out for the northern summer.

The Rio+20 Earth Summit came and went without much fanfare last year. It prompted a bit of a spike in searches but not enough to catch up with those 2004 scores. It does not seem that biodiversity got a fillip from Rio+20 as any pickup was short-lived — maybe because they called it the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Climate change | Google Trends #1

You have to hand it to Google. They are just all over business development. They have found something that everyone needs, perfected it quickly and delivered it so effectively that nobody else can hope to compete.

Then whilst they continue to improve the core offering they find a great way to make money without most of their customers even realizing it.

Not resting on this success they invest in both the core offering and start to add bells and whistles. At some point along the way they get big enough and powerful enough from unprecedented popularity to start changing and then setting the rules [it used to be that a Panda was just an endangered species].

One of the many bells is Google Trends, a neat tool that spits out data on search behavior for a key word from 2004 to present.

Here is a graphic of what Google trends says about the keyword ‘climate change’

 

GTClimateChange

 

The numbers here are all proportional to the peak of search activity over the period — in this case the peak searching occurred in December 2009. So low numbers represent less interest in the term relative to the peak and trends in the data show if the term is growing or waning in popularity. It is also possible to pick seasonality or specific events that trigger a spike or trend in search activity.

What can we say about climate change?

On the graphic I have added a few select events, particularly the various UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) that have been an end of year staple for a few years now

We didn’t really bother too much about it until An Inconvenient Truth tweaked our curiosity in 2006. Then we got really excited around the time of the COP in Copenhagen when then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was calling climate change ‘the greatest moral challenge of our age’.

And what has happened since those heady days? Well, we have had three more COPs in Cancun, Durban and Doha with progressively more pathetic efforts at tackling the greatest moral challenge, accompanied by a downward trend towards pre-Al Gore levels of interest in the topic.

In a few more years we will have forgotten about it altogether.

Trends also suggests that regional interest in the topic now comes exclusively from the developing world with 8 of the top 10 countries by search volume from Africa. Only these are the places with the least resources to do anything about it.

Stats can also be a hoot. You’ll notice that after each COP there is a trough in search volume as everyone in the northern hemisphere tucks into their Christmas turkey and a regular annual dip in traffic in the northern hemisphere summer when its warmest!

No doubt that many equally critical challenges await and will trend upwards to their moment in the spotlight only to fall away again. Such is that nature of our attention span. It would just be nice if things went away because they were fixed.

On the upside, thanks Google for what will be endless hours of statistical fun.