November 14, 2014

Tim Flannery

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Lee Kump:
We have made the natural world our laboratory, but the experiment is inadvertent and thus not designed to yield easily decipherable results …
There are unsettling indications that [the] models are underestimating rather than overestimating the climatic consequences of greenhouse gas build-up.
(Reducing Uncertainty about Carbon Dioxide As a Climate Driver, Nature 419, pp 188-90, 2002)

Yadowsun Boodhoo: President, World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology:
It is inconceivable that humankind, with all its noble achievements, its aspirations and goodwill, will stay indifferent to the cry of the climate community.
(World Meteorological Organization Bulletin, 2003)

Tim Flannery:
Under existing projections, just two countries — Canada and Russia — will reap 90% of the benefit that global warming brings to food crops, while other regions such as Africa and India will lose out heavily with only a small degree of warming.
(The Weather Makers, 2005, p 288)

The Weather Makers (2005)

Carbon Nation

[At] their most extreme, Milankovich’s [orbital] cycles bring an annual variation in the total amount of sunlight reaching Earth of less than one tenth of 1%.
Yet that seemingly trivial difference can cause Earth’s temperature to rise or fall by a whopping 5°C. …
(p 42)

As early as 1992 it was realised that … temperatures in Australia may rise as much as 5°C in response to a global increase of just 2°C.
(p 179)

For the first target period of the [Kyoto] treaty (2008–2012) the European Union has a carbon budget of 8% less than it emitted in 1990 …
Australia, on the other hand, has a budget of 8% greater than [baseline (108%).]
Only Iceland did better … with a 10% increase (110%) …

Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse emissions of any industrialised country — 25% higher than the US when all sources are accounted for — and Australia’s growth in emissions over the last decade has been faster than that of other OECD countries. …
Ninety% of Australia’s electricity is generated by burning coal [despite having] the world’s best geothermal province and a superabundance of high-quality wind and solar resources.
(p 225)

[At Kyoto, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics argued for special treatment on basis of the] MEGABARE economic model [which] predicted that Australia’s real gross national expenditure would fall by between one-quarter and one-half of 1% per annum if a European-style cut in emissions was implemented. …
[Documents obtained under Freedom of Information later revealed that the MEGABARE study] had been funded … by the Australian Aluminium Council, Rio Tinto, Mobil and other [fossil fuel interests,] all of whom had received a seat on the study’s steering committee.
(p 226)

Of all industries, the most vulnerable to a rise in the cost of electricity is the aluminium smelters. …
Australian households pay 12–20 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, while aluminium smelters pay around 2 cents, which means that a significant part of everyone else’s power bill is a direct subsidy payment to the smelters.
(p 230)

Given Kyoto’s manifest problems, it may seem best to tax carbon emissions at the smokestack, yet this simple and effective solution finds no favour in Australia or the US.
(p 231)

Eternal Summer

Fred Palmer, [formerly] head of Western Fuels (now company vice-president at Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer) [believed] that the Earth’s atmosphere ‘is deficient in carbon dioxide’, and that producing more would herald an age of eternal summer.
… Western Fuels wanted to lead the charge in creating a world with atmospheric CO2 of around 1000 parts per million [(equivalent to a 4°C rise in global average temperature).]

Palmer’s views were the basis for the propaganda video The Greening of Planet Earth, which cost a quarter of a million dollars to make, and which promoted the idea of ‘fertilising’ the world with CO2 to boost crop yields by 30 to 60%, thus bringing an end to world hunger. …
The Greening of Planet Earth was widely circulated in Washington in the lead up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and among those who saw it were [George H W] Bush and his chief of staff, John Sununu …
[Bush’s] energy secretary, James Watkins, cited it as a credible source in interviews about climate change.
(p 240)

With the election of George W Bush, the fossil fuel lobby became even more powerful …
Philip A Cooney, a Bush aide and an oil industry lobbyist fighting against the regulation of greenhouse gases, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors … had already approved. …
At the most recent count a dozen major reports on climate change have been altered, suppressed or dismissed by the White House, including … studies by the National Academy of Sciences …
In September 2002 the White House released the Environmental Protection Authority’s annual report with the entire section dealing with climate change deleted.
(p 241)

George Marshall:
[State of Fear is] by far the bestselling book yet written about climate change and includes dense technical appendices to prove that it is a concocted myth. …
[George W Bush] spent an hour chatting with [Michael] Crichton about the book in the Oval Office, after which, according to his chief of staff, they were in near-total agreement.
The novel was then presented as “scientific” evidence into a US Senate committee and Crichton gave briefings on climate change around the world at the invitation of the US State Department.
(Don't Even Think About It, Bloomsbury, 2014, p 108)

Here on Earth (2010)

Poisoning Children

Between 1932 and 1968 [the Chisso Corporation] dumped twenty-seven tonnes of mercury into [Minamata Bay in Japan].
Ironically, it was the villagers of Minamata who, in 1907, had persuaded the founders of the Chisso Corporation to establish their factory in the area.
They were poor fishermen, and the prospect of employment was a great attraction.

Fish are an important part of the diet of the people of Minamata. …
[By] the 1950s people were reporting numbness in their limbs, slurred speech and problems with their eyesight.
A few began to shout uncontrollably and were thought to have gone crazy [like Alice's Mad Hatter]. …
By 1959, doctors working for Chisso had established that mercury pollution from the factory was the cause …
(p 184)

The company responded with years of deceit, cover-ups and bullying.
[By the time] it stop polluting [in 1968] over ten thousand people, many of them children, had suffered severe, irreversible physical and mental damage. …

Astonishingly, around two-thirds of the mercury circulating in Earth's air and oceans … comes from the burning of fossil fuels, mostly coal.
Some coal is rich in mercury because coal is a natural sponge that absorbs many substances dissolved in groundwater, from uranium to cadmium and mercury.
When the coal is burned to provide steam for electricity production, these elements are released into the atmosphere, then blown by winds over the ocean, into which they eventually fall. …
Abandoned coalmines are another source of mercury, groundwater often accumulates in the mines, and then finds its way into creeks and rivers. …
(p 185)

Mercury remains in its elemental form while at the sunlit surface of the ocean.
But, aided by the same plankton and krill that absorb radioactive particles, it soon reaches the abyssal depths, and there it is transformed into a highly toxic form known as methyl mercury. …
Methyl mercury is dangerous because [it bio-accumulates] up the marine food chain, until the largest predators such as sharks and swordfish accumulate dangerous levels of mercury.
And what eats shark and swordfish?
The world's ultimate top predator and repository for anything that bio-accumulates: humans. …
(p 186)

Not all methyl mercury is created in the deep ocean.
Some forms in deep lakes and in landfills, wherein lie countless mercury-containing discarded batteries, fluorescent lights and other products. …

In the US, mercury levels are four times higher in fish-eaters (defined as those who have eaten three or more servings in the past thirty days) than others …
There may be as many as 4.7 million women with elevated levels of mercury, which puts 2,000 newborns at risk of mercury-related brain damage each year. …
(p 187)

Under the Obama administration, the EPA is moving to address this threat, and has said it will propose standards for coal fired power plants by 2011.
And [in 2009, the US endorsed] negotiations to finalise a global treaty on mercury. …

While most cadmium enters our bodies via our stomachs, it most efficiently absorbed via the lungs.
Tobacco plants accumulate cadmium in their leaves, which means that smoking is a major cause of high cadmium levels.
(p 188, emphasis added)

[Potential complications] include softening of bones (sometimes to the point where they fracture merely from the weight of the body), lung diseases and possibly cancer. …

Two, albeit, controversial studies [have shed light on possible] ramifications of lead poisoning in children …
(p 189)

A 2007 study across nine countries revealed a 'very strong' correlation between high lead levels in preschool children and subsequent crime rates, with murder showing a particularly strong correlation with the more severe cases of childhood lead poisoning. …
[And] a second study [of] twelve thousand children born in Oakland, California, between 1959 and 1966 … found that children exposed to high levels of lead in the womb were more than twice as likely to become schizophrenic. …

Lead, copper, silver and zinc have been mined and processed at Mount Isa in Queensland's Gulf Country for decades.
[In] 2005-06 alone an estimated
  • 400,000 kilograms of lead,
  • 470,000 kilograms of copper,
  • 4,800 kilograms of cadmium and
  • 520,000 kilograms of zinc
were released into the atmosphere.

Blood tests carried out in US laboratories on six-year-old Stella Hare, who lived in Mount Isa revealed dangerously high levels of lead and ten other metals in her blood.
She suffers learning and behavioural difficulties, and her family is now suing mining company Xstrata.
[Of another] four hundred children … tested by Queensland Health, forty-five [ie more than 10%] had lead levels above the dangerous threshold …
(p 190)

Some in the company [have argued that the lead] comes from natural sources.
Lead levels in soil in residential areas of Mount Isa are thirty-three times higher than federal limits, while lead in swimming holes near the town exceeds those limits several hundred times.
In a newspaper advertisement Xstrata claimed that '
[A] few simple steps related to hygiene and nutrition will ensure … lead levels remain below World Health Organization standards.
(p 191)

[If climate change is allowed to continue unabated, there is a real risk] of exterminating up to six out of every ten living species [by century's end]. …

[And while humanity is likely to survive as a species,] James Lovelock believes that nine out of every ten of us living this century will die from climate impacts, leaving a population of just a few hundred million [and destroying] our global civilisation.
(pp 198-9)

Adapting to Climate Change

[Humans] are one of the most genetically uniform [mammalian species;] there being more genetic diversity in a random sample of about [50] chimpanzees from west Africa than in all seven billion of us. …
[This human monoculture was caused by] a brush with extinction, known as a genetic bottleneck, [which] may have been [due to] the eruption of the Tambora volcano [70,000 years ago] in what is now Indonesia.
[It's estimated] that the average surface temperature of the Earth dropped by [2-3°C,] killing all but between [1,000 and 10,000] breeding pairs of humans. …

The glue that holds complex superorganisms together is not genetic, but social — yet it is enhanced by a sufficiently narrow genetic base to enable universal understanding.
(pp 122-3)

[Paradoxically,] while agricultural societies are powerful, they are composed almost entirely of incompetent individuals. …
This tendency towards civilised imbecility has left its physical mark on us ….
One study estimates that men have lost around 10%, and women 14% of their brain mass when compared to ice-age ancestors. …

If you doubt how far our civilisation has turned us into helpless, self-domesticated livestock, just look at the world around you. …
Does it seem to have lost its commonsense? …
[How] often does a visionary leader arise among us?
So few are truly wise that it seems a whole generation can pass without such a presence.
But of course it need not be so.
We can challenge ourselves — shed our complacency and love of ease — and so reinvigorate our shrivelled virtues.
That's what a well-rounded education is supposed to do, and even those with the most repetitive jobs can in their leisure hours expand their minds.
But while we sit in our air-conditioned homes and eat, drink and make merry like cattle in a feedlot without the slightest thought about the consequences of our consumption of water, food and energy, we only hasten the destruction — in the long term — of our kind.
(pp 125-7)