Category Archives: CANWin Climate Column

Articles first published in the CANWin Climate Column of the Southern Highlands News

The Prime Minister’s droughts

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 2 April 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

As the Prime Minister says, a cycle of drought and flooding rain is normal for Australia. Thirty years ago scientists worked out that the source of this natural cycle is not on land, but in the Pacific Ocean.

In a four-stage cycle called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), warmth and moisture move back and forth between Australia and the Americas.

Westerly winds skim off the warm surface layer of the sea, transport it westward and pile it up to the north of Australia. This warm surface layer evaporates, the source of our La Nina rains. Then eastward winds flow back across the Pacific towards central America, bringing rain to Peru and Ecuador but leaving Australasia in El Nino drought.

This cycle has been going on for centuries; it’s the normal drought regime. Well done Prime Minister!

FloodedPlaygroundSignsBut our times are not normal, and the sooner you learn the difference, the better it will be for all of us. Man-made greenhouse warming is disturbing the natural balance. If we don’t all take the present global warming trend seriously, man-made greenhouse warming will double the frequency of extreme droughts. Prime Minister, it’s time to listen to the experts.

The experts will tell you that the surface mixed layer in the eastern Pacific gains more heat from man-made fossil fuel emissions than the west, where evaporation has a net cooling effect. This means that extreme droughts (such as 1982-83) are likely to return every 10 years instead of every 20. That leaves the food sources of the nation with not enough time to recover from the last severe drought.

So Prime Minister, why are you so heavily subsidizing dirty coal-fired power stations when renewable alternatives are available? Why do you allow such industries to off-load the costs of their pollution to other industries and the populace at large? Where is the level playing field for electricity generation? Why do you expect people to bear the cost of profligate spending on poles and wires for outdated, grid-based, 19th century technology?”

How about taking care of your grand-children’s future rather than your own?

Will Steffen: Science Meets Action

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 5 March 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

At CANWin’s first Speaker Night for 2014 Professor Will Steffen, of the crowd-funded Climate Council, gave a lot of information and a powerful call to action:

To stabilise the climate at a manageable level, most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

The global carbon cycle

Professor Steffen showed that the carbon in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – was locked away under the ground for millions of years. Right up till about 1850, that locked carbon could not affect the climate. The remaining carbon cycled naturally through the “earth system” – air, soil, oceans, plants and animals – but the total amount of carbon in the system stayed pretty much the same.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, when humans started burning fossil fuels. That sets free the carbon that was safely locked away. We are overloading the natural carbon cycle, and the unintended result is that we are changing the world’s climate.

That’s why energy efficiency and renewable energy are critically important. It’s also one, maybe even bigger than the risk to water and food, of many reasons to oppose coal and gas mining. In Professor Steffen’s words:

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming and clear. It is beyond reasonable doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause.
We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of a changing climate, especially extreme events. The risks rise as climate shifts further.

Six things you can do

  • Learn as much as you can. CANWin’s website resources are one good starting point. Facebook can be an excellent source for breaking news. You’ll find free online courses at websites such as www.coursera.org. Spencer Weart’s excellent The Discovery of Global Warming is available as both a book and a website.
  • Connect with other people who understand that climate is critical. Local groups include CANWin, Lock the Gate, SHCAG, and Stop CSG Illawarra.
  • Just turn up to as many events as you can. Most events are publicised on Facebook, and the CANWin website has a calendar of local events.
  • Keep up those electricity, gas, and water saving habits. They really do help your wallet as well as the climate.
  • Switch to renewable energy or green power.
  • Support renewable energy projects, through organisations such as CANWin partner CORENA

Plus One

And a bonus action: Support the Climate Council. It’s one of Australia’s best sources of climate information that’s both understandable and reliable.

From the convenor: 2013 in review

A version of this article appeared in the CANWin Climate Column of the Southern Highland News, 18 December 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

KnowBetterDoBetterIt’s been a very active 2013 for CANWin (Climate Action Now Wingecarribee).

The main driver of our activities has been the Environment and Sustainability Information (EASI) centre, which opens each Thursday from 10am to 2pm at the CWA Rooms in Bowral. The centre has hosted roundtable discussions, soapbox sessions and presentations on topical climate challenges and potential solutions. Schools such as St Thomas Aquinas Primary and Bowral Primary School took part in several environmental plays. Up to 60 students participated in activities on key influencers of climate and weather at the centre.

Underlying our success this year has been the great cooperative actions that CANWin took in conjunction with our many partner organisations. This included the Sustainability team at Wingecarribee Shire Council on World Environment Day 4-9th June and again at the Schools Environment Day on 15th October.

Another successful event was the National Day of Climate Action on 17th November. CANWin worked in partnership with GetUp, Australian Youth Climate Coalition (aycc), Fire Brigade Employees Union, Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria, Greenpeace, 350 Australia and Oxfam, among others, in a day of action at Corbett Gardens.

As always, this year’s public speaker program aimed to cover both climate science and climate action. It included presentations from Dr Peter Stone from CSIRO on Coal Seam Gas benefits and Risks, Dr Blair Trewin from Bureau of Meteorology on What’s up with the Weather, and Michael Whitehouse on The Illawarra Flame Solar Decathlon Project.

We’re excited that our first guest speaker for 2014 is Professor Will Steffen, a member of the Australian Climate Council and principal author of the Critical Decade report. He’ll be speaking in Bowral on 14th February 2014.

CANWin would like to thank all of our partner organisations for their support during the year. We would particularly like to thank the Moss Vale00 and Bundanoon Community Gardens, Resilient Hearts, and the Community Exchange Southern Highlands (CESH) teams.

If you would like to learn more about CANWin or any of these community groups visit http://canwin.org.au/ or our Facebook site Southern Highlands Forever.

EASI will continue in 2014 with our first meeting planned for Thursday 30th January. We invite all Wingecarribee residents to drop in anytime, join the dialogue on the need for our community to urgently address the need for action on climate change.

Mike Meldrum, Convenor, CANWin

Climate is dead, extreme weather rules

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 4 December 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

There’s been some odd weather lately. Wonder what’s going on? It’s simple really.

The world is getting warmer because we are burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas. Burning them releases carbon into the air from its safe storage under the ground. Carbon in the air stops the Earth from shedding heat into space. More carbon in the air, more heat trapped around the Earth.

Cartoon climate denialist unfazed by the cold reality of climate changeThe trapped heat doesn’t affect every place the same way. Most of it is warming up the oceans and we can’t see that directly. But here in Australia the Bureau of Meteorology has recorded an average of 1°C increase over the last hundred years or so. At the north and south poles the increase is 2 or 3 times as much. This may not seem much but…

Climate is the long-term behaviour of weather. Weather varies in natural cycles and in some places more than others, but over time and around the world climate was stable for the past 10,000 years.

But today, because burning fossil fuels has disturbed the balance of nature, many things are changing
Some days all the little imbalances of nature add up to make it stinking hot and dry; great for bushfires. Sometimes they combine to cause sudden deluges, enormous hailstones, or massive cyclones that have killed thousands. Sometimes all the imbalances cancel each other out and the weather seems back to normal.

Remember the husband who had a leaky roof? In the rain it was too wet to fix; when the sun came out the roof didn’t need mending. Excuses, avoidance and denial don’t fix a problem. It takes action.

Climate will never be back to normal in our lifetime. Last September was the hottest on record, this year is the hottest on record in Australia. The global warming trend will continue, with huge, damaging fluctuations. These fluctuations will get worse. Look at the world’s weather, look at Australia’s weather!

We can’t prepare well for conditions we’ve never seen, but we can do something. We can reduce future climate change by moving to renewable energy and minimising our consumption of fossil fuels. This should be a national and international imperative.

But for the next thousand years climate is dead, extreme weather rules.

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib at Other Words. http://www.otherwords.org/

Too wet to picnic: National Day of Climate Action, Highlands style

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 20 November 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Photo Denis Wilson

Picknickers for Climate Action Photo Denis Wilson

Why did 60,000 Australians in more than 130 towns and cities join in rallies last Sunday to demand climate action? Why did some 250 people come to a National Day of Climate Action Picnic in Bowral on a day better suited to hot soup and a good movie?

Couple with bright beach umbrella

Heatwave colours brightened a decidedly cool day Photo Denis Wilson

Because they understand that the world must stop burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – for energy. Because they realise that destroying the climate won’t save the economy. Because they get that “There is No Planet B.”

And because they know they know that the good life doesn’t need fossil fuels. We can still build a better future, but to do it governments must get energy policy right and speed up the switch to renewable energy.

People arriving at the park entrance

Early arrivals on a damp, dark day Photo Angela Towndrow

The people who came to the damp picnic in Bowral are undaunted by the challenge of climate change, so it’s not surprising that they adapted easily to the unpicnic-like conditions.

Bob McInnes

Master of Ceremonies and master fiddler Bob McInnes Photo Denis Wilson

Musicians set up in the CWA hall instead of the rotunda and performed for a constantly moving crowd. MC Bob McInness managed to make himself heard by both the indoor crowd and those outside in the gardens.

Picnickers stood and talked instead of sitting and eating. One unscheduled speaker started a parade up Bong Bong Street. Another stressed that science follows all the evidence, even when it leads to conclusions we don’t like.

Anthony Ackroyd, in a heatwave hat

Anthony Ackroyd, in a heatwave hat

Special guest Anthony Ackroyd told some tales of his career as an impersonator of politicians. Meeting his subjects, he learnt that politicians are mostly charming people who want to do what’s right for the country. Those who doubt, or even deny, the science of climate change are probably not evil. “They’re just misguided,” Anthony said.

Good to know. Thanks Anthony.

About $200 was donated for Citizen’s Own Renewable Energy Network Australia Inc. (CORENA). CORENA uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects for community organisations. The loans are repaid from savings on electricity bills, and the repayments finance future projects so that the donated money is recycled. It’s people power powering people, far into the future.

Marchers gathering near the mall

Marshalling the marchers… maybe Photo Angela Towndrow

When the new government abolished the Climate Commission, thousands of people let their donations do the talking: within a week the Climate Commission returned as the crowd-funded Climate Council.

Last Sunday thousands of people rallied in support of strong climate action. They represent the majority: two out of three Australians believe that climate change is occurring. In the words of the 2013 Climate Institute report on Australian attitudes to climate change (PDF 2.4Mb):

Strong majorities recognise that doing nothing on climate change will increase the risks and that there are economic opportunities in acting in areas like renewable energy. Significantly, appreciation of the economic benefits and jobs associated with a strong renewable energy industry is not contingent on acceptance of climate change, or even that humans are responsible for it.

Turn Up the Heat

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.
Feel like a Sunday picnic? Looking for climate action?
CANWin is hosting a picnic for friends, families, and new acquaintances in Corbett Gardens on Sunday, 17 November, starting about 11am. BYO picnic, and prepare to have some fun. At the same time, you’ll show that we care about action on climate change, and that our community supports strong, meaningful climate action.
There’s one catch: this picnic has a dress code. We’re dressing like a heatwave. Hot colours such as reds, oranges, and pinks. Heatwave accessories like zinc cream, parasols, fans, shady hats… whatever you can think of that looks as if you’re coping with stinking hot weather.
There’ll be activities and entertainment, and some group photos to show off our heatwave attire. More details on the CANWin website and Facebook page as the day gets closer.
17November2013BillboardBy coming along to the Bowral picnic you’ll be taking part in the National Day of Climate Action. Our event is one of hundreds planned for regional towns across the country; more fun and family-friendly than the big rallies planned for capital cities, but just as important.
Group photos from these events will show off our heatwave attire and make the point, gently, that the world is getting too darned hot!
Two out of three Australians understand that climate change is happening now. That’s a big majority, yet our politicians still haven’t caught up. Global temperatures continue to rise, but it seems the only charts our leaders watch are charts of their own performance. We need to remind them that we are judging them on their effective action to reduce carbon emissions and protect a liveable climate.
The National Day of Climate Action is organised by GetUp!, with partners including Climate Action Network Australia, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union, the Australian Conservation Foundation, 350.org, and more.

Speaker event, Illawarra Flame project

IllawarraFlameHouseModelHousing is one area where examples of effective climate action are easy to find. The Illawarra Flame project to retro-fit a fibro home for low-carbon, low-cost comfort won a gold medal at the Solar Decathlon in China earlier this year.
Team member Michael Whitehouse will be speaking about the project at the Henrietta Rose Room on 22 November. Details in the Community Diary and on the CANWin website calendar.

Electric Communities

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Petition to fund community energy

Click the image for information about more Australian community energy projects

We’re used to thinking of electricity as big and centralised. It’s generated by a few big corporations that trade with each other through the big power network. We buy it from businesses that are so big they use computerised people to answer their phones.

But does electricity have to be big business? Not any more. Renewables can put power into the hands of communities.

Community power, or community energy, are general names for various ways that groups of people are pooling their resources (such as space, money, and skills) into shared renewable energy projects.

Hepburn Wind, near Daylesford in Victoria, is a high-profile Australian example, but community power doesn’t have to mean wind power. The new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour will include a rooftop community solar park. It will enable inner-city residents who are renters or who do not have the roof space to invest in the technology.

Community energy projects are under way in many Australian regions too. Close to home, Wagga Wagga City Council has agreed to provide their energy usage data and site access to establish whether there is a sound economic and environmental case for the Council to host a community-owned solar farm. Riverina Community Solar Farm aims to find up to five hosts for solar systems, and a group on the Central Coast is investigating solar and biogas options.

A clever way to help cash-strapped community groups go renewable is through CORENA, the Citizens Owned Renewable Energy Network. CORENA is a not-for-profit that uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects. Electricity sales and loan repayments from completed projects finance future projects, thus continuously recycling donated money. In their own words, CORENA “… is people power reaching far into the future”.

You can donate to small or large projects through the CORENA website at corenafund.org.au

Working out the financial and governance arrangements for community power takes significant effort. Most groups set themselves up as co-operatives, drawing on the century of experience developed by co-operatives in other fields. Information and help is also available from Embark Australia, a privately-funded not-for-profit that is “…working to shift the community energy sector into the mainstream, as a proven and financially viable model capable of attracting large-scale investment and growing to meet its full potential.”

For more information about community energy, see the websites of:
Embark
Climate Rescue of Wagga
Renew Economy

A Milder Moss Vale?

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology climate data search screenTwo signs of a warming climate are warmer night-time temperatures and milder winters. Are these signs visible in the Highlands?

One region, still less one town, can neither prove nor disprove that the climate of the whole Earth is warming. But a look into the detailed historical records for places we know can give a better idea of how much and what kind of data goes into weather and climate models. We can also see for ourselves some of the limitations and difficulties that scientists must deal with in order to extract useful information from raw data.

The Bureau of Meteorology website ( www.bom.gov.au ) provides weather and climate data to the public. You have to dig for it, but if you’re interested in weather and climate trends you can find a vast amount of information from this site.
For instance, there are Annual Potential Frost Maps that show where frost can form. A typical frost in the Wingecarribee area is ‘radiation’ frost, caused when the temperature drops below 2 degrees on a clear and windless night. Over the last 30 years the average number of frosts has gone down from 75 to 72 per year.

This does not mean that we will see the end of winter frosts any time soon, but the trend towards fewer frosts will continue.

You can also find temperature records from the Highlands weather stations. For example, for Moss Vale they show that from 2001 to 2013 the average minimum for June was 3.4C, and for July was 2.3C. By contrast, for the period from 1962 to 1975 the average minimum for June was 3.0C and for July was 1.0C. So it looks as if the Moss Vale winter has become a little milder (out of the wind anyway).

The June mean minimum has been quite high for four out of the last five years, which might indicate that winter is starting later.

Last June CANWin and Wingecarribee Council hosted a public talk by BoM climatologist Dr Blair Trewin, whose specialty is analysing long-term Australian rainfall and temperature records. You can find a report of his talk at https://canwin.org.au/entry/2013/06/24/whats-up-with-the-weather/