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Australia Pumping Empty

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Australia Pumping Empty
Fuel rationing may be just one of a series of shocks facing drivers and commuters in Queensland, Australia. Looming oil shortages will produce the biggest change in society since the industrial revolution, Sustainability Minister Andrew McNamara warned yesterday.

To underscore his concerns, Mr McNamara will appear in a documentary film premiering May 20th in which he says the days when Queenslanders could “travel on a whim” in oil-powered vehicles are numbered. The documentary, ‘Australia Pumping Empty‘, argues southeast Queensland is squandering billions on road, bridge and tunnel projects on which few will be able to afford to travel.

A report by Mr McNamara for the Queensland State Cabinet on the impact of the fuel crisis is expected to include recommendations on rationing, the future of public and private transport and sustainable population issues. It has been ordered on the premise that there is overwhelming evidence world oil production will peak in under a decade. It is expected to recommend risk mitigation measures such as cuts in fuel consumption and encouraging the development and use of alternative fuels, technologies and strategies. It will also outline demographic and regional changes as Queenslanders change travel, work and living habits.

“I think people are going to be in for a shock when they find it’s too expensive to drive their cars to work and then, when they get down to the station, they find the train is full and they can’t get on board,” Mr McNamara said. He will recommend the State Government focuses urgently on ways to cut private-car use. “I cannot overstate this – we need to adopt a wartime mentality. We’re going to face a level of urgency that will require dramatic change.” Private car use is expected to trend towards hybrid vehicles and then to electric. “But will we have enough electricity generating capacity when everyone comes home and plugs their cars in to recharge?”

Mr McNamara said no government would want to introduce fuel rationing but it could not be ruled out. It might become an option as fuel supplies run down and prices rise to avoid a situation where only the rich can afford private transport. “We face the need for a whole new economy, from the way we generate power, to how we deliver water, to how we live”.

It’s good to see that someone, somewhere, is taking all this seriously.

‘Queensland’s vulnerability to rising oil prices’ – taskforce report April 2007


Written by Pete Smith

May 18, 2008 at 8:38 am

Oz Ideas

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2020 summit

Today, April 19th, Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has launched the Australia 2020 Summit, “an important initiative to harness the best ideas for building a modern Australia that is ready for the challenges of the 21st century”. 1000 expert invitees wll spend the weekend debating topics such as ‘Australia’s future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world’, ‘Future directions for the Australian economy’ and ‘Population, sustainability, climate change and water’. The complete set of topics can be found here, and a list of participants in each discussion stream can be found here (PDF 120K).

The Australian government’s objective was to enable policy-making to break out of the traditional electoral cycle, and for this they should be applauded, if only for trying. All Australians were invited to make submissions to the Summit as a way of contributing to the discussion. A gateway to the published suggestions is here, but don’t get too excited, it’s indexed in a very clumsy way so that only the author’s name is listed, and you can only search by publication name or ID. If you want to search by keyword to zoom in on a particular concept, you’ll be out of luck, which is a shame. The Guardian reports that some of the rejected ideas include crayfish dinners for all and jukeboxes for nursing homes.

Meanwhile, some disgruntled Aussies are reacting to what they see as the elitist nature of the Summit by setting up their own alternative forums. Stephen Collins and Laurel Papworth initiated a 2020 Summit blog. Tangler created a 2020 Summit forum. Jim Rettew has created a Wiki called Oz Ideas. Jim writes:

“Kevin Rudd is inviting 1000 “experts” for the Australia 2020 Summit to come up with Australia’s next big idea. For the rest of the 20,699,000 people in Oz, here’s our forum to list and vote on the best ideas to improve Australia.

“It’s free. It can be anonymous, and I’m not doing it to make money. I just think mothers, tradies, and bloggers probably have better ideas for this country than the ‘experts’.”

Jim, I think you could well be right. All that’s lacking is a way of putting all those ideas into practice, and that’s where traditional power structures unfortunately get in the way.

Oz Ideas ‘Top ideas So Far’

Written by Pete Smith

April 19, 2008 at 5:17 pm

London Light Bulb ‘Amnesty’

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A flyer in my weekend paper announces that Londoners are to be offered the chance to exchange two traditional light bulbs for two free energy efficient bulbs. From 11th-13th January, take your nasty old incandescent bulb along to any branch of B&Q and trade it in for a lovely new long-lasting, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL). While stocks last. This is a joint project between B&Q, British Gas and the Mayor of London. According to the Mayor’s web site, the initiative is a “stunt-led PR activity across the city, [involving] above the line marketing, promotional activity, point of sale information packs”. Its purpose is to “help raise awareness of the importance of using energy efficient lightbulbs”.

There are so many issues and unanswered questions raised by this it’s difficult to know where to start.

  • Presumably it’s OK to swap a dead bulb, we’re not told. But who keeps dead bulbs lying around just in case of a trade-in opportunity? It’s highly likely that the majority of people participating in this exercise will be presenting perfectly viable bulbs for exchange.
  • I never shop at B&Q. My nearest store is about 5 miles away, in an area I never go to. Taking part in the amnesty will require a round-trip of 10 miles.

All of which devalues the ‘freeness’ of the new bulbs. As for the whole idea of phasing out old bulbs, which underlies this initiative, don’t get me started. Oh, I have.

  • CFLs are not 100% satisfactory alternatives for incandescent bulbs. They’re subjectively dimmer and the light has a different quality, an effect that becomes more noticeable amongst older people as their eyesight deteriorates. CFLs are not suitable for activities such as reading, sewing or electronics. A 11 watt CFL is not equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent, despite what it says on the box. In practice, users will end up switching to 20 watt bulbs and even installing additional lights to compensate.
  • CFLs tend to be longer and heavier than old-style bulbs, so they often don’t fit existing light fittings. Ceiling roses may need to be ‘beefed up’, small lampshades may have to be replaced with larger ones.
  • As has been publicised recently, information on disposal is vague, inconsistent and unavailable. While the current health scare about the mercury content has been over-played, people still need to know that CFLs are different and need to be handled accordingly.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the use of CFLs where appropriate. I even have several installed in my house. I do not approve of the current blanket policy of phasing out and banning. I am planning to stockpile incandescent bulbs so that I can continue to find my way round the house in my old age.

Oh yes. Ken, that link on the flyer still doesn’t work, get it fixed.

8th January Update: At last Ken’s found someone to fix that link at
There are some interesting snippets of information in there. Good to see that someone agrees with me that CFLs are different.

For technical reasons, the glass used to house energy saving light bulbs has to be opaque – not totally transparent, so shouldn’t be directly compared to clear traditional bulbs.

Written by Pete Smith

January 6, 2008 at 4:18 pm

The Dis-United States

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Jericho flag

The second series of Jericho is scheduled to premiere on CBS on February 12th. The post-apocalyptic drama follows the progress of a small Kansas town as it struggles to come to terms with the destruction of 22 major US cities. Series 1 ended on a cliff-hanger with the people of Jericho defending themselves against an invasion by superior forces from the neighbouring town of New Bern. Series 2 picks up the story, as the battle is brought to a halt by the intervention of troops from the Allied States of America, a regional grouping of former western US states rising out of the chaos, one of several coalitions all claiming to be the legitimate government.

Just after Jericho began, I wondered whether it could be seen as an allegory of America’s geopolitical imagination; for the town, read the USA, hemmed in by terrorism and uncertainty; for the rest of the world, read, well, the rest of the world. Or look at it another way: is the post-attack world of resource shortages a parable for an imminent Peak Oil world?
“Jericho Deconstructed”
Things have moved on quite a bit in 18 months, in Jericho and in reality. It’s much harder to pull off a convincing portrayal of a united America. The wider world into which the folk of Jericho are being integrated, an America of competing factions and regional warlords, is a disturbing one. But is it so fanciful to see in it echoes of the America of George Bush’s final year? Perhaps we don’t need nuclear terrorism and millions of deaths to bring about the disintegration of the ‘United’ States.

Today, California and 15 other states have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Washington’s refusal to allow California’s request to implement stricter controls on motor vehicle emissions. Under the federal Clean Air Act, California is allowed to enact stricter air pollution laws than the federal government as long as the state is given a waiver from the EPA. Waivers have been routinely granted in roughly 50 cases during the last three decades, allowing the state to lead the way in catalytic converters, unleaded gasoline and other areas. Strangely, this refusal came on the same day that President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which features much less stringent emissions standards.
LA Times: “California sues government for rejecting bid to curb emissions”

The argument about whether this was a political decision or a scientific one continues to rage, and may well lead to a permanently weaker central government in Washington. Meanwhile, the Lakota Nation is voting with its feet, having declared its independence and renounced the 33 treaties that they claim have never been honoured by the United States. Will they be the first of many?
“Lakota withdraw from treaties, declare independence from U.S.”

Climate 101

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Un US flags pinQuestion 1

In 2003 the United States used the United Nations to legitimise its invasion of Iraq on the grounds of Iraq’s threat to global security.

(a) Discuss the proposition that the United States’ response to climate change poses as significant a threat to global security as Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”.

(b) Assess the practicality and effectiveness of the international community using the United Nations to enforce the United States’ acceptance of hard emissions targets.

Do not write on more than one side of the paper at once.

Greenwash: And The Winners Are…

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Last month The Coffee House drew your attention to the
Worst EU Lobbying and Greenwash Awards 2007.

The winners were announced at a festive awards ceremony in the Witloof Cellar in Brussels on 4 December 2007.

Winner of the Worst EU Lobbying Award 2007

BMW, Daimler and Porsche – nominated together in the worst EU lobbying category – gained more than 30% of the votes. Their joint lobbying offensive, designed to water-down and delay the mandatory CO2 emission reduction targets proposed by the Commission after voluntary targets were not met, was deemed to be the worst and most deceptive by voters across Europe.

Winner of the Worst EU Greenwash Award 2007

The special greenwash prize for the most audacious attempts to gain unjustifiable green credentials was awarded to the German Atomic Forum, which received more than a third of votes cast. It was nominated for its campaign aimed at improving the image of nuclear energy. Under the slogan “Germany’s unloved climate protectionists” it featured images of nuclear power plants placed in unpolluted and unspoilt natural environments.

More than 6600 people across Europe took part in the online poll, which frankly was more than I would have expected. For a breakdown of the votes cast, click this link and also this one. Don’t forget to vote next year.

Written by Pete Smith

December 7, 2007 at 9:13 am

Choking On Growth

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Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The New York Times has been running a series of in-depth articles ‘Choking For Growth’, exploring the extent of the pollution crisis in China. In the latest instalment, ‘Far From Beijing’s Reach, Officials Bend Energy Rules’, Howard W. French shows how China’s campaign to cut energy use is having little effect outside the capital.

When the Beijing government announced a nationwide energy reduction campaign two years ago, officials in the western Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region started work on creative schemes to evade the requirements.

Local officials were required to raise electricity prices to discourage the growth of large energy-consuming industries and to force the least efficient to close down Instead, fearing local economic impacts, the regional government brokered a special deal for the Qingtongxia Aluminum Group, which accounts roughly 10% of the region’s GDP. The company was removed from the national grid and supplied directly by the local company, exempting it from expensive fees and allowing it to continue to get its power at the lowest price.

Before the national energy consumption campaign began, Ningxia officials worked to get around environmental regulations that could hinder growth. In 2002 Beijing issued rules limiting the number of new coal-burning power plants, but Ningxia has built at least three that either did not have the required permission, or failed to meet new environmental standards.

Even after Beijing cancelled company exemptions to special consumption fees in 2004, the local government extended them for another year, obtaining huge savings for its metal industries. As recently as 2005, regional officials continued to argue that the exemptions should remain. Many of the region’s strategic metal working industries had been spared Beijing’s mandated price rises until as recently as this May, nearly two years after they were announced. “That favourable price wasn’t approved by the state. It was a regional policy”, said a company official. As French says in his article:

“The tug of war between localities and the central government also shows the limits of China’s ability to impose change on a vast, unruly country by edict, while exposing the weaknesses of a one-size-fits-all approach to reform in a country where regional economic disparities are rapidly growing.”

One could say much the same about the United States, where individual states are increasingly ploughing their own furrow at a local or regional level. The big difference is that US states are acting on their own initiative to exceed inadequate Washington environmental directives. In China, they’re busting a gut to avoid compliance with regulations that stand in the way of the drive for growth.

Written by Pete Smith

November 26, 2007 at 10:49 am