Saturday, 26 October 2013

‘Time’ is right

Today, Time is coming to a conclusion that I have done for a long time, although I do so in a very different manner from conventional wisdom. The magazine cites data from the science journal Nature that does a though experiment in which people were asked to invest money into a “climate account” whereby of they gave half their money to climate change advertisements, they were considered successful and were given more money.

What Time found, not to their own surprise, was that
“the more delayed the payout was, the less likely the experimental groups would put enough money away to meet the goal to stop climate change”
This certainly suggests people, even in those nations with the best environmental record (which corresponds practically perfectly to nations with least need therefor) are not willing to accept the short-term costs necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In countries like Australia and Southern Africa, such is obvious: dealing with climate change has serious costs for ordinary families:
  1. higher housing costs are an inevitable result of a rigid target for a carbon-neutral Australia
  2. privacy loss from having to make every journey on a crowded or semi-crowded bus instead of the privacy of a 4x4
  3. not having the choice to use the cheapest, but most polluting forms of energy or even of building materials for housing
  4. having to pay higher taxes to completely reverse eighty-five years of car-based transport policies
  5. having to revegetate farmland to return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would mean higher food prices owing to the exceptional comparative advantage Australia has in agriculture (despite its extreme un-sustainability)
One might think the sacrifices required in energy- and land-poor nations of Eurasia, North and South America, New Zealand and most small islands would be much less. This, however, is misleading.

In the scheme of combatting climate change, the role of these nations (where in a free market energy consumption is restricted by the necessity for high-density and low-energy development) is not to develop renewable energy, but to enforce its development on Australia and Southern Africa. These latter nations have much higher per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, yet exceptionally fragile ecosystems due to their exceedingly ancient soils and low rainfall. It is extremely plausible that transition to a carbon-neutral economy in Eurasia and the Americas will be offset completely by increased Australian and South African emissions, and the environmental cost will be unquestionably greater than the same emissions from the Enriched World.

The job of the Enriched and Tropical Worlds is to stop the Unenriched World from exporting carbon emissions and pollution. Doing this will mean recognising how the Unenriched World, with its mineral wealth and comparative advantage in agriculture, has in the long term an unrivalled ability to pay for these costs – not to mention responsibility. Doing this will take away a large proportion of already-stressed government budgets from the Enriched and Tropical Worlds, which would mean:
  1. much less if any public welfare
  2. lower wages without wage regulations (which cost money)
  3. few or no goods from the Unenriched World (as it has to clean up its act on greenhouse emissions)
  4. more expensive finished goods as the Unenriched World’s raw materials are less available
  5. harder work for many people without welfare
However, a concerted plan to attack the source of the global climate crisis – the “Deep South” of Australia, Southern Africa and perhaps the Middle Eastern oil states – is the only way out. The absence of natural internal regulations in the Unenriched World means external regulation by demanding that external costs be paid 100 percent is the only way long-term global improvement can be made.

Friday, 11 October 2013

An unexpected shock from the cheap and nasty land

Although I had worried from my trip to Braeside described in an earlier post from a couple of weeks ago, the last three days have been traumatic beyond my belief.

The fact that I had carried my bike up a creek whose cleanliness I always doubted was a worry to me from the time I found the exit to Boundary Road. I was worried that the mechanisms had dirt but cleaned only the panniers (which were so dirty I had to clean them fully twice for improvement) and rode the bike as it was for some time. However, after a while noise in the rear wheel became so bad as to worry me severely, so that a week ago, thinking it was merely loss of lubricant, I decided to lubricate it to see if the noise would go. From the time I sprayed the oil, I knew something was wrong, but I never suspected just how bad. On Sunday, I decided I would take the bike to BSC Bikes to see what was wrong. I thought it would be a minor repair, but at first I found it would have to be new ball bearings on the pedal which would cost ninety dollars, then an oil change in the rear gear system for sixty dollars.

When I came in on Wednesday with clean panniers, I was expecting a finished bike but suffered one of the rudest shocks of my life. I was told that the rear gear system had rusted beyond repair, and on my request I was shown how badly it was damaged. I was amazed to still see the water in the gear train three weeks afterwards! I was told that there was an option of an eight-speed replacement wheel could be installed because the original seven-speed one was out of stock for four hundred and thirty dollars. I hesitated about accepting because the braking mechanism worried me: it involved pushing back to brake rather than the handle brake on my previous bikes. Consequently, I spoke to my mother about and looked for a new bicycle, though I live in fear I will make a similar mistake again and ruin bicycle after bicycle.

Two days spent - at least in the afternoons - in bike stores have clouded the problem even more. Even a little experience with a back-pedalling brake did not allieviate my fears at a time when I am desperate to have a bike at a cheap cost. It is a pity that I cannot either test it thoroughly to be sure it can work on my present bike, and a bike shop further south down Brunswick Street was really stern that there is no way I could make the necessary test at any store, and that a rental so I could have a bike whilst waiting the three months BSC Bikes had said a replacement gear train would take is virtually impossible. Moreover, I have no wish to live three months without a bike although I could save thousands of dollars compared to a new bike, which is almost certain to develop the same problems. The trouble is that Australia has such poor service that one often does not know when the item will come, whereas I imagine in Eurasia and the Americas this “three-month” wait would be so fast the replacement geartrain would have come to me today if it had been ordered on Wednesday!

Although I have found a few possible bikes at the upper end of my price limit, I am still worried about spending the money and realise decent service would eliminate the need. More than that, proper warranty I have always dreamed would ensure immediate replacement even when - as in this case - the damage is one hundred percent my own fault for never servicing the bike. Still, maybe even routine service would be in the long term far cheaper than the “shoestring” maintenance policy I have stuck to over the past two years! On the other hand, I always imagine superlative quality would ensure that this damage could be withstood with perfect ease, as well as that Australia’s apolitical, ultraconservative populace ensures shoddy quality is the order of every day.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Two fallacious plans

Over the past week, I found a plan that set about what is required to "halve" global greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, comparing a number of scenarios for various regions of the globe. Today, I found another, more critical plan that aimed to achieve the same goal regarding the aversion of global warming.

Of the two, the first is greatly more detailed and easier to commend because it focuses on a wider range of nations than the second, which looks only at China, India, the United States and Russia. However, the reality is that those nations are an extremely limited threat compared to Australia, for reasons I will tabulate below:
Country Area of non-cryospheric
land under 11˚ slope
Population Density CO2 emissions per capita Median virgin soil available P Median coastal
animal plankton density
Species richness (vascular plants) Species endemism (plants and vertebrates)
China 700,000 km2 1,200,000,000 1,714 7,200 kg 0.015% 1,000 mgm-3 31,000 25%
India 2,200,000 km2 1,050,000,000 477.5 1,610 kg 0.0075% 750 mgm-3 20,000 30%
USA 2,000,000 km2 300,000,000 150.0 14,000 kg 0.0075% 500 mgm-3 18,000 10%
Russia 2,000,000 km2 131,000,000 65.5 9,000 kg 0.01% 750 mgm-3 10,000 under 5%
Australia 7,400,000 km2 22,000,000 2.9 28,000 kg 0.0003 % 75 mgm-3 15,000 80%
Note: All values are approximate but should give an idea of how radically different ecological standards in Australia need to be
The table above should show very clearly the problems a focus on China, Russia, India and the United States is.

Firstly, their supply of land relative to population is small (Russia) to tiny (China), which creates incentives for efficiency in land use. Efficiency in land use via high-density development encourages low emissions since public transport can be more viable economically due to the high cost of road space.

Secondly, this limited supply of land makes it possible for a free market to effectively conserve resources, since most of the land in China, Russia, India and the United States is too steep or too icy to be used for farming or housing. This creates a natural system of conservation reserves without government interference. It is potentially superior to government-based systems, since governments may have a short-term focus on extracting resources from wildlife areas (e.g. timber, animal products) that a private owner would not.

Thirdly, the very high fertility of their soils and oceans means environmental destruction is repairable, because soil replenishment is continuous and vegetation grows relatively rapidly.

In Australia, by comparison, the last soil replenishment was 300 million years ago, so that if the fragile soil structure is destroyed by cropping it cannot replace itself. Australia’s vegetation also cannot grow rapidly on soils with negligible concentrations of P and chalcophile nutrients. Nonetheless, the extremely abundant land supply in Australia encourages exactly those land uses most likely to cause soil loss. Even with low yields, the supply of land is such that mechanised farmers can make profits unattainable in countries with expensive land. As input level increases, the ratio of yield from the Unenriched to that from the Enriched World increases, so the benefit of higher yields in the latter declines to insignificance. The next step in a free market - a step not taken because of its non-acceptance by the Enriched World’s masses - would be for farmers from the Enriched World to abandon farming and have the land converted to housing which would logically cause even more expansion of non-renewable farmland in Australia and Africa, with consequences that are likely to be severe because of the inherent unsuitability of their soils for exotic crops.

Also, for both economic and political reasons, there is no incentive in Australia to be energy-efficient. Rather, the incentive is to find the lowest-cost living possible, which tend to be exceedingly backward in energy-efficient practices (such as with the frequent use of 4x4s, expansion of coal-fired power, and extremely poor housing insulation leading to very high use of energy-guzzling air conditioners).

Lastly, of course is fertility and population growth. Whereas Russia, China and India are affected by lowest-low fertility, Australia has near-replacement fertility and Liberal policies are likely to increase it, especially if they “take the plunge” with welfare cuts that in the Enriched World would have them overthrown by revolution.

For all these reasons, along with the results of September’s election, there is no doubt that focusing only on the four “major” emitters is equivalent to a do-nothing policy. Australia must be a key part of all greenhouse negotiations and singled out for its extremely high per capita emissions if any hope of progress is to come.

The new criminals of the Tropical World

Today, despairing news that rhinoceroses will be extinct by 2022 (in eight years) if current poaching rates continue is saddening but revealing.

The article reveals how the demand for rhinoceros horn is coming from a small group of nations in tropical and subtropical Asia which are regarded as newly industrialising: Vietnam, Thailand, China and Taiwan. In all these nations, rhinoceros poachers maintain very strong connections with governments and as these nations become richer, rhinoceros horn has become a symbol of the “nouvelle riche”who are growing in number even with below-replacement fertility. Its symbolic status is probably be increased by the fact that Thailand and more recently Vietnam once had rhinoceros populations of their own, so that previous generations could have used rhinoceros parts before African horn was ever shipped to Asia.

The business skill of East Asians means that the number of rich could grow very rapidly in the future. Whether or not there is a poor underclass there is the likelihood the rest of East Asia's populace will envy them enough to wish for it themselves rather than understand the fragility of African ecosystems. Notably, the megafauna of East Africa serve to raise the rainfall at which soil fertility peaks from 800 millimetres (32 inches) up to 1200 millimetres (47 inches). If rhinoceroses go extinct this extinction could affect the potential numbers of other species.

In a sense, the problem with rhinoceros poaching is similar to the lenience with which the Enriched World treats Australia's and South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions, inasmuch as solving both problems is dependent on a change of ways from politicians in the rest of the world.

Compared to its greenhouse gas emissions, however, wildlife poaching in the Unenriched World is easier to stop because its source is completely external: there is essentially no local demand for rhinoceros products in South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana or Namibia. Thus, if we isolate those nations buying rhinoceros horn, there is some hope that the problem could be stopped. However, as with the Unenriched World's ecological record, what to do to make rhino horn importers change their ways is another question: it could so easily create more problems.