Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More clearways mean yet more cars

So Premier John Brumby has just decided that the solution to Melbourne's traffic congestion is to further extend clearway times across inner Melbourne.

If there is a war between transport options in Melbourne, then the car is winning hands down. In addition to spending spending a vast proportion of our transport dollars on roads and freeways, we are now reducing amenity in urban streets in favour of yet more traffic.

Melbourne has been rated several times as having "high liveability". I think that more roads filled with more cars for longer periods will detract from this.

Melbourne is faced with transport problems, not traffic problems. Unfortunately the Brumby Government and its predecessors just don't get it. Without viable options such as public transport and safe cycling, people are forced to use their cars for commuting and shopping.

More people and more cars means more congestion. While this seems simple, unfortunately the roads lobby seems to have completely captured the government agenda.

How about a referendum on transport options, including new rail lines and upgrading existing ones, instead of just spending billions on freeways and roads?

No significant new urban railways have been built in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line in 1930. Not one.

Emissions from cars and trucks are a major contributor to climate change - it is high time that steps were taken to reduce our reliance on them for routine transport.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Record petrol prices, when do we hit $5 per litre?

Yesterday in Melbourne, petrol prices hit an all time high of $1.55 per litre, with some motoring groups voicing concerns that the price could reach $1.60 per litre and that "petrol stations were 'pushing the envelope too much' by charging such high prices" and that "new prices reflected the industry's agenda to keep pushing up fuel prices".

While there is some possibility that oil companies and petrol stations can raise their prices without warning in an opportunistic manner, I think it must now be obvious that the basic supply and demand law of economics is the real concern here.

The world demand for oil now exceeds supply, the phenomenon known as "peak oil". So the price is going up.

As oil supplies dwindle and demand continues to increase (e.g. from China, India and other growing economies) then the price will continue to rise.

How high? Well, I can imagine that $2.00 per litre could be reached by the end of 2009, and a $5.00 per litre is possible by 2012. When will it reach $10.00 a litre, perhaps by 2020.

In Europe (e.g. Norway and Italy), the price is over $2.20 per litre already. In the United States, where Hummers and 8 litre V8s are still bought, the price is currently $0.70 per litre.

Petrol 9(and other fossil fuel) price rises will have dramatic effect on our lifestyles and our economy. Fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel, LGP and CNG (which is more abundant) are used heavily for food growing, transport and distribution. Private cars using fossil fuels are used heavily for personal transport, often for simple commuting to and from work.

So the price of food and transport will rise dramatically in coming years unless governments take action to put policies in place to shift towards alternative renewable energy sources for food production and transport and indeed to fabric of our society.

Unfortunately the current state of play in Australia is not good, as per the following:
  • Freeways and roads are being built rather than rail and cycling infrastructure
  • CNG is being shipped overseas rather than used locally, and no effective CNG refuelling infrastructure is in place
  • Many thousands of trucks (mostly diesel) are used daily for goods and food transport, including thousands doing routine trips such as along the Melbourne Sydney route
  • Their is no significant low emissions and/or hybrid car manufacturing in Australia; the Ford and General Motors plants are still focussed on building six and eight cylinder cars (such as the new GM ute for export to the United States, and Governments are still buying them for their car fleets.
When will our politicians wake up from their fossil-fuel fugue? Hopefully before petrol reaches $5.00 per litre. They are elected to provide leadership on such matters, but currently they are not. Some, like Senator Kim Carr, are trying to get hybrids built in Australia, but he is a lone voice and he is not succeeding. And he drives a Ford Territory gas guzzler. Actions speak louder than words.

For the record, I drive a 1993 Mitusbishi 4WD van, which I bought as the 2.5 litre motor uses half the fuel of a comparable 6 cyclinder 4WD. I also ride my bike a lot.

Making green cars is a good option.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Plastic bags - a failure of style and substance

While the environmental impacts and statistics of plastic bag use in Australia don't seem to be controversial, it seems our political system in general and Environment Minister Peter Garrett in particular are incapable of doing anything about it.

It seems that our politicians have just pandered yet again to an industry that results in four billion bags are thrown away in Australia each year, many of which go to land fill and directly pollute our environment.

Industry "voluntary schemes" supposed to address this are manifestly inadequate - plastic bag use had ballooned by 40% last year under this approach.

For those waiting for Peter Garrett to "to do good things" now that he is a Labor government minister - I hope you aren't holding your breath. He has pledged to phase out plastic bag use by 2009 but is unable to do anything meaningful to achieve this.

In Victoria, the best Enviroment Minister Gavin Jennings can do is to introduce its own pilot study into a bag levy of 10 to 25 cents in partnership with major supermarket chains later this year.

We should take a lead from South Australia and go with a bag ban from January 2009. Failing that, we should put a tax on them of at least 50c per bag and let basic economics solve the problem.

My grandparents lived their entire life shopping with reusable string bags; we can too.


Friday, April 18, 2008

My submission to the Australia 2020 summit

I applied to attend the Australia 2020 summit but I was not selected. I thought it curious that Steve Bracks (ex Victorian Premier) and John Thwaites (ex Victorian Environment Minister) did get to go. Surely they have had ample time and opportunity to contribute to policy and outcomes during their terms of office?

I put a submission in just in time. You can view it here. I was a bit rushed to meet the deadline so it was not as detailed as I would have liked. I should have included a Treaty for indigenous Australians as a case in point.

I think the summit is a positive initiative, even if biased a bit towards "names and people of moderate to high profile". Just being able to make a submission was good too after years of dissembling by the Howard government.

However, the real challenge will be to put good ideas from the summit into action. If Kevin Rudd and the Labor government fails to do this then it will be a big disappointment to many who made submissions and attended.

Fingers crossed - let us hope they get their act together.

Australia 2020 submissions up at Larvatus Prodeo There’s over a thousand submissions on the sustainability topic alone.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is "clean coal" just a dirty lie?

""Clean coal" is a term coined by industry and government to describe as yet proven methods of burning coal for producing energy with reduced carbon emissions. The term is actually misleading as burning coal for energy will never result in zero emissions.

The term "clean coal" is also used interchangeable with "carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)".

The are numerous concerns about the use of this term, including:

  • CCS is not yet proven and there is a high risk that it will not actually be possible or viable
  • Carbon dioxide escaping from underground storage could be lethal
  • The United States government recently pulled its participation and funding from the clean coal/CCS pilot project called FutureGen.
  • Burying (sequestering) huge amounts of liquefied CO2 is unlikely to be possible, and keeping it there will be problematic
  • There will be high energy costs (and more emissions) to pump CO2 from sources such as power stations to locations where it may be stored.
  • It will be very expensive to develop and deploy - probably more expensive than proven renewable zero emission solutions such as wind, solar and geothermal energy within 5 to 10 years.
  • Much more coal will have to be burnt to power CCS (up to 30% more)
  • Cannot capture all emissions from a power station so that even if widely used greenhouse emissions would not fall or stabilise but actually continue to increase
  • It is highly unlikely CCS technology (if it works) will be able to be retrofitted to existing coal fired power stations - which should be decommissioned.
  • CCS, if it can be made viable, is likely to be unable to handle the volume of carbon emissions from coal. While CCS proponents often point out that carbon sequestration projects are already in operation, the largest in existence (Sleipner, in Norway) currently buries just 1 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of carbon dioxide. Victoria has 65 million tonnes of CO2 from stationery electricity alone and this figure is growing exponentially
  • CCS, if it can be made to work, won't be available for deployment earlier than 2020 (possibly even 2030) so it would be to late to reduce emissions over the next two decades - which is arguably now the critical period. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology interdisciplinary expert study on The Future of Coal envisages that coal with CCS may begin to make a contribution to emissions reductions around 2025. A similar result was obtained in an earlier assessment by the Australia Institute.
Policy implications
  • Government funding and effort expended on "clean coal" will detract from that for proven renewable energy technologies that are available now
  • The coal industry should be funding CCS, not the taxpayer
  • We need roadmap to exit from coal fired power, not go looking for reasons and excuses to keep burning it.
  • Government funding for CCS is actually just another subsidy to the already highly subsidised, private and highly profitable fossil fuel energy sector.
Some groups claiming to be "for the environment" such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Climate Institute have recently endorsed "clean coal" and "CCS" as viable options for addressing climate change and receiving government funding [link].

It is a concern that such groups are participating in industry and government spin which will hijack and confuse real action to address climate change, the end result of which could be catastrophic.

It is inappropriate for governments to fund and promote CCS as a viable solution for climate change that is on par with genuine zero emission renewable energy options such as wind and solar.

Note that CCS technology is viable and in use for separating and burying CO2 from natural gas at the Gorgon and other gas fields on the North-West Shelf. This is much more efficient than attempting to capture and store CO2 from burning coal, and the CO2 is pumped back into the same well the natural gas is extracted from.

Government funding should be immediately withdrawn from CCS research and development and redirected towards zero emission energy solutions, re-training programs for workers to move from polluting industries into sustainable, renewable energy projects and into carbon sink projects such as bio char (terra preta de indio)."

For more information and references see: Clean coal - Greenlivingpedia

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Eddingtion transport study promotes safe and convenient cycling

It is very encouraging that Sir Thomas Eddington’s transport study includes proposals for new cross city cycle links within inner Melbourne, and that he recommends that a whole of government approach to cycling policy and infrastructure be adopted (Age 7/4).

We need a Minister for Cycling to plan and work with local councils to complete both cross-city routes (the hub) and safer, more convenient urban commuter routes (the spokes).

As an example, cyclists wishing to commute from many of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs currently have to negotiate very busy roads, back streets or detour to the Gardiners Creek or Eastern Freeway bike paths when they travel to and from the central business district.

A safer more direct cycle link, possibly following the Box Hill railway line for sections, would encourage many more people to commute and make local trips by bicycle rather than take their car. This would ease road congestion and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions too.

This approach could be adopted for all Melbourne's existing railway lines too, where easements are available for bike paths.