Please read this first...

If you want to know what I'm on about in the shortest time then please read the introductory first post and my current action plan. Comments are very welcome. And if you like this blog, please tell a friend. Thanks!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

New car

It's always a compromise when you replace an item with a more efficient one - some of the efficiency gains are lost by the embedded energy and other costs of producing the new item.

But anyway I've had my current car for nearly five years. It uses a lot of fuel. The official rating says it emits 274g of CO2 for each kilometre travelled.

I'm about to place an order for a new car. It's one of those small European turbo diesels and it's rated at 145g CO2/km. That's going to almost halve my vehicle emissions, and in light of oil production having already peaked it's going to be economically beneficial too.

Monday, 2 November 2009

My Copenhagen Letter to Dirty Kev

I used to battle depression over the climate crisis. These days I'm having more trouble with anger towards "the establishment". Obama makes me want to hope, but I'm terrified that he'll do a Kevin on the climate too.

There's just over a month to go before Copenhagen and activism is in top gear. I went to a local gathering last weekend and just now I took advantage of Greenpeace's Dirty Kev campaign to send a letter to the federal government. The form letter is nice, but I had more to say:

Above is a form letter which I support 100%. Personally I wish to also express my anger and disgust at the way your government has handled the greenhouse gas issue over the past two years. Your action has fallen appallingly short of the inspiring promises and uplifting rhetoric we heard in the months either side of the election.

Professor Garnaut gave you sound, realistic advice which you arrogantly (or is it fearfully?) discarded. Your proposed CPRS does almost exactly the opposite of what is required to make a meaningful, morally-justifiable contribution to protecting the climate for my children. Your renewable energy legislation actually undermines efforts to reduce our nation's use of fossil fuels.

My family, along with thousands of others around this country, is prepared to pay actual costs, suffer actual hardship and make actual sacrifices to help realise an actually sustainable future for humanity. And what a wonderful future it could be!

Please: have the guts to face up to the reality of this climate crisis. We need genuine leadership to inspire this country to make strong decisions as individuals and communities. We need:
- radical improvements in energy efficiency
- deep cuts to energy consumption
- rapid phase-out of coal power
- to stop wasting money on CCS
- real investment in appropriate cost-effective renewable energy
- an actual debate on nuclear options (Gen4 designs, especially thorium-powered ones, and yes I'd have one in my back yard in preference to coal)
- a national decision to get off our arses and do something worthwhile

In closing, it's only fair to also thank you for your investment in education and internet infrastructure. I am in absolute agreement that building a sustainable, prosperous future requires the best possible education culture and world-class information technology infrastructure. But it will all be futile if we fail to turn around the global GHG emissions trend and get back into safe territory (currently estimated to be sub-350ppm) in the next several decades.

If you have even a mild concern about the climate and global warming etc, please make yourself heard now. There are lots of ways you can express yourself - sending Dirty Kev a letter is quick and easy.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Low energy

To quote Tim Hollo on his Crikey blog:
"There’s a lot of burn-out in the climate movement right now. A lot of tired people, a lot of grumpy people. I know - I am one!"

It's really hard to maintain the intensity, especially in the face of the CPRS farce.

Looking ahead: day of action on October 24th, and the Copenhagen conference. I'm musing about a rebuttal to the conservative argument that's been prominent lately, ie that human influence couldn't possibly be changing the climate.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Quick one.

Somewhere in March we took up the State Government's ClimartSmart Home Service and had a power meter installed. I thought it wasn't reading very accurately because the figures it was showing recently seemed quite a bit lower than the trend I'd been tracking through the regular meters.

But I hadn't read the meters for about six weeks. Did it just now - and our consumption has dropped again, down to just 6.57kWh/day for the past 44 days.

Apart from the fridge needing a bit less power thanks to cooler weather (1.2 instead of 1.5) we think the biggest drop comes from stopping our 4-yo son from having a pedestal fan blowing on his face all night, which he became accustomed to over summer. He liked it on the fastest setting.

I'll have to plug it in and measure its power draw to see if the numbers are in the right ballpark.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Water efficiency has become a lifestyle

It's a significant day for my part of the world: for the first time in a hundred months our regional water storage capacity is above 50%. At its lowest in 2007 we had only 16.7% and the government was seriously considering the need to truck or ship drinking water in to sustain the roughly two million people in the immediate area.

Thankfully that worst-case scenario never eventuated, and there have been a number of rain events that have brought the levels up bit by bit. Most interesting, though, has been the success of water conservation programs.

Under the most severe restrictions residents were urged to target an average per-capita water use of 140 litres each day - an enormous reduction from previous norms of around 300. By the time dam levels rose to 40% in July last year, we had stayed below "Target 140" for 52 consecutive weeks. Consumption dropped to as low as 112 litres per person today in one week near the end of that period.

Reaching the 40% storage level was the trigger for easing of restrictions and the revision of our target to 170 instead of 140. And what do you suppose happened to our water consumption?

I've trawled through the weekly press releases to obtain the reported usage stats since Target 140 was introduced almost exactly two years ago and graphed them against the target at the time. Blue line shows water consumption per person per day against the red line which is the target in place at the time: 140 and 170 respectively. There are 66 weeks reported for Target 140 and 32 for Target 170, both with a couple of weeks gap over the New Year breaks.

Visually, you might think that with the relaxed restrictions our water use went up dramatically. But in fact, the averages for each target period are 131.8 and 138.3 respectively - still under 140 even with the higher target!

Very shortly we'll be operating under a Target 200 regime. It's my hope that Brisbane residents have taken the water conservation message to heart and will continue to keep their consumption well under the nominal targets.

Because despite all the good news, our State Government still wants to dam the Mary River and is building desalination plants that will be powered by burning coal.

Oh well, it's a start.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Stats update

It's the end of March, about to start a new calendar quarter, and a good time to review data for the quarter just ending.

Here's an interesting figure: our 1kW PV array has produced exactly half as much energy this quarter as our home has consumed. On average, the array produced 4.20kWh per day since the start of January while we consumed 8.40kWh per day. Just a coincidence - but a nice neat 50% figure nonetheless. Got me musing about the possibility of doubling the capacity and going off-grid.

On average, we exported 1.84kWh per day to the grid, which is just under half of the energy produced by the panels. Doing the sums, we must have imported just over 6kWh a day from the grid to meet our household demands.

The new fridge has been pretty steady at just under 1.5kWh per day, or 18% of our total needs. And the energy-guzzling computer my employer provided has been kept in check with an average daily consumption of 0.38kWh, or around 4% of our total. It has taken some very aggressive energy saving measures to achieve that, but I'm reasonably happy with that result.

Just one more factoid to close out the post. This week our PV array crossed the 1MWh line for total energy produced.

Earth Hour? Try Earth Lifestyle

Awareness is the first step, I suppose, towards effecting a change in behaviour. So I probably should keep my inclination to pooh-pooh the whole "Earth Hour" thing in check.

Suffice to say: the amount of energy saved by switching off lights for one hour a year is going to make no noticable difference to the Earth or our continued existence on it, and giving people the idea that caring for the Earth requires us to give up electric light could backfire badly.

I pretty much ignored Earth Hour last night. Continued playing chess with my daughter, listening to some music. Our household energy meter said we were using around 200W total power - though admittedly the meter is rather inaccurate at those low levels.

My point? Conserving energy needs to be a core value that drives behaviour each and every day, not a once-a-year stunt.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Thorium links

Here are a few links to video presentations about the promise of thorium-fuelled nuclear reactors. There's a bit of duplication but each has some unique aspects and they differ in style.

Joe Bonometti and Kirk Sorensen (Google Tech Talk via YouTube)
David LeBlanc (Google Tech Talk via YouTube)
Robert Hargraves (WMV video)

Oh, and look! Jim Hansen (a leading climate scientist from NASA) advocates the development of thorium reactor technologies in an open letter to his new President, Mr Obama.

What if the energy/climate crisis was solved?

The reality of Peak Oil is pretty much indisputable as far as I'm concerned. If we can't find an equivalent alternative energy source in a big hurry, there's no escaping that the world is going to change dramatically. That's the underlying premise of the Transition movement.

But what if we do come up with an alternative energy source? One which doesn't change the climate, which won't be as destructive to the landscape as coal mining, which doesn't require practically eternal waste management to avoid poisoning the biosphere, which is affordable and practical, and which can scale up fast enough to address the twin crises of Peak Oil and Global Warming?

It's an incredibly tall order. But I'm becoming increasingly hopeful about the possibility of one particular technology, which I've written about before: the thorium-fuelled molten salt fission reactor.

Environmentally-conscious people have an almost instinctive reaction against anything "nuclear", and I understand that. On the basis of long-lived radioactive waste alone I also agree with it, in respect to the current fleet of uranium-fuelled reactors. But the fact is that thorium-based reactors have been designed and even tested which don't suffer from any of the major drawbacks of uranium-based systems.

Features include:
- Abundant, stable, safe raw fuel (100% usable ore vs 0.7% usable from uranium)
- Passive reactor safety (cannot overheat, not pressurised, no complicated mechanical control system)
- Proliferation-resistant (in particular it produces no plutonium)
- Produces very small amounts of relatively short-lived waste (~300 years, certainly manageable)
- Can burn high-level waste from other reactors
- Simple enough to mass-produce in a factory and deliver on a truck
- Electricity probably cheaper than today's coal-based prices

It sounds so good, why wouldn't it have been done before? Well it actually was done before in the 60's and 70's, but the US at the time was more interested in creating plutonium for their weapons program. Hence the molten-salt reactor research program was shut down. Research has now restarted in eight or so countries, including the US, India, France and Japan. Incidentally, Australia has the world's largest reserves of thorium, followed by India.

There is a fairly real prospect of this kind of mass-produced, cheap, safe (enough) reactor technology being available within 15 or 20 years, with known fuel reserves sufficient to power humanity for several millennia.

So what if that came to pass?

Well... it would help. But it wouldn't be sufficient to solve the problems of over-population, destruction of ecosystems, resource depletion and so on. In some ways it could actually make them worse, by providing humanity with the means to continue on with its awful business as usual.

So even if we did solve the energy problem there'd still be plenty of reason to keep working on sustainability in general. That's probably the way I'll be approaching the Transition work - it's absolutely vital if we don't find a new energy source, and it's still hugely worthwhile even if we do.


I've had a link for the Transition Culture website in the sidebar over there for ages, and for the Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre, too. In case you've never clicked on them, I ought to mention that the Transition movement is all about preparing communities for a decreasing availability of oil. It originated in the UK but has started to spread around the globe. SEAC is at its heart a Transition initiative for the Sunshine Coast... but being about an hour's drive away from me it seemed rather contrary to the point for me to try and get involved in the wonderful work I hear they're doing up there.

It's beyond me to start something like that in my own area. And it's especially challenging here because Brisbane is nothing like the kind of conglomerate town and village structure of the UK and even the Sunshine Coast. It's one enormous sprawl, with a big central city council. Not on the scale of somewhere like Los Angeles, but still big enough.

So I've been watching and waiting to see how a Transition initiative might get off the ground in Brisbane, and finally it has started to happen. I had the pleasure this morning of meeting with some of those involved in the early stages of a Brisbane transition "hub", which will play a role in fostering, supporting and connecting transition groups all around the city. (That's my paraphrase, not actually endorsed by anybody.)

Not surprisingly, this group has been brought into existence through the work of people who are already recognised for their efforts along parallel lines - people from FoodConnect (a local CSA cooperative) and the actively green communities based in some of Brisbane's inner suburbs. Links have been established with SEAC and, it seems, with a similar group based in Sydney.

At this stage there's a lot of "networking" going on, literally finding out who's doing what around the city and joining the dots. Apparently there's a very handy permaculture gardener who lives in Bald Hills but tills the soil down in Morningside. I'm hoping to make their acquaintance in the near future.

This is all very welcome as far as I'm concerned. The quiet on this blog has reflected the lull in my life with regards this kind of community engagement. Hopefully the opportunity I've been waiting for has arrived.