Thursday, December 18, 2008

Emissions trading

You all knew this was coming. It was inevitable. It's the Midga response to Penny Wong's emissions trading idea. Now I've only just got up and not eaten anything yet today (it's my day off, I can spend it in bed if I want) so my brain isn't feeling too good - therefore this will be a goonish response not a 100% serious one.

First, a disclaimer which will come as a relief to all of you - I'm not going to tackle the whole thing of climate change. I want people to reply to my blog, but I don't want it that badly. I'm going to assume that Wudd and Rong want the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reduced and take it from there.

Ullo ullo - what's goin' on here den?


OK, I'll clear off then.

He's gone! Heeeee'''''sssss - goooooooonne! To cover the silence, I will tell a little jokule! Penny Wong is the Ministrer for Climate Change - so why doesn't she change it faster? Ehee! Pauses for audience applause, not a sosinge. Thinks: if I'd told the joke about Sabrina they would have applauded.

Bluebottle you little devil, stop that naughty thinks! You're too young for that sort of thing!

Thinks: that's what you think!

[jelly splosh in face]

Ehee! You have splashed me in the face and wetted my shirt all the way down the legs! Exits left to change shirt. Remembers second jokule and comes back. Laddies and gennerplums, what is emissions trading? It's when I misser Seagoon gives me his cigarette smoke and I give him my [BLEEEEP] Ties self to mast, waits for 50 lashes. Mr Greenslade, you have bleeped me! Can't I say [BLEEEEP] on the BBC? Well how about Methane? Ladies and gennlemens, Seagoon gives me his cigarette smoke and I give him my methane! Still not a sosinge. Exits left to buy record of applause.

That was the Goon Show, a BBC recorded programme, ...

Ahem, I'll be a bit more serious now.

1. Will emissions trading reduce carbon emissions?
I guess this is the most important point. Effectively "emissions trading" really means "emissions tax" - every industry that makes emissions will be made to pay up. Companies that abate the carbon they produce (usually by planting trees) will of course pay a negative tax. The rest of the kitty will be spent by the government on things it feels are strategically important - research into environmentally friendly technology, rebates for Working Families who put solar panels on their roof, sweeteners to car manufacturers who build low emission vehicles in Australia, and of course keeping Penny and her department in superannuation.

And of course to save the WFs from having to pay the passed on costs, Kevin Claus is going to give rebates on things that are thought of as essential like petrol and electricity. If you're finding it confusing at the moment, so am I, it looks like we're all going to have to become environmental economists before we can understand what goes on.

But in its simplest form, the idea is to make people's hip pockets (a very sensitive part of the anatomy) feel the pain that they inflict on the atmosphere. Sounds all well and good. But will it work? Andrew Bolt (whatever you might think of him, he does come up with some good ideas) wrote one of his columns on that very thing. 30c/l price increase on petrol was the idea at the time. It will save our children's children, said Kev. But hey, said Andrew - we've just had a 30c/l increase in the last two months due to the price of a barrel of oil! Has it cut consumption all that much? No, it's just created more hot air from people talking about it (to say nothing of the environmental destruction of a Senate Enquiry printing millions of copies of their findings on paper that a tree died for).

However, and this is where I will very briefly allow my other life to enter my blog, we did notice that public transport patronage went through the roof at the time - a 30% increase in patronage I think was the figure quoted. But a 30% increase from a base of an 11% market share doesn't equate to much really. Did anyone notice freeways getting emptier? Nor I.

OK life, that's your lot, now get out. [SLAM] Insert a Greenslade quote involving listeners with a degree in higher mathematics.

So the question was, will it work: NO. Midga 1, Rudd-Wong, 0.

2. Will it have harmful side-effects?
Will it ever! Let's see if we can brainstorm a few...

1. Rorting - can anyone imagine a savvy company with an eye for a dollar or three and no conscience? Funny, so can I. Can anyone name ten in one breath without stopping to think? Yes, quite. Now imagine this hypothetical company making press releases about becoming carbon neutral by planting trees on public land. And claiming its carbon credits of course. A tree will absorb a tonne of CO2 over its life - I know that because I read it on the internet. It was in the Google snippet in fact. Actually opening the link would have told me it takes 100 years to get to a full tonne but let that pass. This hypothetical company is planting 200 trees a year which means they can claim to have abated 200 tonnes of CO2. OK, that was fun and we paid on average $1000 a year more for the planting than we would have spent on carbon tax, but we probably made that up in goodwill with our press release. Good times.

In five years we'll have used up all our available land, so we'll call in an environmentally friendly logging company to cut down those trees and make woodchips for export. Then we get to go round again! Anyone notice a problem here? I don't think Penny's Department for Climate Change will be checking up on every single company that's claimed carbon abatement to make sure they actually do it.

Midga 2, Rudd-Wong 0.

2. Apathy - can anyone imagine people just paying up instead of making efforts to reduce their carbon emissions? The pattern is fairly clear. Australians don't economise until it becomes absolutely necessary (and usually not even then). When prices go up sharply they whinge, and some might try cheaper alternatives for a while. But like a frog in a pot, they get used to it after a while and just pay anyway.

Look at the price of coffee in the 70s - there was a shortage, the price went way up, people paid it anyway. (After the shortage finished the price just stayed up, of course. No good business misses an opportunity like that.) And petrol in the last year or two, as I said above. And what about Council rates, they go up by massive percentages but people don't move to Dandenong South just because it's cheaper there.

Midga 3, Rudd-Wong 0.

3. Overheads - has anyone factored in the energy usage that would be required for all this carbon abatement? I'm guessing tractors will be used to look after the trees. Will they be plug-in hybrids connected to dedicated wind power plants? I don't think so. Do solar panels use silicone? It's made by melting sand in a very hot kiln. Will the solar panel manufacturing company's carbon emissions be treated the same as everyone else's, or will they get special grants because they're innovative? Truth be told, the energy required to make a solar panel is still greater than its output over its entire life. That fact isn't repeated often, it's politically incorrect.

Midga 4, Rudd-Wong 0.

An alternative
Just let it get hotter! What's the prediction, 2C by 2050? That means for every day in 2008 that's 16C (cold enough that I'll stay inside and play computer games) it will be 18C in 2050 (warm enough that I'll go outside and pick some of the nectarines off the tree before they go rotten). So the polar ice caps will melt and the sea will rise by six inches? That will drown the ants! Every island with a beach that slopes at 20 degrees will lose (fires up calculator and works out the sine of 20 degrees) 18 inches of their land, and everyone who lives within 18 inches of the high water mark will lose their home! But let's not stop there - everyone who suffers from fever during the hot summer will die because their body temperature will be 2C higher than it used to be! Fever happens more than pneumonia doesn't it? And people will use their air conditioners more often, leading to spiralling increases in heat and energy usage, and the planet will rock off its orbit and dive into the sun!


Well how about just creating huge tracts of land somewhere in the middle of the Simpson Desert for the dual purpose of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and desalinating water, like I put in my last post?

Midga 5, Rudd-Wong 0. There's something to be said for water on the brain.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Apology to blondes

Today we honour the fair haired peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were the subject of "blonde jokes" – this blemished sector in our nation’s humour.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have failed to prevent inflicting profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the sale of hair colouring products to minors, alienating blonde children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Dyed Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parody writers of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parody writer resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, fair and dark-haired, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their looks, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Signed: the Prime Midga Mr Ruddiculous

Monday, December 1, 2008

Water, water everywhere, but never a drop to drink

We've finished with psychology and we're back to politics. Ladies and gentlemen, this song is called Rattler, or, how a high school dropout with water on the brain can out-think the best political brain in Spring Street.

In case any of you don't believe me, yes, I did drop out of high school after about Grade 14. It was university level education by Australian education standards but we homeschoolers call it high school because we have high expectations. As for the water on the brain - that's metaphorical, not physical. I've had a fascination with dihydrogen monoxide since the age of four.

Now as we all know, Mr Brumby has achieved quite an amount of publicity for his proposed solutions for Melbourne's coming water crisis. All publicity is good publicity isn't it mon Premier? Ah well, better luck next time.

The letters sections of the newspapers are ringing to the sound of people offering solutions - and the criticisms of the solutions offered. Great fun reading.

Let's go back a few steps and look at the situation in detail.

Back in the 70s the Cardinia reservoir was built, and the government of the day promised that Melbourne would never need to have water restrictions again. That idea lasted until very recently (30 years, not bad for a political promise!).

So suddenly water becomes a hot topic (no puns please) and the government Must Do Something About It.

I know, says Mr Brumby, the Goulburn is in flood this week, let's build a pipe to take all that water away from where it's doing damage to where it can be useful! Brilliant thinking sir, but did you know floods recede in less time than it takes to build a pipe?

Well just in case the pipe construction takes longer than we expected, we'll have a desalination plant too. Oh hang on, that takes lots of power. Well we'll bury the carbon!

Talk about thinking aloud without worrying about whether it's a good plan or not...

Let's all go back to primary school. Australia is a dry continent, right? And that's because it gets really hot, right? And because it's hot the water dries up and we need more of it. So let's spend lots of energy heating water to purify it, then cooling it and using it to replace the water the heat dried up.

Anyone else seeing a really big short cut we could take here?

OK, enough politics, down to a bit of just plain water. Here's my ideas for making sure there's plenty of water for the extra million people whose taxes are going to pay for public transport improvements in the next ten years.

1. Wider use of grey water
Grey water can include just about anything - stormwater mixed with leaves and dust from the drains, household waste water (excluding the really nasty stuff - that can still be sewage), water from rivers deemed not clean enough for drinking, etc.

What we can use grey water for is just about anything that doesn't involve human or animal consumption. How many industries need water for cooling? It doesn't have to be guaranteed free from bacteria, it just has to have a high latent heat of vaporisation. And even in the household every toilet flush, every car wash, every floor mop can be done in grey.

For the same cost as a north-south pipeline, how many residential areas could be fitted with grey water pipes? And which would be better for the water supply, really?

2. No half-measures with pipes!
Our good friend in Darwin constantly reminds us that the rain in the wet season is infallible, the lawn grows so fast he has to hose the clippings off his driveway after mowing, and by the time he finishes it's time to mow again. And while we're moving onto Stage 3a water restrictions here there are floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

So let's have a massive network of pipes - not for constant flow like the north-south is supposed to be, but just enough to balance water needs with water supplies. And of course we have a wonderful river system - all we have to do is pump water up to the source of the rivers and let it flow down hill to where it's needed. Hey presto, we have water in the river to keep the lesser carnivorous polkadot bellied Murray trout population alive, AND we can pump the water off in the population areas and drink it (or wash our cars in it)! Two for the price of one!

3. Catch that great steaming monster before it flies away!
Evaporative cooling is quite efficient in terms of energy consumption and mechanical simplicity - but of course it uses water. But it doesn't really "use up" the water - it will be back again, as rain - somewhere.

So why not capture it? Build a nice long steam pipe heading down to an underground condensation tank with a Stirling Engine to pump the steam down and the water up. Free water. Probably drinking quality.

4. Don't be ridiculous
Sorry to have to say it, but rice (for instance), which needs to be grown in a paddy field, is not exactly a suitable crop for the Echuca area. Not without a lot of irrigation anyway. Until we have that network of pipes and a plentiful supply of tropical rainwater, we should be importing our rice. Swap you for some wheat? It's more suited for our climate.

5. Make it rain!
If you get out of your warm bed on a winter morning and go to some of our fringe suburbs where open paddocks, apple orchards and medium density industrial estates share a square mile block (a dying breed I'll admit) you can see that the fog forms on the open ground. Thus, a large body of plant matter will partially sustain itself, by attracting precipitation.

Of course it has to be a large body of greenery to achieve critical mass, but that sort of thing should be possible to organize.

The other thing is to make sure the water doesn't blow away. Open paddocks big enough to swing a combine harvester probably won't hold much. Stick a few lines of trees in to break the wind and watch the grass grow.

6. Free desal!
Roll up, roll up! Yes folks it's absolutely FREE! Just warm your seawater in the heat of the sun and condense the vapours and it's yours gratis and for nothing!

I touched on this above. Why spend energy heating water to purify it so it can be used to replace the water lost to heat? We should be using some of our excess square kilometerage for a sort of greenhouse setup, which can have seawater or bore water introduced, heated in the sun and the vapour captured to make drinkable water.

There was an experimental setup in Queensland which did exactly that, and had a fairly ingenious safety cutout so that it would never let unfiltered water through - if anything went wrong it would fail safe and shut itself down completely. It was even designed to be isolated from maintenance for years on end.

So there you have it. Plenty of ways to manage our water crisis without spending heaps of energy, or robbing Peter to pay Paul, or leaving the fish out to dry. Can I be a consultant and earn a six figure salary now?