Portland Wave Energy Project – Cancelled

Unfortunately, the Wave Energy Project off the coast of Portland I posted a report on recently has been cancelled.

Although I expressed some concern about the ability of the project to meet energy production targets, I was looking forward to seeing the project in operation and developing a better knowledge of wave power production.


The effect of climate change on Upwelling Systems

The attached report looks at the possible effects of climate change on upwelling systems, particularly the Bonney Upwelling System which activates off the coast between Portland, Victoria and Robe, South Australia.

Upwelling systems occur off many coasts around the world and are caused by winds moving across the ocean surface which in turn draws up cold, nutrient rich water to the sea surface. The result is the attraction of ocean life to the area to feed.

The effect of climate change on these systems are difficult to predict. Some scientists argue that warmer temperatures and greater temperature differences between the air over land and sea may increase onshore wind-speed and increase upwelling. However, others argue the increased wind speed could result in increased turbidity of the water and nutrients not being present at the sea surface as long, or that increased water temperature could lead to greater stratification of the different water levels and therefore less nutrient rich water reaching the surface.

This report explores both arguments and the reasons underpinning them.

Climate change and the Bonney Upwelling System

Quantitative assessment of the proposed wave energy demonstration farm off the coast of Portland, Victoria

The attached report is another that I wrote as part of my studies and which I thought may be of interest.

It is an assessment of the viability of a wave energy farm off the coast of my home town Portland, Victoria, Australia.

The proposed wave energy farm is being developed using buoys which rise and fall with the passing waves. The heaving of the buoy, which consists of a stationary lower section under the water and an upper section moving up and down, in turn drives a mechanical generator.

One of the problems with the viability of wave energy technology is that the current devices tend to have optimum wave height and frequency ranges; the further away conditions are from ideal, the greater the drop in the efficiency of energy production. Ocean conditions are highly variable and difficult to predict.

Fortunately, immediately prior to researching the project Sustainability Victoria had just finished compiling 2 years worth of wave height and frequency data at a location not far from where the project is planned to be installed. The plethora of wave data in the area of the project allowed a reasonably detailed analysis of average wave height and frequency and standard deviations on either side of the average. January and June were selected as months providing an indication of wave conditions in summer and winter conditions and data from those months were analysed to get an idea of the range of conditions that the buoys would encounter.

My conclusion raised concerns about the particular buoys to be used combined with the variability of conditions being able to efficiently convert the energy stored in the passing waves into electrical energy.

Qualitative assessment of wave energy demonstration farm off Portland, Victoria

Sustainable Dairy Farming – Eutrophication and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

This is my first foray into posting a paper that I originally produced for my studies, something I hinted at doing in a previous post.

This paper was written as part of a subject exploring the human effect on the natural environment.

I chose to explore the prospect of sustainable dairy farming; particularly, the obstacles top sustainability created by nutrient run-off from dairy farms into waterways (eutrophication) and greenhouse gas emissions.

Although focusing on dairy farming, parts of the paper are applicable to other farming activities.

Preconceived ideas as to who will have any interest in this work, I have none. Hopefully, someone will gain some ideas of the scale of these two problems and possible practical solutions, and be able to put the paper to use.

I would be glad to receive any comments.


Sustainable Dairy Farming – Eutrophication and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

John Spooner – A cartoonist’s view of climate change

I read this commentary piece by John Spooner in the Age on 29 December 2012 with utter bemusement at the logic used.

Somewhat hastily, I wrote a letter to the editor that day as follows:

“John Spooner’s opinion piece “Sceptics weather the storm to put their case on climate” employs all the same logical fallacies and misstatements of fact that look and feel like scientific scepticism as the heroes he portrays throughout his piece do.

Beginning the article with the unfulfilled Mayan end of the world prophecy adhered to by only the ardent of true believers of such pseudo science to introduce his readers to his list unfulfilled prophecies of climate scientists will surely only lure in the most gullible readers.

To then provide his list of evidence to his readers, the “jurors” of his trial of climate change science, so that a verdict may be handed down in the same way as the judicial process does, is nothing but a false analogy. He presents his expert witnesses on the question to sway the jurors. Unfortunately for him, if this were a real trial, his experts would be ruled inadmissible for lack of expertise on the question being tried. He has effectively brought a psychic to present expert opinion on DNA evidence.

For instance, apparently “everybody agrees that the warming trend paused 16 years ago”. Assuming the MET office data and the original journalism on this issue has not been read by Mr Spooner, I can only suggest he and others look at the data properly, and take a truly scientific (read “truly sceptical”) view of how it can be concluded that warming has stopped from it. Cherry picking data so that it appears how you want it to appear is not scepticism, it is to hold onto a belief or point of view – something not at all scientific or sceptical.

As for the failings of the scientists themselves in the so-called “climate gate” scandal, these “god is in the gaps” arguments only serve as a straw man and deflect attention from the real data, and fail to report the outcomes of every investigation, either of the scientists themselves or the data and conclusions that they have contributed to this issue.

For anyone willing to truly make a decision on where the weight of evidence lies, well over 30 years of predictions and massive amounts of data can be found online in trusted journals by proper climate scientists. Make a decision from the data and the science itself, not from unscientific viewpoints on either side of the belief scale, and not from a cartoonist and his merry band of non-climate scientists.

Cameron Tout”

The letter didn’t get published (it may have been over the 200 word limit and was definitely not as eloquent as other letters with the same view that were published), but a great response was published on 7 January 2013 by Roy Robbins-Browne of Melbourne Uni, which is definitely worth reading in detail.

Although it delves into ulterior motives of Mr Spooner and using minority opinion to inform public policy, it also comments on the often used “16 years of no warming” argument (usually used by Andrew Bolt and like-minded commentators) that Spooner used, and Craig Kelly used in his article I commented on earlier, and how such tactics of cherry picking data is used by those attempting to frame the evidence to their own belief.

Robbins-Browne also explains in the limited space he had the complicated process that is the scientific method and how it is used to advance what we understand about the world around us. It is this process that anyone wanting to investigate the basis of human knowledge in any area of science must be aware of and understand, and it is the avoidance of participating in this process, and instead using the media or other outlet to publish an opinion, that must set the context for any such piece that proposes an alternative to scientific consensus.

What’s up with Craig Kelly (MLA) and his understanding of climate science?!?!?!


I was alerted to the above article written by Craig Kelly, Liberal Member for Hughes, New South Wales, by Tamino on his Open Mind blog – http://tamino.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/impeach-craig-kelly/#more-6122

I do not feel the need to rehash the absence of logic or science in Mr Kelly’s article as the web contains all the information (from reliable sources) you need to understand what climate change is, why trained scientists conclude that it is happening, why it is that human sources of carbon dioxide and other Green House Gases are the cause and why this type of argument does nothing to detract from the enormous amount of raw data and analysis that has come before it..

However, that such an inadequately researched article showing a complete misinterpretation of climate science, physics and statistical analysis of data (whether accidental or not) is authored by an elected politician is particularly concerning, particularly so if the decisions he makes on behalf of his electorate are informed by such a deluded sense of knowledge on such a subject.

By the logic of this man, if a person returns their house after a bush fire has swept through the area, and finds that his or her house remains in tact, they should conclude that no bush fire existed at all, despite the destruction surrounding them. Climate analysis works on averages, particularly averages over long periods of time and large areas of the earth’s surface, not attempting to use narrow, localised temperatures at one point in time compared to the localised temperature at another narrow point in time to prove a proposition about the climate generally.

I’m sure I speak for most of the true, science-based skeptics, that it would be wonderful for any person armed with such global warming busting evidence that Mr Kelly believes he holds, actually attempted to verify the conclusions they reach by publishing their evidence and conclusions for review by those who actually understand climate science in the same way that has led to most of the scientific and technological advances that humans have managed throughout history – if it were verifiable and a scientific reality, it would be amazing science that would shift the course of research in the area.

Unfortunately, as with all the commentary in all the media claiming legitimate advances in human knowledge about the state of climate, those claimed advances are nothing but posturing and pandering by and for those who refuse to attempt obtaining an understanding of why the consensus of climate scientists is that the planet is warming, why the laws of physics, chemistry and biology in conjunction with the raw data collected lead us to this conclusion, and most particularly what evidence would actually result in the course of human knowledge in this area to change direction towards the opinion they hold.

Until then, that same group of people as above will move from one reason to the next as to why anthropogenic climate change isn’t real (the MET data says it isn’t warming if you look only at the past x number of years, it’s warming because of the approach of the solar maximum, it is warming but it’s because of CO2 from volcanoes, my grandfather says it was hotter when he was a kid) without any real attempt to assist our knowledge or direct our efforts to appropriate action.

I fear that by posting this I may be causing something of a Streisand effect with this article, or that a non-scientist defending the scientific process in a blog post detracts from the ability of science to speak for itself. But simply allowing this post by someone in a position of power to sail by without critique or without alerting other, more scientifically knowledgeable people to opinions of Mr Kelly, would be unacceptable.

Why I’m Vegan

One part, albeit a small part, of climate change discussions and ideas for reducing human impacts on climate, relates to food consumption choices. These discussions, particularly discussions about the how consumption of meat increases green house gases (GHGs) and how great an impact a reduction in consuming meat will have on the emission of GHGs, motivated me to explain why I made my choice, and to research further the current state of science in this area.

But a full review of the current science on the total green house effects of meat production, the impact of reducing meat consumption and the factors inhibiting action being taken (which largely lie in the realms of political and social science) is beyond a blog post. I intend to complete my reasearch in the form of a fully referenced journal article, with the hope of having it published.

I became a vegetarian about 2 years ago, and vegan about 1 year ago.

The pretence for making this decision was my growing concern about climate change and the destruction of environment.

It is proved (in so far as any scientist can  prove how complicated natural systems work and how those systems are affected by various factors with 100% confidence) that the intensive agricultural farming of livestock for human consumption results in significant tracts of land being cleared of native vegetation which, with the production of animal products itself, causes GHGs to be emitted. signatories to the Kyoto protocol are required to monitor these emissions, amongst emissions from other industries. Australia’s most recent report fulfilling this obligation is here.

Vegetation uses carbon dioxide (CO2) as ‘food’ in the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, the clearing of land for agricultural purposes (or any other financial or political use for that matter) results in a reduction of the earth’s ability to absorb this greenhouse gas, putting pressure on other carbon sinks to absorb more carbon dioxide. As there is a limit to the rate vegetation can absorb CO2 (which was recently reviewed in an article in the journal Nature, here), there will ultimately be a build up of CO2 in the atmosphere where the rate of output is greater than the rate of absorption.

Even when livestock is fed with grain or corn, usually whilst held in small bays within a farm shed and using less land, CO2 emissions are still created in the energy used to produce and transport that feed to the farm, as well as in the construction, maintenance, powering etc of the sheds.

This is not to say that growing of fruit and vegetables do not have their own carbon footprint in their methods of commercial production, but it does have a significantly smaller GHG footprint in these particular parts of the agricultural process.

However, the farming of livestock has as its greatest output of GHGs not as a result of CO2, but methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). CH4 in particular has greater green house gas effect than CO2, although its time lingering in the atmosphere is smaller.

So great are the emissions created by the consumption of meat, red meat in particular, that Weber and Matthews (2008) found that

only 21-24% reduction in red meat consumption, shifted to chicken, fish or an average vegetarian diet lacking dairy, would achieve the same reduction as total localization

Localisation refers to the concept that the closer to home we source our food, the lower the GHG emissions required. This study, based on observations in the United States, raises the point of how great an impact that a reduction in red meat and related product consumption can have on GHG emissions.

This is just an example of the questions science is asking itself to determine how much impact such changes can have on the environment.

Lastly, the population of the human race throughout the world is growing, and growing quicker than ever before. It is projected to reach a climax mid-century, but the growth until then is extreme. The reliance on the meat industry to feed the population will place a greater need on agricultural farming and, therefore, land clearing and GHG production, as more farms and livestock are required.

I don’t proclaim that Veganism is the only means to an environmental end, as Weber and Matthews above make clear. I don’t have any doubt that if the majority of the population that consume animal products limited their intake even to half the amount they currently consume, this would dramatically reduce GHG emissions. 

For me, the logical extrapolation of this information was to stop eating all animal products to get the greatest environmental impact.

Further, there is no doubt that politics, culture and global capitalism will affect the extent that such a change in diet will have worldwide.

For example, I have heard the argument that all the grain used to feed animals could feed the third world, assisting in an elevation in living standards (and a reduction in the reliance on meat as cheap food) in the third world, reducing emissions in both the first and third worlds as a result. This could be plausible. But such an oversupply of grain will reduce demand and lower its price, and no grain supplier will allow that to occur. Warehousing the surplus, limiting supply and maintaining the price will be of greatest benefit to the grain industry.

Such societal factors have been cited by Richard Eckard and he concludes that a reduction in meat consumption is not a viable option for all of the world population, and that technological advances are the better way forward. However, Popp et al (2010) have managed to include such factors in their models predicting the likely effects of a reduction in meat consumption and arrived at the opposite conclusion.

I don’t mean to imply that this is how society should work or resign myself to the contention that it this is how it will always work; I implicitly argue that there are better social structures that humans could use to both our and the environment’s advantage. This is an argument for a more detailed paper, but is something that Naomi Klein recently wrote at length about, and with whom I completely agree that climate change is a symptom of the much larger problem of societal, particularly economic, structure.

The choice of diet is a unique and individual choice and not something that can compelled upon someone.

I hope that this article inspires even a few to consider more deeply their eating habits, and perhaps change a few diets.