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.


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.

When it rains, is stores!

As with most of my projects, the search for the right materials without resorting to a visit to the local hardware store results in some time passing before I have everything I need to finish a job.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get together the final bits and pieces (and a helping hand from my sister’s boyfriend) I needed to build a stand for my water tank and connect it to my shed.

I already had the tank and had given it a good rinse, bought second hand from a local. I’d been given a heavy duty plastic pallet which could handle the weight of a full tank of water. And recently I sourced some sleepers from the in-laws property, and some plumbing supplies from the local tip shop.

And alas, the tank is now set up and, after some decent rain, is full and being put to good use.


The tank is set up from the ground so that my watering can can fit under the tap, and to also use gravity to force the water out at a reasonable rate without using a pump. The faucet has a hose connector attached to it to make for easy watering.

The bottom level of the stand is made up with the three sleepers making up the border, with sleepers screwed in inside the box to support the plastic pallet and the tank. The pallet is sitting on top of the enclosed bottom level sleepers, with another three sleepers screwed together to make a border around the pallet to keep it in place.

The resulting stand, I think, looks pretty good and a does a great job!

Plumbing the tank wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might. I pulled the down pipe which connects the gutters to the drain out and using some existing pipe elbows and some found at the tip shop, re-routed the rainwater out from behind the shed, along the side of the shed and into the inlet hole.

All it takes is some good measurements, and the simple understanding that water can’t run up – you can see from the pipe attached along the side of the shed that it is on a slight angle down to ensure that the water runs properly down into the tank.

Finally, I’ve added another pipe to the overflow outlet, which currently runs into a big old pot. The idea will be to find another container for this overflow to run into, possibly an old wheelie bin which can then be adapted with a tap to allow this to be used as a portable water source.

The project wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be, and would encourage anyone to have a go at it. Even if it isn’t with recycled materials, hardware stores carry equipment to divert rainwater from downpipes so that it can stored and used when needed. And of course it adds a further degree of sustainability to your garden and, in my case, to my growing veggies. Even a small roof area can collect a usable amount of water.

I am blessed by the fact that the gutters installed on the shed roof are constructed in a way to stop leaves and other objects from flowing down into the downpipes. For a normal gutter, it would be best to put some shade cloth or other gauze like material to trap leaves and dirt from running into the tank.

Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning on adding something to the pipes to catch smaller object from falling into the tank, with the idea of being able to use the tank water (after testing it properly of course) as drinking water.

I’d love to hear any stories or suggestions from people who have done the same thing, or are planning on doing so.

The tragedy proprietary rights impose on the commons

A recent focus of Australia’s attention was on the actions of three protestors who boarded a Japanese whaling ship to remonstrate with the crew members catching whales in and around designated Australian sanctuaries.

The three activists were then detained on board, requiring intervention by the Australian Government to have them released.

Viewpoints on this issue varied significantly within Australia, even though it can be said with confidence that most people disagree with Japanese whaling in all forms and in all areas.

Conservative chants about the sanctity of the protection of property by law were widespread. The act of trespassing by these three men on the Japanese ship was abhorred as illegal, immoral and detracting, if not completely destroying, the noble intent of their actions.

Greenpeace recently reported an incident with similar connotations, where a Court in Denmark was asked to punish an activist for trespassing on boats found to be illegally fishing in an area barred from such activity to save an endangered endemic species of Cod.

Whilst I am relying solely on the Greenpeace report as to the conduct of the court proceedings, and making an assumption that the law of trespass on private property by persons not acting with a greater authority than an ordinary person, there could be no doubt that the protection of property would see the activist convicted, despite the cause and the positive impact the actions had in enforcing the fishing ban. As far as I am aware, there exists no ‘noble cause’ exception to either the criminal or civil trespass laws.

However, the Danish Court, quite surprisingly and despite a plea of guilty to the charge, acquitted the activist and Greenpeace Nordic on the basis that the trespass was justified.

From a purely legal perspective, this finding is absurd, but a debate about how a court could find the two not guilty without a legal basis, and given the plea of guilty, is not the intent of this article.

The immutability of legal protections granted by law in all its forms, even where the protections are contra to ideas of morality, justice or equality (which you may read as equality between all life or equality between humans) is the current concern, as is mantle on which such rules are placed.

The most extreme extrapolation of this concern, where pronounced laws are all-powerful and must be obeyed despite their effect, can be seen in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals. The regular defence raised in these trials was that despite the allegations that their acts were ‘crimes against humanity’ and international law, they were acts in accordance with the laws of Germany. Therefore, they argued, they could not be prosecuted, given that the laws were assented to by a sovereign government.

Modern day examples that might be used are the forced evictions of people from public areas which featured prominently in the Arab Spring uprisings and Occupy movements. Whether you agree with these movements or not, the actions of such protestors of voicing their concerns and seeking change, in their view, for the betterment of society, were met with the enforcement of proprietary laws over the land on which they stood to voice these concerns, even where these actions in themselves did not cause damage.

A more regular example is the removal of protestors from otherwise public lands where logging licences have been granted to a private company. The removal, and the following charges laid, are based on a legal protection to the licensee over the land from adverse actions of people who, other than their intent to protest, would be allowed on the land.

The imbalance seems most striking where law securing property rights is utilised to protect the furtherance of activities that in themselves may be illegal, immoral (whether that morality be derived from religion, ethics or otherwise) or against the will of some part of society, whether it is a majority or minority will. Further, where the damage caused by such protected activities is not caused to a person or to an object over which another person has proprietary rights that can be enforced, the law, particularly criminal law, struggles to appreciate the validity of those ‘criminal’ actions such as trespass taken to halt the destructive, but protected, activities.

It cannot however be said that pedestal of proprietary rights over land has remained at its lofty heights throughout time. Much like free market capitalism, exceptions to the general rule have been introduced so that the tragedy of the commons does not forever plague us.

For instance, laws regulating pollutants contaminating and emanating from private land is regulated through Environmental Protection laws, as they do for proposed constructions on private land which may affect protected public land, such as in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

A more regularly used piece of regulation which acts to restrict the use of private land is found in local planning regulations, which of late have been updated to involve considerations of climate change and rising sea level when local Councils are considering a building or planning permit.

The questions for the future must be: Can (or will) government imposed regulation adapt to the evolving environmental conscience in a timely manner? Further, equitable outcomes achieved through regulation, at least historically, require complex legislation. Just look at the taxation laws in most developed countries which have this aim.Therefore, will environmental prosperity through equitable regulation be so complex as to end up being unworkable?

Finally, will the idea of private property forever restrict appropriate environmental action which alters the allowed use of land where competing economic interests are effected?

Although small-scale or singular domestic housing application have been rejected outright under current regulations (see reports of the recent Narrawong Planning Control Decision for example), large-scale, environmentally destructive but economically advantageous (depending on who you are) developments continue to get approval. Looking outside Australia, the Tar Sands Pipeline between Canada and the USA is another example of environmental issues being in conflict private proprietary rights to the use of land and natural resources.

Could the idea of property, an idea that was once exclusively linked with power, and which wields lesser but still formidable power now, be the problem itself? Could the abolition of private property be the means of overcoming the accumulation of private wealth with legal protection to the detriment of adjacent land, rivers, oceans and atmosphere?

Were use of property influenced not by private interests in an economically driven society but by a truly communal, active, local community, the considerations of local environmental features effected by any action taken on that community’s land would receive paramount recognition and protection, and not a disconnected, procedural, uninterested view that such consideration generally receive now.

Such a change would need to be preceded by changes both in societal organisation and in psyche. The time for economic rationalisation of all actions and the strive for global economic growth would need to be replaced with concern for local issues and communal provision of the necessities for life such as shelter, food, water and clothing. Personal growth and satisfaction would need to flow away from consumptive self-gratification and into self-awareness, awareness of other people and awareness of other living things. Rights dependent on legal proclamation need to be replaced by universal rights of all beings, whether human, faunal, floral or natural.

The future of protecting environmental qualities requires more than just further incremental encroachments on historical ideals of rights to property and profit, attempting to leave the remainder of the economic system intact. It requires a relinquishing of these ideas, replaced with small-scale, communal, self-sufficient, conscious and conscientious existence.

You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.


Dig it up! The veggie patch bears more fruit

I was watering the veggie patch the other night, when I spotted the tops of a number of carrots in the line of seeds I had planted and which had been growing the quickest.

Eager as I have been lately to taste more of what I had grown after recently picking the peas I had grown, I started to pull up the carrots that were just showing their tops out of the soil.

One by one, the thick orange roots that supported the green foliage I had been feverishly watering for the last number of weeks came out of the ground. It is amazing that these had started from some of the tiniest seeds that I had grown.

There are still more carrots waiting to be pulled up which need some more time to grow.

Given that the shrubs that had grown from the potatoes that I had planted had mostly died off, bar one which continued to grow, I decided that it was time to see if the potatoes had flourished to the same extent that the carrots had. Unfortunately, only the potatoes growing as tubers to the longest lasting plant had grown to a decent size.

Although a little disappointing, trial and error is part of the fun. Next time, I’ll try planting the potatoes in a sunnier part of the patch to see if that will promote better growth.

Apart from the remaining carrots, only the brussels sprouts are left, and they need some tending to eradicate their growing attraction to some moths – but that will be part of another article looking at organic ways to deter pests.

If any gardeners out there have any suggestions or questions I’d be happy to hear from you!

Green Computing

Is there such a thing?

If the benchmark for being green is reducing consumption and waste, then probably not. Or at least it isn’t if you use anything that could be loosely classified as modern technology.

The breakneck speed with which computers and computer programming has developed and the consumerist fervour this is attached to purchasing the latest technology, now results in a pandemic-like effect of outdated technological products ending up as waste.

Added to this is the obvious increase in energy use to load and use this technology or recharge their batteries.

But, the expansion of the internet and, more particularly, the use of the internet to store and provide access to information, to allow people to publish themselves and to draw attention to issues that might otherwise fail to be publicised (unless you’re fortunate enough to own a printing press and have a worldwide distribution team), has played an integral part in advancing social causes.

And thus the paradox of the use of technology (which has a greater positive impact on social issues than, say, handing out flyers but which has a greater subsequent creation of waste and use of energy) to advance environmental interests arises.

The paradox is usually termed hypocritical and used to discredit the likes of those involved in the Occupy protests or any environmental protests, such as when such a protester is seen using an iPhone or any type of similar technology.

Given the significant advantages that come with technology and the positive environmental effects that it can have, throwing away your computer may have a greater negative environmental effect rather than a positive one, depending on the use to which you put it.

Assuming that you use technology to gain or disseminate positive social and environmental information, the challenge is greening your computing.

Reducing your computing energy use relates more to your power source, so switching to green energy is a great way to reduce your technological footprint.

But how to do away with waste when the computing power of technology doubles every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law)?

For those who are in the market for a computer, look for computers that are easier to upgrade, particularly in relation to memory.

When your computer slows down after a period of use, look to clear out programs and saved items that you no longer use. All operating systems have their own tools to delete unused programs, to clean up temporary files and defragment the hard drive. Creating free space on the computer allows programs to operate much more efficiently. Also look at how many programs begin running automatically when your computer starts, as this is the cause of many frustrated users staring at their computer while it slowly goes through its start-up processes. A simple google search will show you how to do this on any operating system.

If you are looking for hardware, start at a swap fair. These markets are on most weekends in Melbourne (see here) and contain almost everything you might need. Alternatively, there are a number of retail suppliers of used hardware. Buying an external hard drive to hold all your photos, music and movies will significantly reduce the use of your computer memory and increase computer speed.

And if you you’ve upgraded your computer to the best of your ability, but still have problems with slow running programs, there is the option of trying a new operating system – for free.

Linux systems are open source operating systems for your computer that can be downloaded for free and installed on your computer. What is great about these is that there are a number of different organisations developing their own Linux-based system, and most don’t require the latest computer hardware.

For example, my 7-year-old laptop has an OpenSUSE operating system, which I downloaded and installed for free. I chose this operating system after using a few distribution questionnaires which informs you which system would work best on the system you have.

I downloaded and burnt the operating system which automatically does all the things that need to be done to get the system running, including partitioning the hard drive. Although it might take a bit of playing about to learn the new system, choosing the right system means the learning curve isn’t too steep.

What I also like is that by supporting open source software, you are reducing the reliance placed on the traditional companies like Apple and Microsoft, which control increasingly large percentages of the personal technology market which, in a capitalist driven, free-trade world economy, can never be to the advantage of the average person. 

Doing this isn’t as scary as it first sounds, and there is great assistance provided by the operating system providers.

Finally, if all this still doesn’t help save your beloved battling box of bytes, think carefully of how you dispose of it. If your computer still works well albeit it slower than what you like, or can’t support specific software you need to use, consider donating the computer to charity. There are some charities that can refurbish computer to be provided cheaply to those who would otherwise struggle to gain access to the information you freely access.

And who knows, from this the next activist might be born.