Friday, December 09, 2011

First carbon capture testbed opens in Yorkshire

In the spirit of balance I felt it important to acknowledge that:

'Energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne has opened the UK's first real-world pilot project to test whether carbon emissions can be captured from coal-fired power stations and buried underground, to fight global warming.'

The article acknowledges that the project  'comes after considerable uncertainty over the viability of projects in the UK, since several other large players including SSE, BP and E.ON have recently cancelled projects due to cost factors.'

The article also makes clear that UK government policy in this area is in dissaray, and increasingly out to attack what George Osborne has termed 'green tape'!  My own feeling is that 'green tape' is an emergent property of a policy position that lacks systemic clarity, urgency and strategic resolve.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Not seeing and talking about the bigger picture - and why it matters

Miles Mander and colleagues make an excellent point in their article that argues:

'As environmentalists, we are terrible salespeople. We are not enabling people in society to make informed decisions. So people are left to make their own meaning of the role that the natural environment plays in their lives and in the lives of others based on lists of ecological components, but without a sense of the bigger picture. People end up making trade-offs between ecological curiosities, on one hand, and the services supplied by new developments, on the other. The inevitable result is that they choose the known benefits offered by development.

We environmentalists are failing to explain how ecological processes improve people’s lives and contribute to the success of businesses, governments, and communities. How can lists of ecological curiosities help the city treasurer, city engineer, or city manager make an informed decision when she must choose between providing potable water to city residents or protecting a forest?'

They go on to argue that:

'The evolving language around ecosystem services is now starting to build the bridge between scientists’, engineers’, and society’s perceptions of the environment. Ecosystem services is becoming the common currency, or language, between society, engineers, and ecological sciences. The time for all sides to learn this common language has never been more urgent or, indeed, opportune'
Carbon capture and storage - a systemic non-starter?

Carbon sequesteration has never made systemic sense to me so I am not surprised to see reports emerging such as the following:

'The future of carbon capture and storage (CCS) was called into question last week with two high profile projects being cancelled. The UK government scrapped plans for the nation's first CCS project at the Longannet power station in Fife, as it became apparent the project would require more funding than the £1 billion the government is prepared to allocate.

Meanwhile Vattenfall's application to develop a CCS project at a Danish geological structure has been denied. The country's government is waiting to evaluate the success of CCS projects in other nations before moving forward with any of its own.'

Joe Romm argues here that:

'There are simply too many unanswered questions for anyone to say today that we could rely on large-scale deployment of CCS in the 2030s as a major climate solution.'

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Gale and Gusto launched with fanfare

A few weeks ago we went to the launch of the two new wind turbines commissioned by Hepburn Wind which is Australia's first community wind farm.  It was a delightful community-oriented ceremony in which 760 people gathered on Ron and Nathalie Liversedges property  to witness local 10 year old Neve Bosher of St Augustine’s School in Creswick cut a massive ribbon wrapping the girth of a 68m high wind tower. Neve was the winner of a competition run through local schools to name the turbines - hence Gale and Gusto!  These turbines are symbolic of what could become widespread throughout Australia with far-sighted governance and community engagement. 

Whilst the Australian PM has written in support of the development the policy setting is still very uncertain. Depite the policy uncertainties Hepburn Wind had made significant achievements by the time of their 4th birthday in July this year. Hepburn Wind started from humble beginnings with a simple, but powerful idea — that a community could own and operate its own wind farm for the benefit of the entire community.

The Hepburn Renewable Energy Association (now known as SHARE), with the help of many, established Hepburn Wind.  In July 2007, 23 members came together and voted to form the co-operative and vote in the first board. In just four years Hepburn Wind grew to almost 1900 members and are proud of their role in establishing the community renewable energy movement in Australia.  Their achievements include:
  • built a $13.5m wind farm, the first in the country to be initiated and owned by a community 
  • almost completed commissioning and already begun generating clean, safe energy for our community
  • raised more than $9.6m from the community, been awarded $1.7m in state government grants and secured a $3.1 financing facility with Bendigo Bank
  • joined up almost 1900 members, mostly locals
  • entered into an innovative power off-take agreement with Red Energy that will enable supporters to purchase  locally generated power, while at the same time delivering significant financial benefits to the community
  • applied the co-operative legal structure where members have equal voting rights (ensuring democratic control) but share returns in proportion to their investment
  • developed the most generous benefit sharing program of any wind farm in the country, which will give special benefits to those living closest to the project as well as returning well in excess of $1m to the Hepburn Wind Community Fund over the next 25 years.
  • set a new standard for community engagement and support for a wind farm — recognised with a recent honour, the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award for 2011.
Earlier this month the Clean Energy Future package completed its passage through the Australian parliament. From the middle of next year there will be in place the beginnings of the policy framework that will usher in a lower pollution future.

As well as pricing carbon pollution, the full package mandates the establishment of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). The CEFC will direct $10 billion of the funds collected from the big polluters towards driving commercial investments in clean energy.

Hepburn Wind, Embark and their many supporters have worked hard to establish the community energy sector. With almost 60 groups nationwide starting their own journey of community power, it is important to ensure that the CEFC gets behind this sector.

The CEFC is currently seeking advice on the design of the $10 billion program — this is a great opportunity for systemic perspectives to be heard. Community groups, environment organisations, expert and passionate individuals need to advocate for the inclusion of community renewable energy into the mandate of the CEFC.

Hepburn Wind's key messages concern three basic requirements for supporting the community energy sector:
  • recognise the value of engaging the community in the clean energy transition by specifically including community energy projects
  • ensure that community projects are not ruled out due to their relatively small scale
  • make provision for early stage equity investment in community projects
The community energy sector warrants specific attention in the construction of the CEFC as it will underpin community understanding of and support for both clean energy policy and the roll out of clean energy infrastructure. This seems to me to be an essential climate chnage adaptation strategy for Australia and to make systemic sense - distributed, resilient, networked community enterprises make sense in a climate change world where surpise and breakdown in the face of extremes will be more common.

Submissions must be emailed to by 5.00pm Thursday 8 December. Anyone can make a submission.

Using systems thinking to good effect

I have made postings before about how the Munro Review of child protection and social work practice drew heavily on systems thinking and advocated more systemic practice.  It is pleasing that good work is emerging in this field influenced by the report's findings and the enthusiasm of local staff in Hackney.
The 'howlers' are in the ascendency?

I began this post some months ago, but never quite finished it despite the plethora of examples that demonstrate my point.   I wrote then:  After nearly three months away from Australia I have returned to find that the 'howlers' have flourished in my absence.  Barbara Kingsolver's potent metaphor from her book The Lacuna fits all too well, unfortunately.  She says, referring literally, but not metaphorically, to a troup of Mexican monkeys:

'In the beginning were the howlers.  [Their howling] would start with just one: his forced rythmic groaning like a saw blade. That aroused the others near him, nudging them to bawl a long with his monstrous tune. Soon the maroon-throated howls would echo back from other trees...As it was in the beginning, so it is every morning of the world' (p. 3)

I find myself very unsettled, and not unlike Kingsolver's young protagonist who, subjected to the daily tirade from the howlers, wakes terified 'at every day's dawn'.

Clearly, and thankfully, I am not the only one worried.  But those who worry as I do are drowned out it would seem by the howlers.  Sean Carney illustrates my point well in his article in the Saturday Age when he says of the howler-in-chief:

"Since he became leader in December 2009, he [Tony Abbot] has reduced himself almost to a political parody - a politician who can rail and complain and harness community anger and generate fear but himself appears to stand for hardly anything, including the words from his own mouth."

Barry Jones pursues a similar line of argument to mine when he claimed during the week: 'intelligent discussion all but extinct'.  What is it about Australians?  More and more they seem to portray all the worst features of those trapped in an island state, where news of difference and reasoned debate merely trigger even more outrageous howling.  My cousin, a therapist, relates a story about a German client, a young woman here because of her relationship with an Australian lad, disturbed because she has yet to encounter anyone in her circle able to engage in civilised critical discussion. Having been in the reverse situation when young, with a German girlfriend, I can relate to her experience. I cannot imagine any Australians I know in Australia sitting in a mixed sauna discussing the latest news of the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the antics of Helmut Schmidt. But that was how it was in Munich in the 1970s.

In many ways the Murdoch press in Australia is the main megaphone for the howlers.  But how it works is not straightforward.  Some years ago when Vice Master of Wesley College at the University of Sydney I helped the students run a guest speaker program. One of the more interesting speakers was Wendy Bacon, then a well recognised and 'radical' journalist.  She was asked whether she had ever had stories censored by her employers (Murdoch, Packer, Fairfax). Her answer was revealing.  My memory of her answer was that to her knowledge she had never had a story censored or blocked by her employer.  Instead, she said, the main form of censorship was self-censorship by journalists themselves. They knew that if they wanted to keep their job, or to get another job in Australia, they had to observe certain rules.  Concentration of ownership in the press has increased since Wendy gave this talk so I imagine that self-censorship has become even more insidious.  There is good evidence for this today in an article by Wendy Bacon in The Age where she reports a revealing exchange with News Corp (Australia) CEO John Hartigan:

"I emailed Hartigan some questions. They included: Do you consider that bias by newspapers in cities where only one company owns a newspaper could ever be an issue? How do you monitor whether fair means of reporting the news are being applied across the company? What auditing or monitoring mechanisms do you apply? Are there occasions when you do take up matters of bias with editors? Do you think that it would be a good idea if the Australian Press Council became an independent body with funding from both media and other sources, including government?
I received this reply:
''Your bias against our organisation over many years and the errors and omissions in your recent New Matilda piece renders your right to answers from me completely redundant. It is deeply troubling to me and to all of our editors that someone like you has any role in teaching young journalists in Australia.''

Hartigan did not elaborate on my errors or omissions. Nor, to my knowledge, has he pointed these out to online magazine New Matilda (which has a policy of publishing corrections)."

It is a pity freedom of information legislation cannot be used to find out what was discussed at the recent meeting of  News International senior staff at Rupert Murdoch's Californian ranch.  Given the power News International has, the intentions of FoI legislation would, in this instance be better directed at News International than governments.

I agree with Martin Flanagan, whose witty piece today sums up the week of Murdoch theatre in tremendous style, when he says:
  "I hope the debate about journalism that the News of the World has triggered hits Australia like a tsunami"

Since I wrote this piece Murdoch junior has reappeared before the House of Commons Committee in the UK highlighting to us all the inadequacy of his answers.  In Australia an inquiry has been mounted and is now underway.   I fear its terms of reference are inadequate to the circumstances. Particularly telling is recent research released from Wendy Bacon's academic group which concludes:

" The first of a two-part analysis of Australian press coverage of climate change, A Sceptical Climate, has found that between February and July this year negative coverage of the carbon policy across 10 major newspapers outweighed positive coverage by 73 per cent to 27 per cent. Report author Professor Wendy Bacon said the overall result was driven by News Ltd group publications (82 per cent negative versus 18 per cent positive), compared to a more balanced result for the Fairfax press (57 per cent positive articles outweighing 43 per cent negative)."

News Corp is clearly the verdant forest for modern day howlers!