Sunday, July 26, 2009
Yes today again proving that global warming is at a train station near you, these stewing hornbags were sauced by one's BIG lens, in a somewhat heated state, in keeping with the situation...you have been warned! Or warmed as the case may be!
You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back and marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.
We are stewing in our own juices.
Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney's pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly and demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.
The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. As Sydney grows, Sydney slowly heats.
At last Wednesday's seminar we learnt why - 27 per cent of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks and retains heat and thus changes the city's climate.
Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27 per cent of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city's rooftops also gather heat. Roads and pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is "scalped" by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.
It is not just a Sydney story. The most telling detail lost amid all that was written and broadcast about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, which killed 173 people, was that more people died from heat stress in Melbourne than in the fires. During the oven-like temperature peak (three consecutive days above 43 degrees) Melbourne saw a spike of 1400 emergencies requiring an ambulance.
An extra 374 people died in Victoria that week compared to the average week. Most were heat stress related.
"To break this heating cycle we don't need more money, we need more intelligent use of what we already have," says the person who organised Wednesday's seminar, Michael Mobbs, the creator of Sydney's most famous experiment in sustainable housing. He was stunned by the size and quality of the turnout. The room was full of planners from councils across Sydney. He was especially pleased that the gathering was addressed by Arjan Rensen, a senior executive from ARRB, the company which writes the specification guidelines for all the road agencies in Australia.
"It was hugely symbolic having him there, willing to be associated with what we're trying to do," Mobbs told me. "It means the road authorities are at last starting to deal with the impact their roads are having on our cities."
The roads are Mobbs's starting point for reform, because they take up so much room and are so taken for granted. "We should just use existing bitumen and gravel but choose pale gravel, and mix it so that the gravel shows through the bitumen," Mobbs says. "We could also use dyes like those used in bus lanes, but paler than green or red. These were first used in the Harbour Tunnel, which was privately owned, because the owners wanted to cut the cost of their electricity bill. On streets with low traffic volume, these dyed surfaces will last 15 to 20 years."
Then there is the overlooked space, the humble pavements. They should be planted and widened where possible because of the cooling powers of plants and trees. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens should also be grown in public space such as roadsides. The practice is common in Germany.
Planners have started listening to Mobbs because, having transformed his own home into a dwelling with self-contained power, water and sewerage systems, he is busy converting his street, Myrtle Street, Chippendale, into the sort of micro-environment that, if replicated across the city, would cool it, slash energy consumption, and massively increase carbon sequestration.
In the block where Mobbs lives, much of the pavement is covered in mulch and supports a variety of plants, including fruit trees. The fruit is available to anyone. Large public compost bins store debris, each collecting three tonnes of food waste a year to create one tonne of compost. Pipes have been manipulated to retain rainwater run-off.
All this is so simple yet so innovative. Councils and planners have been trying to do their best with what they have inside a system they have inherited. What has been lacking is a sense of the whole, of the potential for policy symbiosis, a greater realisation of what Sydney looks like on Google Earth rather than on planners' maps. Google Earth shows a city that acts as a heat trap and an energy sink, especially in the sprawling, spreading western suburbs, away from the cooling salvation of the coast.
But when I asked Mobbs if he had received council approval for his innovations on public space on Myrtle Street he replies, "not quite".
The local authority, Sydney City Council, has an ambivalent attitude. It is on his side but it is also a bureaucracy operating under the morass of laws and regulations that sits like an oppressive weight on innovation in society. Says Mobbs: "It's all been done with the delicious sense of doing something without approval."
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Lets hope that global warming does not cause hornbag shrinkage. However it is allready being experienced here. Before there was three hornbags, by the time this photograph was sauced there was two. More proof that global warming is indeed at work in our daily lives, and, er hornbag photography.
Fish have lost half their average body mass and smaller species are making up a larger proportion of European fish stocks as a result of global warming, a study has found.
"It's huge," said study author Martin Daufresne of the Cemagref Public Agricultural and Environmental Research Institute in Lyon, France.
"Size is a fundamental characteristic that is linked to a number of biological functions, such as fecundity - the capacity to reproduce."
Smaller fish tend to produce fewer eggs. They also provide less sustenance for predators - including humans - which could have significant implications for the food chain and ecosystem.
A similar shrinking effect was recently documented in Scottish sheep and Mr Daufresne said it is possible that global warming could have "a significant impact on organisms in general."
Earlier research has already established that fish have shifted their geographic ranges and their migratory and breeding patters in response to rising water temperatures. It has also been established that warmer regions tend to be inhabited by smaller fish.
Mr Daufresne and his colleagues examined long-term surveys of fish populations in rivers, streams and the Baltic and North Seas and also performed experiments on bacteria and plankton.
They found the individual species lost an average of 50 per cent of their body mass over the past 20 to 30 years while the average size of the overall fishing stock had shrunk by 60 per cent.
This was a result of a decrease in the average size-at-age and an increase in the proportion of juveniles and small-sized species, Mr Daufresne said.
"It was an effect that we observed in a number of organisms and in a number of very different environments - on fish, on plankton, on bacteria, in fresh water, in salt water - and we observed a global shrinking of size for all the organisms in all the environments," he said.
While commercial and recreational fishing did impact some of the fisheries studied, it "cannot be considered as the unique trigger" for the changes in size, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.
"Although not negating the role of other factors, our study provides strong evidence that temperature actually plays a major role in driving changes in the size structure of populations and communities," the study concluded.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
A hornbag who has managed to escape to our sunny country, from the worst places to be affected by climate change in the near future.
MOST of the gains made by the world's poorest countries over the past half a century will be lost unless action is taken on climate change, Oxfam says.
A report by the international aid agency says up to 375 million people may be affected by climate-related disasters by 2015.
"Climate change is becoming quite rapidly the central issue to do with poverty today", Oxfam Australia's chief, Andrew Hewett, told the Herald. "That also raises deep ethical dilemmas because the people least responsible for this crisis have the least resources to deal with it, and they are also those who are on the front line."
Oxfam is publishing the report, Suffering The Science-Climate Change, People And Poverty, today before this week's meeting of world leaders at the Group of Eight summit in Italy, where climate change and food security will be high on the agenda.
On the side of the G8 meeting there will also be a forum of leaders and ministers from the biggest polluting world economies, which the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, will attend.
A key issue at both meetings will be whether the US President, Barack Obama, publicly embraces the scientific goal of keeping the world's temperature from rising above 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and European leaders have been urging the US to embrace the goal, and Reuters has reported that the 2-degree target has been included in the draft communique.
If Mr Obama supports the scientific goal he will raise expectations that the United Nations global climate talks in Copenhagen in December will be able to achieve an ambitious outcome. Including the 2-degree goal in the G8 communique also puts pressure on Japan, Canada and Russia to agree to tougher action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Oxfam report stresses the importance of the scientific goal, arguing that even a 2-degree temperature rise will have serious consequences for people living in poverty.
With advancing climate change, several big cities dependent on the Himalayan and Andes glaciers will face crippling water shortages within decades, the report says. The two most important world food crops, rice and maize, will also be reduced even under mild climate change.
Hunger caused by climate change may be the defining human tragedy of this century, the report argues, and if global warming is allowed to proceed unchecked the true cost "will not be measured in dollars but in millions or billions of lives".
Oxfam argues that developing countries, especially poor ones, will need at least $US150 billion ($188 billion) a year to cope with climate change and shift to greener energy