The Ryan Independent

Commentary on global, federal, state and local issues from Brisbane's western suburbs

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A highly significant breakthrough

May 26th, 2013 · Posts

For six years I have been tracking what I regard as a critical weathervane issue when it comes to global environmental cooperation, and the weathervane has just swung in an extremely promising direction.  In 2007 I first wrote about the incineration of HFC-23 (a greenhouse gas up to 14,800 times more potent than CO2), by the Jiangsu Meilan Chemical Company and the Changshu 3F Company in China.  Under the Kyoto agreement, both had agreed to incinerate this by-product of their HCFC-22 refrigerant manufacturing in return for highly profitable payments under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  

HFC2300002

Beyond the monitoring problems described as "incompetence" by the British firm charged with auditing the process, I commented on the ramping up of production at both companies resulting from the fact that the CDM  payments were far more profitable than the HCFC production itself.  In 2010 I again asked why the Chinese Government had not simply banned HCFC production outright as most developed countries had done.  The cynical answer was obvious, the CDM payments, which also provided huge royalties directly to the Chinese government, created a perverse disincentive to responsible law-making.

The breakthrough achieved in the last few weeks was China's agreement to entirely phase out the industrial production of HCFCs, funded by up to $385 million through the UN's Montreal Protocol.  They will freeze production levels this year, reduce them by 10% within two years, and completely phase-out HCFCs by 2030. 

This has been a tough journey.  Because the Montreal Protocol deals only with ozone-depleting gases, not greenhouse gases, this important result has been achieved indirectly, as HCFCs are in the former category. Nor has this outcome been accomplished without serious obstacles –  including outright blackmail.  In 2011, one of China's CDM executives, Xie Fei, threatened: “If there’s no trading of [HFC-23] credits, they’ll stop incinerating the gases”.  Had this threat to vent HFC-23 directly to the atmosphere been carried through, it would have constituted a spectacularly egregious act of environmental sabotage.

Instead, an exceptionally important battle has been won, through persistent international pressure.  It's important to appreciate its scale.  The total reduction of emissions this agreement will achieve has been been calculated as 4.3 billion tonnes CO2e, or equivalent to those from 1.6 billion cars, or approximately half as big again as the world's entire car fleet.  The pessimists who decry efforts to bring about an international approach to tackling the threat of global warming, and who excuse national inaction on the grounds that it's a global problem, should take heed.

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Charles Worringham Greens Candidate for Ryan 2013

March 30th, 2013 · Posts

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I'm honoured to be your Greens candidate for Ryan in the forthcoming 2013 election, and will be using my Facebook page and my candidate page to keep in touch. I've also changed the title of this blog to "The Ryan Independent" – more like a newspaper title than an independent candidate's page!  

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Plans to build Queensland’s largest coal mine are unsound economically and environmentally irresponsible.

February 14th, 2012 · Posts

(Cross-posted from my Greens candidate blog site here) The purchase by Indian tycoon Gautam Adani of the Moray Downs cattle station and his announcement of plans to build the largest ever open-cut and underground coal mine complex in Queensland’s Galilee Basin will be seen as good news by some. But the idea of digging this mine and building its company town and airport is economically foolish and environmentally irresponsible.

Such a plan – if it sees the light of day – would bid up regional prices, put more pressure on the dollar, suck up capital and skilled labour already in short supply, attract more taxpayer subsidy of diesel fuel, require the creation of yet more rail and port infrastructure, impose additional risks of shipping and other accidents, attempt to establish a new community in a remote region on the back of a sunset industry, and send profits overseas. In India it would enrich the business elite and undermine efforts to grow India’s new economy with distributed, local, clean energy.

It’s irrational from a long-term economic perspective, and – setting aside any local environmental effects – it would pump out through India’s power plants and blast furnaces yet more Queensland-made greenhouse gases into a warming world.

Indooroopilly voters , like others in the cities, may think that plans to double Queensland’s coal exports have no effect on them, but manufacturing, higher education, parts of agriculture, tourism and other dollar-sensitive export sectors are already hurting from the high dollar created by the resources boom, and area businesses cannot compete with mining for skilled tradespeople such as electricians, fitters and mechanics. Plans such as this will make matters worse.

Let’s vote next month for candidates who will ask the hard questions about such deeply flawed economic “planning”.

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The Australian feels “No need to panic about global warming”

February 4th, 2012 · Posts

Please go here

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Blogging elsewhere during the Queensland Election

January 26th, 2012 · Posts

I’ll be blogging from my candidate site until we conclude the Queensland election on March 24th. First post here

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Candidate for Indooroopilly

January 2nd, 2012 · Posts

I’m running for the State seat of Indooroopilly as the Greens candidate at the upcoming election. See here for more, and here.

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Inequality in the U.S.and Australia

January 2nd, 2012 · Posts

Visiting family in California, and refreshing my impressions of the country where I met my wife, where our children were born, and which gave me most of my higher education as well as my start as an academic. Hardly surprising, then, that I resist simplistic criticisms of the U.S. by those who have never lived there and do not understand its complexity and variety.

However, some 30 years after my first American sojourn, things do have a different feel. In the city of Ventura, the homeless occupy spots at intersections, on the pier, near the beach, and in numbers I don't remember seeing before. Main Street has a number of vacant storefronts, and counts six thrift shops amongst its businesses - and this is by no means the poverty hotspot of the U.S.

This is the country which, in 2011, saw Spread Networks
run an 825-mile fibre-optic link between the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange reportedly for a third of a billion dollars in order to save programmed trades a round-trip time of 3 milliseconds, and Alberto Pujols signed with the LA Royals for a 10-year deal worth a quarter of a billion dollars, equivalent when annualised to the average income of approximately 445 Aussies (or about 139,000 Burundians - we are relatively wealthy too...).

Wealth and comfort remain strongly in evidence for many and the nation remains immensely rich. What feels new in public and private conversation is a strong undercurrent (of which the Occupy movement is the visible iceberg tip) - that inequality has reached dangerous levels. You'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you used the Republican candidate debates as any sort of guide to the national mood, but it's a definite theme as ordinary citizens and the commentariat take stock of the year just ended, and weigh up the prospects for the one underway.

It's evident in the organs of the left, obviously, (see this comprehensive graphic from Mother Jones), but elsewhere too. The rapidly growing and mainstream International Business Times, for example, lists the Occupy movement as the major story of 2011, concluding that "it has 'restructured the debate' to the point where income inequality is now on the mind of representatives and senators".

Reading Wilkinson and Pickett's "The Spirit Level", dented slightly, but by no means broken by right-wing critics such as Christopher Snowdon (it does have its share of statistical over-simplifications), the corrosive effects of excessively unequal income and wealth are brought home with stark clarity. We don't have the degree of inequality in Australia that is so confronting in America, although it exists and is associated with significant health and other challenges - see here for interactive Brisbane data.

Matt Cowgill offers an excellent summary of Oz's top 1% on his We Are All Dead blogfor those interested in reviewing where we stand in the inequality stakes.

A Happy, and Not Too Unequal, New Year, to All.

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UQ’s Centre for Coal Seam Gas and the Challenges of Scientific Integrity

November 14th, 2011 · Posts

We have a very fine university in our backyard, with many outstanding scientists and talented students.  The University of Queensland has earned its reputation through quality, and the recent resignation of its two top leaders will not greatly alter the view we have of UQ’s accomplishments.  But these events should cause the university to go the extra mile on ensuring transparency, objectivity and good governance.  This week UQ advertised a clutch of Professorships to kick off the new Centre for Coal Seam Gas, which will be part of the Sustainable Minerals Institute.

 

Coal seam gas wells on Queensland farmland (Source: ABC)

 

To say that coal seam gas  is highly controversial is putting it mildly.  Its development – principally for export – is occurring with great speed and lots of assurances, while posing truly significant threats to the social and environmental integrity of rural communities and major food-producing regions, not to mention the major expansion of shipping through the Barrier Reef it will contribute to, nor the small matter of its significant addition to fossil-fuel produced greenhouse emissions – at a time when far from “replacing coal as a transitional fuel”, it will leave our shores alongside a hugely expanding volume of Queensland and NSW coal.  One of the only areas of agreement between proponents and opponents is that we don’t have the scientific knowledge needed to properly assess these risks.  So, on the face of it, UQ’s new Centre for CSG seems like a fine idea.

But in launching this Centre largely with funding from the coal seam gas industry itself, the University of Queensland has quite predictably invited scepticism about the objectivity of the research it will produce, starting with the Australian’s piece last month questioning the transparency of funding provided by industry to the parent Sustainable Minerals Institute. This provoked a defence by Daniel Franks in the Conversation entitled “Research funding does not have to equal industry bias“.  Indeed, it doesn’t have to, but it can, and in other areas of science, it manifestly has.

We are only just emerging from a period in which other scientists have come under relentless and ideological attack for doing their job – those who have studied and reported on climate change.  Rightly, scientific leaders such as Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, rallied to their defence.   Professor Chubb told Parliament that “The scientific community as a whole has a great deal of responsibility to ensure science is elevated to where it once used to be, and not to be subject to attacks by people with all sorts of agendas”.

If UQ wants the work of these new CSG professors to be considered unimpeachable, it’s not enough that they have personal integrity and attempt to avoid bias. They need to be given the protection of fully transparent governance and disclosure, and arms-length arrangements on all decisions about selection of projects, publications, scholarships and appointments.  In health, proposed clinical trials have long been subject to rigorous ethical review, and must now be listed on a clinical register, to discourage non-publication of  findings that would not please the funder, and to enable proper post-hoc evaluation of their conduct.  Even so, as John Ionnides states “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded, …  There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

While we should credit these yet-to-be-appointed  CSG professors with professional integrity and expect from them objective, scientifically valid and useful research, we can also expect that UQ and the SMI will develop and put in place the strongest possible safeguards against their doing, however unintentionally, the bidding of an industry that has rapacious appetite for some of our most important rural land, particularly the intensively cropped broadacre farmlands of the Darling Downs, and has enjoyed – so far - an extraordinarily light regulatory touch.

 

Coal seam gas wells in S.E. Qld (developed, under appraisal or exploration. (Source: Qld DME Interactive Resource and Tenure Maps)

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Credit where it’s due.

September 25th, 2011 · Posts

Reading  The Australian is no longer a straightforward matter. At one level is the traditional business of scanning for interesting stories (i.e.  sifting through for those not already well aired electronically), skipping the dull bits and homing in on the personal favourites. Nothing special there… every newspaper reader develops such comfortable reading habits. Nor is it unusual to be ticked off by the occasional editorial, letter or opinion piece. Even loyal readers fully in tune with their paper’s outlook will sometimes take issue with an issue.

Those of us with Green persuasion, of course, will be more frequently irritated than most by the Oz, which does not hide its disdain for Greens policies and famously editorialised at the last election its belief that “(Bob Brown) and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box”. They are entitled to their view, of course, however jaundiced.

Why keep reading a paper which shows such antipathy to one’s views?  Partly Hobson’s choice, of course, with News Ltd stable-mate The Courier Mail as the only alternative in Brisbane, but also because this is a national and influential paper, and it periodically has some very good journalism amongst its diatribes.   This weekend’s feature “Is coal seam gas worth the risk?” by Anthony Klan (who contributed to the Ean Higgins article of which Ryan Independent was so critical in the previous post) was informative, balanced, and a very worthwhile read.  If the Oz wants to live up to the status it aspires to, it should give more space to this sort of journalism.   Then reading the Oz would indeed be more straightforward, and could be done without constantly wondering why the Editors insist on publishing such a ceaseless stream of one-sided and sometimes scientifically challenged opinion pieces.



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The Weekend Australian ignores privacy principles in disclosing the location of Tim Flannery’s home

August 6th, 2011 · Posts

It took the effrontery of the Weekend Australian to stir this dormant blogger from his posting slumber.  Today’s edition sees them publish a Google Earth image clearly marking the location of Prof. Tim Flannery’s home on the Hawkesbury River, which took me less than 45 seconds to locate in Google Earth and doubtless would take others even less.  In their piece, (only the print edition includes the image), journalists Ean Higgins and Anthony Klan mock Flannery’s ownership of a waterfront property in light of his earlier claims that such properties “are in grave danger” from sea-level rise, and his recent statement concerning his property that “there is no chance of it being inundated, short of a collapse of the Greenland Ice Shelf”.    Later in the article, they write:

“While his place was, he admitted, “very close to the water”, the issue was how far it was above the water – something Professor Flannery would not reveal because, he said, it could help identify the location and subject him to a Norway-style attack by conservatives.”

So these journalists or their editors, clearly aware (but obviously dismissive) of Prof. Flannery’s expressed concerns about privacy and security, (far from trivial for a public figure who has been so abused by the more extreme blog commenters and whose house is on a publicly accessible waterfront),  flagrantly violate the privacy principles of their own newspaper and of the Australian Press Council:

Extract from The Australian’s Privacy Policy:

“We are bound by the National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) in relation to the handling of personal information. Where appropriate we will handle personal information relying on the media exemption (but complying with the Australian Press Council Privacy Standards), related bodies corporate exemption and the employee exemption in the Privacy Act.”

Australian Press Council Privacy Principle 2: Use and disclosure of personal information

Some personal information, such as addresses or other identifying details, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage, and their families. To the extent lawful and practicable, a media organisation should only disclose sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news, so that these risks can be reasonably avoided.”

The irony is, of course, that The Australian has recently been so strident in disavowing any abuses of privacy, as in this piece entitled (double irony) Making a Mockery of Privacy just last week:

“This comes as the government, urged along by the Greens, has complained about the scrutiny applied to it by News Limited newspapers, including this one. It has used the phone hacking scandal in the British press to attempt to build a political case for tackling supposed abuses of privacy by the Australian media.”

Now Tim Flannery has not always made the most disciplined statements and pointing to his inconsistencies is a reasonable journalistic activity. Disregarding his privacy and security by making the location of his home so public – against his clearly expressed wishes – is, however, unconsionable.  Professor Flannery is owed an immediate and public apology.

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