Climate news, and what we’re doing about it

I have been away from home recently, with little opportunity to post to my blog, but I have been trying to keep up with the news and will seize this opportunity to share some of it. The first item re-affirms that we do desperately need to act on climate, the next two show what we are doing right, and the last two show the effect on fossil fuel consumption and (hence) companies. In each case the link is the headline and the quote beneath is a key point but the whole article is, I think, well worth reading.

What We Learned About Climate Change In 2014, In 6 Scary Charts

We are currently on track to make drought and extreme drying the normal condition for the Southwest, Central Plains, the Amazon, southern Europe, and much of the currently inhabited and arable land around the world in the second half of the century.

Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Met Office updated its bar chart of the hottest years on record to include 2014, which is headed toward a new record. …

The biggest scientific bombshell of 2014 was that the West Antarctic ice sheet appears close to if not past the point of irreversible collapse— and, relatedly, that “Greenland’s icy reaches are far more vulnerable to warm ocean waters from climate change than had been thought.”

We also learned in August that Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet more than doubled their rate of ice loss in the last five years.

Those findings have led leading climatologists to conclude we are headed toward the high end of projected sea level rise this century, four to six feet. That means we are in a major coastal real estate bubble (see “When Will Coastal Property Values Crash“).

Why Elon Musk’s Batteries Scare the Hell Out of the Electric Company

… in Davis, California, Honda Motor Co. has developed a “smart home” that produces more energy than it uses while charging a plug-in car. The home was designed in collaboration with SolarCity, PG&E Corp. and the University of California at Davis to showcase energy-efficient and renewable technologies. …

SolarCity rival SunPower Corp. is offering its solar and storage systems to buyers of electric cars from Audi AG and rebates for solar-panels to Ford Motor Co. plug-in customers. SunPower also has struck a partnership with homebuilder KB Home to begin installing solar and storage systems in California.

The time when residents can charge their electric cars with excess solar stored in their home batteries is “not decades away, that is years away,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner.

Sydney councils join forces to provide cheaper solar for residents, business

In what is becoming a familiar pattern, a group of local government councils in NSW has joined forces to take up the federal and state policy slack and drive Australian solar uptake; this time by working to providing residents and small businesses with ready access to cheaper PV systems – including through a solar leasing option.

The SMH reports that eight southern Sydney councils have jointly approached suppliers of solar PV, solar hot water and heat pumps, asking for their best offers, with the ultimate goal of having up to 30 per cent of the region’s energy needs generated by renewable sources.

‘Coal Is A Dead Man Walking’: A Look Back At 2014

King Coal ran into a slag heap of bad news in 2014. … Taken together, those developments give plenty of reasons to recall the 2011 pithy assessment of coal’s future by the head of asset management at Deutsche Bank. “Coal is a dead man walking,” said Kevin Parker. “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them … And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

Or, as then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it last year, “Even though the coal industry doesn’t totally know it yet or is ready to admit it, its day is done … Here in the U.S., I’m happy to say, the king is dead. Coal is a dead man walking.”

Oil Investors at Brink of Losing Trillions of Dollars in Assets. Gore: It’s That Road Runner Moment

A major threat to fossil fuel companies has suddenly moved from the fringe to center stage with a dramatic announcement by Germany’s biggest power company and an intriguing letter from the Bank of England.

A growing minority of investors and regulators are probing the possibility that untapped deposits of oil, gas and coal — valued at trillions of dollars globally — could become stranded assets as governments adopt stricter climate change policies.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore likens today’s fossil fuels to the subprime mortgages of the last decade that triggered the global credit crisis. Their value “is based on an assumption every bit as absurd,” specifically the notion that all known oil, gas and coal will be consumed.

There’s more on “stranded assets”, with a focus on the Galilee Basin, on a recent post on the NQCC site.

Update: the last section of this post was added a day after the rest was published, since it was too apt to leave out.

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More bananas

banana clump

The banana clump before clean-up – obviously healthy but choked with dead leaves and whole plants

An environmental group I volunteer with has its office in an old (1920s) house whose backyard has always had mango trees (every North Queensland gardener from 1900 until at least 1950 started his garden by saying, “Let’s plant the mango tree here“) and a patch of bananas.

They were left alone when the rest of the garden was put into low-maintenance mode (lawn in sunny areas, mulch under the trees) and three weeks ago, prompted by the sight of a bunch ready to pick, I spent half an hour beginning to clean them up, returning home with a small bunch of bananas and a moral obligation to go back and finish the clean-up. When I went back ten days later to do that I found another bunch ripe enough to cut down and brought half of it home, leaving the other half for Centre staff and volunteers.

green bananas

A bunch on the plant. The flower bell is tiny and at the end of a very long stem.

They are good bananas, too, although I’m not yet sure which variety they are. They are neither the (nearly universal) Cavendish nor Ducasse but may be what we call Lady Fingers, although the fruit are even shorter and fatter than most Lady Fingers I have seen. The stems are very tall – many are 4m or more – and the leaves are long (2m) and broad. Whatever they are, I will dig out a couple of suckers once the wet season gets under way and plant them in my own garden.

The texture of the fruit is more like the Cavendish than the very smooth, firm Ducasse and when you bake them the difference becomes even greater. I have a recipe for a Banana Slice which comprises a layer of sliced bananas between two layers of an oats-flour-sugar-butter-eggs dough. When it comes out of the oven, slices of Ducasse are cooked and have changed colour but are still intact and firm, while slices of Cavendish, Lady Finger or the current variety have cooked down and blended right into the cake mixture.

The same difference is apparent when you try to fry them: Ducasse stays firm and may even become rubbery, while the others soften.

bunch of green bananas

A close-up of the bunch and the flower bell

I came across a banana wiki and its associated image bank while trying to identify my new bananas. They didn’t help in that enquiry but may be useful to others interested in bananas so here they are: Promusa and Musarama.

Posted in Food, Gardening | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Brush Cuckoo

black-brown speckled bird

A juvenile Brush Cuckoo on our power-line

I have been keeping a close watch on the birds visiting my garden for a couple of years now and I have compiled a list of 35 – 40 species (the exact number depends on whether I count birds seen from my garden but not really in it) but I am still seeing new ones.

I saw this speckled bird perched on our power-line and foraging in our bottlebrush nearly a week ago. Once I found out that it was a juvenile Brush Cuckoo, Cacomantis variolosus, I started looking for the parents but (so far) with no luck. The adults look quite different – here is a photo on Birdway – and I don’t think I would mistake them for any of our other regular visitors. Juveniles of many species, of course, are camouflage coloured and it does make identification more difficult.

Both these photos were taken on the same occasion. I don’t know whether it was our guest’s first visit but it was the first I noticed; I saw what I assume to be the same bird again yesterday so perhaps it has moved in to the area.

speckled bird with caterpillar

Lunch was a hairy caterpillar

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The Christmas season

The approach of the Christmas season is heralded by signs no less consistent than those foretelling the approach of the Wet season. Emails from the Red Cross, the Wilderness Society and other charities arrive in our inboxes, reminding us that not everyone can afford the Christmas they want and that we should help where we can; banner headlines announce that Aussies will spend X billion dollars before Christmas and celebrate/lament the growth/slump since last year; paper catalogues land in our letterboxes, sometimes in spite of our “No Junk Mail” stickers; and every shop in the city is festooned with glittery red, green and white decorations and “Pre-Christmas Sale” signs.

Where, in all this, is Christ? MIA, apparently, either smothered under a heap of Santa costumes or sitting quietly in a corner lamenting our thoughtless, selfish materialism.


I’m not quite so angry about it all as the American gentleman above (thanks to FB for the image) but each year since I began this blog I have written about how not to lose sight of our common sense and decency in the commercial maelstrom. Give Twice for Christmas (2012) is as relevant as ever and I would encourage you to click through to it if you haven’t already read it, but here are some more suggestions by way of an update on it:

  • Kiva now allows people to set up a gift register if they would like gifts to them to become loans to Kiva borrowers. (Don’t know Kiva? Start here.)
  • A blogger whose focus is simple living has created a worthwhile list of non-toy gifts for children; scroll down and you will find similar lists for other family members.
  • Sustainable Table, a not-for-profit organisation which focuses on food sustainability, has put together a similar guide to Christmas shopping. The Energy Collective has done the same.

Whatever you do, try to have a good Christmas – good as in ethical, ethical as in sustainable – as well as a happy one.

Posted in Community, Conservation | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Change of season

white pigeon with black tail

Torresian Imperial-pigeon, aka Nutmeg Pigeon, feeding on palm seeds

Townsville is gradually shifting from the Dry Season to the Wet. The change is not as distinct here as in Darwin, where it’s known as “the build-up” and accompanied by intense thunderstorms, but we do notice it all the same. In no particular order …

  • The poplar gum is losing all its leaves. Again.
  • Nutmeg Pigeons, Ducula bicolor, are in town. We’ve had a couple high in our tallest trees for a few weeks, their baritone coo-hoo making their presence obvious even when they are out of sight.
  • The thermometer has forgotten all numbers smaller than 22. Days have been a bit hotter, up to 32 (still far cooler than Western Queensland’s record-breaking runs of 40-plus), and nights considerably warmer (we haven’t dropped below 22 for a fortnight and may not do so for another three or four months).
  • The Cape York Lilies have poked up their first leaves. Exotic (i.e. European) lilies have been flowering too.
  • Frangipani and Poinciana are flowering. The latter flower better when they are watered least, because they put their energy into leaves when there’s plenty of water, so neglected corners of the city shine out in unaccustomed splendour.
  • Chewed mangos have been appearing on our lawn for a couple of weeks, courtesy of the flying foxes which pick them from the neighbour’s tree and hang in our palms to eat them in peace.
  • The lawn has started growing again after looking all right with regular watering (but really just waiting around) over “winter”.
  • Clouds build up most days but haven’t yet done much beyond looking pretty.
  • We’ve had two separate mailouts from the city council reminding us that “Townsville is subject to cyclones” (!) and encouraging us to prepare for floods, storm surges, power outages, etc. I suppose they are necessary, given the numbers of people who are only here for a few years, but after twenty years we are well accustomed to both the weather and the warnings.
  • Our local (LNP) member of state parliament also sent us his newsletter and offered us, “a bright yellow Get Ready USB wrist band,”  free from his office and containing, “all the information you need to ensure you and your family are well prepared for this storm season.” It seems awfully hypocritical and tokenistic in the context of his government’s systematic attacks on the environment, up to and including spending our money on a coal mine which will contribute significantly to climate change if it goes into production rather than (as seems equally likely) being uneconomic, failing to commence operations and merely losing our money.
  • We’ve heard our first cicadas of the season – just a few, but we know there will be more later. Ditto beetles coming to the house lights at night. So far they are mostly small brown scarabs like this chafer but their beautiful green and gold cousins will be here soon, as will the impressive elephant beetles.

In the first year or two of this blog I ran a monthly series of posts on seasonality as it affected my Townsville garden and clicking on the “seasonal change” tag in the side-bar will find them plus more recent, but less regular, posts on the topic.

Posted in Birds, Gardening, Insects and spiders | Tagged | 2 Comments