Category Archives: environment

Left, Right and Climate Change

In the wake of the singularly unproductive COP15 Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, I have been reflecting on the polarisation of views on climate change along political lines. Whether or not human activity is leading to climate change is a question of scientific fact: it is either happening or it is not. So knowing someone’s politics should not help to predict their attitudes towards climate change, and yet it does.

It is not conclusive of course. Most people do believe that climate change is occurring and this includes people of a full range of political views. But, climate change skeptics seem to sit overwhelmingly on the right side of the political spectrum, while those most concerned about the effects of climate change are largely left of centre. Why is this?

Some would offer conspiracy theories to explain the dichotomy. The Australian Liberal senator Nick Minchin is an outspoken critic of climate change and in November last year he claimed that the left has been intentionally stirring up fears about global warming. While his comments elicited a storm of angry responses, including from his then party leader, Malcolm Turnbull, these views are widely held among skeptics. Indeed the controversy about climate change within the Liberal Party and its coalition partner the National Party was an important contributing factor to the downfall of Turnbull from his leadership position a few weeks later. For another conspiratorial slant, Ian Plimer regularly argues that academics are pushing the idea of climate change simply to help boost their research grant money.

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Dubai Perspectives

dubai-smallI’m hoping to try something a little bit different here on the Stubborn Mule: a guest post.

But first some background. Recently I came across this article in the Independent exploring the “dark side” of Dubai. It paints a very grim picture of massive crumbling developments, environmental degredation, Western ex-pats who either revel in luxury or are thrown into debtors prison and a society built on the backs of an immigrant sub-class of near slaves. I know very little about Dubai, or the rest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for that matter, but found the article a compelling read. So, as usual, I shared the link with my social networks on twitter* and Facebook. This drew an immediate response from a friend who has lived in the UAE who thought it painted a very distorted picture of Dubai. So, I have offered her a guest spot here on the Mule to present an alternative perspective.

So, with any luck you’ll be reading the first guest post here very soon.

UPDATE: the article is written, but waiting on clearance. Fingers crossed!

FURTHER UPDATE: sad to say it looks as though the piece is not going to see the light of day. My guest poster’s employer has ruled out any scope for publishing the piece, even if it is done anonymously. It was to have given a more positive picture of Dubai, but the experience suggests to me that on the score of openness at least, Dubai does not do well!

* In fact, I suspect that I came across the article on twitter in the first place.

Burning Candles

CandleThe third Earth Hour takes place tomorrow night and once again I have been asked about carbon emissions from candles. So, without wanting to be a party-pooper, I thought I would dig up some calculations from a year ago, courtesy of the friendly family power engineer (you know who you are!).

Tomorrow night, many people will turn off the lights for an hour and light up candles instead. Since the candles themselves emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the question is will we end up reducing emissions for the hour or not? Of course, it all depends on how many candles you light up and what sorts of lights you turn off.

Since candles don’t actually emit very much light, the temptation (particularly in bars and restaurants) is to light lots of candles.  To make it concrete, think of a 40 Watt (W) traditional incandescent light-bulb. Although a 40W light bulb is not very bright, it actually emits the equivalent light of around 40 candles. The amount of CO2 emitted is equivalent to at most 5 or 6 candles. So if you turn off one light and replace it with enough candles to generate an equivalent amount of light, you’d be emitting at least 7 times as much CO2 as using the light-bulb. So, the moral of the story is not to light too many candles!

The comparison gets worse if you use energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) rather than incandescent bulbs. A 7W CFL bulb gives about the same amount of light as a 40W incandescent bulb or around 40 candles. However, the carbon emissions from this bulb is equivalent to one candle. Admittedly, this is a fairly dim bulb, so you’d be more likely to be using a brighter bulb. But even if we considered a 14W CFL bulb (equivalent to a traditional 75W bulb) this produces emissions equivalent to two candles but the light output of almost 80 candles.

So if it was just about reducing emissions, you would be far better off leaving on CFL bulbs (and switching as many of your old bulbs to CFL as possible) than lighting candles at home or in bars and restaurants. Of course, it’s more about the symolism than anything else. Furthermore, there is a real saving in commercial premises like office blocks where the lights are turned off and nothing is turned on in their place.

One final point people make is the source of the CO2. Coal-burning power stations release carbon that has been buried in the ground for a very long time, while beeswax candles release carbon that has only recently been captured (of course paraffin candles are just as bad as coal-fired power stations!). While this is true, the end result in terms of CO2 in the atmosphere is the same. Perhaps the best thing to do is to buy the candles and keep them in the bottom drawer for emergencies and keep the carbon captured, while lighting your house with CFL bulbs!

The (Optional) Details

For the brave of heart, here are some of the details used to calculate the figures discussed above.

The aim of these calculations is to compare the carbon emissions of candles, traditional incandescent light-bulbs and energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). To make this comparison fair, we should take into account the fact that candles emit much less light than light bulbs. The traditional unit of brightness for candles is candlepower, so I will start with a hypothetical candle that emits one candlepower of light. In more moden units, this is a luminous intensity of 0.981 candela.

Now, to complicate matters, the light output of bulbs is typically quoted in terms of lumens, a measure of luminous flux. The relationship between flux and total intensity depends on the area over which the light is emitted (e.g. a pinhole light might have high flux, but not much total intensity). For our purposes, I will assume that we have an unshaded bulb which emits light in just about every direction.

According to wikipedia, a 40 Watt (W) bulb has an output of 500 lumens, which converts to an intensity of 39.8 candela or 40.6 candlepower. So, our relatively dim 40W bulb generates as much light as about 40 candles. While there is a fair amount of variation amongst CFL bulbs, a typical 14W CFL is equivalent to a 75W incandescent light bulb. To get to the equivalent of our 40W bulb, we would need a CFL of about 7W. To achieve the equivalent light intensity of a 40W incandescent bulb, it would therefore require 40 candles or one 7W CFL.

Each hour a small candle burns at least 2.5 grams of candlewax (most candles would be worse than this), which contains a little over 2 grams of carbon, producing 7 grams of CO2 emissions.  So 40 candles would produce about 280 grams of CO2 each hour. These figures are based on the Hex Jar burn time in this table of candle burn times, which burns 1.5 oz of candlewax in 12 hours. Many others in the list burn at a faster rate.

Coal-burning power stations typically emit CO2 at the rate of 1kg/kWh or 1 g/Wh (need to dig up a reference on this one) (US National Renewable Energy Laboratory figures of 1.114kg/lWh are quoted here). This means that the 40W incandescent bulb produces around 40 grams of CO2 emissions each hour, while the equivalent CFL bulb is only 7W, and so it produces only 7 grams of CO2 emissions each hour. Of course, if your power comes from renewable sources, the emissions of these bulbs may be lower.

Photo credit: Rickydavid on flickr (Creative Commons).

Rudd, Carbon and the Price of Petrol

Power StackAustralia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, triggered waves of protests from environmentalists this week when he annouced that Australia’s target for emissions for 2020 would be a mere 5% reduction from the levels in 2000. With substantial commitments to emission reductions from other countries around the world, this target would be increased to 15%. The Government was at pains to point out that Australia’s population growth makes this target more ambitious than it sounds. However, by world standards Australia’s emissions are very high, whether measured per capita or by gross domestic product. This means that Australia should have more scope for relatively inexpensive emissions reductions than many other countries.

So 5% does seem to be a very unsatisfactory target. If you are a climate-change skeptic, even a 5% target is a needless waste of time and money, while if you take forecasts of climate-change seriously it seems woefully inadequate. However, rather than focusing on the target itself, in this post I will look at the implications that the Government’s plan will have where consumers will see it most directly, on the price of petrol.

In their White Paper on the carbon reduction scheme, the Government proposes a cap on the price of carbon of $40 per tonne for the next 5 years while, for their financial impact modelling, a price of $25 per tonne has been assumed. In an earlier post I calculated the impact of the price of carbon on the price of petrol. Here are the results for a range of carbon prices.

Cost of

Petrol Price
10 2.4
20 4.8
25 6.0
30 7.2
40 9.6

So, if the Government’s assumption is correct that the price of carbon will initially be around $25 per tonne, we can expect an increase in petrol prices of 6 cents per litre. Even if the price of carbon reaches the $40 cap, the impact on petrol prices will only be around 10 cents per litre. I say “only” because that 10 cents is small compared to extraordinary moves in petrol prices seen over the last year due to movements in the price of crude oil. From July to November, the price of petrol in Sydney fell by almost 40 cents per litre, according to prices published by the Australian Automobile Association, and based on my observations has fallen another 20 cents since then. Even compared to the 38 cents per litre fuel excise, 10 cents seems a modest figure. The chart below shows the dramatic moves in petrol prices along with projected prices based on the daily price of Singapore 95 refined oil, based on a regression model I have used in a number of posts in the past.

Petrol - Dec 2008

Introducing an emissions trading scheme for carbon will eventually affect a wide range of consumer prices, but based on the relatively small increase in petrol prices that it will produce, the scheme is not likely to have a significant impact on consumer behaviour. The scheme will do all its work on the behaviour of businesses and, given the dire financial straits we find ourselves in today, this is presumably why the Government has been so unambitious with their target. But this does also highlight that there is a lot more that the Government could be doing to reduce consumer carbon emissions beyond the trading scheme itself.

Photo Source: Foto43 on flickr (Creative Commons).

Bottlemania Comes to Sydney

Today’s Sun-Herald has a piece entitled “Turning Water into Wine“, which reports that the prestigious Kable’s restaurant in Sydney’s Four Seasons hotel has launched its first “water menu”. Here you get a tantalising array of choices for how to flush your money away. My favourite is a 750mL bottle of Cloud Juice rainwater from King Island for a mere $20! At first I thought it must be a joke, straight out of an episode of Penn and Teller‘s take-no-prisoners, nonsense-busting series, Bullshit.

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