Prepare For Food Shortages  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Rodent is doing some of his customary fear-mongering and wedge politics, warning voters to prepare for food shortages and blaming greens for preventing dam construction in past years. If rain doesn't fall (and thus not fill dams that do not exist) is it the fault of those who didn't build the dams, or those who helped make the rain go away...

The drought will cause a food shortage and Australians may have to get used to paying much higher prices, Prime Minister John Howard said. "There will be a food shortage and that will have an effect on prices. We do have to face that reality," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting in Melbourne. "We are seeing what the experts call a climate shift, and I do think we should keep our heads about it. I don't think we should write off farming."

Mr Howard said it was not possible to avoid water restrictions because of the current inadequate water infrastructure. "But if some years ago we had not bowed so much to the greens and had built more dams, maybe things would have been different, and that applies all around the country," he said. Mr Howard said the days of endlessly hosing the car on the back lawn on Sunday mornings were gone. [BG: heaven forbid]

The prime minister said he did not believe the drought would drive many farmers off the land, even though the federal government had doubled exit grants to $150,000. The government paid such grants to farmers and not to other struggling businesses because of the special significance of maintaining a viable farm sector.

Meanwhile, one big dam which does exist is now covered with blue green algae that is thriving in the elevated temperatures. It was a balmy 30 degrees here today - quite a lot higher than average. No wonder my tap water is starting to taste like pool water - they must be using a lot of chlorine now...
A BLUE-GREEN algal bloom has taken over most of Warragamba Dam, with small levels of toxins found just below the surface. Recent testing of the algae had shown three positive samples of microcystins, toxins that can cause skin irritation and stomach upsets if consumed in large doses. But NSW Health has stressed that the quality of Sydney's drinking water is not under threat.

Kerry Chant, the acting NSW chief health officer, said the levels of toxins were very low and had been found about three metres below the surface, not from where drinking water was being sourced.

The Water Minister, Phil Koperberg, said the bloom now stretched across 75 per cent of the dam - more than 58 kilometres - and more than twice the area it occupied at the beginning of the month. He said it was possible drinking water could be mildly affected, but this would be limited, with water being safely drawn from 48 metres below the algae. "There could be a discernible odour or taste with the water in the coming months," he said.

Warmer weather had provided the perfect conditions for the bloom to grow and could be present until at least Christmas. "It is a bloom which, due to the warm weather, is likely to persist," Mr Koperberg said. "It is very unlikely, unless there is some unforeseen meteorological event, that this bloom will either dissipate or disappear during the summer. It's, more likely than not, going to be around at Christmas."



The SMH reports the Howard government's climate "strategy" has been branded "a disaster" No sh*t Sherlock.
THE Howard Government's strategy to deal with climate change - including support for "aspirational" goals rather than binding targets - could lead to catastrophic consequences in Australia, a study has found. These include a threefold increase in heat-related deaths, the collapse of crop yields and a serious decline in river flows.

The scientific report, commissioned by the conservation group WWF, will be released today, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, join ministers from the main polluting economies in Washington to discuss climate change negotiations.

The head of WWF, Greg Bourne, criticised the Government yesterday over its support for "aspirational" goals to reduce emissions. It promoted the goals at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting that resulted in the Sydney Declaration. "The Australian Government continues to tinker while Rome burns," Mr Bourne said. "This report proves that it is contrary to the national interest for the Australian Government to negotiate any deal which is not intended to cut global emissions in half."

The report, "Dangerous Aspirations: Beyond 3degreesC Warming" in Australia, was written by Barrie Pittock, the former head of the CSIRO's Climate Impacts Group. Dr Pittock analysed a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, released during APEC, that found that even with new technologies, greenhouse emissions were still projected to rise 60 per cent above 1990 levels by 2050 if deep cuts are not made. Dr Pittock said the latest report of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found this level of emissions would lead to a global temperature rise of between 3.2 and 4.9 degrees.

"On an even more serious note, such a rise in temperature would almost certainly trigger an unstoppable climate tipping point," Dr Pittock said. This is the point where climate change reaches a point of instability, causing the changes to magnify.

Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett has done a Nelson and uttered "Three little words to freak out the farmers", provoking some bizarre misrepresentation from the restless fever swamps of the Coalition backbenches.
IT TOOK just three words for Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, to provoke the allegation that he was the "Grim Reaper" of Australia's farmers. All Mr Garrett did was say "Well, it is" when asked by the host of the ABC's Lateline, Tony Jones, whether it was time to audit agricultural land to see if any would be rendered unviable by global warming.

With that Malcolm Turnbull's assistant minister, John Cobb, declared he was horrified, saying farming voters in his seat of Parkes were terrified about what might happen to them under Labor. "It would be akin to letting the Grim Reaper loose on our people," he said. "Are we going to end up with a Garrett line across NSW which states where you can and can't farm? So-called experts pontificating in the media on which areas of agricultural land are viable, from the comfort of their air-conditioned, carbon-spewing office buildings in the middle of our capital cities, truly make me fear that sanity and the facts will be lost and our western communities could be destroyed."

But Mr Garrett did not exactly hold up a scythe when he made his appearance on Lateline on Wednesday night. Instead, he spoke of the need to have a "cost benefit analysis of the impact of climate change on the Australian economy or environment". He pointed out that there was already "a fair amount of information that is accumulated by our natural resource management agencies". He said: "What we don't have is an overall natural picture right now of the national impacts that climate change will have on agricultural lands that you can look at in one central location."

But this is the election campaign that's happening even before an election has been called. And Mr Garrett is fair game for the Government, which has already accused him of wanting to destroy the jobs of coalminers with his support for action on global warming. "It will be over my dead body that anyone is forced to leave their properties because the Labor Party wants to look like it is doing something about climate change," Mr Cobb said.

Mr Garrett issued a statement saying the claims were "ridiculous" and denying there was a "secret plan to throw farmers off their land".

Meanwhile, an ad mocking the Government's expensive climate change ad campaign has raised $100,000 in a day. The executive director of the campaign group GetUp, Brett Solomon, said the response had been "jaw dropping" with more than 2000 donating an average of $50 each.

While global warming driven drought is one factor making food less affordable, the other is the biofuel craze. The Economist has had enough and says Ethanol, schmethanol, looking at the drawbacks of ethanol and some of the leading edge alternatives (sounds like they've been reading Tech Review).
SOMETIMES you do things simply because you know how to. People have known how to make ethanol since the dawn of civilisation, if not before. Take some sugary liquid. Add yeast. Wait. They have also known for a thousand years how to get that ethanol out of the formerly sugary liquid and into a more or less pure form. You heat it up, catch the vapour that emanates, and cool that vapour down until it liquefies.

The result burns. And when Henry Ford was experimenting with car engines a century ago, he tried ethanol out as a fuel. But he rejected it—and for good reason. The amount of heat you get from burning a litre of ethanol is a third less than that from a litre of petrol. What is more, it absorbs water from the atmosphere. Unless it is mixed with some other fuel, such as petrol, the result is corrosion that can wreck an engine's seals in a couple of years. So why is ethanol suddenly back in fashion? That is the question many biotechnologists in America have recently asked themselves.

The obvious answer is that, being derived from plants, ethanol is “green”. The carbon dioxide produced by burning it was recently in the atmosphere. Putting that CO2 back into the air can therefore have no adverse effect on the climate. But although that is true, the real reason ethanol has become the preferred green substitute for petrol is that people know how to make it—that, and the subsidies now available to America's maize farmers to produce the necessary feedstock. Yet such things do not stop ethanol from being a lousy fuel. To solve that, the biotechnologists argue, you need to make a better fuel that is equally green. Which is what they are trying to do. ...

One route might be to go for yet-larger (and thus energy-richer) alcohol molecules. Any simple alcohol is composed of a number of carbon and hydrogen atoms (like a hydrocarbon such as petrol) together with a single oxygen atom. In practice, this game of topping up the carbon content to make a better fuel stops with octanol (eight carbon atoms) as anything bigger tends to freeze at temperatures that might be encountered in winter. But living things are familiar with alcohols. Their enzymes are geared up to cope with them. This makes the biotechnologists' task that much easier.

The idea of engineering enzymes to make octanol was what first brought Codexis, a small biotechnology firm based in Redwood City, California, into the field. Codexis's technology works with pharmaceutical precision—indeed, one of its main commercial products is the enzyme system for making the chemical precursor to Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that is marketed by Pfizer. Codexis controls most of the important patents for what is known as molecular evolution. This designs enzymes in the way that normal evolution designs organisms. It creates lots of variations on a theme, throws away the ones it does not want, and shuffles the rest in a process akin to sex. It then repeats the process on the survivors until something useful emerges—though, unlike natural evolution, there is a bit of intelligent design in the process, too. The result, according to Codexis's boss, Alan Shaw, is enzymes that can perform chemical transformations unknown in nature.

Dr Shaw, however, is no longer so interested in octanol as a biofuel. Like two other, nearby firms, he is now focusing Codexis's attention on molecules even more chemically similar to petrol. The twist that Codexis brings is that unlike petrol, of which each batch from the refinery is chemically different from the others (because the crude oil from which it is derived is an arbitrary mixture of hydrocarbon molecules), biopetrol could be turned out exactly the same, again and again, and thus designed to have the optimal mixture of properties required of a motor fuel.

Exactly which molecules Codexis is most interested in these days, Dr Shaw is not yet willing to say. But Amyris Biotechnologies, which is also based in California, in Emeryville, and which also started by dabbling in drugs (in its case an antimalarial medicine called artemisinin), is slightly more forthcoming. Under the guidance of its founder Jay Keasling, it has been working on a type of isoprenoid (a class of chemicals that include rubber).

Unlike Codexis, which deals in purified enzymes, Amyris employs a technique called synthetic biology, which turns living organisms into chemical reactors by assembling novel biochemical pathways within them. Dr Keasling and his colleagues scour the world for suitable enzymes, tweak them to make them work better, then sew the genes for the tweaked enzymes into a bacterium that thus turns out the desired product. That was how they produced artemisinin, which is also an isoprenoid. Isoprenoids have the advantage that, like alcohols, they are part of the natural biochemistry of many organisms. Enzymes to handle them are thus easy to come by. They have the additional advantage that some are pure hydrocarbons, like petrol. With a little judicious searching, Amyris thinks it has come up with isoprenoids that have the right characteristics to substitute for petrol.

The third Californian firm in the business, LS9 of San Carlos, is cutting to the chase. If petrol is what is wanted, petrol is what will be delivered. And diesel, too, although in this case the product is actually biodiesel, which is in some ways superior to the petroleum-based stuff. LS9 also uses synthetic biology, but it has concentrated on controlling the pathways that make fatty acids. Like alcohols, fatty acids are molecules that have lots of hydrogen and carbon atoms, and a small amount of oxygen (in their case two oxygen atoms, rather than one). Plant oils consist of fatty acids combined with glycerol—and these fatty acids (for example, those from palm oil) are the main raw material for the biodiesel already sold today.

LS9 has used its technology to turn microbes into factories for fatty acids containing between eight and 20 carbon atoms—the optimal number for biodiesel. But it also plans to make what it calls “biocrude”. In this case the fatty acids would have 18-30 carbon atoms, and the final stage of the synthetic pathway would clip off the oxygen atoms to create pure hydrocarbons. This biocrude could be fed directly into existing oil refineries, without any need to modify them.

These firms, however, have one other competitor. His name is Craig Venter. Dr Venter, a veteran of biotechnological scraps ranging from gene patenting to the private human-genome project, has been interested in bioenergy for a long time. To start with, it was hydrogen that caught his eye, then methane—both of which are natural bacterial products. But now that eye is shifting towards liquid fuels. His company, modestly named Synthetic Genomics (and based, unlike the others, on the east side of America, in Rockville, Maryland), is reluctant to discuss details, but Dr Venter, too, is taken with the pharmaceutical analogy. Indeed, he goes as far as to posit the idea of clinical trials for biofuels—presumably pitting one against another, perhaps with petroleum-based products acting as the control, and without the drivers knowing which was which.

Whether biofuels will ever be competitive with fossil fuels remains to be seen. That will depend on a mixture of economics and politics. But the political rush to back ethanol, just because it is green and people have heard of it, is a mistake. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and see which one wins Dr Venter's Grand Prix.

Architecture 2030 points out that if you want to stop global warming there is one thing you must do - "Stop Coal".
Why?

* Because coal is the only fossil fuel plentiful and supposedly cheap1 enough to push the planet to 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
* Because reaching 450 ppm (or possibly less) triggers potentially irreversible glacial melt and sea level rise.
* Because 53% of Americans live in and around coastal cities and towns and, beginning with just one meter of sea level rise, many of these cities and towns will be inundated.

Scientists are forewarning that at approx. 450 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, we will trigger potentially irreversible glacial melt and sea level rise “out of humanity’s control”2. We are currently at 385 ppm, and are increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at approx. 2 ppm annually.

At this growth rate, we will reach 450 ppm in 2035.

We are now reaching the peak in global oil and natural gas production. The global static lifetime of conventional oil is approx. 40 years, natural gas 60 years. As oil and gas peak, prices will increase dramatically and alternatives will become more economically attractive. After they peak, oil and gas consumption will decline, being consumed more sparingly, with their depletion rates stretching out over many years.

How?

We call for a moratorium on new conventional coal plants and phase out existing coal plants. This puts an immediate cap on coal plant emissions while allowing enough time to retrain coal workers for healthier jobs.

In the US, there are over 600 existing coal plants and 151 new coal plants in various stages of development. ...

Where do we start?

Buildings.

Buildings use 76% of all the electrical energy produced at coal plants. Buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming, accounting for almost half (48%) of total annual US energy consumption and CO2 emissions.



The Washington Post has an article on "The Climate Change Peril That Insurers See".
Montana is burning again. This summer, some of the nation's worst wildfires incinerated homes, barns and fences, killing livestock and forcing families to evacuate. Wildfires have increased fourfold since the 1980s, and they are bigger and harder to contain because of earlier-arriving springs and hotter, bone-dry summers. Last year's fires broke records; this year could be worse. As courageous firefighters beat back the flames, insurance companies continue to pay out billions for wildfire losses across the West.

Meanwhile, Florida is bracing for the duration of the hurricane season even as rebuilding continues from the eight hurricanes that crisscrossed the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. Storms grow ever more intense: Since the 1970s, the number intensifying to Category 4 or 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, costing insurers tens of billions of dollars.

Montana and Florida are not the only states suffering huge insurance losses from natural disasters. Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."

Marsh issued a similar statement, as did European insurance giants Swiss Re, Munich Re and Allianz. The chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, an industry risk forecaster, responded to an April report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by announcing that climate change is already increasing "financial losses from extreme weather catastrophes." A.M. Best, the historical voice of insurance, began a series in the August edition of Best's Review on the risks, regulatory issues and economic impact of climate change.

Nervous investors have begun asking insurers to disclose their strategies for dealing with global warming. At a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Andrew Logan, insurance director of the Ceres investor coalition, representing $4 trillion in market capital, warned that "insurance as we know it is threatened by a perfect storm of rising weather losses, rising global temperatures and more Americans living in harm's way." Ceres cites estimates that losses related to catastrophic weather have increased 15-fold in the U.S. property casualty industry in the past three decades.

Insurance companies are reacting. Some have simply abandoned catastrophe-prone markets or are jacking up rates. Other insurers have taken steps in the battle against climate change by offering premium incentives for "green" construction and hybrid cars, investing in companies that cut carbon emissions or develop clean energy, and offering "pay per mile" car insurance. Still others are reducing their own carbon footprints, promoting markets for carbon-credit trading and even moving to protect carbon-consuming forests.

Insurance companies make money by accurately assessing risk. For decades environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about global warming. Now major insurers are becoming engaged as they look after their own assets and those that they cover. Federal reluctance to commit to international agreements on climate change, or otherwise cap total carbon emissions, appears to be driven by influential businesses that fear the limitations will hurt their bottom lines. But the risk perceived by the insurance industry -- the world's largest economic sector -- may shift that political balance. At the least, it should tell us something.

Links:

* Tom Whipple (Energy Bulletin) - The peak oil crisis: Has the media become the message?
* Khebab (The Oil Drum) - Declining net oil exports--a temporary decline or a long term trend?
* New York Times - Banks Urging U.S. to Adopt the Trading of Emissions. Unfortunately they are arguing for carbon trading instead of simpler and more efficient carbon taxes.
* The Guardian - Diplomats accuse Bush of attempting to derail UN climate conference
* Sharon Astyk - How Fast is Global Warming Happening?
* IPS - An International Court to Try Ecological Crimes?
* The Ticker - UN: Thirty-five years to half-extinction
* Bolivia Rising - Morales to UN: "Let’s respect our Mother Earth". In theory I disagree with part of his argument, in practice its a little difficult to dispute at the moment...
* Salon - Dan Rather stands by his story. So why didn't he (and the rest of the spineless "liberal" media) stand up for themselves at the time the story was aired. Any half awake technology person (or media savvy one) knew those one handed typists at Powerline and the like were abusing themselves and the truth with all those ridiculous stories about the capabilities of Microsoft Word versus typewriters. What a crock.
* AP - U.S. Soldier: 'I Was Ordered to Murder Unarmed Iraqi'
* ACLU - The Surveillance Clock. "It's not too late - there is still time to save our privacy". A little over-optimistic I think, though some will always find ways to be anonymous.
* Open The Future - Security Through Ubiquity. And others just won't care...
* Reuters -Death Of A Photographer. The participatory panopticon option isn't without its risks.
* Danger Room - Do You Write Like a Terrorist?
* Cryptogon - Sarkozy Calls for “New World Order” at UN. Do politicians do this sort of thing just to wind up conspiracy theorists ?
* Wayne Madsen - "Lost" B-52 nuke cruise missiles were on way to Middle East for attack on Iran. Never reliable but I've seen lots of variations on this piece of tinfoil lately.

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