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Archive for the “Environment” Category

Offset This!

hello,

I am a cyclist, send me your money. Every time you drive your gas fuming car, send me a dollar per km. When you use your washing machine, send me a dollar. When you switch on your computer, send me a dollar. When you head off on a plane, send me ten.

You see, I am a carbon sink. You can offset your nasty greenhouse gassing behavior by paying me to ride, and ride, and keep on riding. If you all send me enough, I can ride full time. Day in day out. Quit my job in managerialist-blighted academe. Say farewell forever to all to the self proclaimed professorial elites; no more to worship at the shrines they imagine their mirrors to be. Say farewell to the bean counters who loose my annual budget and pretend it was me. To all those turkeys who insist that buying my students coffee is a financial transgression. To the suited set who require, no, demand coal face penury to keep the Head’s office in plush leather and velour. Powered by Porsche and decorated by Armani.

Pay me and pay me lots. Every kg of carbon you emit, pay me some more. My pedaling will keep your conscience calmed. Even though you drive a black cloud emitting truck to work, you too can be green. Just send me your money!

Don’t be shy. Level that forest. Plant it out to oil palm. Turn it into a resort. Don’t you worry, just send me your money. I will pedal the gases away.

And when I can ride no more, I’ll grab some mates. We’ll ride in shifts. Just send us your cash. We’re the all powerful, ever ready, always willing Carbon Sink Cycling Team.

And when the rising sea floods your home, remember us in your will. When you die of thirst after the last drop disappears, don’t you worry, we’ll take what you leave behind. Need to fund a new war? We’ll offset your fumes. Need to fuel some local genocide? Don’t you worry about that, we will sink your sins. Send your cash to the Carbon Sink Cycling Team.

Or … just perhaps, do you possibly think that all this carbon trading lurk is something of an oil tarred dog? I don’t know about you, but the notion of cutting down a forest and sending off some cash for carbon offset penance sounds a touch like what the pilgrims used to have to do; pay the priests for forgiveness from sins. Good business for the church, but the sins stuck around. When the trees are down, what compensation can really be paid? Can we really offset the destruction of pristine Tasmanian habitat with a plantation in Israel? If you have the cash, you can pay the fee; the cost of blighting the planet becomes just another cost of production to be passed on to your consumers. How does this help? I seek my advice from another area of economics: in the long run, we are all dead. Thank you Professor Keynes.

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I was enjoying a highlights review of this year’s Gent Wevelgem pro tour bicycle race. It was a wonderfully compacted composite of all the exciting things that I love about bike racing (though I would say that I did not actually enjoy watching the crashes; but I now appreciate why so many pro’s still choose wheels like my cherished Ksyrium ES’s…wonderful on the pave). Never having been to Gent, but now wanting to, I was struck by the urban rural – rural mosaic settlements all along the route. Small village – field – farm house -farm house -field – field -village -field – village …. you get the picture. There are lots of manicured small farming plots (well, small by our Australian standards where sheep stations are measured in the thousands of hectares). Interestingly, many of these plots boasted big expensive latest technology tractors and other assorted bits of equipment. How do these farms stay viable? And keep their utterly connected rural settlements looking so neat, tidy and seemingly prosperous? Government support. That’s how. The Europeans support small scale agriculture to a degree that we big biz- economically rationalised Australian farmers can only dream of.

Now our ever so boring and boorish economist fundamentalist policy making masters frown on this kind of thing. All basic economics text books proclaim, with the fervour of religious enlightenment, the need for ‘efficient farming systems’ that minimise costs and maximise profits all without even the vaguest hint of government subsidy. Efficiency is defined by the absence of government support. An efficient farm is invariably a big one; one where economies of scale are allowed to reap the rewards promised by all economics 101 textbooks. This religion proclaims that small (relatively) inefficient (that is, not making enough money per dollar invested) farms be bought out by the bigger more efficient operators (who have, by definition, lower per unit costs of production). Farms get amalgamated, unit costs go down, profits go up, farming populations move to the cities and our food starts to cost less. So the theory goes.

Even though this dismal theory has been around for a long time, it’s wonderfully gratifying to see these small landholders around Gent presenting the metaphorical finger at Economics 101. They are still there; rural hamlets, farm houses, fields and villages persist despite the best attempts of the pin stripe suit BMW-driving-cafe-latte-sipping set.

But here’s the thing. What happens when the oil wars start in earnest? What happens when that dismal little man George Bush and his equally pathetic disciple John Howard (the so-called political leader of Australia; to abuse the word ‘leader’ in a most unseemly manner) finally catalyse World War III? Well, the Europeans will be exceedingly thankful that they have managed to snub economic rationalism when it comes to farming systems. Because these little farms will continue to feed the people. They are a distributed food supplier. They distribute the risk of food shortages across a vastly larger matrix of supply points than could ever be the case for the large scale monolithic agricultural factories so zealously favoured by pure economic theory. These small farmlets are a smaller target to hit with bombs. They are a smaller target to be blighted by atmospheric toxins, plagues and all the other accompaniments to the inevitable oil-dependency induced holocaust. These communities are also harder to hit than if you stick all the people in large cities. They also fill up the otherwise empty rural spaces. Imagine if everyone lived in the cities. What would happen to these wonderful rural areas like Gent? Weeds and decay; that’s what.

So, I was inspired watching this race. I was inspired to observe the juxtaposition of two glorious anachronisms in one place: cycling and small-scale farming communities. What a perfect match! Two economist defying things in one place (just try to rationalise cycle racing via any kind of economic analysis… not a chance! ).

Long live the persistence of the past into the future. Thank god.

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199024312_a790235f15A Great Green Campaigner!

I have been writing more than a few blog entries of late on the theme of government failures all around the world to address important issues like global warming and the like. I won’t go into all that here (if you want, you can look up the piece I wrote on Australia’s water crisis to get the gist). What I would like to reflect on here is that the general report card for most government efforts to address pressing, evidently catastrophic issues like global warming and other manifestations of Gaia’s revenge is an outright failure (see James Lovelock’s latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, for the dismal story). The reasons are various but include a problem set that is way too complex for any bunch of managing-from-the-top bureaucrats and politicians to understand let alone direct, a total non-alignment between political cycles (the term that these people are in power for) and the time scales of the issues involved, and a pathology to keep on flogging a horse that is well and truly dead. That horse is the almost religious belief in expert-driven policy making. Those at the top make decisions and the rest of us wear them; with recourse only through the voting system way down the track at the next election. The trouble with this dead horse is that the breathtaking complexity of these particular issues is way beyond the capacities of these narrow-focused folk to handle as a solo act.

There are so many cogs within cogs within cogs involved in warming up our planet that one does not know where to apply the oil let alone adjust the chain.

The best bet is to trash the culture of managing from the top via closed doors and replace it with a new culture of healthy and effective collaboration with all the folk; those who are causing the problems, those who know lots about the specialised bits, those who have great ideas for how to fix things and those like us sainted cyclists who are both victims (of a car fume driven warming) and part of the solution (but rarely recognised as being so).

We need the big plans to fix things, of course. And building those plans is the big event that should capture our attention for years to come. But it is the subtle stuff that goes on in the meantime that has me most excited. You see, we folk on the ground are generally outpacing our political masters in demanding action on these mega Gaia’s revenge issues. We are sweeping past our politicians who seem to be stuck in granny gear. We are are being wound up into an ever increasing frenzy to DO something about global warming and its relations. This frenzy is really a sign of another great potential shift in collective culture; hopefully this time it will take hold and drive us all purposefully towards more sensible and sustainable connections into the ecosystems that sustain all things. Like a herd of drunken buffalo milling around but not yet knowing which way to stampede, we need some directions and guidance from politics, science and culture all in tune with the singular aim of living sustainably. What should this direction look like? Should it be via the imposition of a new deal of command and control from the top or should it be a whole lot more subtle? I advocate both at once. We need a sound pathway to channel the stampede. That needs to be developed by a new species of political leader; one with vastly improved sense and sensibilities than what we have now. I have suggested elsewhere how this might be managed and the key is to declare the end of the era of the expert and get down to a vastly more collaborative, inclusive kind of governance for all. But at the same time, we can do some very subtle stuff that might have just as much impact. That’s where the bicycle steps in.

In my view, the most wonderfully powerful tool we can use to get those buffalo moving in the right direction is to strategise for the weaving of the bicycle back into the fabric of our core interpretation of sustainable living. That and putting water tanks on your house.

The integrated package of cycling (as a fitness thing, as a transport thing, as a sport, and most appropriately of all, as the vehicle for a new way of living in tune with Mother Earth) is quite possibly the single sharpest, most perfect and purposeful tool that any of us can use to hit global warming where it hurts. It’s not just a vehicle for carting ourselves around, it is also a vehicle for the utterly essential culture shift that we all need to make to adjust back within the boundaries of behaviour that the Earth can sustain. Cycling is a pregnant whale of appropriate response to the crises on hand. It is a veritable tsunami of a response to necessary green technology change, a change towards a Gaia tuned culture as the foundation for civilisation that will simply work best with the ecological realities of which Mother Earth is the final arbiter. The Green Cycling Culture I advocate is the biggest possible bang around for shifting human behaviour. Cycling is the stealth fighter of global warming control. It’s astonishingly low cost, something everyone can do, is quite brilliantly effective and is a life enhancing activity to boot. It’s a win win great tasting pill! Hell, my Pinarello even sequesters carbon!

So, if I were in control, I’d be be aiming to reinvent sensible environmental policy on the seedbed of a new cycling culture. I’d be paying for that by cancelling all wars and diverting the funds to a bikes and cycling infrastructure programme that would truly invoke shock and awe.

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I was riding my mountainbike on my favourite ride (pictured right), listening to my favourite podcast (Late Night Live with Phillip Adams); basically all in a nice connected groove… perfect whether, nice temperature, deserted road capped with recently rain refreshed green and tinge of distant thunder cloud … in that sensational everything is wonderful kind of mood that only cycling on a remote country road can provide … when the podcast discussion got really interesting.

Philip Adams introduced his next guest: Max Whisson. Now the context for most rural Australians in recent times has been largely set by a tragic drought. And by a Federal Government intent on scoring election points from feigned interest in water related issues (when actually all that is being advocated is furniture rearrangements and lots of money worthlessly spread around the same old non-delivery/dead end money sponging talk fests that are drawn to all natural crises). So all the talk is on water water water. To sum up, I am tuned to lateral thinking on water and that’s what started to come down through the wire from my iPod.

Max Whisson is a wonderfully non-academic, non-scientist, non-preconceived personal ego enhancement agenda bashing bloke who in the endearing tradition of real folk living with real issues on the ground, has come up with a gut exploding solution to just about everything to do with ‘the water crisis’. He has devised the ‘Whisson Windmill’. You need to read Phillip Adam’s recent newspaper posting on this for the full story. Here is the link:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21123007-12272,00.html

I’ve also pasted the text below just in case that link disappears before the use-by date of this blog entry. Read it now!

In essence, Max Whisson has invented a windmill driven condensation device that literally extracts water from the air; thousands of litres. It can be inserted in desert areas to seed oasis development; it can be stuck on the roofs of building for water self sufficiency. It can be put on farm sheds to capture water when rain is far far away.

What is the catch? None, it appears.

The only concern I have is that because this wonderful wonderful device has been developed outside the self-promoting scientific establishment set, it may be devalued by all those government supportive pathways that are there to ease the way for things like this (ranging from facilitating the pathway through labyrinth government approval processes through to supporting R&D and marketing; or at least not getting in the way of such things). It is a massively poignant fact to note that this invention has NOT come from the scientific research establishment!

Putting it another way, this invention strikes me as being a nice analogue of the bicycle. Both the bicycle and the Wisson Windmill are simple low tech but superbly brilliant devices that just WORK. And work with rather than against the environment. This windmill is the mountain bike of water solutions…

Long live those unassuming folk who shake our mindsets and advance any possibilities for us to re-invent a future that is at least vauguely consistent with the realities of our planetary ecosystem.

Water from wind

* OPINION
Phillip Adams
* January 27, 2007

FOR all sorts of personal and political reasons, Max Whisson is one of my most valued friends. We first made contact at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when this most ethical of men was a principal guardian of our Red Cross blood supply. More recently he’s been applying his considerable scientific skills to the flow of another precious fluid. Water.
Does this country face a more urgent issue? Will the world have a greater problem? While we watch our dams dry, our rivers die, our lakes and groundwater disappear, while we worry about the financial and environmental costs of desalination and the melting of the glaciers and the icecaps, Max has come up with a brilliant and very simple idea.

It involves getting water out of the air. And he’s not talking about cloud-seeding for rain. Indeed, he just might have come up with a way of ending our ancient dependence on rain, that increasingly unreliable source.

And that’s not all. As well as the apparently empty air providing us with limitless supplies of water, Max has devised a way of making the same “empty” air provide the power for the process. I’ve been to his lab in Western Australia. I’ve seen how it works.

There’s a lot of water in the air. It rises from the surface of the oceans to a height of almost 100 kilometres. You feel it in high humidity, but there’s almost as much invisible moisture in the air above the Sahara or the Nullarbor as there is in the steamy tropics. The water that pools beneath an air-conditioned car, or in the tray under an old fridge, demonstrates the principle: cool the air and you get water. And no matter how much water we might take from the air, we’d never run out. Because the oceans would immediately replace it.

Trouble is, refrigerating air is a very costly business. Except when you do it Max’s way, with the Whisson windmill. Until his inventions are protected by international patents, I’m not going to give details. Max isn’t interested in profits – he just wants to save the world – but the technology remains “commercial in confidence” to protect his small band of investors and to encourage others.

In essence, windmills haven’t changed in many centuries. The great propellers producing electricity on modern wind farms are direct descendants of the rusty galvo blades that creak on our farm’s windmills – and the vanes that lifted Don Quixote from his saddle.

Usually a windmill has three blades facing into the wind. But Whisson’s design has many blades, each as aerodynamic as an aircraft wing, and each employing “lift” to get the device spinning. I’ve watched them whirr into action in Whisson’s wind tunnel at the most minimal settings. They start spinning long, long before a conventional windmill would begin to respond. I saw them come alive when a colleague opened an internal door.

And I forgot something. They don’t face into the wind like a conventional windmill; they’re arranged vertically, within an elegant column, and take the wind from any direction.

The secret of Max’s design is how his windmills, whirring away in the merest hint of a wind, cool the air as it passes by. Like many a great idea, it couldn’t be simpler – or more obvious. But nobody thought of it before.

With three or four of Max’s magical machines on hills at our farm we could fill the tanks and troughs, and weather the drought. One small Whisson windmill on the roof of a suburban house could keep your taps flowing. Biggies on office buildings, whoppers on skyscrapers, could give independence from the city’s water supply. And plonk a few hundred in marginal outback land – specifically to water tree-lots – and you could start to improve local rainfall.

This is just one of Whisson’s ways to give the world clean water. Another, described in this column a few years back, would channel seawater to inland communities; a brilliant system of solar distillation and desalination would produce fresh water en route. All the way from the sea to the ultimate destination, fresh water would be produced by the sun. The large-scale investment for this hasn’t been forthcoming – but the “water from air” technology already exists. And works.

If you’re interested, email me at PhillipAdams1@bigpond.com. After some filtering I’ll pass the messages on to Max, particularly if you have a few million to invest. Better still, you may be the Premier of Western Australia or the Prime Minister of a drought-afflicted country suddenly expressing concerns about climate change. In that case, I’ll give you Max’s phone number.

Australia needs a few Whissons at the moment – and the Whissons need some initial government funding to get their ideas off the ground. For the price of one of John Howard’s crappy nuclear reactors, Max might be able to solve a few problems. Ours and the world’s.

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It’s a few days off summer here in our part of Australia. Yesterday I caught my first fly of the year (in my mouth, breathing hard up a very steep hill). The leg and arm warmers are in the drawer for another year. Another long hot Australian summer is here.

Then today, this! The heaviest snowfall for years. It does not snow in late late spring. Ever. But now it is.

It’s the revenge of Gaia. [James Lovelock, 2006, The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back – and How We Can Still Save Humaninty]. Gaia is fighting back from all that Co2. She’s showing her anger at the fumes from 50,000 new car registrations per DAY in China, from all those people driving to work in two ton four wheel drives – one person per vehicle. From all those people who insist on gassing the planet from business travel when web conferencing could be used instead. From pathetic politicians incapable of making any kind of decision that might harm their re-election chances. Like the Australian Prime Minister who insists that it is just fine for Australia to continue to swamp the world in coal and the dirty power that it produces. He tells us that wind power is worthless, solar is useless. Oil is king. That’s why Australia is part of the Iraq war for oil. I am an Australian and he does NOT represent me. Why can’t Gaia be more selective? Why can’t these politicians and other assorted car drivers be the targets?

Now James Lovelock’s new book is pretty depressing; but there is hope. Ban toxic motor vehicles and take up cycling today! Ban the car. Do you drive a car? If so, you are part of the problem. You don’t just keep on hitting your mother. She will weep, she will be hurt and she will die. The earth is our mother. Stop beating up on her with your fumes.

I rather think that this little photo is kind of poignant. It’s like a still from a post climate change holocaust film, after the car drivers have killed the planet, when us mountainbikers will be the only ones left with transport. Just remember your leg warmers. In summer.

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