Greenhouse/Climate Change and Australia

The Earth will still be here in a hundred years and two hundred years time, but it will not be the Earth that we know; it will be a much degraded place. In the early twenty-first century we all have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to do what we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and so minimise the severity of climate change.


The cost to Australia of dealing with climate change will be far less than the cost of not dealing with it.

Australia is one of the worst climate change polluters of all nations in per-capita terms. So Australia has an ethical responsibility to do more than most other nations toward lowering our emissions. Australia is a democracy, so the crimes of our government are the crimes of the people of Australia.

In 2014, due to the policies of the Abbott government democratically elected by the people of my homeland, Australia's emissions increased following the repeal of an effective carbon tax. Weak and ineffective policies from governments that are compromised by donations from a huge fossil fuel industry will see emissions continue to be much greater than they could be.

The Turnbull and Morrison governments that followed the Abbott government continued with the same pro-fossil-fuel anti-sustainable-energy policies. In 2024 coalition leader of the federal opposition, Peter Dutton continues the Liberals' tradition.

However, also in 2024 there is hope of a more ethical future parliament and government from the community independents movement. Are there enough decent and motivated Australians who are willing to put the good of the world ahead of their own selfish short-term interests to elect the needed honest representatives? The 2022 federal election was a good start, will we build on it in future?

For my own part in that, I apologise to those who are not at fault and are suffering or will suffer for the harm done by my nation.

This page created 2003/02/22, last edited 2024/07/17
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

See also Climate change in the international context.

Philosopher Peter Singer writing in The Age, 3rd April 2008 put the climate question very well:
"In Australia, we know that water for irrigation is limited, and we are beginning to discuss how best to divide it up. Here's one way of doing it: let those with the biggest pumps take as much as they want, never mind what that leaves for others. Not fair? But then, why are we using exactly this method of dividing up a scarce resource right now – not with water, but with the atmosphere? Perhaps because we're not used to thinking of the atmosphere as a scarce resource, we don't see how unfairly we are behaving."
None of the big political parties, Labor, Liberal and National, will do much about greenhouse-climate change, Australians need to lean to vote smart.

Climate change is impacting Australia now, and my state, South Australia now, and my region, the Mid-North of SA now
Dam fix
Kangaroo Creek dam, South Australia
The wall was raised by four metres and the spillway was being widened by 40 metres in response to increasingly heavy flood flows in the Torrens River due to climate change.
Photo 2017/02/25



Climate scientists agree

Contrary to claims made by some, there is very little doubt about the reality of anthropogenic climate change among scientists. (Anthropogenic climate change is climate changed caused by Man.)

Peter Hannam wrote in The Age Not much climate change doubt, science says. More than 97% of climate scientists accept that humans are causing climate change and less than 2% reject that view. Hannam wrote "That is the finding of a University of Queensland-led study that surveyed the abstracts of almost 12,000 scientific papers from 1991-2011 and claims to be the largest peer-reviewed study of its kind. The survey was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. This is a well written article aimed at laymen and published in a Fairfax newspaper.


Australia 'going alone'

We sometimes hear from supporters of fossil fuels that Australia is 'leading the world' or 'going it alone' in taking steps to reduce its rate of production of greenhouse gasses. Of course it is all nonsense. Australia ranked second last of 61 nations in The Climate Change Performance Index in 2015, and came third last among 58 nations by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe at the Paris Climate Summit in 2016. Those who claim that Australia is in any way 'leading the world' are either ignorant or working on the theory that a lie often enough told might be believed.
Updated 2017/02/25

CSIRO climate report

The State of the Climate 2012 report noted that the world's 13 warmest years on record were all in the last 15 years. Since then 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 have each set new records.
Australia ranks 53rd in the world in population, but sixth in the world in the CO2 produced by its electricity industry; it has 0.3% of the world's population, but produces 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gasses; it is well up among the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet. Australia's per-capita greenhouse gas emission rate is about 17 tonnes per annum, more than three times the world average, which is about 5 tonnes per annum. This gives Australians an ethical responsibility to reduce the harm we are doing to the planet. If you are not doing what you can to reduce your greenhouse impact you are enjoying your life at the expense of your kids lives.

The USA and Australia, with a couple of small middle eastern oil states, are the worst per-capita greenhouse polluters in the world. The Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments all failed to treat the problem with anything like the urgency it require. The Abbott Government was even worse, the Turnbull Government was a great disappointment and the Morrison Government was perhaps the worst of them all.

Wendy Bacon reported in Sceptial Science that Australian media, especially the Murdoch controlled part, was the most climate-sceptical in the world. Is this due to the huge financial influence of the coal mining industry? (Australia is the fifth largest coal miner and the biggest coal exporter in the world.)

Closely associated with climate change is ocean warming and ocean acidification. For some years the bleaching of coral reefs has been known to be caused by the former, more recently the latter has been shown to be caused by the higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and to pose a great risk to all sea-life that produces skeletons of calcium carbonate. In addition to the corals, many of the tiny animals that make up plankton have calcium carbonate skeletons; they provide one of the greatest food sources for cephalopods (squids and octopuses), fish, dolphins and whales.

Sea creatures with calcium carbonate skeletons eventually die and some of mineral matter in their skeletons is buried in the sea bed. This is one of the most important ways in which carbon is taken out of the atmosphere in the long term. Ocean acidification has the potential to substantially slow this process; effectively leading to an accelerated increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This page is intended to provide some useful information on the human induced greenhouse and its related effects, but is not, by any means, a full explanation. It provides evidence obtained from a number of sources, and links to reputable organisations that can provide evidence. For a discussion of what Australia and Australians could reasonably do to reduce Australia's huge levels of greenhouse gas production see What should be done?. I speculate on why humanity is so slow to react to such a serious problem in the psychology of climate change, and compare climate change to other disasters on another page.

I suspect that future generations will condemn nations like Australia and the USA because of our part in the greenhouse warming of the world.


Why accept that humanity is causing climate change?
(Climate change caused by humanity: anthropogenic climate change, ACC)

First, the science:
  • The great majority of papers published in peer-reviewed climate journals accept the fact of ACC;
  • The vast majority of climate scientists accept the reality of ACC;
  • I doubt that there any scientific organisation that has any interest in climate, anywhere in the world, that does not accept ACC.
In addition:
  • Almost every national government in the world accepts the reality of ACC;
  • I doubt that there is any respectable university in the world that teaches that ACC is not true.
  • The world's reinsurance industry is factoring-in increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters caused by climate change to the cost of insurance coverage;
  • The world's mainstream religions are pushing for serious action to slow climate change.
And the evidence is getting stronger all the time. For more information see Why accept climate science.

The importance of peer-reviewed literature

The popular media gives the impression that there is still argument over the reality of Human induced climate change, but there is almost 100% unanimity in the peer-reviewed literature of the climate scientists.
From Loren D. Knopper and Christoper A. Ollson in 'Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review of the Literature'; published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health.
"Publication of scientific findings is the basis of scientific discourse, communication and debate. The peer review process is considered a fundamental tenet of quality control in scientific publishing. Once a research paper has been submitted to a journal for publication it is reviewed by external independent experts in the field. The experts review the validity, reliability and importance of the results and recommend that the manuscript be accepted, revised or rejected. This process, though not perfect, ensures that the methods employed and the findings of the research receive a high level of scrutiny, such that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation of results, prior to their publication. This process seeks to ensure that the published research is of a high standard of quality, accurate, can be reproduced and demonstrates academic / professional integrity."

Some adverse effects of greenhouse warming/climate change

Greenhouse warming has already caused bleaching of many coral reefs, an increased rate of melting of the Greenland icecap, the thinning of the arctic sea ice, the breakup of several Antarctic ice shelves, and the retreat of many mountain glaciers; it has been implicated in the long-term decline in rainfall in the African Sahel, the Australian Millennium Drought, and the increased frequency of hurricanes. If unchecked, man-made (anthropogenic) climate change will result in:

The burning of fossil fuels is a huge environmental disaster

I've written on this point more recently (2017) on another page on this site.

No escape for Great Barrier Reef

It has been suggested (was it by Malcolm Turnbull?) that the Great Barrier Reef is not threatened because as the Pacific Ocean warms the reef will simply move gradually south into cooler water. This will not happen because the seabed to the south of the present reef is not shallow enough far enough from the coastline. Some new reefs close to the coast might form, but the offshore water is too deep for the necessary light to penetrate to the bottom for reef growth. Also, coral reefs only grow in clean water; the water further south probably contains more industrial pollution.
  1. Higher temperatures and increased summer temperature stress on animals and plants. As of early 2016 the sixteen hottest years in the history of reliable global temperature data have all occurred since 1998 – as shown in the table on the right. This was reported by NOAA (USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Authority) in its 'Global Analysis – Annual 2015'.
  2. More frequent days of extreme fire danger (and consequently more intense and more extensive fires) in Australia – to the point where the authorities have introduced a new classification of 'catastrophic' fire danger;
  3. An increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, heat-waves, severe dust storms and hurricanes;
  4. Long-term rainfall decline in some areas, increase in others. In many cases this will cause the displacement of the residents (human, animal and plant) of those areas;
  5. Habitat change; some areas will become unsuited for their fauna and flora;
  6. Warming oceans causes bleaching of coral reefs. This will result in the loss of reefs – Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in serious danger (see note in box on right);
  7. The spread of some diseases into areas where they have not previously been a problem;
  8. Extinction of many species;
  9. Destabilisation of populations; Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police, has said that this will be the greatest threat to Australia's future security;
  10. Possible changing of some of the major oceanic currents (if the Gulf Stream was to fail, as seems possible, much of northern Europe would become uninhabitable);
  11. Sea level rise – which will lead to flooding of some very populous river deltas (eg. Nile, Mekong, Ganges) with resultant displacement and probable starvation of millions. Several low-lying Pacific island nations could virtually disappear;
  12. The melting of mountain glaciers, particularly in the Himalayas, with the consequent forming of high altitude lakes. The lakes are held back by moraines which then become unstable and can burst causing catastrophic flooding;
  13. Loss of productivity of farm land.
  14. Possible run-away greenhouse due to such things as release of the methane currently locked up in permafrost, melting of sea-ice, etc. There is even a very small possibility that such a run-away greenhouse event could cause the Earth to become a second Venus; a lifeless planet that 'has been cooked to death'.

The number of days on which Australian mean temperatures were in the hottest 1% since records began
Top percentile temperatures
Graph credit: Bureau of Meteorology, State of the Climate 2014. See the BoM site for more up-to-date data.

Is the record drought in eastern Australia caused by climate change (see map below)? Research carried out by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO indicate that the Walker circulation (an important wind system in the South Pacific) has been effected by climate change in such a way as to make drought in Australia much more likely.

Australian rainfall trends
Australian rainfall trends – Bureau of Meteorology

The areas coloured in browns are where the rainfall has decreased in the last 52 years, the areas in greens have had increases in rainfall.

(This page uses several technical units. Energy units, definitions and conversions are available on an additional page.)


This is a time of greatness

Great danger, great challenges, great opportunities, great ideas, great apathy, great selfishness, great greed, great crimes, great evil, great dreams, great changes, great cowardice, great courage, great achievements

Climate change is the greatest danger and challenge facing mankind today. But dangers and challenges bring opportunities, great dangers and challenges bring great opportunities.

If we get it wrong we will have committed the greatest crime ever imposed by one generation on those to come; Humanity will cause the greatest destruction, indeed extinction, ever brought about by one species on thousands of others.

If the people of the world can successfully limit their greenhouse gas production rates to a sustainable level it will be humanity's greatest ever achievement.

Those few world leaders who stand in the way of cutting back greenhouse gas production are the greatest ever villains: their crime is far greater than Hitler's Holocaust or Stalin's purges. Those who lead the world in combating climate change should be counted among the world's greatest heroes.

Is there a scientific consensus for anthropogenic (man-made) global warming?

The short answer is yes.

A Study by Dr Naomi Oreskes, University of California, San Diego, published in the peer reviewed magazine, Science, December 3, 2004 Vol. 306, Issue 5702,1686 described a random sample of nearly 10% of articles on global warming published in peer reviewed journals in the previous 10 years. Of the 928 articles sampled, and analysed whether agreeing or disagreeing with the prevailing consensus view of anthropogenic global warming, none disagreed with this consensus.

What do the papers say?

Another study was of the newspaper stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and the Wall Street Journal, published in the previous 14 years, sampled about 18% of articles (636 articles) and applied the same question of agreeing or disagreeing and came up with 53% in doubt or disagreeing with this scientific consensus view.

I would like to thank Dr Colin Endean for the above information.

The Murdoch media empire is notoriously unreliable in its reporting of climate change related matters, apparently doing anything to increase sales and viewer numbers.


What is the science telling us?

According to NASA "Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities."

And even for those who deny the science, there are many other reasons to accept the fact of climate change.

There's about as much doubt about global warming as there is about whether the Earth is flat or round.

Is it caused by Man?
Graphic credit: The Berkeley Blog
The graph on the right shows that the vast majority of climate and earth scientists accept that global warming is largely caused by Mankind. Published in Environment Research Letters, Cook, Nuccitelli, Green, Richardson, Winkler, Painting, Way, Jacobs and Skuce examined 11 944 abstracts and found:

"that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming."

Other papers on the consensus between climate scientists have been written by Oreskes, 2004; Heima; and Anderegg, 2010.

Also see Wikipedia Scientific consensus on climate change

Obviously the scientists in those specialities where they would be well placed to know about climate change are in no doubt. The fact that the popular media are suggesting that there is a lot of doubt on the matter explains much of the confusion in the general public. Respectable popular science journals, such as Scientific American and New Scientist, are not in any doubt that climate change is happening and is largely caused by human activity.

One must be cautious about quotes from 'scientists' about any subject outside of the field of the individual scientist. A scientist, like any other person, often has little expertise outside of his or her own speciality.

Geologists are not climatologists

For example, a geologist, while perhaps being well placed to know about climates millions of years ago, is not at all likely to know a lot about the complex factors that effect today's climate, or the likely climate in the next century. In fact, a geologist, unless he has specialised in the paleoclimate field, might know little about climates even in the distant past.

I pick on geologists because they seem, more than most other scientists, to be skeptical about the causes of recent climate change. It is quite true that there have been huge changes in climate in the very distant past; one need only think of the ice ages, and there have also been very warm periods. However, what the geologist-skeptics seem to neglect is that any of these changes, especially those that came on suddenly – and a change that happened over a century or two is a very sudden change in geological time – were disastrous to many species.

Geologists are trained to look at things in the very long term. It is true that the biosphere will adjust to climate change. In several million years, or tens of millions of years, things will have settled down again and a visitor to the earth might not easily see that anthropogenic climate change ever happened; although, if he studied the genetic diversity of the species present he might come to the conclusion that some great disaster happened in the geologically recent past.


Geologists are often closely connected with the mining industry which, being very greenhouse intensive, has strong economic motives in playing down the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

A well known geologist-climate-change-skeptic, Ian Plimer, was Professor of Mining Geology at Adelaide University and has substantial interests in the mining industry. It is human nature for people to sympathise with their associates; a professor of mining geology will associate with miners. Professor Plimer is also a member of several mining company boards.

It should also be remembered how people running the tobacco industry managed to ignore the facts about the health problems associated with their product.

271 university economists' statement on greenhouse

The Howard Government's justification for not acting to reduce Australia's very high greenhouse gas production levels has always been based on economic arguments and on jobs. (In 2013, Tony Abbott's justification for taking very little action was similarly based on economic arguments.) What do the economists say?

The following is a quote from a media release by the Australia Institute:

"Seventy five professors of economics today called on the Federal Government to stop undermining international efforts to tackle climate change and to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay.

The 75 professors are among 271 Australian university economists who have signed a statement drawing attention to the economic damage to Australia of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The full statement seems no longer to be available from the TAI site.

It seems that the economists realise the damage that will be done by greenhouse far outweighs any damage to the economy caused by addressing the problem. I wonder if Howard's real reason for doing nothing is simple pig-headedness; he has always been against it and he's not about to change his mind – to change his mind would be to admit he was wrong, and he never admits he was wrong on anything.

More than 200 prominent Australians issue urgent call to act on climate

Quoting from an article in RenewEconomy written by Michael Mazengarb, 2020/07/24:
"A group of more than 200 leading Australians, including leading scientists and academics, business and community leaders, former politicians and rockstars have issued an urgent call to action on major threats to humanity’s future, including global warming.

Signatories to the open letter include former Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, former top federal public servant Martin Parkinson and rockstar Jimmy Barnes. Signatories also include a number of former state premiers, including Bob Carr, Steve Bracks, Geoff Gallop, Carmen Lawrence, and Jay Weatherill."
The letter itself and a list of its prominent signatories was published on the Human Future Internet site and I quote it below:

As nations worldwide deal with the economic consequences of their battle with the coronavirus, it’s time to change direction so that humanity can survive and thrive far into the future. We cannot go back to business as usual.

The coronavirus crisis, with its economic and social impacts, can be seen as a dress rehearsal for what awaits us. Unless we take unified preventative action urgently, we will continue to be caught napping by ten catastrophic threats, including destructive changes in climate, serious shortages of water and other critical resources, pervasive pollution, the growing danger of nuclear war and the mass extinction of species.

The world, its governments, corporations and people, are unprepared for these risks because we have constantly ignored, in some cases for decades, well-substantiated warnings about them from science. As a result, as surely as the coronavirus followed last summer’s bushfires, we face crisis piling upon unanticipated crisis at an ever-increasing rate.

This MUST change. Hoping to relax back into the way we were is not an option. Societies have already demonstrated unexpected willingness to adjust behaviour, in ways they probably never imagined, in response to the pandemic.

The catastrophic risks we face, the policy pathways we must consider and some of the solutions to individual risks are described in the report “Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century” by the Commission for the Human Future

We call on all governments, industries and people to join together in developing a national dialogue, sound policies and a concrete plan for surviving and thriving amid the mounting dangers that beset humanity.

We can and must move in a new direction to ensure a positive future for our children and theirs."

Australia and climate change

This section added

Australia's native bush and trees are suffering from climate change

The paragraph below is extracted from The big dry: forests and shrublands are dying in parched Western Australia; The Conversation, 2024/04/15, written by Joe Fontaine, George Matusick, Jatin Kala, Kerryn Hawke and Nate Anderson.

Tree dieback in the Spring Gully Conservation Park, Clare, SA
Red stringybark
Photo 2008/05/11
By mid April 2024 Perth had just been through its driest six months on record, while the summer just past had been Western Australia's hottest on record. Beginning in February 2024, large areas of vegetation started to turn brown and die off. With no real relief in sight, it was expected that this mass plant death event would intensify and expand. The summer of 2010-2011 had seen a similar event sweep south-western Australia.

South Australia too had suffered tree die-offs. Following the exceptional summer of 2007/08 many red stringybark trees in the Clare area died. See climate change near my home in the Clare Valley of South Australia.

Fourth global coral bleaching event, fifth in eight years for the Great Barrier Reef

NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Authority) reported:
"The world is currently experiencing a global coral bleaching event, according to NOAA scientists. This is the fourth global event on record and the second in the last 10 years."
See NOAA confirms 4th global coral bleaching event, 2024/04/15. For Australia this was the fifth mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in eight years, as reported for Euronews by Rosie Frost on 2024/03/08.

Update, 2024/01/05

Australia's air and sea-surface temperatures, 1910 to 2022
Air and sea-surface temperatures
Extracted from BoM, state of the climate, Australia, 2022
Downloaded 2024/01/05
The graph from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on the right shows that both surface air temperatures and sea surface temperatures have risen significantly from about 1950 to the present.

There is every reason to think that not only will the warming continue, but the rate of warming will increase in the foreseeable future.

Quoting from the BoM state of the climate report:

  • Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.47 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910.
  • Sea surface temperatures have increased by an average of 1.05 °C since 1900. This has led to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events over land and sea.
  • There has been a decline of around 15 per cent in April to October rainfall in the southwest of Australia since 1970. Across the same region, May to July rainfall has seen the largest decrease, by around 19 per cent since 1970.
  • In the south-east of Australia, there has been a decrease of around 10 per cent in April to October rainfall since the late 1990s.
The climate change situation is very serious for Australia and for the whole world. Dealing with the impacts of climate change will be much more expensive, both financially and environmentally, than would be dealing with our excessive greenhouse emissions.

Western Australia's decreasing rainfall

My wife Denece and I moved from SA to WA in early 2022. The CSIRO report, Australia's Changing Climate, shows that the southwest of WA (where we, and the great majority of the WA population live) has suffered more than other parts of Australia through climate change. A quote follows...
"The drying in recent decades across southern Australia is the most sustained large-scale change in rainfall since national records began in 1900. The drying trend has been most evident in the southwestern and southeastern corners of the country. The drying trend is particularly strong between May to July over southwest Western Australia, with rainfall since 1970 around 20 per cent less than the average from 1900 to 1969. Since 1999, this reduction has increased to around 26 per cent."
The WA Water Corporation has reported that "An average 20% decline in rainfall throughout the South West has seen streamflow reduce by over 80%." The WA government has announced the building of the state's third sea-water desalination plant. Just the first stage of this plant is expected to cost $2.8 billion.

Australia's greenhouse emissions

As mentioned above, Australia ranks 53rd in the world in population, but sixth in the world in the CO2 produced by its electricity industry; it has 0.3% of the world's population, but produces 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gasses; it is well up among the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet. This gives Australians an ethical responsibility to reduce the harm we are doing to the planet.


The China red herring

Those Australian politicians who oppose action on climate change often refer to China and say things like "China burns a huge amount of coal and has far higher emissions than Australia".

What you never hear them say is that Australia's per-capita greenhouse emissions are more than twice those of China (16.92 tonnes per annum against 7.05 tonnes).

And this does not take into account all the coal that Australia exports to be burned elsewhere. If this was taken into account the emissions that Australia was responsible for would more than treble.

Yes China should act with urgency to minimise its emissions, but by any logical or ethical argument Australia has a far higher obligation to act.

Many of Australia's federal politicians, and Australia's recent governments, ignore ethical standards in their arguments in favour of fossil fuels. It should not need to be said that an unethical government is never a good government.

But on top of this Australia and Australians must take responsibility for the fossil fuels that they export to be burned elsewhere.

Coal exports

According to Wikipedia Australia exported 389 million tonnes of coal in 2016 (at the time of writing the most recent year in the Wikipedia article). Australia was at the time the biggest exporter of coal in the world. The carbon content of coal varies widely but when burned this 389 million tonnes of coal would result in well above 500 million tonnes, possibly as high as a billion tonnes, of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year. The air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, kills millions of people world-wide each year.

Gas exports

In November 2018 Australia overtook Qatar as the world's biggest liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter, sending off 6.5 million tonnes against Qatar's 6.2 million tonnes.

I've calculated elsewhere that burning 1 kg of natural gas results in 2.8 kg of CO2 going into the atmosphere. So when the 6.5 million tonnes of natural gas that Australia exports each year is burned it results in the release of 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

So, adding it all up – the bigger, and blacker, picture

Annual average per-capita carbon emissions for each person in the world is 4 tonnes. Annual average per-capita carbon emissions within Australia is 18 tonnes (Wikipedia). Taking into consideration the amount of carbon Australia exports Australia's per-capita emissions become 39 tonnes each year, about ten times the global average.

Climate action rating
Image source: German Watch: The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Note Australia's position; second last of 61 nations.

In the above report, the comment about Australia in the Climate Policy section is:

"Since joining the "very poor" group last year, Australia has lost even more ground and now comes in last together with Canada and Turkey."

Nice words

A quote from the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, Liberal, WA, (speaking about climate change, 2005/07/26):
"It is an incredibly important issue and there are incredibly strong reasons for taking comprehensive, effective global action to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions."

In 2016 we are not even hearing 'nice words' from the Coalition any more, let alone credible action.

The specious greenhouse argument:
"Too small to make a difference".
It doesn't stand up to even a little thought and examination.

This argument is looked at in a different way in The great fallacy
Professor Matt McDonald wrote a strong rebuttal of the 'too small to make a difference' argument on The Conversation on 2019/06/18. He pointed out that the argument fails on three counts, the per-capita argument, the fact that Austraia's coal exports should be taken into account, and the fact that Australia has a huge capacity to act while many poorer nations have a far smaller capacity.
One argument for doing very little that pops up periodically is the 'Australia is too small to make any difference' one. It goes something like this:
"Australia only produces about 1.5% of the world's greenhouse gasses. If we were to cut our emissions to nothing tomorrow it would make very little difference to the world. Therefore we would be foolish to risk crippling our economy by taking strong action."
The fallacy in this argument can best be demonstrated by taking it even further.
"South Australia produces well under one percent of the world's greenhouse gasses; South Australians can't be any part of the problem!" and further: "The people in my home town of Crystal Brook produce a tiny proportion of the world's greenhouse gasses, plainly we don't need to bother reducing our production." and further: "I produce maybe only a billionth of the world's greenhouse gasses, there's no point in me changing my ways."
Australia is a part of the world; we must do our bit. On a per-capita basis Australians are responsible about five times as much greenhouse gasses as the average world citizen. We have a larger moral responsibility to reduce our emissions than most other nations and most other people.

An often used invalid argument

Would it be justifiable for me to say "No, I will not stop throwing rubbish out of my car windows. To do that would cause me some inconvenience and it would make a negligible difference to the amount of rubbish on the roadsides"?


Then neither is it justifiable to say, as has been said many times, "If Australia was to reduced its emissions it would impact our economy but would not solve the climate change problem".

I suspect that most of the people who use this argument know that it is not valid, but they hope that some people will accept it as valid. And the more often it is said without immediately being refuted the more likely it is to be accepted.

I have listed a number of the actions that the Australian government could take to reduce Australia's greenhouse impact on What should be done?.

Is it really happening? Is the world getting warmer?

Northern hemisphere temperatures
Northern hemisphere temperatures – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology
This image is compressed for faster loading
Reconstruction of northern hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years based on instrumental and proxy data records.

The steep rise in temperatures starting in the early twentieth century is obvious.

Australian mean temperatures
Australian Maximum Temperature Anomaly – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology, 2019

Australian mean temperature anomaly

The graph on the right shows the change in average annual temperatures from 1910 to 2018. For each year it shows how the average temperature for that year compares to the average temperature for the base period, 1961-1990. Years below that average are represented by blue bars going downward and years above average temperature are represented by red bars going upward. The length of the bars show how far the temperature of that year deviated from the average.

Australian Climate Extremes; Trend in number of cold days – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology, 2010
The figure on the right shows the trend in the number of cold days in Australia. Note that the largest declines in the numbers of cold days are in the south of the continent. (The number of hot days are increasing in Australia too, but the increases are greater in the centre and north of the continent. See BoM.)

Local evidence of climate change

Reduced stream flow

I worked in the field of hydrogeology (underground water) in the Mid North region of South Australia for about 30 years. Surface water in creeks, especially in the drier half of the year depends greatly on groundwater; groundwater can move into creeks (via springs) and water in creeks can seep underground and recharge local aquifers (underground formations that can store and transmit water).

As a part of my work I monitored some of the local creeks and rivers. Over the period that I did this monitoring, mainly around 1990 to 2003, I recorded a long-term decline in flows.

As there was little human extraction of groundwater from at least some of these catchments it is most likely that the decline in flows is related to climate change.

The Crystal Brook is close to my home. I have personally noticed a great reduction in the frequency and volumes of flow in this stream over the period during which I have lived in the township of Crystal Brook; around 1976 to 2022. The red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along the Crystal Brook have suffered badly from the decreased flow.

A redgum on the Crystal Brook
Tree in 2008 Tree in 2014
April 2008
January 2014

The tree above has, together with all the other red gums along the lower Crystal Brook, suffered from climate change trends. Note that in the image on the right the tree has far less foliage than in the earlier image.

Evidence of climate change at Clare

The blue diamonds are long-term average temperatures for Clare. Pink squares are average temperatures measured in particular months.

Note that, in most cases, the temperatures measured in recent months have been higher than those for average months (pink plots are above blue plots) – evidence that the climate is warming in the Clare Valley. For the whole of this period temperatures were 0.79° warmer than the long-term average.

These data are from Bureau of Meteorology records available on the Net.

Much of my time is spent in the Clare Valley of 'Mid-North' South Australia (about 75km from Crystal Brook). Temperatures at Clare, like most other parts of Australia, have increased in recent years.

The graph at right shows long-term average monthly temperatures and the average temperatures of recent months. The important point in this context is that most of the recent months were warmer than average months.

Higher temperatures cause greater need of water by native vegetation; however, we are not getting any more rain; in fact recent years have generally been drier than average. Early 2008 was particularly dry and in March 2008 there was a heat wave of such length that it went well beyond the previous record. This placed the native trees in the Clare Valley under such stress that by May thousands of them were dead.

Many years ago a conservation park was established at Spring Gully near Clare to protect a pocket of red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees that had, thousands of years ago, become separated from the remainder of the species. These have proven particularly vulnerable to the drought and heat; in May 2008 it appears that many of these trees have died.

It is more a guess than an estimate, but it seems to me that a third to a half of the stringybarks in the Clare Valley are dead.

Clare rainfall record

Clare rainfalls
Note the decline in rainfall in recent years

An observation

I had a dam built on my property four kilometres from Clare about 1995. I sold the property in 2022. In the early years the dam would fill about every second year. It didn't fill at all in about the last five years.
The graph at the right is made up of Bureau of Meteorology data taken from Clare Post office (1863 to 1994) and Clare High School (from 1995 onward). (The high school is a kilometre or so from the post office. This introduces a doubt in the validity of concatenating the two records.)

The average annual rainfall from 1863 to 1990 was 632mm, from 1991 to 2008 it was 557mm, 75mm lower. In the period from 1994 to 2008 the average was 525mm, 107mm lower than the 1863 to 1990 average. The curved line was calculated as a line of best fit to the data.

The steepness and persistence of the decline in rainfalls since about 1970 seems to be unprecedented in the data. Plainly the declining rainfalls, combined with higher temperatures, will stress perennial plants.

Worryingly, the decline in rainfall seems to be becoming steeper, there is no reason to think that the bottom has been reached.

See also Climate Change hits the Clare Valley.

Dead red stringybark
Red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees, Spring Gully Conservation Park, South Australia. Many in this photo died.

The photo was taken on 11th May, 2008;

More information on another page on this site.


Are temperatures related to greenhouse gasses?

CSIRO: Relation between temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels
over the last 400 000 years The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia has interesting data on this point.

The pair of graphs on the left shows that, over the past 400 000 years, atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels have been very closely linked to temperatures.


Are our activities significant?

CSIRO: Atmospheric CO2 levels for the last 1000 years Is our civilization really having any significant impact on atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels?

This CSIRO graph shows that CO2 levels have increased steeply since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Technical Paper IV, 2007, on climate change and water stated that:

"The atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in 2005 exceed by far the natural range over the last 650 000 years. Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. It is very likely that the observed increase in CH4 concentration is predominantly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use."
(The IPCC report is no longer available from the Net.)

To claim that the atmospheric changes are coincidental is to hide one's head in the sand.

The importance of electricity consumption

A study called 'A Clean Energy Future for Australia' for the Clean Energy Futures Group wrote the following:
"In 2001 energy which users obtained by direct combustion of fuels and collection of solar heat provided 69% of the energy supplied to users (including use in the production and processing of fuels other than electricity), but accounted for only 31% of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary energy. Electricity generation accounted for the other 69% of emissions."
Put simply, while less than one third of Australia's energy comes from electricity, more than two thirds of Australia's greenhouse gasses, from the energy sector, are produced by our electricity generators. So if Australia is to reduce its greenhouse gas production rate, the electricity generation industry is a good place to start.

Comments on some objections

Some people still believe that the man-made greenhouse effect is imaginary. This section lists several of the objections that have come my way, and answers them.

Temperature records are not sufficiently accurate and/or not sufficiently long for us to be sure that temperatures have really risen.
Not only are there records of directly measured temperatures, but past ocean temperatures can be inferred by measuring oxygen isotope ratios in oceanic fossils of known ages.

Encyclopaedia Britannica...

"The record is relatively consistent from one core sample to the next and can be correlated throughout the oceans."
Also see BOM temperature graph (on this page).
Thickness of some polar ice sheets is increasing; does this make sense if the world is becoming warmer?
Temperature is not the only variable involved (and in any case while average global temperatures are rising, not all local temperatures are necessarily doing the same). A quote from the USA EPA:
"Precipitation has increased by about 1 percent over the world's continents in the last century. High latitude areas are tending to see more significant increases in rainfall, while precipitation has actually declined in many tropical areas."
An increase in winter snowfall would cause thickening of some ice sheets.

Antarctic sea ice extent hits a third low in a row, 2024/02/28.

Also, it should be noted that the Greenland ice sheet is melting at record rates and the Arctic Ocean ice cover is thinning.

The amount of greenhouse gasses produced from natural processes is much greater than is being produced by Man, so doesn't than mean that our effect is negligible?
The short answer is no. A quote from World Book Encyclopaedia on CD ROM, 2000.
"Without the natural greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the earth's surface would be about 33oC cooler than it is now."
We need this much greenhouse warming, but significantly more could be disastrous. Note that if we add only 10% to the natural effect, that's another 3 degrees C.
Isn't the warming of the past century just a natural rebound from the little ice age?
The little ice age was mainly confined to Europe (it peaked from 1650-1750), and any rebound from that would have been largely completed by the 20th century. Indeed, the natural long-term climate trend today would be toward a cooler climate were it not for human activities. (Thanks, in part, to Scientific American)
The surface warming that is claimed to be evidence of global warming is mainly urban 'heat island' effects near weather stations.
Not so. As predicted, the greatest warming is found in remote regions such as central Asia, the Antarctic Peninsula and Alaska. The largest areas of surface warming are over the ocean, far from urban locations. (Thanks, in part, to Scientific American)

Also see Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Surface temperature analysis.

Quotes from authoritative sources

Encyclopedia Britannica (1999 CD ROM)
"Should present trends in the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly of CO2, continue beyond another 100 years, climatic changes larger than any ever experienced during recent geologic periods can be expected. This could substantially alter natural and agricultural ecosystems, human and animal health, and the distribution of climatic resources."

United States Environmental Protection Agency Website
"Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. Deserts may expand into existing rangelands, and features of some of our National Parks may be permanently altered."

New Scientist Journal Website

"Burning fossil fuels and using the atmosphere as an open sewer has turned out to be a recipe for disaster. The Earth is warming and the pace is quickening."

Climate change denial


Fossil fuel industry funds climate change denial

In 2006 the Royal Society, probably the most prestigious, certainly the most venerable, scientific society in the world, wrote to ExxonMobil asking them to stop funding a dis-information campaign on climate change.
Also see An insider's story of the global attack on climate science by Jim Salinger on The Conversation.
Also see on these pages Climate change denial in the Australian Liberal Party, Science denial and climate change and Is there any point in arguing with climate change deniers?
I wonder about the psychology of climate change denial.


There are, no doubt, a number of people who are unconvinced. Considering what is printed in the popular press this is understandable if not excusable. One need only glance occasionally at the scientific press, such journals as the Scientific American or the New Scientist, or listen to or watch science programs on ABC radio or TV, to see that the experts are convinced. But it seems there will always be a lot of ignorance in this world.

Too horrible

Is there a group who find the predictions of climatologists, demographers and others who are warning about the probable effects of climate change too horrible to accept? Is it like a suppressed memory of childhood abuse that is locked away because facing it is too painful?

Sticking to their guns

Then there is the group who has been saying for years that climate change is not happening, or that it is nothing to do with Man's activities. If you have been insisting on something for years it is very difficult to accept that you were wrong and change your stance. The evidence piles up bit by bit, but these people find reasons why they shouldn't believe it, bit by bit; they go on and on this way even after the evidence has gone well past the point of convincing any with an open mind. This is where prominent climate change denier Ian Plimer finds himself; with many others.


How many just don't care? Or do they think the problem is too big for them to do anything about? Or do they feel that climate change is going to happen some time in the distant future and they will worry about it when it happens? (There is, of course, ample evidence that it is already having some pretty terrible effects.) I read recently that people tend to deal with small problems that affect a few people, they are less likely to try to take on a larger problem that affects more people; the biggest problems that affect a great many people are the least likely to be tackled.

Convinced, but do nothing anyway

Australian governments, local, state and federal, all know that climate change is happening and most would be aware that humanity is the cause. Yet they choose to do very little because lobbyists of the financially powerful mining and fossil fuel industries, who make huge donations to all the big political parties, don't want anything done.

Our governments are playing with band-aids while what is needed is major surgery; they are fiddling while Rome burns.

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The Murdoch media's remarkable about-face on climate change

Gabi Mocatta wrote an article for The Conversation on 2021/10/18 titled "What’s behind News Corp’s new spin on climate change?" Quoting from Ms Mocatta's article:
"The change has surprised Australian media observers and, no doubt, media consumers given News Corp’s long-held climate denialist stance, which is well documented in public commentary and research."
"[The Murdoch media has] moved from calling decarbonisation too expensive and bad for jobs (it tagged the cost at A$600 billion in 2015), to describing it now as a potential $2.1 trillion economic “windfall”, offering opportunities for 672,000 new jobs."
I'd have to wonder what the consumers of the Murdoch media would think of this? Surely anyone with any intelligence would have to see this as showing that the Murdoch media has very little credibility.

I have referred to the climate denialism of the Murdoch media in many places on these pages for more than ten years. On the face of it this seems to be one of the great 'road to Damascus' moments of recent history. (But having changed his colours once I wouldn't be surprised to see Rupert change again. He and his empire are driven by power and profits, certainly ethical standards rate very low on Mr Murdoch's list of priorities.)

Gabi Mocatta is Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, and Lecturer in Communication - Journalism, Deakin University.

Extinction from the oceans

Peter D. Ward wrote an article in Scientific American of October 2006 describing a theory that several major extinctions in the geological past have been caused by the oceans becoming anoxic (without oxygen) with consequent proliferation of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) producing bacteria. H2S is itself toxic, but even worse for life on Earth, it can destroy the ozone layer. Ward's theory, supported by convincing evidence, was that the combination of the H2S in the air and the ultra-violet radiation due to the loss of the ozone layer killed most life on Earth.

Ward continued to propose that a similar disaster could be caused by the current rise in atmospheric CO2. As CO2 increases the oceans warm and as they warm oxygen becomes less soluble in them; that is, they move toward anoxia. If they become sufficiently anoxic the H2S producing bacteria could establish and trigger another global extinction. Ward suggests that the geological data indicates that this could happen at an atmospheric CO2 level of around 900 parts per million.

This is a very short interpretation of Ward's article. I suggest that readers consult the original in Scientific American.

Wikipedia records that anoxic basins exist in a number of places at present. It also has an article about anoxic events.

Evidence of past climate change

Fossil sand dunes near Alford, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
This road in northern Yorke Peninsula has been cut through fossil sand dunes that have not been active in the recent past. However, farmers must take care to not allow them to become bare of vegetation.
In the geological record there is an enormous amount of evidence that the Earth's climate has changed markedly many times in the past.

This Internet site has been written in the Mid North of South Australia, and there is abundant evidence to be seen in this area for a much drier period in the not too distant past: only a matter of several thousand years. Fossil sand dunes are to be seen, not only in the Mid North, but on Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas, and the far north of the state.

Perhaps those who are neither farmers nor geologists would not necessarily recognize them. They are typically low rounded hills, well covered with grass, shrubs, or trees; quite probably they are in agricultural land and may have crops growing on them. They are most often to be seen on otherwise flat land. In a past, drier period, these little hills were moving sand dunes such as can be seen in many of the world's deserts.

What happened in the past may well happen again, especially with anthropogenic climate change.

Could the Earth become a second Venus?

The planet Venus is physically very similar in size and mass to the Earth; it is much bigger than Mars and Mercury and just a little smaller than the Earth. It is closer to the Sun than is the Earth and for this reason alone one would expect it to be a bit hotter than the Earth; but it is not just a bit hotter, it is enormously hotter. This is because of what has been called a run-away greenhouse effect.


Fifth IPCC Assessment

This report, released on 2013/09/27, states that there is likely to be a shocking 9 degrees of warming by 2200. This would make large areas of the planet uninhabitable.
Warming of the Earth due to the gasses that people have caused to be added to the atmosphere is causing what are called positive feedbacks. That is, a relatively small warming can cause changes that then cause more warming. Some positive feedbacks that are happening are:

  • The release of the methane currently locked up in permafrost in the arctic;
  • Higher temperatures cause more evaporation from the oceans; water vapour is a strong greenhouse gas;
  • The summer ice sheet over the Arctic ocean is getting smaller. Open ocean absorbs more energy from sunlight than does ice or snow;
  • Similarly, sea-ice fields in the Antarctic are getting smaller or breaking up in response to global warming and areas covered by mountain snow-fields are getting smaller. These also cause increased absorption of solar energy in summer;
Another possible, and very large, positive feedback is the release of the methane clathrate (hydrate) from the ocean floors into the atmosphere. This will happen if the temperatures of the oceans rise sufficiently. It is thought to have been involved in some global warmings in the geologically distant past. There have been unusually warm periods in the Earths distant past, but they have not lead to catastrophic feed-back; why should this time be any different?

Astronomers have long studied the evolution of stars and the subject is now well understood. They can say with a high degree of confidence how the Sun formed, how it evolved to become what it is now, and how it will change in the future before 'burning out' in about five billion years. The Sun is at present in a long and stable 'middle-age' in which it changes only very slowly. The main change is a very gradual increase in the amount of heat it produces.

About 66 million years ago there was a series of massive volcanic eruptions in southern India known as the Deccan Traps. It is possible that the release of carbon dioxide associated with these eruptions caused a warming that might have been involved in the extinction of the Dinosaurs. Whether or not the Deccan Traps caused a warming, geologist are quite sure that there were warmings in the distant past.

So, while a burst of greater than usual warmth due to some event such as the Deccan Traps in the distant past might not have quite been enough to 'tip the Earth over the edge' and make it into another Venus, it is just possible now that the Sun is a little hotter that another warming might reach that point.

A similar run-away greenhouse effect to that on Venus, while unlikely, would quite probably destroy all life on Earth.

Public liability

AMP, in its 'Working towards a sustainable future' newsletter, published the following:

"The fossil-fuel industry may be potentially liable for the impacts of global warming. The question here is – when will the link between greenhouse gases and climate change become a 'scientific certainty', so that down the track companies cannot dispute it?

Most scientists would argue that such evidence exists today. So where does this leave companies which are fundamentally involved in fossil fuels? At a strategic level, it may require them to rethink their business, as shown by BP's move to 'Beyond Petroleum' – renewing their commitment to the environment and solar power. However, such a strategic change takes time. In the meantime, companies can balance the potential liability of their fossil-fuel products, e.g. coal or gas, with climate change initiatives in other parts of their business which produce 'carbon credits'. Climate change product liability may affect related industries sooner rather than later, as shown by the recent case of a number of US States taking power generation companies to court over climate change."

So, will companies, and perhaps governments, involved in polluting the earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, be forced to mend their ways if they want a future for themselves? Will Australia, and Australians, have to financially compensate other nations for the damage that our present government's short-sighted policies are causing?

Coral reef bleaching and ocean warming


Criminals in government

As of early 2021 the Morrison Australian government is one of the worst in the world in its refusal to act on reducing the emissions that are the cause of this damage and so is criminally complicit in the destruction of the world's coral reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's top tourist attractions, so its loss will be a great economic blow to Australia, as well as an environmental blow to the whole world. Australia's own governments, at least since the Abbott Government, that have been amongst the greatest supporters of fossil fuels in the world must be allocated a greater share of the blame than most others around the world.

As global temperatures rise so does the temperature of the oceans and this is causing the bleaching of coral reefs. Reef building corals are a symbiotic union of a coral organism and an algae. When water temperatures rise beyond around 30 degrees Celsius the algae is expelled, causing the coral to lose its colour. The remaining coral organism cannot, and does not, long survive without the algae.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef on the eastern coast of the country and reefs on the western coast too have suffered from bleaching events, significant part of some reefs have been permanently killed.

Reef bleaching is expected to worsen as global warming progresses.

Marine life is fleeing the equator because they can't stand the heat

This section added
The oceans at the equator are becoming so hot that marine life is moving away. See the article in The Conversation: "Marine life is fleeing the equator to cooler waters. History tells us this could trigger a mass extinction event." Published 2021/04/08.


This section added
The horror bushfire season of late 2019, early 2020 was warned about in the Garnaut Climate Change Review in 2008.

An article for SBS News, was written by Nick Baker on the subject, 2020/01/06. Baker wrote:

The Garnaut Climate Change Review's final report said projections of fire weather "suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense". "This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020."

The report said there could be a 300 per cent increase in the number of days with extreme fire weather by 2067. "It's in the interest of the whole of humanity that we move promptly towards zero net emissions," he said.
And yet Liberal Senator Jim Molan said on ABC's Q and A on 2020/02/03 that climate scientists had not warned the Australian government about the bushfire risks associated with unabated climate change!


"Australia is sleepwalking"

A bushfire scientist explains what the Hawaii tragedy means for our flammable continent. Written 2023/08/10 by David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania.

Quoting from Professor Bowman's article:

"Let’s look at the two decades to 2001, compared to the two decades afterwards. In Australian forests, the average annual burned area in the second period was 350% greater than in the first. If we include 2019 – the year the Black Summer fires began – the increase rises to 800%."
Published in The Conversation.

Scientific American popular science journal, 2011

From an article in Scientific American, June 2011.
"If climate change drives temperature up a degree or two," goes the common dismissal, "how bad could that be?"

Here's an example: Higher temperatures draw moisture out of live and dead trees and brush, making them more flammable. The heat also can alter precipitation ... lengthening the fire season. A one degree Celsius climb in average global temperature could cause the median area burned annually by wildfires in parts of the American West to increase up to sixfold.
A one degree rise in temperatures could occur well before 2050.

If global warming will make the US forests more flammable, it will do the same thing in Australia.

Sediment in Crystal Brook following the Bangor fire
Ash in creek
The Bangor fire was finally extinguished by 60 mm of rain. At Crystal Brook, where this photo was taken, many kilometres downstream of the burned land, the ash and silt (grey in this photo) was conspicuous.
Photo 2014/02/15

Bangor fire, South Australia, 2014

The Bangor fire, near my home in Crystal Brook, burned largely in steep inaccessible country for a month before being extinguished by heavy rains. The rain on the soil left totally bare by the fires caused terrible erosion.

The photo on the right is of debris including soil and ash left in the Crystal Brook in the town of the same name. The upper parts of the Crystal Brook catchment were burned in the Bangor fire.

The native vegetation will recover to a large extent in a few years following a fire like this, but the soil will take thousands of years to be replaced.

Increased frequency and ferocity of fires will be disastrous for Australia's fragile soils.

This section added

Bushfires and dust of late 2019 – early 2020

Smoke plume between Australia and New Zealand
Smoke plume
The brown area to the southeast of Australia is a smoke plume being blown across the Tasman sea from the exceptional fires in New South Wales.
There were unprecedented bushfires in Australia and by 2020/01/02 more than 1200 houses had been burned in New South Wales alone. The fires were probably worst in NSW, but were also bad in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. (The Eyre Highway had been closed due to fires in the Western Australian gold-fields region and, at the time of writing, were expected to remain closed for at least another five days.)

While the fires were not directly caused by climate change the conditions that lead to the fires were certainly made far more likely due to climate change. Australia had been suffering from drought for several years; this, like the fires, was likely linked to climate change. The drought also made the fires worse than they would otherwise have been because the land being burned was exceptionally dry.


Smoke remained in stratosphere for months

An article in The Guardian, 2020/11/03, written by Lisa Cox stated that the "Cloud measured 1,000km across, travelled 66,000km and was on par with ‘strongest volcanic eruptions in the past 25 years’, scientists say".

I believe that it reduced the temperatures for the remainder of the southern summer.

Smoke levels in Sydney in particular were high enough to be hazardous to health; they were also high in Melbourne and Canberra for weeks. As can be seen in the satellite photo on the right the smoke plume was blowing right across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand; smoke from Australia's bushfires was also reported in South America.

Luke Henriques-Gomes wrote an article about the fires in The Guardian dated 2019/12/31. Many others were available on the Internet.

I have also written about these fires, in the context of them being a symptom of climate change rather than an isolated problem elsewhere on these pages.

Dust too

Together with the smoke that was blowing across the Tasman Sea was enough dust to colour New Zealand's glaciers as reported for the ABC by Stefanie Garber on 2019/12/06. This was perhaps more as a result of the drought than the fires, but of course both drought and fires were made much more likely by climate change.


The view from 2011

An Australian could be excused for thinking that the greenhouse situation is without hope. The Gillard federal government, while being much more pro-renewables than the old Howard government, was still supporting the fossil fuel industries with massive subsidies. Climate change predictions continue to be dire, ocean acidification continues to increase, the Great Barrier Reef continues to suffer bleaching events, and the USA continues to take far more than its share of the world's resources.

Canunda wind farm turbine
One of the turbines of the Canunda wind farm, Millicent
But there were signs of hope...

Here in South Australia there was more than 1200MW of wind farm generation capacity (as of October 2011). A number of companies were exploring for hot rocks to use for the generation of geothermal energy, which will help replace coal fired power station electricity .

The state government had set a target of 33% renewably generated electricity by 2020.

Update: the situation in early 2024

Unfortunately extracting energy from deeply buried hot rock had proven to be beyond the available technologies by about 2016. Wave energy too was not proving economically competitive to wind and solar (there was a 5MW wave energy unit apparently operating off Garden Island in WA).

On the positive side, combined renewable energy generation in Australia's main grids (the NEM and the SWIS) in the year to April 2024 averaged 10GW (10,000MW). This was made up of 3.2GW of solar rooftop, 1.8GW of utility solar, 3.6GW of wind power and 1.7GW of hydro.

SA continued to be the stand-out in its percentage of renewable energy development. The state's target of 33% renewable energy by 2020 was greatly exceeded, Open NEM showed 59% renewable energy for the year in 2020. In early 2003 SA had virtually no renewably generated electricity and much of its power was generated by burning low quality coal.

In 2020 13.2% of SA's electricity was generated by rooftop solar, more than double the figure of four years earlier. Utility scale solar generated more than 4% of SA's power in 2020, just two years earlier the figure was less than 1%. By 2024 more than 70% of SA's power was being generated renewably; 21% by rooftop solar, 6% by utility solar and 44% by wind turbines.

South Australia's great success in its move from fossil fuels between 2003 and 2024 was truly a remarkable achievement.

While the solar power proportion for the whole of the National Electricity Market (NEM) was behind that of SA, the amount of solar power had doubled in the two years up to the end of 2020. Wind generation on the NEM had increased by 43% over the previous three years. By 2024 the figure for total renewable energy generation on the NEM was 39%; of which hydro made up 7%, rooftop solar 11%, utility solar 7% and wind power 13%. (When WA was included the total figures remained much the same.)

There is some reason to hope for a brighter and more rational future.

Updated 2015/07/07

Greenhouse emissions

Pit & Sherry
Pit & Sherry
The two graphs on the right are from Business Specator.

The first shows how emissions from electricity generation in Australia were decreasing, and decreasing especially steeply while the carbon tax was in place, and have increased since. The carbon tax was in place for the period between the two vertical lines.

The fact that emissions have steeply increased since the Abbott Government removed the carbon tax shows the damage that they have done to total world greenhouse emissions and suggest the damage that they have done to Australia's reputation as a responsible participant in the world.

The second graph shows, among other things, how brown coal emissions in particular have increased since the removal of the carbon tax. Brown coal is the most polluting form of generation in Australia. It is also one of the cheapest; cheap and dirty.

The fall in black coal generation is thought to be due to the general decline in power consumption in NSW combined with the rise in wind generation, especially in SA and Victoria. Black coal generation is more expensive than brown, although slightly less polluting.

Relevant offsite links

Also see Related pages
Arguments Grist: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming
Australia, Climate change in Updated climate change information for Australia
Australian Academy of Science booklet "The science of climate change", February 2015.
Bioenergy Australia Bioenergy Australia (see below)
BuzzFeed 18 Scientists On What They Actually Think About Climate Change by Joe Duggan and Kelly Oakes
Climate Action Network Australia CANA
Climate Debate Daily A new way to understand disputes about global warming
Climate Science Watch Climate Science Watch (see below)
The Conversation Climate policy needs a new lens Fiona Armstrong and Peter C. Doherty, 2016/07/21, discussed the threat that climate change was posing to health.
Australia's 'deadliest natural hazard': what's your heatwave plan?, 2018/01/18, Andrew Gissing and Lucinda Coates.
An update on the weather Australia has been getting, 2020/03/03. A number of temperature records set.
German Watch The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Global Environment Report UK; New Scientist
Global Warming Clearinghouse A single source for contemporary key reports, articles, papers, and Blogs referencing the latest information available on Global Warming
Global Warming Debate A Layman's Guide to the Science and Controversy
Global warming information USA; Environmental Protection Agency
Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface temperature analysis – a very informative site
Google Scholar There are a huge number of scientific papers dealing with climate change and greenhouse, far too many for me to cite here, see Google Scholar or Google Scholar, Australia.
European Commission A list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions is given at World Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels; data from the European Commission Joint Research Centre: Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

University College London and The Lancet report: climate change the biggest global-health threat of the 21st century.

Manne, Robert How can climate denialism be explained? Manne is professor of politics at Melbourne's Latrobe University
McMichael, Professor Anthony The Conversation; the impact that climate change is likely to have in Australia
Ocean acidification Royal Society, Paper "Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide"
Oceans are going quiet The silencing of the seas, Uni. Adelaide research, Sept. 2016, Nagelkerken, Connell, Rossi; due to pollution and acidification
One Person Can This project is showing, not only that one person can have an impact, but that many people are doing a lot already.
Real Climate: Climate science from climate scientists RealClimate – science rather than journalistic "debate"
Renewable Energy Generators of Australia (REGA) REGA (see below)
Skeptical Science Examining the science of global warming skepticism and more specifically Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says.
State of the climate State of the Climate 2018: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO: fifth biennial State of the Climate report
Sunrise Project The Sunrise Project aims at helping people combat climate change. Provides funding.

More information on some links

The Australasian Energy Performance Contracting Association. Its members are formed from energy service companies, state government departments and private companies interested in the performance contracting process. Energy performance contracting is a smart, affordable and increasingly common way to make building improvements that save energy and money. Its mission is to act as the Peak Body to support the commercial growth of members and their market through education, industry promotion, self-regulation and industry standards.

Climate Science Watch
A nonprofit public interest education and advocacy project dedicated to holding public officials accountable for the integrity and effectiveness with which they use climate science and related research in government policymaking, toward the goal of enabling society to respond effectively to the challenges posed by global warming and climate change.

The Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)
Represents the interests of the broader sustainable energy industry including, renewables energy, cogeneration, gas-fired generation, waste-to-energy and energy efficiency industry. It has more than 250 organisations as members. It formed in September 2002 through the merger of the Australian EcoGeneration Association and the Sustainable Energy Industry Association.

Bioenergy Australia
Established in 1997 as a government-industry forum to foster and facilitate the development of biomass for energy, liquid fuels, and other value added bio-based products. Bioenergy Australia is concerned with all aspects of biomass and bioenergy, from production through to utilisation, and its work embraces technical, commercial, economic, societal, environmental, policy and market issues.

The Renewable Energy Generators of Australia (REGA)
Formed in 1999 as an industry association with a common purpose of supporting the development of generation of electricity from truly renewable resources. REGA represents all sectors of the renewable energy industry; members represent 95% of the existing renewable energy generation capacity, and include equipment suppliers, developers and industry specialists.

Fossil fuel electricity in perspective

Fossil fuelled power stations dump their toxic wastes directly into the atmosphere at no cost to themselves but at huge cost to the environment (there can be no doubt that the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide are damaging the atmosphere and the oceans or that the emissions from coal burning kill millions of people each year). Most nations have long banned similarly polluting activities from other industries.

Some similarly polluting activities for comparison...

In the past sewage has been dumped directly into rivers or the sea. Most people in the twenty-first century would consider this to be a very crude and quite unacceptable practice.
Hard rubbish
Once just dumped in heaps; most nations now try to recycle as much as possible, burry the remainder, and rehabilitate the land surface.
Petrochemical waste
Most nations would not even consider dumping this directly into the environment.
Paper pulping waste
Dumping into the environment would not now be tolerated.
Nuclear waste
Disposal of radioactive waste has to be done very carefully in most nations.
I could go on.

So why do the Australian and US governments think that dumping carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions from power stations directly into the atmosphere is acceptable? There are two reasons:

  1. While pollution of land, a river or a coast affects mainly the nation that owns that land, river or coast, the atmosphere is shared by the whole earth, and the pollution is spread over the whole earth. A nation with a government that is short-sighted can make all other nations share its pollution; especially when that nation is the most militaristic on the planet – the USA (or a puppet of such a nation – Australia).
  2. The Australian and US governments are largely run by big business rather than being true democracies. The fossil fuel industries do not want anything done to reduce their profitability.

Sequestration: carbon capture and storage

Also see Geosequestration

Sequestration, as applied to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) (also called carbon capture and storage; CCS), is the storage of carbon dioxide, or the carbon content of the carbon dioxide, in a sink. The sink may be one or more of several alternatives including: an underground aquifer, an exhausted oil field, a deep ocean trench, and trees.

One of the flaws in the sequestration concept is in the question of how long does it last? Carbon sequestrated in trees may be back in the atmosphere 20 years later if the trees are converted to wood pulp, the pulp into paper, and the paper burned or allowed to rot. Sequestration of carbon dioxide in a geological formation is experimental, in theory it seems like it should work, but what if the CO2 doesn't stay where it is put? Sequestration takes carbon that has been locked away from the atmosphere safely for hundreds of millions of years and places it where we hope it will not get back into the atmosphere for decades or longer.

The other problem with CCS is that no-one has done it with the CO2 from a power station or similar large CO2-producing installation successfully on a commercial scale. (For example, see The Norwegian CCS nightmare)

It seems pretty plain that it would be better to leave the carbon in the rocks in the first place.

Sequestration in trees

Carbon is one of the main constituents of vegetation; live wood is about a quarter carbon, very dry wood is more nearly half carbon. Vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows. Trees are among the largest and longest lived forms of vegetation, so they are important in either removing or keeping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What seems to often be neglected by the proponents of growing trees (or bush or forest) as a way of counteracting the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that trees do not live forever. When a tree dies it typically rots and the carbon in it is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Of course this may be delayed if the timber in the tree is used for another construction purpose.

In some situations, generally in wetter situations than are at all common in Australia, dead trees do not return all of their carbon to the atmosphere. It can be held in the soil beneath the forest as peat. This is, of course, the beginning of the natural process that finishes in the formation of coal. But usually, when the trees in an Australian plantation reach maturity, that plantation no longer removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Oil mallee trees

Referring to mallee trees planted in Western Australia, a document by Professor Syd Shea, University of Notre Dame, Aust. estimated the cost of carbon sequestration in mallees at significantly below US$15/tonne.

Compare this with the estimated cost of geosequestration of carbon dioxide from coal fired power stations of around US$50/tonne. The Australian Government under John Howard is giving the Australian coal industry big money to research the latter!

These mallee trees would have other potential values:

  • Combating rising saline groundwater;
  • Producing eucalyptus oil, which has a number of uses;
  • Producing activated carbon;
  • An energy source via biomass combustion;
  • A fuel source via fermentation to ethanol;

Sequestration in peat

If natural carbonaceous materials are buried in damp soil, and oxygen is present, micro-organisms will slowly convert the materials to carbon dioxide, water, and plant nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate. In saturated soil where oxygen is absent, other micro-organisms will slowly remove the hydrogen, as methane, and increase the proportion of carbon in the remaining material. (Ironically, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide, but it eventually oxidises to carbon dioxide and water and does not remain in the environment anywhere near so long as CO2.) This has happened to wood, leaves, moss, etc. for millions of years. This process leads first to the development of peat; if the material is later buried by being covered with sediments, carbonisation can continue to produce lignite and eventually black coal.

This natural process could be put to use to slowly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees could be grown, then cut and buried in wet soil. The methane could be collected and used as an energy source.

Apart from the slowness of this reversal of the man-made greenhouse effect, one other problem would be that plant nutrients would also be lost to the biosphere with the carbonaceous material. They might be recoverable by pumping leachates from the peat.

Sequestration in the ocean

The pressure and temperature at the bottom of the oceans is such that carbon dioxide will be in a liquid state. Therefore it is possible to dump it in places such as deep ocean trenches. However, the question of its solubility in sea water must be considered. And heat, such as in a volcanic eruption, would return the carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.


Also see sequestration and cost of geosequestration.

Geosequestration is the deep underground storage of carbon dioxide as an alternative to allowing it to enter the atmosphere and increase the greenhouse effect. Similar to disposal of rubbish by land-fill, it is not a sustainable technology, but it is a way of temporarily reducing the harmful side effects of burning fossil fuels. Sooner or later the carbon dioxide will again enter the atmosphere, however if the particular form of geosequestration works correctly, most of the CO2 will be isolated from the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In Australia carbon dioxide could theoretically be sequestered in depleted oil or gas fields (not expected to be sufficiently depleted until 2030), deep underground unmineable coal seams, or deep saline aquifers.

There are risks in geosequestration associated with the high vapour pressure of CO2 at the temperatures found in geological formations and with the high solubility of CO2 in groundwater. In 1986 a large leakage of naturally sequestered carbon dioxide occurred in Lake Nyos in Cameroon, killing around 1 700 people and many thousands of animals. When carbon dioxide is release in large quantities, it forms a suffocating blanket close to ground level.

Is geosequestration economically feasible? Is geosequestration desirable? How does geosequestration compare with other greenhouse abatement methods?

While these questions have certainly not been answered in favour of geosequestration, already the Australian Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on geosequestration research, while providing very little money for renewable energy research. One can only suppose that they are doing so because they have a commitment to support the fossil fuel industry. See Corporate political donations.

An informative discussion on geosequestration was aired on the ABC Catalyst program of 2004/09/09.

The material in this box was drawn from the ABC Radio National's Earthbeat program of 15/02/2003.

Experts on renewable energy dream of the research budgets that geosequestration now commands. Their eyes boggle when they think what renewable energy could do with a budget that size. In fact, the research funds invested by government into geosequestration during the last year alone are about as much as the entire renewable energy industry has received in the last decade. But even that level of support is not being maintained.

Mark Horstman, Earthbeat reporter

Keith Tarlo is a senior researcher with the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney. He's investigated a proposal to use geosequestration with brown coal in the La Trobe valley, and believes that the technology is risky.
You can only use geological sequestration in two places: one is at an oil and gas platform, and the second is a brand new coal-fired power station that uses a new, but really untested technology. Every other place you can't use it so existing power stations, your cars and trucks, and homes, offices and factories, you can't use it. So for the majority of the economy, geosequestration is not a solution and you have to turn to efficient use of clean, renewable sources of energy.

Secondly, it's an expensive way to deal with the problem. The current estimates are that it's twice as expensive as other ways of dealing with the carbon dioxide pollution problem.

Thirdly, there's some unmeasured risks really associated with the technology which other energy technologies simply don't have. These are risks of leakage out from underground, possible risks from seismic activity or earthquakes from pumping all this stuff under high pressure deep underground.

And last but not least is the technology you have to use for power stations to make geosequestration work, is a fancily titled coal- burning technology called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. The reason you have to use that, is you have to capture the carbon dioxide before you burn it. If you wait until after you've burnt it, it's very difficult for a whole host of reasons to capture the carbon dioxide. There have been trial plants running now for about a decade and none of them have achieved high levels of reliability or availability. And this has been going on in the US, not in some sort of Third World country.

Keith Tarlo

Professor Andrew Blakers is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University. He is discussing research and development into clean energy.

It's a remarkable circumstance that for the first time in 30 years there is no strategic [renewable energy] R&D fund. There have been a number of long-term trends that have been against the R&D industry in Australia, the vacation of the field by CSIRO about 10 or 15 years ago was unfortunate, the exhaustion of the Australian Greenhouse Office funds, the privatisation and corporatisation of electricity companies has eliminated R&D from that sector, the Electricity Supply Association of Australia used to have an R&D fund, that's gone. The State R&D funds have almost all gone, and the Federal R&D funds have all gone. This has led to a situation where doors are closing one by one and no doors are opening. For a number of not conspiracy, but cock-up reasons really, it's reached the point where there's only 2 renewable energy R&D groups left in the whole country in all of renewables that have critical mass, say more than 5 or so staff members. Failure to move quickly will mean that the remaining energy R&D groups will collapse and this is simply not sufficient to support a vibrant viable industry in Australia.

[Renewable energy technologies] are characterised by quite astonishing growth rates over quite astonishingly long periods of time. The photovoltaic industry has had continuously positive growth for the last 30 years, the wind energy industry is currently growing at 30% per year for the last decade, the PV industry has been growing at 30% to 40% over the last five years, the solar water heater industry is growing at 30% a year in Australia. These are astounding growth rates, and if they're maintained for long periods they're going to lead to very large industries, within the next 10 or 15 years.

Andrew Blakers

The cost of geosequestration

The Clean Energy Future Report by the Clean Energy Future Group quotes figures from the International Energy Agency (Davidson, Freund & Smith 2001; Freund & Davison 2002) of between US$45 (Aust$68) and US$55 (Aust$83) for every tonne of carbon dioxide geosequested. The lower figure was for coal with integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and natural gas combined cycle, while the higher figure was for conventional pulverised coal power stations.



In about January 2008 President George W. Bush cancelled a proposed fully geosequestrating coal fired power station in the USA. He decided that, as planning proceeded, the costs of building and running the station were looking like they would be prohibitively high.
For brown coal about 0.8MWh of electricity is produced per tonne of CO2, while for black coal the corresponding figure is 1.2MWh/tonne CO2.

It can then be calculated that the additional cost of gas-fired and coal-fired electricity due to geosequestration is likely to be from US$36/MWh to US$66/MWh depending on the type of coal and the type of power station. Also see my page on heating efficiencies etc.

Scientific American (News Scan: Burying Climate Change, Nov. 2009) reported that the cost of electricity without geosequestration of the CO2 is about US$63/MWh. Geosequestration would add another $51/MWh, putting it up to $114/MWh; this is much more expensive than electricity from several sustainable generation methods; wind in particular.

Subsidies to fossil fuels

Some years ago I received a wad of material from then Senator Stott-Despoja about subsidies going to the fossil fuel industries; see Fossil fuel subsidy. That totalled $6.5 billion and was under the Howard Government.

In 2021 calls were still being made for the reduction of the subsidies going to the fossil fuel industries.

An ABC political reporter wrote an article on 2021/04/26 titled "Calls to phase out fossil fuel subsidies after speculation about net-zero emissions target". Quoting from the ABC article:

"Fossil fuel subsidies have cost state, territory and federal budgets roughly $10.3 billion over the past financial year, or $19,686 a minute, according to a new report from The Australia Institute.

The progressive think tank says the $7.84 billion allocated for the fuel tax credit scheme in the Federal Budget alone exceeds the $7.82 billion spent on Army capabilities or the $7.55 billion on Air Force capabilities.

It also has calculated state governments have contributed some $1.2 billion to coal, oil and gas companies by helping reduce the costs of exploration, improving ports, railways and power stations, while also funding research aimed at reducing emissions caused by burning fossil fuels."

Ironically, as a part of the Gillard Government's Carbon Tax package back in 2012 huge additional subsidies (sometimes called 'compensation') was to be paid to the big polluters. For example "emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries" were to get $8.6 billion as a "Jobs and Competitiveness Program". Another $1.3 billion was going to the coal industry as a "Coal Sector Jobs Package".

Carbon 'offsets'

People, and in particular businesses, buy 'carbon offsets' in an effort to somehow excuse them from responsibility for releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. How valid are carbon offsets?

The most common offset is tree planting. It is true that as a tree (or any other plant) grows it takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But what happens when the tree stops growing, or when it is cut down? Eventually, and in many cases 'eventually' will be in less than a century, the wood, leaves and twigs of the tree will be either burnt or rot, and the carbon contained in them will go back into the atmosphere.

The only fully effective way of 'offsetting' the fossil fuel carbon that you release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is to bury an equal amount of carbon that would otherwise have been burned (with the resulting carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere). Plainly, this would be pointless.

Also, burying something like wood in an attempt to lock its carbon away from the atmosphere would not be a good idea because it would ferment and release methane into the atmosphere. Methane is an even more greenhouse-intensive gas than carbon dioxide.

It seems to me that carbon offsets, at least in the form of tree planting, are of questionable validity and are effective only in the short term. 'Offsetting' the carbon that you burn by conserving fossil fuel energy in some other area would, I think, have more validity; but the only real answer to greenhouse/climate change is to greatly reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we burn.

Also see carbon offsets in Wikipedia.

Leave your car at home

In town without my car

The European Union has an 'In town without my car' day during which the people try to leave their cars at home at least on that day every year. In 2003 there were 1031 participating cities.

Australia would do well to join in this.

A quote from that site:

In Town Without My Car "is centred on three types of measures, designed to:
  • encourage the use of alternative forms of transport and travel other than private cars,
  • raise awareness and inform city-dwellers of what is at stake so far as concerns long-term mobility in towns and the risks connected with pollution,
  • show the town in another light thanks in particular to reduced motorised traffic within restricted areas."
Modes of transport The graph at right is from Aust. Bureau of Statistics and shows how many Australian use various modes of transport.

You can calculate how much difference would be made to your share of carbon dioxide emissions by changing your mode of transport at 'Calculate your personal Greenhouse impact'.

If you must use a car, use a small one


Update, May 2014

The Mazda has now done 203 000 km and still in very good condition. It uses around seven litres per hundred kilometres. If we base a calculation on it using 2 litres less per hundred kilometres than the larger car that we might have bought, that is a saving of 4000 litres at, say, $1.20/litre, $4800. Since about 2.5 kg of CO2 is released for every litre of petrol burned, that represents ten tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided.
Car and trailer The option of not having a car is not realistic for many people, especially Australians and in the USA. However, instead of having a car that is large enough to take everything you might need to carry, you could consider a small car with the occasional use of a trailer. The Mazda 121 in the photo has only a 1300ml engine, at the time the photo was taken it had done 140 000km and was still going strong. Most modern cars, including this one, have plenty of power for towing a trailer including a load of up to 500kg.

By driving a car that is no bigger than you need you save a heap of greenhouse emission.

You could also consider buying a highly efficient hybrid car. Both Toyota and Honda have one on the Australian market.

Why do so few support action on greenhouse/climate change?

Read the bit below from top to bottom. The groups represented by the statements on the left are subtracted, one at a time, from the original group of all people represented by the green bar. Finally, on the last line, there's few people left who want to see humanity's rates of greenhouse gas production reduced.

All people
People who
believe CC is
an illusion
All other people
CC is real,
but not
due to Man
All remaining people
It's too far
in the future
to worry about
All remaining people
I don't want
wind turbines
in my back yard
All remaining people
I believe
the wind
farm opponents
All remaining people
We need action
but I don't
want to pay
All remaining people
We need action
but I can't
do anything
The few who think
the World is worth saving
and are willing to try

Of course this is only a representation – and very much a simplification – of the situation, but I think it helps show what the problem is.

Who is to blame?

4WDs not needed
Six big and heavy 4-wheel-drives and one small fuel-efficient car in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The gas-guzzlers are not needed, our little car (the Jazz on the left) weighs about half as much and handles the dirt roads with ease. It is also capable of towing up to one tonne; plenty for many camper trailers.
It is easy to blame our leaders (especially if we are Australian or USians) for their inaction on reducing greenhouse gas production; and they are very much at fault, they should be doing much more.

Corporations are at fault. The fossil fuel industries, oil, gas, and especially the dirtiest fuel of all, coal, lobby governments very successfully for laws and regulations that favour their growth. But then the directors of these companies are (at least in Australia) bound by law to place the welfare of their shareholders before all other considerations. So we come back to the law and the law is made by governments.

Any farmer who clears scrub or forest is responsible for climate change. Any landowner who allows his land to be clear-felled is responsible. Irresponsible Chinese, Malaysian, and Japanese companies that log in Third World rainforests are responsible for climate change as well as the more direct and local damage due to deforestation.

However, most people in the First World are also responsible. Anyone who drives a fossil-fuelled car (and almost all of them are fossil-fuelled) must accept a share of the blame. Anyone who uses electricity, if that electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, is responsible for climate change.

Democratically elected governments do what the voters demand of them. The Australian government has rightly decided that Australians place a higher priority on a few more dollars in their pockets than on tackling the greenhouse problem.

It would be fair to say that most people in the Third World would consume more if they had the money to do so. Consumption and greenhouse gas production are closely linked.

So the great majority of us are either responsible for climate change, or would be if we could afford to be. How bad will climate change have to get before we place it at the top of our list of problems that must be addressed? And will it be too late by then?

Australia and climate change responsibility
and the ethics of Australia's stance on greenhouse gas emissions

What would we think of a person who went to a birthday party with five other people and ate half the birthday cake? This is what the USA and Australia are doing in regard to greenhouse gasses. Our two nations are placing far more than our share of strain on the atmosphere for their own short-term selfish interests.

The Australian government has tried to excuse Australia's very high production of greenhouse gasses on a number of occasions by saying that the total greenhouse gas produced by Australia is a very small percentage of the world's total. (This invalid argument is discussed in greater depth in The great fallacy.) Australia produces about 1.5% of the world's total annual greenhouse gasses, but Australia has only about 0.3% of the world's population. It follows that the average Australian citizen is responsible for five times as much greenhouse gasses as is the average global citizen. Considering that humanity's current rate of greenhouse gas production is about three times what the planet's systems are capable of safely handling this means that the average Australian is producing something like fifteen times as much greenhouse gas as is conscionable.

A good read on this subject is "How Ethical is Australia" by Peter Singer.

The answer? – Contraction and Convergence
Equitable sharing of the atmosphere

Contraction and convergence
The fairest and most ethical way of treating the greenhouse problem would be to calculate how much carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year can be sustainably handled by the atmosphere and then calculating a quota for every person on the planet. Those who were responsible for producing more CO2 than their share would have to buy quotas from those who produced less. It would be necessary to somehow include in the calculations, not only personal greenhouse production, but also personal shares of national greenhouse production.

It would be a seller's market; there would be many more buyers than sellers because the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere must be greatly reduced. Those who were unable to buy quotas would have to reduce their energy consumption or have to pay to have their CO2 sequested.

The atmosphere is not just the property of the First World. All life on the planet has a right to use the atmosphere and all people should have an equal right to it. At present the US produces 25 times the CO2 produced by India on a per-capita basis. What could be fairer than changing the rules to give every person an equal quota?

Adoption of Contraction and Convergence (C&C) would result in a relatively hard time for the wealthy of the world for a time, but ultimately it would bring a much more equitable sharing of responsibility and wealth. Of course it would be far from a simple matter, but then we are talking about averting a huge global disaster.

See Wikipedia for more information.

The true cost of coal

Climate Progress published an article that discussed the true cost of coal when the economic, health and environmental costs are all taken into account. (Unfortunately it seems no longer to be available on the Net.) The original research was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences by Dr. Paul Epstein. It was calculated that if the true costs of coal was considered the price of electricity from coal fired power stations would rise by about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour (or $180/MWh). This is far higher than the wholesale price of electricity currently paid to coal-fired power producers.

The article said:

"In terms of human health, the report estimates $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities, with a majority of the impact resulting from increased healthcare costs, injury and death. Emissions of air pollutants account for $187.5 billion, mercury impacts as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion between $61.7 and $205.8 billion. Heavy metal toxins and carcinogens released during processing pollute water and food sources and are linked to long-term health problems. Mining, transportation, and combustion of coal contribute to poor air quality and respiratory disease, while the risky nature of mining coal results in death and injury for workers."
Also see Skeptical Science 'True cost of coal power'.

Exceptional weather events

I've listed just a few of the weather events that used to be rare to the point of almost being unheard of but that we may have to expect as normal in the future because of advancing climate change.

This section added

Record high temperatures

January 2019 was not only the hottest January in Australia on record, it also saw:
  • Mean January temperatures were the highest on record;
  • Minimum January temperatures were the highest on record;
  • Maximum January temperatures were the highest on record;
  • January temperatures were either the highest or second highest in each state and territory.
See more on the Bureau of Meteorology web site.

2018 was the third warmest year on record in Australia, the warmest was in 2013, the second warmest in 2005. Every year from 2013 to 2018 was warmer than all but one year of the twentieth century. See more on this page or on the Bureau of Meteorology web site.

This section added

Flooding in North Queensland have been compared to a one in 1,000-year event

At the time of writing the final results were not yet in but it seems that thousands of houses have been flooded in Townsville, North Queensland, following something like an average year's rain falling in a few days. See The Guardian for more information.

This section added
October 2018
Edited 2019/02/22

Killer hail

Hail damage to solar panels in the Sydney December 20th 2018 storms
Hail damage to solar panels
I was informed by the person who took the photo that the spatial variation in damage to solar panels was big. In his and a neighbouring street, all but one set of rooftop solar panels suffered some damage. However, just 1 km away, all solar panels survived.
Photo December 2018
On 2018/10/16 the ABC reported that a "Hail storm kills 400 kangaroos and 150 goats on properties in far-west New South Wales".

Another hail storm hit Sydney in 2018/12/20, see The Guardian article for more detail. The photo on the right of hail damaged solar panels was taken by an acquaintance at the time.

Big hailstones are becoming more common

Samuel Childs wrote a piece for The Conversation on 2018/09/20 titled "Destructive 2018 hail season a sign of things to come".

Data published on Mr Childs' article showed that hail storms in which there were exceptionally large hail stones were becoming more frequent. The records indicated that both hail stones greater than 50mm and greater than 75mm were becoming more common. Climate science indicated that this was to be expected with climate change and the consequent increasing prevalence of violent storms.

Hail, tiles and solar panels

It has long been known that large hail can damage clay or concrete roofing tiles; this will be a problem that will only increase into the future, probably damaging the future of the whole roof-tiling industry.

In December 2018 exceptionally big hailstones caused damage to solar panels in a few Sydney suburbs. (Where tiled roofs were not protected by solar panels many tiles were broken.) I have written a page on this elsewhere on this site.


Jenny Noyes reported on 2018/12/25 in the Sydney Morning Herald about the damage inflicted to "almost 3500 homes in the Sydney metropolitan area" from exceptionally damaging hail storms a week earlier. Ms Moyes reported that "Statewide, the number of homes that have required repairs has exceeded 5300, and is expected to grow as calls continue to come in."

This section added

Late 2019

In late 2019 the international meeting on climate change action has just finished in Madrid with Australia's refusal to cooperate in significantly lowering emissions. Australia's representative at the meeting was Energy Minister Angus Taylor appointed by and acting for Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

There were unprecedented fires in NSW, bad fires in South Australia, Australia experienced its hottest day on record, there was an unprecedented drought and unprecedented low flows in the Murray-Darling. It had just been reported that agricultural incomes in Australia have fallen 22% due to climate change.

This section added

Dutton disappoints all who want strong action on climate change

In June 2024 leader of the federal opposition, Peter Dutton, claimed that the Albanese government cannot reach its emissions target of a reduction of 43% by 2030, hinting that if the coalition wins the next election they will scrap this important target. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has counter claimed that his government can reach their target. He says that they are currently heading toward a 42% reduction by 2030 and can increase the rate of change in time.


Labor's poor record

It must be said that since coming into power the federal labor government has been approving fossil fuel projects at a high rate and that it is hard to see that this is compatible with meeting any ambitious emissions targets.
At the time of writing Mr Dutton and the Liberals were saying that they would not announce a 2030 emissions target before the next election. This seems to be a decision to keep the Australian people in ignorance of their intentions. The next federal election must be on or before 2025/09/27.

For more information see The Conversation article by Professor Matt McDonald of the University of Queensland.

Also relevant is Dutton confirms nuclear push and climate denial go hand in hand: The pretence has gone, by Giles Parkinson, for RenewEconomy, 2024/06/12.

This section added

2024: going backwards on our vehicles

There was an article in the RAC (Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia) journal that I received in early 2024 titled "Why are Aussies 'supersizing' their cars?"

According to the author, Ruth Callaghan, not only are Australian's failing to put our shared environment first and change to smaller and/or more fuel-efficient vehicles, most of them are buying bigger, heavier, fuel guzzling cars.

Australians are spending more money than they need to on their cars, more money than they need to on fuel for their cars, and increasing the emissions that they are personally responsible for at the cost of accelerating climate change.

This section added

How far we have to go!

One does not have to be very observant to see many indications that little effort is being made to increase energy efficiency and minimise greenhouse emissions.

I'll mention just a few examples of the neglect of our shared responsibilities below.

Lost opportunities

Woolworths Clare, SA, supermarket car-park
New shades
The car-park shades in the photo on the right were installed in Woolworths' Clare, SA supermarket in late 2017.

This is a lost opportunity; the same area, which I estimated as 660m2, covered with solar panels would have an installed capacity of about 143kW, and that would generate a substantial part of the supermarket's power needs.

Several shopping centres in South Australia have been much more progressive, installing huge solar PV arrays, including in their car parks.

Primewest, Erskine shopping centre, another lost opportunity

Prime West shopping centre, Erskine, WA
Shaded car park
A great opportunity lost.
And a careless waste of electricity.
Five years on from the above lost opportunity, in August 2022, car park shades were installed in the Prime West Erskine, WA shopping centre car park. Again, the shades were plastic mesh, not solar PV panels; another lost opportunity.

Had solar panel shades been installed rather than simple shade sails most of the power consumption of the shopping centre could have been offset and a huge amount of greenhouse emissions avoided (most of Western Australia's power is generated by coal-fired power stations). I estimated that the area covered by the shade sails was 1,320m2, twice that of the Woolworths, Clare, shades, so had solar PV panels been used rather than shade sails the installed capacity would be around 280kW. Such a solar PV installation would generate about 490 megawatt-hours of electricity each year and that could reduce WA's greenhouse CO2 emissions by something like 400 tonnes each year.

In 2022 solar PV panels typically pay for themselves in about five years. In this case where the cost of installing the shade cloth sails would have been avoided, the payback time would be shorter. PV panels also have the advantage of casting much denser shade, so the cars beneath the panels would be cooler in summer.

A waste of electricity for needless lighting too

Note in the photo too that the lights beneath the shades are on, as are the two tall floodlights that can be seen in this photo. There were about 40 of each types of lights in the shopping centre. So far as I have been able to tell all are left on 24 hours a day. The shopping centre is open only from 8am to 6pm most days (Sundays 10am to 5pm, plus to 9pm on Thursdays) so outdoor lighting would only be necessary Thursday evenings and evenings in winter. On 2022/09/18 I emailed Prime West telling them about the lights being on all the time; I had not received a response by the 26th.

A letter to the editor and a result

On 2022/09/30 I wrote a letter to the local newspaper on both the above points. It was published in at least one (Mandurah Coastal Times) a few days later. On 2022/10/12 I noticed that the car park lights were off..

One can hint and push but it is a rare thing to get a definite result such as this one. Having the car park lights on only when needed (if that is what happens in future) will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by something like 30 tonnes each year.

Other shopping centre owners are far more progressive

In Western Australia for example Northam Boulevard (article in The West Australian), belonging to Perdaman Group, 2,211 panels in total, 900 of these shading the carpark, and Dunsborough Centrepoint shopping centre (article in The West Australian).

In my home state, SA, there are big solar shaded carpark installations at Vicinity Centres (claimed to be the biggest in Australia at the time of construction, 1,400 panels on the car park alone) and Castle Plaza (430 solar shaded parking spaces).

Also see my page on solar car park shades.

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Dying trees

Recently dead trees
Dead gum trees
The trees in the photo on the right and many other trees in the SW of WA have died following an exceptionally long, hot, dry summer. In May of 2024 my wife and I have been noticing many dead trees scattered around the locality. Blind Freddy couldn't miss the connection between this drought, climate change, and the burning of fossil fuels.

Also see The big dry: forests and shrublands are dying in parched Western Australia on the University of WA site.

These, and the many other dead or dying trees that I have seen were in Andrew Hastie's electorate of Canning, where I live. Mr Hastie has chosen to oppose renewable energy and ignore the climate change problem (see below) for the sake of political and personal advantage.

CSIRO: Australia's changing climate; a quote...

"The drying trend is particularly strong between May to July over southwest Western Australia, with rainfall since 1970 around 20 per cent less than the average from 1900 to 1969. Since 1999, this reduction has increased to around 26 per cent."
(I have expanded on the climate change problem, particularly as it impacts WA, on another page on this site.)

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Ignoring the problem

In February 2024 the Albanese Australian Government opened consultation on a proposed offshore Windfarm zone in southern Western Australia. The zone would be off the coast southwest of Perth.

Almost immediately the local federal (Liberal) member of parliament, Andrew Hastie mounted a dishonest and misleading scare campaign against the proposal.


A better future with Community Independent politicians

I've written elsewhere about how we can, and should, replace politicians like Mr Hastie, who oppose climate change action and place their own advantage before the needs of their constituents, with honest, progressive, Community Independents.
In opposing a proposal that, if it came to fruition, would have reduced Australia's greenhouse emissions by millions of tonnes per year, Mr Hastie plainly put politics well ahead of any need to combat climate change. It is fair to say that he ignored the great threat that climate change posed to the world for the sake of party politics and his own personal ambitions.

That a man in Mr Hastie's position was doing this in 2024, when the damage being caused by climate change is so obvious and so well known is frightening and depressing. Most of the dead trees that we've been noticing (see above) are in Mr Hastie's electorate of Canning, because that is where we live.

If the offshore wind farms in the zone proposed by the government, and so opposed by Mr Hastie, were to be built millions of tonnes less climate changing emissions would go into the atmosphere each year because of the reduction in the burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

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A metaphor

Why should we all play our part in minimising the emissions that are causing climate change? Many people seem to have trouble with this. I have tried for a long time to think of a simple metaphor that might make it clear; today I thought of a good one.

Let's imagine that there is an island that is home to 100 families and its only fresh water supply is a spring that yields 100 kilolitres per day (one kilometre, kl, is one thousand litres, about 220 gallons).

If each family limited themselves to one kl they could all live happily together, but some families use much more than that so other families have to get by with much less. (Just as some nations produce much more than their share of greenhouse emissions and some nations produce less).

Let's say that the Joyce family is one of those that uses more than its share of the water. Mr Joyce justifies this by saying that if they halved the amount of water they used their garden would suffer and it would make only a tiny difference to the overall water supply situation.

The Abbott family also use much more than their share. Mr Abbott says that he doesn't believe there is any water supply problem at all - it's all made up by greenies.

The Morrisons, a 'good church-going' family, are part of a group on the island who are running a coal mine and exporting the coal. They need a lot of water for their mining and exporting operation. Mr Morrison says that the whole island profits from the coal mine and whatever they do they must keep it operating and even make it bigger.

A great many of the other families on the island are having to make-do with less and less water because of people like the Joyces, the Abbotts and the Morrisons. Surely the injustice in this is obvious.

In real life Barnaby Joyce is an ex-leader of the Australian National Party, Tony Abbott was an Australian Liberal Party Prime Minister, as was Scott Morrison.

In one hundred years

Wind turbines, Clements Gap
I live in Mid-North South Australia which is a leader in the installation of renewable energy, especially wind power.

I wonder if in years to come, after the full effects of climate change have hit and the world in very different to now, people will look at the wind turbines (or what is left of them) and say "they were built by people who wanted to stop the climate change disaster. It's a pity there were not many more people like those."


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Related pages/References

External sites...

The World Meteorological Organisation report, released 2024/03/19 showed that 2023 broke many climate records: greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice cover and glacier retreat.

Quoting the report's key messages:

  • State of Global Climate report confirms 2023 as hottest year on record by clear margin
  • Records broken for ocean heat, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice loss and glacier retreat
  • Extreme weather undermines socio-economic development
  • Renewable energy transition provides hope
  • Cost of climate inaction is higher than cost of climate action
A list of the older external related sites is on this page under Links.

Climate of the Nation 2020: South Australians Concerned about Climate Fires, want Renewables Led Recovery; "In the wake of the devastating Black Summer bushfires, an overwhelming majority of Australians (82%) and South Australians (81%) say they are concerned about climate change resulting in more bushfires, according to a new benchmark report released today by the Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program."

3,200 deaths a year: 1 of many reasons air pollution in Australia demands urgent national action; The Conversation, 2023/09/07, written by Deren Pillay, Bill Dodd and Bin Jalaludin

From The Australian Museum:
Impacts of Climate Change. The article details the impact on: heat, fire, drought, extreme weather events, sea level rise, coral reefs, biodiversity, communities and human health.
Devastating coral bleaching in 2024: "The fifth mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in the past eight years was declared in April 2024. For the first time, all three sectors of the GBR are affected: south, middle, and north."

Did Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) produce an unjustifiably optimistic projection for the greenhouse impact of the Beetaloo Basin gas project? Article in The Conversation, by Bill Hare, Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University, 2023/10/31

On this site...

Climate change

What should Australia be doing?

This region is leading Australia

A carbon tax

Wind power, a viable sustainable energy option

Lists of pages relevant to greenhouse/climate change in an Australian context and in a international context.

Can we replace a lying, fossil-fuel obsessed, federal politician with an honest, climate-progressive, community independent?


On this page...
2024: going backwards
Adverse effects of climate change
Are temperatures related to gas levels
Australia and climate change
Australia and climate change responsibility
Australia's greenhouse emissions
Australia is sleepwalking
Australian mean temperature anomaly
Bangor fire and resulting sediment in Crystal Brook
Australia's native bush and trees are suffering from climate change
  Bushfires and dust of late 2019 – early 2020
Call to act on climate signed by more than 200 prominent Australians
Carbon offsets
The China red herring
Climate change denial
The Climate Change Performance Index: Results 2015
Contraction and convergence
Coral reef bleaching
Could the Earth become a second Venus?
Dutton disappoints all who want strong action on climate change
Dying trees
Economists and greenhouse
Emissions, Australia's greenhouse
Equitable sharing of the atmosphere
Evidence of climate change at Clare
Evidence of past climate change
Exceptional weather events
Extinction from the oceans
Flooding in North Queensland have been compared to a one in 1,000-year event
Fourth coral bleaching event
Fossil fuel electricity in perspective
Fossil sand dunes
Geologists are not climatologists
Geosequestration: cost
Greenhouse emissions
How far we have to go!
Human activities
Ignoring the problem
In one hundred years
Importance of peer-reviewed literature
In town without my car
Is it really happening?
Invalid argument often used
Killer hail
Letter to the editor and a result
Local evidence of climate change
Lost opportunities
  Primewest, Erskine shopping centre, another lost opportunity
Marine life is fleeing the equator
A metaphor
Murdoch media's remarkable about-face on climate change
No escape for Great Barrier Reef
Ocean warming
Oil mallee
Primewest, Erskine shopping centre, another lost opportunity
Public liability
Rainfall trends in Australia
Reduced stream flow
Related pages
Scientific consensus
Second Venus?
Sediment in Crystal Brook following the Bangor fire
Sequestration in peat
Sequestration in the ocean
Sequestration in trees
Some say it is not happening
Specious greenhouse argument
Subsidies to fossil fuels
Temperature records
This is a time of greatness
True cost of coal
Update, 2024/01/05
Western Australia's decreasing rainfall
What do the experts say?
What do the papers say?
What is the science telling us?
Who is to blame?
Why accept that humanity is causing climate change?
Why do so few support greenhouse action?