Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Government hits back over coal phase-out

The federal government has hit back at a senior United Nations official's call for Australia to accept coal's days are numbered.

Selwin Hart, the UN's assistant secretary-general and special adviser on climate action, told the ANU's Crawford Leadership Forum the phasing out of coal is a prerequisite of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

"If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy: from agriculture to tourism, and right across the services sector," he said.

But he said coal workers and their communities were entitled to a "just transition" to new jobs.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt said coal would remain a significant contributor to the Australian economy well beyond 2030.

"The future of this crucial industry will be decided by the Australian government, not a foreign body that wants to shut it down costing thousands of jobs and billions of export dollars for our economy," Mr Pitt said on Monday.

He noted in the three months to July, coal exports soared to $12.5 billion - a 26 per cent increase on the previous quarter.

But while it was Australia's second largest export, the nation accounted for six per cent of the world's total annual production behind China, India and Indonesia.

"Coal will continue to generate billions of dollars in royalties and taxes for state and federal governments, and directly employ over 50,000 Australians."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the market was leading the energy industry away from coal-fired power toward cheaper renewables.

"This is an opportunity for Australia," he said.

Mr Hart said the region was looking to Australia for leadership, especially on the target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it is the government's "preference" to get to net zero by mid-century, but has not formally committed to it.

"National governments responsible for 73 per cent of global emissions have now committed to net zero by mid-century, and we urge Australia to join them as a matter of urgency," Mr Hart said.

All countries have been encouraged by the UN to submit enhanced "nationally determined contributions" - or NDCs - before COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Mr Albanese said he was committed to net zero emissions by 2050 as it was "good for jobs, good for lowering prices, as well as being good for lowering emissions and good for the environment".

A spokewoman for Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said Australia had a strong 2030 target and a clear plan to meet and beat it.

British high commissioner Victoria Treadell said a higher level of ambition for the 2030 and 2050 targets was needed from all countries.

"We are very much hoping we will see that new level of ambition and I know it is something your prime minister is looking at, working hard to try to find a position in time for Glasgow," she told Sky News.


Promising drug a new weapon in curbing COVID’s worst effects

Yesterday 1281 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in NSW. By October many of these will be seriously ill in hospital, some in intensive care, and a few will die. Others will progress to indefinite multifaceted illness called “Long COVID”.

Can this miserable trajectory be modified, while we wait for the vaccination drive to “stop the spread”?

Clinical trials and overseas experience with a class of therapeutic drugs called monoclonal antibodies suggests that it can – but only when they are given early. COVID-19 patients treated in a trial of one such drug called Sotrovimab exhibited an 79 per cent relative reduction in hospitalisation and deaths. In March, the independent regulator halted patient recruitment because of “profound efficacy”. Even with small numbers, before the Delta outbreak, the statistics were persuasive.

The first of 7700 doses of Sotrovimab quietly slipped into Australia three weeks ago. We have waited some time. It now has Therapeutics Goods Administration provisional approval for vulnerable patients, such as the elderly and immunocompromised. It is being used in Shepparton, Victoria. What are the plans for NSW?

Sotrovimab is the latest and, possibly, best therapeutic monoclonal antibody to inhibit the COVID-19 virus attaching to human tissue. The US Federal Drug Authority authorised its emergency use in May. The headline cost is $US2100 a dose, and it’s free to vulnerable Americans.

President Trump was treated with, among other drugs, a duo of anti-COVID monoclonal antibodies labelled Regeneron, similarly authorised in America last November. The US National Institute of Health recommends either drug for vulnerable patients. Don’t mention them in the same breath as ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine.

With COVID on the march in America, antibody distribution has massively scaled up. The Texas state government has just established public antibody infusion centres.

Intravenous antibody infusions take an hour, in infectious patients. No small short-term imposition on overstretched health systems. Yet, one which could prevent a much greater hospital overload in the months which follow. Perhaps a treatment centre on an oval near a hospital should be considered. Like the precautionary Surge Centre in Canberra.

The United Arab Emirates, where Delta is prevalent, and logistics are military-grade, announced striking results, with no deaths among 6175 COVID-19 patients treated in July.

Nevertheless, and crucially, immunologists worry that indiscriminate use of a single antibody such as Sotrovimab might cause resistant variants to emerge and leak into the community. It is no substitute for vaccination. The ethical issues are obvious.

Monoclonal antibodies attack and disable unwanted targets. Think Herceptin for breast cancer, Keytruda for melanoma , Emgality for migraine and Humira for arthritis - all monoclonals, each created or modified for a very specific target. Each is a feat of structural molecular engineering.

It was Britain’s Cambridge scientist, Sir Gregory Winter, who devised and developed the generic technology that underpins monoclonal antibodies. At first, business failed to see their potential. And so, as he recounted in his 2018 Nobel address and at Sydney University in 2019, it was seed-funding from the Australian racing industry which launched monoclonal antibodies to market. The deal was done on a boat on Sydney Harbour. He overheard a whispered comment “Let’s give Greg the money. Let’s see how the boffin trots”. Annual monoclonal revenues now well exceed $100 billion, to untold human benefit.

The Australian perspective has come full circle. Professor Daniel Christ is a former PhD student of Winter’s and is now at the Garvan Institute. He sees a way around this antibody resistance problem. And he looks to the experience in treating HIV infection with three different drugs which curbed that epidemic.

Since early 2020, his team has worked flat out to create monoclonals against COVID-19. They now have three antibodies which are more potent than Sotrovimab in vitro, When used together, they should be very resistant to mutation escape.

If these ventures succeed, Australians will have good reason to be thankful for investment in science.


‘Critical step’: NSW commits to religious discrimination bill

The state government has committed to outlawing religious discrimination in NSW but will not act until the Commonwealth’s own promised religious freedoms bill has passed Federal Parliament.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the Coalition was ensuring its laws “reflect modern community values” by introducing a bill to add religion to the state’s anti-discrimination legislation, joining most other states and territories in providing faith-based protections.

“NSW is a proudly multicultural and multi-faith society. We’re pleased to be taking this critical step to protect people of faith and of no faith from discrimination and to support freedom of religion,” Mr Speakman said.

It is already unlawful to discriminate against a person because of a range of other attributes, including sex, homosexuality and transgender status.

The announcement follows a parliamentary inquiry spurred by amendments to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act proposed by One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham, which in March resulted in a majority of the 14-person committee concluding his bill was mostly a useful template for reform.

As well as explicitly outlawing discrimination of a person based on religion, Mr Latham’s bill also protects people such as former Wallaby Israel Folau from action by employers and professional bodies for comments made outside the workplace that are motivated by religious belief.

Mr Folau settled an unlawful dismissal case with Rugby Australia in 2019 after his contract was terminated for repeatedly posting on social media that homosexuals were destined for hell unless they repented their sins.

The majority of the committee said the bill had attracted support from peak Christian, Islamic and Jewish bodies, however Uniting Church NSW and ACT Moderator Simon Hansford put himself at odds with other denominations in slamming the bill as heavy-handed against minorities.

“Christians are not victims in Australia because of our faith, and we should not seek freedoms that are self-serving and come at the detriment of others in the community,” he said last year.

Greens MP Jenny Leong, one of three committee members to dissent from the majority view, urged Mr Speakman to disregard the majority’s findings, saying the need to protect people because of their religion wasn’t the same as “enshrining protections for people to engage in wholesale discrimination against women and the LGBTIQ+ community under the guise of religious freedoms”.

However, the substance of the proposed law change will remain up in the air for the near future.

To ensure constitutional consistency, the state plans to wait until the federal government’s religious discrimination bill passes before finalising the details of its legislation.

Independent MP Alex Greenwich, another of the dissenters, said it was irresponsible of the government to commit to a bill with “no detail, that could adversely impact the LGBTIQA+ community at a time of great anxiety.”

“If we are seeking to protect religion in the Anti-Discrimination Act, I use that as an opportunity to end the ability of religious education institutions to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ students and teachers,” Mr Greenwich said.

In June, the Commonwealth announced a plan to introduce a religious discrimination bill by the end of the year, with church groups lobbying to have legislation enacted before the federal election.

That bill, which arose from recommendations of Howard-era attorney-general Philip Ruddock’s 2018 religious freedom review, applies limitations on employers to prohibit individuals from expressing religious views outside work, as well as changing existing discrimination protections in schools and service settings.

Ghassan Kassisieh, legal director, of LGBTIQA+ national organisation Equality Australia, said the NSW government would be “well advised to avoid the mistakes of the federal government in this area.”

“Rather than only protecting people of faith from discrimination, previous iterations of the federal bill allowed people to discriminate on the basis of religion,” he said.

NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Natalie Ward said the proposed changes would support people facing religious discrimination through state agency Anti-Discrimination NSW.

“We have a harmonious multi-faith community in NSW which is grounded in respect. It deserves recognition and protection to thrive,” she said.


Suicide a bigger problem than Covid

One-in-four Australians say they know someone who died by suicide or attempted to take their own life in the past year – equivalent to five million adults – a new survey has found.

Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive officer Nieves Murray said major social and economic events had historically influenced suicide rates.

“We know social and economic isolation are the biggest drivers of suicide rates and Covid-19 has seen Australians subject to 18 months of rolling lockdowns and disruption to their personal lives, employment and businesses,” she said.

“We’ve seen how quickly Covid-19 cases can get out of hand and we need to have the same national policy focus and vigilance to stop suicide rates doing the same.”

The survey commissioned by Suicide Prevention Australia and completed by YouGov in August, found 25 per cent of adult Australians surveyed knew someone who had died by suicide or attempted to take their own life in the previous 12 months. About 15 per cent knew the person directly, while another 11 per cent knew them indirectly.

About 16 per cent said they had sought help or searched for advice from a suicide prevention service in the past 12 months, about 16 per cent said they had indirectly sought help.

Most people thought “social isolation and loneliness” was the biggest risk to suicide in the next 12 months, with 64 per cent rating it as an issue.

This was followed by unemployment and job security (58 per cent); family and relationship breakdowns (57 per cent); cost of living and personal debt (55 per cent); and drugs and alcohol (53 per cent).

While the latest data from suicide registers in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland do not show an increase in suspected suicide deaths in 2020, or since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Ms Murray said the number of deaths in 2019 had been the highest recorded in Australia, growing from 3093 in 2015, to 3318 in 2019.

“There have never been more lives lost to suicide in this country,” Ms Murray said.

Those surveyed were particularly worried about the suicide risk among young people aged 12-25 years old (42 per cent), followed by middle aged Australians aged 25-55 years old (29 per cent) and men (29 per cent).

Other people thought to be at risk were those living in regional and rural areas (24 per cent), LGBTQI Australians (21 per cent), Indigenous Australians (18 per cent) and those aged over 55 (18 per cent).

The survey also supported a stand-alone national suicide prevention act, similar to one introduced in Japan, which would require the Federal Government to consider and mitigate suicide risks when making all decisions, not just ones related to health.

About 66 per cent thought Australia should introduce similar legislation.

Ms Murray said legislation was the best prevention against suicide rates increasing.

“The heightened economic and social threat posed by Covid-19 means we cannot afford to wait to legislate,” Ms Murray said.

“Australia needs a national suicide prevention act and we need to act now. “We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. An act will legislate a whole-of-government priority to prevent suicide and focus the attention of every agency to address the risk of suicide across our community.

“Suicide prevention isn’t limited to health portfolios. Housing is suicide prevention, employment is suicide prevention, finance is suicide prevention, and education is suicide prevention.”

The organisation noted that more than three times the amount of people died from suicide in 2019 (3318 people) than have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began (1019 people as of September 2).


Ozone recovery is offsetting Southern Hemisphere climate change trends in summer

Cooler summers in Australia despite high CO2 levels!

If the latest climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made anything clear, it was that much more needs to be done to reverse the impacts of climate change.

But buried in the 1,000-page document of mostly alarming reading there was one positive gem.

Our action in reducing ozone depletion is, in the short term, offsetting some of the impacts greenhouse gases are having on summer rainfall systems in the Southern Hemisphere.

What does that mean?

It's all to do with a major climate driver known as the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), a belt of strong westerly winds linked to rainfall in the Southern Hemisphere.

The SAM's position — either moving further north or south — can influence which latitudes see the impacts of storm systems and cold fronts, and can also have an influence on temperature.

Without ozone depletion and greenhouse gas emissions, its position over the southern ocean has a natural variability both north and south.

But with those things occurring, the SAM has been trending further south toward Antarctica, research has shown.

With the SAM further south, storm tracks also shift south, away from Australia — changing which areas recieve rainfall.

Australian Antarctic Division principle research scientist Andrew Klekociuk said in the last 20 years however, ozone recovery has been turning that trend around during the summer months, pushing back on the influence of greenhouse gases.

"[Ozone recovery] is starting to relax the change that we’ve seen [in the SAM]," Dr Kelkociuk said.

"For a period now, we have this tug-of-war between ozone recovery and the effects of greenhouse gas increases."

The weakening of the pole-ward trend during the summer months was referenced in the latest IPCC report, released last month.

It's an element of the report climate science professor Julie Arblaster, from Monash University, described as a "really good news story".

"We, as humans, are doing a big chemistry experiment on our planet at the moment and anything we can do to reduce our impact on the climate system has to be of benefit," she said.

"Bringing the [rainfall and storm systems] back equator-ward would certainly help return some of the rainfall patterns to their normal location."

What could this mean for rainfall?

The position of the SAM has different rainfall outcomes for different parts of the Southern Hemisphere and Australia.

Some regions, including eastern Australia, actually experience wetter conditions in summer when the wind-belt is further towards Antarctica.

That means for eastern Australia, a reversal of that trend could mean less rainfall during the summer months, according to Professor Arblaster.

Regions like western Tasmania and New Zealand, however, could see rainfall increase.

But Professor Arblaster said it was hard to say exactly what the pushback means for Australian summer rainfall, because the SAM was not the only factor influencing the weather.

"Different regions have influences from many things and not just the SAM trend," she said.

"For example, the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

"So there is a strong understanding of how the ozone hole has affected the SAM, but how much influence ozone depletion has had on Australian rainfall trends is still a question."

Impact to temperatures

When it comes to temperatures, Professor Arblaster said there was evidence international efforts to limit ozone depletion had also gone a long way in "avoiding" larger temperature rises across the globe.

"The ozone-depleting substances are really strong greenhouse gasses," she said.

"So if we had continued emitting CFCs, then a study by Goyal and co-authors found that would have led to an additional warming of 0.5 and 1 degree up to now in some regions, and additional warming after."

Short-term buffer only

Both the IPCC report, Professor Arblaster and Dr Klekociuk made one thing clear.

The buffer that ozone recovery was providing to the pole-ward shift of the SAM would not last if greenhouse gas emissions were not reduced.

"If we don’t reduce emissions soon, the greenhouse gases will overwhelm any impact from ozone recovery by the end of the 21st Century," Professor Arblaster said.

The Antarctic ozone hole has recently started to show signs of recovering since The Montreal Protocol was signed in the late 1980's — an international agreement to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

It is currently on track to have recovered by the mid to late 21st Century.


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM -- daily)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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