Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Is the paper panic over?

I walked into my local Coles supermarket at about 10am yesterday morning to find myself face-to-face with two pallets of toilet paper.  There was nobody around it at all.  There were packs there for anybody who walked in.  Some people doing their shopping would add a pack to their basket but there was no suggestion of a shortage.

I think the one pack per person rule has probably worked its magic.  It was in any case just a minority of lamebrains who bought up trolley-loads of the stuff. Any unusual demand -- even demand emanating from a small minority -- will upset the supply chain and lead to shortages.  I am quite confident that most Australians kept their cool  -- JR.

Minding the carbon offset gap: bringing net emissions down to zero

Australia’s carbon offset industry will need to grow exponentially if the country is to reach a net zero emissions target, underscoring the challenge facing policymakers trying to weigh up achieving climate targets while also sustaining lucrative coal, oil and gas industries.

Data released by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and the Clean ­Energy Regulator last week shows the massive gulf that exists ­between the volume of carbon emitted by Australia and the amount captured through abatement measures.

Less than 3 per cent of the ­nation’s emissions are being offset under the federal government’s emissions reduction fund.

Labor has adopted a target of Australia becoming carbon-­neutral by 2050, with leader Anthony Albanese flagging that the coal industry could continue to exist under such a target because of offsets in the likes of forestry and agriculture.

But the latest data reveals the daunting scale of the task of relying on offsets to achieve the target, with the equivalent of 33 tonnes of CO2 emitted across Australia for every one tonne of CO2 captured through official offset programs.

The latest edition of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory showed a slight fall in carbon emissions for the year to September last year, with the total falling 1.4 million tonnes, or 0.3 per cent, to 530.8 million tonnes.

That fall was achieved only as a result of the drought that crippled much of rural Australia last year, which reduced emissions by 4.1 million tonnes because of declines in livestock populations and a drop in fertiliser use.

Emissions linked to the oil and gas industry jumped significantly as new liquefied natural gas projects continued to ramp up.

The total emissions volumes dwarf the progress made under the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, which Energy Minister Angus Taylor said this week had issued just under 15 million carbon credit units last year. Each credit is the equivalent of one tonne of offset carbon emissions.

Limited options

The carbon offset industry in Australia broadly revolves around planting trees and vegetation in areas degraded through historical agricultural practices, or preserving forest previously earmarked for clearing. Savanna fire management — in which areas of grassland are burnt off early in the dry season to avoid larger-scale fires from longer grass later in the season — also has become a significant area of activity. Offsets also involve investing in renewable ­energy projects.

Increasingly affordable renewable energy sources are forecast to make strong inroads into emissions associated with electricity generation — which is the largest single source of emissions in Australia, accounting for more than a third of all carbon pollution — in the years ahead.

But the path to offsetting the emissions of other sectors, such as the mining industry, oil and gas, transport and agriculture, is less apparent. Last Friday Taylor said the government would look at the “biological sequestration” techniques used in offsets as well as ­hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, lithium and livestock feed supplements as part of the government’s plans to reduce emissions.

While Taylor held fast against setting a 2050 emissions target, both the federal opposition and every state government have adopted net zero by 2050 policies.

And the Business Council of Australia, global mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto, and big oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum have all put their support behind a ­target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The broadening support for a net zero emissions position means the role of carbon offsets is expected to grow significantly.

But the practice, which predominantly involves planting trees or preserving forests, has had a chequered history and has been a point of contention among environmental groups.

The Climate Council says “there is no room for carbon offsets” in meeting any net zero target, and instead says emissions need to be cut “deeply and rapidly at their source”.

Conservation Council of Western Australia executive director Piers Verstegen says scaling up the nation’s carbon ­offset industry to the level needed to offset large-scale emissions would be “problematic”.

Many of the easiest sources of abatement in Australia have already been tapped, he says, while looking overseas for offsets poses problems of transparency and credibility.

While Verstegen says an expanded carbon offset industry in Australia can be a big source of job creation and investment, the recent Black Summer bushfires showed the challenge of relying on planting trees to offset emissions.

“You can grow trees, but how can you guarantee they’re going to be there in five, 10, 20 or 50 years, particularly when we are facing changing climatic conditions and increasing bushfire risk which might make the offset impermanent?” he says.

No guarantees

Globally, the offset industry has been marred by problems of credibility and effectiveness.

US-based environmental advocacy group the Natural Resources Defence Council has warned of the perils of consumer-levels offset programs, noting there can be big differences in the quality of different offsets.

First, it says, the offset needs to be real, verified and enforceable — that the promised tree, for example, will actually be planted and that the company or individual responsible will be held accountable if it is not.

Even more difficult, the NRDC says, is ensuring the offset is permanent and additional. A tree that is cut down soon after it is planted is of limited value, as is any offset investment that was going to happen anyway.

Then there is the risk of “leakage” — paying an Amazonian farmer not to sell his plot to a logging company, the NRDC says, is cancelled out if the logging company just buys a different plot instead.

Room to expand

Looking overseas for offsets adds another layer of complexity, given the jurisdictional challenges of verifying them.

In Australia, the offset industry falls under the watch of the Clean Energy Regulator, which assesses the eligibility of projects and the methodology they use.

Brendan Foran, chief executive of established carbon offsets group Greening Australia, says there is enormous potential to expand the use of offsets in ­Australia.

There are 90 million hectares of cleared land across the country, he says, that could be tapped for offsets but the sector has been held back by constrained support. Foran says the industry typically has revolved around short-term funding and grants, which has limited its ability to ­execute the sorts of large-scale projects that would increase the amount of offsets and bring down their costs.

Foran is all too aware of the vast gap between emissions and offsets in Australia. “That’s basically the problem that I’m trying to solve at the moment,” he says.

He says he is starting to see some change because of moves in the corporate sector.

Last year Greening Australia struck a deal with Woodside, which has identified offsets as a key plank of its plans to be net zero by 2050.

That deal, Foran says, will see Woodside bring not only money but also the sort of large-scale project execution skills and data analysis needed to significantly expand Greening Australia’s operations and bring abatement costs down.

Globally, he says, there is a vast pool of money looking to invest in offset assets, but there is a shortage of suitable deals.

However, even with a significant growth in offsets, Foran says, there will need to be enormous cuts in the amount of emissions if the gap is to be narrowed.

“I’m not trying to create an impression here that planting native trees is the total answer. It’s just part of the answer,” he says.

“It’s not enough just to stop or reduce your emissions, we actually need to draw carbon out of the ­atmosphere as well.

“We need to do both.”

Foran also notes there is a wide range in the quality of offsets on the market. There is a big difference, for example, between simply planting one type of tree in continuous rows compared with Greening Australia’s approach of establishing biodiverse systems.

New technology

While the gap between offsets and emissions looks huge today, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Leonard Quong says the world will be a very different place by 2050.

Factors such as the forecast improvement in offset technologies and processes, efficiencies in mining practices and the erosion of global demand for carbon-­intensive commodities such as coal mean offsets are likely to make larger inroads into the world’s emissions by 2050.

Big miners increasingly are looking towards solar and wind to power their operations, global coal demand is already starting to ease, and hydrogen fuel technology is gathering pace and could well be a reality in 30 years.

There’s also potential technological leaps — such as in direct air capture that strips carbon dioxide out of the air — and further refinement of carbon capture and storage systems that could occur in the coming decades.

Those sorts of factors, Quong says, mean the pool of emissions requiring offsets in 2050 will be a lot smaller than it is today.

“Can you get today’s economy completely offset with today’s offset systems and practices? Probably not. But we’re not trying to do that and I don’t think anyone would seriously consider that,” Quong says.

“It’s a factor of everything ­moving — the economy, society and politically — and the abatement technologies that we apply to that.”


Should governments be able to raid journalists in an effort to trace "leaks"

No compromise agreed

PRESS freedom advocates have slammed a proposal asking journalists to hand over confidential documents to avoid police raids on their homes as "meaningless", "window dressing" and proof the Morrison Government "had not listened" to concerns about the public's right to know.

The new proposal, made by the Australian. Federal Police and Department of Home Affairs, would allow police  to request documents and the names of confidential sources from journalists without the use of force, and could allow news organisations to "challenge" requests.

But the new regime would be voluntary and, according to the proposal, would "not limit the ability (for police) to apply for a search warrant on a journalist or newsroom.

The submission to the parliamentary press freedom inquiry followed months of campaigning for the public's right to know and legal reform by media organisations, and came as the ABC slammed the raid on its newsroom last year as an assault on public-interest journalism.

The proposed new system, called a “Commonwealth Notice to Produce Framework,” could be written into the Crime Act, and used to request sensitive information from the media as part of police investigations.

“This would offer an alternative to executing a search warrant in person, give parties more flexibility to serve and produce material, and provide an opportunity for professional journalists and media organisations to put forward any strong, countervailing arguments not to produce material pursuant to such an Notice,” it read.

But News Corp Australia executive chairman Australasia Michael Miller said the proposal overlooked “genuine concerns held by all media over government overreach and secrecy,” misrepresented legal reforms sought by the industry, such as contestable search warrants, and came nine months after media raids.

“The Federal Government has made clear that its preference is to maintain the bad laws which enable governments to hide from Australians what they are doing,” Mr Miller said.

“The offer of a notice regime rather than contestable warrants offers no comfort and is nothing more than window dressing.

“If anything, it provides even more powers preventing journalists from telling Australians what their government is doing.”


Brisbane teachers fail kids in maths

NEARLY three-quarters of students in years 8-10 were taught maths by teachers from outside the field, a survey of Brisbane students has found.

The revelation is in a survey by Australian Catholic University mathematics education lecturer Dr Michael Easey, who surveyed 423 students.

Having an out-of-field maths teacher made a staggering difference to which level of mathematics students chose to study in years 11 and 12. "From this study, it is very evident that if teachers are qualified to teach mathematics, students were more likely to select more mathematically demanding upper-secondary mathematics courses, mathematics B but especially mathematics C," Dr Easey said.

"In this study, some students choosing to study mathematics B or mathematics C provided written comments that suggested a feature of their experience of learning mathematics were teachers who were 'expert', 'enthusiastic', and `challenging'."

Of students surveyed, 274 identified which subject level they would choose, with 22 per cent opting for mathematics A, 30 per cent choosing mathematics B and only 12.5 per cent choosing mathematics C.

Students who had no, or only one, out-of-field mathematics teacher across years 8 to 10 were more than 20 times More likely to choose maths C over maths A in senior years. Students who had two out-of-field mathematics teachers were only three times more likely to choose mathematics C over mathematics A.

Data from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) shows one in three secondary mathematics classes is taught by an out-of-field teacher around Australia.

AMSI schools program manager Janine Sprakel said it was of great concern that the number of students choosing to study mathematics in senior secondary school and university was dropping. "Our future is STEM - that is well established," she said.

"It makes sense that the teachers who are trained in mathematics suggest to their students that they would be capable of undertaking mathematics at a higher level in Year 12 and in university."

She said while there were great teachers without a background in mathematics teaching, specialist teachers had a different level of understanding and enthusiasm.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said there were shortages of specialist teachers, particularly in mathematics, sciences and information technology design, which increased workloads.

From the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" of 8.3.20

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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