All posts by Michael

Yarra Council Face Off on Copenhagen Lane

Have your final say about the Copenhagen-style bike lane on Wellington Street!

Tuesday 19 February, 6.30pm

Richmond Town Hall, 333 Bridge Rd, Richmond

Wellington St is a popular and well connected route in the inner network. With over 400 riders in the 7-9am peak it provides a major transport function and serves as a viable connection from North Fitzroy through to East Melbourne

YCAN has strongly supported a Copenhagen lane on Wellington St as a part of the Bicycle strategy Yarra Council has adopted. We see it as the missing link in getting more people to ride their bikes.

After a long time it is finally coming to a head and Yarra Council will be giving it the thumbs up or down.

Shockingly some people don’t support a Copenhagen lane on Wellington Street. We are sure that they just don’t understand that the entire city is doomed to grind to a standstill if we fail to make it safe for people to get out of their car and on the their bike. Frequently it is faster to ride across the city of Yarra than to drive, but until people feel it is safe, the large shift out of cars and onto bikes that is council’s policy won’t happen.

So come along, bring some friends and support a sustainable, healthier and more liveable city.


Assorted graphics connecting the dots between heatwave/bushfire and global warming

Check this post occasionally as we’ll be adding any new graphics that come to hand. Please share these around and help educate the Australian public on the reality of the climate crisis. For a more detailed explanation of the links between extreme weather and human-caused global warming click here.

This one is from GetUp:

Here’s a couple from Beyond Zero Emissions:

Environment Victoria:

Weldon in The Age

And one we made ourselves!



Heatwave: Australia’s new weather demands a new politics

By George Monbiot – originally published in The Guardian

Climate change clashes with the myth of a land where progress is limited only by the rate at which resources can be extracted.

Five of Australia’s six states are still suffering fires after the counrty’s fiercest heatwave in more than 80 years. Photograph: Kim Foale/EPA

I wonder what Tony Abbott will say about the record heatwave now ravaging his country. The Australian opposition leader has repeatedly questioned the science and impacts of climate change. He has insisted that “the science is highly contentious, to say the least” and asked – demonstrating what looks like a wilful ignorance – “If man-made CO2 was quite the villain that many of these people say it is, why hasn’t there just been a steady increase starting in 1750, and moving in a linear way up the graph?” He has argued against Australian participation in serious attempts to cut emissions.

Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia. People such as Andrew Bolt and Ian Plimer have made a career out of it. The Australian – owned by Rupert Murdoch – takes such extreme anti-science positions that it sometimes makes the Sunday Telegraph look like the voice of reason.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal – the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. It’s also a profligate consumer. Australians now burn, on average, slightly more carbon per capita than the citizens of the United States, and more than twice as much as the people of the United Kingdom. Taking meaningful action on climate change would require a serious reassessment of the way life is lived there.

Events have not been kind to the likes of Abbott, Bolt and Plimer. The current heatwave – so severe that the Bureau of Meteorology has been forced to add a new colour to its temperature maps – is just the latest event in a decade of extraordinary weather: weather of the kind that scientists have long warned is a likely consequence of man-made global warming.

As James Hansen and colleagues showed in a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the occurrence of extremely hot events has risen by a factor of around 50 by comparison to the decades before 1980. Extreme summer heat, which afflicted between 0.1% and 0.2% of the world 40 years ago, now affects 10%. They warned that “an important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3?) warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period”. An extremely hot outlier is a good description of what is roasting Australia at the moment.

So far Abbott has commented, as far as I can tell, only on the fires: “Our thoughts are with the people and the communities across the country who are impacted by the bushfires,” he says. Quite right too, but it’s time his thoughts also extended to the question of why this is happening and how Australian politicians should respond. He says he’s currently on standby with his local fire brigade, but as his opposition to effective action on climate change is likely to contribute to even more extreme events in the future, this looks like the most cynical kind of stunt politics.

To ask him and others to change their view of the problem could be to demand the impossible. It requires that they confront some of the most powerful interests in Australia: from Rupert Murdoch to Gina Rinehart. It requires that they confront some of the powerful narratives that have shaped Australians’ view of themselves, just as we in the United Kingdom must challenge our own founding myths. In Australia’s case, climate change clashes with a story of great cultural power: of a land of opportunity, in which progress is limited only by the rate at which natural resources can be extracted; in which this accelerating extraction leads to the inexorable improvement of the lives of its people. What is happening in Australia today looks like anything but improvement.

This, I think, is too much for Abbott to take on: as a result he has nothing to offer a nation for which this terrible weather is a warning of much worse to come. Australia’s new weather demands a new politics; a politics capable of responding to an existential threat.

Climate Change Feeds Hurricane Sandy

By Robert Cooper, published on Monday 29 October 2012 by Science 2.0

Hurricane Sandy, 2012: Massive and dangerous Hurricane Sandy has grown to record size as it barrels northeastwards along the North Carolina coast. – Jeff Masters, Weather Underground, Oct. 28 2012.

Science paper, 2010: Fewer but fiercer and more-destructive hurricanes will sweep the Atlantic Basin in the 21st century as climate change continues, a new modeling study by U.S. government researchers suggests. commentary by Richard Kerr on Bender, M.A. et al., 2010. Science, 327(5964), pp.454–458.

Hurricane Sandy, 2012: If ‘Frankenstorm’ pans out to be as powerful and odd as the models currently forecast, then it may be said that this storm will be unique in the annals of American weather history. Christopher Burt, Weather Underground, Oct. 26, 2012.

Report by the National Research Council, 2010: The destructive energy of Atlantic hurricanes is likely to increase in this century as sea surface temperature rises – “America’s Climate Choices: Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change”, National Research Council, National Academies of Sciences, 2010.

Where I sit in New Jersey, we are preparing for a direct hit from a record-setting hurricane. We all know that no one event can be blamed on climate change. But this freak storm certainly seems to match the warnings we’ve gotten over the past decade. Let’s consider what exactly makes Hurricane Sandy so “freak”, and whether this freakiness may be a harbinger of the new normal.

There are at least three factors making Hurricane Sandy such a threat:

1. Warm sea surface temperatures

Global warming has been raising sea surface temperatures around the world. The water off New England set record highs this year, meaning that Sandy will have more energy to feed from than usual as she churns North.

Sandy will draw energy from the abnormally warm ocean just off the Atlantic coast. Note this is in Celsius. The water off NJ is about 5°F higher than average, and set record highs in 2012. Source: NOAA National Hurricane Center.

Yes, there are natural variations that affect sea surface temperatures, in particular the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. But consider the plot below showing North Atlantic temperature changes from normal. The ~60 year oscillation is clear, but so too is the fact that each peak is stronger than the one before.

North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies (°C). Source: Wang, C.&Dong, S., 2010. Geophys. Res. Lett, 37, p.L08707.

2. A “blocking pattern” shoving the storm back on shore

A blocking pattern is essentially when the jet stream gets kinked. The current kink is pushing Sandy back on shore where most hurricanes would keep veering out to sea. A recent analysis showed that blocking patterns like this are more likely thanks to a warming Arctic. As Arctic sea ice keeps melting to new record lows, the darker water absorbs more heat, which it later releases to the atmosphere. The effect of all this is a weaker jet stream more prone to kinking.

3. A merger with a winter storm

Ok, so actually, this one’s not climate related. Ok, so prediction: rising temperatures will give hurricanes warmer oceans to feed from, and more moisture to dump on us, making them more destructive. Observation: we are about to get walloped by what looks to be a history-making storm. Prediction: ocean temperatures will keep rising and blocking patterns will become more frequent. Observation: Hurricane Sandy is feeding off of record ocean temperatures and a kinked jet stream.

Now, it is certainly true that we still don’t completely understand hurricanes. It is true that models are not perfect. It is true that Hurricane Sandy could have happened even without climate change. It is true that climate change doesn’t “cause” an event, just like doping alone won’t win you the Tour de France. And, as always, it is true that we should not draw conclusions from a single event.

So then, is Hurricane Sandy just a freak event, or is she an instructive example of what we should expect more often?  Let’s look at a paper just published in PNAS, which put together a long-term data set of hurricane activity based on storm surges. That means this is not a model – it is empirical evidence from the past 90 years.

We observe that [hurricane activity is greater in] warm years… than cold years and that the relative difference… is greatest for the most extreme events. -Grinsted, A., Moore, J.C.&Jevrejeva, S., 2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change is happening, this is why we care.

Origin Energy attacks renewables

Origin Energy CEO Grant King is a big supporter of fossil fuels and uses his company’s wealth to lobby government to water down support for renewable energy.

The Renewable Energy Target (RET) is arguably Australia’s most effective emissions reduction policy (far more so than the carbon price). Combined with a drop in electricity demand since 2009, the construction of wind and solar power has helped drop the price of wholesale electricity, which has forced the closure of around 3000MW of coal power in recent months.

The RET is a fixed electricity generation target for the year 2020. Due to falling demand for electricity, what was originally aiming for 20% of electricity production by 2020 has now risen to around 22-25% by 2020.  This of course is great news, but not for the companies that own gas and coal mines and power stations, as renewable energy is out-competing them and they are losing profits.

The RET is now being reviewed by the Climate Change Authority with a preliminary report released today. Origin Energy and Energy Australia (formerly TRUenergy) have been running a campaign to get the RET reduced or scrapped. In a submission to the Climate Change Authority, Origin Energy used dubious figures to claim that the RET was costing consumers large amounts of money. What they really care about of course is their own profits, not the costs for consumers, which renewable energy will help reduce in the medium and long terms.

Origin Energy spends a lot of time greenwashing themselves, running advertisements presenting the company as a supporter of GreenPower and electric vehicles. The truth is that they are doing their best to thwart a transition to a clean energy future.

Considering the urgency of the climate crisis, and the potential that we have already crossed tipping points into runaway climate change (such as the record Arctic sea ice melt this year), it is obscene for companies to be lobbying against renewable energy, and asking for the RET to be reduced. In truth, it should be at least doubled for 2020 with a 100% renewable energy target in place for some time in the 2020s.

We urge all Origin Energy customers to switch retailers and make sure you tell them why when you do. You can also sign this petition which will go to the Origin Energy annual general meeting on 12 November.


Workshop It! Green Skills Afternoon – Sat 17 Nov

FREE workshop event – Saturday 17 November, 2 – 5pm

100 Hodgkinson St, Clifton Hill 

YCAN in conjunction with the Community Church of St Mark is holding an afternoon of all things sustainable. Think you’ve done everything you can to reduce your footprint? This free event might still be able to teach you a thing or two.

These workshops bring you the latest developments in strategies for sustainable living on the practical, everyday level, and up to date information of bigger picture issues.

Program below. RSVP to Ian 0422 952 554 or email

Climate Comedy Revue – Friday 9 November

They can walk daily half marathons, abseil off buildings, plan a 100% renewable energy economy while dumpster diving from their bicycles. And they can tweet. But are climate activists funny?

Join Quit Coal, Climate Action Moreland and Beyond Zero Emissions for a night of champagne comedy for, by and about the climate movement at Brunswick Town Hall – and discover the truth!!

There’ll be drinks, prizes, a special guest appearance by our favourite mining magnate, Twiggy Palmcock… and you can chuck some coal at Ted too!

Some of the money raised will also go to directly helping people affected by climate change through Tulele Peisa, an organisation of the people of the Carteret Islands who are organising their own relocation as their islands are inundated by sea level rise.

When: Friday 9 November, 8pm

Where: Brunswick Town Hall, 233 Sydney Rd

Tickets: $20 full, $15 concession, $30 proactive supporter, $50 Climate Champion!

Bookings: click here

The Federal Liberal Party unveils its climate and renewable energy policies

The Federal Liberal Party has finally updated its website to include its policies for stopping the climate crisis and for the development of renewable energy. It is refreshing to see a political party dispense with the spin and fanfare around a policy and just provide the public with the fundamentals of what they plan to do to solve this massive problem.

We’ve taken screenshots of their website so you can see for yourselves 🙂

Solar is the Brightest Energy Option

Originally published in

Solar power may soon be the cheapest way to power your home – and the rapid growth of the industry is making other energy providers nervous. Ben Eltham on the solar revolution.

Few ordinary punters know who she is, but in renewable energy circles, she’s a rock star. Executive Secretary of global renewable energy policy network, REN21, Christine Lins is based at the UN Environment Program in Paris. REN21’s well-known Global Status Report is one of the most frequently cited reports establishing baseline data of the growth of the renewable energy internationally. Word has spread to Australia: Lins’ talk in Melbourne last week packed out a large lecture at the University of Melbourne.

You can watch her full speech at the Grattan Institute website, so I won’t recapitulate it here. But one thing stood out from her presentation: the astonishing global growth in solar energy.

Some of the statistics from the Global Status Report underline the solar explosion. An amazing 47 per cent of all new electricity generation in the entire EU came from photovoltaics in 2011. Almost 30 gigawatts of solar energy was added to global energy supply last year, a 74 per cent increase. Between 2006 and 2011, the operating capacity of solar electricity globally increased by an average of 58 per cent a year.

Global solar photovoltaic capacity is increasing exponentially. Source: REN 21 Global Status Report.

The reason for solar’s explosion is clear: shrinking costs. In just one year, 2011, the price of solar PV modules fell by 42 per cent. No wonder Lins called last year a “very special year” for renewable energy.”This is often a figure whenever I present this to an audience that is not too familiar with renewables development where this is some frowning, and people are wondering, because I think these are really remarkable figures,” Lins said last week, with typically Austrian understatement.

This plummeting cost base is transforming the energy industry, including in Australia. Although solar is still only a relatively small component of Australia’s energy mix, its growth is so rapid and its costs are shrinking so quickly that solar threatens to upend the entire structure of the Australian energy sector. That’s got a lot of people very excited. It’s got many established players in the energy industry very worried.

Nigel Morris is a well-known solar PV industry analyst, and a director of energy consulting firm Solar Business Services. He is optimistic about the exponential growth of solar PV globally. “I’d say it’s revolutionary for the energy industry in Australia, not just solar,” he told New Matilda in a recent phone interview. “The way that we traditionally view the electricity industry is absolutely going through a revolution.”

“As a general rule, in Australia, as a residential customer, on average solar system pricing, you will generate electricity cheaper than you can buy it in a vast majority of cases.”

“In many cases,” Morris says, “we are at socket parity.”

Socket parity is a term much bandied about in the industry, and not without justification. That’s because as electricity prices go up and solar PV costs come down, we are already in a situation in Australia where ordinary householders can generate much of the household electricity on their own roof, dramatically reducing their energy consumption from the grid.

The penny appears to have dropped for Australian householders, egged on by generous feed-in tariffs from state governments and renewable energy certificate credits from Canberra. According to the Australian PV Association (pdf), solar installations grew to 1.4 gigawatts in 2011, up from 571 megawatts in 2010 and 184 megawatts in 2009.

Solar installations in Australia more than doubled in 2010 and 2011. Source: Australian PV Association.

This rapid proliferation in solar systems is starting to seriously affect old calculations about the energy industry in Australia. The government’s normally conservative Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics is now predicting that solar will be the cheapest form of electricity generation by 2030. It’s what Mark Twidell of the Australian Solar Institute calls a “perfect storm of cost reduction”.

Twidell points out that solar PV has special advantages that other energy generation technologies lack. While wind turbines are themselves falling in costs by around 10 per cent a year, they remain large and quite complex mechanical engines. PV, by contrast, is closer in its technology base to the world of electronics fabrication. “When you look at the various technologies, most of them are spinning a turbine, whereas PV is solid state,” he says. “It’s a completely different cost structure. It’s disruptive in that costs can still go down.” As a result, solar PV appears to be enjoying a cost curve similar to the famous Moore’s Law we see in computer chips.

All that solar is starting to reduce household demand for electricity. Muriel Watt, an energy policy expert from the University of New South Wales, thinks “there’s a lot of capacity that has gone in the past few years, almost all of that is acting as negative load, so yes, that would be making significant contribution to reducing demand.”

Perhaps ironically, one of the biggest drivers of household solar has been rising electricity prices themselves. “There was always this view that the elasticity of demand was very low and you could keep putting prices up and people wouldn’t change what they used, but I they’ve just realise that that was incorrect,” Watt says. “Often times people will simply say ‘We’ve been thinking of putting insulation in for a long time, now that our power bill is $500, we’re actually going to do it’.”

As Watt observes, electricity retailers make money by selling electricity to you. “By and large they’re selling kilowatt hours,” she says. “So if you’re reducing your kilowatt hours their business model no longer works. Similarly the networks make money by kilowatt hours flowing through the network, so if you reduce that, their business model doesn’t work … we really need to change our retail market models.”

And because solar so threatens the existing business models of retailers and wholesalers, big energy is beginning to fight back. Morris says there is widespread concern in the solar industry that retailers and networks will begin to clamp down on solar installations, either by charging customers big money to hook up their panels, or simply by prohibiting them altogether.

“I’d say it’s the number one topic of discussion I’m having with solar companies every time I give a seminar,” he says. “It is not just something that might happen, it is something that is happening today.”

“If the network owner simply doesn’t want to connect you, there is no alternative, you have nowhere else to go … I had two calls this week from customers who had deals essentially agreed for 100 kilowatt systems, in one case the distributor said ‘We don’t want you to connect, we’re not going to allow you to connect’.”

Watt agrees. “There’s parts of the network in Brisbane where you can’t automatically connect [solar], and there’s parts of the diesel grid areas of northern Western Australia that you can’t automatically connect,” she confirms. “In terms of charging large sums of money, they’ve certainly done that for commercial installations where they hit you with large grid upgrade costs.”

Morris says “there is little if any” regulation around connecting solar — or indeed any form of distributed energy — in a network geometry still geared to the centralised distribution of power from big plants to households and small businesses. The issue was highlighted recently with a recent Queensland Competition Authority discussion paper, which recommended that householders with solar panels on their roof be forced to buy their own electricity from the grid at retail prices.

The recommendation was framed around what would be “fair and reasonable” to electricity retailers and distributors — but it’s hardly fair on consumers, who aren’t even allowed to use the electricity they generate on their roofs. When interviewed by Climate Spectator’s Tristan Edis, Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emissions likened the proposal to “telling someone they aren’t allowed to eat the fruit and vegetables grown in their own backyard and must sell it to the local Coles or Woolworths where they’ll then have to buy it back at a substantial mark-up.”

Mark Twidell says that regulatory reform is necessary if solar is not to be strangled by the entrenched power of the companies that run the grid. “I would say that it is inevitable that as markets change, regulations need to change. If we get the incentives right, it’s a win-win.”

But perhaps the clearest analysis of the changing nature of energy in Australia was outlined by Christine Lins. “There is a triangle of renewables policy”, she said in Melbourne last week, with the three points of the triangle occupied by energy security, industry policy and the environment. In Australia, blessed with vast reserves of fossil fuels, energy security has not been a driving force behind the development of renewable energy. Instead, the environment has been the main justification for policies like solar feed-in tariffs. But Lins argued that industry policy might be the real winning argument for the further development of renewables in Australia.

Rather than focusing on what jobs might be lost in dirty industries like coal, Australia could be focusing on the jobs of the future on offer with solar and other renewables. Lins pointed out that there are now five million jobs in renewable energy industries world-wide, a number sure to grow rapidly.

Twidell agrees. “70 to 80 per cent of the activity in solar is local,” he observes, with many of the jobs in renewable energy likely to be created in local services, such as electricians and installers.

This is a big new front in the war over the future of Australian energy. For a long time, the supposedly costly and uneconomic nature of clean energy has long been the most effective argument wheeled out by fossil fuel industries intent on protecting their turf. But as solar races towards cost parity, that argument is evaporating. Indeed, solar energy will soon be the cheapest and best way to power ordinary households and businesses.

Big energy is fighting back, however, lobbying for new regulations and industry protections. Given the vast lobbying power of the mining and fossil fuel industries, they have a good chance of succeeding. Now more than ever, the renewable industry’s best weapon will be ordinary voters.

MEDIA RELEASE: Gillard Government caves in to polluters again

The Gillard Government’s failure in the contracts for closure negotiations represents yet another capitulation to the fossil fuel lobby and an abandonment of the Clean Energy Future policy package.

While the Arctic sea ice smashes its previous melt record and the world is on the verge of irreversible climatic tipping points, Julia Gillard is allowing Australia’s most polluting power stations to stay open, and paying them to do so.

“It is in the interest of all Australians that these coal plants be shut down. If they will not negotiate then the Government must force them to close without any ‘compensation’”, Pablo Brait, Convenor of Yarra Climate Action Now said.

“It is obscene that these same polluters will receive $5 billion from the carbon tax to stay open. The Government should not be letting them get away with it”, Mr Brait said.

“No polluters should ever get compensation for climate policy initiatives. It is the fossil fuel companies that should be compensating the public for their contribution to global warming and their lobbying against any significant action to stop it”, Mr Brait concluded.

For further comment/information contact Pablo Brait, 0421 011 182