Author Archive | Caroline Gonzalez

Carteret islanders: last boats to Bougainville

How do you move 1500 people from their ancestral homes, across more than 86km (53.4 miles) of ocean, to another place, with little funding and few resources?

With dedication and persistence.

Those two qualities are the driving force behind Papua New Guinea’s Ursula Rakova who has been gradually moving clans from the Carteret Island atolls (Tulun) to nearby Bougainville Island, PNG’s most eastern province in the Pacific Ocean.

The Green Herald recently met her during a visit to Australia.

It all started in 2006 when storm surges and king tides were becoming much more frequent for the islands that sit approximately 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) above sea level.

“I look at it more as an obligation to my people,” Ursula says.

“I just feel that I have this obligation to help my people because if I don’t, who is going to help these people?

“Who is going to get them organised and advocate for them?”

Tulele Peisa Founder Ursula Rakova pictured seated, in Melbourne

Tulele Peisa Founder, Ursula Rakova, in Melbourne recently

Rapidly-changing tides in the Carteret Islands

To paint a critical picture: in 1984 it would have taken you 20 minutes to walk from one end of Ursula’s island to the other.

Today that walk takes one minute.

“We love to swim in the sea, but now it’s turning against us. It’s no longer the happy sea that we want to swim in.”

“It’s really really sad and like a matriarchal society like ours, we will not be able to pass on any land to our daughters.

“Where is justice when it comes to things like that?

In the latest global assessment of climate science – the Climate Science Special Report from the US Global Change Research Program – the current rate of sea-level rise (about 3 inches since 1993) is faster than the rate during any preceding century in the past 28,000 years.

A map of the Carteret Atolls

The Carteret Atolls

Called on by her people

Ursula, who has always worked in the environmental movement, says she never set out to become the leader and campaigner for the plight of her people.

In 2005, when she was working for Oxfam in Bougainville, elders from the Carteret Islands approached her about problems stemming from increasing shoreline erosion, storm surges and intrusion of seawater into homes and food-growing yards.

The elders made that trip twice more before she eventually agreed to take on their cause.

Tulele Peisa was born. Ursula set up the not-for-profit organisation to manage the relocation program, which is voluntary.

Four other staff assist her in running the relocation program.

Islanders with a boat used in the relocation program

Islanders with a boat used in the relocation program

A slowly-emptying atoll

So far Ursula says she has moved 150 families – equivalent to around 1500 of the 3000 islanders who call the Carteret Island atolls their home.

They have relocated to new islander villages near the coast of Bougainville; close enough to the sea so they can still pay their homelands a visit; far enough from the shore so the sea water keeps away.

But not all families, or clans, have adapted to their new location, Ursula says.

“Just last year one family had to return to their island, because they couldn’t cope with the physical hardship of growing their own food, making sure their plantation is kept clean and tidy, and so on,” she says.

“They were faced with a lot of criticism from their relatives because they told them ‘why did you have to move back? There is no food here’.”

Two members of the family had since developed illnesses and were in a health centre, Ursula says.

But some elders aren’t ever planning to leave the Carterets

For the remaining Carteret islanders – who need to move by 2030 at the latest – more land needs to be found for their new homes on Bougainville.

Elders aren’t planning to move from their homelands at all but rather live out their remaining years before the sea completely swallows up their atolls, Ursula adds.

The Catholic Church in Germany, the US and Australia have been funding the relocation program.

A new village for the Carteret Islanders, Bougainville

A new village for the Carteret Islanders, Bougainville

Climate Investment Funds, through the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, could not be used for relocation costs, Ursula says, but only for “strategic resilience” of the atolls. Australia has pledged $200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) especially for the Pacific region.

More funding and donations needed

The current church funding represents one third of the total cost of relocating families, she says, and neighbouring governments – including Australia – should be doing more to fill the gap.

“The Bougainville Government has really slackened down in appreciating the fact that an organisation like Tulele Peisa has taken on the role of moving displaced peoples due to climate change,” Ursula says.

“And the Australian Government is a big brother in the Pacific, it really needs to be committed to funding climate change solutions.”

Ursula also called on corporate Australia to exercise their social responsibility and invest in new, clean energy infrastructure in poorer communities such as Papua New Guinea.

“We have talked so much about climate change, so we are still talking policies,” she says.

“It’s okay for maybe other communities but it’s not okay for communities that are already facing the real situation, so we need to start acting.”

The role of ‘big brother’ Australia

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) says the PNG Government and Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) have primary responsibility for the resettlement of PNG residents.

“The Australian Government has supported the ABG to facilitate the resettlement of Carteret Islanders on Bougainville Island,” the spokesperson says.

Australian and PNG government authorities are in discussions about what additional assistance Australia might provide to PNG’s responses to climate change.

The DFAT spokesperson adds the Australian Government is also spending $300 million from 2016 to 2020, on climate change resilience activities in the Pacific, including $75 million for disaster preparedness, under the Australia-Pacific Climate Change Action initiative.

“Australia believes that the best response to the impacts of climate change is preparedness through effective adaptation and mitigation in the first instance, followed by well-supported and planned internal relocation,” the spokesperson says.

Pacific to meet the Arctic

Ursula says she is involved in efforts to bring together displaced communities from the opposite side of the world.

In October this year, she says more than 56 Pacific and Alaskan communities will come together in Anchorage, Alaska, to forge an alliance to garner support and funding for climate-forced displacement, organised by the US-based Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

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Nobel Laureate Q & A: Professor Peter Doherty

One of the world’s Nobel Laureates recommends building more energy-efficient buildings as one way to protect our health from global warming.

Australian Nobel Laureate and author, Professor Peter Doherty, 77, recently met with The Green Herald to talk about the health impacts of climate change from his acclaimed perspective, punctured with his own sense of humour.

In 1996, Professor Doherty shared The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Professor Rolf Zinkernagel, for discovering the nature of cellular immune defence, resulting in the development of further vaccines and medicines for infectious diseases.

He was awarded Australia’s highest honour in 1997, the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and The Green Herald’s Caroline Gonzalez

TGH: Can you think of any climate change health impacts that will force us to potentially develop a raft of vaccines for diseases that we don’t yet have?

Prof Doherty: There are whole families of viruses that we could think about as potential threats but you can’t really predict. There’s been a whole lot of stuff about what will be the next influenza, you can’t do it actually. I know there are various people who try, but you just can’t predict these things.

We just had a meeting on influenza this week – it’s the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more people than the First World War. The First World War killed 37 million people. The flu pandemic probably killed 50 (million) – maybe 100 because they didn’t count them neither in African colonies very well, with the communication systems and the rest of it, so we don’t know.

We’d like to know better how to make vaccines against a lot of things more quickly. It still takes six months for us to get a flu vaccine out there after we start a pandemic and that’s one of the most familiar vaccines on the planet.

So when you see a movie like…Contagion, it is really quite good. I talk about it in all my slides. They discover a vaccine and two days later they’re giving it to everybody. Well, it just doesn’t work like that.

What you want to do is have very good diagnosis and very good health professionals who are looking at any outbreak anywhere on the planet. And the American CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, has been doing that.

Look at China for instance – they have at least two enormous infectious disease hospitals that are ready for a pandemic. There’s one on the outskirts of Shanghai I visited, that has about six or eight hospital buildings – seven of them aren’t in use, they are just being maintained and the eighth one is in use. But what would happen if they had a major pandemic is: infectious disease professionals from all over the country would go there and they would boot this thing up. And there’s another one (infectious disease hospital) outside Beijing and in Hong Kong.

TGH: Was it ever a goal of yours to have something like The Doherty Institute?

Prof Doherty: No, absolutely not. I started as a vet so if things had gone the way my career would have normally gone – within a reasonably successful career – I would’ve been director of the Geelong lab with the CSIRO, that’s where I was headed. And then we made a big discovery and took me off-track. I would have been living in Ocean Grove…and I would have been retired for at least 12 to 15 years. I’m still not fully retired, I’m working three days a week.

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne – “the closest thing to a CDC (Communicable Disease Centre) in Australia” says Prof Doherty – consists of a:

  • University academic department
  • State viral diagnostic lab
  • State bacterial diagnostic lab
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) Influenza Centre (one of six in the world).

TGH: What do you think countries like Australia should be doing for adaptation for the health impacts of climate change?

Prof Doherty: In so many buildings here in this city, there’s no double-glazing, little or no insulation, nor energy-efficiency…and no plants around them. What we need to be building, are healthy buildings – buildings that will actually protect people from extremes of temperature. I think that’s one thing we could be doing at a relatively limited cost, but we’re not doing it.

If we’re going tackle this, it’s like any big issue…it has to be done through government. What really matters is to get the right policy settings in place. If you have the right policy setting, then things will start to happen.

I’m so despairing about the politicians, I think this is a terrible (Federal Australian) government.

TGH: What are you up to nowadays?

Prof Doherty:  I help out and particularly with writing stuff up. I’ve been trying to train people to write. People don’t write very well…particularly scientists.

I’m so sick of scientific writing – I mean, it’s awful!

The people who work with me are supervising the students. I sort of go to lab meetings and give my 10 cents worth occasionally.

Postscript

Laureate Professor Doherty – who spent most of his active research career in the United States at the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis – is writing his sixth book due out in October.

It’s based on his extensive global travels for his work over many years.

“It’s called The Incidental Tourist, some rotten person had stolen The Accidental Tourist!,” Prof Doherty says with a grin.

Laureate Professor Peter Doherty

Laureate Professor Peter Dohert

What are the health impacts of climate change?

Impacts can be direct – a heatwave – or indirect – such as increased risk of tick-borne diseases due to changes in the environment. The impacts heavily depend on whether you live in a developed or developing country.

Here is a short list:

  • heat stress
  • malnutrition
  • rise in asthma
  • increase in malaria, dengue
  • rise in bacteria and viruses.

Sources: World Health Organisation ‘Climate change and health’,  IPCC AR5 Working Group II Chapter 11, ‘Human Health: Impacts, Adaptation, and Co-Benefits.

Prof Doherty’s recommended actions:

  1. Get involved in citizen science.
  2. Install solar panels.
  3. Insulate your home.
  4. Build energy-efficient homes and buildings.
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An environmental take on Bladerunner 2049

A poster image of Bladerunner 2049

Showing at a cinema near you (source: imdb.com)

The new Bladerunner 2049 film, much like it’s precursor, paints a stark picture of the state of our environment in the future.

Sickly cities choking on pollution and perpetual smog play centre stage for most of the 2.5 hour new Bladerunner 2049. Constant rain, and snow, seem to dominate the weather in a seemingly post-geoengineered climate. In a sunny state like LA, it’s almost unfathomable.

Strong parallels can be drawn with an Australian book, The Sea and the Summer by George Turner. Published in 1984 and in the US under the title Drowning Towers, the book centres on a climate-change ravaged Melbourne in and around the year 2040. It depicts a gritty, crime-ridden city: a no-go zone for anyone barely resembling a middle-class status with clean clothes on their backs.

An image of the front cover of The Sea and Summer

The title by George Turner (Source: amazon.com)

Bladerunner 2049, much like The Sea and The Summer, shows our core human values started withering away after the demise of our environment. Both show how filthy cities have to deal with tides of an overflowing ocean and what little value we have left for whatever lies outside of towering buildings.

One female character in the film marvels at a wooden toy and says ‘I’ve never seen a tree’. This makes sense as nowhere in the film do you see a garden, greenery or a tree, but only in a virtual-reality setting with a key female character (Carla Juri) who lives in a clinically-isolated laboratory.

The energy used by humans and replicants in Bladerunner 2049 makes a consistent statement. Concentrated solar thermal – just like the 17MW Gemasolar thermal plant in Spain – makes for a stunning entry in the opening minutes of the film, of row upon row of circular solar thermal farms as far as the eye can see.

Electric, flying cars with drones attached are the main mode of transport. During a fight scene with a replicant and new Bladerunner Officer K (Ryan Gosling) in the early part of the movie, a gas-fuelled hob is steadily boiling a pot on the stove. But nowhere else is there an obvious use of fossil-fuels, just the remains and refuse of a post-‘greenhouse-people’ world.

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Wind farm’s a windfall

More than AUD$1million (USD$793,300) has been paid out to the owners of the land on which Acciona’s 128 wind turbines operate, in a country town in southeastern Australia.

The Waubra wind farm, located about 145km (92 miles) northwest of Melbourne, is spread out over a 170sq km (65 sq miles) land area.

One of many turbines laid out across the dry landscape of the wind farm

A section of the sprawling wind farm in Waubra, Australia.

The farm’s Cameron Stowe says each of the 1.5MW wind turbine generators deliver about AUD $1000 a year to landowners who are generally crop or livestock farmers. That’s equivalent to USD$792 or €680.

The 192MW capacity farm was completed in 2009, after a capital investment of $450 million.

Mr Stowe says local residents are employed at the farm that can power the equivalent of up to 110,000 residential homes in nearby regional cities of Ballarat and Bendigo.

He says one of Acciona’s new projects is a 132MW or 44 turbine wind farm at Mt Gellibrand, about 130km (82 miles) south of Waubra and 143km (88 miles) from Melbourne. It is expected the new wind farm will be completed in July next year – a welcome development for the state where one of its longest serving brown coal-fired power plants, the Hazelwood power station, was closed by its French owners, Engie.

The Green Herald Editor Caroline Gonzalez toured the Acciona Waubra Farm earlier this year in an excursion organised by the Melbourne Energy Students Association (MESA) from the University of Melbourne, where she’s been studying climate change.

Caroline Gonzalez, The Green Herald Founder, Writer and Editor, on location at the wind farm

Caroline Gonzalez, The Green Herald Founder, Writer and Editor, on location.

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Health and climate change on Kiribati

This article on Kiribati, written by Caroline Gonzalez, first appeared in Inside ACEM, a collection of anecdotes and personal stories of emergency medicine physicians from Australia and New Zealand, published by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) in Australia. A modified version appears here with permission from ACEM.

Imagine only having 100 metres each way between your bedroom and the ocean.

It’s a fine line, but that’s the environment Australian emergency medicine physician, Dr Brady Tassicker FACEM, experienced while working at the hospital on the main island of Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiri-bass’) for a total of two years.

“It’s one of the most overcrowded stretches of land in the world, it’s ridiculous – it’s 25km long, 200m wide and it’s got 60,000 people on it,” Dr Tassicker says.

A dried-out shoreline in Tarawa, Kiribati

Tarawa, the main island of Kiribati

Jobs and an ‘incredible’ birth rate are driving a rise in the population to the small main island of Tarawa – a location that has been identified as being one of the first to feel the impact of sea level rise in the future as projected by the world authority on the science of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Tassicker has worked on two separate occasions on the island: in 2003, and, more recently, with his young family in the 12 months to January this year.

Dr Brady Tassicker relaxing with his children

Dr Tassicker FACEM enjoying down time with his children

Overstretched healthcare

There are two hospitals on Tarawa – a little more than 100 beds in total. Dr Tassicker says he noticed a surge in the prevalence of tuberculosis in the always-overcrowded emergency department between his two stints on the island.

“It was quite normal to be running at 200 to 250 per cent capacity – with admitted patients,” he says. “The patients overflowed out on to an open air, undercover area.”

“One of the things I was instrumental in doing was formalising that process in putting in rails and demarcating the area so it was quite clear if you are not in this area, we can’t look after you.”

Kiribati is a speck on the world stage in many measures – including greenhouse gas emissions – but it is ranked in the top three countries in the world for having the greatest proportion of a population with diabetes, says Dr Tassicker.

That’s not to mention a pollution problem – mainly from the fact that most homes don’t have toilets – so contracting typhoid is an ever-present risk when swimming at the tropical beach.

Tarawa Hospital cardiac arrest unit in overflow of patients

Cardiac arrest in overflow, Tarawa

Present and future challenges

Kiribati sits approximately three metres above sea level. However, a minimum sea level rise of 40cm is projected for 2080 to 2100, in the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, based on historical greenhouse gas emissions and those in line with a minimum 2°C degree global temperature rise under the Paris Agreement.

Much of the invisible riddle of climate change was evident to Dr Tassicker, that the physical impacts were not immediately apparent.

“Everyone hears ‘Kiribati’ and thinks climate change – sea level rise…but a lot of that I’m not seeing any evidence of,” he says.

“Having said that, they always live on the borderline and with the overcrowding, more and more people are living on marginal land, so they get inundated with high tides and those sorts of things…”

“The future is very grim.”

Adaptation in motion

Greater fluctuations in rainfall are also projected – a major threat to the health and security of the population – and the stressed water supply is currently getting worse, Dr Tassicker says.

While climate change is still considered politically controversial in Australia, he knows first hand that it’s certainly not the case in Kiribati.

“The population is very aware of the issues of climate change… they have working bees to plant mangroves to protect against erosion – there is a background level of anxiety.”

The Kiribati Government has purchased land in Fiji, some people have already moved to New Zealand, and there are moves to recruit help to build islands.

“The people in Kiribati are very attached to their own land,” Dr Tassicker says. “Culturally even the thought of turning your back on the land is very confronting.”

A rewarding challenge

It may not be paradise but Dr Tassicker, who lives in the southern Australian island of Tasmania, would do it all over again.

“You’ve got to have pretty thick skin and be comfortable with failure because you’ll have plenty of patients die on you, that you wouldn’t have die on you back home – lack of resources, challenges of delivering the treatment that you should be able to deliver in practice.”

The Tarawa emergency department

An assessment room of the Tarawa Hospital, Kiribati

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The question of climate finance

You may have heard the term ‘climate finance’ somewhere or perhaps you’ve never heard of it.

Climate finance has long been included in the international agreements, protocols and conventions governing actions on global warming – the Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Wind turbines can be erected in many environments including islands and hills such as these

Climate finance can fund wind-powered energy projects in developing countries.

It’s basically for the richer, developed countries to help developing nations to gear-up in the latest technology and know-how to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Along the way, developed countries signed on to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help shift the globe to greater mitigation and adaptation. The Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility are the two main climate finance organisations.

But…

There is not one agreed, nor concise, definition of climate finance.
The UNFCCC does not define climate finance and in fact institutions, broadly speaking, have individual, independent definitions of climate finance.

The Conference of the Parties – most of the world’s nations in the United Nations Framework Convention or UNFCCC – have yet to endorse the UN’s very own Standing Committee on Finance’s definition, that climate finance is aimed at:

reducing emissions, and enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases and aims at reducing vulnerability of, and maintaining and increasing the resilience of, human and ecological systems to negative climate change impacts.

The problem with climate finance

This lack of an operational, universal definition is the foundation of climate finance contention in international climate change negotiations. It is hindering progress on mobilising the US$100 billion by 2020 and fuelling the fires of climate politics along the way.

How can there be trust and confidence among the various players if there is so much freedom bestowed on developed countries in deciding how much to give and how to disburse their voluntary contributions under the UNFCCC?

During the Fast-Start Finance period from 2010-2012, developed countries were free to adopt their own criteria for whether funds were new and additional as required. How climate finance should be governed, whether it should be grants or loans, net or gross flows, are still points of debate.

It’s common sense

We all know, as a simple fact of money transactions, that money can’t come from an untraceable source without specific regulations and timeframes agreed between the donor or giver and the recipient.

Anything else generates corruption or illegal activity, an element of climate finance that has caused distrust among the developed nations in how some developing countries may have been handling their funds for mitigation, resulting in a push for transparency on implementation, capacity and institutional development in poorer nations.

Terrorism, statelessness

However, climate finance is not the only global issue that is suffering from a lack of action due to the inability of UN Member States to agree on a universal definition. There is not one universal definition of terrorism – a definition needed by law and policy in order to implement UN-related activities.

It has been recognised that having a global definition of terrorism means there can be an international strategy and mobilisation of bilateral and multilateral agreements. Schmid (2004) points out that an agreed, central definition of terrorism is more of a political problem than a legal or semantic one.

It makes one wonder whether rich-country negotiators deliberately disagree on definitions so as to not have a legal responsibility in the case of climate change?

When groups or individuals have different value systems and interests in a situation, the definition of one and the same situation has – given the legitimizing function of words – implications for the situation itself and its permanence (Schmid 2004 p.402).

An incoherent definition is also causing problems for the issue of statelessness – the UNHCR does not have a universally-accepted definition of statelessness, which is estimated to effect around 10 million people globally.

Schmid argues (2004) it is a typical UN problem not to have a common global definition. Or are such issues as climate finance, terrorism and statelessness, difficult to define on a global scale given their transboundary nature? Is the focus on a global, public or UN narrative part of the problem?

References

Australia, Canada, European Union, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, & United States of America, 2013 and 2014, Submissions on Fast-Start Finance, Finance Portal for Climate Change, UNFCCC, viewed October 2016 http://www3.unfccc.int/pls/apex/f?p=116:8:193298212269467

Buchner, B, Falconer, A, Herve-Mignucci, M & Trabacchi, C 2013, ‘The landscape of climate finance’, in Haites E (ed), International Climate Finance, Routledge, New York and Canada, pp.14-31.

Fridahl, M, & Linnér, B 2016, ‘Perspectives on the Green Climate Fund: Possible compromises on capitalization and balanced allocation’, Climate and Development, Linköpings University, p. 105.

Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 2014, The World’s Stateless, Wolf Legal Publishers, The Netherlands, viewed October 2016, http://www.institutesi.org/worldsstateless.pdf

International Development Finance Club, 2015, ‘IDFC Green Finance Mapping For 2014’, World Resources Institute and ECOYS, November 2015.

Jakob, M, Steckel, J, Flachsland, C, & Baumstark, L 2015, ‘Climate finance for developing country mitigation: blessing or curse?’, Climate and Development, vol/no.1.

Roberts, T, & Weikmans, R December 22 2015, The unfinished agenda of the Paris climate talks: Finance to the global south, blog post, The Brookings Institution, Washington DC USA, viewed October 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/planetpolicy/2015/12/22/the-unfinished-agenda-of-the-paris-climate-talks-finance-to-the-global-south/

Schmid, A 2004, ‘Terrorism – the Definitional Problem’, Case Western Reserve Journal Of International Law, vol.36, no. 2/3, pp. 103-147.

Setty, S 2011, ‘What’s In A Name? How Nations Define Terrorism Ten Years After 9/11’, University of Pennsylvania Law School, viewed October 2016, https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/139-setty33upajintll12011pdf

UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance 2014, Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flows Report, UNFCCC, Bonn Germany, viewed October 2016, https://unfccc.int/files/cooperation_and_support/financial_mechanism/standing_committee/application/pdf/2014_biennial_assessment_and_overview_of_climate_finance_flows_report_web.pdf

Westphal, M, Canfin, P, Ballesteros, A, & Morgan, J 2015, Getting to $100 Billion: Climate Finance Scenarios and Projections to 2020 (Working Paper), World Resources Institute, Washington USA, viewed October 2016, wri.org/publication/getting-to-100-billion

Winkler, H, & Dubash, N 2016, ‘Who determines transformational change in development and climate finance?’, Climate Policy, vol. 16, no.6, pp. 783-791.

Yamineva, Y 2016, ‘Climate Finance in the Paris Outcome: Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Till Tomorrow?’, Review of European Comparative and International Environmental Law, vol. 25, no. 2, pp.174-185.

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Energy security at Mt Hotham

Resilience from potential power blackouts is one of the main drivers behind a trial of renewable energy at Mt Hotham snow resort in south-east Australia.

It’s an issue the snow resort knows well at the moment. Mt Hotham and some surrounding areas have been experiencing a telecommunications blackout for at least 18 hours as part of a regional landline phone and mobile service drop-out in Victoria.

View of the Orchard ski area during the 2015 winter season

View of the Orchard ski area (Caroline Gonzalez)

The resort’s management board Chief Executive Officer Jon Hutchins says besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a renewable energy system would make Mt Hotham independent of the electricity grid and provide energy security.

‘Being in a remote area, it’s about resilience, and so we have a chance to get off the grid, guard against blackouts, and provide utility for our guests,’ Mr Hutchins says.

A bank of diesel generators currently provide a back-up source of power in the event of electricity outages, he says.

The International Energy Agency says climate change will have an impact on energy supply and infrastructure. Approximately 1°C of warming can be expected to reduce available electricity generation by 16 per cent in the United States in the 2040 decade.

Pilot projects

Mr Hutchins says there are several small trial projects in renewable energy at Mt Hotham.

It’s part of the snow resort’s Master Plan that will be submitted to the State Government for approval this year.

Solar-powered lights have been installed in the village in addition to PV cells on several ski lodges.

The resort chipped in half of the cost for a geothermal heating project at an apartment complex.

An electric car sub-station was installed at a private apartment in the village, which has an elevation of 1750m – the highest village in the state of Victoria.

Further potential

With the elevation also comes strong winds, up to 120km/hour. The mountain’s Master Plan states that two 2.3MW wind turbines would produce about 16,300MWh of energy each year – equal to about 3050 average homes in Victoria and saving 16,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Diesel fuel powers the 13 ski lifts, which constitutes about 25 per cent of the mountain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The renewable energy project will cost an estimated $20million to implement, requiring public and private investment.

Mr Hutchins says climate change is well and truly an issue at all snow resorts but the biggest impact is increased bushfire risk in the summer.

Snowmaking equipment has been used to put out fires on the mountain, he says.

Mixed winter

It’s been a variable winter season in Australia so far. Victorian ski resorts have had several major snowfalls in between periods of heavy rainfall and milder temperatures.

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Aspen’s renewable legacy

Before the world knew the phrase ‘climate change’, Aspen snow resort in the United States was busy setting a goal to get 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

It was the 1990s and the municipal City of Aspen wanted to invest in building its own hydro power dams and solar and wind farms.

Aspen Mountain in autumn or fall - showing leadership on climate change

Aspen Mountain in autumn/fall

Fast forward to 2015 and that goal was achieved – ahead of the world’s snow resorts.

It was a continuation of setting records. In 1880, Aspen was the first city west of the Mississippi River in the States to have electrified street lights powered by hydroelectricity.

Aspen, regarded as one of the best and glamorous snow resorts, attracts celebrities and tourists from around the world.

Renewable energy mix

Ashley Perl from the City of Aspen explains the municipal city owns two hydro dams, a solar farm and wind farms, and is currently building a community solar farm.

  • hydro 50%
  • wind 45%
  • solar 5%

Additionally, renewable energy is supplied from the Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN).

‘I’m not aware of any other ski resorts that have 100 per cent renewable energy,’ Ashley says.

A small portion of the renewable energy is used to power the chair lifts on the four mountains that make up Aspen resort.

The majority of the energy is used to provide electricity to the Aspen city of 6000 permanent residents, plus the thousands who come every year to hit the ski slopes.

Furthermore, electricity rates have been locked in at a set rate for the next 20 years.

‘We’ve the sixth lowest energy rates in Colorado,’ Ashley says.

One of three

In the United States, only two other towns can boast 100% renewable energy use – Burlington in Vermont and Greensburg in Kansas, says Ashley.

But of course when we are talking about renewable energy today, it does not mean everything runs on clean energy.

There are buildings and houses that use natural gas, and cars and buses run on oil and petrol or diesel, says Ashley.

‘So the only way to reduce energy consumption now is through efficiency and to convert to electricity eventually,’ she says.

Emissions targets

Therefore, through its Canary Initiative, the City of Aspen has targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050, below 2004 levels.

Ashley, the director of the Initiative, says it includes schemes such as a community bike share program, which has achieved a 60 per cent usage rate by locals. A Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system gave more than a million rides in 2012.

‘You can get anywhere in Aspen with a bus,’ says Ashley.

Ashley says Aspen has always been in a good position to lead on climate change action due to its name and reputation as a national and international snow tourist destination.

‘If we could influence people who come here to take that back to where they come from, that’s the biggest win in our view,’ she says.

A 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen's water treatment plant, combating climate change

The 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen’s water treatment plant

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

Global drive

Snow resorts around the world have been taking stock of climate change impacts for a number of years.

Many resorts boast lifts and gondolas that are powered by renewable energy.

Saveoursnow.com measures initiatives in generating or using renewable energy with a database of around 200 resorts from around the world.

Last year, in the lead-up to the world negotiations on climate change action in Paris in December, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project launched its ‘I am Pro Snow’ campaign to drive more snow resorts to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy.

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Footprints on the weather

Are you having trouble keeping up with the weather forecast?

Temperature averages are increasingly reaching extremes around the globe and in many cities no other time of year – be it autumn/fall or spring – can bring out the biggest of temperature fluctuations.

Melbourne, in south-eastern Australia, is prone to fluctuating weather, a well-known fact among its residents. Senior forecaster from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Scott Williams, said October was notorious for big temperature fluctuations in Melbourne due to the weather patterns over the continent. Winds over central Australia warm up at the end of winter, bringing warm northerly winds over the city and then cold southerly winds reach up from Tasmania and beyond.

However, Scott said, Melbourne had just experienced its hottest October on record. The mean temperature for the month in the city was 24.3 degrees Celcius in October – almost five degrees above average.

“This last October would have to be viewed as a very extreme month and I’m sure climatologists will claim there’s significant human impact in that,” Scott said.

We know that the global surface temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celcius or 1.4 degrees Farenheit since 1880, as highlighted by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research. The majority of that warming occurred in the past three decades.

 

Mount Discovery in Antarctica

Photo courtesy of Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge project scientist. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

 

So, how should you respond to such news?

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is part of an award-winning team as Senior Science Editor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She also teaches oceanography at a college in the US.

She recommends:
a) knowing that you have power with your personal choices
b) focusing on what you can change – with a huge emphasis on can. For instance, if you live in an apartment, you won’t exactly get to grow your own food but you can choose to buy locally-grown produce or catch the bus to work.

“Calculating your carbon footprint and understanding your specific impact on the environment is a huge first step,” Laura says.

Take this quick video game-like quiz to get a fair idea of your carbon footprint: Global Footprint Network calculator.

“Then you get to decide how to lessen that impact. Try to lower your footprint by 10 per cent or 20 per cent,” Laura says.

Remembering the power of your money is also important, she says.
“Minimize disposable single use items and buy things that last. Buy locally produced items and minimize purchases of things that have to be transported long distance,” Laura says.
“Try growing some of your own food. That is something we all can do.”

At the end of the day, anthropogenic climate change – otherwise known as human-induced climate change – is the greatest threat of our time, but Laura adds, it’s also a great opportunity.

“As a society, we now have the opportunity to come together, to connect with each other and the world around us, to re-evaluate what’s important in a big way and to build a cleaner way of living using new technologies,” she says. “Without impetus, nothing would ever shift and climate change will certainly provide a big impetus.”

Check out The Green Herald’s road-test of online carbon calculators.

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Calculate your carbon


Reduce your carbon footprint, catch the train

 

The Green Herald spent a bit of time road testing online carbon calculators.

For many of the calculators, you can do a simple assessment or a more detailed check where you will need your utility or energy bills at the ready.
If you like details, you need to look at your utility bills and enter information based on a selected timeframe in the Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Or you can try a quick questionnaire where you just tick boxes set up by WWF in the UK.

German climate protection organisation atmosfair provides a clear comparison of your carbon emissions specifically for travel. Simply enter your flight destination and arrival, and you get the picture.

Carbonindependent.org – a voluntary set-up by two doctors in the UK – provides a simple, one-page set of questions. Your result is then compared with individual averages from other countries – the results will surprise you.

 

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