Thursday, September 15, 2022

Global mooning? ‘Wobbly’ moon probable cause of mass mangrove deaths

It's refreshing to hear of an environmental problem that is NOT caused by grobal warming

Aside from that, however, it was previously established that a sea-level fall in the Northern Australia/Indonesia area was responsible for mangrove die-offs. What we read below is a good explanation of the sea-level fluctuations concerned.

Dare I mention that a sea level fall is also a good explanation for some of the famous but transient bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef, which is broadly in the same area? What if global warming had NOTHING to do with coral die-back in Northern Australian waters? Coral is sensitive to sea-level fall so it is a likely possibility. Coral does not like being dessicated. See also here

What a horror all this is for the climate crooks at James Cook university in Townsville. Peter Ridd will be laughing

A wobble in the moon’s orbit around Earth affects mangrove cover across Australia and likely contributed to mass tree deaths in the Gulf of Carpentaria, new research suggests.

A study published in the journal Science Advances has found that an 18.61-year cycle known as the lunar nodal cycle shapes the condition of tidal wetlands.

The moon’s orbit around Earth does not occur in a flat plane. “Since the 1720s, people have known that it moves up and down by a few degrees,” said the study’s lead author, Prof Neil Saintilan of Macquarie University. He likened the motion to “when you’re spinning a coin – as it loses momentum, it kind of wobbles”.

Changes in gravitational pull as a result of this lunar wobble are known to affect the Earth’s tides. Previous research conducted by Nasa scientists has predicted that in the mid-2030s, the lunar wobble will amplify rising sea levels caused by climate change, resulting in high-tide floods along coastlines.

Depending on the phase of the lunar nodal cycle, there can be “as much as 40cm of difference in the tide range” in places such as the Gulf of Carpentaria, Saintilan said.

Mangroves “grow between the average high-tide level and the highest high-tide levels”, he said. At lower tidal ranges, mangroves are inundated less frequently. “When they’re stressed, because they lose water through their leaves, they just drop their leaves.”

The scientists used historical satellite imaging to quantify the extent of mangrove cover across Australia every year between 1987 and 2020. The oscillation in canopy cover was “immediately obvious when you graph the data”, Saintilan said.

Along the Arnhem coast in the Northern Territory and the Carnarvon coast in Western Australia, the researchers found that peaks in closed canopy cover – where thickened mangrove canopy covered more than 80% of ground area – coincided with the peak tidal phases of the moon’s wobble.

They believe the lunar wobble likely contributed to mass mangrove dieback in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 2015-16, an event in which an estimated 40m trees died. At the time, a “low tidal range” phase of the lunar wobble coincided with a severe El Niño.

“They had a combination of a 40cm drop in the mean sea level associated with the El Niño and, on top of that, a 40cm drop in tide range [due to the lunar wobble],” Saintilan said. “There were mangroves in creeks [previously] being inundated every day that might have been inundated just a handful of times in the whole of the dry season.”

A quirk of the lunar wobble is that it has the opposite tidal effects along coastlines which have one high tide daily compared to those that have two high tides daily.

In a region with only one daily high tide, a phase of the lunar cycle may result in a lower tidal range and less frequent water inundations. The same phase will have the inverse effect along coastlines with two daily high tides, resulting in more mangrove inundation.

The Gulf of Carpentaria is one of few Australian coastlines that has one high tide daily. Mangroves in adjacent regions that survived the 2015-16 El Niño were in a “high tidal range” phase of the lunar cycle. The El Niño was previously thought to be the cause of the mass dieback, but “the nodal cycle also seems like a necessary condition for mangrove mortality”, Saintilan said.

“So far, global warming has been good for mangroves. With higher sea levels they’ve been expanding into areas that they could not survive before,” he said. “But under high rates of sea level rise [greater than 7mm a year] … we know that they can’t survive for too long.”

Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, who was not associated with the study, likened the lunar wobble to the vertical bobbing of an object in water. “It does this bobbing up and down every 18.6 years,” he said. “If the moon is further up or down in relation to Earth, that’s going to change the gravitational pull.”


Private equity still investing billions in dirty energy despite pledge to clean up

Private equity firms pumping billions of dollars into dirty energy projects are exposing investors, including pensioners, to unknown financial risks as the planet burns and governments face escalating pressure to act, new research finds.

The first-of-its-kind climate risks scorecard ranks Carlyle, Warburg Pincus and KKR as the worst offenders among eight major private equity companies with significant fossil fuel portfolios.

All three continue investing heavily in greenhouse-gas-emitting projects with no adequate plan on transitioning away from oil and gas, according to the analysis by two financial watchdog non-profits of publicly available information. The firms also have scant transparency on political and climate lobbying, the report finds.

Private equity refers to an opaque form of financing away from public markets in which funds and investors buy and restructure companies including startups, troubled businesses and real estate operations.

The eight firms on the scorecard manage a combined $3.6tn in assets including about $216bn in energy projects – an amount equivalent to the fossil fuel financing by the world’s five biggest banks last year.

Carlyle is rated F, the lowest in the climate credentials scorecard that has been created by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (Pesp) and Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund (Afref).

Table of eight private equity firms’ climate risk scorecard.

More than three-quarters of Carlyle’s energy investments are in fossil fuels, and just over 60% of its 2022 first profits came through its subsidiary NGP Energy Capital, which focuses almost exclusively on oil and gas projects.

Last year Warburg Pincus announced that it would not seek further fossil fuel investments in its next buyout, yet since then its dirty energy portfolio has expanded.

KKR, one of the world’s wealthiest private equity firms, has said it will continue to invest in fossil fuel projects despite publishing a climate action strategy.

Among the worst downstream polluters is Blackstone, which also scored a D rating, with its power plants emitting a combined 18.1m metric tonnes of planet-warming carbon dioxide in 2020 – equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 4m gas-powered cars, according to the report.


Why it’s not anti-environmental to be in favour of economic growth

In the midst of today’s cost of living crisis, many people who are critical of the idea of economic growth see an opportunity. In their recent book The Future is Degrowth, for example, prominent advocates Matthias Schmelzer, Aaron Vansintjan and Andrea Vetter argue that the post-Covid inflation has predominantly been caused by the inherent instability in the capitalist system.

This came in the form of problems with global supply chains and the asset price inflation which stemmed from government action in response to the pandemic. Since the same system is, in their view, also responsible for causing climate change, moving away from it and curbing the economic growth on which it turns will help kill two birds with one stone.

Arguments like these recall and are directly influenced by a famous scientific report from 50 years ago called Limits to Growth. Written by a group of researchers commissioned by the Club of Rome think tank, it warned of an “overshoot and collapse” of the global economy within 100 years.

The researchers forecast that this decline would be caused by exponential growth in populations, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion. The answer, they said, was to move to a state of economic and ecological stability that would be sustainable far into the future.

When the oil crisis of October 1973 to March 1974 saw oil prices quadrupling, it was seen as vindicating the report’s prediction of a dramatic surge in the price of oil. A famous Newsweek edition from late 1973 ran with the headline “Running out of everything”, next to a picture of Uncle Sam looking into an empty cornucopia.

Yet contrary to the predictions in the Limits report, the oil shock was not caused by resource scarcity but by geopolitics. The Saudis and oil-supplier cartel Opec had imposed an oil embargo on the west to protest the US arming Israel in its wars against Syria and Egypt.

A similar misapprehension lies at the heart of the arguments by today’s degrowthers over the cost of living crisis. The oil and gas shortages causing soaring prices are mainly due to the Ukraine war and a fall in supplies due to the majors investing less in production because of the net zero agenda.

Wrongheaded economics

Not only did the writers of the Limits report predict a spike in oil prices for the wrong reasons, they also failed to consider how the market would respond. Higher prices reduced demand and incentivised energy efficient investment and oil exploration, with major new reserves being identified.

Growth has not (yet) been constrained by a lack of resources, partly because technological advances enable us to generate more from less, and partly because of market forces. When a product or commodity becomes more expensive, people either use less of it or switch to an alternative.

So the reality is that inflation may well subside over time, depending of course on what central banks do with monetary policy. Equally, pursuing degrowth could be inflationary or deflationary. It depends on whether the supply of goods and services falls further than the demand.

Both in the 1970s and today, one of the main issues is a fundamental misunderstanding of what economic growth is and what drives it. It is seen as being quantity driven, in the sense that degrowthers think there is an insatiable demand for more of the same, which will eventually have “devastating consequences for the living world”.

But economic growth is more about quality than quantity. It’s not just about producing more cars, for example, but about making them more fuel efficient or electric. This in turn creates demand for different resources, such as lithium for batteries.

Or to give another example of how economists view growth, one important study looked at how the price of a unit of light fell over time. This was because as technology shifted from candles to modern light bulbs, the cost of production in terms of hours worked fell dramatically.

Yet in another respect, the degrowthers are entirely right. Again, it’s worth looking back at the Limits report to understand this. To test their base case, the researchers looked at various alternative scenarios for how the future might pan out.

In one, they assumed that the world’s stock of available non-renewable resources doubled. This meant that scarcity was less of a problem than in their base case. But they predicted that, rather than averting catastrophe, this would instead cause damaging increases in pollution associated with economic activity.

Pollution has indeed become a bigger issue than resource constraints. For example, Limits predicted that CO₂ concentration in the atmosphere would reach 435 parts per million (ppm) by 2022 if trends in fossil fuel consumption continued unabated. It is currently 421ppm, so they were fairly close. It is this linkage between environmental harm and the economy that is the report’s most important legacy.

Managing the wealth of nations

After the Limits thesis, economists began incorporating the idea of finite resources more explicitly into models of economic growth. This formed the basis of the economic approach to sustainable development, which says that you achieve intergenerational equity by reinvesting the proceeds from finite resources into other assets like buildings, machines or tools.

For example, if US$1 of oil is extracted from the ground, US$1 should be reinvested elsewhere. Though still far from universally adopted, some oil-producing nations such as Norway do this.

A related idea is that we should move away from thinking about growth of national income and instead focus on managing national wealth. Wealth in this context refers to all assets from which people obtain wellbeing, and changes in wealth per capita – referred to in the field as “genuine saving” – are indicators of whether development is sustainable.

The key is to put the right price on different types of assets, including taking into account damage from pollution. For example carbon is clearly very important when valuing changes in wealth. The following chart uses our calculations to show an alternative to using GDP to measure progress over the 20th century.

Rather than encouraging degrowth, it is now accepted by most environmental economists that this measure of human wealth is a useful complement to GDP. This is being taken increasingly seriously by governments. For example, the US recently announced it would start accounting for its natural assets.

But if we are to win the argument about changing the basis on which we measure human progress, it is vital that we are clear about the reasons for doing so. Believing that economic growth is inherently bad is not helpful.


China makes Australian Greenie policies look stupid

It is a tale of two cities. First is Barcaldine, Queensland, which has been left reeling after a proposed coal-fired power station was recently crushed by state and federal Labor governments worried about carbon emissions.

Second is Ordos, Inner Mongolia, where locals are celebrating the commissioning of phase one of their new Shanghaimiao power station with 1,000 megawatts coming online. Workers are in the process of completing phase two, which will take total capacity up to 2,000 megawatts.

Interestingly, the capacity of Shanghaimiao is similar to the capacity of the Eraring power station in New South Wales, which Origin Energy plans to close in 2025 due to economic pressure from heavily subsidised renewable energy projects.

In both Barcaldine and Ordos, the power stations shared a commitment to the latest ‘ultra-supercritical’ coal-fired power station technology. This means less coal is required to generate each megawatt of electricity and, therefore, fewer carbon emissions are produced.

The key difference is the one in China was built, whereas the one in Australia remains locked in red and green tape hell.

Australia’s was held back despite the abundance of affordable and reliable energy it would generate, the 545 jobs it promised to create during construction, and the 90 ongoing operational jobs.

The determination of state and federal Labor to block the construction of coal-fired power stations is in stark contrast to China. According to a report in the New Scientist in April, China is building more than half of the world’s new coal-fired power plants.

China accounted for 52 per cent of the 176,000 megawatts of energy under construction around the world in 2021. In just one year alone, China added three times more coal-fired power generation than exists in Australia today.

Australia has an abundance of high-quality coal which has proven to be a lucrative export commodity for generations. When burned, it allows other nations to access affordable and reliable electricity, and in many cases, has helped lift them out of poverty.

Yet Australia’s leaders stand silently by while our affordable and reliable baseload electricity, generated by that same coal, is replaced by highly subsidised renewables that require vast amounts of backup energy and extra transmission lines to work. All of this adds a huge cost to taxpayers.

The Minerals Council of Australia, a club for the major mining companies, has boasted of the hundreds of new high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) coal-fired plants in operation or in planning and construction.

The MCA even spruiked how these plants could deliver ‘reliable, base-load energy while reducing CO2 emissions by up to 40 per cent’ saying:

‘Coal has a fundamental role to play in the provision of low cost, reliable energy for the foreseeable future.’

Meanwhile, the MCA makes no mention about how Australia would be able to benefit from these new technologies.

Is it because key MCA members vocally endorse Net Zero in order to provide the requisite political cover from activists to continue to mine and export coal, all while our domestic power supply is being thrown under the proverbial bus?

It’s hard not to think this is why they led the charge to close down the Australian Coal Association and its ‘Coal21’ outreach program, which was devoted to the roll-out of new technologies.

The stakes for Australian domestic and industrial energy users are high.

In Victoria, the ageing Hazelwood power station was closed with just six months’ notice in 2017, resulting in a wholesale power price jump of 85 per cent. The imminent closure of Liddell Power station in the Hunter Valley will, no doubt, have a similar effect.

Had these power stations been replaced in an orderly and sensible manner using the latest technologies, the National Electricity Market would still have an abundance of affordable and reliable energy, instead of being in the midst of the current energy supply crisis.

In addition, environmentalists could have welcomed the reduced amount of carbon emissions associated with ‘ultra-supercritical’ power-generating technology.

The key remaining coal-fired power plants in Australia slated for closure in the next decade should all be maintained, refurbished, and operated until such future time as baseload generation is available, either from high-efficiency, low-emission coal or nuclear sources.

Queensland Senator Matt Canavan gets it right when he says:

‘Remember when they said there was no one that wanted to build a coal-fired power station? Then when someone says, “Yes, I do!” They say, “Sorry, you can’t get approval…”’

China, which has firmly rejected the policy of Net Zero emissions by 2050, is getting on with the job of providing reliable and affordable power for its people and industries.

If Australia had the same attitude, communities in the Galilee Basin could look forward to an influx of new jobs, and Queenslanders could be more confident of enjoying efficient, affordable, and reliable energy well into the future using the coal beneath our feet.




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