Red Centre Holiday 2016: Day 7 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

ABOVE: Sunrise at Uluru

It was an early morning yet again as I prepared for a sunrise viewing of Uluru. This morning I was heading off to Talinguru Nyakunytjaku to catch the Uluru sunrise at either the Minymaku platform or the Watiku platform. When I arrived I was a little surprised by the number of people that turned up (not that I should have been really) and both platforms were soon packed like sardine cans. However, I soon found what I thought was a much better spot anyway, on the edge of one of the trails below the Watiku platform. Then I discovered that I had forgotten to put the battery for my camera in the camera after I had recharged my camera overnight. Thankfully the batteries were in my car so I was able to quickly correct the problem and return prior to sunrise. It wasn’t long though before other people decided I knew a thing or two about location and decided to relocate to my general position. Before long it was a case of people trying to push their way in front of me and generally bustle me – not that they got too far with that approach as I refused to give ground to them. It was actually beginning to become ‘unpleasant’ between some leading protagonists. In the end most of us got the shots we were after without the need to resort to overt rudeness.

ABOVE: Sunrise at Uluru   BELOW: Wildflowers at Walpa Gorge

With sunrise done, it was off for the drive to Kata Tjuta, or as they are also known, the Olgas. It’s about 50 to 60km from Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, but well worth the journey. Indeed, in my opinion Kata Tjuta is a far better experience than Uluru. But as I have said before, every location has something different to offer and I enjoyed every one I went to over my holiday.

ABOVE: Early Morning at Walpa Gorge

First stop at Kata Tjuta was Walpa Gorge, which is a fairly short walk overall and quickly completed. It is a 2.6 km return walk, in and out of Walpa Gorge as the name probably suggests. It was still quite cold when I arrived and still early in the morning. There were very dark shadows being cast over the gorge by the massive domes that are Kata Tjuta. On the walk however, the heat that was being radiated from the domes was quite noticeable, having obviously retained heat from the previous day. A beautiful spot and well worth the visit – though I was keen to get onto the next walk, which is my favourite at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The Valley of the Winds is truly a magnificent experience and walk. It is a 7.4 km challenging circuit walk that takes about 3 hours to complete. There are two lookouts along the trail – the Karu Lookout (after 1.1km) and the Karingana Lookout (after 2.7km). Both provide incredible views, yet it could be argued that the entire walk is one great vista. I enjoy almost every bushwalk I embark on, but there are some that really rank highly in my estimation. There is the Grand High Tops Walk in Warrumbungle National Park, especially if you are able to tie Bluff mountain and Mount Exmouth into it as well. Actually, the more I think about it the more walks I want to include in my ‘highly estimated’ walks, but the Valley of the Winds has to be up there as well. I would have to include Kings Canyon Rim Walk and Ormiston Gorge among those walks also now I guess. Those brilliant walks were yet to come on this holiday.

ABOVE: View from Karingana Lookout – Valley of the Winds

As breath-taking as the Valley of the Winds is, it would probably be a terrible place to be in the height of summer. It was late winter and already very hot. I did see a couple of people not really coping with the walk. I can just imagine how many people come to grief to some degree in the hotter months. I found the walk to be a very pleasant and comfortable one in itself, let alone with all that there was to experience while on it around about me.

ABOVE: Valley of the Winds Walk   BELOW: View from the Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area

After the Valley of the Winds it was a short drive to the Kata Tjuta Dune Viewing Area, which provides some spectacular views of Kata Tjuta and of Uluru in the distance. There is a short 600m walk up to the viewing platform – all very easy. A visit to Kata Tjuta should always include a visit here.

The day’s activities were all over fairly early in the afternoon for me, so it was back to camp to enjoy some quiet time and relaxation, get a bit of washing done and generally rest, read and the like.

The distance travelled on this day was 150 km – giving me a total of 3082 km for the whole trip to this point.

When it got dark, once again, it was the usual ‘house keeping’ before bed – updating the daily journal, reviewing the holiday budget, checking in on social media, and editing and uploading photos. Then it was off to bed for a later start the next morning, with just the Liru and Mala Walks on the agenda.

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It’s time to speak up about noise pollution in the oceans

It’s time to speak up about noise pollution in the oceans

Christine Erbe, Curtin University

Ask most people about pollution, and they will think of rubbish, plastic, oil, smog, and chemicals. After some thought, most folks might also suggest noise pollution.

We’re all familiar with noise around us, and we know it can become a problem – especially if you live near an airport, train station, highway, construction site, or DIY-enthusiast neighbour.

But most people don’t think that noise is a problem under water. If you’ve read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea you might imagine that, maelstroms excepted, life is pretty quiet in the ocean. Far from it.

When we put a hydrophone (essentially a waterproof microphone) into the water, no matter where in the world’s oceans, it’s never quiet. We hear wind blowing overhead and rain dropping onto the ocean surface – even from hundreds of metres deep. In Australian waters we can also detect the far-off rumbles of earthquakes and the creaking of Antarctic ice thousands of kilometres away.

Wet and noisy

Water is much denser than air, so its molecules are packed tighter together. This means that sound (which relies on molecules vibrating and pushing against one another) propagates much further and faster under water than in air.

This also applies to human-produced sound. Under water we can hear boats and ships and even aeroplanes. Large vessels in deep water can be detected tens of kilometres away. We can be far offshore doing fieldwork, the only people around, with nothing in sight but water in any direction. Yet when we switch the engines off and put a hydrophone into the water, we hear ship noise. Sometimes, whole minutes later, the vessel we heard might appear on the horizon.

Seafarers have known about another source of sound for thousands of years: marine life. Many animals produce sound, from the tiniest shrimp to the biggest whales. Many fish even communicate acoustically under water – during the mating season, the boys start calling. Whales do it, too.

Light doesn’t reach far under water. Near the surface, in clear water, you might be able to peer a few metres, but in the inky depths you can’t see at all. So many marine animals have evolved to “see with sound”, using acoustics for navigation, for detecting predators and prey, and for communicating with other members of their species.

The thing is that man-made sound can interfere with these behaviours.

The effects of noise on marine animals are similar to those on us. If you’ve ever been left with ringing ears after a rock concert, you’ll know that loud noise can temporarily affect your hearing or even damage it permanently.

Noise interferes with communication, often masking it. Can you talk above the background noise in a busy pub? Long-term exposure to noise can cause stress and health issues — in humans and animals alike.

Excessive noise can change marine creatures’ habits, too. Like a person who decides to move house rather than live next door to a new airport, animals might choose to desert their habitat if things get too noisy. The question is whether they can find an equally acceptable habitat elsewhere.

Pile-driving is noisy work.
Christine Erbe, Author provided

There is a lot more research still to be done in this field. Can we predict what noises and vibrations might be released into the marine environment by new machinery or ships? How does sound propagate through different ocean environments? What are the long-term effects on marine animal populations?

One positive is that even though noise pollution travels very fast and very far through the ocean, the moment you switch off the source, the noise is gone. This is very much unlike plastic or chemical pollution, and gives us hope that noise pollution can be successfully managed.

We all need energy, some of which comes from oil and gas; most of our consumer goods are shipped across the seas on container vessels; and many of us enjoy eating seafood caught by noisy fishing boats, some of which even use dynamite to catch fish. We want to protect our borders, making naval operations a necessity. Then there’s the ever growing industry of marine tourism, much of it aboard ever-bigger cruise ships which need large ports in which to berth.

There are a lot of stakeholders in the marine environment, and all speak a different language, all make different claims, and all make noise. Knowing precisely how much noise they make, and how it affects marine life, will help to ensure our oceans and their resources last well into the future.

September 3-11 is SeaWeek 2016, the Australian Association for Environmental Education Marine Educators’ national public awareness campaign.

The Conversation

Christine Erbe, Director, Centre for Marine Science & Technology, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Direct Action not as motivating as carbon tax say some of Australia’s biggest emitters

Jayanthi Kumarasiri, Swinburne University of Technology; Christine Jubb, Swinburne University of Technology, and Keith Houghton, Swinburne University of Technology

Australia’s largest listed, carbon intensive companies say management lost focus on carbon matters, abandoned energy projects and didn’t have the commercial imperative to produce long-term strategic action on reducing emissions after the carbon tax was repealed, new research finds.

Our research looked at the comparative views of emitters before and after the repeal of the carbon tax legislation, in interviews with 18 senior managers from nine carbon-intensive listed companies.

Two years have passed since Australia’s carbon tax was repealed. It was introduced by the Labor government and came into effect in 2012.

The carbon pricing scheme asked big emitters to pay for each tonne of emissions above a threshold of 25,000 tonnes, in carbon units, and these were at a fixed charge of: $23 a tonne in 2012, $24.15 a tonne in 2013 and $25.40 a tonne in 2014.

The Swinburne research found the financial pressure exerted by the carbon tax forced companies to take action to manage emissions. As one senior executive observed at the time:

“…the threat is our operating costs will increase, and we won’t be able to pass that cost on through to our customers, and, therefore, our earnings suffer as a result”.

In July 2014, the coalition government repealed the carbon tax by replacing it with the “Direct Action” plan which works primarily by providing funding to companies to incentivise emission reduction activities. The government has spentA$1.7 billion on 143 million tonnes of emissions, at an average cost of A$12 a tonne.

Many of the companies interviewed for our research said Direct Action was not as effective as a carbon tax in driving companies to act urgently and manage emissions. The carbon tax gave companies incentives to act because it increased utilities prices, adding financial burden for some companies, in addition to these companies being liable under the tax.

One manager said:

“The scheme [carbon tax] now obviously having a cost associated with those emissions, it was a case of trying to understand where the costs were and essentially how we capture that information and how we track it.”

The existing National Greenhouse Energy Reporting Act 2007 (which requires high emitters to report emissions) does not provide the same incentives because it’s only a compliance measure with no direct financial burden.

Our research found the carbon tax created not only financial pressure but also a reputation threat for high emitting companies.

When the carbon tax was repealed, the focus on carbon emissions in these companies shifted. In some cases this showed up in the form of changes to staff hiring, away from environmental or technical specialists and towards legal staff. One manager explained it as:

“Even though we may not have the technical background in some respects, I think there’s a lot of interest in the legal profession into climate issues, you know, the social issues.”

This shift in focus was partly due to a lack of top management attention to the issue and partly because the financial justification for having dedicated personnel to tackle emissions decreased.

Some companies postponed or abandoned energy management projects after the repeal of the carbon tax. For example, one manager observed that his company had postponed A$1.5 billion worth of long term renewable investment projects due to the carbon tax repeal and the political uncertainty around the Renewable Energy Target.

Another factor is the lower use of techniques such as provision of incentives and setting targets for emissions management compared with the period of the carbon tax. One manager stated his company was no longer investing in target setting as there was no financial return for doing so.

Almost all interviewees in our research agreed that the carbon tax had been an effective mechanism when it was in place. Certain companies have a clear expectation a carbon price will re-emerge. They are proactively monitoring this issue. One manager described it as:

“We shadow in a carbon price across our portfolio of assets, determine what the potential impact is for [company name] and how we would manage that. We’ve continued to invest in carbon reduction…The business now looks at it as a cost-of-doing business opportunity.”

Overall, the research provided mixed evidence about achieving Australia’s commitment, made at the Paris climate change summit, to reduce emissions to 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030. Some companies are acting as though the carbon tax never left us, while for others carbon emission management is no longer a strategic issue.

The financial pressure exerted from the carbon tax was a strong motivation for all sample companies to take urgent action on emissions management. So the challenge for the current government is whether Australia’s current policy incentives for corporate constraint of carbon are strong enough to deliver.

The Conversation

Jayanthi Kumarasiri, Lecturer in Accounting, Swinburne University of Technology; Christine Jubb, Professor of Accounting, Associate Director Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology, and Keith Houghton, Emeritus Professor Australian National University, and holds a part-time position at, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Climate Change Authority’s gamble on political pragmatism

Frank Jotzo, Australian National University

The Climate Change Authority’s latest report outlining a recommended climate policy “toolkit” is a reflection of what is seen by many as politically feasible in Australia now. But it is piecemeal and lacks a vision for the longer-term policy framework needed to get Australia on track to a low-carbon economy.

After years of political fighting over carbon pricing, a conventional emissions trading scheme – the instrument of choice in many other countries – is widely seen as politically impossible in Australia. And both major parties are scared of any policy that is seen as raising electricity prices.

The CCA seems to take this political situation as a starting point, and makes a series of judgements about specific policy options. The intent clearly is to help policy progress in the medium term. But it risks locking in a policy suite that will not deliver much, or may cost too much.

If the CCA’s recommendations are misconstrued as being ambitious, we could end up with policy that falls far short of these recommendations. And if its political judgements are off the mark, the CCA’s specific recommendations could become an obstacle for the government’s 2017 policy review.

Electricity intensity scheme

The CCA’s “toolkit” suggests a mix of different policy instruments for different sectors of the economy, with quite specific suggestions in some areas and less detail in others.

For the power sector, the recommendation is for an “emissions intensity scheme”, designed to create a carbon price signal in electricity production while limiting the effect on power prices. This is its main selling-point: it would result in less price uplift than a standard emissions trading scheme or carbon tax.

The flipside is that this does not encourage households and businesses to save energy, and so without other interventions it will be less efficient.

Another serious downside is that the government earns no money from the scheme because all permits are given out for free to industry. So there is no source of income to cut other taxes and help low-income households, as there was under the Gillard government’s carbon price.

Such a power sector scheme is in line with what Labor took to July’s election, so there may be hope for bipartisanship. It is a scheme you choose if you are afraid of political backlash over power prices, and if you are prepared to forego fiscal revenue.

Its effectiveness will depend on its credibility and ambition. The CCA envisages it as a stand-alone scheme without trading links (except possibly sales of “white certificates” from energy efficiency schemes). The CCA recommends baselines going linearly to zero before 2050, which could drive significant change in power generation. But whatever trajectory is mandated is certain to be economically less efficient than a standard emissions trading scheme with flexibility between sectors and over time.

Renewables, innovation and coal exit

The report notes that uncertainty over the future of an emissions intensity scheme “could affect investor confidence” and cause cost increases and delays, and that this is an argument for continued support for renewable energy deployment policies. However it recommends that the Renewable Energy Target not be continued beyond the present commitment to new investments until 2020 and support for existing plants until 2030.

On innovation for low-emissions technologies, the CCA calls for government support both through debt and equity funding, as well as public funding for research, development and demonstration. The former is currently done through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the latter by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). This recommendation runs counter the government’s present plan – possibly supported by Labor – to withdraw A$1.3 billion in funding from ARENA.

Mechanisms to facilitate closure of high emissions power stations have received much support in the debate over the last year. The idea of a regulated closure scheme is rejected by the CCA, on the basis of modelling of a version of the proposal that would not allow any flexibility. The proposal for a market-based scheme to help shut down the highest-emitting power stations is mentioned only in the CCA’s accompanying electricity report, where it is dismissed without analysis.

Emissions Reduction Fund and more complexity

Outside the power sector the CCA proposes evolving the existing Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), a patchy scheme of subsidies paid to businesses for projects presumed to cut emissions.

It suggests that industries that burn fossil fuels or otherwise release greenhouse gases should be covered by an ERF with “enhanced safeguards”. Companies that exceed a specific benchmark emissions intensity (falling over time) would have to buy emissions credits, while companies can earn credits for projects that meet the ERF’s criteria. But companies that remain below the benchmark and do not engage in projects would not be involved at all and have no incentive to cut emissions.

The government would continue to buy credits from land sector projects. This means continued payments of taxpayer dollars to businesses, and continued doubts over whether the emissions reductions are real.

For energy efficiency, yet another approach is recommended, by harmonising existing state-based “white certificate” schemes that award credits for energy savings, and then feeding those credits back into the electricity supply scheme. Selective efficiency standards are also supported, along with emissions standards for cars and perhaps trucks.

Setting our sights higher

The CCA’s report focuses heavily on Australia’s existing emissions target, of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. But in reality, Australia will have to do more as part of the Paris Agreement ratcheting process. The existing target is too weak to meet the Paris deal’s global warming limit of below 2℃. The goal must be a net zero-emission economy around mid-century.

The more hodge-podge our climate policy regime, the weaker the signals to promote investment in modern, clean technologies. The incrementalism of the CCA’s proposed approach contrasts starkly with the need to drive a fundamental transformation to a low-carbon economy, and is at odds with the Authority’s own recommended carbon budget.

An apt comparison is with Australia’s economic reforms of the 1980s. The road to success was fundamental change such as floating the dollar and dismantling tariffs, not timid tinkering. Today, neither side of politics shows such vision or determination. So it is all the more important that independent bodies raise everyone’s sights to the larger possibilities.

The CCA’s judgements

The “policy toolkit” report is not supported by two of the CCA’s board members, Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, who have made it known that they will issue a dissenting minority report.

Under its previous board the CCA provided strongly principled advice for ambitious climate policy, such as its recommendations for emissions targets and a carbon budget. A report on climate policy instruments that put principle over political circumstance would almost inevitably recommend a comprehensive carbon pricing scheme as its core.

The hope for this week’s report is that it might help achieve some convergence on climate policy, albeit at a lower denominator, and encourage the government to embark on reform.

The initial signals from the government are not positive. Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was quick to distance the government from the report. He said that there are no plans to change baselines for the “safeguards”, which would be required for the main aspects of the CCA plan.

Meanwhile the CCA has ruled out a number of options, making it harder for the government to pick up these options if it wanted to.

The pragmatic gamble could backfire.

The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.