Poor households are locked out of green energy, unless governments help


Alan Pears, RMIT University

A report released this week by the Australian Council of Social Service has pointed out that many vulnerable households cannot access rooftop solar and efficient appliances, describing the issue as a serious problem.

It has provoked controversy. Some have interpreted the report as an attack on emerging energy solutions such as rooftop solar. Others see it as exposing a serious structural crisis for vulnerable households.

The underlying issue is the fundamental change in energy solutions. As I pointed out in my previous column, we are moving away from investment by governments and large businesses in big power stations and centralised supply, and towards a distributed, diversified and more complex energy system. As a result, there is a growing focus on “behind the meter” technologies that save, store or produce energy.

What this means is that anyone who does not have access to capital, or is uninformed, disempowered or passive risks being disadvantaged – unless governments act.

The reality is that energy-efficient appliances and buildings, rooftop solar, and increasingly energy storage, are cost-effective. They save households money through energy savings, improved health, and improved performance in comparison with buying grid electricity or gas. But if you can’t buy them, you can’t benefit.

In the past, financial institutions loaned money to governments or big businesses to build power stations and gas supply systems. Now we need mechanisms to give all households and businesses access to loans to fund the new energy system.

Households that cannot meet commercial borrowing criteria, or are disempowered – such as tenants, those under financial stress, or those who are disengaged for other reasons – need help.

Governments have plenty of options.

  • They can require landlords to upgrade buildings and fixed appliances, or make it attractive for them to do so. Or a bit of both.

  • They can help the supply chain that upgrades buildings and supplies appliances to do this better, and at lower cost.

  • They can facilitate the use of emerging technologies and apps to identify faulty and inefficient appliances, then fund their replacement. Repayments can potentially be made using the resulting savings.

  • They can ban the sale of inefficient appliances by making mandatory performance standards more stringent and widening their coverage.

  • They can help appliance manufacturers make their products more efficient, and ensure that everyone who buys them know how efficient they are.

To expand on the last suggestion, at present only major household white goods, televisions and computer monitors are required to carry energy labels. If you are buying a commercial fridge, pizza oven, cooker, or stereo system, you are flying blind.

The Finkel Review made it clear that the energy industry will not lead on this. It clearly recommends that energy efficiency is a job for governments, and that they need to accelerate action.

The ConversationIt’s time for governments to get serious about helping everyone to join the energy transition, not just the most affluent.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

What ethical business can do to help make ecocities a reality



File 20170710 29734 2tygww
Soft Landing recycles the materials of mattresses that otherwise get dumped in landfill.
Alan Stanton/flickr, CC BY-SA

Katherine Gibson, Western Sydney University

This is one of a series of articles to coincide with the 2017 Ecocity World Summit in Melbourne.


Cities have always been eco(nomic)cities but rarely eco(logical)cities. Today, growing inequality and environmental degradation undermine the very conditions of life as we have known it. Continuing business and urbanisation as usual will make this problem worse.

Economic growth must become synonymous with ecological and social sustainability. If we forget this we are doomed. Cities, where more than half of the world’s people live, must lead the way.

Many city dwellers are heeding the call to change ways of being and reshape livelihoods. They are modifying their behaviours as much as they can to reduce, reuse and recycle.

They are becoming renewable energy producers in the face of a political system that as yet, in Australia at least, refuses to help very much. They are reducing car use and are interested in sourcing food more locally.

But citizens can only so do much. One hope for our cities, identified in my research, is that more and more businesses put ecological and social sustainability at the core of their performance model.

Companies that lead the way

Companies like commercial carpet tile manufacturer Interface Carpets did this a generation ago when it abandoned the linear “take-make-waste” model of production. Instead, it embraced a commitment to eliminating any negative impact on the environment.

With the input of an “eco dream team” made up of pragmatic philosophers and biomimicry experts, the company adopted a visionary plan, “Mission Zero”.

Carpet takes over 50 years to break down in landfill.
WasteZero

The Interface business was redesigned along circular economy lines to eliminate oil from the production of synthetic carpet tiles. This achievement will be largely completed by Interface’s target year 2020. At the same time, the business has eliminated waste, is powered by 100% renewable energy and uses efficient transportation.

But environmental wellbeing is not all Interface is committed to. Social equity is also a company goal.

Interface’s Netherlands plant is pioneering collaboration with a social enterprise that employs people at a distance from the labour market. This enterprise is organising the cleaning and reuse of carpet tiles, large proportions of which are replaced before their product expiry date.

Interface’s Minto plant, on the outskirts of Sydney, has taken the corporate lead internationally to refashion the “factory as a forest” as part of the new Climate Take Back strategy.

The goal is not only to reduce the negative impact on the environment but to have a positive impact through restorative action. How this will be done is still to be determined, but it is objectives like Mission Zero that have driven innovation in the past.

The Australian social enterprise Soft Landing first established just north of Wollongong provides jobs for people experiencing disadvantage. They disassemble and recycle the materials of mattresses that otherwise get dumped in landfill.

Just like Interface, Soft Landing is exploring new interdependencies between for-profit firms with a commitment to environmental sustainability and for-purpose social enterprise.

Having worked with key industry partners over many years, Soft Landing is co-ordinating a product stewardship scheme that enrols firms in voluntarily adopting sustainability protocols for mattress making and unmaking.

Mattresses are a problem waste stream, and this initiative will help roll out Soft Landing’s innovative “waste to wages” model, significantly reducing landfill while also creating jobs.

A carpet manufacturer and mattress recycler are showing the way toward repairing and restoring the social and environmental fabric, and pushing policy along as they do so. This is jobs and growth in a new register. If they can do it, so can others.

Now for the construction sector…

Now we need the urban building sector to take notice and attend to the context in which carpet and mattresses are housed.

Rather than catering to demand for the cheapest housing that conforms to the most basic of BASIX, we need to see some leadership with housing that truly contributes to environmental and social restoration and repair.

Housing developers could race to the top by experimenting with:

Interface and Soft Landing are successful businesses that show what can happen when commitments to building a better world become central to their brand. If we can’t rely on our politicians to listen to the warnings of the Anthropocene, we can at least turn to ethically attuned business to help make ecological cities a reality.

Working with a reparative ecological approach and a commitment to socio-economic inclusion, everyone can be part of a solution. Overcoming inequality and environmental degradation is key to ensuring that ecocities are not another excuse for business as usual in a new guise.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here. The Ecocity World Summit is being hosted by the University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University, the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne in Melbourne from July 12-14.

Katherine Gibson, Professor of Economic Geography, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

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

Coastal councils are already adapting to rising seas – we’ve built a website to help


Sarah Boulter, Griffith University

The wild storms that lashed eastern Australia earlier this year damaged property and eroded beaches, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage. As sea levels rise, the impact of storms will threaten more and more homes, businesses and services along the coastline.

CSIRO projections suggest that seas may rise by as much 82cm by the end of the century. When added to high tides, and with the influence of winds and associated storms, this can mean inundation by waters as high as a couple of metres.

As a community, we have to start deciding what must be protected, and how and when; where we will let nature take its course; how and if we need to modify the way we live and work near the coast; and so on. Many of these decisions fall largely to local governments.

We have launched a website to help local councils and Australians prepare for a climate change future. CoastAdapt lets you find maps of your local area under future sea-level scenarios, read case studies, and make adaptation plans.

How will sea-level rise affect you?

Using sea-level rise modelling from John Church and his team at CSIRO, CoastAdapt provides sea-level projections for four greenhouse gas scenarios, for individual local government areas. This also provides a set of inundation maps for the selected local government area.

Sydney’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

The inundation maps (developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information) show the average projected sea-level rise for a particular climate change scenario, combined with the highest tide. The method provides an approximation of where flooding may occur.

Because water is simply filled onto the map according to elevation, it doesn’t account for things like estuary shapes and water movement, the behaviour of waves and so on.

Brisbane’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

But both the maps and the sea-level projections are a useful way to start thinking about where risks may lie in any given local government area.

CoastAdapt also looks at what we know about coastal processes in the present day. Understanding these characteristics helps us understand where and why the coast is vulnerable to inundation and erosion.

For instance, sandy coasts are much more vulnerable to erosion than rocky coasts. The information will help decision-makers understand the behaviour of their coasts and their susceptibility to erosion under sea-level rise.

Darwin’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

Local councils already adapting

Adaptation is already happening on the ground around Australian local councils. We have highlighted several of these on CoastAdapt.

In the small seaside town of Port Fairy in southeast Victoria, for example, an active community group is monitoring the accelerated erosion of dunes on one of their beaches. The council and community have worked together to prioritise protecting dune areas with decommissioned landfill to prevent this rubbish tip being exposed to the beach.

Other councils have already undertaken the process of assessing their risks and drafting adaptation plans.

Low-lying areas in the City of Lake Macquarie already experience occasional flooding from high seas. This is expected to become more common and more severe.

Lake Macquarie Council has successfully worked with the local community to come up with 39 possible management actions, which the community then assessed against social, economic and environmental criteria. The area now has a strategy for dealing with current flooding and for gradually building protection for future sea-level rise.

This approach has engaged community members and given them the opportunity to help decide the future of their community.

Melbourne’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

Getting prepared

What stumps councils and other coastal decision-makers is the scale and complexity of the problem. Each decision-maker needs to have some sense of the risk of future climate change to their interests, then develop plans that will help them to cope or adapt to these risks. Planners and adaptors must navigate uncertainty in where, when and how much change they must consider, and how these changes interact with other issues that must be managed.

To better understand the risk, decision-makers need access to timely, authoritative advice presented in ways and levels that are useful for their needs. This is particularly true for an issue such as climate science, which is technically complex.

Climate projections, particularly at the local level, come with a level of certainty and probability. The further we look into the future, the more extraneous factors are unknown – for example, will global policy succeed in bringing down greenhouse emissions? Or will these keep increasing, which will necessitate planning for worst-case scenarios?

Add to this the questions around legal risk, financing adaptation measures, accommodating community views and so on, and the task is daunting.

That’s the thinking behind CoastAdapt – the first national attempt to create a platform that brings together a range of data, tools and research that have been developing and growing over the last decade. As well as maps and case studies, we’ve also built an adaptation planning framework (Coastal Climate Adaptation Decision Support) and set up an online forum for people to ask questions, exchange ideas and even pose questions to our panel of experts.

The author would like to acknowledge the work of staff of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. CoastAdapt is in beta version and is seeking feedback. The final version will be released in early 2017.

The Conversation

Sarah Boulter, Research Fellow, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Griffith University

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

Want to help the environment? First fix your work-life balance


Andreas Chai, Griffith University

When it comes to climate change, do you practice what you preach? While many of us express strong concern about the issue, there tends to be a yawning gap between this concern and many people’s willingness to actually act on it by doing things like using less power or petrol.

Why should we care about this “value-action gap”? Well for one thing, these practices can make a big difference: up to an estimated 20% of household emissions, according to one US study. Things like using housing insulation and public transport, if done on a wide enough scale, can seriously help the world avoid major climate change.

Many might attribute this gap to “cheap talk” – people say they care, but they don’t really. But survey after survey has shown that people are truly aware of the risks of climate change, and that it is a growing source of emotional distress. In Australia, national surveys in 2010 and 2012 showed that public acceptance and concern about climate change has remained very high, and that it is viewed as a genuine threat by many people across different ages, regions and income levels.

A much more disturbing idea is that people’s choices are shaped by their work and social settings, and that people’s lifestyles therefore hold them back from taking action. This is the crux of what the downshifting movement has been telling us about for decades: that your choices are not just yours alone, but are heavily shaped by the environment in which you live, the hours you work and play, and the social norms you embrace.

What time to adapt?

My colleagues and I re-analysed this extensive survey database, and found evidence to support this idea. Working conditions do indeed seem to influence the extent to which people act on their environmental concerns.

After controlling for a range of demographic variables and household income, we found that people who work longer hours tend to have a significantly larger gap between the extent to which they are concerned about the environment, and their actual engagement in environmentally sustainable practices.

It is tempting to attribute this to the effect of income – people who work longer are probably richer as well. But then again, wouldn’t more money make people better able to act on their concerns?

Here’s the catch: while the rich who declare themselves to be concerned about climate change do tend to buy environmentally friendly products, our results show they are also much less much likely to engage in time-consuming practices concerning how their goods are used, such as conserving electricity and fuel.

So what?

Our results suggest that policies to improve work-life balance and working conditions may deliver important environmental dividends. When it comes to adapting to climate change, governments and employers would do well to consider how long working hours can get in the way of environmentally sound behaviour.

Currently, millions of dollars are spent every year on public information and engagement campaigns to encourage the voluntary adoption of environmentally sustainable practices. Yet evidence suggests that such campaigns are relatively ineffective, partly because behaviour patterns are “locked” into existing lifestyles.

What’s more, as the economist Clive Spash has pointed out, standard “tax-and-subsidise” measures, such as both the carbon tax and the government’s Direct Action plan, are recognized to be both slow and costly to implement, and run the risk of reducing people’s motivation to take their own voluntary action.

In other words, there is a danger that the more people formally pay for carbon emissions, the less likely they are to do their bit to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Rather than narrowly focusing on taxing and subsidizing our way towards a more sustainable economy, we need to find way in which we can encourage people to act voluntarily on their environmental concerns. Rather than merely raising public awareness about climate change, the real challenge is to ensure that people have the broad capacity to respond to these messages.

Measures to improve work-life balance may help people to adapt their lifestyles so they can act on their environmental concerns.

The daily grind

For those of us caught in the daily balancing act between work and everything else, the advice is simple. Do take that opportunity to go home an hour early – not only are you safeguarding your mental health, you are also encouraging others to lead lifestyles that are more reflective of their values, environmental or otherwise.

Of course, if you go home and decide to burn coal for an extra hour, that’s not true.

But chances are that you, like most people, are concerned about climate change but just haven’t had the time to really think about what exactly you can do about it.

It’s time to change that – and that’s something that governments and employers, by implementing measures which promote a better work-life balance, can help out with too.

The Conversation

Andreas Chai is Senior Lecturer at Griffith University.

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

China: Seeks Australia’s Help Building Emissions Trading Scheme


The link below is to an article reporting on China seeking Australia’s assistance in building an emissions trading scheme.

For more visit:
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/china-seeks-australias-help-building-emissions-trading-scheme-20130711-2prjh.html

Central African Republic: Gabon Steps In To Save Elephants


The link below is to an article reporting on Gabon’s efforts to help protect elephants in the Central African Republic.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0518-gabon-car-elephants.html

Article: Dressed in Panda Suit to Assist Pandas


The following link is to an article reporting on how researchers have dressed in Panda suits to help Pandas in the wild.

For more visit:
http://twentytwowords.com/2012/05/21/dressing-in-panda-suits-to-take-care-of-pandas/

Tigers: Help Save the Tiger


The link below is to an article reporting on the Tiger and its rapid slide to extinction. At the end of the article there is a link to a site where you can help save the tiger from extinction.

For more visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/tigers-pictures_n_1490131.html

AUSTRALIA: TRAGEDY IN THE OUTBACK – Man Found Dead in the Kimberley


A man thought to be from Queensland has been found dead in the Australian outback. The body was found in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, in the far north of the state on the Meda cattle station, about 40km west of Derby.

Near the body was the man’s desperate plea for assistance with the word ‘help’ written in the dirt. He had constructed a shelter and his water bottle was empty. No vehicle has yet been found.

The man was some 15km from the Meda cattle station homestead on the 1.25 million acre property.

The temperatures in this region had reached 40C last week. The man is thought to have died a few days ago.