Category Archives: Background

These articles on topics related to global warming and Steve’s trip may be of interest

David Hood – Straightforward Science



I am astounded at the responses that I receive from politicians regarding the current repeal of parts of the clean energy package of legislation.  They continually ask for an explanation of the correlation between CO2 and climate change as if there is no relation, and it is all a great big hoax.

So let’s look at the science in straightforward terms that I hope will assist you with a better understanding, and just maybe help us all realise why the repealing of a mechanism that is successfully reducing emissions by pricing them, and scrapping the other parts of the clean energy package of legislation is absurd policy.

The scientific understanding of CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG) was first discovered and accepted in the late 19th century.  It is a simple fact of physics.

Energy from the sun arrives as high frequency electromagnetic radiation (mostly in the visible light frequencies and above).  It passes through our atmosphere with almost no interaction with atmospheric molecules.  That radiation which is not reflected back to space by white surfaces (almost entirely clouds and clean ice sheets) is absorbed by the land and ocean surfaces, which consequently increase in temperature.

As you will no doubt recall from high school, all warm bodies radiate energy in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Thus earth (both the land and ocean surfaces) is sending energy back out through the atmosphere as infrared radiation, and it is here where interaction does occur.

GHG molecules (of which CO2, water vapour, and methane are the most significant for this discussion) absorb that infrared radiation.  This causes the atoms of the molecules to “excite” with electrons jumping out to higher orbits around their atomic nuclei.  The molecule thus vibrates more than before, and additional molecular vibration is the measure of heat in any substance.  Thus you can see immediately that additional GHGs in the atmosphere will cause atmospheric warming as infrared radiation is absorbed by these GHG molecules.

Now comes the important part.  All “excited” atoms will return to their natural state, and in doing so the atoms release a pulse of infrared radiation which radiates out equally in all directions – half the radiation goes upwards, and if not interrupted by other GHG molecules, out to space.  The other half goes back down to the earth’s surface and is reabsorbed by land and ocean.

It is this radiative forcing that is warming the planet.  Increasing the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere will force more energy back to earth further warming the planet.  Of course, with a constant/stable percentage of GHGs in the atmosphere, a stable temperature is achieved where energy arriving and leaving the earth is in balance.

The burning of fossil fuels is releasing CO2 (and other GHGs) into the atmosphere increasing the concentration from pre-industrial levels of some 280 parts per million (ppm) to more than 400 ppm, a massive increase.

Now there are additional positive feedbacks exacerbating the problem.  Simple physics state that a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapour.  More water vapour (a GHG) will increase the radiative forcing as described above, causing further warming.  More water held in the atmosphere will add to the severity of wet weather events.

The next positive feedback is easier to see.  As the land, the oceans, and the atmosphere warm all over the earth, ice melts and we lose reflective surfaces.  With less incoming radiative energy being reflected back to space, more incoming energy is absorbed by the planet, causing even further warming.

The third and potentially more serious feedback relates to how global warming will cause the release of massive amounts of trapped, and thus currently harmless methane, a short lived GHG which is however some 28 times more effective in radiative forcing.  These releases are already coming from warming of tundras and the oceans where methane clathrates exist (methane trapped within an H2O lattice under very cold and/or high pressure situations).  The amount of methane trapped in these clathrates is massive, and if released into the atmosphere, it would greatly increase warming and spell the extinction of life as we know it.

The influence of the warming of the globe on climate relates to the energy level within the whole system.  The greater the amount of energy within the global system, the greater the intensity and frequency of atmospheric activity (ie: weather events).  To appreciate the extent of this energy being added to our global system, it is easy to calculate and draw analogies.  The above radiative forcing and the feedbacks are adding energy to the planet’s systems at the rate of just over four Hiroshima atom bombs every second or, to be more dramatic, 400,000 Hiroshima bombs per day.  That is extremely scary!

The evidence of change in our global climate (the long term average of all weather events) is already well understood and measurable.  Climate modelling, with all its uncertainties and faults, is improving and calibrates well with the measured changes that have already occurred.  The predictions for the future without immediate action to stop GHG emissions are indeed horrific, with the extinction of several species not out of the question.

While this is a very complex area of research, it is thorough, factual, and accepted by every National Academy of Science on the planet.  The falsehoods, cherry picking of data, and out of context quotes, that perpetuate doubt, are only coming from – or as a result of – funding by the fossil fuel industry and related vested interests.  Why should the highly subsidised fossil fuel burning industries be the only industries on the planet allowed to release their wastes for free into our environment?

We had an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that was already law, albeit with a fixed price

(that “great big toxic TAX”).  It worked, and it, and the other measures of the Clean Energy Package (RET, CEFC, ARENA, Climate Authority), are all very necessary to help ensure a future for my grandchildren, and yours.


Professor David Hood AM is a civil and environmental engineer with vast experience across major civil and military projects, professional development in emerging economies, senior management in both the public and private sectors and in education.             

Global Warming resources

Global Warming
This problem is real and it is not going away. The words climate change and global warming are perhaps too soft. What we are talking about is severe atmospheric pollution.It is all part of man’s inability to live sustainably. What will bite us first, polluting our atmosphere, using up our oil reserves, destroying our fisheries? The list is long. We need global action now. Targets for 2050 are ridiculous; it may be all over by then.
Recommended Reading
“The Last Generation” – Fred Pearce
“The Weather Makers” – Tim Flannery
“Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions (2nd. edition), –  Barrie Pittock, 2009:“Storms of My Grandchildren” – James HansenThese books are about global warming and what it means. Barrie’s book is like a textbook. There are lots of facts which by themselves, coming from a person of Barrie’s calibre, are frightening. Tim Flannery’s book is excellent and well known but I think Fred Pearce’s is better and it is more recent. If you can take the science and want the absolute best and latest information then Storms of My Grandchildren is the best read.
Some of the politics of what went wrong
“Scorcher” – Clive Hamilton
This is about Australia and the politics around global warming. It makes you understand why Australian policy has been what it has.“The American Denial of Global Warming” – Naomi Oreskeshttp:
This is an hour long video. There are many ways to reach it but the above is a link. It details some history and makes many things clear.Keep up to date with“This Changes Everything” – Naomi Klein. Use it like a text book. It is scary but very detailed, honest and gives some hope.
What you can do
Many sites have a list of things that you can do. Our list is short.1. Buy green power. Do whatever it takes to get your electricity supplier to provide electricity from renewable energy. Lobby your authority to make it easy for consumers to do this. Convince your friends to buy green power. If you don’t do anything else – do this.

2. Use less fuel. This means driving as little as possible and flying as little as possible.

3. Think about the word sustainable. Try to live your life in a sustainable way.

Sustainability: Forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs – World Commission on Environment and Development

Fossil fuels
There is no doubt. The pollution is caused by releasing energy captured over millions of years in the space of a few centuries. Clean coal is like a healthy cigarette. It does not exist. Many things are bad. Coal is perhaps the worst of the worst. Instead of spending valuable research on capture and storage of the pollutant, which under best conditions is five times the volume of the original coal extracted, research should be directed to renewable energy. Coal seam gas is not a transition fuel. It is a perpetuation of everything that is bad in relation to climate change. Additionally, we simply do not know the effect on groundwater despite confident assertions by “experts”. Unless the well casings can last forever, all ground water will be connected to a poisonous gas. About 5-10% of well casings fail immediately, 50% over 30 years, and the probability of the rest lasting forever is zeroThe technology to solve global warming is available now. The will to do so is not.



The trip will involve a petition but this is still under development. Under consideration is:

If two of the worst emitters per head will not take a lead then who?

Australia’s massive deposits of hydrocarbons, mainly coal and gas, are a menace to life on earth as we know it. Most of it must be left in the ground to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic global warming. It’s time for all governments in Australia to shoulder their responsibility and not pollute the world.

Canada’s tar sands are equally destructive and it’s time for Canadian governments to recognise this.

We call on the governments in both countries to take a reasonable approach with risk and cease their reckless behavior.

 Sign the petition on line or better still bring a copy to Steve to deliver to Canberra.

Comments on the Latest IPCC Report and Communicating Risk

Comments by Barrie Pittock, former IPCC Lead Author, climate scientist and author:


The critical first volume of the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now published and the subject of wide discussion. It is the result of years of effort by many of the world’s leading climate scientists, and was subjected to approval by representatives of governments with widely differing views on what to do about climate change. These included Australia, the United States, Russia, India, China, Saudi Arabia and dozens of others.

Notable is that the new findings make it even clearer that the world is warming at an unprecedented rate and that this is almost certainly due to human pollution of the atmosphere. The report also concludes that the warming climate is increasing the severity and frequency of many extreme weather events, is changing rainfall patterns, causing rising sea levels, acidifying the oceans, and creating increasing risk for human well-being, the environment and the economy. Modern human society has developed to cope with the risks posed by normal climatic variations of the last century or so, including past variability and extremes. Adaptations include water storages, levee banks, zoning and design rules to cope with floods, coastal storm surges and other environmental hazards.

These and many other aspects of modern human society are now threatened by changes that could have serious human and economic consequences. Risks from normal climate variability include that to coastal development of ports, power stations, cities and holiday resorts, and modern agriculture, dependent on the normal temperature range and seasonal rainfall distributions. Increased risks will impose enormous extra costs on society if people and investments are to continue to be protected.

The climate system is very complex, with many cross-connections, including amplifying effects such as warming that reduces snow cover which in turn allows more solar heating of the surface and thus more warming and even less snow cover. A similar amplification is involved with loss of Arctic sea ice, and probably with ocean acidification as that threatens life in the oceans which at present absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

So clearly climate change imposes extra risks. This has already been documented and acted upon by insurance companies, particularly the big international re-insurance companies such as Munich Reinsurance and Swiss Re, which insure other insurance companies.

A central task of the IPCC is to identify and quantify (as far as possible) the risks from climate change. Risk, as recognised in insurance and in engineering design, is in general the product of the probability of adverse impacts times their magnitude. For example, we generally insure a house against burning down even though the probability of this happening to our particular house is likely very small, because if it burnt down it would be very serious financially. The probability of it burning down may be less than 1 in 100 in any given year, yet we pay for insurance, or take other precautions like installing fire alarms and sprinkler systems, just in case.

Similarly, in the case of engineering design, for a road culvert we generally design it to take care of a flood that might occur only once in ten years. But for a bridge the cost of failure would be much larger so we design it to withstand a flood that might occur only once in 100 or more years, while for a major dam we would be extra cautious and design it to withstand a flood that might occur only once in 1000 or more years.

So even hazards that have quite low probability must be designed for or prevented if they are of great magnitude. So it should be with climate change hazards.

Take coastal zoning and design standards as an example. If we consider the risk to a new development over its anticipated life-time, for example of a house or tourist development, where the lifetime might be up to 100 years, we should design it to cope with a sea-level rise or storm surge that just might occur over that time.

This leads to a problem with the way the latest IPCC report fails to communicate the real problem of risk. The IPCC characterisation of uncertainty is stated as being from “virtually certain” (99-100%), through “about as likely as not” (33-66%), to “unlikely” (0-33%), to “exceptionally unlikely” (0-1%). I suggest that that fails to communicate the serious nature of the risk of extreme changes since an outcome labelled as “unlikely” is likely to be ignored by lay people when really a 1 in 3 chance of a disaster is really a serious risk. Uncertainty requires a more explicit risk assessment approach, so the less certain possibilities should be described as “quite possible” (0-33%) or “possible” (0-10%) and perhaps “just possible” (0-1%), or some similar description that allows for the risk of a calamity like a 5 meter sea-level rise.

Would you board an aeroplane if its chance of crashing was stated as 1 in 3, or even 1 in 10? Of course not!

A case in point is the uncertainty regarding possible rapid disintegration of the massive ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica. Decades back glaciologists thought this would only come about by surface warming and the slow conduction of heat to the bottom of the ice sheet, taking hundreds to thousands of years. Then the idea appeared that surface melt-water might flow through crevasses in the ice, lubricating the bottom of the outlet glaciers, which would thus flow faster due to less resistance. More recently it was thought that this might not be such a great issue, since melt-water may scour out only narrow channels, rather than lubricating the whole bottom layer.

Now that understanding has changed once more: the melt-water penetrating deep into the ice sheet will warm the ice, causing it to be softer, like butter, and thus flow faster. This could have a much wider effect and lead to great increases in flow of outlet glaciers. Large rises in sea level are thus possible, even though they are as yet poorly quantified. Indeed, there is a real risk of multi-meter sea-level rises within a century or so.

This raises two problems for IPCC: firstly that of increasing uncertainty about the rapidity of sea-level rise, and secondly how the risk implied can be communicated. Given large uncertainties about possible disastrous impacts, IPCC needs to communicate what this means in terms of risk. The risk is obviously great for large impacts even if they have only a small but appreciable probability of occurring. So climate-driven changes that have only a small but non-negligible chance of occurring do need to be taken seriously. So far IPCC has not clearly communicated this.

Time scales for damaging climate changes are also vitally important, as is their possible damaging effect on investment, either from the destruction of infrastructure or the need for costly adaptations such as massive sea walls or retreat from the coast. Insurance companies tend to understand this risk, but many other companies seem less clear.

I am reminded for instance of ski resort owners who in the 1990s were affronted when my research group identified future loss of snow cover in future decades. The resort companies accused us of wanting to shut down the ski industry, and said that if they invested in a new ski run they would make a profit in a few years, and if they invested in a new ski resort they could profit within a decade. So they were not concerned about global warming that might take several decades to damage their investments. Later, however, new resort owners actually asked us for improved estimates of loss of snow cover so that they could plan investments in artificial snow making machines.

Today in Australia new investments are being made or planned in coal mines, railways to carry the coal and new ports for exporting the coal. These new mines will take a decade or more to come on-line, by which time many of the coal consuming countries such as China may well have decided to do away with highly polluting coal-fired power stations for two reasons. First is local air pollution which poses increasing health risks, and secondly their countries will be increasingly threatened by rising sea levels and changing climates. China and India are already taking measures to deal with these problems

These potential coal consumers will thus be moving increasingly towards renewable or nuclear energy and energy efficiency. If they do that the investors in new coal mines and export facilities will have stranded assets. Thus potential investors must look ahead, not to make profits in a year or two but to anticipate longer term threats to their investments. They would do much better in the long run by investing in renewable energy technology.

One interesting irony in Australia has been the recent serious flooding of many open cut coal and indeed uranium mines in this country due to increasing heavy rain events. Such an increase was predicted by climate scientists in the early 1990s, but investors took no notice. Now they are having to build bigger tailings dams (in the case of uranium mines) and install pumps, levee banks and better drainage facilities.

It is thus time that businesses and investors took enhanced climate change seriously and planned ahead by investing more appropriately in a changing environment. And it is up to climate change scientists and environmental advocates to get businesses on side. This is serious. Scientists, environmentalists and investors need to work together. That is the second major communication problem. First we must better communicate the risk of extreme effects and secondly we must help investors to understand what this means for them.

Campbell Newman Backflip

Catch the Premier of Queensland in the middle of his Climate Change flip as Mayor of Brisbane. This is before the back flip.

“Two years ago I was a sceptic and then I did my research and now I’m very firmly of the belief that we have to do something about ‘the issue’. … That’s why the Brisbane City Council in the coming financial year will be undertaking one of the most significant climate awareness campaigns.”
What happened Campbell? Did you sell your soul for coal?

Flannery reviews Glikson

m2x4hpERimLJfGSS8n35E7oS0UBz20WpAndrew Glikson, a Canberra-based geologist, is an exception. No better description of the Earth system exists than his Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon (Springer; $106.95), though the slender volume is not for everyone. Its concise, technical language will be heavy going for those with little geology or chemistry. It is, however, a must-read for every engineer and geologist who is in denial about anthropogenic global warming.

At the book’s heart are a series of complex interactions in which the Sun, greenhouse gases and life itself influence conditions at and near Earth’s surface. Here, we are talking of fundamentals: Is the air breathable? Are the oceans acid or alkali? Does life prosper or not? Glikson’s areas of expertise include asteroid impacts and Earth’s early evolution, but he’s no less masterful at describing the changes wrought by the industrial revolution. Earth is revealed in all its manifestations: from an oxygen-free infant with toxic oceans and precious little land 3 billion years ago, to an ageing planet destabilised by a plague of bipedal apes. His description of the ocean during the “greenhouse Earth” episode of 55 million years ago offers a good example of his style:

Elevated CO2 led to acidification of ocean water from ~8.2 to ~7.5 pH and the extinction of 35–50% of benthic foraminifera over ~1000 years.

This neatly summarises countless hours of research, and describes an Earth whose atmosphere was so supercharged by greenhouse gases that the acidifying oceans led to mass extinctions, ecosystem crises and an ocean floor corroded red with acid. Only when conditions are reduced to such simple terms can meaningful comparisons between various crises in Earth’s history be made.

Evolution of the Atmosphere is not all numbers. Glikson’s greatest insight concerns humanity’s acquisition of fire. The massive energy flows and consequent chemical changes unleashed by controlled combustion have, he demonstrates, unbalanced the Earth system, and are now pushing it into a new, hostile state. As Glikson puts it, “Planeticide emerges from the dark recesses of the prehistoric mind, from the fears of humans watching the flames round camp fires, yearning for immortality.”

So how grave, in comparison to earlier episodes in Earth’s history, is current climate change?

The atmospheric CO2 rise from ~280 to 397–400 ppm, with a mean of 0.43 ppm per year … exceeds any measurement in the geological record.

Glikson is telling us, in his own precise way, that the coming extinction crisis may well be worse than that of the greenhouse Earth of 55 million years ago or the extinction of the dinosaurs 10 million years earlier. In the last decade, he writes, “it was becoming clear that Homo sapiens was not going to undertake a meaningful attempt to slow down, arrest, or reverse global warming”.

Writing perhaps of his own awareness of the impending apocalypse, he says that “human insights into nature entail a terrible price”. I’m not so sure we are doomed. There are dawning indications that humanity is using this critical decade to curb at last the use of fossil fuels. Each wind turbine, each solar panel, and each development in battery technology and electric vehicles is a skirmish won. There is no doubt, however, that much remains to be done if we are to stave off Glikson’s predictions.

Burning a billion years of sunlight

Dr Andrew Glickson has released a paper and a book on this topic
Dr Andrew Glickson has released a paper and a book on this topic

A new paper, released last month, measures the impact of burning fossil fuels on a geological timeframe.

Doctor Andrew Glickson’s paper, Fire and Human Evolution, measures the amount of energy, carbon and oxygen stored or created by plants in early geological ages and its rate of release throughout human history.

“Human respiration dissipates 2 to 10 calories per minute, a camp fire covering one square metre releases approximately 180,000 Calories per minute, and the output of a 1000 megawatt/hour power plant expends some 2.4 billion calories per minute, namely some 500 million times the mean energy level of individual human respiration.”

It breaks the era of human intervention in the Earth’s systems (the Anthropocene) into three distinct phases.

  1. Early Anthropocene” ∼2 million years ago, when fire was discovered by Homo ergaster.
  2. Middle Anthropocene” when extensive grain farming developed.
  3. Late Anthropocene” with the onset of combustion of fossil fuels.

Glickson concludes that the discovery of fire leads directly to the consequence of runaway climate change.

“ It would take a species possessing absolute wisdom and total control to prevent its own inventions from getting out of hand.”

This provides academic rigour for the simple contention that by burning a billion years of sunlight in a little over a century we are inevitably going to warm the earth enough to lead to climate chaos.