The end of the Middle East

14 03 2017

I have to say, I am seriously chuffed that Nafeez Ahmed is calling it, as I have been for years now…. In a lengthy but well worth reading article in the Middle East Eye, Nafeez explains the convoluted reasons why we have the current turmoil in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. He doesn’t mention Egypt – yet – but to be fair, the article’s focus in on Mosul and the implications of the disaster unfolding there……

It never ceases to amaze me how Egypt has managed to stay off the news radar. Maybe the populace is too starved to revolt again….

After oil, rice and medicines, sugar has run out in Egypt, as the country has announced a devaluation of 48% of its currency. In Egypt, about 68 million of the total 92 million people receive food subsidized by the State through small consumer stores run by the Ministry of supply and internal trade. After shortages of oil, rice and milk, and even medicines, now sugar scarcity has hit the country. Nearly three quarters of the population completely rely on the government stores for their basic needs.

Egypt produces 2 million tons of sugar a year but has to import 3 million to face domestic demand. However imports have become too expensive.  The country is expected to receive a loan of 12 billion dollars (11 billion euros) from the International monetary Fund (IMF) to tackle its food scarcity. The price for sugar in supermarkets and black markets are skyrocketing as well, with a kilogram costing around 15 pounds. If available, one could get sugar from subsidized government stores for 0.50 euros per kilo.

Nafeez goes into great and interesting detail re the dismaying shenanigans going on in nafeezIraq and Syria at the moment. I’ll leave it to you to go through what he wrote on the Middle East Eye site on those issues, but what struck me as relevant to what this blog is about is how well they correlate with my own thoughts here…..:

Among my findings is that IS was born in the crucible of a long-term process of ecological crisis. Iraq and Syria are both experiencing worsening water scarcity. A string of scientific studies has shown that a decade-long drought cycle in Syria, dramatically intensified by climate change, caused hundreds and thousands of mostly Sunni farmers in the south to lose their livelihoods as crops failed. They moved into the coastal cities, and the capital, dominated by Assad’s Alawite clan. 

Meanwhile, Syrian state revenues were in terminal decline because the country’s conventional oil production peaked in 1996. Net oil exports gradually declined, and with them so did the clout of the Syrian treasury. In the years before the 2011 uprising, Assad slashed domestic subsidies for food and fuel.

While Iraqi oil production has much better prospects, since 2001 production levels have consistently remained well below even the lower-range projections of the industry, mostly because of geopolitical and economic complications. This weakened economic growth, and consequently, weakened the state’s capacity to meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

Drought conditions in both Iraq and Syria became entrenched, exacerbating agricultural failures and eroding the living standards of farmers. Sectarian tensions simmered. Globally, a series of climate disasters in major food basket regions drove global price spikes. The combination made life economically intolerable for large swathes of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.

Outside powers – the US, Russia, the Gulf states, Turkey and Iran – all saw the escalating Syrian crisis as a potential opportunity for themselves. As the ensuing Syrian uprising erupted into a full-blown clash between the Assad regime and the people, the interference of these powers radicalised the conflict, hijacked Sunni and Shia groups on the ground, and accelerated the de-facto collapse of Syria as we once knew it.  

AND…..

Meanwhile, across the porous border in Iraq, drought conditions were also worsening. As I write in Failing States, Collapsing Systems, there has been a surprising correlation between the rapid territorial expansion of IS, and the exacerbation of local drought conditions. And these conditions of deepening water scarcity are projected to intensify in coming years and decades.

An Iraqi man walks past a canoe siting on dry, cracked earth in the Chibayish marshes near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in 2015 (AFP)

The discernable pattern here forms the basis of my model: biophysical processes generate interconnected environmental, energy, economic and food crises – what I call earth system disruption (ESD). ESD, in turn, undermines the capacity of regional states like Iraq and Syria to deliver basic goods and services to their populations. I call this human system destabilisation (HSD).

As states like Iraq and Syria begin to fail as HSD accelerates, those responding – whether they be the Iraqi and Syrian governments, outside powers, militant groups or civil society actors – don’t understand that the breakdowns happening at the levels of state and infrastructure are being driven by deeper systemic ESD processes. Instead, the focus is always on the symptom: and therefore the reaction almost always fails entirely to even begin to address earth system sisruption.

So Bashar al-Assad, rather than recognising the uprising against his regime as a signifier of a deeper systemic shift – symptomatic of a point-of-no-return driven by bigger environmental and energy crises – chose to crackdown on his narrow conception of the problem: angry people.

Even more importantly, Nafeez also agrees with my predictions regarding Saudi Arabia…

The Gulf states are next in line. Collectively, the major oil producers might have far less oil than they claim on their books. Oil analysts at Lux Research estimate that OPEC oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 70 percent. The upshot is that major producers like Saudi Arabia could begin facing serious challenges in sustaining the high levels of production they are used to within the next decade.

Another clear example of exaggeration is in natural gas reserves. Griffiths argues that “resource abundance is not equivalent to an abundance of exploitable energy”.

While the region holds substantial amounts of natural gas, underinvestment due to subsidies, unattractive investment terms, and “challenging extraction conditions” have meant that Middle East producers are “not only unable to monetise their reserves for export, but more fundamentally unable to utilise their reserves to meet domestic energy demands”. 

Starting to sound familiar..? We are doing the exact same thing here in Australia…. It’s becoming ever more clear that Limits to Growth equates to scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the scraping sounds are getting louder by the day.

And oil depletion is only one dimension of the ESD processes at stake. The other is the environmental consequence of exploiting oil.

Over the next three decades, even if climate change is stabilised at an average rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the Max Planck Institute forecasts that the Middle East and North Africa will still face prolonged heatwaves and dust storms that could render much of the region “uninhabitable”. These processes could destroy much of the region’s agricultural potential.

Nafeez finishes with a somewhat hopeful few paragraphs.

Broken models

While some of these climate processes are locked in, their impacts on human systems are not. The old order in the Middle East is, unmistakably, breaking down. It will never return.

But it is not – yet – too late for East and West to see what is actually happening and act now to transition into the inevitable future after fossil fuels.

The battle for Mosul cannot defeat the insurgency, because it is part of a process of human system destabilisation. That process offers no fundamental way of addressing the processes of earth system disruption chipping away at the ground beneath our feet.

The only way to respond meaningfully is to begin to see the crisis for what it is, to look beyond the dynamics of the symptoms of the crisis – the sectarianism, the insurgency, the fighting – and to address the deeper issues. That requires thinking about the world differently, reorienting our mental models of security and prosperity in a way that captures the way human societies are embedded in environmental systems – and responding accordingly.

At that point, perhaps, we might realise that we’re fighting the wrong war, and that as a result, no one is capable of winning.

The way the current crop of morons in charge is behaving, I feel far less hopeful that someone will see the light. There aren’t even worthwhile alternatives to vote for at the moment…  If anything, they are all getting worse at ‘leading the world’ (I of course use the term loosely..), not better. Nor is the media helping, focusing on politics rather than the biophysical issues discussed here.

 





Climate, Energy, Economy: Pick Two

7 07 2016

Another darn good read from Raul Ilargi of Automatic Earth…..

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We used to have this saying that if someone asks you to do a job good, fast and cheap, you’d say: pick two. You can have it good and cheap, but then it won’t be fast, etc. As our New Zealand correspondent Dr. Nelson Lebo III explains below, when it comes to our societies we face a similar issue with our climate, energy and the economy.

Not the exact same, but similar, just a bit more complicated. You can’t have your climate nice and ‘moderate’, your energy cheap and clean, and your economy humming along just fine all at the same time. You need to make choices. That’s easy to understand.

Where it gets harder is here: if you pick energy and economy as your focus, the climate suffers (for climate you can equally read ‘the planet’, or ‘the ecosystem’). Focus on climate and energy, and the economy plunges. So far so ‘good’.

But when you emphasize climate and economy, you get stuck. There is no way the two can be ‘saved’ with our present use of fossil fuels, and our highly complex economic systems cannot run on renewables (for one thing, the EROEI is not nearly good enough).

It therefore looks like focusing on climate and economy is a dead end. It’s either/or. Something will have to give, and moreover, many things already have. Better be ahead of the game if you don’t want to be surprised by these things. Be resilient.

But this is Nelson’s piece, not mine. The core of his argument is worth remembering:

Everything that is not resilient to high energy prices and extreme weather events will become economically unviable…

…and approach worthlessness. On the other hand,…

Investments of time, energy, and money in resilience will become more economically valuable…

Here’s Nelson:

 

 

Nelson Lebo: There appear to be increasing levels of anxiety among environmental activists around the world and in my own community in New Zealand. After all, temperature records are being set at a pace equal only to that of Stephen Curry and LeBron James in the NBA Finals. A recent Google news headline said it all: “May is the 8th consecutive month to break global temperature records.”

In other words, October of last year set a record for the highest recorded global monthly temperature, and then it was bettered by November, which was bettered by December, January, and on through May. The hot streak is like that of Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France dominance, but we all know how that turned out in the end.

Making history – like the Irish rugby side in South Africa recently – is usually a time to celebrate. Setting a world record would normally mean jubilation – not so when it comes to climate.

Responses to temperature records range from sorrow, despair, anger, and even fury. Anyone with children or grandchildren (and even the childless) who believes in peer review and an overwhelming scientific consensus has every right to feel these emotions. So why do I feel only resignation?

We are so far down the track at this point that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Remember the warnings 30 years ago that we needed 30 years to make the transition to a low carbon economy or else there would be dire consequences? Well, in case you weren’t paying attention, it didn’t happen.

While these warnings were being issued by scientists much of the world doubled down – Trump-like – on Ford Rangers, Toyota Tacomas, and other sport utility vehicles. The same appears to be happening now, with the added element that we are experiencing the dire consequences as scientists issue even more warnings and drivers buy even more ‘light trucks’. Forget Paris, the writing was on the wall at Copenhagen.

 

The bottom line is that most people will (and currently do) experience climate change as a quality of life issue, and quality of life is related to a certain extent to disposable income. Acting or not acting proactively or reactively on climate change is expensive and gets more expensive every day.

If the international community ever takes collective action on climate change it will make individuals poorer because the cost of energy will rise significantly. If the international community fails to act, individuals will be made poorer because of the devastating effects of extreme weather events – like last year’s historic floods where I live as well as in northern England, etc – shown to be on the increase over the last 40 years in hundreds of peer-reviewed papers with verifiable data.

And here is the worst part: most economies around the world rely on some combination of moderate climate and cheap fossil fuels. For example, our local economy is heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism, making it exceptionally vulnerable to both acting AND not acting on climate change.

Drought hurts rural economies and extreme winds and rainfall can cost millions in crop damage as well as repairs to fencing, tracks and roads. As a result, both farmers and ratepayers have fewer dollars in their pockets to spend on new shoes, a night out, or a family trip. This is alongside living in a degraded environment post-disaster. The net result is a negative impact on quality of life: damned if we don’t.

On the other hand, tourism relies on inexpensive jet fuel and petrol to get the sightseers and thrill seekers to and around the world with enough dollars left over to slosh around local economies. Think about all of the service sector jobs that rely on tourism that in turn depend entirely on a continuous supply of cheap fuel. (This is not to mention peak oil and the lack of finance available to fund any long and expensive transition to an alternative energy world.) I’m told 70% of US jobs are in the service sector, most of which rely on inexpensive commuting and/or a highly mobile customer base.

Any significant approach to curbing carbon emissions in the short term will result in drastic increases to energy prices. The higher the cost of a trip from A to Z the less likely it is to be made. As a result, business owners and ratepayers at Z will have fewer dollars in their pockets to spend on new shoes, a night out, or a family vacation of their own. The net result is a negative impact on their quality of life: damned if we do.

 

I suppose it deserves repeating: most OECD economies and the quality of life they bring rely on both moderate climate and cheap fossil fuels, but these are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, regardless of emissions decisions made by the international community, we are already on track for decades of temperature records and extreme weather events that will cost billions if not trillions of dollars.

The response in many parts of the world has been to protest. That’s cool, but you can’t protest a drought – the drought does not care. You can’t protest a flood – the flood does not care. And even if the protests are successful at influencing government policies – which I hope long-term they are – we are still on track for decades of climatic volatility and the massive price tags for clean up and repair.

Go ahead and protest, people, but you better get your house in order at the same time, and that means build resilience in every way, shape and form.

Resilience is the name of the game, and I was impressed with Kyrie Irving’s post NBA game seven remarks that the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrated great resilience as a team.

As I wrote here at TAE over a year ago, Resilience Is The New Black. If you don’t get it you’re not paying attention.

This article received a wide range of responses from those with incomplete understandings of the situation as well as those in denial – both positions dangerous for their owners as well as friends and neighbours.

The double bind we find ourselves in by failing to address the issue three decades ago is a challenge to put it mildly. Smart communities recognize challenges and respond accordingly. The best response is to develop resilience in the following areas: ecological, equity, energy and economic.

The first two of these I call the “Pope Index” because Francis has identified climate change and wealth inequality as the greatest challenges facing humanity. Applying the Pope Index to decision making is easy – simply ask yourself if decisions made in your community aggravate climate change and wealth inequality or alleviate them.

For the next two – energy and economics – I take more of a Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (credit, Thom Hartmann) perspective that I think is embraced by many practicing permaculturists. Ancient sunlight (fossil fuels) is on its way out and if we do not use some to build resilient infrastructure on our properties and in our communities it will all be burned by NASCAR, which in my opinion would be a shame.

As time passes, everything that is not resilient to high energy prices and extreme weather events will become economically unviable and approach worthlessness.

On the other hand, investments of time, energy, and money in resilience will become more economically valuable as the years pass.

Additionally, the knowledge, skills and experience gained while developing resilience are the ultimate in ‘job security’ for an increasingly volatile future.

If you know it and can do it and can teach it you’ll be sweet. If not, get onto it before it’s too late.





Food for thought…..

1 07 2016

I recently published an item about the jetstream crossing the equator. At the time, I said I didn’t know what to make of it, and now it turns out to be bogus…… so I’ve pulled it.

Two bloggers have made a stunning claim that has spread like wildfire on the Internet: They say the Northern Hemisphere jet stream, the high-altitude river of winds that separates cold air from warm air, has done something new and outrageous. They say it has crossed the equator, joining the jet stream in the Southern Hemisphere. One said this signifies that the jet stream is ‘wrecked‘, the other said it means we have a “global climate emergency.”

But these shrill claims have no validity — air flow between the hemispheres occurs routinely. The claims are unsupported and unscientific, and they demonstrate the danger of wild assertions made by non-experts reaching and misleading the masses.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/06/30/claim-that-jet-stream-crossing-equator-is-climate-emergency-is-utter-nonsense/

Just goes to show, you cannot believe everything you read on the internet, and frankly, I’m relieved as someone who staunchly believes the only place to live is as far away from the Northern Hemisphere..!

Below is Mark Cochrane’s latest offering…..

markcochrane2

Mark Cochrane

Having just come back from a new region of agricultural development in Brazil and seeing some new research just out on related issues in other regions I thought I´d illustrate some of the climate-related issues in our global food production that we are facing.

Here in Brazil, agricultural expansion has been a large part of the regional economy and is the only actual growth sector in a country mired in political chaos and economic contraction (link). That said, much like the search for new energy sources, new agricultural lands are cut from the landscape on increasingly marginal lands.

With the development of soybean cultivars that could survive short day lengths near the equator and expanding global markets, this crop first spread through the Brazilian Cerrado and then into the southern Amazon, converting native vegetation to agricultural lands and even pushing cattle operations out of the way as pasturelands were bought up. Corn, cotton, sorghum and coffee have also spread to lesser degrees. Soils, climate, pests and infrastructure (or lack thereof) have provided challenges all along the way.

Despite this, the industry has thrived and land prices have soared to the point that new frontiers have opened up including the so called Matopiba region, which is an acronym for an amorphous area at the junction of Maranhâo, Tocantins, Piaui, and Bahia states. The region was originally passed over because it was considered unprofitable to farm but high commodity prices, technological breakthroughs and cheap land prices have driven exponential growth of farming and whole cities to spring up in the last 15 years that are impressive, if tenuous.

Nobody mentions the soils because they are uniformly poor and acidic. Lime applications are needed to lock up the toxic aluminum and fertilizers are needed to get decent crop growth. The region is dry, and though irrigation has not always been needed, it has proven critical over the last five years of unprecedented drought. There were 10 good years of production but now many are losing money with drought stunted crops and low production. Planted crop varieties are GM variants of Bt cultivars. Trying to plant anything else has proven a monetary disaster. Despite this built in biological pesticide, repeated applications of chemical pesticides are necessary as well, with 10-15 applications per growing season common! One farmer needed 30 applications in a single six-month season. It is safe to say that the insects are building up resistance rapidly and the local aquifers will not be pure for long. Interestingly, water is less limiting than the cost of actually pumping it for irrigation purposes.Energy is expensive and unreliable.

I mention all of this because these sorts of regions and problems are inherent in all ´new´ lands being brought into production to try to feed our planet´s exploding population. These areas are incredibly vulnerable to changing climate, commodity prices, energy prices, pests and pathogens. It takes a lot of effort to bring them into production but they could dry up and blow away all too easily. Management of production in these sorts of areas is necessary and difficult to mitigate and adapt to climate changes.

New research  (Challinor et al. 2016) indicates that breeding, delivery and adoption of new climate appropriate variants of crops (maize in this case) may not be able to keep up with the changing conditions likely in the coming decades. Much like conversion to a new energy source can take decades to implement after development, planting new variants of a crop or more appropriate crops for a changing climate can take decades to permeate a region, especially in developing countries. The upshot being that productivity levels are likely to fall over time with changing climates.

On the front of dubious good news, a large ´water windfall´ has been discovered underneath California´s Central Valley. Up to three times as much water as was previously estimated may reside under this region which sounds like a great thing until you realize that much of this new water resource resides between 300 and 3,000 meters below the surface (Kang and Jackson 2016). These water reserves may not be economically accessible for irrigation purposes and are complicated by the numerous (35,000!) oil and gas wells that currently perforate it (link). Never mind the fact that the land itself has been sinking rapidly with groundwater pumping.

When you are contemplating the viability of pumping water from more than a mile beneath the surface in order to water your crops, it is clear that the battle to maintain production is being lost. If power cannot be generated extremely cheaply then this region, the most productive in the United States, will fall out of production in the not too distant future for anything but dryland agriculture.

The take home message here is that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain current agricultural production levels at a time when we need to dramatically increase them to feed rapidly growing human populations. There may never have been a better time to take up gardening to ensure a modicum of calories for your family…





We can fix it….

28 05 2016

markcochrane2

Mark Cochrane

Another gem from Mark Cochrane….

It is simply human nature I guess to forever fight to maintain the status quo if we cannot improve upon it, in a shortsighted manner. It is reasonable to question whether any problematic situation is simply a momentary problem that can be ignored over the long run or is just a minor correction that can be compensated for with a tweak here and there, but there is rarely if ever a serious consideration of changing economic or social course voluntarily. Politicians cannot sell pain to the masses even if they can consider it themselves.

The latest example I saw today was from India.

India to ‘divert rivers’ to tackle drought

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government’s top priority.

At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.

The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.

The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation.

What could possibly go wrong with this? Since no studies have been done no one really knows but there are good reasons to suspect there will be many problems. Taking polluted or poisoned waters from diminished rivers such as the Ganges (link) and spreading them across the land or into other river courses is unlikely to greatly benefit the recipients or the dying rivers. However, given that India has had poor monsoon rains the last two years and is questionably facing its worst-ever water crisis (link), it is not surprising that there are efforts to appear to be doing great things to address the problems. Even if the rivers can be harnessed to support strained agricultural and power needs, despite the ecological costs, it does little to address the underlying problems of melting ice in the Himalayan headwaters or the rapidly draining aquifers. Those aquifers currently supply 85% of the nation’s drinking water but levels are dropping in 56% of the country (link).

India has a population of 1.3 billion and growing. Soon, years like 2016 will become the norm for water availability unless serious adaptations and mitigation efforts are made. However, instead of making serious efforts to improve efficiency of the woefully inadequate water systems, there will be a major effort to ‘fix’ everything with some massive crony-funding projects that will further impact the region’s ecosystems while doing little to manage the real problems of population and changing hydrology.

India is not unique in this though. You can look at China’s Three Gorges dam, Brazil’s massive efforts to install hundreds of dams across the Amazon, Ethiopia’s damming the Blue Nile above Egypt’s existing Aswan Dam or the United States dams and project including its (mis-) management of the Colorado river for examples of trying to engineer solutions to water/energy scarcity. Water is much more precious than oil when scarcity bites.

Whether we are talking about water, oil, fish or anything else the question is always how to get more instead of how to need less. Regardless of rules, treaties, or laws, expect the grab for resources to increase as true scarcity looms. This will likely hold true with climate change as well since ‘geoengineering’ is always in the wings as the proposed cure to our current ills. Why us less water when we can potentially make it rain more (here), or cut greenhouse gas emissions when we can make more clouds to keep it cooler (at what cost?).

I’ve got an engineering degree of my own and so I understand the Siren’s song of a technological ‘fix’. It is a strategy that has worked well for us for a long time now. It can still work well if we just set the parameters and incentives right. Challenge people to do more with less and they will. We need to get off of the uncontrolled ‘growth’ of consumption at all cost mantra and move to one more like continued growth in well-being of human populations and ecosystems. On a finite world there really isn’t another sustainable option.





Peak Farming….?

15 01 2016

As the financial system unravels, the weather goes ballistic all over the world, and the demands of a growing population increase the pressure on food production, breaking strains are starting to appear.  The perfect storm of Peak Debt, Climate Change, and even Peak Oil in its own pervert way are starting to even emerge in mainstream media. Except of course, they don’t call it what I call it, but nonetheless, the signs are here.

This appeared on the ABC’s news website this morning:

Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce hears calls for Queensland Government to set up own bank

Graziers struggling with debt in drought-declared North Queensland have lashed out and broken down in front of visiting politicians and economists.

The Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce met about 40 farmers in Ayr on Thursday to discuss what some called “criminal” and “disgraceful” behaviour by banks.

“You will starve — the whole country will starve” if governments do not “pull their heads in” and bail out the industry, one man warned.

People always look at me blankly when I mention food shortages in Australia……  ‘Is he mad?’  But there you have it, the farmers aren’t stupid.  AND we still have oil to farm with! What do they think……..  no, know, will happen when we start having fuel shortages?  And not too soon either the way the price of oil is going, now under $30 as I write.

The gathering heard some lenders were devaluing properties across the region by up to 30 per cent, forcing graziers to pay higher interest rates because the loans were now considered higher risk.

Nicole Foss was right all along, obviously….. deflation is here alright.

Taskforce chairman and Mount Isa MP Rob Katter again argued the Queensland Government should set up its own bank to takeover loans from private lenders.

“These things are effective instruments. They keep industries going,” he said.

Proof politicians have no idea.  Mind you, what else could you expect from someone wanting an ethanol industry?

Once upon a time, farming was about producing excess food to feed the masses. Now, farmers buy food in supermarkets, and work for money, trapped in the Matrix. Now I have an aware farmer for a neighbour, we have interesting discussions over the fence or over a beer or cider…. Thank goodness some people understand me, and what is going on…. otherwise we’d all go the way of the suicide wave happening in the Indian farming sector.





Tasmania’s electricity woes

8 01 2016

Before putting my dear other half on a plane back to Queensland, I took her for a tour of the North West. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the Tarkine, so we’ll have to do it again some time when Glenda returns to Tassie.

We drove through the high country hydro electric network as part of the sight seeing trip, and made some interesting discoveries. Not least that Tasmania could be in a whole lot of strife thanks to a prolonged drought following what I think was the driest winter on record. No climate change here though, move right along…. the drought is so bad, there’s a huge hay shortage for this season’s animal feed, and hay bales are going for three times the normal price, causing, apparently, some thieving to occur. There’s even talk of importing feed from Indonesia, causing some concern for Tasmania’s bio-security…. and if all the farmers start destocking at the same time, the price of lamb and beef will probably collapse.

The alarming thing we saw though was just how low the dams are. We stopped at Lake Burbury for a break, and saw a brand new concrete boat ramp probably one hundred metres long recently built to the water line which is now at least twelve metres below the maximum (and I expect normal) water line…..

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Lake Burbury, way down at the water line

When I worked for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission at the start of my working career, I used to manually calculate the capacity of various water reservoirs and plot this volume against the depth of the water. Half the capacity resides roughly in the top 20% of the dams, so it comes as no surprise to me to be told Tasmania’s dams are at 24% capacity today.

As a result of such low dam volumes, Tasmania has been importing dirty brown coal power from Victoria. This wasn’t supposed to happen, in fact the opposite of this was the whole idea behind Basslink, Tasmania was supposed to export clean hydro power to Victoria….. but there you go, the future is now, and it’s full of surprises.

You see, Bass Link is broken. “TASMANIA’S electricity highway has come to a costly standstill because of a fault in the $800 million Basslink ­undersea cable” says the Mercury. All this technology everyone so foolishly believes in has its problems, and they can be costly to fix. This could go on long enough that the powers that be have decided to stall the sale of a gas powered back up power station up North in the Tamar so that it can be restarted to bolster generation capacity. Where’s the gas coming from? Well, not Tasmania, let me tell you….

I have to admit though that the hydro infrastructure is mightily impressive; and much older than I realised. I guess Tasmania must’ve had electricity for most of the 20th Century, but I had not really thought about when all this stuff was built.

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Waddamana Hydro Museum

I knew from visiting the Waddamana museum two years ago that the 7MW hydro power station was built in 1910, for a Zinc smelter no less. But much of what has since been built happened during the depression…. which is when the 90MW Tarraleah station was built. About as close as you can get to smack bang in the middle of Tasmania, this 80 year old bit of technology still impresses. The penstocks feeding the turbines down below on the Nive River fall over 200 metres, accelerating the water to a staggering 270 km/h…. it’s a wonder any of it holds together still!

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Tarraleah Station on the Nive R

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Tarraleah penstocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, listening to the radio down here in the far South, you can hear the electricity industry’s captains of industry moaning about the high cost of the feed in tariff, all 8c/kWh of it!

These people are clearly not interested in generating the clean power we all think we have to have, they’re only obsessed about the profits they can derive from it. Obviously, this is what happens when you privatise essential services. And still the majority votes for the capitalist parties. It’s mind blowing, really.

Back on my own in Geeveston now, it’s back to the grind as soon as I save this post. More tree clearing to be done, black currants to harvest, cherry trees to de-slug, getting chooks today; and tomorrow I’m finally meeting the structural engineer for our house building, and Monday hopefully will see an order put in for our double glazing before the economy tanks. The signs aren’t good, this early in the year too. Wish me luck!





Mark Cochrane on the Washington State drought

21 07 2015

Glenda and I visited the state of Washington in the NW of the US way back in 1979.  It was lush and green, much like Tasmania. Peppered with lakes and snow topped mountains, it was one of the highlights of our trip.  Now read what Mark has to report following his camping holiday there just recently….

Just checking in to say that I haven’t disappeared completely. I finally bugged out on a vacation worthy of the name for the first time in 5 years and dragged my family all over the Pacific Northwest. Kudos to T2H for such excellent reporting on the plethora of news about the drought all throughout western North America. Not to mention cooking up a mean burger!

Having just driven over 10,000 km throughout the region I can attest to the extensive drought and the impacts of the all but absent snow pack from the last year. The heat wave we went through was like nothing I had previous seen in the area. From 40.5 degrees in Missoula, MT to 39 in Yakima, WA, 39+ in the Columbia River Gorge and 41 in central Oregon. Everything was crispy and primed to burn. The only upside of the heat was the lack of any wind to drive a fire. Over on the Olympic peninsula I was shocked to see all of the brown grass everywhere. Something I never saw when I lived out there. I was out to the National Park (temperate rain forest) but didn’t see the recently discovered fire that is working through those ancient forests. Lakes were low everywhere and many rivers were down. I was shocked to see that the sturgeon are now dying around the Bonneville dam and upriver as we visited it and were impressed with  the fish management that they are doing.

Eastern Washington was dry but one thing that was clear is that no one is lacking for irrigation water yet. Driving across the state looks like one long fountain every day. Up on Mount Rainier I can anecdotaly say that the birds seem thirsty. They were big on robbing grapes from us and couldn’t care less about chips and such from our picnic! The Nisqually river was pathetically low for this time of year which is more a function of the lack of snow than the melting glacier. Clear blue skies in Seattle and all along the Washington and Oregon coast was appreciated but damned odd. My family now thinks that is normal but I assured them it is not.

One highlight of our trip was facilitated by Adam [from Peak Prosperity] who put us in contact with Paul and Elizabeth of Singing Frogs Farm so that we could visit them in person. If anyone hasn’t already listened to their podcast I highly recommend it (link). Everything I saw there with my own eyes bears witness to what they speak about. Add me to the list of people who hope that they will be asked to return and cover other aspects of their remarkable operation in detail. Water management being one obvious key aspect of interest. We speak about many disturbing and downright depressing topics on this thread and the PP site so it is much appreciated to have something so positive and inspiring to discuss. It is a much better model for farming.

By way of contrast we also drove across the Central Valley with its amazing array of agriculture and serious water stress issues. There was plenty of irrigation and little sign of anyone lacking water but there were no end of placards and billboards expressing the gravity of the issues for the economy and jobs. I was amazed to see new orchards of almonds still being planted at this point though since my impression was that more were being plowed under. One very scary part of the experience for me was driving through miles and miles of endless crops and never once having a single insect hit my windshield. An endless buffet but it is still an insect desert. They’ve killed everything which makes you wonder just how much pesticide is being used. Also, if bugs can’t even eat the stuff, should we?