Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Deep Carbon Cuts - Pathway to US Lower Greenhouse Emissions

Recently the Yale Environment 360 blog recently reported that the United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies, according to researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.

The study analyzed scenarios with four types of decarbonised electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case. The scenarios achieved reductions of 83 percent below 2005 levels and 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to the study, which was released ahead of next month’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, and negotiations in Paris in December 2015.

The energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and industry would need to increase through the use of smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and vehicles will need to be fueled with electricity generated from wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal, the researchers said. They project the net costs would be on the order of 1 percent of gross domestic product per year.

The 80-percent reduction by 2050 is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with the global commitment to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. “One important conclusion is that investment opportunities in clean technologies will arise during the natural rollover and replacement of infrastructure,” said lead author Jim Williams. “The plan calls for non-disruptive, sustained infrastructure transitions that can deeply decarbonise the U.S. by 2050, and enhance its competitive position in the process.”

This is a significant move and one that seems a highly logical pathway to successful outcomes.  

There is more emphasis on energy efficiency, especially retro fitting to buildings, an area that has not greatly been explored in Australia.

While the study outcomes have not yet been included in US government policy, it does seem to point to a solid and logical route for progressing the gains required.

What is the program for Australia?  We seem to be stuck on 5% reduction by 2020, yet more is possible.  It also seems that individuals are also doing more outside of government policies - notably with the development of household PV systems around Australia. The transport fuel issue is a big problem in Australia with vast distances and a small population, but gas would seem to be part of the mix in this case.

I do not yet see a lot of confidence among people with the current direct action program of the federal government, that it could achieve the scale of reductions needed to get to 80% below 2005 levels, especially while most electricity seems to be generated by coal.  However, if these plants were replaced [ even if through old age] by gas or new thorium nuclear plants then much greater reductions might be achievable.  With both India and China developing thorium reactors - that could be an option within 15 years or so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Toilet Day - 2014

It seems simple for those in western society...........the use of a decent toilet.  It is NOT that way for many in developing countries, and particularly in India.  Simple sanitation and hand washing associated with it is a critical issue in developing areas and reducing simple illnesses.

Today marks the second annual UN World Toilet Day, an important opportunity to promote global efforts to achieve universal access to sanitation by 2030. 

With a focus on equality and dignity, this year, World Toilet Day aims to highlight sanitation as a global development priority, especially for women and girls who must compromise their dignity and put their safety at risk when lack of access to sanitation forces them to defecate in the open.

Sanitation impacts multiple sectors of development, but the connection with gender equality is particularly important.

As outlined in a blog by World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender Caren Grown and Senior Director for Water Junaid Ahmad, advancing equality for women in developing countries is not only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense. 

The relationship between gender equality and sanitation and water services is reciprocal. Just as investing in sanitation and water services benefits gender equity, improvements in gender equity can meanwhile advance improved sanitation and water services.

Ending poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity - the World Bank Group’s twin corporate goals - is possible only if we continue pressing to fully understand such obstacles to gender equity and service delivery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Irrigating A New Area of Zoysia Sown by Seed

It is absolutely critical to adequately irrigate a newly sown area of zoysia seed.  Because the seed needs light to germinate, it is sown close to the surface.

The problem with that in warm weather is that the surface normally dries out quickly. You need to use a few tips and tricks to ensure that adequate moisture is available to keep the germination process ticking along, then there is the need for water to sustain the small seedlings, once the seed germinates.

Warmer weather tends to promote faster germination, with 7-10 days often enough to see seedlings in warm conditions, but up to 21 days if cooler.  Remember, a ground temperature of 18 - 20C is about the bottom of the range to even get reasonable germination.  If below this........wait a little longer.

In the sub tropics and tropics, it is possible to sow year round but growth will be slow in cooler months and waiting until the cooler weather is past is often the best idea, as growth really picks up once the days are longer, soil is warmer and night temperatures rise to around 18 -20C.

But the water regime and surface management are very important.

Adding a very light [ I stress light cover] of thin mulch such as sugar cane bagasse or a thin even cover of compost to the soil surface will both help hold moisture close to the surface as well as preventing rapid loss of moisture and acting as a protection barrier if there is heavy rain.  The latter is almost inevitable in the tropics........and you need to plan for it.

Generally it is necessary to also irrigate several times during daylight hours to keep the surface moist....not wringing wet, just moist.  You can use pop up sprinklers -run for a few minutes only.  Unfortunately the output from sprinklers covers quite a range so time cannot be given.  Remember a moist surface, not wringing wet.

Some systems allow many starts each day, but many only allow two or three.  Ideally you need a good irrigation early in the morning and 2 or 3 short bursts during the day, with a modest spray later in the early evening.  Many areas have evaporation rates of 7- 10mm each day if the weather is hot.  Most of that needs to be replaced each day while the area is in the early stages.

Better than using pop up sprinklers is to use small, low pressure, low volume sprinklers used in horticulture  and landscape applications.  These operate on 12mm or 19mm pvc lines and deliver 1-2mm per hour, depending on the pressure.  You also need a pressure reduction valve and inline filter to be most effective.  Several brands are available, with Challenger mk2 a recommended type supplied through Philmac resellers..  These sprinklers have the water distributed evenly across the wetted diameter of the sprinkler, and the droplet impact is low.  They come in a range of diameters [ up to about 12m].  Also, droplets are larger and less prone to wind influence.  Costs for each sprinkler is less than $5 approximately.

These can be operated for an hour or so several times during the day [ through a normal irrigation controller and solenoid valve] to add a modest amount to the surface, refreshing the dampness on the surface.  If operated for longer periods, they are suitable to fully irrigate the area, as they tend to be very efficient sprinklers as well.

Once the area is about 3-4 weeks old, irrigation can be reduced and adjusted to using several days per week [ rather than every day]  and also altering the duration of each irrigation to adequately wet the area, to help create a deep root system.  That bit of drying out between waterings helps promote roots searching for water deeper in the profile to develop a resilient turf area.

Once established, zoysia turf is quite water efficient and tends to be drought tolerant, requiring less water than many other turf grasses of high quality.

Overwatering promotes weeds, especially sedges eg nutgrass and Mullumbimby couch.  Best to be a bit light on with the water on established areas of zoysia!

From the left - dripline, pressure reduction valve, filter , connection to water supply
Enjoy your zoysia turf.  Remember......the payoff is less mowing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Water Use Drops in USA to Level of 45 Years Ago

The latest figures on water use in the United States show that conservation efforts are having an impact.

A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reveals that the volume of water used across the country has reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years.

About 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010. That's a decrease of 13 percent from 2005 when about 410 Bgal/d were withdrawn.

The news was welcomed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"Reaching this 45-year low shows the positive trends in conservation that stem from improvements in water-use technologies and management," commented Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior.
Connor pointed out the reduction comes at a time when the U.S. population is continuing to grow, and demonstrates that people are learning to be more water conscious and helping to sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country.

Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power represented the largest use nationally in 2010. The other leading uses were irrigation, public supply and self-supplied industrial water. Withdrawals declined in each of these categories, USGS said.

Thermoelectric power recorded a 20 percent decrease from five years earlier as a result of more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic habitat and environments, power plant closures and a reduction in the use of coal to fuel power plants.

Looking at industrial withdrawals, the 12 percent decrease since 2005 was put down to factors such as greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and the 2008 U.S. recession, which resulted in lower industrial production in major water-using industries.

Overall, more than half of the total water withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Alabama and Ohio.

Some great developments in water management - but a long way to go still.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Cannot Stop the Advance of GM Technology

Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) chair Ken Matthews says some Australian governments are “gutless” when it comes to giving farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops.

The former secretary of both the Australian agriculture and transport departments made the no-nonsense observation in a detailed outline of global and domestic attitudes on biotechnology at the National Farmers' Federation Congress in Canberra last week.  

Mr Matthews summed up by saying Australia suffers from not having a more objective, science-based discussion about agricultural biotechnology.  “It’s really important that Australia has practicing farmers speak up for agricultural biotechnology because it’s practicing farmers that will be persuasive.”  The ongoing anti-GM campaign is one of the “big risks” facing the technology’s development, he said.

“There is a great suspicion of science and scientists in public debate in Australia and there has been a very effective campaign by NGOs (non-government organisations) which has influenced public opinion.

“As a result, what worries me is that environmentally responsible farmers - who tend in many other areas to be leaders of farm opinion - can often be ambivalent about GM.  “The pro-GM constituency among farmers is therefore not as strong as it could be in Australia.”

Governments need to lead

Mr Matthews said attitudes held by the general public, consumers, environmentalists and media were also central problems in the GM debate.

But his strongest criticism was reserved for various governments that refuse to allow GM crops to be cultivated, despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

“Some governments in Australia are – and I use this word carefully – gutless,” he said.

“There are total bans on GM in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT,” he said.

“There are moratoriums in WA and NSW but there are certainly exemptions for that. In my view they (total bans) aren’t rationally based; they aren’t properly founded in science.

“Those moratoria need to be ended and we need to avoid further mandatory labelling requirements, unless they can be justified.”

Hinting at the recent high profile legal case involving neighbouring organic and GM farmers, Steve Marsh and Mike Baxter in Kojonup WA, Mr Matthews said the problem with reconciling organic standards and GM crops also “needs to be tackled”.

He said there were three inescapable truths about biotechnology: the first being that it provides a critical opportunity to lift the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian agriculture over the next 20 years.

Secondly, he said biotechnology was critical to meeting rapidly rising global food needs. 

And thirdly, biotechnology will inevitably continue to attract “suspicion and opposition” in some community sectors, slowing its development.

Mr Matthews said that opposition was based on four key concerns: food safety; environmental damage; “agrochemical industry domination” and “a roundup of ethical and religious issues”.

However, he said science delivered a very clear message about the safety of GM technology.

GM safety scientifically proven

Mr Matthews said more than 100 of the world’s independent science oversight bodies, including “very authoritative and credible organisations” in the US and Europe, shared a consensus that GM crops are “as safe as conventional varieties - and often safer because of the extensive approval process they need to go through”.  “The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of GM safety, assuming that we continue with the sound regulatory processes that we have,” he said.  “There have now been 3 trillion meals (consumed) involving or including GM and there’s been not one recorded case of harm.  “There have been 70 billion animals which have been feeding on GM feed of some sort, and not one recorded case of harm.”

Mr Matthews said a recent European review of over 1700 scientific studies around the world about environmental impacts of GM concluded that there was little or no evidence GM crops caused negative environmental impacts.

“To me, as a student of public policy, it’s really interesting that the environment movement is very keen for science to be heard in the climate change debate - but where the science is very clear, no one seems to want to know about biotechnology,” he said.

Mr Matthews faced a question from the floor at the NFF Congress from NSW Farmers executive councillor Gai Marshall, referring to the controversial Seralini rat study on GM corn, which purported to find the GM feed caused tumour growth. Ms Marshall said she wasn’t against growing GM but wanted to see greater traceability.

Mr Matthews said the Seralini piece of science had been retracted. “It has been rejected, it has been withdrawn,” he said.  “The peer review, the second time around, found it totally discredited.”

A solution to global food security?

Mr Matthews said the problems GM could solve were “unprecedented in history”.

He said there are huge farm business opportunities from potential GM products like self-fertilising plants that could “revolutionise agriculture and certainly would decouple agriculture from the oil industry”.

GM crops also had a key role to play in aiding the future food demand task as the world’s population grows from 7.2 billion now to 9.6 billion by 2050, with decreasing land and water to develop globally - 800 million people already go to bed hungry each night and 1 billion people are chronically undernourished, he said.

“In the meantime, if I can be a bit provocative, there are some pretty comfortable western based NGOs which continue to oppose and to slow down biotechnology, on non-scientific, without evidence grounds,” he said.

Mr Matthews said a striking example of that argument was the fact 250 million children are currently suffering from vitamin A deficiency but GM food crops with existing solutions “are having trouble getting mobilised”.  “Norman Borlaug, said to be the father of the green revolution, said once that if the naysayers do stop agricultural GM they might actually precipitate those famines and crises they’ve been predicting for years,” he said.

Mr Matthews said the technology’s uptake was unprecedented, with 79 per cent of global soybean area and 70pc of global cotton area now GM.  “Growers are certainly not changing their mind and going back after they trial GM,” he said.

“Over the last 200 years there have been several waves of innovation in agriculture such as mechanisation, conventional plant breeding, chemical fertilisers and chemical herbicides.

“But none of them has been adopted as rapidly as GM seeds and I can tell you that animal-based GM is coming up very fast behind them.  “One eighth of global farm land is now GM, so this is a sort of mega bus that will not be stoppable.”

Mr Matthews said GM offers varieties with production benefits like faster growth rates and yields, drought tolerance, pesticide reduction and nutrient efficiency.

He said exciting work is also happening to generate varieties with consumer and health benefits like foods with fewer saturated fats, zero allergens, increased dietary fibre, reduced natural toxins, higher protein levels, built in vaccines, cholesterol management, and vitamin A.

“Benefits do flow to big biotech companies but perversely the regulatory costs - as a consequence of pressure from the opponents of GM - now make approvals just out of reach for anyone but the big firms,” he said.  “As an example, a single new GM trait may now cost $139 million, including $35 million just for the approvals part of that, and around the world it takes five-and-a-half years on average to gain a single new approval.

“Are those costs and time problems squeezing out public good innovations such as environmental public health innovations or small market GM innovations?”

Need to build trust

Mr Matthews said Australia grew GM canola and GM cotton and had great strengths in the area, with a world class regulatory system and plant breeding expertise.

But he said a three-part plan was needed to help overcome the slow progress of biotechnology development.

He said a constituency of biotechnology supporters was needed to build understanding of the potential benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and society as a whole.  “We need to build community confidence and trust in Australia’s regulatory arrangements,” he said.  “We do need to be respectful of ethical concerns about biotechnology, but at the same time we need to give voice to the beneficiaries, and I think of those kids in Africa.

“When people are talking grandly about ethical concerns about biotechnology I worry about starving kids in Africa.  “We need to focus research more on benefits to consumers, to the environment, to society and we need to find some champions.” 

[ based on an article in the online edition of Qld Country Life 4 Nov 2014]