When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes take me sailing. He regularly crewed the boat of a friend, a man who will forever live large in my imagination for his custom of wearing a pair of underpants on his head as a hat.
A man like that deserves to live large in everyone’s imagination.
After spending the afternoon hurling my lunch over the side, the adventure would conclude - as all maritime adventures must - in the pub. The men would order a beer each, a lemon squash and aspirin for me, and one of them would tear open a packet of chips in such a way that everyone could share. Then they’d crap on about stuff that adult males crap on about.
An enduring subject of discussion was the owner of the establishment, a stout lady of hair-trigger temperament with masses of curly blond locks. Boy, how it tickled my funny bone to hear her referred to (affectionately, to be sure) as Miss Piggy.
Lacking the filter adults use to differentiate between things to blurt and things best unblurted, I relayed my enthusiasm for the nickname to Pig-minor, a lad at my school, three years older and an order of magnitude bigger and meaner than I, the runt of my grade.
Take it for granted that it hurt a lot when he poleaxed my jaw.
Fair enough. I deserved it.
And thus, just as Pig-little’s fist smashed into my gums, we smash into the subject of this article. Some things are better left unsaid. But should they be said, the speaker must accept responsibility.
Australia’s freshly-culled Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, returned not-so-long ago from a meeting on climate change in PNG where he doubtless floored the crowd with his conviction that “coal is good for humanity” and that the appropriate response to the climate crisis is to dig up everything burnable and convert it into CO2 ASAP.
At the same meeting, low-lying Pacific island nations called for a global moratorium on new coal mines. How they must shake their heads at Australia in disbelief and despair… Or perhaps their fists.
Abbot and his colleagues couldn’t give a monkey’s. In fact, they’re cracking jokes about it. In conversation with the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, the PM noted that the meeting for which they were waiting shared something in common with the meeting in New Guinea. It was slow.
Dutton then remarked, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”
I heard a worse joke once, but that had Hitler in it.
Unfortunately for the pair, the microphone dangling above their heads caught the lot.
Of course, the media pounced on Dutton like a tiger upon a wounded gazelle, but his response to the mauling was bloodless: “I had a private conversation with the Prime Minister,” he said. “I don't intend to comment publicly on that.”
His gaff is unlikely to win Australia much support among its neighbors, and it already has precious little of that. A short while back the Abbot government scrapped funding for climate change adaptation programs.
When its neighbors needed it most, Australia cut and run. And now we’re laughing at them.
If only Mr Dutton had said, “Look, I apologize. It was a terrible joke. Even Abbot barely chortled,” he would have at least appeared contrite. But he’s behaving as if he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions.
Perhaps what’s best is for one of our islander neighbors to deliver the message Pig-junior style ’cause, far as I can tell, the minister duttongeddit.
Once upon a time, a friend of mine lost her job. It was a good job, and by any measure she was good at it. It wasn’t a difficult job - but then, like all jobs, the difficulties aren’t apparent until you have to cope with them yourself. Only by walking do we discover if the shoe fits.
Her challenges were those of time management. By putting in more hours and upping her work-rate, she masked her problems but did not remedy them. Just as when milk is poured unceasingly into a cup, eventually, inevitably, it must overflow.
And so there came the point when my friend could do no more.
She had three options. Continuing the analogy, the first was to enlarge the cup. But the cup size was fixed. It couldn’t be done. The second was to reduce the flow of milk. That proved not to be fixed but steadily increasing, and could neither be slowed nor stopped. No luck there.
The third option was to acquire another cup - not as large as the original, but large enough to capture the excess. That would keep the process running, at least temporarily. It could be done, but she had no power to authorize the purchase.
And that’s when she made her fatal error. She reached out for help.
Her situation required understanding, an open mind, an ear sensitive to the issues at hand and feet willing to take steps to deal with them. In short, she needed trust.
She found none. Instead, she found abuse.
And thus, just as the spillage from an overfilled cup will stream in rivulets down the cupboards to the floor, we stream into the subject of this rant. When the wrong people are in charge, things can change for the worse very easily.
Such a state of affairs has descended upon the UK. The Tory government has announced plans to cut subsidies for small-scale renewable energy projects. This comes hot on the heels of cuts to large-scale renewable energy projects, announced back in January.
Small-scale projects are those which can be installed on twenty-five acres or less, supplying enough electricity to power about one thousand five hundred homes. They are perfect for smallholdings with unproductive soils.
They are easy on the eye, they don’t poison rivers or dirty the air, and they are healthy places to work. Significantly, they don’t cave in, trapping fathers, sons and brothers underground to await suffocation or starvation.
Not every government is taking the same backward steps. Just look at the Emirates: with GDP from non-oil sectors growing six percent to two hundred and seventy billion in just one quarter, the leaders of the UAE are taking responsibility for the future, preparing for a lower-carbon economy.
They acknowledge both environmental and economic problems, and projects such as Masdar, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant demonstrate they are prepared to act to solve them.
Perhaps only emerging economies are nimble enough to pull off moves like these, going several directions at once like a newborn calf as they find their feet, building up infrastructure without having to run the gauntlet of vested interests who prey on the vulnerable.
The Captains of Carbon are at it again. Faced with a challenge, they know but one response. Lash out. Choke that baby while it’s still small enough to kill. It’s a shame they can’t see past their fairy-floss egos and learn to love the thing.
But what am I talking about? There’s no telling them how to run their business…
When I was a little fella, summer meant beach, barbecues, sport and sunburn. Each morn, shortly after sun-up, my mother would turn me outdoors stipulating that I was not to be seen again until dinner - although brief interludes for intakes of sandwiches and milk were permitted.
Nary a thought was given to sunscreen, and my northern skin peeled off in freckled flakes the size of crisps. The damage was permanent. Last week, at a complimentary spa treatment, Francis the Facialist tut-tutted in dismay before diving desperately for his cabinet of corrective chemicals. It was hopeless. I left the poor man stretched out exhausted, muttering incoherently, self-medicating with herbal infusions via intravenous drip.
Even in the seventies, climate change was an issue. I learned in grade four that CO2 trapped heat. But what was an eight-year-old to do about it? The lights I used to thwart the night-monsters lurking in our hallways had to draw power from somewhere, and in Australia they drew it from coal. But I wondered why, when the sun was capable of withering an entire nation prune-like, it couldn’t come from there.
Of all renewable energy sources, solar has the greatest potential. To paraphrase a beardy-weirdy from the US DOE, “The theoretical potential of solar power is the integral of the average flux (342.5 W/m2 · (1-0.49) = 174.7 W/m2) over the earth’s surface area = 89,300 TW.”
Exactly what that means, I do not know. Clearly it’s code comprehensible only to beardies. But I’m told it represents more energy in one and a half hours than the total consumed globally per year from all sources combined.
In practice it means the world’s power needs could be met from a carpet of solar panels the size of Venezuela. I know some Venezuelans, and they’d be pretty happy to carpet the country over at the moment. The US’s power needs require only an area the size of either of the Dakotas, and no-one’s going to miss one of those.
In other words, it’s doable. And, believe it or not, it’s happening. More capacity for renewable power is being added each year than coal, natural gas and oil combined.
And that’s great news, but for one glaring problem. If my children went to thwart the monsters in our hallway tonight, solar power couldn’t be of any help, as the sun don’t shine after dark. Seems obvious. To be practical, solar requires storage, and the power industry has never found a cost-effective way to store large volumes of energy for later distribution.
Fortunately, Tesla has. In early May, the electric-car company released a product called Powerwall. Billed merely as a storage solution for the home, in fact the technology heralds a sea-change in the economics of utility-scale power.
Just as the cost of solar is plummeting, so too is the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Tesla is gambling that their battery “gigafactory”, now under construction, will drive the price through the floor, bringing into being cost-effective storage solutions on the scale of utilities.
It works like this: by storing energy during the day and releasing it at night, peak demand is shifted and reduced, bringing down energy bills for industrial consumers.
The math is simple. If the cost of installing, maintaining and using Tesla’s solar-based systems comes to less than the cost of power from traditional hydrocarbon-fired systems, Walmart goes for it and we all win.
The key to averting the climate catastrophe is turning in the lock. Sooner rather than later, the captains of carbon will be shown the door.
It’s not personal. Just good business.